Beowulf eText - Chapter XL

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Chapter XL

HE THEN GAVE orders to announce the combat's conclusion at the castle, that fortress on the cliff, where all the princes sat mourning and full of sorrow. They had been sitting by their shields all morning, wondering whether they would wail in death or welcome home their beloved lord. Nothing of the new tidings was held back, but the herald who rode up the headland told them everything: “Now the bounteous chief of the Geatish folk lies on his deathbed; he dwells in the sleep of slaughter by the serpent's deed! Beside him in like manner lies his mortal foe, stricken with dagger-wounds; no sword would avail to work a wound upon that awesome thing in any way. There sits Wiglaf, Weohstan's son, by Beowulf's side, the living prince by the dead one, and he keeps an honor-guard over friend and foe with a heavy heart.

“Now might our people look for warfare soon when once news of the king's demise spreads afar to Frisian and Frank. The strife with the Hugas came when Hygelac fell as he fared with an embarked fleet upon the Frisian lands, and the Hetware humbled him in war. They struck with prowess and power overwhelming, so that the armored warrior was forced to bow his head. That king could in no way give us treasure; he was felled in the fight! Since that time has the Merowings' favor failed us completely.

“Nor do I in any way expect peace or truce from the Swedish folk—indeed, it was a famous story, how Ongentheow took hope and life from Hæthcyn son of Hrethel at Ravenswood, when the Geatish folk first sought the war-like Scylfings in wanton pride. Soon that sage old father of Ohtere, ancient and awful, delivered his onslaught and demolished the sea-king. He rescued the wife of his youth, mother of Onela and Ohthere, although he plundered her of gold. He then followed the foes who fled before him; sorely pressed and bereaved of their lord, they stole away to Ravenswood. With his army did he besiege there what swords remained, the weary and the wounded. He threatened woes the whole night long to the hard-pressed throng: some would his sword kill in the morning; some would go to the gallows-tree to please the ravens.

“But rescue came with the dawn of day to these desperate men when they heard the horn of Hygelac sound; with the sound of his trumpet, the brave king came, following their trail with the best of his thanes.