The trail turned out to be easy enough. Festuscato thanked the goddess Diana, the huntress, all the same, for blessing his reflection with the hunter’s spirit. It was a gift which reflected in him sufficiently so he never doubted the trail for a moment.
Deep in the woods, after nearly three hours, they caught up with the beast. Even as the sun began to redden the Eastern horizon, they knew who it was. Ragnard, the cook’s assistant had a stump for an arm where his arm slowly started growing back.
“Why?” Festuscato asked the obvious question, while he and the others dismounted from their skittish animals. Bran already had his sword in both hands to support his strained wrist and Gregor clutched his spear. Mirowen came up to stand beside Festuscato, but Mousden kept his distance while Vingevourt made an off-handed comment.
“Lake near here.” He sniffed the air and muttered. “Bad water.”
“My mother.” Ragnard sniffed tears and shouted.
“What about her?” Mirowen asked.
“She did not raise a thrall.” Ragnard spat. “I am better than any of them. I showed them.” His voice trailed off for a moment but the others kept silent so he started up again. “She caught the wolf disease. My father would not help her, so she took me to Heorot to be raised and trained as a warrior. But they called me fatherless. An orphan, they said, though some of them knew my mother well enough from the old days. I showed them.”
“Your mother took you to the king. Why did she not stay and fight for your rights?” Mirowen felt confused.
“She caught the wolf disease!” Ragnard yelled at her. The anger rose up in his face.
“Werewolf,” Festuscato said, quietly.
“She did not want to hurt me.” Ragnard went on. “She did not know that I would change. That was because of my father.”
“And who was your father?” Festuscato asked, having a suspicion.
“Abraxas.” Ragnard growled, and he began to grow and change into the beast right before their eyes. “And now I must kill you.”
“Behind me.” Festuscato shouted and pulled Wyrd with one hand while he pushed Mirowen behind him with the other. The beast paused.
“This will cut more than fingers,” Festuscato said sharply.
The beast howled and took one step forward when Mirowen burst free of Festuscato’s grip and screamed at the beast.
“No!” Her hands came up and the eldritch fire of old burst from her fingertips and set the hair covered Grendel instantly to flame. The beast howled in surprise, but only for a moment before it began to grow even larger, nine feet, perhaps ten, and its’ missing arm began to grow back at an alarming rate.
“Its’ making him stronger,” Bran breathed, as indeed it appeared that the fire of old resonated with some spiritual legacy from his father.
Grendel growled, lower, louder and more fiercely than ever as Vingevourt soaked him with water intended to douse the flame. The shock of it caused the beast and everyone else to pause. Then they saw. The fire got extinguished, and something broke in the beast’s face. The arm which had almost become whole, shriveled again to near human proportions, while the beast himself began to shrink, not as it had grown, but almost like the Wicked Witch of the West melting under the sting of mop water.
Grendel howled once more, but it sounded like a mournful, pain-filled and pitiful sound. Somehow, the combination of fire that appeared to strengthen him, put out suddenly by the water, overloaded the legacy inside of him. The fire and the water did not mix. It ruined him. The beast shrank to eight feet tall, or more nearly seven, and appeared to be decomposing from the inside-out. The others could smell it. It smelled like death. In a last dash, the Grendel turned and ran to dive into the nearby lake with the word “Mother” ill sounded on its’ lips. And it was gone.
“But is it dead?” Gregor asked.
“Yes,” Festuscato nodded. “This time I think it is sincerely dead.”
“Poor Ragnard,” Mirowen said, and Bran nodded; but Mousden fluttered down to scream.
“Poor Ragnard? That beast could have killed us all! I want to go back to my caves where I only have bats and trolls and creatures of the dark to worry about.”
“Too bad,” Gregor said to Mousden. He still clutched his spear. “I was up for a good fight.”
“What is wrong with you?” Mousden turned on Gregor. “That creature could have had us all for breakfast!”
“Actually.” Gregor waved the pixie in close. “To be honest, I nearly soiled myself.”
Mousden paused in shock. Then he patted his friend on the back. “I would have protected you,” he said.
“Speaking of breakfast.” Luckless spoke up, but he got interrupted by Festuscato.
“For the record, none of us were here. This did not happen. I will cast no aspersion on Beowulf’s honor or bravery.”
The others looked at each other and one by one they nodded. Gregor was the only one who spoke. “You’re the leader of this crazy expedition. If that’s how you want it, Lord Agitus, its’ all right with me. Not much of a fight for the telling, however you slice it.”
With that, they mounted for the return journey, but Festuscato came close to Mirowen and asked.
“Will you go to him?”
“That was very kind of you to preserve his honor and glory.”
“That was preserving history,” he said without explanation. “But will you go to him?”
“My heart says I must,” she said, softly.
“And his heart?” Festuscato asked. Mirowen said nothing but bit her lower lip, slightly, and nodded. Festuscato knew it was too late to turn back. “It was bound to happen someday,” he said to her smile. “I will miss you,” he added.
“I don’t understand.” The ever-present Bran spoke from behind them. Festuscato looked back once and wondered why Patrick and the new Pendragon both insisted he take Bran to Rome. Surely it would be to watch Festuscato’s back. Festuscato shook his head and spoke offhandedly.
“You see the fields and the trees. You see the rising sun and the clouds drifting across the early morning sky. And this is all I see, when I look; but what you do not see is the life that pervades it all and sets all things in fluid motion. The universe is alive, and God help humanity when it decides the universe is nothing more than dead matter and energy. Of course, since the Days of Dissolution, the work of life is being directed by the Spirit of the Most-High, and directly rather than indirectly through fallible agents.” Festuscato paused to touch himself. “But the work continues without ceasing. I, on the other hand, sometimes make small, little bits of the spiritual world manifest for my own selfish comfort and company along the way of my interminable days, life after life. But there are always consequences. Jennifer gave up her spirit to live a few years with Aden the Convert, though I understand she is pregnant. But I should say, Aden, the father, hasn’t been born yet. Is this helping?”
“Not in the least,” Gregor said with a laugh, having ridden up beside Bran.
“Well, now Mirowen is in love and there appears to be no stopping it.” He looked at her. “Nor would I stop it.”
Mirowen could not hold back her smile, though her eyes spoke of something unsaid. “My Lord is too melancholy, as usual,” she said. “We count it a great blessing to participate in the life of the Kairos, even if only for a short time. I have been blessed beyond reason, having known my Lord since he was a little child.”
“She was a second mother,” Festuscato admitted to Gregor’s skeptical look.
“Older sister, perhaps,” Gregor suggested.
“Seven hundred years older,” Bran remembered.
“No, like a mother to this motherless child,” Festuscato insisted, and then he understood what was unsaid in Mirowen’s eyes. “But my poor childhood will have to do. I am sorry.” He reached for Mirowen’s hand and she did not deny him, reaching out to briefly touch his. “Even if you choose this human, you will remain barren unless the almighty himself should ordain otherwise.”
“Do not think that impossible,” Bran said, to encourage her. But Mirowen also understood. She and Beowulf would have no children to follow on the throne. It would be the last days of the Geats. She smiled her acceptance, but she could not refuse one tear which appeared golden in the morning sun as it dropped gently to the grass.
Love is revealed, but the fight with the Grendel is not over. They have to see what mother will do.