Before the Dragon

So. For long years the tale has been told
of the brave warrior from Geatland,
mightiest of a mighty race,
who set out across the unforgiving sea
to the terrorised land of the Danes
to pit his strength against that of a terrible foe.

Two great combats did he undertake
‘gainst a monster and it’s monstrous dam
and emerged at last, bloody but victorious,
to eternal praise and great reward
for himself and his surviving men.
Then the warrior turned his face to home,
crossing again the unforgiving sea,
to the land of the mighty Geats
where he knelt once more before his King.

And another tale is often told;
that the mightiest of warriors
himself became a king
and ruled his people well
until the day came for his final battle,
against a great and terrible wyrm
that had set all of Geatland aflame.
But between them both lie other tales
further legends of Beowulf,
the warrior who became king,
and this, then, is one of those…

So. The young King wandered
walking the roads of his kingdom,
sure enough of his might
but not yet certain of his right to rule;
the Geats were a strong people,
and their new king the strongest of them,
but even those who have great strength
can be weakened by uncertainty.

He did not dress as a king
to a stranger’s eyes he would be only a man
though one of great power,
scarred by past battles
and looking ahead with watchful eyes.
He had been travelling for weeks,
no clear destination in mind,
only a desire to walk
to see the land that was his to rule,
his to protect.

The air was cold and crisp
and white snow lay on the ground
as he approached a farmstead,
but his brow furrowed
as he saw the door thrown down
monstrous tracks leading away
toward the trees beyond.

As he looked on he saw a young maiden
running through the snow,
a bundle clutched in her arms.
Seeing the mighty warrior
she cried out for aid,
and the King strode forward to meet her.
The bundle she held so tightly
was a boy-child, face pale in the winter air,
and as Beowulf listened she told a tale of woe;
a monster that had torn through their home,
snatching up her only brother
to carry off and feast upon.
Her parents, warriors both,
had followed the demon,
harrying it with their blades
so that it had dropped its prize
and turned to faced them.

“Even now they fight the beast,
though I fear they cannot prevail.”
The King said not a word,
but drew his blade and strode for the trees,
following the tracks of warriors and beast
the young maiden running before him.
Soon enough a familiar sound rang out in the cold air,
ragged breaths, the clang of metal;
the sounds of battle.
They reached a clearing in the trees
and the maiden halted with a cry,
snatching out a dagger with a dark blade.
Maiden and warrior king stood still
frozen at the edge of the clearing
staring at three figures moving within.

Bodies shifting and dancing,
caught in bloody battle;
two warriors, a man and a woman
fighting side by side,
facing a beast out of nightmare.
It was a monstrous shape,
a hulking demon
breath misting in the winter air,
claws slashing and spattering the snow
with the warrior’s blood.
As he watched,
the king remembered another monster,
long years and an ocean away…
This creature was no Grendel,
but it was monster enough, even so.

The two warriors fought as one,
woman and man against a dread beast,
a dance of death in the winter light.
The young maiden looked on,
clutching the babe in one arm,
her own small dagger gripped tightly in a pale fist,
but she could not step into battle.
Truly, there was naught she might do,
no way she could aid them;
they fought with the monster,
fluid and graceful,
until the beast’s tearing claw
caught the man in the chest,
ripping him asunder
painting the snow crimson.

He made no sound,
but the woman cried out
as though she had been slain herself.
Her blade flashed like lightning
as she attacked the beast
the monster that had slain her husband,
slicing great wounds in its flesh,
and the shield maiden’s fury
drove the creature back.

But only for a moment.
The demon lunged once more,
slathering jaws opening wide
as a bloody claw knocked the blade aside.
Those foul jaws snapped closed
and the valiant shieldmaiden screamed in agony
fangs tearing her shoulder
with a deep, bloody wound.
Her daughter screamed too,
raising her dagger high
but before she could throw herself upon the beast
Beowulf, mightiest of the Geats,
leapt forward to meet it.

His blade whistled in the crisp morning air,
the monster screeched in anguish
boiling black blood staining the snowy ground.
Now the King danced with the monster
grace and terror combined,
sword singing a bloody song
that the demon could not match.
The young maiden crouched with her mother,
tending her as best she could
as the combatants whirled about them.
The creature gave a final screech of rage
as the King’s shining sword
cleaved the monstrous heart
and the creature fell to the blood-slicked snow,
shattered and broken.

The mighty warrior turned from his foe
kneeling before the shieldmaiden
whose eyes looked on him with gratitude
despite her own pain.
“Thanks to you,” she whispered.
“Rest now, warrior,” the King said.
“The beast is slain, it’s murder
of husband and father avenged. Rest.”
The King took the babe from the young maiden
who supported her mother
as they trudged through the snow,
back to the farmstead.
Then the king returned to the clearing
to the body of the warrior who had fallen,
struck down by the demon
that had tried to shatter his family.
Beowulf carried his body home
with reverence and honour,
and with the young maiden
built a pyre for him.

Her mother, valiant shieldmaiden,
wounds bound and tended,
drifted in healing slumber
as her husband journeyed onward
to the lands beyond the world.

The King and the young maiden
stood in the light of the flames,
the boy-child cradled in the maiden’s arms.
“She called you a king,” the maiden said,
her eyes on the noble warrior
who did not turn from the flames.
“And so I am,” he murmured
“With a duty to my people.”
The maiden looked on the King with gratitude
though her eyes were also sad.
“A duty served, and we thank you.”
The boy child had woken,
and gazed up at the King with dark eyes.
“What are your names?” the warrior asked,
“I am Hygga, my king,” came the reply,
“and my brother is Wiglaf.
One day we shall repay you. I swear it.”
The warrior king took up the child
cradling him in his scarred arms.
“You have valiant kin, Wiglaf.
Heed them well, and glory shall be yours,
I am sure of it.”

As the morning sun lit the snow
the funeral pyre had burned low
as Hygga stood holding her brother,
boy-child and maiden watching
as the mighty warrior
who had fought for them
continued on his wandering.

So. For long years the tales have been told
of the brave warrior from Geatland,
mightiest of a mighty race,
the warrior who became a king.
Beowulf strode out into the cold morning
walking the roads of his kingdom
a hero out of legend
walking into the rest of his story…


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