Beowulf eText - Chapter XXXIV

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Chapter XXXIV

HE CONTEMPLATED AVENGING his lord's death in later days; he became a friend to Eadgils when he was friendless. He supported the son of Ohtere with a force of weapons and warriors, sending them over the sea: he at length had his vengeance by means of this cold and painful exile when Eadgils slew Onela the king.

Thus did the son of Ecgtheow pass safely through many struggles; through dire perils with daring deeds did he come, until this day when his fight with the dragon doomed him. In rage, the lord of the Geats went with eleven comrades to seek the dragon. He had learned by then how all the harm and clan-killing had come about: that precious cup had been laid on the lap of the lord by the one who found it. In the company was a thirteenth man, the beginner of all these conflicts and ills. A captive burdened with woe, he was forced, cringing with reluctance, to lead them on until he came to that cavern and hall, the barrow, a cave near the surging ocean waves.

It was full of jewels and carven gold; a vigilant guardian held these treasures. This war-demon lurked within his lair, and the task of gaining entrance was not an easy one for any among mankind! The hero king sat on the headland; the gold-friend of the Geats spoke words of farewell to his hearth-companions. His soul was full of sorrow; it was troubled and doom-ridden. Fate stood well ready to greet this gray-haired man and to seize the treasure of his soul by sundering life from body. This warrior's spirit would not long be entwined with flesh.

Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke: “I labored through many battles in my youth, and fought many contests; I remember them all. I was seven winters old when the king of treasures, friend of his people, received me from my father; he held me and cared for me, did Hrethel the king, with food, money, and faithful kinship. He never treated me more poorly as a son in his fortress than those who were born to him: Herebeald, Haethcyn, and my lord Hygelac. The bed of death was made for the eldest of these in unnatural fate by a brother's deeds; Haethcyn laid my own dear liege low with an arrow, killing him with a bow made of horn. He missed his mark and shot down his mate—one brother killed the other with a bloody shaft. It was a fight without blood-price, a fearful sin; it was a horror to Hrethel, and yes, difficult though it was, the prince must die unavenged!

“Likewise, it is an awful thing for an aged man to endure for his young son to ride upon the gallows. He makes a lament, a dirge for his son hanging there for the ravens' benefit; the old, disabled man cannot rescue him now! Even so, at every daybreak, he is reminded of the heir who is now Elsewhere; he cares not to wait and see another son become the ward of his fortress' wealth, now that one has received the fate of death for his deeds.

“Forlorn, he sees his son's lodgings. It is a deserted mead-hall, and the wind sweeps through those chambers that are bereft of revel. The rider sleeps, and the hero is hidden in the grave; no harp resounds, and in the courts there is no mead-merriment as there once was.