Beowulf eText - Chapter XXXVIII

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Chapter XXXVIII

I THEN HEARD tell that the son of Weohstan went swiftly beneath the barrow's roof at the word and wish of his wounded king, the war-sick warrior; he bore his woven coat of mail and battle-vest. Then the victorious clansman, true and courageous, saw heaps of jewels and glistening gold on the ground as he went along that stone bench. There were wondrous things in the den of the dragon, dawn-flyer of old: many vessels and the unburnished bowls of bygone men, all encrusted; rusty helms from the days of old; and many arm-bands of wondrous weave. Such wealth of gold, booty from the barrow, can easily burden any human with pride—let him who will, heed it! His glance also fell upon a banner woven with gold, brilliantly embroidered with the noblest handiwork; its gleam was so bright that he could easily see the earthen floor and the other treasures. No trace of the serpent could be seen—the war-knife had dispatched him.

Then I heard that a single man emptied the hill of its hoard of giant-craft. He gathered to his breast cups and platters of his own choice, and he also took the ensign, that brightest of beacons. The iron edge of his lord's blade had deeply injured the one that guarded the golden hoard. For many years had it spread its hot and murderous fires 'round the barrow in billows of horror at the midnight hour, until it met its doom. The herald hastened and, burdened with spoil, retraced his steps. He was troubled with doubts in his brave soul about whether he'd find the lord of the Geats alive where he'd left him—by the cave's wall, quickly weakening. Then, carrying the treasures, he found his lord and king bleeding; that famous chief was at the extremity of life. The liegemen washed the king with water again; the tip of a word broke through the breast-treasures. Beowulf spoke, as he stared at the gold, sagely and sadly:

“I give thanks to my God, to the Wielder-of-Wonders, for the gold and treasure upon which I now gaze; I thank Heaven's Lord that I have been given grace to acquire such for my people ere the day of my death has come! Now have I bartered the last of my life for the hoard of treasure, so look well to the needs of my land! I shall not tarry any longer. Bid those warriors raise a cairn for my ashes. It will shine by the shores of the sea, and be a fair memorial lifted high to my folk on Hronës Headland. Seafarers may hail Beowulf's Barrow as they drive their keels over the scowling waves on their return.”

The valorous king unclasped a gold collar from his neck and gave it to his vassal, along with the bright golden helmet, breastplate, and ring. He bid the youthful thane use them in joy. “You are the last remnant of our race and of the Wægmunding name, for Fate has swept all of my line, those princes of glory, into the land of doom. I must follow them.”

This word was the last one harbored in the heart of that wise old man before he chose the hot, consuming flames of the death pyre. His soul fled his breast to seek the saints' reward.