Mirowen and Festuscato chose to spend the afternoon exploring. They found Unferth the drunk passed out in a side room near the hall. Hrugen was there, crying, and Mirowen and Festuscato spent a great deal of time hugging him and telling him it would be all right. They took him to the kitchen because he had missed both breakfast and dinner. He said he was not hungry, but the kindly cook gave him a plate and he managed to eat it all.
“I’m sorry about what happened earlier,” Mirowen said to the kitchen servant, Ragnard.
“Why?” Ragnard shot at her, bitterness in his voice.
“It was so unfair,” she said, a little taken aback.
“No one cares for Ragnard,” the young man said, and he turned his back on her to focus on his work.
“I only meant a kindness,” Mirowen said to Festuscato.
Festuscato took her hand and smiled for her. “I know,” he said. “But feeling stupid can block the ears.”
“If that is the case, most fee, imps, dwarfs, and all ogres should not be able to hear at all.” She returned his smile.
“I said feeling, not being,” he said and let her go. “And I only meant in humans.”
She gave him a sly look, but kept on walking. They visited with Svergen of the coastal watch before they woke Mousden in time for supper, which had to be consumed early so the hall could be vacated by sundown. Queen Wealtheow made her appearance in time to force Hrothgar to take his medicine. She smiled toward Mirowen, who nodded in return.
“Got along well,” Festuscato said, like a question, and Mirowen nodded. “But how did Seamus do? That’s what I want to know.”
Bran and Gregor looked over. Neither looked to have moved an inch since the mid-day meal. They each waited for the other to speak, but finally Bran took the lead.
“Well enough for an Irish cleric,” he said.
Seamus said nothing, but shrugged without looking up.
“I’m bored,” Gregor said at last. “I say we find this monster and get it over or leave in the morning.”
“Leave in the morning,” Mousden piped up.
“A few days,” Festuscato said. “Just a few days.”
When they had supped, and returned to their rooms, Festuscato stayed a bit with Mirowen and Mousden in Mirowen’s room.
“Nothing,” he confessed. “Wulfgar the proud, Aschere the slime, Svergen the blind, Heinrich the unbeliever, and Unferth the unconscious. None of them seems right. I just don’t see a monster in them.”
“Your eyes are not infallible,” Mirowen said.
“Me neither,” Mousden confirmed. “And I can smell a monster a hundred miles off.”
“I’ll bet,” Festuscato said with a smile. “And maybe not infallible, but both Artemis the hunter and Justitia justice enhanced, remember?”
“I do remember,” she said. “But if it isn’t one of them, then who?”
She hardly finished the sentence when something roared in the hall. They heard a loud bang as Gregor got knocked to the wall. Bran, being larger, got knocked through the door, the hilt of his broken sword still clutched in his hand. Both men were only partially conscious as the creature came into the room, bending a little against the low, eight-foot ceiling.
“I see the elf.” The creature said in a voice that sounded like a loud whine, but fog horn deep. “I see the dwarf and the winged one. They cannot hide from me.”
Mirowen backed away. Mousden flew to the highest, back-corner of the room. Festuscato called his armor and weapons to him and saw the creature laugh. It sounded indeed like Curdwallah, he thought. A Grendel. A male hag.
“No weapon forged by man can hurt me.” The creature said and ripped Bran’s broken sword from Bran’s hand and nearly took Bran’s hand with it. The creature held out the broken sword and pointed with his right finger. “And now, Roman, you will die.”
Festuscato did not hesitate. Spurred in his spirit and strengthened by the huntress Artemis, his hand pulled his long knife and slashed across in one motion. Everything appeared frozen in the room for the briefest moment before the monster’s finger fell to the floor. The monster let out a deafening howl. Mousden screamed and Mirowen covered her ears and closed her eyes. A few drops of the monster’s blood fell to the floor and immediately began to burn through the stone like the strongest acid.
The monster howled again, looked at the place where its digit was missing, and turned and leapt off the balcony to the stones below, where it rushed around the corner and became lost from sight.
Festuscato recognized the blood made hole in the floor and quickly examined his blade. It looked untouched by the acid. The cut had been so quick and clean, the slow-moving blood never touched it, as far as he could tell.
Mirowen knelt beside Bran who held his wrist and grimaced. Gregor came staggering into the room, holding his head. Mousden quit screaming and started to threaten to fly back to Cornwall, not that he could.
“That was interesting,” Festuscato mused.
“Greta?” Mirowen asked, and Festuscato nodded. She was the healer that came nearest to his mind. He closed his eyes and left that time while Greta came to take his place, his armor automatically adjusting to her shape and size.
“Let me see,” she told Mirowen. She wrapped Bran’s hand in a splint so he could not bend it. His wrist had been terribly strained, but not broken. “You won’t be able to use that sword for a while,” she said. “Once we get you a new one.”
“My Lady of the Ways.” That was what Gregor called her.
“Hush, One-Eye,” she told him, and she wrapped his head, though he would only have a lump for a short time. “Probably did you some good,” she said with a smile and vanished from there to let Festuscato come home.
Seamus and Luckless came in only moments later. They looked around at the damage and the bandages, and Luckless spoke.
“What did we miss?” he asked.
Festuscato took a cloth and carefully picked up the drained finger.
Beowulf arrives, and so does the Grendel. Nest Time. Until then, Happy Reading