Monsters and Men

I was told the truth when I was very young. My mother didn’t want that. She wanted me to have a short run of normality before I found out.  It was my father, convinced that I would have a better chance if I took it in while young, that told me. He really thought all the others had failed because they did not have enough time to prepare. He didn’t know any better.

He took me into the living room and told me the story that everyone else heard. The story was about my ancestor, the young warrior from Geatland named Beowulf. My father told me how it was told that he was the slayer of Grendel and protector of Heorot. Told me he died a brave death, slaying a dragon as an old king.

When he was finished the story, he looked at me and said, “Many people know this story, but it is a lie.” Then he told me the truth.

Grendel, the creature from the swamp, did attack Heorot. My ancestor did respond to the call for help and come to defend the hall. The lie was that he had won. He did not rip the arm off of the monster and send him to die in his mother’s cave like the poem said. My ancestor, and all but one of his party, died in that hall at Grendel’s hands. The man who survived did so because of the monster’s wishes.

The survivor was sent back to Geatland with a message. The punishment for Beowulf’s attack would not end at his death. Once a generation, one son at the age of 22 would come and face Grendel in hand to hand combat where Beowulf had died. He warned that if the battle was not fought, the consequences would be dire. With that, he brought Heorot crashing to the ground and dragged Beowulf’s body away as a trophy.

The challenge was met for three generations without question. A son of 22 was sent to the spot where the hall once stood and faced the monster. Grendel slaughtered them all. It was in the fourth generation that the challenge was avoided.

The chosen son, with a child of his own on the way, fled his fate. Everyone in the blood line became stricken with plague. It was almost the end of the family. When he saw his own son born sick with something no doctor could identify, he realized there was no escape and went to the killing grounds. He was torn apart, but his son and the surviving family recovered. From then on, no one ran.

So it went on and on like this for generations. A system was devised so that each section of the family would give equally. As the world moved forward to the modern times, our family kept the ancient curse. My father’s cousin was the last Grendel killed, I was to be next.

“The monster doesn’t seem to age,” said my father “He doesn’t seem to get tired of this game either. But he’s not invincible. Your great grandfather took his right eye. A distant cousin before that broke his arm. He can be killed with human hands.”

So my father set out to train me to fight a monster. It was a brutal childhood. Day in and day out being beaten to the ground by my father, while being assured anything he could do to me would be nothing compared to Grendel. I couldn’t go out in public much. The signs of violence were too conspicuous. My mother homeschooled me, and I met very few other children.

The first time I beat my father was when I was 12. We were in the basement, our usual training ground. He came at me for the usual preparation, when I was able to land a hard blow to his stomach. He sank to his knees and I jumped on him with all the fear and hatred I had developed over the years. He spent two weeks in the hospital.  He was thrilled.

“At twelve he can beat a full grown man.” he said to my mother, “What chance does that monster have in ten years?”

I got stronger over the last decade. I found fights where I could and trained with anyone who could beat me. I hurt a lot of people and my family was forced to move constantly. My mother left when I was 17. Dad told me it was because she couldn’t handle the idea of losing me to Grendel. I think she was afraid of me.

A week before my 22nd birthday, my father and I traveled to Denmark. I didn’t speak during the trip, but he went on and on.

“This is the last time,” he said, “Grendel will die. You will free this bloodline. You will be the hero that everyone believes Beowulf was.”

We traveled to a town called Lejre. We stayed at a bed and breakfast for three days. I was not scared. I knew I would kill Grendel since I was 14. Everything since then had been waiting.

The fight area was in a marshland off a walking trail. My father led the way at midnight on my birthday. I heard Grendel before I saw him. He was stomping around a cleared area impatiently. When my father and I made it to the clearing, he stopped stomping and looked to me. He towered over me, but he was smaller than I thought he’d be.

“Are you ready boy?” the monster asked. It was the only thing he said. Maybe he was tired of this after all. He didn’t seem excited or filled with bloodlust. He seemed as forced to be there as I was.  I turned to my father, who hugged me hard.

“You’ll end this tonight.” my father said, “Kill him for those that have died.”

He let go of me and backed off. I turned towards Grendel and made the first attack.

After all those years, the only thing I wasn’t ready for was how quickly it was over.

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