Beowulf Home Page About Heroes The Comitatus Beowulf Vs. The Dragon Other

IT was heavy hap for that hero young on his lord beloved to look and find him lying on earth with life at end, sorrowful sight. But the slayer too, awful earth-dragon, empty of breath, lay felled in fight, nor, fain of its treasure, could the writhing monster rule it more. For edges of iron had ended its days, hard and battle-sharp, hammers' leaving; [footnote 1] and that flier-afar had fallen to ground hushed by its hurt, its hoard all near, no longer lusty aloft to whirl at midnight, making its merriment seen, proud of its prizes: prone it sank by the handiwork of the hero-king. Forsooth among folk but few achieve, -- though sturdy and strong, as stories tell me, and never so daring in deed of valor, -- the perilous breath of a poison-foe to brave, and to rush on the ring-board hall, whenever his watch the warden keeps bold in the barrow. Beowulf paid the price of death for that precious hoard; and each of the foes had found the end of this fleeting life. Befell erelong that the laggards in war the wood had left, trothbreakers, cowards, ten together, fearing before to flourish a spear in the sore distress of their sovran lord. Now in their shame their shields they carried, armor of fight, where the old man lay; and they gazed on Wiglaf. Wearied he sat at his sovran's shoulder, shieldsman good, to wake him with water. [footnote 2] Nowise it availed. Though well he wished it, in world no more could he barrier life for that leader-of-battles nor baffle the will of all-wielding God. Doom of the Lord was law o'er the deeds of every man, as it is to-day. Grim was the answer, easy to get, from the youth for those that had yielded to fear! Wiglaf spake, the son of Weohstan, -- mournful he looked on those men unloved:-- "Who sooth will speak, can say indeed that the ruler who gave you golden rings and the harness of war in which ye stand -- for he at ale-bench often-times bestowed on hall-folk helm and breastplate, lord to liegemen, the likeliest gear which near of far he could find to give, -- threw away and wasted these weeds of battle, on men who failed when the foemen came! Not at all could the king of his comrades-in-arms venture to vaunt, though the Victory-Wielder, God, gave him grace that he got revenge sole with his sword in stress and need. To rescue his life, 'twas little that I could serve him in struggle; yet shift I made (hopeless it seemed) to help my kinsman. Its strength ever waned, when with weapon I struck that fatal foe, and the fire less strongly flowed from its head. -- Too few the heroes in throe of contest that thronged to our king! Now gift of treasure and girding of sword, joy of the house and home-delight shall fail your folk; his freehold-land every clansman within your kin shall lose and leave, when lords highborn hear afar of that flight of yours, a fameless deed. Yea, death is better for liegemen all than a life of shame!"

THAT battle-toil bade he at burg to announce, at the fort on the cliff, where, full of sorrow, all the morning earls had sat, daring shieldsmen, in doubt of twain: would they wail as dead, or welcome home, their lord beloved? Little [footnote 1] kept back of the tidings new, but told them all, the herald that up the headland rode. -- "Now the willing-giver to Weder folk in death-bed lies; the Lord of Geats on the slaughter-bed sleeps by the serpent's deed! And beside him is stretched that slayer-of-men with knife-wounds sick: [footnote 2] no sword availed on the awesome thing in any wise to work a wound. There Wiglaf sitteth, Weohstan's bairn, by Beowulf's side, the living earl by the other dead, and heavy of heart a head-watch [footnote 3] keeps o'er friend and foe. -- Now our folk may look for waging of war when once unhidden to Frisian and Frank the fall of the king is spread afar. -- The strife began when hot on the Hugas [footnote 4] Hygelac fell and fared with his fleet to the Frisian land. Him there the Hetwaras humbled in war, plied with such prowess their power o'erwhelming that the bold-in-battle bowed beneath it and fell in fight. To his friends no wise could that earl give treasure! And ever since the Merowings' favor has failed us wholly. Nor aught expect I of peace and faith from Swedish folk. 'Twas spread afar how Ongentheow reft at Ravenswood Haethcyn Hrethling of hope and life, when the folk of Geats for the first time sought in wanton pride the Warlike-Scylfings. Soon the sage old sire [footnote 5] of Ohtere, ancient and awful, gave answering blow; the sea-king [footnote 6] he slew, and his spouse redeemed, his good wife rescued, though robbed of her gold, mother of Ohtere and Onela. Then he followed his foes, who fled before him sore beset and stole their way, bereft of a ruler, to Ravenswood. With his host he besieged there what swords had left, the weary and wounded; woes he threatened the whole night through to that hard-pressed throng: some with the morrow his sword should kill, some should go to the gallows-tree for rapture of ravens. But rescue came with dawn of day for those desperate men when they heard the horn of Hygelac sound, tones of his trumpet; the trusty king had followed their trail with faithful band.

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