Beowulf eText - Chapter XIX

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Chapter XIX

THEY THEN SANK into slumber. One there was who paid dearly for the evening's rest—as had often happened when Grendel occupied that golden hall, wreaking evil until his end drew nigh; he was slaughtered for sins. It became known and widely told that an avenger still lived after the fiend. Remembering this dire fight for a great while, Grendel's mother, that wife of trolls, lamented her loss. She was doomed to dwell in dreary waters and cold streams ever since Cain cut down his only brother, his father's son, with his sword-edge. He had been marked with murder and fled as an outlaw; shunned from among men, he inhabited the wilderness. From him there awoke such hellish spirits as Grendel, who, terrible wolf of war, had found at Heorot a vigilant warrior ready for battle. The fell beast grappled with him there, but the warrior remembered his mighty power, that glorious gift that God had granted him, and trusted his Maker's mercy for courage and support. In this way he conquered the enemy and felled the fiend; that foe of man fled forlorn and heartless to the realms of death. And yet now his mother, bloodthirsty and grim, would embark upon a dolorous quest to avenge her son's death.

The hag came to Heorot, where the helmeted Danes slept in the hall. The princes' old woes came back suddenly when Grendel's mother burst into their midst. Her terror, however, was less, even as a woman in war is less fearsome, and a maiden's might is lesser than that of a man-at-arms, whose hard and hammer-forged sword, stained with blood, carves through the boar on a helm's crest with its keen edge. Those hard edges were drawn in the hall, taken from where they lay on the benches, and many shields were firmly raised. Many thought neither about helmets nor mail-coats when they were surprised with terror.

That hag was in haste, wanting to flee with her life when the liegemen spotted her. However, she seized a single clansman firmly as she fled to the moors. He was the dearest of heroes to Hrothgar; a trusty vassal among the oceans was he whom she killed upon his couch—a mighty shield-warrior. Beowulf was not there—another house had been set apart for the renowned Geat after the gift-giving. Heorot was in an uproar, and the hag took the famous blood-spattered hand. Fear had come again, and there was mourning in the fortress. It was a barter of sorrow where the Danes and Geats were fated to pay with their loved ones' lives.

That venerable king, the white-haired hero, was bitter in spirit when he knew that his noble chieftain no longer lived, that the thane most dear to him was dead. Beowulf, the dauntless victor, was brought in haste to the king's bower. At daybreak, the princely lord went with his clansmen, the warriors, to where the king in his abode waited to see if the Almighty would ever turn about this woe-filled tale. He who was renowned in battle marched across the floor with his companions in arms—the hall-timbers echoed—and went to greet the wise old king, the lord of the Ingwines, to ask about whether he had passed the night in peace.