Daughter Of The Hall
The hall gleams gold, as it ever did, and my mother
and I stare upon it in despair, as we ever have for
these twelve long winters.
"The scops now say the hall is cursed," my mother
whispers, her long golden hair twisted and matted in
filthy ropes, reminiscent of the beast she has become
in our disdain. "They claim that a monster comes to
ravage the good thanes of Heorot so that they dare not
sleep there, that Hrothgar himself fears the
I stare at Heorot, the bright hall of my childhood,
dreaming of the mead benches and the warriors who
knew me by name. A despised gaest I am now, neither
ghost nor guest of the hall, merely its ravager, but I
do it for the beloved thanes, lovers of the bright
gold, and for my father, their lord, all dead these
twelve winters, though the common Scyldings do not
realize it. They blame the horrors of our land upon a
monster they call Grendel, if they dare give it name.
Every disappeared thane, every child that is found
eaten in the fields, they blame it upon the
If I had a goblet to lift, I would lift it to the true
gaests of Heorot, who do all this in my name, so that
only a cursed and blessed few would know the truth of
what became of the great hall, why Grendel descends
every winter, and why he hides in the meres, never
coming out in daylight.
I track shadow-stalkers who rise with the twilight and
feast in cowardly ways, still playing at the old
ways. How long will it be, son of Healfdene, before
your lack of war raises suspicion? How long will it
be before some gold-loving fool comes to your aid and
discovers your secret?
"It is cursed," I said with a smile. "And cursed it
shall remain until the day I burn it down over the
head of Hrothgar and his troop."
We slink back into the mere, invisible in all the
cover. They do not dare to follow me, not so near the
full moon when my mother will turn, not so near the
time of year when the so-called Grendel strikes at the
ring-bright hall. They fear me still, and have all
these twelve years, despite my failures.
"You will be twenty-five at the new year," my mother
says as she searches for the barge we use to cross
the water to our miserable home. "And still you are
as powerful and canny as you were when you first
recognized the monsters who stole our beloved
Hrothgar's form and those of his thanes."
I smile, but it is a lie. I am no longer as powerful
as I once was, simply wiser to the ways of the
gaests. I rely heavily upon their fear of the mere
and of my dear mother, who fled with me into this
heavy exile and was rewarded by the bite of a
horrible monster that transformed her into the
beast-woman she is now.
I live now for two reasons: one, to protect my people,
the Scyldings, as best I can, and two, to kill the
betrayer who gave this curse to my father and his
men. Even as I close my eyes to fall into dreaming, I
whisper his name, as though praying to him: Unferth. I
will kill him yet, or I will die in the attempt.
The coast-guard is still human; he must be, to keep
his job, though the day is so grey and misty that
near Heorot, I know the king and his thanes may
lumber about, giving the illusion that they are men
yet. The coast-guard knows and is a boon to my mother
and I; he gives us news and warm food as he can.
"Waes hal," he says to me, looking at me with gentle
eyes. "How goes your hunt?"
"Cold and long yet, as wyrd dictates," I reply
formally. "What news?"
"There is a new hunter come to seek the Grendel and
end his ravages against Heorot: a Weder-Geat and his
band of fourteen," the coast-guard says. "His name is
Bear-wolf, Beowulf, and he is a strong and mighty
warrior, son of Ecgtheow."
"A Geat," I say contemptuously. "I bid him good
hunting, and may he find the monster he seeks."
"But the beast he seeks is you," he says with surprise.
"I long to die, good sir," I tell him. "My mind is
heavy with grief and I have fought twelve long years
against the gaests who inhabit Heorot. Perhaps if
this Bear-wolf's wyrd is to succeed in his hunt, it
will also be to hunt the true gaests."
Tears come to the eyes of the coast-guard; he was a
good warrior! Briefly he embraced me, his beard as
scratchy as the wool my mother spun in our cave. "You
must not wish to die, lady," he repeated over and
over. "For you are our only protection and our lone
"Wyrd goes as it must," I say, dry-eyed. "If I am to
die, I will, whether I wish to or not. If I am not to
die, I will not die, whether I hope it or no."
He nods and hands me a large pouch of spears and food
and if I am lucky, new cloth for my mother to work
into warmer garments. Mine are weather-worn and a
poor protector against the cold. I take it and smile
at the guard with gratitude.
"I will be at the hall tonight," I say. "Warn those
who are not gaest, for I may choose to burn the high
beams of Heorot to cinder if the gaests do choose to
sleep in the hall and not in their hidden nest."
The guard pales but nods, loyal to the end. "It shall
be done -- but what of the Geats?"
"Let them join me or die with the gaests," I reply.
"Now, I must return to my mother. Be well, and may we
I returned then to my mother's hall, weary and wet.
Waited she in the warmest corner of the cave, her
eyes yellow in the fog and mist. The full moon was
soon upon us and her change came soon.
"I brought food and cloth," I say. "I go to the hall
tonight. There are Geatish warriors come to slay the
My mother's face is full of woe and confusion; she
cannot understand my meaning. "But you are called the
"I am, and I am not." My face is set; I will go to
heaven-bright Heorot tonight and see this brave Geat,
Bear-wolf. If he is as brave and wise a warrior as
the guard thinks he is, he will realize that I am not
the monster, that the men of the hall are not men,
but gaests. And then we will proceed to destroy the
hall and all its cursedness.
Bright with hope, I make for the hall. The Bear-wolf
will aid my cause and at last I can rest.
The dawning comes and I am in the mere, gasping and
choking with rage and agony. I will slay them, burn
them all in their hubris in the hall, I will kill
them as they sleep in Heorot's high walls.
Bear-wolf, Beowulf, is a man of strange, uncanny
strength. I would have joyed to fight at his side, to
kill the gaests in their nest, for there is no doubt
in my heart and my mind that were he to follow, we
would search out the gloomy dampness where Hrothgar
and his unholy thanes hide from the sun, and they
should have no dominion over us.
But wyrd is against me, wyrd has decreed that I will
fight the warrior in the meres and caves and dark. I
went up to the hall, dear Heorot of my childhood, and
heard I the scops singing to the hero, and feasting
as of old, but as I peered through gap and window, I
knew that it was not a true feast. Only the Geats,
wine-drunk on mead, ate more than a mouthful of the
meat and dainties set before the party. Hrothgar and
his gaests were laughing behind their faces at these
brave ones, knowing that there would be a better
feast for them when darkness truly came.
The Bear-wolf did not drink. I knew that he could feel
the presence of gaests, but he did not believe that a
great lord such as Hrothgar could harbor such devils.
Wary he made boasts and shamed foul Unferth, my
father's betrayer who sat at the feet of the lord. And
I waited, as he did, for the darkness to come and for
the gaests to strike.
They found the weakest and most wine-drunk of men and
set upon him with tooth and claw until he was
blood-covered and rent apart. I sprang to my work, my
wood-spear in hand, but there was no time to catch the
gaest. The champion had set upon me and his grip was
as stern as steel.
"Let go!" I cried. "Let go!"
He wouldn't let go and in his iron-grasp, my arm
creaked and ached. I screamed in agony. "I am not
the gaest who ravaged your man!" I protested. "I have
come to slay those who take the form of Lord Hrothgar
and his thanes. They blame me for their own evil, let
me go and let me aid your hunt, Lord Beowulf!"
In his grasp, I heard the bones of my arm begin to
shatter and break. "I know who you are, girl," said
the hero in tones of deepest dread. "I know you seek
the king's death for you are the king's unwanted. I
know that with your unholy mother you haunt the meres
and torment the bright Spear-Danes, the Victory
Scyldings dare not sleep--"
"Because of the gaest!" I screamed, trying to pull
away. "You fool, it is not me, it is the thanes! Did
you see them? They do not eat and drink except the
flesh and blood of man!"
He laughed then and we grappled, his strength not
greater than mine except for the hold he held on my
arm, but as the moon rose, I saw indeed why he was so
feared a warrior, why he had smelled the gaest.
"Wolf!" I accused him. "Monster!"
The sleeping warriors, mead-drunk beyond all measure,
did not hear my cry and as the man became wolf, his
teeth sank into my arm and I, in a panic, pulled so
hard that I left half my arm in the monster's
Bear-wolf, with his last human breath until dawn,
unlocked his word- hoard and cried to me: "Run, little
girl, run now."
I ran the night in terror and panic, knowing that
somewhere beyond the lake, my mother, also wolf now,
ravened, and that in their caves, the gaests laughed
at the hunter being hunted by the great wer-bear-wolf
hero. I wept as my life blood would leak from my
ruined arm, yet the blood flow stopped and I could
still run, still hide in tree and water and fog and
avoid the champion in his monstrosity.
Wyrd was with the man, and I had been cast aside, left
to die, my arm a trophy in the high hall of Heorot
that I still dream of after twelve long winters in
At the edge of the water, at dawn, I am alone and
dying. My mother will find me and hide me, as she has
when I have been sore wounded by my enemies. Tonight
I will whisper to the wolf she becomes to find the
gaests, to attack the man-wolf herself.
I will be avenged, for my blood cannot be spilt in
vain. I protect these woods; I will not die until
they are safe.
Fever attacks my mind and thought; I cannot tell
present from past in this damp cave, made ill by
misty winds and swamp stink. It is too cold to
survive, yet I have survived twelve winters in the
coldest hell, woken by ravens and sung to sleep by
I am blue with cold.
"They can smell blood," wails my mother. "They will
find you, daughter, they will kill you. You must
"I cannot run," I say, the tiredness of midnight
coursing in my bones. I am mangled now, a one-armed
warrior who still needs to seek her prey. I cannot
hunt, but needs must still hunt. "I will die if I move
tonight. I may die anyway."
"They will make gaests of us both!" my mother warns,
and could I move, I would slit her throat so as not
to hear any more words of woe. I know I will die
tonight; wyrd has decreed it and I cannot fight wyrd.
But I will not die unless they die as well.
But I am no longer in the cave; I am in the hall,
Heorot as it once was, light with laughter and bright
with ring-giving. The warriors crash against the
mead-benches, singing of triumph, and I am the
daughter of Hrothgar, greatest of the
Victory-Scyldings, Healfdene's son, builder of a
"You are my little warrior," my father says, giving me
a spear to play with. "You will brighten the hall as
its loveliest ornament."
We could not know I was too strong too young, we could
not know that our own beloved Unferth would betray us
with an emissary who claimed to be from Onela's
court, how could we know that all our wishes would be
turned against us? I would be the brightest ornament
of the hall; my head would grace the wall of Heorot
before the hall ran blood-red.
I scream. My mother has put a flame-heated knife
against the wound where my hand was once. She is only
trying to help, but I already burn within; I would
much rather not burn without.
"I don't want to die," I moan to my mother, who is
dark-eyed with rage and fear. "I don't want my head
to be cut off."
"You will be avenged," my mother says calmly, the wolf
animating her heart and mind. "I will go to the hall
tonight and there will be blood."
I slew the betrayer that came with Unferth, believing
that his evil would leave us with his death; I had
been wrong, so horribly wrong. In my heart-thoughts,
I knew my mother's desperate vengeance would come to
sorrow beyond words.
I am cold like the depths of the whale-road, the sea
the Weder-Geats crossed in their proud ships to come
to this cursed land with its cursed hall and cursed
gaests. Only I, of all my father's children, have
rebelled against him, and I will die in my hatred of
my father, though I loved him best.
"There is always blood," I say, the skin of my arm
black and red. There is only pain and blood in my
life, and none of the life-sweetness the scops say
belong to a beautiful daughter of the hall with golden
Wyrd goes as it will; I will die tonight. He is coming
for me, the man- wolf. He has a taste for my
It is Unferth's sword he brings to kill me, though how
it has survived through a fight that lasted the night
between two wolves I cannot say. Perhaps it is true
and wyrd goes with him. I am sick to death and cannot
care. I would rather a champion than the
shadow-stalkers who wear beloved faces take this
despised life from me.
My mother's body lies near; her face still in its
change. She appears to be a monster, a monster with
some human grace and form, but with hideous nakedness
and alien features. If the wolf takes her to Heorot,
the people will scream at the monstrous mother of
But I am not a monster; I am less monster than the
wolf-man standing above me with a sword I know of
"I am a true daughter of the hall," I croak as he
comes to me, my life almost ebbed out in my pathetic
nest. "I am no monster."
"You seek to destroy a true king," says he, resolute
and brave, great hero Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow,
sister-son of Hygelac. "That is a crime that cannot
"The king is dead," I protest, too weary to move, to
fight. "Ask the gaest to stand beside you at noon and
see who is man and who is gaest."
"You are not woman any more than the king is man or I
am man," the hero says. "This land is cursed and when
you are dead, I will return to Geatland with
Hrothgar's treasure and warning for my lord
"I tried to save my people," I say. "Death is better
than their betrayal."
His eyes are human again; he pauses.
"I will do what I can, lady, to reveal the gaests at
the hall, but I am Hygelac's thane," he says, ready
to toss away the blade and leave me to a slow
"No," I cry. "Do it quickly, for I am hero as much as
you. I have kept the death away for twelve winters; I
have killed many gaests, and I have fought against
great warriors. I wish to die well, and you will
grant this to me."
He nods, and lifts his sword. I close my eyes. The
blade is sharp; I will die well.