Title: Grendel's Mother
Author: Diana Stout
Set in the late-5th, early 6th century in Denmark, Grendel’s Mother is the journey of a girl who dreams of freedom, with a desire to marry the young man she loves, when her father tells her that she'll wed a widower with young children instead. Then, a horrific event changes her life forever. Pregnant and having brought shame to her family and community, she is sacrificed to the dragon for death, but the dragon saves her instead, unbeknownst to her family and the community.
Grendel’s Mother is the story of social injustice, a girl’s love for Nature where she discovers special skills that enable her to survive, to give birth, and to raise a baby—deemed a monster—in the wild, entirely on her own. From his birth, she battles to keep Grendel safe from himself and, then later, from others who would do him harm.
That child is Grendel, and she is Grendel’s mother.
In this excerpt, the protagonist returns home, having run off, running into Erik, after spilling hot food on her father's lap.
Nearly at the main door of the house, I stop, take a deep breath, pull my shoulders back, straighten my spine, and wipe any and every emotion from my face. Da respects strength, not meekness, so strong I will be.
The boys are still at the table, but now they are at various tasks: arm-wrestling, sharpening a knife, or working leather. The oldest yells out that I’ve returned.
Immediately, da steps into the room through the second door, the one I originally escaped from. I know better than to wait for his signal. I move over to where he is, my head down in submission, my eyes cast to the floor. I stop in front of him, expecting the worst.
Quickly, I say, “I'm sorry, da. It was an accident. It'll never happen again.”
“That’s right. At harvest’s end, you wed Angus.”
I look up in horror. “No!” Instantly, I realize I breathed the word aloud. Surely, he wouldn't do that to me. No father can be that cruel. Angus is old, missing most of his teeth, has lost three wives already to childbirth, and has brats for children. Sickly brats and all girls, except for one frail boy. But he has the most livestock, some of which will become da’s when we marry.
“No?” Da's voice is cold, but firm. I can tell he will not reconsider his decision.
“Anyone but him, please?” I plead. I know it would be a mistake to plead for Erik, one of the poorest farmers in the village. Angus, on the other hand, is one of the wealthiest. Da covets Angus's land, but even da has to know that the land will go to the eldest son . . . provided he lives to adulthood when his father dies, provided Angus sires a son. The chances for a young boy to make it to adulthood in this land these days is a great plan and a huge gamble. Most all the villages surrounding ours are like us: large on old weak men, with gangling young boys barely into their teens. The battles with invaders extracts a huge toll on our men. Da has told me often enough that none of us controls our lives, that all are at the mercy of others. How many times have I heard him say: “You have no power. No one cares about you more than we do.” But I don’t believe it. He can’t care for me if he’s willing to give me to Angus. No, da wanting me to have Angus’ son is so that da can control me and the land until the son—if I have one—is grown.
“It'll be Angus or the dragon,” he tells me.
I shiver in fear and take a step back. The dragon that da speaks of is monstrous, pure evil, and takes his victims easily. A mere bite, not even worthy of a meal. Not the gentle creature of my past. The screams of the people snatched in the claws of the monster, along with the stake they’re tied to fills my ears. Angry that I have no power, I find myself stuttering, but do my best to subdue the anger. “I . . . I'll . . . I'll m-m-m-marry Angus.”
“I knew you’d see reason.”
For the second time that night, I escape to the woods. My world is upside down and more danger filled than the forest where I automatically seek refuge.
My eyes adjust to the night. The slight sliver of the waxing moon provides enough light so I can find the deer path among the tall ferns and struggling saplings. Once the moon disappears behind the clouds, I am deep in the forest, just at the edge of a magical clearing. It is magical to me because I discovered years ago how deer like to congregate here at dusk and dawn grazing on the grasses. Tonight, the clearing is filled with fireflies and an occasional owl dips into the grass and flies off with squealing prey in its claws.
For a while, I sit with my back against a large oak, soaking up the solitude, wishing my ability to resolve my problem was as easy as sneaking out of the house.
Branches snap in the distance behind me. I listen. Deer are moving around. I can hear their soft mews. Quiet resumes.
I stand and walk to the edge of the clearing. Dandelions are everywhere here and mixed in with the grasses. I take a step forward to pluck one from the ground, when suddenly arms wrap around me and lift me off the ground.
I scream and struggle. And then I hear soft laughter.
My feet touch the ground. He lets me go. I spin around, furious.
“How can you scare me like that?”
His laughter dies, and his facial expression is grim. “You deserve it. Are you never going to learn? What are you doing out here?”
“Escaping my life.”
Erik doesn’t say anything. His expression is funny. Serious. And something else, I can’t name. Suddenly, enlightenment dawns. “You know, don’t you? How?”
“I don’t understand—”
“I was at Angus’ house earlier.”
“Da saw you?”
“No neither of them did, but I heard them.”
“That’s where da went after dinner. But, you didn’t—”
“Say anything? No. Why would I?”
“But you want to be with me!”
“I have no power. If only I were a man.”
“But you are!”
“Not in his eyes.”
I hate my life. I have no control whatsoever. My entire future is assumed and I have no say. I move closer to Erik, wanting to feel his arms around me, but this time, he pushes me away.
If money were no object, where would you go for a Spring Break vacation and why?
I would go to England's countryside. I want to see the small communities, see the moors, Cornwall, the Lake District, Nottinghamshire, and more. I have deep genealogy roots in England as do many of my favorite authors.
What’s your favorite thing about Spring and why?
I love seeing robins and hummingbirds return, seeing flowers peek through the dirt with the promise of blossoms, and seeing trees bud into flowers and the light green beginnings of spring. I most love being able to open my windows, a light breeze fluttering my light-weight curtains, hearing the birds singing, and the train whistle in the distance as it goes through town.
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