The boy moves fast, young pup,
to whom play and war are same:
too soon he’ll know.
The woman beside him is no kin,
save the blood connection to this rock,
to this tribe of warriors and herdsmen,
males and females of both, who have
huddled beside the rock since before
they knew how to speak.
He has been chosen by the elders
to face the Grendel-heir, to “be”
the bear-boy triumphant, or—
the bloodied sacrifice to whom
poems and songs, perhaps whole
religions (depending on the death),
will weave memory fables.
The woman breathes deeply, for there’s
springtime in the honey-gladdened air,
the mossy smell of thunderstorms to send
winter away, to bring warmth to the rock,
whether this boy sees those days or not.
The vial in her pocket contains a liquid of life,
hawthorn berries, salamander liver, iron filings
from the forge of his people, long-hoarded
hair strands from the dead Queen, all minced
and prayed upon during the new moon,
beside the den of wolf pups, as is written.
Only the woman and her sisters know:
without it, the boy likely dies, though
with it, all the stars in heaven like his chances.
In death, he’d be the curly-haired boy-man
whose future was traded for their own (as
the elders well-know), but if he lives and slays
the Grendel, many time paths shift, the world
breathes a new destiny: the rock becomes new.
“Come,” she says, and draws it out.