Beowulf eText - Chapter XXXIX

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Chapter XXXIX

IT WAS A HARD happenstance for the young hero to look upon his beloved lord and to find him lying on the ground at the end of life; a sorrowful sight. But the slayer, that terrible earth-dragon, also lay empty of breath. It lay felled in the fight, and the coiled worm could no longer rule its treasure. The edge of iron had ended its days, the hard work of hammers sharpened in battle; that far-flyer had fallen to the ground near its hoard-chamber and been silenced by its wound. No longer did it whirl aloft in sport at midnight and make visible its merriment in the pride of its treasures, but he collapsed on earth by the handiwork of that hero-king.

However, as the tales tell me, truly few among men achieve—though they be stalwart and sturdy. Be he ever so daring in valorous deeds, it is rare that he perils the poisonous breath of a foe or braves to rush upon the ring-hall when the warden keeps wakeful watch in the barrow. Beowulf paid the price of death for that precious hoard, and both of the combatants had found an end of this fleeting life.

Before long, those laggards in battle left the wood, those faint-hearted traitors, ten in all, who feared to brandish spears in their sovereign lord's sore distress. Now they carried their shields in shame and took the armor of battle to where the old man lay dead; then they gazed upon Wiglaf.

He sat, wearied, at the sovereign's shoulder; the good shieldsman tried to wake his lord with water. It did not in any way avail. Though he wished well, he could not keep the life of the battle-leader on earth, nor thwart the will of the Almighty God. The judgment of the Lord was law upon the deeds of every man then, just as it is now. The youth had a grim answer ready for those who had failed in courage. Wiglaf spoke, the son of Weohstan, and looked sadly upon those men he no longer loved:

“One can say truly indeed that the ruler who gave you golden rings and the war-gear in which you stand—for he oftentimes bestowed on the folk of his hall helm and breastplates at the ale-bench; the lord gave the liegemen the most trustworthy gear, both near and far, that he could find to give—that he wasted this battle-armor on men who failed when the foes came! The king could not at all venture to boast of his comrades in arms, although the Wielder of victory, God, gave him such grace that he gained vengeance alone with his sword in his distress and need. I could afford him little protection in the struggle, but attempted nevertheless to do what I could not and help my kinsman. Its strength seemed ever to wane when I struck that fatal foe with a weapon, and the fire flowed less strongly from its head. Too few were the heroes who thronged to our king when the dire contest overtook him! Now must the giving of treasure, the presentation of swords, and the joys of homes and wealth, depart from you. All will you lose when highborn lords from afar hear of your flight and ignoble deeds. verily, death is better for warriors than an entire life of shame!”