Beowulf eText - Chapter XXVIII

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Chapter XXVIII

THE STALWART ONE hastened with his companions; he treaded along the wide strands of sandy seashores. The world's great candle, the sun, shone from the south. With mighty steps did they stride along to the place where they knew that the young and brave war-king, shelter-of-warriors and slayer of Ongentheow, shared his rings within the fortress.

To Hygelac was Beowulf's coming promptly told: that clansman, his shield-companion, was alive and well, coming to the court from the battle-games, marching homeward. As the king commanded, room for the roamers was quickly made within the hall.

He who had come safe from battle sat by his sovereign; kinsman sat by kinsman, and the kind lord greeted his loyal man with gracious words. Hæreth's daughter came through the high hall dispensing mead; she who was winsome to the warriors took the wine-cup into the heroes' hands.

Hygelac then questioned his companion carefully in that lofty hall; he deeply longed to know how the adventures of the Sea-Geats had gone. “How fared your quest, beloved Beowulf, when your questing swept you there over the briny sea to seek battle and combat at Heorot? Did you at all aid Hrothgar, the honored chieftain, in his wide-known woes? My sad heart seethed with waves of care, and I mistrusted the adventure for so dear a man; I long begged you not seek that slaughtering monster at all, but to allow the South-Danes to settle their feud with Grendel themselves. I thank God that I have now been allowed to see you safe and sound!”

Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke: “It is no secret, Hygelac my lord; the deadly struggle between Grendel and me is known to many men. We fought upon that field where he had surely wrought too many sorrows upon the conquering Scyldings—unending evils. I avenged all these; because of the tumult at dawn, nobody in the whole of Grendel's breed, the loathsome race that has long lived in the fens, can boast.

“I first went to greet Hrothgar in his ring-hall, where Healfdene's kinsman promptly assigned me a seat by his son and heir once my purpose was made plain to him. The company was joyous; never in my life have I heard under heaven's vault such merriment of men over mead in the hall! The noble queen, the pledge of peace between nations, cheered the young clansmen by giving golden clasps to various ones before she sought her seat. Hrothgar's daughter betimes carried the ale-cup to the princes in turn—I heard these hall-companions say when she offered carvings of gold to the warriors that her name was Freawaru. The gold-adorned maiden is pledged to the merry son of Froda. This seems sagacious to the keeper of the kingdom, that friend of the Scyldings: he deems it wise to wed the woman and ward off a massive blood-feud. But seldom does the slaughtering spear sleep for long, even though the bride is fair!

“The Heathobard lord will not well like it when he and all his liegemen see a Danish thane in that stalwart crowd accompany the lady in their hall, and upon him the ancient heirlooms gleam; hard and ring-covered, they are Heathobard's treasure—weapons that they once wielded well until they lost loyal liegemen and their own lives in the game of battle. Then, while drinking ale, some old spear-fighter will gaze upon this heirloom and think of spear-brought death—he is somber and his heart is heavy—and he tries the temper and prods the soul of the young hero, awakening war-hate with words like these:

“ ‘Can't you, my comrade, recognize that sword which your father carried in his final battle while wearing his helmet, when the Danes killed him, and the stout Scyldings took the field after the carnage and Withergild's death? Now, the son of one of those murdering Danes, proud of the loot, walks into our hall and boasts of the slaughter; he's wearing the treasure which you by right ought to own!'

“So he urges and goads him at every turn with galling words until the time comes that Freawaru's thane must sleep in his blood, losing his life to sword-bite for his father's deed. But the liegeman flies away, alive, to the land he knows. And thus the princes' oaths on both sides would be broken when Ingeld's breast swells with war-hatred, and the love for his wife grows cooler after those billows of care. So I do not highly esteem the Heathobard's loyalty, nor do I deem their alliance with the Danes sincere or their friendship firm.

“But I return now to tell of Grendel, O giver of treasure, and fully tell how the hand-combat of heroes ended. When the jewel of heaven had fled far over the fields, the fierce monster came, savage foe of the night, to seek us out where we guarded the hall in safety and security. The raid was deadly to Hondscio; he was doomed to die there. That armored warrior was first to be killed. Grendel set his murderous mouth upon our mighty kinsman and devoured the brave man's entire body.

“But even so, the murderous assassin with bloody fangs appeared unready to leave that golden hall empty-handed; confident of his strength, he attacked me and grasped me with greedy hands. On him hung a wide and marvelous satchel, wound round about with cords and skillfully wrought with demonic craft of dragon's hides. The fiendish foe wanted to thrust me, an innocent man, inside there along with many others. He did not do so when I stood upright in rage. It would take too long to relate how I repaid in full that land-ravager for his cruel deeds, but this people of yours, my prince, gained fame there by my fighting. He escaped and got away, preserving for a little while his life, but his stronger hand stayed behind him in Heorot; in abject spirits did that outlaw fall at the lake bottom.

“For this struggle did the Scyldings' friend pay me upon the morn with much beaten gold and many treasures. We all sat at the banquet tables, and there was song and mirth. A gray-haired Scylding told tales from the days of yore. While the hero awakened his harp, that delightful wood, he chanted ballads of truth and sadness, or the magnanimous king would recount a legend of wonder. At times, one now chained with age would yearn for the battles of old in his youth; the white-haired fellow's heart would well up within him as this one wise in winters would revive memories. Thus did we feast in the hall at our leisure the whole day until another night fell over the earth.

“Then, ready and eager for vengeance, Grendel's mother set woefully forth. Her son was dead by the war-hate of the Geats; now this monstrous women slew a foe in her fury to avenge her offspring. Life departed from old Æschere, the loyal counselor. When morning broke, those Danish people could do nothing for him; they could not consume the lifeless man with flame and set the man they mourned upon the funeral pyre, for she had carried the corpse in her cruel claws beneath the mountain stream. Of all the griefs that had long beset the lord of his folk, this was the most bitter for Hrothgar. The leader, sad in his soul, then beseeched me—by your leave—to hazard life in the rush of waters, thereby testing valor and gaining renown. He pledged me compensation. It is widely known that I then found that savage guardian of the lake bottom in the waters. There we wrestled in hand-to-hand combat for a while; the waves welled with blood, and in that briny hall I hewed the head from Grendel's mother with a stout blade—thereby gaining my life, though not without danger. My doom had not yet come. Then that haven for heroes, Healfdene's son, gave me plentiful and valuable gifts as a reward.