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Z Lequidre and the Amazing Grendel Conspiracy

by Allain Atienza

Chapter 43

The queen sat down in the shade and bade Zorikh to join her. “These trees were planted in my father’s time,” Wealtheow said thoughtfully, “given as saplings to Healfdane as a gift of peace and alliance. Healfdane was a strong chief, and won many battles, and my father thought it would be prudent to be friends with the Scyldings. And for a time there was friendship between the Scyldings and my father’s house.” She produced two small wooden cups from the basket and poured the wine. “My two eldest brothers were fostered with Healfdane and sailed with his eldest son Heorogar to adventures in the south. Halga, the youngest of Healfdane’s sons was fostered with us.” She sat silently and smiled warmly at nothing that Zorikh could see. “He was only a few years older than I, and he became my closest friend. He taught me how to fish and ride a horse, and shoot a bow. When we grew older, I felt love for him, and he for me. When my father announced that I was to be betrothed to Halga, I must have been the happiest girl in this world, and he rejoiced as well.” She stared into the horizon and drank her wine before continuing. “Yet nothing lasts in this world, dear Zorikh, especially good things. When the old king was on his deathbed, Hrothgar murdered his eldest brother. Young Halga sought my father’s aid in avenging Heorogar, and my brothers willingly agreed. Heorogar had been their lifelong friend. But their host was set upon and my father and brothers were slain. Halga fought his way out of the trap, trying to save Wealdthaf, the youngest of my brothers, but an arrow struck Halga and his companions all but carried him to hide in the marshes. My brother was taken. Hrothgar forced him to give half his lands over, and me as well.”

Zorikh remained silent while Wealtheow refilled her cup and drank deeply. He followed her gaze to another valley a few miles away, where the quilted squares of farmland spread out under the sky. “Yikes.” He finally said. The queen looked at him, puzzled. “Ah… it means ‘what a terrible situation I’ve been made aware of, I wish it weren’t so’ ” he explained.

Despite her mood, Wealtheow laughed. “What a place you must live in, to have a single word mean all that.” She said. “Tell me about your home Zorikh.”

He obliged happily, careful to stay away from such subjects as automobiles or the information superhighway or William Shatner. “We’ve got tall towers made of glass so that on a really sunny day you can see the sky in them! You wouldn’t believe it and a lot of folks make a big deal about them, but I’d have to say I find the bridges really something else. We’ve got bridges that cross huge rivers, it would take you about half an hour to walk across the really long ones!” This impressed Wealtheow greatly and her eyes widened at each sight that he shared with her- tunnels, canals, libraries and even concerts.

“So the dancers hurl themselves at each other? Doesn’t it hurt?” Wealtheow asked after Zorikh described a rock show. “They’re Danes aren’t they? How splendid it would be to see the world as you do! How I wish I could see Byzantium, or Ravenna or even the Rhine!”

Zorikh shrugged. “I’ve never been to any of those places. But you’ve got a point, I’ve been to some great places. Then on the other hand, I’ve been to Iowa...”

Wealtheow’s envy was plain. “I turned twenty less than two months ago, did you know that? Twenty years and I’ve never been anywhere in the world,” she said. “I’ve been as far as the land of King Aelle when I was much younger, but you Zorikh…” she breathed with excitement, “you’ve been to so many places, seen so many things! I wish I could see Iowa as well.”

“Actually you don’t.” Zorikh interjected.

“I’ll never know will I? I’m here at Heorot and it’s here I’ll stay,” she sighed, “a daughter’s duty to her family.” She absently fondled a silver pendant that hung on a chain so short that it was nearly a choker. Zorikh had noticed it before. It was oval shaped, with a boar’s head carved at the center. At his request, Wealtheow leaned closer to let him examine it. Surrounding the boar were twenty small suns. Zorikh found the stylized boar image to be somewhat too fierce for a woman’s pendant and said so.

“Aye, it’s a great ugly beast isn’t it?” said the queen looking absently at the snout and tusks, “A gift from my last remaining brother, before he sent me off to wed the lord of Heorot. He even had the clasp closed permanently, so he would always be near me in some way.” Her words were bitter. Zorikh assumed this was due to her unfortunate betrothal, and he searched for some way to cheer her.

“Well,” he said finally, raising his cup to her, “here’s to your birthday my lady. Two months late, I know, but happy birthday!” She giggled appreciatively.

“Thank you” she said, kissing his cheek. Zorikh fumbled in his pouches and produced a small silver object.

“It’s called a harmonica,” he said, “it’s an instrument, for making music.” He played a short blues riff, to the queen’s delight. “I’d teach you how, if I had the time, but I don’t think that’s gonna happen. It plays different notes whether you blow into it or breathe in through it, and depending where you put your mouth. You’ll figure it out.”

Wealtheow gratefully accepted the gift and tried a few tentative notes. She nearly squealed like a child. “Thank you Zorikh! It’s wonderful! I’ll learn a song and the next time you see me, I’ll play it for you!”

Zorikh said, “And since we don’t have a cake and candles, you’ll just have to blow a note and make a wish.” He then had to explain to her about the birthday cake-wish thing. She looked skeptical, but closed her eyes anyway and blew a loud chord through her new harmonica. “Don’t tell me what you wished for,” Zorikh said, “or it won’t come true.”

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