Beowulf eText - Chapter XXIV

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Chapter XXIV

BEOWULF, SON OF Ecgtheow, then spoke: “Lo and behold! To you, son of Healfdene, lord of the Scyldings, have we heartily brought this booty from the lake; what you look upon here is a sign of victory! It was no light matter for me to escape with my life. I pursued this task with endless effort in war beneath the water, and even so my strength would have been lost had not the Lord shielded me. Aught could I accomplish with Hrunting in this work of war, even though it is a good weapon. And yet, the Lord of men granted to me that I should spy upon the wall, hanging in splendor, a gargantuan and ancient blade—how often does He guide men when they are friendless!—and with this blade did I fight, felling the hall's wardens because fate was with me. The sword of war, that bright blade, then completely melted when the blood gushed over it, the hot sweat of battle—but I brought the hilt back from my foes. Thus I avenged their fiendish deeds and the death-agony of Danes, as was fitting. And so I proclaim that you can now sleep safely in Heorot with your band of warriors, and every thane among your folk, young and old, has no evil to fear from that side again, lord of the Scyldings, as you once had from him, the bane of the warriors' lives.

Then the gilded hilt was given to that old leader, the white-haired hero; that which was wrought by the giants of old was laid in his hands. So did it pass into the possession of the Danish king after the devils' downfall. It was the work of a wondrous smith, and now that the world was rid of that black-hearted fiend—the enemy of God, stained with murder—along with his mother, it now passed into the power of the people's king, best of all among the oceans who had ever distributed gold in Scandian lands.

Hrothgar spoke; he looked at the hilt, ancient relic, whereupon was etched the origin of that primeval conflict when the flood and rushing oceans destroyed the race of giants. Their fate was fearful; they were a race estranged from the Eternal God, who paid them final retribution in the ravaging waves. All around the hilt of shining gold Hrothgar saw, in runic verse, for whom the serpentine-ornamented sword, best among blades, was wrought in ancient days.

The wise son of Healfdene spoke, and all were silent: “Lo, he who is followed by so many folk as I am, and who remembers the times of old as I do, may say in truth as I say that this prince is of a noble breed! Thus exalted, your fame, oh Beowulf my friend, will spread on fleet wings, far and wide over the realms of many folk. Nevertheless, you carry your might with modesty and wisdom. I pledge you my love, as I promised you formerly; you are destined to prove a sure and lasting comfort to your thanes, and a bastion to all your warriors.

“Heremod, offspring of Ecgwela of the honorable Scyldings, was not this way. He grew strong not for their pleasure, but for mortal combat and for deathblows against the Danish people. Enraged, he crushed his comrades who sat with him at the mead-hall! So he went forth alone, the illustrious chieftain, far from human society—even though the mighty God had exalted him above all men by endowing him with the attractions of strength and courage. Nevertheless, his mind became bloodthirsty in its passions, and his hoard grew—for he did not give rings to the Danes who merited them. He endured all joyless, and suffered in woe as his people were estranged from him.

“Find in this your lesson, and be advised of what is virtuous! I have spoken this verse to you from the wisdom of many bygone winters.

“It is wondrous to tell how the mighty God in the strength of his spirit sends wisdom to mankind and grants position and authority—he holds dominion over everything. Betimes, He allows the heart of a nobly-born hero to turn towards dominion, and gives him earthly joy in his ancestral throne; He gives him regions of the world that are so extensive and massive that in all his wisdom he cannot fathom the ends of it. And so he grows in wealth, and neither illness nor age can harm him. No burdensome worries overshadow his heart, and no sword of hatred held by the enemy ever threatens him. The wide world bends to his will, and no one opposes it.”