Zorikh rushed forward, pushing past the mailed thanes and forcing himself to look down at what lay in their midst.
Wealtheow was on her side, naked and bloody. She was pale and limp, and her red-gold hair was matted onto her bloodstained face and shoulders. Blood ran in dark streams from below her neck and pooled on the polished floor. The spear that had pierced her breast now lay on the cold floor before her. “Holy shit!” Zorikh screamed. Before he knew what he was doing, he knelt at Wealtheow’s side and cradled her head. “Someone get a friggin’ blanket on her!” he shouted. There was movement around him, and someone placed a thick wool cloak on the queen’s body.
“How can this be?” Beowulf said, almost whispering. Every thane turned to Theodora for an answer, but she could only gaze at the bloodied queen with horror and confusion. Finally she looked questioningly at Grendel.
The giant was shaking his head sadly. “Is there a rune on her body Zorikh? Or an amulet perhaps?”
Without looking to see, Zorikh said, “She was wearing a boar pendant earlier…”
Grendel reached down and pushed the top of the cloak aside. The boar pendant still hung from its chain, but it had been nearly split in two. Grendel studied the thing, turning it over in his staff-thick fingers as Zorikh tried to ignore the great ugly gash above the queen’s pale collarbone.
“She was cursed,” Grendel murmured, easily snapping the fine chain and handing the pendant over to Theodora. “A skin-changer’s curse. Whoever gave her this made it so that she’d be stricken after her twentieth year. See the suns on the border?”
“She told me that her brother Wealdthaf gave it to her” Zorikh said, staring sadly down at Wealtheow, “just before she left to marry Hrothgar.” He went on to explain the struggle between Wealtheow’s family and Hrothgar.
There was a hush in the hall until Beowulf said what they were all thinking. “Wealdthaf’s vengeance for his father and brothers…” he swallowed the end of his sentence, as if he were ashamed of what he had just said. “Grendel, did she- do you think she knew what was happening to her?”
Grendel could only shrug mutely. It was Zorikh who answered.
“She mentioned something about a daughter’s duty to her family. I think that she maybe had some sort of idea at least. Now that I think about it, she was playing with the thing when she said that about her duty.” He caught Theodora’s dark expression. “I assure you that she wasn’t happy about it.”
Theodora knelt at Zorikh’s side and crossed the queen’s arms over her breast. “Just when I was beginning to believe that women had seen the worst of men’s misuses…” she began in a low tone, but was cut off by an angry shout.
“What murder is this?”
Hrothgar had awoken.
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