All was finally made ready and the warriors marched inland in two orderly rows. Most of them had donned bright helmets, while others buckled theirs at the top of their packs. Each man had a spear and shield. The latter varied in size and color, but all were wooden, round and flat, with an iron boss in the center. Beowulf’s shield was the largest, and had an ornately shaped center boss which came to a point. Zorikh hoisted a sack of what felt like meal or flour.
“There is Heorot.” Theodora said, pointing inland at the red stone manor. Beowulf shaded his eyes, all humor in them gone for the moment as he surveyed the site.
“An interesting place,” he muttered, more to himself than to anyone in particular.
“Old Roman villa,” Zorikh said. “Neat huh?”
Beowulf nodded. “Myself, I prefer a good longhouse, preferably newly built. Old places like that look rancid with ghosts. I bet old Hrothgar loses little items every day to house ghosts. Where’s my brooch? Where’s my fur cap? Where are my linen breeches? The woolen ones chafe me so!” Beowulf launched into a rendition of the king searching for increasingly ridiculous items ending with “where’s my gilded Persian gold piss pot? It was given to me by a Pictish princess!”
His men laughed freely at their captain’s jests. “And never forget that this is old Celtic land as well,” Beowulf continued, “just like Gaul, but being stuck on an island for centuries has probably made them go funny. You know those druid fellows run on all fours and howl at the full moon. They marry trees and devote their lives making twisted little offspring by fornicating with oaks! They’ve probably left old house goblins or guardian spirits about in Heorot to do mischief in the dead of night- creak your floor or make your spear limp when you finally get that hall maid into your furs.” His men, already guffawing heartily, had begun to shed tears. “It wasn’t me Etta darling, it was goblins!”
The merriment died abruptly when a mounted figure was spotted on the road ahead. Beowulf and his men dropped any burdens they were carrying and spread out shoulder to shoulder with their captain before them. Zorikh stood at the left end of the line with Theodora next to him.
The horseman was none other than the door warden of Heorot, clad in dull mail and bearing a spear and shield, yet even Wyglaf, the youngest of Beowulf’s companions, had finer armor and weapons than the warden. The usually stone-faced man looked upon the troupe with a hint of admiration in his eyes and spoke in a loud voice.
“I am the warder of this shore, loyal man to Hrothgar King, set to watch for the landing of great warriors from over the sea, for we have been told of their coming,” his eyes passed quickly over Theodora at these last words. “From your bright mail, your prize helmets and finely hilted swords, I can see that you are worthy thanes, companions of a great lord. In truth,” he paused, “I have never seen finer gear on king or retainer. Who are you strangers? Tell me from where have you come and your purpose in these lands.”
Beowulf stepped forward and greeted the warder with a smile that did not reach his eyes. “Warder of the King of the Scyldings, I am Beowulf son of Ecgtheow, loyal man of Hygelac, king of the Geats. We have heard over the sea of Hrothgar’s woes, and the curse upon his people. And so we gathered our gear and with our king’s blessing took to ship and followed the sea-lanes to this isle. Tell the son of Healfdane that the Bear of the Geats is here to give him aid, if he will have it.” The dark horseman nodded, content at Beowulf’s answer.
“Pass on then, son of Ecgtheow, unhindered to Heorot.”
They thanked him and resumed their march. Zorikh turned once to see if the warder was still there and saw him, once again a small mounted figure in the distance, who heeled his horse towards the shore and disappeared from sight.
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