My vision clears. The stranger’s companions encircle us, useless swords. I could laugh if it weren’t for the pain that makes me howl. And yet I address him, whispering, whimpering, whining.
“If you win, it’s by mindless chance. Make no mistake. First you tricked me, and then I slipped. Accident.”
He answers with a twist that hurls me forward screaming. The thanes make way. I fall against a table and smash it, and wall timbers crack. And still he whispers.
Grendel, Grendel! You make the world by whispers, second by second. Are you blind to that? Whether you make it a grave or a garden of roses is not the point. Feel the wall: is it not hard? He smashes me against it, breaks open my forehead. Hard, yes! Observe the hardness, write it down in careful runes. Now sing of walls! Sing!
Sing words! Sing raving hymns!
“You’re crazy. Ow!”
“I sing of walls,” I howl. “Hooray for the hardness of walls!”
Terrible, he whispers. Terrible. He laughs and lets out fire.
“You’re crazy,” I say. “If you think I created that wall that cracked my head, you’re a fucking lunatic.”
Sing walls, he hisses.
I have no choice.
“The wall will fall to the wind as the windy hill
will fall, and all things thought in former times:
Nothing made remains, nor man remembers.
And these towns shall be called the shining towns!”
Better, he whispers. That’s better. He laughs again, and the nasty laugh admits I’m slyer than he guessed.
He’s crazy. I understand him all right, make no mistake. Understand his lunatic theory of matter and mind, the chilly intellect, the hot imagination, blocks and builder, reality as stress. Nevertheless, it was by accident that he got my arm behind me. He penetrated no mysteries. He was lucky. If I’d known he was awake, if I’d known there was blood on the floor when I gave him that kick . . .
The room goes suddenly white, as if struck by lightning. I stare down, amazed. He has torn off my arm at the shoulder!