Read Beowulf Online

Authors: Neil Gaiman

Beowulf (5 page)

Beowulf, standing on the bow of the ship, has been watching the coast guard's approach.

WIGLAF

He has a horse. What kind of man is he? Should we fight?

BEOWULF

That'll be the Scyldings' coastal watch. We'll greet him with friendly words.

There is a stir of motion…the armed rider -- the Scyldings' Watch -- is GALLOPING his horse toward them, over the wet sands. He has a long spear which he lowers and points before

him, as if to impale the first man he reaches. It's a moment of fear for Beowulf's men…but not for Beowulf.

 

Then he reins his horse, a few feet from our ship, in a splash of water, and points his spear at Wiglaf's neck.

SCYLDINGS' WATCH

Who are you? By your dress, you are warriors.

WIGLAF

Yes. We

SCYLDINGS' WATCH

(not yet prepared to stop talking and start listening)

For more years than you would believe I have been on guard here. I have guarded Denmark's shore from pirates and raiders, after our gold and our women.

WIGLAF

We aren't
after
your--

SCYLDINGS' WATCH

You have no permission from Hrothgar to land. No safe conduct. No passport. Hrothgar sent no messengers to tell me you were coming. Why should I not run you through right now?
Speak
. Who are you? Where are you from?

BEOWULF

Leave him be. We are Geats. I am Beowulf, son of Edgethow. We have come seeking your prince in friendship. We have no secrets from Hrothgar. They say you have a monster here. Some dire beast who comes in the night and has brought fear to your land.

SCYLDINGS' WATCH

Is that what they say?

WIGLAF

Bards sing of Hrothgar's shame from the frozen north to the shores of Vinland.

SCYLDINGS' WATCH

It is no shame to be accursed by demons.

BEOWULF

It is no shame to accept aid that is freely given. I am Beowulf, and I have come to kill your monster.

The Watch lifts his glance to Beowulf, looks over him with questioning eyes.

DISSOLVE TO:

34 EXT. RECESSED BEACH - DAY

34

The Scyldings' Watch is riding upon his horse. Some rain drops begin to fall from the colorless ether above. The Watch is struck underneath the eye by a particularly large drop. He flinches and then looks to the clouds, more drops speckle his face.

SCYLDINGS' WATCH

Rain.

Beowulf comes trotting ahead, past his men, upon his dwarf horse, no larger than a Great Dane dog.

BEOWULF

Just the ocean falling from the sky. Finding its way to its home the sea.

The Scylding's Watch looks down at Beowulf on the tiny horse.

SCYLDINGS' WATCH

(slightly cynical)

A small horse…for a Thane as “great” as you, Beowulf.

BEOWULF

She is strong enough to bear me, or to bear supplies. She does not eat much, and takes up little space on our ship.

He nods and then looks ahead, down the

35 KING'S ROAD

35

which is not much more than a rocky road of shale stones set into the mud. It leads into a forest.

SCYLDINGS' WATCH

You know, if you turn out to be raiders, Hrothgar will have my head.

BEOWULF

You trust us.

SCYLDINGS' WATCH

I believe your words. I trust in your friendship. But…

(he looks down at Beowulf on his little horse)

…if you or your men dishonor one maiden, or steal one gold ring, before you leave…when you come for your ship, I'll kill as many of you as I can, before you kill me.

BEOWULF

(approvingly)

A fine sentiment.

DISSOLVE TO:

36 EXT. FOREST - THE KING'S ROAD - DAY

36

Beowulf and his men are marching along, following the Scyldings' Watch. The Scylding's Watch reins his horse.

SCYLDINGS' WATCH

This stone path is the kings road.

(with a smile)

It was built in better times. Follow it to great Herot, the hall where my King waits. This is as far as I go. I must return to the cliffs. The sea must not be left unguarded.

BEOWULF

I thank you for your aid.

The watch kicks his horse, and heads back the way they came. And then he reins in his horse and calls,

SCYLDINGS' WATCH

Beowulf?

Beowulf turns, and looks back at him.

SCYLDINGS' WATCH

The creature took my brother. Kill the bastard for me.

CUT TO:

37 EXT. HEROT - VILLAGE - DAY

37

There is a stir inside the village stockade, as the VILLAGERS see Beowulf and his 14 marching followers coming up the road toward them.

The villagers are terrified -- are these armed raiders, come to carry off the young women (who are either going off to hide, or making themselves look more desirable, depending on their temperament) or to burn the town?

 

They stop marching in front of Hrothgar's mead-hall. Hrothgar's herald, WULFGAR, a tall, dark-haired thane in his mid thirties, is standing at the great front doors to the hall.

CUT TO:

38 INT. HEROT - THRONE ROOM - DAY

38

We follow Wulfgar through the hall, as he makes his way to Hrothgar's throne. Hrothgar looks even older and grayer than he did when last we saw him. He's staring off into nowhere.

WULFGAR

My lord? My lord?

HROTHGAR

Hnh?

WULFGAR

My lord. There are warriors outside, Geats. They came over the sea-road, bringing messages for your ears alone. They are no beggars -- and their leader, Beowulf, is a--

HROTHGAR

Beowulf? Edgethow's little boy? Not a boy any longer…but I knew him when he was a boy. Strong as a grown man he was, back then. Yes! Beowulf is here! Send him in! Send him to me! Bring him in!

Wulfgar the herald hurries out.

 

Hrothgar begins to walk around the throne room, looking younger and happier as he walks. He's placing all his hopes on Beowulf.

 

Unferth steps backwards into the shadow at the mention of Beowulf's name.

HROTHGAR

Wealthow! Unferth! Everybody! Help is at hand! Beowulf is here! Treasure -- we must give him fine gifts. And food, and drink, they will have been long at

(more)

HROTHGAR (CONT'D)

sea -- bestir yourselves, you ungrateful louts!

CUT TO:

39 EXT. HEROT - VILLAGE - DAY

39

Beowulf and his men are standing around. Beowulf stands like a statue.

 

His men, behind him, are staring at a pretty girl, YRSA, who is eating a large, slightly over-ripe plum with gusto and relish. Juice runs down her chin and onto her cleavage.

 

HONDSHEW, one of Beowulf's more ornery Thanes, stares at her and licks his lips, but whether it's food or companionship he's after we do not know.

YRSA

Nice Spear.

Hondshew swallows with an almost audible GULP.

 

Wulfgar, the King's herald, comes out.

WULFGAR

Hrothgar, Master of Battles, Lord of the North Danes, bids me say that he knows you, Beowulf son of Edgethow, knows your ancestry, and bids you welcome. You, and your men, shall go in to him.

(pause)

Your weapons shall wait out here for your return.

Wiglaf, Esher, Hondshew and the others look at Beowulf for guidance. None of the Geats is going to put down his weapon until and unless Beowulf tells them so.

 

There is a CLATTERING, as Beowulf's sword and spear hit the ground. He pulls a dagger from his belt and throws it so the blade sticks in the ground.

 

His men copy him. The weapons fall to the floor. They follow Beowulf into the Hall. Wulfgar waits for the last man to go in. Then he glares at the plum girl, Yrsa.

WULFGAR

Woman! Have you nothing better to be doing?

She makes no reply, but with her little finger, wipes the drip of plum-juice from her breast, and licks it from her finger.

CUT TO:

40 INT. HEROT - THRONE ROOM - DAY

40

The WHOLE COURT is assembled here now. Queen Wealthow and THE QUEEN'S WOMEN, GUARDS and COURTIERS. Unferth is there, but he is standing in the shadows to the right of the throne, and is not visible.

 

Hrothgar hugs Beowulf to him, proudly.

HROTHGAR

Beowulf! How is your father?

BEOWULF

He died in battle with sea-raiders, two winters' back.

HROTHGAR

He was a brave man. Need I ask why have you come to us?

BEOWULF

They say that there is a monster who comes to this hall at night.

WEALTHOW

And there have been many brave men who have come here, and have drunk too much of my Lord's mead, and have sworn to rid his hall of our nightmare. And the next morning, there was nothing left of any of them but blood to be cleaned from the floor and the benches and the walls.

BEOWULF

I have drunk nothing. Yet. But I will kill your monster.

HROTHGAR

(overly enthusiastic)

He will kill the monster! Did you hear that? Grendel will die!

BEOWULF

Grendel?

HROTHGAR

The monster is called Grendel.

BEOWULF

Then I shall kill your Grendel. I, Beowulf, killed a tribe of giants in the Orkneys. I have crushed the skulls of sea-serpents. And this…this troll of yours shall trouble you no longer.

The Queen is about to say something doubtful about all this, but Hrothgar, who takes Beowulf at face value, announces to the hall…

HROTHGAR

A hero! I knew that the sea would bring us a hero! Will you go up to the moors, then, to the cave by the dark pool, and fight the monster in its den?

The Queen, Wealthow, looks doubtful.

 

Unferth glares from the shadows.

 

Hrothgar raises his eyebrow, wanting to hear Beowulf tell of how he'll kill Grendel.

 

Beowulf steps forward and waves his hand.

BEOWULF

I have fourteen brave Thanes with me. We have been long at sea. I think it is high time, mighty Hrothgar, to break open your golden mead, famed across the world; to let the scop chant, and to feast and boast and to make merry, in this great hall of yours.

Hrothgar squints.

HROTHGAR

But…that will bring the beast here.

Beowulf says nothing, but a huge Cheshire smile spreads across his face. A smile that's much too huge.

CUT TO:

41 INT. THE GREAT CAVE - GRENDEL'S LAIR - EVENING

41

Grendel is SINGING to itself, a slow, sad, tuneless sort of noise. It is taking a soldier apart, bit by bit, and throwing the bits of body into the water. EELS seize the fragments of flesh and disappear back under the water with them. Grendel LAUGHS delightedly at the eels.

GRENDEL

No more. You get fat! Fat fish! More tomorrow.

Then Grendel walks over to the side of the cave, and puts the warrior's head on a spike. He hangs the rest of the body from a hook. He moves awkwardly. While Grendel is not human, if he were human, he would be retarded, perhaps brain-damaged. He is honestly a sweet and gentle person, except in the matter of eating people, and then only when driven mad with noise.

 

Grendel begins to play with the spear (and the head on it) as if it were a puppet.

GRENDEL

(pretending he's the voice of the Thane's head)

Da-dee-da! Da-dee-da! Who's laughing now?!

There is a RUSTLE behind him. Grendel is alarmed; he drops the head on the spear and his fingernails shoot out and become sharp claws. His eyes narrow.

 

EXTREME CLOSE ON: Grendel's mother's lips. She has full lips, tinged with gold -- almost like fish-scales. Her lips are not the lips of an old woman. We do not know, yet, whether or not they are the lips of a monster.

GRENDEL'S MOTHER

(a bodiless whisper)

Grendel.

Grendel soothes a little, his nails recess back into his fingers.

GRENDEL

Mother? You should not be here. You do not come here. We are too close to the worlds of man.

GRENDEL'S MOTHER

I had an evil dream, my son. I dreamed that you were hurt, and killed. I dreamed that you were calling out for me, and I could not come to you. And then they butchered you.

GRENDEL

I am not dead. I am happy. Look, happy Grendel.

He does an awkward, shuffling dance around the cave, SINGING as he does.

GRENDEL

(singing, tunelessly)

Happy happy, happy happy, happy happy, happy happy…

GRENDEL'S MOTHER

You must not go to the hall tonight. You have killed too many of them.

GRENDEL

Grendel is stronger. Grendel is bigger. Grendel will eat their flesh and drink their blood and break their bones.

GRENDEL'S MOTHER

Please, my son. Do not go to them.

GRENDEL

(makes a whining sound)

Oh…

GRENDEL'S MOTHER

Please. Promise me this.

He sulks, defeated.

GRENDEL

I swear. I shall not go to them.

GRENDEL'S MOTHER

Even if they make the noises?

Grendel hesitates, then nods, reluctantly, as if it's being jerked out of him, an awkward little boy promising his mother something.

GRENDEL'S MOTHER

Good boy.

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