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.“Are we not the richest? Do we not merrymake with the best of them? Can we not do as we damn well please?”“We can,” Aesher replies.“Unferth?” asks King Hrothgar, but Unferth is still peering angrily at the spot where his slave vanished beneath the table, and doesn’t answer.“Have you gone deaf now, Unferth?”Unferth sighs and hands the birch walking stick back to Aesher.“We do,” he says halfheartedly.“We do.”“Damn straight we do,” mutters Hrothgar, as perfectly and completely content in this moment as he has ever dared hope to be, as pleased with himself and with his deeds as he can imagine any living man has ever been.He starts to ask Wealthow—who is seated nearby with her handmaidens—to refill his golden horn, but then his eyelids flutter and close, and only a few seconds later the King of the Danes is fast asleep and snoring loudly.Through the winter night, the creature comes striding toward Heorot Hall, and all things flee before him, all birds and beasts, all fish and serpents, all other phantoms and the lesser haunters of the darkness.He clambers up from the mire and tangle of the icy bogs, easily hauling his twisted bulk from the peat mud out into the deep shadows of the ancient forest.And though his skull still rings and echoes with the song of the thanes, he’s relieved to be free for a time of the moon’s ceaseless stare, shaded now by those thick, hoary limbs and branches that are almost as good as the roof of his cave.“I will show them the meaning of silence!” he roars, and with one gigantic fist shatters the trunk of a tree, reducing it in an instant to no more than splinters and sap.How much easier it will be to crush the bones of men, to spill their blood, he thinks.And so another tree falls, and then another, and yet another after that, the violence of each blow only fueling his rage and driving him nearer the true object of his spite.The creature’s long strides carry him quickly through the forest and back out again into the moonlight.Now he races across the moorlands, grinding bracken and shrub underfoot, trampling whatever cannot move quickly enough to get out of his way, flushing grouse and rabbit from their sleeping places.Soon, he has reached the rocky chasm dividing Hrothgar’s battlements from the hinterlands.He pauses here, but only a moment or two, hardly long enough to catch his breath, before spying a lone sentry keeping watch upon the wall.The man sees him, as well, and at once the creature recognizes and relishes the horror and disbelief in the sentry’s eyes.He does not believe me real, the monster thinks, and yet neither can he doubt the truth of me.And then, before the man can cry out or raise an alarm, the thing from the cave has vaulted across the ravine…“Did you hear that?” Unferth asks Aesher.“Did I hear what?”“Like thunder, almost,” Unferth tells him, and glances down at the fat hound lying on the dais near Hrothgar’s feet.The dog has pricked its ears and is staring intently across the hall at the great wooden door.Its lips curl back to show its teeth, and a low snarl issues from its throat.“Truth be told, I can’t hear shit but for these damn fools singing,” says Aesher.“Ah, and the snoring of our brave king here.”Unferth reaches for the hilt of his sword.“You are serious?” asks Aesher, and his hand goes to his own weapon.“Listen,” hisses Unferth.“Listen for what?”The dog gets up slowly, hackles raised, and begins to back away, putting more distance between itself and the entrance to the hall.Between the throne and the door to Heorot, the thanes and their women continue their drunken revelries—Hrothgar, Hrothgar!Let every cup be raised!Hrothgar, Hrothgar!NOW AND FOREVER PRAISED!“Whatever’s gotten into him?” Queen Wealthow asks, pointing to the snarling, retreating dog, its tail tucked between its legs.Unferth only spares her a quick glance before turning back toward the door.He realizes that it isn’t barred.“Aesher,” he says.“See to the door—”But then something throws itself against the outside of the mead-hall door, hitting with enough force that the frame groans and splinters with a deafening crack.The huge iron hinges bow and buckle inward, and the door is rent by numerous long splits—but for now it holds.On his throne, King Hrothgar stirs, and in an instant more he’s sitting up, wide-awake and bewildered.The thanes have stopped singing, and all eyes have turned toward the door.Women and children and some of the slaves begin to move away, backing toward the throne and the far end of the hall, and most of the warriors are reaching for their swords and daggers, their axes and spears.Unferth draws his blade, and Aesher follows suit.And then a terrible, breathless quiet settles over Heorot Hall, like the stunned, hollow space left after lightning strikes a tree.“Unferth,” whispers Hrothgar.“Are we being attacked?”And then, before his advisor can reply, the door is assaulted a second time.It holds for barely even another moment, then gives way all at once, thrown free of its hinges, sundered into a thousand razor shards that rain down like deadly arrows across the floor and tabletops and bury themselves in the faces and bodies of those standing closest to the entrance.Some men are crushed to death or lie dying beneath the larger fragments of the broken door as a concussion rolls along the length of the hall, a wave of sound that seems solid as an avalanche, and the air blown out before it snuffs out the cooking fires and every candle burning in Heorot, plunging all into darkness.Wealthow stands, ordering her handmaidens to seek shelter, then she looks to the doorway and the monstrous thing standing there, silhouetted in silver moonlight.Its chest heaves, and its breath wheezes like steam from its black lips and flaring nostrils [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]