The sharp metallic scent lingered in the air after the beheading. A quick dip in a nearby pond was the only thing that was needed to clean all but the memories away of her first intentional kill. The trophy was already encased in the sack she brought along just in case she got lucky. Evidence of the end of life. She had learned the importance of this from her father who was among the most skilled hunters of her clansmen. How did she do it? It was easier than she imagined once she found her target. Bees. They are what led her to find the beast.
She came upon it as it was rummaging a hive. She had never seen it before but from the descriptions of others who had experienced its throes, she knew she had her man. It stood about ten feet high on its hind legs. The smell was atrocious: an earthy musk mixed with decay. The body was covered in silver fur and reminiscent of a goat but oddly humanlike. The eyes gleamed in the sunlight, a fiery red molten color that shimmered like gold. As it turned towards her she could hear its snorting whine grow deeper as it locked eyes with her. She raised the knife above her head and crouched slightly, in preparation for the attack.
As it lowered itself to the ground she too stooped lower, aiming for the hot spot beneath its belly. How she knew this was all instinct. Few men had survived after fighting with this creature, and those who could speak of it told of impenetrable skin around the heart and neck. She would waste no time trying to debunk this theory, as the seconds would be precious in keeping her life. She steadily held her gaze and waited for the moment.
Who would have figured that it had a sweet tooth? All the stories she had heard from the other warriors about the attacks centered around them-the bees. Warrior. She smiled as she mouthed the word. This had indeed made her a warrior now. How would others view this? She wasn’t sure. Her father and uncles were all great Geats men, so fighting ran deep in her bloodline. Now was the hard part; convincing the village that she had single-handedly brought down the Grendel with only a hunting knife.
Her journey had begun early in the day after the chickens were fed and cows milked. She had to help her mum with baking as the other kids roamed the edges of the valley, making sure not to go too far out of earshot for safety reasons. Her mind raced back to the moment she made up in her mind to find it. This was after a touching moment with her youngest sibling, Muirgheal, who by a mere glance could melt away all troubles.
“Freawaru! Frea!” Muirgheal shrieked as she came running. “If the bad Grendel gets me one day will you never forget me, please!”
“What is this nonsense now? What has happened?” She inquired hastily. The last attack was four days prior, near the meadow that linked East Gotland with their village. It was a vicious slaying-five children not much older than Muirgheal were taken from them.
“Nothing yet, but I know he is coming, can’t you feel it?”
Feel it she could. From the deepest part of her being, she knew that it would come. It was connected to them somehow. Her heart ached softly as she saw her five year old sister’s mouth tremble and knew she had to put an end to her torment.
Bending down she whispered gently in Muirgheal’s ear, “I promise that neither Grendel nor any other monster shall come to get you. And you will never be forgotten by me or our people.” As she smoothed the silky black soft curls from Muirgheal’s tear streaked face, she sealed a prophetic fate for herself also with that single utterance. All that was left was for her to gather the sack and head of in search of the beast known as a serpent among men.
The knife she always kept on her person, ever since the day a few years back when one of the village men cornered her along the path to East Gotland. He was a known drunkard and vile in every way. She had been taught by her parents to stay clear from him, but on this particular day their paths crossed inexplicably. She was but twelve at the time, but it was evident by his demeanor that he wanted more than mere conversation from her. His eyes were downcast and glazed over; his blackened, rotting teeth showed as he snarled. When he pulled her from the path, by luck, she had in her possession her father’s scaling knife, as she was supposed to deliver it to the blacksmith for extra sharpening that day. It did the job of rescuing her from her captor. When they later found his body it was assumed that he had met his maker by way of a scavenger thief. She never told anyone of the encounter.
Peering down now at the carcass of her second victim, she felt a sense of pride that her people would be safe again. At least until someone came for the weregild. It was a waiting game that helped her in the end. If she had lunged at the Grendel first then she never would have noticed the soft patch of discolored skin just below its navel. When it rose to gallop she firmly stood her ground and pointed the knife toward the spot. By the time it realized what was happening its momentum was too large and it couldn’t abandon its course. The tip of the blade slide easily into the monster; it’s darkening eyes shadowing the shock of what was to come. It didn’t have time to react in anger as it limply fell to the earth. With its protective shield gone the head was removed in earnest haste.
Surely there would be some who would find it shameful for the victory to have come to a female. It couldn’t be helped. Others would simply not believe. Even with the head accounted for there were those who would say that she came across the dead beast and formulated the story for effect. She didn’t allow herself to dwell too much on the naysayers, and gracefully walked with her head high as she trudged down dale to the awaiting spectators.
Before she crossed the threshold into her homeland she looked toward the open sea and whispered the warrior name that she had chosen for herself. “Beowulf.” She turned and spoke it a little louder” Beowulf!” for all to hear.
Tamuriel L. Dillard