Read Beowulf Online

Authors: Neil Gaiman

Beowulf (6 page)

CUT TO:

42 EXT. HEROT - VILLAGE - DAY

42

The sun hangs in the west of the sky, but is still an hour away from setting.

 

We are looking at the hall from outside. Smoke is coming from the chimneys (or from the holes in the roof that let smoke out). We can hear, MUFFLED HARP MUSIC, the sound of MEN TALKING, and the CLINKING OF GOBLETS.

43 INT. HEROT - MEAD HALL - DAY

43

Inside the hall, the party is just beginning. It's not the same party as before, however. For a start there are much fewer males, even counting Beowulf's 14 Thanes. For second, everyone seems more subdued and miserable than they did at the previous party -- like a party at a funeral. Still, a HARP IS PLAYING, and people are sitting at long tables, and maidens are pouring golden mead into cups.

 

Hrothgar is sitting at his throne, which has been carried into the hall by FOUR BRAWNY THANES.

 

Wealthow is sitting on the side of the throne, and Hrothgar's hands are, absentmindedly, stroking her hair.

 

Unferth is behind and to the right of the throne.

 

Beowulf is walking about the hall, deep in thought, in another world entirely.

 

Hondshew is staring at Yrsa, the plum girl, who is pouring mead somewhere across the hall.

 

Wiglaf is talking to the other 13 thanes.

WIGLAF

Look, all I'm saying is we don't want any trouble with the locals. So, just for tonight, no fighting, and no fucking. Okay?

OLAF

I wasn't planning on doing any fucking.

WIGLAF

Well, I obviously wasn't talking to you then Olaf, was I?

Yrsa sticks her tongue out at Hondshew. He smiles a yellow-toothed smile at her.

WIGLAF

Hondshew. Make me feel like you're pretending to listen to me. It's only been five days since you waved your wife goodbye.

This maybe so, but Hondshew is still driven by his loins.

CUT TO:

44 EXT. HEROT - DAY

44

The sun continues to move West. Now the shadows are long, and the light has taken on a late afternoon glow. We hear, muffled, the PARTY NOISE. A little louder than before.

CUT TO:

45 INT. HEROT - MEAD HALL - DAY

45

Beowulf walks behind Wiglaf, to Hrothgar's throne. Wealthow's face, unearthly in its beauty, stares at him.

WEALTHOW

I hope that God is kind to you, Sir Beowulf. It would be a great shame on this house, if one so brave and noble were to die in it.

BEOWULF

There is no shame to die in battle with evil.

Hrothgar, perhaps getting a little drunk, does not realize that this is a private conversation, and announces, to everyone listening, including Unferth, standing in the shadows…

HROTHGAR

Hear that?
I
said that before I fought the great dragon of the Northern moors! Killed him, too. There's a soft spot beneath the dragon's chin,

(he points to it)

and you go in with a knife or a dagger…

Wealthow ignores her husband. She says, directly to Beowulf, eye to eye contact.

WEALTHOW

And if you die?

BEOWULF

There will be no corpse to weep over, no funeral to prepare, and none to mourn me. Grendel will dispose of my body in a bloody animal feast, taking my bones and sucking off my flesh, swallowing me down.

Wealthow is obviously sexually turned on by the thought of sucking and swallowing on Beowulf. She swallows, moistens her lips, slightly upset by her reaction.

She forces a smile.

WEALTHOW

I would mourn you, my lord.

BEOWULF

It is up to fate, and fate will go as it must.

Hrothgar has completely missed the moment of strange romance between his wife and the young warrior. Or perhaps he hasn't…either way, he begins to talk, getting up from his chair.

HROTHGAR

Your father came here fleeing the Wylflings. He'd killed one of them--

BEOWULF

Heatholaf.

HROTHGAR

(nodding vigorously and then continuing)

--that was him! I paid the blood debt for your father, and he swore his oath to me. No good deed goes unrewarded, though. I saved his skin, now you're here to save ours, eh?

He SLAPS Beowulf on the back.

 

We hear A LOW, BITTER, LAUGH from the shadows behind the throne. Unferth steps out of the shadows into the light, CLAPPING his hands.

UNFERTH

All hail the great Beowulf!

(softer, to Beowulf)

Here to save our pathetic Danish skins, eh?

(bitter irony & plenty of it)

And we are so damned grateful, mighty Beowulf. But can I ask a question -- as a huge admirer of yours?

Beowulf simply stares at him, with the sort of unblinking stare that Clint Eastwood made famous.

UNFERTH (CONT'D)

You see, there was another Beowulf I heard tell of, who challenged Brecca the

(more)

UNFERTH (CONT'D)

mighty to a swimming race, out on the open sea. Was that you?

Beowulf wonders if he's being set up. But he nods.

BEOWULF

I swam against Brecca.

UNFERTH

Hmm. I thought that it had to be a different Beowulf. Someone else of the same name. You see

(he has raised his voice here, to try and make sure that everyone in the mead hall can hear him)

--the Beowulf I heard of swam against Brecca, and
lost
. He risked his life, and Brecca's, in the deep ocean to serve his own vanity and pride. A boastful fool.
And he lost
. So I thought it had to be someone else…

Beowulf stands, and slowly walks toward Unferth. You could hear a pin drop. All the Thanes, both Hrothgar's and Beowulf's, are preparing themselves for a brawl to break out between the two men.

BEOWULF

I swam against Brecca.

UNFERTH

(loudly)

But victory was
his
, not yours. A mighty warrior who cannot even win a swimming match. Speaking only for myself here, I not only doubt that you will be able to stand for a moment against Grendel, but I doubt you will even have the guts to stay in the hall all night.

He grins up at Beowulf. This is a drama, being enacted for everyone else, and we should get REACTION SHOTS from some of the people around -- Wealthow and Hrothgar, but also the commoners. Beowulf's Thanes, however, are not interested in any of this -- they've heard this a thousand times.

BEOWULF

I find it difficult to argue with a drunk. And it is true that I did not win the race…

DISSOLVE TO:

46 THE MEMORY OF THE RACE WITH BRECCA

46

Beowulf is a tiny Jan Svankmajer doll, swimming in stop-motion animation a race with Brecca, another doll. Bony, strange, nightmare creatures, like marine versions of the Wonderland inhabitants of Svankmajer's “Alice”, rise up from beneath Beowulf, and drag him down beneath the sea.

BEOWULF (V.O.)

(continuing)

We swam for five days, neck and neck. And I was the more powerful swimmer. I was conserving my strength, for the final stretch. Then a storm blew up, and with the storm, came sea monsters.

We HEAR the Thanes in the hall MURMURING with approval.

 

We watch the little Beowulf killing the monsters, one by one.

BEOWULF (V.O.)

One of them seized me in its jaws, and dragged me to the bottom. I hacked at it with my sword, and killed the huge beast with my own blade. Again and again the monsters attacked, dark things from the sea's dark depths. I was to have been their banquet. When morning came they were lying on the shore, their guts spilling crimson into the salt-water. Luck was with me, perhaps, but still, I killed nine of them. I did not win the race, but I braved their hot jaws, making those lanes safe for seamen, and survived the nightmare.

DISSOLVE TO:

47 INT. HEROT - MEAD HALL - DAY

47

EXTREME CLOSE ON: Beowulf's face. We see something in his eyes that reveals that what we have just been told may not be the truth.

 

He shuts his eyes, remembering something else…something forbidden.

DISSOLVE TO:

48 THE MEMORY OF BIRTH

48

Beowulf is swimming beneath the sea. And he sees something GOLDEN and glittering, and he swims after it. It appears

from the glimpses we get of it, to be a beautiful golden woman, underwater. She is not a mermaid, but there is something inhuman about her. However, we only glimpse her in tiny fragmentary moments, never getting a good look.

DISSOLVE TO:

49 INT. HEROT - MEAD HALL - DAY

49

Beowulf shakes himself out of the memory, forcing it somewhere deep back into his subconscious. He begins to walk, continuing.

BEOWULF

They sing of my battle with the sea monsters to this day, my friend. And they sing no such songs about Brecca.

UNFERTH

(magnificently unimpressed)

Of course. The sea monsters. And you killed, what, twenty was it?

BEOWULF

Nine
. But…will you do me the honor of telling me your name?

UNFERTH

I am Unferth, son of Ecglaf.

BEOWULF

Unferth? Son of Ecglaf? Your fame has crossed the ocean ahead of you. I
know
who you are…

Unferth does not know if Beowulf is telling the truth. But he starts to preen a little…

BEOWULF

Let's see…. they say you are clever. Not wise, but sharp. And they say that you killed both of your brothers when you caught them having knowledge of your mother, “Unferth Kinslayer”.

(laughs)

A crime for which you will roast in agony forever.

After a protracted moment of hate, Unferth throws himself at Beowulf, growling. Beowulf steps aside and Unferth, bad leg and all, trips and falls to the floor of the hall. Beowulf crouches beside him. And, with a captive audience, he continues.

BEOWULF

I'll tell you another true thing, Unferth Kinslayer. If your strength and heart had been as strong and fierce as your
words
, then Grendel would never have crippled you. But he murders and gorges on you people, with no fear of retaliation. Tonight he will find Geats waiting for him: not crippled sheep, like you.

Hrothgar starts CLAPPING. Is he senile, or sensibly breaking up the fight?

HROTHGAR

That's the spirit, young Beowulf! That's the spirit we need! You'll kill my Grendel for me.

CUT TO:

50 EXT. HEROT - MEAD HALL - SUNSET

50

A bloody sky in the west, and the sun hangs like a huge ball of orange fire. We hear the sound, MUFFLED, OF PARTYING. It sounds like they're starting to have fun in the hall…

CUT TO:

51 INT. THE GREAT CAVE - GRENDEL'S LAIR - SUNSET

51

Grendel is on the floor of its cave, rolling back and forth, moaning in misery. We cannot be sure whether or not Grendel is even awake. We can hear, distorted, THE PARTY SOUNDS.

CUT TO:

52 INT. HEROT - MEAD HALL - SUNSET

52

The party is in full swing, and, following the fracas between Beowulf and Unferth, everything seems to have loosened up. The Danes know that Grendel will not be attacking until dark, and are beginning to party.

 

We see the glitter of gold everywhere, rings on fingers, light flashing from mugs and goblets (each person has his or her own mug or goblet). Beowulf's thanes are eating, with their fingers and with knives, from a huge cut of beef on the table.

 

Hondshew cuts a slice of beef, with his knife, and puts it into the mouth of Yrsa, who is walking past with a jug of mead.

Wealthow has brought a huge, silver and golden jug of gold mead out.

HROTHGAR

The High King's mead! The finest mead!

WEALTHOW

For our brave Geats.

Wealthow moves from Thane to thane, pouring each of them a cup of mead, while Hrothgar says things like:

HROTHGAR

I know it doesn't look like much, but it's the most powerful stuff we have. Three cups of that and they'll be carrying you out of here.

The mead runs out just as it gets to Beowulf. Wealthow walks off, looking back at Beowulf.

UNFERTH

(to Beowulf)

The mead is gone, before Lord Beowulf mighty fighter of sea monsters had his cup of inspiration.

BEOWULF

At least I do not get my courage from the mead-cup.

But at this moment Wealthow returns, bearing high a huge golden cup crusted with jewels, the treasure cup, filled with mead. She smiles at Lord Beowulf and passes him the cup. The hall rings with loud CHEERS.

CUT TO:

53 INT. THE GREAT CAVE - GRENDEL'S LAIR - SUNSET

53

Grendel's eyes are open. We hear the CHEERS FROM THE PARTY, blasting at monstrous and distorted levels. Grendel clamps his hands over his ears and thrashes on the rocky floor of its Den.

CUT TO:

54 INT. HEROT - MEAD HALL - SUNSET

54

Wealthow gives the cup to Beowulf. The party is loud enough that they are able to speak quietly to each other, unheard by everyone else. Beowulf sips the mead from the goblet.

WELTHOW

The goblet is a gift for you, Beowulf.

BEOWULF

You do me great honour, lady.

WEALTHOW

It is we who are honoured.

(she hesitates then)

Grendel. Our curse. He is my husband's shame.

BEOWULF

Not a shame, but a curse.

WEALTHOW

Shame. Hrothgar has no…other sons…And he will have no more, for all his talk.

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