The feasting and noise from Heorot night after night seriously disturbed the neighbours. Especially irritated was Grendel, not so much on his own account, but on behalf of his mother, who was getting on in years and needed her rest. Ever since Hrothgar and his Thanes had moved in she had lost more and more sleep and was becoming increasingly peevish. She tended to take this out on her son, which he did not enjoy.
One night, when the din from the “mead hall” had been particularly loud and had gone on for a particularly long time, Grendel’s Dam had become particularly upset. Finally Grendel exclaimed, “No, no. This simply won’t do!” Putting on his cardigan (for the early autumn mists were chilly), he strode across to Heorot and marched up to the front door.
He rang the doorbell and hammered on the door. To no avail – the noise inside was too great. Exasperated, he tried the door and to his surprise found it unlocked. He pushed it open and stepped inside.
The noise outside was as nothing to the volume within. Raucous music – Grendel assumed it was supposed to be music – bellowed from amplifiers. Voices were raised in song or argument. The hall was packed with long-haired louts, sweaty drunks in boots, jeans and leather waistcoats, who stood in groups, leaned against the walls or sat on on the staircase. Blear-eyed, they clutched cans of lager or passed fat, poorly rolled joints from hand to hand.
It wasn’t obvious at first, but after a moment Grendel realised some of the brutes in the hall were women. Somehow this made the whole scene even more gross to him. Shuddering, he looked about for Hrothgar. The man was not to be seen. Barely able to hear himself think, Grendel touched the arm one of the louts standing near the door, meaning to ask where Hrothgar was. The man looked at Grendel and all the blood drained from his face. This was made the more dramatic because he had a particularly red face, with bloodshot eyes and a glowing nose, but looking at Grendel he turned pale, paler than pale, his eyes rolled back in his head and he crumpled to the floor.
Irked, Grendel tutted to himself, stepped over the inert body and touched a second man on the shoulder. This man looked at Grendel, took in his long face, his horn-rimmed glasses, his cardigan (which his mother had knitted), and stepped back a look of loathing and utter horror twisting his face. Already unsteady, his heel caught the foot of the stairs and he tripped, falling backward, his head clipping the edge of one of the steps as he went down. The noise of his fall, which must have been prodigious for he was a large man, was drowned by the volume of sound in the hall and to Grendel it looked almost as if he fell in silence.
Grendel turned to a third man who leant up against a doorpost. The man had clearly been watching Grendel’s progress with alarm. When he realised he was next, the fellow’s knees gave way and he slid down the wall, turning his head to vomit as he did so.
“Oh, really, this is too much!” Grendel was quite disgusted. “What are they on?”
Now a woman saw Grendel surrounded by bodies. As the third man keeled over, she suddenly screamed. At last something that could cut through the noise in the hall! Someone switched off the music and the shouting and singing died away. Grendle was conscious of standing in the middle of a crowd who looked as though they would be perfectly happy to beat him to a pulp, but no thought of personal safety disturbed his rightous indignation.
“Where is Hrothgar?” He demanded.
“He’s gonna kill Hrothgar,” screamed the woman.
“I am not – “
But he was cut off as one of the louts swung at him with what seemed to be a chain. The man was as drunk as all the rest and Grendel had easily enough time to dodge the blow. The weapon, missing its target, struck the face and neck of another man in the crowd, who screamed in pain.
Now the noise was back. The brutes who filled the hall were howling and cursing and all sorts of weapons were appearing in their hands. Knives, knuckledusters, chair-legs, baseball bats. (Grendel had time to notice, not a single honest cricket bat.) But space was at a premium and the bullies’ hand-eye coordination was not of the best. Grendel was scratched on the cheek, but the damage the louts managed to inflict on one another was infinitely more serious. Soon blood was splashed on the walls and bleeding men and women were crawling on the floor, trying to get out from underfoot.
Finding himself back at the front door, Grendel decided discretion was the better part of valour, and slipped out.
He walked home.
Stepping indoors, his mother called out to him from her room: “Is that you, Grendel?”
“Yes mother. Never fear!”
“Did you make them stop? It’s much quieter now.”
“Yes. I think things will be a mite more peaceful now. You can rest easy.”
“Thank you, son. What would I do without you?”
“Without me, mother? Why, you’d have to teach them a lesson yourself!” Standing now in the bathroom, inspecting the scratches he had received, Grendel smiled quietly to himself. The idea of his mother going over to Heorot and her reaction to the scenes he had witnessed struck him as amusing.
They wouldn’t know what hit them, he thought.
For the real story I warmly recommend Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. The illustration of Grendel the Stockbroker is based in part on a photograph of TS Eliot.