Read Beowulf Online

Authors: Neil Gaiman

Beowulf (13 page)

GRENDEL'S MOTHER

You took my son, Beowulf. Give me another.

KING BEOWULF

But you are a monster. Your sons are monsters.

GRENDEL'S MOTHER

And you're a monster too. Part bear, part wolf, all monster. Now, give me a son.

HARD CUT TO:

137 INT. KING BEOWULF'S CASTLE - MEAD HALL - MORNING

137

CLOSE ON: King Beowulf's face. He's just woken up, sweating and scared, his head next to the tipped-up Dragon's cup.

KING BEOWULF

(shouting)

No!

He looks around, upset, his face and hair sticky with last-night's spilled mead. Then he realizes that it was just a dream.

 

THANES are waking too -- looks like everyone passed out last night. Bright shafts of sunlight pierce the gloom of the hall. The fire is almost out. Everyone has a hang-over.

 

King Beowulf gets up, picking up the Dragon's Cup almost absentmindedly as he does so.

OLD WIGLAF

My lord?

KING BEOWULF

My head, Wiglaf. And such dreams. We're not as young as we were, eh?

OLD WIGLAF

Bad news, my lord.

King Beowulf is immediately every inch the King and warrior.

KING BEOWULF

What? Friesian ships sighted?

Old Wiglaf shakes his head. He points to the courtyard outside…

 

BEOWULF'S POV: The courtyard contains REFUGEES. They are MEN, WOMEN and CHILDREN, who are in bad shape -- they are standing, just, although many of the children are being carried. They look at us with hollow, scared, eyes. The nightmare has happened. They are, to a greater or lesser degree, burnt -- they have fled from burning huts and villages. Some of them are carrying treasured possessions they rescued from the flames. They are standing in lines, dumbly.

 

Beowulf rushes out into the

138 COURTYARD

138

where the refugees await him.

KING BEOWULF

Who did this?
Who did this
?!

A WOMAN WITH A BABY steps forward. Her name is HELGA.

HELGA

It came from the sky in the night, my lord. It burnt our houses and farms. I lost my husband in the flames that took our hearth-acre.

MAN #1

I saw our whole village burn. I heard my friends screaming as they died.

MAN #2

I saw it, your majesty, flaming like a comet in the night sky, vomiting fire and smoke.

KING BEOWULF

What is this thing you talk of?

HELGA

A dragon.

The OTHER BURNT AND DISENFRANCHISED TOWNSFOLK are nodding, now, and repeating, dully, “a dragon”.

KING BEOWULF

(holding the dragon's cup up)

Why?
Why
?!

No-one answers. We see Cain among the people, but he stares at the ground, too scared and brutalized to say anything at all.

KING BEOWULF (CONT'D)

I cannot give you back your homes or your loved ones. But I can kill your monster for you.

And then a small child steps forward…

CHILD

The dragon spoke to me. After it burned our house. It said that someone had taken its precious prize. Someone had stolen a goblet from its hoard. That was why it was burning the land. It said I had to tell people that.

(a beat, then)

It was creepy.

We look at King Beowulf as the penny drops, and he turns and walks away. The people stare at him, unspeaking, with dead eyes, as their King walks away, holding the dragon's golden goblet.

CUT TO:

139 INT. KING BEOWULF'S CASTLE - MEAD HALL - DAY

139

The Dragon's golden cup smashes into the far wall, where there are a number of objects, including some primitive glass. It hits them with a LOUD CRASH.

 

We look up from the mess to King Beowulf, his face is set hard.

 

King Beowulf is standing in front of his wall of souvenirs. The thanes are standing around dumbly, staring at him, nervously, not saying anything.

 

Then Beowulf begins to pull his souvenirs down from the wall. His bow, his shield, his sword, even the hilt-and-two-inches-of-blade of the Grendel-blade, and the bear-wolf fur cloak. They CLATTER down from the wall onto the floor.

 

Then he turns to the thanes.

KING BEOWULF

I am going to kill a dragon. Who is with me?

None of the thanes says anything.

KING BEOWULF

What? None of you want glory? None of you want gold?

After a hesitation, Froda steps forward--

FRODA

I'm with you, majesty.

BONSTAN

And I!

And with that the rest of them, shamed, step forward.

CUT TO:

140 INT. KING BEOWULF'S CASTLE - KING BEOWULF'S QUARTERS - DAY

140

Ursula is putting King Beowulf's old battle-robe on him, the bear-wolf-skin. It is old, but still magnificent.

URSULA

I thought you were done with war and battles, my lord.

KING BEOWULF

There is never an end to battle, Ursula. I was sick of war by the time I was seven years old.

URSULA

But not sick of glory, my lord?

KING BEOWULF

How many men do you know who have killed dragons?

URSULA

Could not someone else do this?

King Beowulf shakes his head, and seems as if he is going to say something, then changes his mind.

CUT TO:

141 EXT. KING BEOWULF'S CASTLE - COURTYARD - DAY

141

King Beowulf comes out, with guards and thanes behind him. He looks out at the refugees in the courtyard. He speaks loudly, saying:

KING BEOWULF

Does any man or woman among you know anything of this dragon? Where it comes from? What kind of beast it is?

No-one answers. King Beowulf gets angry.

KING BEOWULF

(shouting at them)

Someone must know. Where do we start looking? In the uplands? In the fells? On the moor? If you know anything -- ANYTHING -- tell me. The beast will be sleeping now. These creatures come at night.

He grabs a PEASANT by the neck, pulls him to his feet.

KING BEOWULF

Do you know anything? Do you?

He flings the man to the ground.

His gaze sweeps across the refugees, sitting apathetically in the courtyard. There is a slight scuffling at the far end, and then, awkwardly, Cain gets to his feet, and raises his hand.

 

He is terrified.

CUT TO:

142 EXT. THE GEAT MOORS - DAY

142

King Beowulf, Old Wiglaf and eleven thanes on horseback are riding along. On the last horse, tied to the horse to stop him falling off, is Cain looking miserable.

 

It is snowing. Everyone is cold and miserable. Wiglaf spurs his horse, until he is beside Beowulf. Then he says.

OLD WIGLAF

We're too old for this. We need a hero.

KING BEOWULF

There are no more young heroes. The age of heroes is over. There's just us.

OLD WIGLAF

It doesn't seem fair. I wish that Unferth'd had a son, who could sail across the ocean and kill our monster. Or Hrothgar -- I wish he'd had a son.

KING BEOWULF

Hrothgar had a son. We sailed across the ocean, and we killed him.

OLD WIGLAF

(the penny sort of drops)

Grendel?

KING BEOWULF

His mother…she was very beautiful, Wiglaf.

OLD WIGLAF

(uncomfortable with what he is being told, changing the subject)

My lord -- your majesty -- Beowulf -- we are old men. Our eyes are dimmed, we are slow, our strength is gone…look at us. We cannot kill dragons.

In answer, King Beowulf draws his bow -- the mighty bow we saw earlier that no one could bend -- and with one flowing, easy movement, from horseback, he raises it, fits an arrow to the string, bends it, and -- barely -- sights it and he looses his arrow.

CUT TO:

143 EXT. THE SKY ABOVE THEM - DAY

143

Far above them, a bird flies, until, hit by an arrow, it tumbles from the sky.

CUT TO:

144 EXT. THE GEAT MOORS - DAY

144

The bird falls to the ground with an arrow through it. Old Wiglaf gapes at it. King Beowulf does not even turn around to look at it. He knows that he is still stronger and faster than any man alive. And he repeats to himself…

KING BEOWULF

We shall be our own heroes.

CUT TO:

145 EXT. THE GEAT MOORS - THE BARROW - DAY

145

We stand on the clifftop. Cain is pointing.

CAIN

I fell in through here. But the main entrance is down there.

KING BEOWULF

It will not wake until sunset.

CUT TO:

146 INT. THE GEAT MOORS - THE BARROW - DAY

146

We see the Dragon's face, now, in the darkness. This is the Dragon in Reptile form -- the nightmare face of an elegant, golden dragon, half-way between a T. Rex and a Komodo Dragon. It flexes its claws. Its eyes are open. It is listening. These things have very sensitive hearing.

KING BEOWULF (O.S.)

When it wakes it will come out of its cave. And then we shall kill it.

CUT TO:

147 EXT. THE GEAT MOORS - THE BARROW - DAY

147

King Beowulf is standing, with his bear-wolf cloak on, over his armor. He is holding his shield -- a rectangular metal full-body shield -- and a sword, and he is practising lunging and parrying and moving, practising his swordcraft against the air. He is getting winded and he is sweating and breathing heavily.

 

Old Wiglaf is sitting nearby, watching him work out. Wiglaf is toying with the giant hilt of the broken sword. He watches Beowulf and then, when Beowulf is winded, he says:

OLD WIGLAF

You are not a hero, Beowulf. Not any more. You're an old man.

King Beowulf grunts but says nothing.

OLD WIGLAF

It's a dragon. It breathes fire. It destroys whole towns. You're an old man.

King Beowulf says nothing in reply.

OLD WIGLAF

But
you've
never run away from
anything,
have you?

KING BEOWULF

(pauses)

Only one thing. And she must be dead by now.

CUT TO:

148 EXT. THE SEA - SUNSET

148

We see the sea, CRASHING onto the rocks. It is almost night.

CUT TO:

149 EXT. THE GEAT MOORS - THE BARROW - NIGHT

149

There is a golden glow coming from below them. Suddenly we see, for the first time, THE DRAGON. It rises into the air, a huge, golden creature, wings flapping, long tail curling, and it hovers in the air fifty or a hundred feet above Beowulf & co.

 

We are utterly convinced by it: this is where our budget is going. This is the dragon. Smoke drifts from its open mouth, smoke and flame.

THE DRAGON'S POV: Beowulf and his men are below us, being buffeted by the wind from our wings…

DRAGON

Beowulf Grendel-slayer. Greetings.

KING BEOWULF

(shouting to be heard)

Prepare to die, foul beast!

DRAGON

Ooh. Scary. Now, you just hold that thought, and I shall be right back. Something I have to do. Don't go anywhere.

And with a beat of its enormous wings it rises into the sky.

 

King Beowulf stares at the beast, as it flies away.

BEOWULF

No!

Froda and the rest of his men (not Old Wiglaf) begin to laugh and cheer.

FRODA

You've scared it away! It's scared of you!

BONSTAN

Hurrah! The dragon is gone!

KING BEOWULF

Did you not hear what it said?

FRODA

(a little baffled)

It said n-nothing, Lord. You shouted 'prepare to die', and it flew away.

KING BEOWULF

It spoke to me. It said there was something that it had to do, before we fought. Something it had to do…but what?

Beowulf watches the Dragon vanish into the distance.

CUT TO:

150 EXT. KING BEOWULF'S CASTLE - NIGHT

150

CLOSE ON: Ursula is standing at the top walkway that circumnavigates the castle. Her eyes are trained on something in the horizon…something that is approaching. Something golden that glistens in the light of the full moon.

 

The various COURTIERS and THANES at the castle suddenly call to arms. There is a flurry of activity as people flee and prepare themselves to fight.

 

But not Ursula. She knows that the Dragon is undefeatable by them. She has been perhaps awaiting it, or some other monster, her whole life. She inhales, with no fear, almost accepting the inevitable.

 

And the inevitable happens.

 

The Dragon exhales and the castle is enveloped in fire.

CUT TO:

151 EXT. THE GEAT MOORS - THE BARROW - NIGHT

151

King Beowulf and his Thanes are where last left them.

 

Bonstan suddenly points to the horizon.

BONSTAN

Look!

There is a golden glow coming from ten miles down the shoreline…the castle is ablaze.

KING BEOWULF

My hall.

And the dragon is coming towards us now through the sky, ROARING and breathing fire. It is the scariest thing we have ever seen. Scarier than anything in “Jurassic Park”.

 

Beowulf's men scatter for whatever cover they can find. Only King Beowulf holds his position.

 

The Dragon descends and curls its body, preparing to breathe flame.

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