Beowulf eText - Chapter XLII

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Chapter XLII

IT PROVED A PERILOUS path for the man who had heinously hidden within that hall and walked there among the wealth beneath the walls. The watcher had killed that one and a few others, and the feud was avenged in furious fashion. A brave warrior should finish the end of his life with heroic deeds, when once the warrior can no longer live in the mead-hall with loving friends. Such was Beowulf's lot when he sought and fought the guardian of the barrow; he himself knew not in what way he was destined to leave the world at last. The potent princes who had deposited the gold had uttered a deep curse to last until doomsday, so that the man who invaded that ground to rob their hoard should be marked a criminal, hedged about with horrors, held by hell-bands, and racked with plagues. Yet it was not greed for gold, but heaven's grace that the king had ever kept in view.

Wiglaf, son of Weohstan, spoke: “Often must many warriors suffer much sorrow by the mandate of one, and so it has happened to us. The shepherd of our people, our beloved king, did not show care for our counsel when we urged him not to fight with the guardian of the gold, but to let him lie where he had long been—waiting in his earthen hall and awaiting the end of the world and the judgment of heaven. This hoard is ours, but it has been dearly won—the fate that carried Beowulf, our king and lord, was dire. I was inside there, and I viewed all of the treasures in the chamber, inasmuch as my path underneath the earthen walls was opened for me by no gentle means. I eagerly seized a heap from that hoard, such as my hands could bear, and carried it quickly back to my liege and lord. He was still alive and still wielded his wits. The wise old man said much in his death-pangs; he had me send you greetings and bade that, when he breathed no more, you construct for him a high barrow on the place of his balefire—a mighty memorial. Among men, he was the most famous warrior throughout the wide earth, so long as he had the joy of his jewels and castle.

“Now let us hasten to see and search this store of treasure a second time, this spectacle beneath the earthen walls. I will show you the way so that you will have your fill of gazing upon golden collars and rings. Let the bier be ready and all in order when we come out, so to carry our king and commander to the place where he shall long abide, safe in the shelter of the sovereign God.”

Then did the son of Weohstan command his brave warriors and ordered many of them who owned homesteads to bring firewood from afar for the famed-one's funeral. “Now must fire devour and scowling flames feed on the fearless warrior who often stood strong in the showers of iron as storms of arrows sped from the string, shot over the shield-wall; those shafts held firm as the feather-fittings eagerly followed the barb.”

Thereupon did the sage young son of Weohstan choose seven of the chieftain's thanes, the best he found within the company, and with these warriors he was one of eight that went under the dangerous roof. One warrior bore a lighted torch in his hand and led the way. They cast no lots for the looting of the hoard, when once those warriors saw it lying there helpless and without a guardian in the hall. Little did any man mourn when they hastily hauled it out, that dearly bought treasure! They cast the dragon over the cliff for the waves to take, and the surges swallowed that guardian of gems. Then was woven gold loaded upon a wagon—it was countless in measure—and the king, that white-haired warrior, was borne on a bier to Hrónesness.