When the enraged dragon terrorizes the Geats and burns Beowulf's mead hall, Beowulf acts to protect his people one final time. He is quite old, having ruled with honor for fifty years, but he does not turn away from his duty. Armed with a new shield, Beowulf takes twelve of his best warriors, including Wiglaf, and finds the dragon. After recalling many of the most significant events of his life, Beowulf decides to face the dragon alone, his last great battle. The old king, however, cannot overcome the beast. The dragon wraps Beowulf in "swirling flames." Beowulf is a "defeated warrior," but his greatest hurt awaits. He is abandoned by his warriors, except for Wiglaf:
None of his comrades
Came to him, helped him, his brave and noble
Followers; they ran for their lives, fled
Deep in a wood. And only one of them
Remained, stood there, miserable, remembering,
As a good man must, what kinship should mean.
The warriors' abandoning their dying king shows the Geats' honor, loyalty, and sense of community are broken; their society cannot and will not endure without them.