Salt burned Cletus’s nose as the ship rocked. Several men dressed in animal furs and armor sat around the caveman. The thirteen men stood tall and thin with pale skin and light hair. In the early morning light, the ship pulled ashore on a foggy beach. One of the men motioned for everyone to leave the boat. Slowly, the warriors gathered their belongings and climbed down to the rocky shore.
A guard on horseback rushed toward the warriors. “You there,” the guard said as he pulled his horse to a stop, “what business do men clad in armor have coming onto Hrothgar’s land carrying weapons?”
The stoutest of the pale men—the one who had given the order to leave the boat—stepped forward. “I am the son of Ecgtheow,” he said. “My king is Hygelac. We heard the tales of a great monster that wrecked havoc upon the Danes for twelve years. We’ve come to slay this poor beast.”
“Very well,” said the guard. “I will escort you and your men to King Hrothgar. One of the guards will watch your ship.”
Cletus and the warriors followed the guard to a massive wooden building. A small man stopped the group outside of the long structure. “I am Wulfgar, King Hrothgar’s personal adviser,” he said. “What business do you have at Heorot?”
The stout man stepped up again and said, “I am Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow. I come to fight your demons.”
“I will take this message to King Hrothgar immediately,” Wulfgar said. “Please, be patient and wait.”
Wulfgar disappeared for several minutes. When he returned, Wulfgar said to Beowulf, “The Danes welcome you to Heorot.”
Wulfgar led the group of fighters into the legendary mead hall. Darkness filled the foul-smelling room. Straw covered the earthen floor. Wooden tables and benches sat upon the straw. At the far end of the hall stood a large wooden throne. An old, fat man occupied the throne with a bronze crown upon his head. Beowulf, Cletus, and all the warriors stood before King Hrothgar and bowed. “Beowulf,” Hrothgar said with a roaring laugh. “I wondered when I would meet you. I knew your father. Years ago, your dad killed Heatholaf. I had to pay Heatholaf’s family to keep them from seeking vengeance upon Ecgtheow.”
“I’ve heard that story many times,” Beowulf said, “but that’s not why I’ve come. I want to kill the monster that torments Heorot.”
“Yeah,” Hrothgar said. “Wulfgar told me as much. I have to tell you though, Beowulf, many heroes such as yourself have tried to defeat Grendel. They all have died. You’re more than welcome to try. I propose a feast to celebrate the joy of someone saving Heorot.”
During the feast, Cletus astonished all the Danes. He packed in enough food to kill a horse, eating more than all the others combined. Once he finished eating, Cletus stared at the bewildered faces around him and said, “I’m still hungry. Bring me more.”
A scrawny, bucktoothed Dane banged his goblet on the table until he gained the attention of all of Heorot. “You’re weak, Beowulf,” the Dane said. “I remember the story of your swimming match in your youth. You were easily beaten.”
“I also remember that swimming contest,” Beowulf said. “My opponent sits at this very table with us. What you don’t seem to understand is that he and I swam for five days and nights in the open sea. I carried a sword in one hand at all times, only swimming with the free arm. On our return to shore, a sea monster dragged me under. While below the water’s surface, I slew eight monsters before I swam to Finland. Neither you, Unferth, nor the man I swam against would be capable of doing such a thing. You are simply ashamed of your own inability to kill Grendel.”
“That’s bullshit,” Cletus said as he stole a massive pig’s leg from another man’s plate, “and you know it, Honey Bear. On the sixth day of swimming, a huge storm came in. The waters got really choppy, waves reaching three times as high as this room. One of them pulled our little Bear under. I searched those waters day and night for a week. I never found you. You returned home weeks later. Claimed you fought a sea monster before swimming to Finland, but everyone knew that story was a lie. You can’t hold your own in any hard situation. Not to mention a dolphin could kick your ass.”
Cletus took a huge bite of the pig leg as he finished his story. No one said anything. Few people blinked. The Danes feared Cletus might eat them next if they made any sudden movements.
Beowulf laughed weakly. “My great friend Cletus boasts,” Beowulf said. “He’s always a jester. I promise to kill Grendel as soon as he attacks this hall.”
The warriors lightened up and continued laughing and drinking. Soon, Wealhtheow, Hrothgar’s wife and queen, entered the mead hall with a ceremonial goblet. Everyone fell silent. One by one, the queen offered Beowulf’s warriors a drink from the goblet. Most men took a small sip and respectfully bowed their heads. Cletus drained the cup and demanded more. Horrified, Wealhtheow turned to the men at the table and said, “Thank the gods for sending these warriors to stop Grendel.
“I promise you this,” Beowulf said with a furrowed brow, “I will fight Grendel with my bare hands. I will kill that beast or die in this mead hall.”
Night fell. All of Hrothgar’s subjects left Heorot. Only Beowulf and his warriors remained. Beowulf striped down naked and slept. The rest of his countrymen stayed awake out of fear. While everyone else paced and played with fires, Cletus scrounged about the mead hall, eating anything he could get his hands on.
In the middle of the night, the door exploded apart. A hairy beast almost as tall as Heorot lurched underneath the door frame. The monster dragged itself into the hall, grabbing the nearest of Beowulf’s men and biting the warrior’s head off. Beowulf watched in terror as Grendel ravaged the mead hall, killing the warriors that tried to fight him. Grendel caused a massive commotion as he feasted upon fighters. The noise woke Cletus from his peaceful slumber in a corner. After wiping gunk from his eyes, Cletus grinned ear to ear. “Finally,” Cletus clapped. “Something that’ll be satisfying to eat.”
Grendel lunged at the frightened Beowulf, but shrieked when Cletus caught the monster by the wrist. Grendel screamed and tried to run. Cletus jerked the homunculus to the ground. The two, hairy, sub-humans wrestled about Heorot and destroyed everything in their path. Grendel’s cries spread ice spikes into the spine of all that heard it. Beowulf froze in fear while his men tried to help Cletus. The warriors attacked Grendel, but none of their weapons pierced the creature’s skin. As they continued to struggle, Cletus and Grendel managed to mow down the others in the hall. Their reckless fighting killed everyone but Beowulf. Cletus freed himself from Grendel’s grasp. The Neanderthal jumped into the air. He kicked his heel into Grendel’s chest just below the collarbone. Cletus grabbed the monster’s wrist and pulled with all his strength. With a sickly, loud snap, Cletus ripped off Grendel’s arm at the shoulder.
Grendel wailed in agony as he sprinted from Heorot. Cletus dropped down to his ass and began gnawing on Grendel’s arm before he went to sleep.
When Cletus woke, singing and cheering shook the mead hall. Apparently, Beowulf defeated Grendel in the night, saving Heorot and Hrothgar’s kingdom. Bards sang throughout the crowd of Beowulf’s glory. Beowulf’s treachery failed to bother Cletus, but Cletus took offense to Grendel’s arm resting in a frame over Heorot’s entrance.
“Come here, boy,” Hrothgar said. “You are the greatest champion the Danes have ever known. I promise that you shall receive amazing treasure for your deed.”
“Honestly, it was no challenge at all,” Beowulf said. “My only regret is that I wish I could have killed the monster while he was still Heorot so that its whole body could be used as a trophy.”
“Nevermind that, boy,” Hrothgar said. “We’ve got a banquet to prepare for.”
All of Hrothgar’s men worked to repair the horribly damaged mead hall while Cletus sneaked to the doorway and tore a chunk of meat off Grendel’s arm. The morsel would hold him over until breakfast.
That night, Hrothgar named Beowulf his son and heir at a massive feast. The king gave Beowulf armor, weapons, treasures, and eight horses. Cletus received a suit of armor as a gift for surviving. Hrothgar compensated Beowulf in gold for the deaths of all his men. Wealhtheow presented Beowulf with a golden necklace and a suit of chain mail armor. “Beowulf,” the queen said, “now, as my honorary son, you must promise me to watch over my children when Hrothgar passes.”
“So it shall be,” Beowulf said with a bow.
Cletus and Beowulf slept in suites in Hrothgar’s castle. Cletus stayed awake until the whole kingdom slept, and then he stole Grendel’s arm from Heorot to finish eating it.
The next morning, Hrothgar summoned Beowulf and Cletus to Heorot. Hrothgar shook his head glumly as the two approached. “It’s awful, son,” Hrothgar said. “Last night, Grendel’s mother attacked Heorot. She kidnapped one of my advisers and took her son’s arm back.
“She must have returned to her lair. It’s a swampy lake where the water burns flesh. Even animals avoid it. I’m sorry, Beowulf, but I must rely on you once more. If you rise to this challenge, I’ll reward you with chests of gold. Please, kill this demon.”
“I will kill Grendel’s mother,” Beowulf said.
Cletus and Beowulf adorned themselves with the armor received from Hrothgar and Wealhtheow. The man that accused Beowulf of being weak the previous night gave Beowulf a magic sword. “It’s named Hrunting,” Unferth said. “It has never been in a losing battle.”
“Thank you, friend,” Beowulf said with a stern smile.
Cletus and Beowulf mounted rode into the marches, following the tracks left by Grendel’s mother. The trail led to a cliff where Cletus and Beowulf discovered a man’s head. Over the cliff, massive serpents filled a putrid lake. Beowulf shot an arrow into the water, killing a single snake. The other snakes converged upon their dead sibling.
The two warriors dived into the lake after distracting the serpents. The two swam to the bottom of the lake. Cletus discovered a passage on the lake floor that led into a massive cavern. Grendel’s giant mother attacked Beowulf as soon as he and Cletus entered the cave. The hairy beast held Beowulf in her hands, slowly crushing him. Beowulf lashed at the monster with Hrunting, but the sword could not pierce her skin. Beowulf cast the weapon aside and screamed, “Help me, brother!”
Cletus pulled the pin out of his ear. The small sliver of metal transformed into his massive iron pole as he rushed toward the beast. With one, mighty swing, Cletus bashed her head off her body. The hairy skull smashed against the cave wall. The creature’s body collapsed, trapping Beowulf beneath the corpse.
“Thank you, brother,” Beowulf said. “I do not know how I could have defeated that demon without your help. Let us return to Heorot to claim our treasure and glory.”
Cletus lifted the carcass off Beowulf. “You couldn’t have beaten her without me,” Cletus said. “When we get back to the Heorot, I know you’ll just take credit for my kill. So, to hell with you. I’m leaving. Have fun being worthless and good luck getting out of here on your own. I hope you die in a fire.”
Cletus wore bright orange furs and a hood made from a fox’s head. He sat around a campfire surrounded by men wearing furs and clothes colored in shades of green and brown like the forest around them. A man sitting across the fire asked, “How are we going to get them back, my lord?”
“We know where Morgan le Fay’s castle is,” Cletus said. “We’ve already tried to enter, but the witch has it cursed so only the innocent can enter. We’ll find a way inside.”
“I’ve already told you I can go,” a young girl at the campfire said. “I can go in alone and rescue Puck. Let me go, Reynard.”
“No, Rebekah, I won’t risk the life of a young girl. We’ll find another way.”
“No, we won’t,” Rebekah said. She jumped to her feet, kicking embers into the air. “I’m the only one of us that can get inside le Fay’s castle. You refuse to let me go because you aren’t confident in me. Reynard, inventor of the bow and trained by the goddess of the hunt, isn’t good enough to teach a little girl to do the same?”
“Both of you stop your bickering,” a soft voice called out from the shadows.
The circle of men turned to the trees and watched as a man stepped forward. Two boys in armor followed behind him. The blonde child could not have been older than ten. Cletus guessed the other boy to be at least sixteen with thick red hair and a faint, blonde mustache.
“Isaac,” Cletus said as he stood, “What have you got here?”
“I found these two near a creek,” Isaac said. “The older one is Kay. The runt is called Wart. Claim to be brothers.”
Cletus smiled at the boys. “Wart,” he said with a nod. “Kay. You can call me Reynard. This is my family of the forests. Why have you come along with Isaac to my humble home?”
“He told us that Morgan le Fay had kidnaped one of your men,” Kay said. “Two people from our father’s village have also gone missing, a servant and the local idiot. We think le Fay may have them as well. So, we’d like to help.”
“What you’re saying is that you’re looking for an adventure,” Cletus said. “I can respect that. I can also give you that adventure. Le Fay has one of my men, a fae boy named Puck. If you’d be willing to help rescue him, I’ll help you rescue your idiots.”
“We’ll be glad to help,” Wart said. “My tutor, Merlyn, has been teaching me to seek the good in all things.”
“Quiet down,” Kay said as he glared at the younger boy. “We’d be willing to assist you, Reynard.”
“Very well,” Cletus said. “My men and I will escort the two of you to Morgan le Fay’s castle. From there you will be on your own. The witch has made it so only those that are innocent can enter the building without her bringing them inside. So, once at the castle, it’ll be up to the two of you.”
“Three,” Rebekah said.
Cletus shook his head. “The three of you. Let’s be off while there’s still daylight.”
Cletus, his men, and the two boys packed up the camp and set off through the forest. Hours later, just after nightfall, they arrived at a grotesque castle. Mountains of steak and bacon shaped the walls. Cones of cheese topped every tower. Molten butter filled the moat around the building.
Cletus handed each boy a small dagger. “Le Fay is a witch,” Cletus said. “I’m fairly certain she’s some type of faerie. The daggers are made of cold iron, which is lethal to fae. Don’t eat anything in there. I know the whole place looks delicious, but there’s no telling what it actually is. It damn certain isn’t really bacon. Most of all, be careful. Good luck.”
Cletus turned to Rebekah. “You’ve got two more sets of eyes to watch your back. Bring Puck back to us, and kill that bitch if you can.”
Rebekah, Kay, and Wart entered the castle, leaving the men to wait for the innocent to return. The men slowly set up camp and began hunting. Later in the night, while the everyone ate, the castle disappeared. Rebekah, the boys, and a number of prisoners stood in the open field where the castle had been. A sleeping griffin also rested in the field. The monster slowly rose and attacked the escaping prisoners.
The prisoners ran for safety beyond the camp. Rebekah and Kay fired arrows at the beast. Cletus sprinted into the field. The griffin swooped toward Rebekah. She rolled to dodge the talons. Rebekah drew her sword and slashed at the creature. Cletus punched the griffin in the side. Gunshot-like sounds filled the air as the monster’s ribs cracked. The griffin wailed and launched into the sky. The griffin doubled back and dived at Wart. Wart stood, paralyzed with fear. Kay loosed an arrow to protect his brother. The arrow pierced the griffin’s eye. The beast died in the air. Its limp body crashed into Kay and Wart.
Cletus heaved the body off the boys.
“Wart,” Kay said as he crawled to Wart’s side. “Wart, are you all right?”
Hot tears filled Wart’s eyes. “There’s something wrong with my shoulder.”
Cletus tore the armor off Wart. A bone jutted against the skin of his upper chest.
“You’ve broken your collarbone,” Cletus said to Wart. “You’ll be fine. We just have to keep you from moving about too much.”
Rebekah nudged Cletus. Blood coated her clothes and hands. She clutched the griffin’s head in her hands. “Spoils of the kill,” she said with a smile.
“Spoils my ass,” Cletus said as he took the head from her. Cletus handed the head to Kay and said, “A trophy, boy. Remember this as the first time you killed a magical beast, and remember it as the time you saved your brother’s life. Never let him forget it.”
Cletus escorted the boys back to the castle of their father, Sir Ector.
The King of England, Uther Pendragon, died. The day after the king’s death, an anvil appeared in front of a church in London. The anvil rested upon a stone. A glorious sword skewered the anvil and the stone. The engraving in the anvil read, “Whoso pulleth out this sword from this stone and anvil is Rightwise King Born of All England”.
The sword drew crowds from all over England. Uther’s advisors proclaimed a tournament for New Year’s Day. The advisors hoped the winner would pull the sword from the stone. During the tournament, Cletus stood in the church courtyard and debated with himself on whether or not to steal the sword. During his dilemma, a frail teenager rushed up to the sword and tried to remove it. Cletus recognized the boy and began to laugh.
“Wart,” Cletus called to the boy.
Wart froze and turned to Cletus. “Reynard?” Wart asked. “Reynard from the forest? I swear I wasn’t trying to steal the sword. It’s just that Kay’s sword broke, I forgot to bring a second sword for him. He’ll kill me if I don’t find a sword, but I don’t have time to run all the way back to the castle before his next match. I need this one.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Cletus reached out, grasping the sword in one hand and effortlessly pulled it from the stone and anvil. Cletus handed the sword to Wart. “Take the sword,” Cletus said. “Don’t tell anyone where you got it from.”
Wart ran off with the blade. Cletus tried to make his way out of the city before a riot began over Wart being named King of England. A crowd formed in the streets and dragged Cletus back to the church. People pushed Wart to the front with the sword. The entire crowd shouted and cursed Wart, demanding him to pull the sword again. Wart returned the sword to the stone and tried to pull it, but the sword remained still. Wart tried again to no avail.
Cletus shoved his way through the crowd. A tall man in the most peculiar, starry sky-patterned robes stood near Wart. The man smiled and nodded as Cletus pushed Wart aside. The caveman ripped the sword from the stone in front of all of London. The crowd fell silent. Slowly, everyone dropped to their knees and bowed before Cletus.
“This man is the rightful King of England,” the man in the robes said. “This man is Arthur Pendragon, son of Uther. All hail King Arthur!”
The crowd stood and chanted the praise over and over.
“You’re aware that my name isn’t Arthur, right?” Cletus asked.
“Yes,” the man said, “but we can’t exactly have people calling you the caveman king, can we, Cletus? This is how it’s going to go.”
“Who are you, old man?”
“My name is Merlyn,” the old man said. “I’ll be your adviser for a short time before some dubious things happen in the future. Just a heads up, try not to get too attached to any women or close friends during your tenure as king. It’ll end badly. You’re going to have a kid with Morgan le Fay that will try to kill you. Also, be prepared to fake your death and send everyone on a quest for a magic cup and near-mythical city in an attempt to heal you.”
“Gotcha,” Cletus said without further questions.