The Imperial March from “Empire Strikes Back” played in Zorikh’s battered head.
Heorot’s warriors peered darkly from the great hall archway. Before them, Hrothgar the king stood, sword in hand, scanning the ruined hall and bringing his raptor’s gaze to rest on the black, broken heap that was once his queen. His eyes smoldered as they tore away from Wealtheow’s body and settled onto the battered Grendel.
“You!” The king’s voice was no louder than a hoarse whisper, yet everyone within the hall heard. Without pausing, he strode forward with his sword drawn and raised. His thanes followed him.
Weary as they were, Beowulf’s band quickly moved between Grendel and the angry mob, and although outnumbered, they brought the king’s men to a halt. Hrothgar’s warriors clearly had no wish to take on Beowulf’s Geats, yet they stood beside their king and waited for his word.
“Hold! Hold my lord!” Beowulf shouted so loudly that his voice echoed in the corridors. “This man is innocent! Enough blood has been spilled tonight!”
Trying to ignore his injured shoulder as best as he could, Zorikh stood with Beowulf’s men, his left hand jammed into his belt to support the arm. For an instant, he met Hrothgar’s eyes and felt the king’s anger firsthand; it took some self-control not to offer Hrothgar an explanation right there and then.
“Stand aside Ectheow’s son,” Hrothgar said in a calm, cold voice. “You are a worthy man, and a friend to me and my house. Don’t stand between me and my enemy.” Heorot’s warriors tightened their grips on spear and sword.
For a moment, no one spoke as the two bands eyed each other from a few yards away. Zorikh could hear Wyglaf’s rasping breath next to him and felt a slow wet trickle on the right side of his own face. Blood or sweat, he couldn’t tell which and had no spare hands to check with. Just as he wondered what Beowulf was going to do, the big warrior lowered his sword and bade his thanes to do the same.
Sheathing his sword as he stepped forward, Beowulf said, “Do you doubt me great king? I came to Heorot to aid you, not to act against you. I tell you that Grendel is not your enemy. Here is your enemy.” He pointed to Wealtheow’s limp body. “Here is your night stalker. See for yourself.”
Hrothgar’s eyes flickered briefly to his fallen queen then back to Beowulf, then slowly to Grendel. “See to it, Wulfgar.” He commanded. The dark thane that Zorikh recognized as Heorot’s door warder knelt over Wealtheow’s body.
“She lives, great king.” Was all Wulfgar said, but it was enough. Zorikh and Theodora sprang to her side. Grendel moved to join them, but a threatening gesture from Hrothgar stilled him before he took a step.
Zorikh tried not to hope. “How? She was ripped wide-“ he began but the rest caught in his throat as Theodora moved Wealtheow’s cloak aside. The wound had vanished, leaving only a great red scar, which even before their eyes began to pale into a pink blush at the edges.
The man Wulfgar caught sight of the cloven silver pendant on its fine chain. Gingerly, as if he feared to touch the thing, he examined it. “Cursed, my lord.” He said cautiously, “By this- here, on the reverse side, the rune Thorn, used for curses. And Ur and Tir, used for strength and justice.”
“Strength and fierceness for a warrior,” Theodora said flatly as she turned from the queen and glared balefully at Hrothgar, “and justice against unworthy deeds.”
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