Beowulf eText - Chapter XLI

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Chapter XLI

“THE GORY TRACK of the Swedes and Geats and the storm of their strife were seen from afar; each folk had revived the feud. The ancient king sought his citadel with his band of princes; he had much sorrow, and Ongentheow went up to his castle. He had tested Hygelac's war-craft, the prowess of that proud one, and would not test it again. He no longer defied those wandering warriors, and did not hope to save his hoard, son, and bride from the seamen: so the old king retired behind his earthen walls. Yet Swedes bearing the standards of Hygelac came after him, advancing proudly over peaceful plains, until the Hrethelings fought within the garrison. Then Ongentheow was held at bay with the edge of the sword; the white-bearded king of the people was forced to suffer Eofor's rage.

“In wrath, Wulf Wonreding struck the king with his weapon, and the chieftain's blood flowed in streams beneath his hair from that blow. The stout old Scylfing felt no fear, but directly repaid that bitter strike with better blows, once the king had collected himself. Wulf, the son of Wonred, was not swift enough to give answer to the aged king; the helm on Wulf's head was split in twain, and he bowed to the earth drenched in blood. He fell down but was not yet doomed; he later recovered, although the wound brought him close to death. Then did Eofor, thane of Hygelac, break through the wall of shields with his broad blade; his giant's sword crashed through the shield and helm. The king fell crouching; the old shepherd of the people was fatally wounded. There were many who bound the brother Wulf's wounds and lifted him up as fast as fate allowed them to take the field. But Eofor took from Ongentheow, one prince from the other, the iron breastplate, the hard hilted sword, and the helmet, carrying the white-haired king's gear to Hygelac. He accepted the spoils, and promised reward amidst the thanes—and, truly, he fulfilled it. When he came home, the Geatish lord, Hrethel's offspring, gave to Eofor and Wulf a wealth of treasure for that dire battle. Each of them received a hundred thousand in land and linked rings, and no men upon earth could estimate these mighty deeds at a lesser price! And upon Eofur he bestowed his only daughter, the pride of his home, as a pledge of loyalty.

“And so is the feud and the foeman's grudge, the enmity of men; I deem it sure that the Swedish people will attack us when once they learn that our leader of war, who ever defended land and hoard from all his foes, lies dead; he increased the welfare of his folk and remained a stalwart hero to the end. Haste is best now, when we go to look upon our Geatish lord and bear our bountiful ring-giver to the funeral pyre. It is not fitting that a trifle should burn with the noble man; but there is a hoard of precious gems and untold amounts of gold that were bought with a terrible price—he purchased the treasure with the last of his life. All of these must the fire devour and the flames envelop. No warrior must carry a jewel in memorial, nor fair maidens adorn her neck with a noble collar; nay, she will often pass over the paths of exile in sadness of spirit, stripped of her gold. Now the leader of our army has forsworn all laughter, game, and glee. Many a spear shall be clasped in hand in the morning's cold, and the lilt of the harp shall not wake these warriors, but the bleak raven shall flutter over the fallen, and he will boast to the eagle how bravely he ate when he and the wolf stripped the slain.”

Thus did the ardent man tell sorrowful tidings, and he erred little in words or deeds. The dolorous warriors stood and climbed the Eagle's Crag; as they viewed the wondrous sight, their eyes welled with tears. There on the sand, they found their lifeless lord; the man who had given them rings in times of old was lying helplessly on his bed of sand. The final day had come to the valiant; death had seized the Weders' king in woeful slaughter.

They saw there as well the strangest thing lying prone near their leader on the field: the flying fire-drake, fearsome and grisly fiend, all scorched with flames. It was fifty foot-measurements in length where it lay. It had been supreme when it went aloft during the night-hours, then returning back to seek its den—now in death's fast clutches it had ended its joy in the earthen caverns. Nearby it stood pots and bowls; dishes lay about, and costly swords that were eaten with rust while they lay resting on the earth's lap for a thousand winters—for that entire large heritage, the gold of bygone men, was bound by enchantment, such that the hall's treasure might not be touched by any among mankind—save that one whom Heaven's King, God Himself, might grant the man of His choosing to open the hoard—even such a man as seemed fitting to Him.