Beowulf eText - Chapter XXXIII

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Chapter XXXIII

THEN DID THE evil monster belch forth fire, and merry farmsteads burned; the light of the blaze glared high, frightening all the countrymen. That loathsome one, as it flew about, would leave no living thing. The dragon's war-making was seen everywhere; his fiendish rage was evident far and near as that fell destroyer hated and ravaged the Geatish people. At the hint of dawn, he hastened to his hidden lair. It had bathed the folk of the land in flame, with fire and coals. It trusted in its barrow, its warcraft, and its ramparts—that confidence was in vain!

This crushing woe was told to Beowulf the King swiftly and certainly; his own home, best of buildings and throne of gifts for the Geats, melted in the waves of flame. This was the heaviest of sorrows to the good old man, and he was sad at heart. The wise man assumed that he had angered his sovereign God, broken the ancient law, and embittered the Lord. Black thoughts welled within his mind, as was never his custom. The fiery dragon had destroyed by flame the folk's own fortress, that stronghold by the sea's shore; the warrior king, prince of the Geats, plotted vengeance. The shield-of-warriors, commander-of-the-princes, had them craft for him a wondrous war-shield made completely of iron; he well knew that the forest's wood was worthless against fire—linden could not help. The valorous prince was fated to end his allotted days on this earth, and the dragon with him—though it had long watched over the wealth of the hoard!

Then did that giver of rings think it shameful that he should pursue the far-flyer with a troop, a large host; he did not fear the battle, nor think the dragon's warcraft a threat to his might and valor—he had passed through many desperate ventures, perils of war, contests, and battle-clashes since the proud victor had purged Hrothgar's hall and killed Grendel's kin, that loathsome spawn, in a mighty grapple.

Not the least among these encounters was that hand-to-hand combat when Hygelac fell, and the lord of the Geatish folk, son of Hrethel, died by the thirsty sword in the rush of battle in Frisian lands; he was felled with the blade. From there did Beowulf flee through his might and swimming power, though alone. His arms were burdened with thirty coats of mail when he reached the sea! Nor yet did the Hetware, who carried shields against him in the strife, have reason to boast of their warcraft—for few of them escaped the fight with the hero to seek their homes!

Ecgtheow's son, lonely and forlorn, sought his land, where Hygd offered him hoard and realm, treasure and a throne. She had no confidence that her son could save their kingdom from hostile hordes now that Hygelac was dead. But in no way could that bereaved people change the prince's mind and have him accept lordship over Heardred to be ruler of the realm; he upheld this youth and advised him honorably until he had grown older and reigned over the Storm-Geats.

Wandering exiles sought Heardred from across the seas: the sons of Ohtere who had spurned the rule of that Scylfings' crown, the best and bravest of those who gave rings in the Swedish lands—he was a noble hero of the sea-kings' lineage. Hence came Heardred's demise, for he gave those sons shelter, and death came to the son of Hygelac by the blade's fell blow. But Onela, son of Ongentheow, sought his house and home again once Heardred fell, leaving Beowulf as lord of the Geats and the master of the gift-throne. He was a good king!