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Z Lequidre and the Amazing Grendel Conspiracy

by Allain Atienza

Chapter 39

Bass scratched his silvery beard and scowled. “The big one… Beowulf… mentioned you by name. I imagine he’d be pleased to see you, which means the king would be pleased as well.” He turned towards the hall, motioning for Zorikh to follow him. “Hrothgar has taken quite a liking to the Son of Ecgtheow. I don’t blame him, Beowulf is quite a likeable fellow.”

“He sure is,” Zorikh said as Bass led him into Heorot and through the corridors to the familiar archway of the great hall entrance. Dawn light streaked the dark floor, now dotted with sleeping figures and their equipment. The remains of a fire smoldered in a large brazier near the throne. At one table slumped the king, speaking in low tones to Beowulf. Bass cleared his throat.

“If it please the great lord, Zorikh, Sigilind’s companion has come with word from her.”

“Ah!” Beowulf said as he slammed his hand on the wooden tabletop, causing a few sleeping figures to stir. “Zorikh, Sigilind’s champion!”

“Welcome Champion of the Mist!” Hrothgar said lustily, raising his goblet to Zorikh. They had apparently been drinking heavily.

“I’m no champion King Hrothgar,” he said as he stepped attentively to the king, “I’m just a fellow traveler.”

Beowulf raised his own tankard with a grin. “Welcome Zorikh the Traveler!” The big man bellowed. “To Zorikh the Traveler!”

“Zorikh the Traveler!” repeated Hrothgar, then tipped his goblet over his mouth, allowing amber liquid to dribble down the sides of his face. “Sit and drink!” he commanded when he had finished soiling his beard for the moment.

“My thanks great king,” Zorikh said as he accepted a full cup. Hrothgar clapped a powerful arm across his shoulders and shook him warmly.

“I was about to tell this fine thane of the time I last fought with the house of Helma,” Hrothgar growled between gulps. Zorikh brought the cup to his lips expecting ale but was treated to the finest mead he had ever tasted. It was sweet with honey, but not sickeningly so, and nutty with a satisfying kick as it went down.

“I’ve entertained the great king with a tale about my friend Breca and a whale,” Beowulf laughed gently. He was apparently more sober than the king, holding himself much straighter and speaking quite clearly.

Slowly, and with many pauses to gulp more honey wine, Hrothgar told them of the last fight between the Scyldings and the Helmings, when he slew their chief in the midst of the meeting of shields and spears. The dead king’s sons stood over the body of their father, only to be slain by Hrothgar and his thanes. The slaughter continued until the Helmings’ last young prince cried for peace.

“Young Wealdthaf had no choice,” Hrothgar said with relish as he shook the dregs in his goblet, “just a lad with his father’s blood not yet cool and his brothers’ eyes being picked by ravens. He gave me half his lands for his life, and promised me his sister so that I wouldn’t take the other half. She was just a child, but she was a comely thing even then, and I knew she’d be a fair prize for a good day’s fighting. I came back for her in a few years, and by then Wealdthaf was a young man, a king. Yet I could still see in his eyes, the boy who wept for his father, crushed by my sword stroke.” Hrothgar trailed off, mumbling something that Zorikh couldn’t make out and laughing hoarsely into his goblet.

As he sat and listened to the end of the king’s tale, Zorikh noticed that he had been sitting absolutely still, like a child in front of a rottweiler. Beowulf had also refrained himself from moving, sitting attentively with this chin in his great hands. Both waited for the king to resume speaking, but Hrothgar merely set his goblet down on the table and rose.

“It’s time I went to my bed,” the king yawned, “I will listen to your news when I awaken, Zorikh the Traveler. Good morning to you, and to you of course, Ecgtheow’s son. It’s been a while since there was a merry time in the mead hall and I thank you for it.”

“It was my pleasure great king,” Beowulf called out as Hrothgar left the hall. Beowulf eyed the archway for half a moment silently, then when he was sure that Hrothgar had truly retired, sighed and said, “What an ass!”

Zorikh however thought that the two had been getting along well and said so. To this Beowulf answered softly, “Yes, if I were in the habit of making friends with self-absorbed puffed-up maniacs. Really Zorikh, where did you find this man? I mean, kings are inclined to be more swollen than the average thane, but this Hrothgar…” he grunted, “a suspicious and mean spirited old troll until I gifted him with my mead. Which he was very generous with to his household warriors I might add!”

Zorikh poured himself another cup of mead and settled into the bench. “Well, Theodora’s found Grendel and they’re coming tonight.”

Beowulf wiped wine from his beard. “That seems like good news! What sort of man is Grendel?”

Zorikh told Beowulf of their meeting with Grendel, and of the fight in the fen as well. Beowulf didn’t interrupt and listened carefully as Zorikh described the huge, gentle Grendel. Afterwards, the big man nodded and said without any mockery in his voice, “For myself, I prefer a warrior’s life to a hermit’s. There will always be folk in the world who will take what they can from you, and eventually you’d have to stand and face them.” Then the thane smiled and added, “Anyway I couldn’t live like a hermit unless I could find a forest with a mead table.”

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