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.“You know well enough I do not waste my breath on idle threats.”Cain hesitates only a moment longer, something desperate in his cloudy, sickly eyes, and then he produces his golden treasure.It shines dimly in the overcast daylight, and Unferth gasps and drops his walking stick.He has begun to tremble uncontrollably and he leans against the sleigh for support.“Father,” asks Guthric.“What’s wrong?”“Do you not see it?” Unferth whispers, taking the golden drinking horn from Cain’s rag-swaddled hands.“My Lord Hrothgar’s most precious…” and he trails off, dumbstruck by the sight of the horn, lost so long ago.“Is it gold?” asks Guthric as he turns about for a better view, his interest piqued.“Yes, yes,” hisses Unferth.“Of course it is gold.This…this is the drinking horn King Beowulf was given by King Hrothgar in return for slaying Grendel…”“But that was lost, wasn’t it?” asks Guthric.His eyes wide with disbelief, Unferth looks from the golden horn to Cain, shivering on the ground, then back to the horn.“Yes,” he tells his son.“It was lost.Beowulf cast it into the tarn, into the burning waters of Weormgræf, for the merewife greatly desired it.When she was slain…he said that he searched for it, but could not discover where it had come to rest in the mud and peat.”“It must be worth a fortune,” says Guthric, climbing down from the sleigh and reaching for the drinking horn.But Unferth slaps his hand away.“How came you by this?” he asks Cain, and when the slave doesn’t answer, Unferth kicks him in the belly.“Shall I have a go at him?” one of the guards asks.“A few lashes, and the rat will start talking, sure enough.”“No,” Unferth replies, shaking his head.“This is the king’s horn, and now it will go to the king.And so will Cain.Perhaps he will tell Lord Beowulf how he came upon it.Perhaps the questions of our king mean more to him than the questions of his master.” And Unferth kicks Cain again, harder than before.The slave gags and coughs a crimson spatter onto the snow.“Bring out my ponies,” he tells the two guards.“And Guthric, you help them.”“But Father—”“Do not argue with me,” Unferth says without looking at his son.“Consider it fair penance due for your earlier transgression.”And when the guards and his son have gone, Unferth kneels in the snow beside Cain and wipes blood from the slave’s lips and nostrils.“You will tell where you came upon it,” Unferth tells him.“Or I shall have the pleasure of killing you myself.”And far across the village, beyond the walls of the keep, Wiglaf descends the four steps leading down from the granite platform.The crowd is breaking up, going on about their business, and he has much left to do before the celebration begins.He glares up at the leaden sky and curses the falling snow, then adds another curse for his aching joints.Then he spies a lone figure watching from the causeway connecting the two towers and thinks it must be Beowulf.Wiglaf waves to him, but the figure does not wave back.“What’s on your mind now, old man?” Wiglaf asks, uncertain if the question was meant for himself or for the figure standing on the causeway.And then he begins picking his way carefully back through the snow and ice, and his only thoughts are of hot food and a crackling hearth fire.Unferth’s sleigh has almost reached the gates of the keep when Guthric tugs at the reins and brings the ponies to a halt.Despite the day’s foul weather, the streets are crowded with travelers who have journeyed to Heorot from other, outlying villages and farmsteads to celebrate Beowulf’s Day and the Yuletide.Too many unfamiliar faces for Unferth’s liking, too many wagons and horses and beggars slowing them down, and now that Guthric has stopped the sleigh, the unfamiliar faces stare back at Unferth as though it is he who should not be here.Cain sits behind his master, on the bench that Guthric’s wife and children occupied until he ordered them to remain at home.And Cain gazes disconsolately at all the men and women and children on the streets.The slave’s feet have been manacled so he cannot run again.“What are you doing?” Unferth asks his son, and tries unsuccessfully to take the reins from Guthric.“We have to see our king.We must see him at once.We may have taken too long already!”Guthric winds the reins tightly about his fists and stares up at the two towers of Beowulf’s castle, the one built straight and the other spiraling upwards like the shell of some gargantuan snail.His entire life has been lived in the shadow of those towers and in the knowledge that his father would have been king had not some adventurer from the east shown up to defeat monsters Guthric has come to doubt ever even existed.Some dark plot, more likely, some intrigue by which a foreign interloper might dupe doddering old Hrothgar and steal the throne for himself.Years ago it first occurred to him that “the demon Grendel” and the demon’s nameless mother might only have been fictions concocted by Beowulf in a campaign to wrest control of Denmark from the Danes.Perhaps the Geat and his thanes merely set some wild beast loose upon the unsuspecting countryside, some bloodthirsty animal that would not be recognized and so would be believed by the gullible and superstitious to constitute a sort of monster or otherworldly demon, a troll or even the spawn of giants.In the end, by whatever means the deception was carried out, his father was robbed of his kingship and Guthric of his own birthright.And now there is this horn, this relic from that faerie tale, supposedly lost forever.“Father,” he says, “I would have you tell me why this horn is so very important.Clearly, it must be valuable, but there’s something else, isn’t there?”“This is none of your concern,” snaps Unferth.“But we must hurry [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]