Beowulf sank to his knees. Grendel staggered away from the huge black carcass. He was a mass of bruises and bloody gashes, mostly in the arms and shoulders. Theodora rushed to his side, but the big man merely shook his head and pointed to Zorikh who now sat in a dizzy heap on the bloodstained floor.
“Zorikh!” Theodora winced as she examined his shoulder. “It’s nearly been pulled from the socket, but it’s not bad.” Zorikh hardly heard her. All about them, exhausted and worn thanes sheathed their swords or let spears clatter onto the floor. Wyglaf had been hurt in the shoulder and several others had been bloodied as well. Those of Beowulf’s men who could stand gathered about their chief and cheered him. Ecgtheow’s son rose wearily to his feet and let out a victorious bellow.
Theodora’s voice snapped Zorikh’s attention back to her. She looked closely into his eyes, then said, “How many fingers am I holding up?”
He blinked blearily at her in answer.
“Where does your girlfriend live?” she asked patiently.
Zorikh blinked again and opened his mouth to say, “Pen-Pennsylvania…”
Theodora relaxed somewhat. “Hold still,” she said comfortingly, “Let me see to your shoulder, and you’ll be fine.” However, ‘fine’ turned out to involve Theodora holding him still while Herrig took his arm and shoved it back into place. It was so sudden that he was still screaming when Herrig rose to tend the others.
In the next moment, Zorikh’s shoulder felt no better, but at least it didn’t hang oddly although it throbbed and ached like nothing he had ever felt before. He tried to raise his head, yet this only made him woozy. He noticed through a haze that the cheering had suddenly stopped, replaced by astonished shouts and murmurs. “What is it?” Theodora said, craning to see beyond the thanes.
Grendel had gotten to his feet and stared at something that horrified him. “Theodora, something’s happening!” he croaked. Carefully, Zorikh rose with Theodora’s help and the pair made their way to the gathered warriors. Where it had crumpled in a black heap on the floor, the beast’s corpse now writhed and smoked acid-yellow, seeming to bubble beneath the skin. Zorikh wanted to tear his eyes from the sickening sight, yet a cold, dreadful feeling forced him to keep watching.
“Ugh! What a smell!” Beowulf gasped as he held his nose and stepped back. All within the hall gave way to the bile-colored fumes, retching and coughing as the corpse quickly became obscured from view.
Zorikh, a native New Yorker, was able to brave the stench more so than his comrades and he squinted through the haze to see that the dark quivering mass was shrinking. Before the smoke engulfed everything in sight, he thought that he saw a pale hand emerge from under the boiling hide.
“Something’s under the skin!” Zorikh wheezed. “Someone’s under it!”
“I can’t see anything!” Theodora coughed.
Beowulf forced his way through the stinking smoke, waving a shield like a fan. Other warriors also moved forward, working to clear the air around what was left of the swine-thing. After a moment, there was a loud gasp.
“Gods!” Beowulf’s horrified voice called out from within the thinning yellow mist, “It’s the queen! It’s Wealtheow!”
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