Read Beowulf Online

Authors: Neil Gaiman

Beowulf (4 page)

 

GRENDEL'S MOTHER is sitting a little way away, on a shipwreck. She is in the shadows, and swathed in dark cloth. What we can see of her skin glitters, like gold.

 

This is the first good look we have had at Grendel. He is huge, and strangely misshapen. His fingernails are sharp claws, his eyes are serpentine, his teeth are pointed. He is hairless. But he has charisma, and we feel for him. He is more or less naked.

 

Grendel's mother's VOICE is melodious and young.

GRENDEL'S MOTHER

Grendel? What have you done?

GRENDEL

Mother? Where are you?

Grendel's Mother stands up, and moves forward. We still can't see her properly.

GRENDEL'S MOTHER

Men? Grendel…we had an agreement. Fish, and wolves, and bear, and sometimes a sheep or two. But not men.

GRENDEL

You like men.

GRENDEL'S MOTHER

Grendel. They will hurt us if they can. They have killed so many of us…the Giant-breed, the Dragon-kind…

GRENDEL

Here.

He holds out a body.

GRENDEL'S MOTHER

(tired)

Just put it down, Grendel.

GRENDEL

They were making such noise. So much noise. It hurt my head and my mind. I could not think.

Tears begin to run down Grendel's face. He lets go of all the warriors he is holding, and they float on the surface of the pool.

GRENDEL'S MOTHER

(sharply)

Was Hrothgar there?

GRENDEL

I did not touch him.

Grendel squats down on the rock-floor, and, almost absentmindedly, begins to eat the face of a warrior.

GRENDEL'S MOTHER

(pacified)

Good boy. My poor sensitive boy.

CUT TO BLACK:

SEVERAL MONTHS LATER

23 EXT. HEROT - VILLAGE - DAY

23

It's a grey, wet, drizzling morning, wet and dull. Unferth walks though the camp. When he gets to the hall, he sees the great doors are open, and he goes in.

 

Then, a few seconds later, he runs out -- we can see that Unferth limps as he runs -- he has sustained some kind of injury to his legs from Grendel, since we last saw him.

CUT TO:

24 INT. HEROT - HROTHGAR'S QUARTERS - DAY

24

Hrothgar and Wealthow are asleep in their bed -- a straw pallet, covered with cloth and deer hides, and, covering them, more deer hides and furs. They both sleep naked, but are beneath the fur. The PITTER-PATTER OF RAIN on the roof can be heard.

 

Unferth bursts in. He respectfully touches Hrothgar's shoulder. Hrothgar opens his eyes.

 

Unferth talks quietly, not wanting to wake Wealthow.

UNFERTH

(whispering)

My lord?

HROTHGAR

(waking)

Hnh? What?

UNFERTH

My lord. It has happened again.

HROTHGAR

Grendel's work?

Unferth nods.

HROTHGAR

How many men this time?

By this time Wealthow has woken. She sits up and looks at them. The furs have slipped off, revealing her breasts. Unferth tries hard not to stare at her. Hrothgar, naked, clambers up from the floor.

UNFERTH

I could not tell. They were not whole. Five. Ten.

HROTHGAR

(to Wealthow -- boisterously)

Keep the bed warm for me, eh?

WEALTHOW

(drily)

Why?

We realize that all is not well for our King and Queen in the bed department. Hrothgar ignores this insult to his masculinity, and pulls a fur robe over his nakedness.

25 EXT. HEROT - VILLAGE - DAY

25

It's still raining, and we can see Hrothgar's bare legs and feet beneath his fur robe, as he walks with Unferth across the open space between his sleeping quarters and the hall.

HROTHGAR

How many does this make it?

UNFERTH

This is the second attack this moon. The tenth in half a year. He's coming more frequently.

Unferth, walking behind the king, goes into Herot.

26 INT. HEROT - MEAD HALL - DAY

26

The carnage left by Grendel is terrible -- body parts, bodies, and, above all, blood everywhere -- on the floor and the walls.

 

Hrothgar is standing in a puddle of blood, in his bare feet, and he says, almost sadly:

HROTHGAR

When I was young I killed a dragon, in the Northern Moors. But I'm too old for dragon-slaying now. We need a hero, a Siegfried, to rid us of this curse upon our hall.

UNFERTH

I will not face Grendel again.

Esher, Hrothgar's counsellor, arrives, and stares at the devastation with them.

UNFERTH

I say we trap the beast. Brute strength fails against such a brute. Let us use cunning.

HROTHGAR

These creatures know cunning, Unferth. They
are
cunning.

ESHER

Our people wait for deliverance, my King. Some of them pray to the Christ Jesus to lift this affliction. Others sacrifice goats or sheep to Odin, or Heimdall.

HROTHGAR

(takes a deep breath)

This place reeks of death.

(he turns and leaves, the others follow him.)

The gods will do nothing for us that we will not do for ourselves. No, we need a hero.

Hrothgar, Esher, and Unferth walk down the

27 HALLWAY

27

Hrothgar leaves bloody, sticky, red footprints behind him, from his bare feet.

28 EXT. HEROT - DAY

28

Hrothgar et al walk out into the village, it has begun to rain harder.

HROTHGAR

Men! Build another pyre! There's dry wood behind the stables. Then clean out the hall. Burn the dead, wash out the blood. Put down new straw and reeds on the floor.

He begins to walk through the rain, ignoring it completely. Unferth and Esher walk with him.

HROTHGAR

(to Unferth and Esher)

The scops are singing the shame of Herot as far south as the middle sea, as far north as the ice-lands. Our cows no longer calf, our fields lie fallow, the very fish flee from our nets, knowing that we are cursed. I have let it be known that I will give half the gold in my kingdom to any man who can rid us of Grendel. That should bring us a hero.

UNFERTH

I wish you had had a son, my lord.

ESHER

The country folk hereabouts have a very amusing saying about that. “You wish into one hand, and shit into the other, see which fills up first.”

HROTHGAR

There is nothing wrong with hope, Esher. It is all that keeps us from being animals. A hero will come, because a hero must come. We will trust to the sea, my friends. It will bring our release.

CUT TO:

29 EXT. THE STORMY SEA - DAY

29

Great gray sheets of rain sweep a stormy Northern sea. The clouds which bear the rain are so full of water they've swollen to a blackness deep as pitch.

 

The sun itself has vanished beyond the dark torrent. It seems it will never return, as sometimes it seems daylight will never return after a nightmare. But LIGHTNING is here instead…flashing with its sporadic brilliance, occasionally illuminating the wave caps.

 

The ocean is furious. Commander of the tempest above. The weight of it swells like an angry orchestra…CRASHING with bombastic fervor…rising with every crescendo. Rhythm to the melody of rain and lightning.

 

A man is watching natures symphony play before him. His curious eye takes in the chaos and out of the randomness patterns form. Nature's music is heard by him. His name is BEOWULF.

 

He wears leather armor studded with hand pounded iron. At his hip is a heavy, hand forged ancestry sword that at one time belonged to his father's father. His cape, a tapestry of heavy black weaves and animal skins, blows in the wind.

 

Beowulf is standing on the deck of a Nordic craft whose ample span was never meant for voyages as rabid as this. The poor vessel slams into each wave with thunderous booms that send cascading shivers up its wooden ribs.

 

The red sail has been tattered by the wind -- it has been ripped to unusable shreds. As it snaps in the gale we can see the image of a golden dragon emblazoned on it.

 

At the oars sit FOURTEEN THANES. Their hands, bloodied and pierced with slivers, tug at the wooden oars rhythmically…pulling the craft along on its perilous journey through the waves.

 

Like a toy carved from a branch the boat is momentarily lost under the waves' event horizon.

 

Beowulf, his left hand holding the mast for balance, remains undaunted by the howling winds and the walls of water surrounding him. He continues to hold his stare at where the horizon
must
be. Somewhere, beyond the dark veil of the storm, there is a fire to guide him. Somewhere, beyond the darkness, there will be light and placid waters.

Beowulf's Second in command, a strong Thane with wild red hair and beard looks up to Beowulf. He is WIGLAF. He ships his oar, and clambers up to where Beowulf is, shouting

WIGLAF

(above the wind and rain)

Can you see the coast? Do you see the Dane's guide-fire?

BEOWULF

I see nothing but the wind and the rain. And I am unimpressed!

WIGLAF

No fire? No stars by which to navigate? We're lost! Given to the sea!

Beowulf looks at him and starts
laughing
…a laugh of challenge.

BEOWULF

Ha! The sea is my mother! She will never take me into her murky womb!

WIGLAF

That's fine for you. But my mother's a fishwife in Uppland. And I was rather hoping to die in battle, as a warrior should.

He grabs Wiglaf by the shoulders.

BEOWULF

(looking up to the sheets of falling rain)

It's no earthly storm! That much we can be sure.

(then to Wiglaf with a grin)

It's Hrothgar's sin which shrouds his land in this torrent! This demon's tempest won't hold us out! No! For our journey this storm is not the worry, it's the return which you should fear, dear friend! None can leave once challenge met, lest challenge overcome! And who better than us, Wiglaf?

WIGLAF

(who has noticed that Beowulf makes no sense what-so-ever)

What?!

Wiglaf looks at Beowulf with wide, questioning eyes. Is Beowulf mad? Well, even if he was, Wiglaf would follow him into the mouth of death herself.

BEOWULF

Man your oar, Wiglaf! Beyond this storm, as any, there is calm! As much as
beyond the calm
there will always be storms, ready to blow you from your path…

Wiglaf nods with a GRUNT. Good ol' Wiglaf. He turns and grabs the oars with renewed vigor.

CUT TO:

30 EXT. THE CLIFFTOPS - DAY

30

Five spears stand together, their blades pointing to the vertex of the Cimmerian storm above.

 

The spears belong to the SCYLDINGS' WATCH, a Dane whose duty it is to watch the coast for invaders. He sits at a camp he's set up next to some cliff side ruins. He has built a fire in an ancient pit of unknown origin. Perhaps at one time this place was an eternal fire to aid ships in storms such as this. On this day it is being used to cook a kebab of skewered field mice.

 

Rain surrounds on the horizons. But here, in this encampment, there seems to be a proscenium of eerie stillness. A bubble of barometric pressure keeping the storm at bay.

 

The Scyldings' Watch stands up, his rough leather armor, chapped and weathered, is covered by an animal skin to keep him dry. He squints his eyes to look at the horizon. There is nothing but the blackness of the storm clouding it.

 

This Dane spends his days staring at the line separating the sea from the sky. It has become his only focus. He's sure something is there…

 

And sure enough something
is
there. A tiny craft with bright shields hanging from its sides.

 

His mouth drops open.

 

There is indeed a ship approaching -- a Geat ship, which might be a raider.

 

He drops his mouse kebab and hastily climbs onto his horse.

After grabbing his greatest long spear from the makeshift rack he takes one last look at the approaching craft and rides his horse down a…

31 STEEP TRAIL

31

of bramble thicket, still misty from the afternoon showers. Its trail to the beach below is a near vertical drop of loose foot stones and crumbly shale.

 

The Scyldings' coastal guard descends the cliff side at a fearless speed, confident to the end of his horse's footing.

 

Soon, he finds himself on a…

32 RECESSED BEACH

32

Nothing more than a glassy sand bar. Once this area was a tidal plane that met the cliffs. Now it's a field of shallow pools. A living mirage of sea birds, and the crabs they eat. It is a scape of neither ocean nor shore, a limbo of glistening earth, reflecting the gray light of the storm above.

 

The Dane's mare, trotting sidelong in grave apprehension, spies the Geats landing their ship on the bar's edge. It neighs an abrupt exhalation as it clenches at its bit.

 

A dwarf horse is being guided off the craft, and from this vantage point it seems to walk on water.

 

Scyldings' watch pushes his horse toward a

33 MOORING

33

which the foreign ship has tied on to. A number of Beowulf's Thanes are unloading weapons from the ship.

 

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