Disclaimer: This is only a retelling of the oldest story in the English language in a way that NO one has probably told it before. The only things I do own are the names of both Grendel's Mother and the Dragon of Earnaness...along with some of the subplots and...some original characters.
Prologue: Grendel's Wrath
It was an age of heroes, monsters, faith and gold. The mighty Roman Empire had fallen to the many peoples whom they had considered 'barbarians', yet the majority of Europe had abandoned its traditional beliefs and turned to the Christian faith. Only in the North did the people hold onto the gods of their ancestors.
Among those people were the Danes, a seafaring warrior culture whose name would one day be etched onto the land of Denmark and who were also destined to change England's fate. Yet now, all they could claim was the island of Zealand to the east, as the land that would one day become Denmark was ruled instead by the Jutes, a rival power.
However, the island of Zealand was ruled by a legendary line of Kings; the Scyldings. The King who ruled over the Danes at this time was Hrothgar, son of Halfdan, a great warrior who was loved and respected by the nobles and the common folk alike. He was known for his generosity and his honesty, sharing out rings and treasure with his finest warriors and always honoring his oaths as King.
He repelled invasion after invasion from the Jutes to the west, battled monsters ranging from Orkalf, or Orc, and Svartalf, or Dark-Elf, raiding parties from Svartalfheim, the Dark-Elf realm, to hungry Trolls and Ogres from Jotunheim, the realm of the Giants, and his most famous deed of all was slaying the mighty Dragon Nottagi, Night-Terror, who terrorized the lands of the Wulfings and whose very wings would eclipse the sun spreading darkness throughout the land.
As a reward for his glorious deed of ridding the land of Nottagi, Hrothgar was given the Wulfing King's daughter Wealthow to secure an alliance. While at first Hrothgar and Wealthow's union was not an easy marriage, as time passed they grew to love each other dearly. They had two sons named Hrethric and Hrothmund in addition to a beautiful daughter named Freawaru. Hrothgar also ordered the construction of a great mead hall, a longhouse fitting for a King of Hrothgar's status and to celebrate the victories and fortunes of the Danes.
Inspired by the wildlife of Zealand particularly of stags, he chose to name his grand longhouse and mead hall Heorot or 'Hall of the Hart', for it was to be adorned and decorated with the images of stags and antler carvings. After a building period of a year, the longhouse of Heorot was finally completed. Every evening, Hrothgar, his family and their trusted advisor Aeschere presided over a great feast.
But the longhouse was more than just a banquet hall, it was also a place where people could share treasure, sing songs, tell stories of many great adventures, to celebrate the victories of many great warriors, to toast to the men who helped build this hall, and to fornicate, though the King and his family did not take part in fornicating, oh no. Imagine the scandal, mind you.
Yet the Danes never imagined that darkness would engulf the land once again, and they also never imagined how it would affect them.
It all began on a dark and dreary night on the northern fens, deep within the marshy moors in a dark cave dwelt a monstrous being. What he was could be anyone's guess, but he was truly a horrific sight to behold on the outside.
He was a fiend coughed up from the darkest depths of Helheim. His face resembled a distorted human skull, his skin was as pitch black as a moonless night, his body was unnaturally muscular, his teeth were like long knives, the claws on his hands and feet were like spikes, his eyes glowed like molten fire, his hair if one could call it hair resembled vicious whip-like dreadlocks and when he walked, he tread upon his knuckles like a great-ape.
His name was Grendel, derived from the word grindan which meant 'to grind' or 'to destroy'. Whether he gave himself that name or the Danes did, one can never know. No one knew exactly who Grendel was nor did they know what he was. He was not a Troll, since he lacked the tusks that Trolls had on the sides of their faces, yet he could only roam out of his cave at night. He was not an Ogre, since he lacked the horns Ogres had on their heads yet he walked like one. He was not even one of the Jotnar or Giant race, even though he was three times the size of an ordinary human he was still not big enough to be considered a true Giant.
Yet Grendel had a ravenous appetite for flesh, whether for animals or people, which was expected of many Jotnar, Ogres or Trolls. Whatever his origins, Grendel on this particular night was hungry. The sounds echoing from Heorot to him were a constant bitter reminder that he would never be a part of society. As he gazed on upon the joyous noise and lit fires illuminating from the longhouse, he growled and hissed and bared his teeth as he spoke in a raspy, yet soft voice that resembled a nest of snakes.
"Humans. What weak and pathetic creatures they are. What right have they to be merry and joyful when I am not a part of all that? They have grown lazy, complacent, drunk on their own mead that they have forgotten what it means to be afraid of the dark. For too long I have lived in the shadows and waited. Now it is time for the Danes to know the meaning of sorrow and of fear. The time of Grendel has come."
And thus, Grendel roared and darted towards the longhouse using both his hind legs and his knuckle-walking arms to propel him forward. He was ready to taste Danish flesh.
Inside the great mead hall, blissfully unaware that Grendel was coming, the Danes retired for the night as Hrothgar and his family closed the doors and set out to their respective sleeping areas. As the flames died out, an ominous shadow befell the land outside. Sure enough, it was Grendel, come for his flesh.
Among those warriors who slept that horrific night was an accomplished thane named Unferth son of Ecgalf. Auburn haired, icy eyed, thin-bearded and still in his prime, the warrior had trouble sleeping at night and none of the mead in the world could help him sleep. And this night, he felt a great terror coming towards him as he heard the doors burst open and the wind blew strongly into the hall.
Grendel showed himself snarling and licking his lips in hunger as the Danes woke from their slumber, terror gripping at their hearts as they gazed upon the vicious monster who spoke softly, yet menacingly with a hiss and a toothy grin. "Ah. Afraid aren't we, little Danes? Good. Good. The stronger your fear, the sweeter your blood will taste on my lips."
Though gripped by fear, the warriors pulled out their swords and weapons as they charged at Grendel who jumped into the air and landed upon one of the posts. "Where is he? Where is that monster?" Cried one of the warriors as Grendel laughed cruelly. "You think your meager weapons can harm me? Me, Grendel the Untouchable? No weapon made by your pathetic hands can cut or pierce my hide."
The warriors could not see Grendel, until it was too late as the only things they could see of him were his fiery eyes whilst lightning flashed across the hall. Only one among the warriors was too afraid and too overcome with mead to get up and fight; Unferth.
Grendel then began to grab warrior after warrior as lightning flashed across the room. All Unferth could do was watch in horror and despair as the monstrous being ripped his fellows apart, crunched on their bones and drank their blood. How many Grendel had killed and eaten, Unferth had lost count. Yet the screams of his fellow thanes filled his ears and their spattered blood drenched the halls and his clothing.
Until at last, Unferth himself was the only survivor as he panted in horror and Grendel walked towards him, with the blood spattered corpses in his left arm and the other arm walking on his knuckle. "Who are you? What are you? Why come you to Heorot and to harm our people?" Unferth asked in horror. Grendel sniffed at Unferth and grinned, "Hmm. You...Unferth, son of Ecglaf."
"Yes?" Unferth asked, terror gripping at his heart. "Tell your King Hrothgar that he may own the lands of Zealand, but he will never own the marshes. Because your people transgressed on us and our kind, I demand a sacrifice in payment for these atrocities; Princess Freawaru. Give him this message from me, Grendel son of Odra. Do so and I shall spare your life and the lives of your fellows, Unferth Kinslayer! Do it not and I shall return tomorrow night and the next night to slaughter your people until my demands are met." Grendel said with a growl.
This was all too much for Unferth to bear as he passed out from exhaustion and Grendel walked off with his kills.
The next morning, King Hrothgar, who was in his mid-forties, dark haired, grey-eyed, dark bearded and clad in the finest fur robes in the land was alarmed beyond belief at what he saw in Heorot. His mead-hall had been defiled, blood was splattered everywhere, intestines and other bloodied body parts were strewn across the floor, including Grendel's monstrous footprints. When he saw Unferth laying unconscious, he had feared the worst.
"Unferth! Unferth, stir yourself. Wake, Unferth." Hrothgar pleaded as he went to Unferth's side, splashing water on the thane. This caught him completely by surprise. "My Lord Hrothgar....My Lord...I saw..."
"What did you see, Unferth? What happened last night? What sort of monster did this to my mead-hall?" Hrothgar asked in despair and concern. "Grendel did this deed, my noble Lord." Unferth answered panting heavily. "Grendel?" Hrothgar asked in surprise. "Please explain what happened, Unferth." Queen Wealthow, who was in her early forties, flaxen-haired, bright green-eyed, fair skinned and clad in a fine green robe, pleaded with the honored thane.
Unferth explained everything that had transpired that night, most particularly Grendel's outrageous demand. Yet what Grendel and Odra wanted with Freawaru, who was still only a girl and had not yet seen eleven winters, was anyone's guess, but Wealthow was terrified by the idea of giving her precious daughter to such a monster and his mother.
Overhearing the news of Grendel's demand was Hrethric, King Hrothgar's eldest son by Wealthow, who was now twenty and eager to prove himself as a man. The epitome of bravery, this flaxen haired, grey-eyed warrior was his father's pride and joy. He wished to prove himself worthy of both his father's honor and of the honor of Zealand.
Hrethric came into the room and bowed in respect as he spoke in a determined voice, "Father...Mother...let me go into the marshes. I will slay this Grendel demon and his foul mother. They shall not lay their hands on my sister."
Aeschere who was in his early fifties, white haired, hazel eyed and clad in dark robes, was surprised completely by Hrethric's idea. "Master Hrethric, are you certain that you wish to sacrifice your own life for the good of Zealand against a monster who was able to kill your father's finest warriors in just one night?"
"Aeschere, I'm not a child anymore. I can't let this Grendel monster threaten my family or slaughter our people any longer." Hrethric said in determined voice before he turned to his parents and said, "Father, Mother...please...let me do this. I want to prove myself as a man to you. You're my family."
Seeing that Hrethric had made up his mind, Hrothgar embraced his son. "Hrethric...go with the gods. Come back to us, son."
Then Wealthow removed her golden jeweled necklace, the Brisingamen a gift from the Goddess Freya, and placed it on her eldest son's neck. "Please return with the Brisingamen on your person, Hrethric. It will protect you from demon magic."
"Thank you Mother. Father....I will return with Grendel's head in my hand and his mother's as well." Hrethric said as he went to say goodbye to his brother and sister, never knowing if he would ever see them again.
After saying his goodbyes to his family and his loved ones, Hrethric rode off to the marshes hoping to slay Grendel and his mother Odra, while Hrothgar, Wealthow and their family waited.
Until at last night fell and everyone within Heorot had begun celebrating Hrethric's impending victory with a great feast. Hrothgar and Wealthow sat upon their thrones, waiting anxiously for Hrethric's return. Then the sound of knocking was heard. Hrothgar rose up from his throne in excitement. "My son has returned. Grendel and Odra have been slain. Rejoice, good Danes. Open the doors." Hrothgar said with a joyous laugh, yet Unferth was wary.
"Lord Hrothgar, wait!" Unferth cried out as the thanes opened the door, only for a powerful wind to blow them away and to blow out the fires, causing the onlookers to gasp in horror as darkness filled the hall and Grendel's monstrous figure arrived. "I thought I made my demands perfectly clear." Grendel said hissing as his fiery eyes burned brighter. Many of the warriors pulled out their weapons, ready to do battle and to protect their King and his family.
"Where is my son, Grendel?! What have you done with Hrethric?!" Hrothgar demanded, his hand reaching for his sword as Grendel chuckled sadistically. "Ah, worry not, Hrothgar son of Halfdan. He's right here!" Grendel said as he held aloft a bloodied human skull with a spine still attached to it, and on the neck of the skull was the Brisingamen. The Royal Family was horrified by what they saw.
"Now it is time for you to know fear!" Grendel roared as he threw Hrethric's skull and spine towards the throne and began to swipe the hall clean with Hrothgar's warriors. A warrior tried to chop at Grendel's hide, only for his axe to splinter and for the beast to grab him and bite off his head. Then he threw the body away as he grabbed another warrior and tore him to pieces.
Warrior after warrior, save for Unferth, charged at Grendel, yet when they tried to strike him, their weapons shattered and splintered upon making impact with his tough skin. Grendel, in annoyance, simply tore them apart as their blood splattered all over the hall. When he saw Princess Freawaru, Hrothgar's brown haired bright-green eyed eleven year old daughter, hiding in fear, Grendel growled as he charged at her.
Hrothgar seeing his child in danger, drew his sword and jumped in front of Freawaru, ready to defend her from this monster. Yet just as Grendel saw Hrothgar in front of Freawaru, the monster halted his advance. "Fight me, demon! You want my daughter, you'll have to kill me to get to her. Fight me." Hrothgar demanded, though surprised that Grendel would not lift a hand against him.
Grendel simply backed away as Hrothgar continued his demand, "My fight is not with you, Hrothgar. All I want is your precious daughter. All this death could have been avoided and your eldest son would have been spared had my demands been met. I will return, King of the Danes, again...and again...and again. I promise you that. All the deaths of your warriors and people will be on your head until you give me what I want. Do so and my mother and I shall leave your Kingdom in peace, if not, I will show your people no mercy." Grendel promised as he left the mead-hall with his kills.
Upon retrieving Hrethric's skull and spinal cord, Wealthow burst into tears as Hrothgar held Freawaru in his arms. It seemed that Grendel was determined to get his hands on Freawaru, no matter how many Danes he killed. Yet why?
Why would Grendel not lay a hand on Hrothgar? No one among the Danes had an answer. However word of Grendel's evil had spread from the Northern lands to the Christian Kingdoms further down south and beyond. Most of Christendom believed that Grendel was descended from the line of Cain, a son of Adam who murdered his brother Abel in jealousy. They also believed that because Hrothgar sat upon a throne protected by God Himself or by Odin, Grendel had to keep his distance.
Whatever the reason for Grendel's attacks and his origins, everyone believed this; that he was evil. For twelve long years, Grendel attacked Heorot demanding Freawaru be given to him. As a result of his bestial attacks, Heorot was often abandoned at night, never to be occupied. Grendel's monstrosity cast a shadow over the Kingdom, engulfing Zealand in darkness and despair.
Hrothgar had declared that whomsoever would help rid the land of Grendel would not only be rewarded with half the gold in Zealand, but also the hand of Princess Freawaru when she came of age. For such a prize any man was willing to offer his life, yet in all the twelve years that Grendel had made his dire threat, no warrior came close to killing Grendel. Those who had attempted to free Zealand from the evil off Grendel failed.
What Zealand needed was a hero. Someone who could take Grendel down. Who that hero was could be anyone's guess, but deep in the land of the Geats would come a hero that the Danes needed.