National Epics By Kate Milner Rabb
The Story of Beowulf
A mighty man was Scyld, ruler of the Gar-Danes. From far across the whale-path men paid him tribute and bore witness to his power. Beowulf was his son, a youth endowed with glory, whose fame spread far and wide through all the Danish land. When the time came for Scyld to die he ordered his thanes to prepare the ring-stemmed ship, laden with treasures, battle-weed, and swords, and place him in the death-chamber. Laden with his people’s gifts, and sailing under a golden banner, he passed from sight, none knew whither. After him ruled Beowulf, and after him Healfdene,–brave warriors and kind monarchs. When, after Healfdene’s death, his son Hrothgar succeeded him, his fame in war inclined all his kinsmen towards him, and he, too, became a mighty monarch. To the mind of Hrothgar it came to build a lordly mead-hall where he and his men could find pleasure in feasting, drinking mead, and hearing the songs of the minstrels. Heorot it was called, and when its high spires rose glistening in the air, all hailed it with delight. But, alas! The joy in hall, the melody of the harp, and the shouts of the warriors penetrated to the dismal fen where lay concealed the monster Grendel, descendant of sin-cursed Cain. At night came Grendel to the hall, found sleeping the troop of warriors, and bore away in his foul hands thirty of the honored thanes. Great was the sorrow in Heorot when in the morning twilight the deed of Grendel became known. For twelve long winters did this sorrow continue; for so long a time was Hrothgar plunged in grief; for so many years did this beautiful mead-hall, destined for joyful things, stand idle. While thus the grief-stricken lord of the Scyldings brooded over his wrongs, and the people besought their idols vainly for aid, the tidings of Grendel’s ravages were conveyed to the court of the Gothic king, Higelac, and thus reached the ears of a highborn thane, Beowulf. A strong man was he, his grasp equal to that of thirty men. Straightway commanded he a goodly ship to be made ready, chose fifteen of his bravest Goths, and swiftly they sailed over the swan-path to the great headlands and bright sea-cliffs of the Scyldings. High on the promontory stood the guard of Hrothgar. “What men be ye who hither come?” cried he. “Not foes, surely. Ye know no pass word, yet
surely ye come on no evil errand. Ne’er saw I a greater lord than he who leads the band. Who are ye?” “Higelac’s man am I,” answered the leader. “Ecgtheow, my sire; my name, Beowulf. Lead me, I pray thee, to thy lord, for I have come over seas to free him forever from his secret foe, and to lift the cloud that hangs over the stately mead-hall.” Over the stone-paved streets the warder led the warriors, their armor clanking, their boar-tipped helmets sparkling, to the goodly hall, Heorot. There were they warmly welcomed, for Hrothgar had known Beowulf’s sire; the fame of the young man’s strength had also reached him, and he trusted that in his strong grasp Grendel should die. All took their seats on the mead-benches, and a thane passed from warrior to warrior, bearing the chased wine-cup. Sweet was the minstrel’s song, and the warriors were happy in Heorot. But Hunferd sat at the banquet, and envious of Beowulf’s fame, taunted him with his swimming match with Breca. “Seven days and nights thou didst swim with Breca; but he was stronger, and he won. Worse will befall thee, if thou dar’st this night await Grendel!” “Easy it is to brag of Breca’s deeds when drunk with beer, friend Hunferd!” replied Beowulf. “Seven days and nights I swam through the sea-water, slaying the monsters of the deep. Rough was the wave, terrible were the water beasts; but I reached the Finnish land. Wert thou as brave as thou claim’st to be, Grendel would ne’er have wrought such havoc in thy monarch’s land.” Decked with gold, Queen Waltheow passed through the hall, greeted the warriors, and proffered the mead-cup to Beowulf, thanking God that she had found an earl who would deliver them from their enemy. When dusky night fell over Heorot, the king uprose. “To no other man have I ever entrusted this hall of gold. Have now and keep it! Great reward shall be thine if thou come forth alive!” The knights left in the lordly hall composed themselves for slumber, all save Beowulf, who, unarmed, awaited the coming of Grendel. He came, with wrathful step and eyes aflame, bursting open the iron bolts of the great door, and laughing at the goodly array of men sleeping before him. On one he laid hands and drank his blood; then he clutched the watchful Beowulf. Ne’er had he found a foe like this! Fearful, he turned to flee to his home in the fen, but the grip of Beowulf forbade flight. Strongly was Heorot builded, but many a gilded mead-bench was torn from the walls as the two combated within the hall. The sword blade was of no avail, and him must Beowulf bring to death by the strength of his grip alone. At last, with a scream that struck terror to every Dane’s heart, the monster sprang from
Beowulf and fled, leaving in the warrior’s grasp his arm and shoulder. Great was Beowulf’s joy, for he knew that the wound meant death. When the king and queen came forth in the morning with their nobles and maids, and saw the grisly arm of Grendel fastened upon the roof of Heorot, they gave themselves up to rejoicing. Gifts were heaped upon Beowulf,–a golden crest, a banner bright, a great and goodly sword and helm and corselet, eight steeds with headstalls ornamented with gold plate, and a richly decorated saddle. Nor were his comrades forgotten, but to each were given rich gifts. When the mead-hall had been cleansed and refitted, they gathered therein and listened to the song of the bard who told how Healfdene’s knight, Hnæf, smote Finn. The song over, the queen, crowned with gold, gave gifts to Beowulf, the liberator from the horrors of Grendel,–two armlets, a necklace, raiment, and rings. When the drinking and feasting were over, the king and Beowulf withdrew, leaving many earls to keep the hall. Little guessed they that one of them was that night doomed to die! The haunt of Grendel was a mile-wide mere. Around it were wolf-haunted cliffs, windy promontories, mist-covered mountains. Close around the mere hung the woods, shrouding the water, which, horrible sight, was each night covered with fire. It was a place accursed; near it no man might dwell; the deer that plunged therein straightway died. In a palace under the mere dwelt Grendel and his mother; she, a foul sprite, whom the peasants had sometimes seen walking with her son over the meadows. From her dwelling-place she now came forth to avenge the death of her son, and snatched away from the group of sleeping RingDanes the good Æschere, dearest of all his thanes to Hrothgar. Loud was Hrothgar’s wailing when at morning Beowulf came forth from his bower. “Sorrow not, O wise man,” spake Beowulf. “I fear not. I will seek out this monster and destroy her. If I come not back it will at least be better than to have lost my glory. She can never hide from me. I ween that I will this day rid thee of thine enemy.” Accompanied by Hrothgar, some of the Ring-Danes and his Goths, Beowulf sought the dismal mere, on whose brink they found the head of Æschere. Among the bloody waves swam horrible shapes, Nicors and sea-drakes, that fled at a blast of the war-horn. Beowulf slew one of the monsters, and while his companions were marvelling at the grisly form, he prepared himself for the combat. His breast was guarded by a coat of mail woven most cunningly; upon his head shone the gold-adorned helmet, and in his hand was Hunferd’s sword, Hrunting, made of iron steeped in twigs of bitter poison, annealed in battle blood, and fearful to every foe. “Hearken unto me, O Hrothgar,” cried the hero. “If I return not, treat well my comrades and send my gifts to Higelac, that he may see the deed I have accomplished, and the generous ring-lord I have gained among the
Scyldings.” And without waiting for a reply, he leaped into the waves and was lost to sight. There was the monster waiting for him; and catching him in her grip, which bruised him not because of his strong mail-coat, she dragged him to her cave, in whose lighted hall he could see the horrible features of the woman of the mere. Strong was Hrunting, but of no avail was its mighty blade against her. Soon he threw it down, and gripped her, reckless of peril. Once he threw her on the ground, but the second time she threw him, and drew her glaive to pierce his breast. Strong was the linked mail, and Beowulf was safe. Then his quick eye lighted on a sword,–a magic, giant sword; few men could wield it. Quickly he grasped it, and smote the neck of the sea-woman. Broken were the bone-rings, and down she fell dead. Then Ecgtheow’s son looked around the hall and saw the body of the dead Grendel. Thirsting to take his revenge, he smote him with his sword. Off flew the head; but when the red drops of blood touched the magic blade it melted, leaving but the massive golden hilt in the hands of the hero. Beowulf took no treasure from the cave, but rose through the waves, carrying only the head of the monster and the hilt of the sword. When Hrothgar and his men saw the mere red and boiling with blood they deemed that Beowulf was dead, and departed to their citadel. Sorrowful sat the comrades of Beowulf, waiting and hoping against hope for his reappearance. Up sprang they when they saw him, joyfully greeted him, relieved him of his bloody armor, and conducted him to Hrothgar, bearing– a heavy task–the head of Grendel. When Hrothgar saw the hideous head and the mighty sword-hilt, whose history he read from its Runic inscriptions, he hailed Beowulf with joy, and proclaimed him the mightiest of men. “But ever temper thy might with wisdom,” advised the king, “that thou suffer not the end of Heremod, or be punished as I have been, in this my spacious mead-hall.” After a night’s rest, Beowulf prepared to return to his country. Returning Hrunting to Hunferd, he praised the sword, saying nothing of its failure in the fight. Then to Hrothgar: “Farewell. If e’er thou art harried by foes, but let me know,–a thousand fighting men I’ll bring. Higelac, well I know, will urge me on to honor thee. If e’er thy son seeks Gothic halls, I will intercede and win friends for him.” The old king, weeping, bade Beowulf farewell. “Peace be forever between the Goths and the Gar-Danes; in common their treasures! May gifts be interchanged between them!” The bark was filled with the gifts heaped upon Beowulf and his men; and the warder, who had hailed them so proudly at their coming, now bade them an affectionate farewell. Over the swan-path sailed they, and soon reached the Gothic coast, and landed their treasures. Then went Beowulf before Higelac and told him of his adventures. Higelac was a mighty king; lofty his house and hall, and fair and gentle was his wife, Hygd. To him, after he had related his adventures, Beowulf presented the boar-head crest, the battle-mail and sword, four of the
steeds, and much treasure, and upon the wise and modest Hygd bestowed he the wondrous necklace given him by Waltheow. So should a good thane ever do! There had been a time when Beowulf was accounted a sluggish knight, but now the land rang with his glory. When Higelac died and Hardred was slain, Beowulf succeeded to the throne, and for fifty years ruled the people gloriously. At this time a great fire-drake cherished a vast hoard in a cave on a high cliff, difficult of access, and known to few men. Thither one day fled a thrall from his master’s wrath, and saw the hoard buried by some weary warrior, and now guarded by the dragon. While the drake slept, the thrall crept in and stole a cup as a peace-offering to his master. When the drake awoke, he scented the foot-prints of the foe, and discovered his loss. When even was come, he hastened to wreak his revenge on the people, spewing out flames of fire, and laying waste the land. Far and near were the lands of the Goths devastated, and ere long, tidings were borne to Beowulf that his great hall, his gift seat, was destroyed by fire. Saddened, and fearing that he had in some way angered God, he turned his mind to vengeance, and girded on his armour. A stout shield of iron he took, knowing that the dragon’s fiery breath would melt the wood, and with foreboding of his fate, bade farewell to his hearth-mates. “Many times have I battled, great deeds have I done with sword and with handgrip; now must I go forth and battle with hand and sword against the hoard-keeper.” Commanding the men who had accompanied him to remain upon the hillside, leaving him to combat with the dragon alone, Beowulf went proudly forward, shouting his battle-cry. Out rushed the dragon, full of deadly hate. His fiery breath was stronger than the king had deemed it. Stroke upon stroke he gave his enemy, who continued to cast forth his death-fire, so that Beowulf stood girt with flames. From afar, among the watching thanes, Wiglaf saw his monarch’s peril. “Comrades,” he cried, “do you remember our promises to our king? Was it for this he stirred us up to glorious deeds? Was it for this he heaped gifts upon us? Let us go to his rescue. It is not right that we should see our lord fall, and bear away our shields untouched!” Rushing forward, he cried, “Beowulf, here am I! Now strike for thy life! Thou hast said that thou never wouldst let thy fame depart from thee!” Again the dragon came forth; again it enveloped its foeman in flames. The linden shield of Wiglaf burned in his hands, and he sought shelter behind Beowulf’s shield of iron. Again and again Wiglaf smote the monster, and when the flames burnt low, Beowulf seized his dirk and pierced the dragon so that he fell dead.
The dragon lay dead, but Beowulf felt the poison in his wounds and knew that he had not long to live. He commanded Wiglaf to bring forth the treasure that he might gaze upon the hoard,–jewel work and twisted gold,– that he had wrested from the fire-drake. The den was filled with rings of gold, cups, banners, jewels, dishes, and the arms of the old owner of the treasure. All these did Wiglaf bear forth to his lord, who surveyed them, and uttered thanks to his Maker, that he could win such a treasure. Then, turning to Wiglaf, he said, “Now I die. Build for me upon the lofty shore a bright mound that shall ever remind my people of me. Far in the distance their ships shall descry it, and they shall call it Beowulf’s mound.” Then, giving his arms to Wiglaf, he bade him enjoy them. “Thou art the last of our race. All save us, fate-driven, are gone to doom. Thither go I too.” Bitterly did Wiglaf denounce his comrades when he saw them steal from their hiding-places. “Well may it be said of you that he who gave you your arms threw them away. No thanks deserve ye for the slaughter of the dragon! I did my little, but it was not in my power to save my kinsman. Too few helpers stood about him! Now shall your kin be wanting in gifts. Voids are ye of land-rights! Better is it for an earl to die than to live with a blasted name!” Sorrowful were the people when they heard of the death of Beowulf. Full well they knew with what joy the tidings would be hailed by their enemies, who would hasten to Harry the land, now that their great leader was gone. The Frisians, the Merovingians, the Franks, the Swedes,–all had their grievances, which they would hasten to wreak on the Goths when they learned that the dreaded king was gone. Dreary would be the land of the Goths; on its battle-fields the wolves would batten; the ravens would call to the eagles as they feasted on the slain. Straight to the Eagle’s Nest went the band, and found their dead monarch; there, too, lay the loathsome fire-drake, full fifty feet long, and between them the great hoard, rust-eaten from long dwelling in the earth. Ever had that hoard brought ill with it. Down from the cliff they thrust the dragon into the deep, and carried their chief to Hronesness. There they built a lofty pile, decked it with his armor, and burned thereon the body of their glorious ruler. According to his wish, they reared on the cliff a broad, high barrow, surrounded it with a wall, and laid within it the treasure. There yet it lies, of little worth to men! Then around the barrow rode twelve of the bravest, boldest nobles, mourning their king, singing his praises, chanting a dirge, telling of his glorious deeds, while over the broad land the Gothic folk lamented the death of their tender prince, their noble king, Beowulf.
The Story of Beowulf
Once upon a time, in the far north of what is now called Europe, there was a kingdom known as Geatsiand, and its ruler was named Hygelac. It was a harsh country, with high mountains and narrow stony valleys, and it had a long seacoast with many harbors and inlets, and the men who lived there were famous for their bravery on both sea and land. Now, for many years Hygelac ruled over his people with a stern but kind hand. Beside him was his queen, named Hygd, and called the Wise and Fair. About the king and queen were gathered the finest lords of the land. All. were valiant warriors whose courage had been proved. Among the number of youths who were in. thrall to Hygelac was Beowulf, the son of the king’s sister. As a small boy, Beowulf had shown such strength of body that Hygelac had early named him one of his thanes. So his mother and father gave him up, and young Beowulf went to live with his uncle, to learn the arts of war and the handling of ships. For several years he led a lonely life, for so great was the strength of his limbs that even among those men of vast vigor he was a youth to be marveled at. As the years slipped by and he grew to manhood, he became more and more sullen in his strength, and his companions dubbed him “The Silent.” His movements were clumsy. He tripped over his sword. He
broke whatever he touched. The other youths laughed at him for his awkwardness, but in secret they envied the immense spread of his shoulders and the terrible swiftness of his stride. When Beowulf had at last reached the full tide of his manhood, a feast was held one night in the king’s drinking-hall. From all over Geatsland famous warriors and earls gathered at the drinking-benches of their king to hear the songs of the minstrels and take part in games and feats of strength. At the feet of the royal couple sat Beowulf, at a table especially prepared for the king’s earls. But Beowulf, unmindful of the talk about him, sat in gloomy silence, brooding. His strength was great, but there was no use for him to put it to, and he longed for wild adventure and the chance to stretch his muscles to the limit of their power. Then, at a signal from Hygelac, the minstrel came forward with his harp. He was a tall rugged man, with a beard streaked with gray. He had the air of one who had traveled long distances, and his blue eyes were wide and fixed like one used to watching the far horizon. Around him was wrapped a cloak of deep blue, held together by a curious clasp of gold. Beowulf, noting the clasp, thought it resembled a coiled snake, for there were two green stones set in it which glittered. This man, Beowulf thought, has been in far-away places. He will chant us a good song. Then the Wanderer (for so he was called) sat down upon a wooden stool, threw back the cloak from about his arms, and with long thin fingers struck the resounding strings of his harp. He sang in a sharp voice that was like the crying of birds on the gray sea, hut there was a sweetness in it at the same time which held his hearers, and the lords of Geatsiand leaned forward on their benches in eagerness to catch every word. He sang of the vast and frozen North, where winter lay upon the land for many, many months, and men foi.ght in the gloomy light of the nightburning sun. He sang of endless forests stretching black and forbidding in a sea of snow; of mountains higher and bleaker than the highest mountains of Geatsiand; of the strange and fearful demons that inhabited this ghostly region. Then the tune of the Wanderer changed. His voice fell to a lower note, and he sang of Hrothgar who was king of the Danes, that country not far from Geatsiand, across the water. He told a sad story of desolation and despair in Hrothgar’s land, because of a beast which had struck mortal fear into the hearts of the lords of Daneland. For on one cruel night, twelve years before, there had come a
monster, part animal, part man, part bird. The lords of Daneland were sleeping soundly, and the monster, who was called Grendel, had forced open the solid doors of the king’s ball and carried away in their sleep thirty of the greatest earls of the Danes. There had been lamentation throughout the land, and many were the attempts to slay Grendel, but none had succeeded. And for twelve long years Grendel repeatedly visited the king’s hall and wrought destruction there. Now the land was despoiled of its youthful strength, and there remained to the king only those fighters whose early vigor had long since passed, and Daneland had become a country of old men and defenseless women. Now, all the while that the Wanderer was singing, Beowulf sat as one bewitched. He leaned forward upon the table, his arms folded under his still beardless chin, his eyes fixed upon the minstrel. Now and again he lifted his head and shook out the fair hair that hung beneath the golden band encircling his wide white forehead. The huge bracelets that weighted his wrists gleamed like his eyes, and the jeweled collar about his throat was tight because of the swelling veins of his neck. One thought possessed him: He would seek out this monster, Grendel, and slay him - yes! slay him with bare hands! He saw himself face to face with the monster Grendel, and suddenly a wild cry broke from his lips and he leaped from his seat. “Lords of Geatsiand and earls of Hygelac,” he shouted, as the minstrel finished the song, “I am the son of Ecgtheow and of Hygelac’s sister, and in olden times this Hrothgar was a war-brother of my father. Therefore I claim kinship to him, and I will go to the land of the Danes and I will slay this Grendel!” Then there was great confusion in the hail of Hygelac, and the earls called to one another, and dogs barked. But Hygd the queen stood up amid the turmoil, and holding a jeweled cup in her two hands because of its weight, stepped down to where Beowulf was, and offered him the cup, and smiled at him in affection. Once again Hygelac commanded silence among the guests in the drinkinghall, and turning to Beowulf said: “The time has come, 0 Beowulf, for you to prove your worth. The gods have gifted you with the strength of thirty men, and this strength you should use to the advantage of your fellows, Our neighbor Hrothgar is in sore need. Go forth, then, from Geatsland to the land of the Danes, and do mortal combat with this Grendel-fiend.” For seven days and seven nights there were great preparations in the halls of Hygelac the Great, that Beowulf might go on his adventure fully equipped for whatever a aited him in Daneland. From the group of
companions who had come to manhood at the same time as himself, Beowulf selected fourteen earls to accompany him. He had wiched to go alone to the land of the Danes, but his uncle the king had commanded that he be suitably companioned on such a voyage, so that at the court of Hrothgar it could not be said that Hygelac had sent the, youth upon a fool’s errand and badly equipped. Special shields were made, of stout wood covered with thick hides and bound with iron and studded with golden nails. Rich cloaks of scarlet and blue there were for the warriors, and massive bracelets of fine gold for their arms and wrists, and collars of gold wire. When at last they stood ready in the meadhall of Hygelac, they were a fine company of young men, whose like was not to be seen in all the countries of the North. Each stood well over six feet in height, with broad shoulders and sturdy legs; and each was swift as a deer. Then came the signal for the journey down to the beach whre a ship lay in readiness to receive Beowulf and his earls, and with torches flaming in the grayness of approaching dawn, they departed. They came at length to the coast of Daneland and the sea boiled white between them and the land, and the land itself was scarred and pitted with a thousand narrow inlets, which were treacherous to seafarers unfamiliar with them. The forests that clung to the shore line were half hidden in gray mists that moved and twisted like smoke about the trees, but as the storm lessened, they beached their boat on a tiny strip of sand at the edge of a deep forest hung with gray fog and silent as death. That night, after Beowulf and his companions had rested, for the first time in twelve years there was a great banquet in the hall of Hrothgar. The place was decorated with fine hangings, the gold-bright roof burnished until it shone like the sun, and the benches had been scraped and polished by many willing hands. Huge fires were built on the hearths, and the smell of roasting meats pervaded the hall. The fires were burnt out on the hearths when the last of Hrothgar’s train had departed. Then Beowulf and his companions set themselves to fastening tightly the door of the hall. They secured it with wooden bolts and tied it with leathern thongs, and so strong was it that no mortal could have passed through. Then the warriors of Geatsland unfolded their cloaks upon the benches and laid themselves down to slumber, and Beowulf stretched his great length upon the dais of the king, and resolved that through the long night he would never once close his eyes. Near the door lay the young Hondscio, Beowulf’s favorite earl, who swore that if anyone broke through the door he would be the first to give the intruder battle. Silence crept over the shrouded forms where they lay upon the floor and benches, and there was no sound save their steady breathing and the faint sighing of the night wind in the trees about the hall.
Beowulf, upon his couch, lay still as death, but his eyes moved here and there in the deepening gloom of the hail. Outside, a fog was creeping up from the sea, obscuring the moon in milky eclipse, and at last there was not even the sound of the wind in the trees. To Beowulf the deep silence seemed full of moving things invisible to human eyes. Gradually there came over him a kind of drowsiness that he fought to ward off. His eyelids fluttered against his eyes, and then he swooned with a sleep that lay upon his limbs like a heavy garment. But suddenly there was a rustling among the wet trees, and a noise like the deep grunt of a pig, but soft and low, startled the fog- bound night, and the drops of mist-water on the trees fell sharply to the ground like heavy rain. Then the fog parted evenly, and in the wide path it made through the night a Shadow loomed gigantic in all that was left of moonlight. Slowly, slowly it neared the great hail and the night shuddered at its coming, and behind it, as it moved, the fog closed again with a sucking sound. And the Shadow stood before the great door of the hail, and swayed hideously in the ghastly light. Within there was a deep stillness, and Beowulf and the Geatish earls slept soundly, with no knowledge of what stood so evilly beyond the door. For the monstrous Shadow was the fiend Grendel, and standing there in the fog- strewn night he placed a spell upon those who slept to make them sleep more soundly. But Beowulf hung between sleeping and waking, and while the spell did not completely deaden his senses, it so ensnared his waking dream that he fought desperately against it in his half-sleep and was not quite overpowered. Little by little the thongs that secured the door gave way, and the huge wooden bolts yielded under the pressure that was strained against them, but no sound broke upon the silent struggle that went on between Grendel and the door. Beowulf tossed and turned in waking, but the other earls of Geatsiand fell deeper and deeper into the swooning sleep. Then with a rush, the door flew wide, and the fog and salt-smelling night swept in. And in the doorway, swaying this way and that, stood Grendel, huge and dark against the dark night, the fog weaving about him in white veils, and the door of the hail limp on its hinges. And Beowulf came out of his dream-spell and saw what stood so vast and evil in the doorway. But his eyes were heavy with the spell that clung to him as the wisps of fog clung about the body of Grendel, and only slowly was he able to distinguish the monster. Through his nightmare, now, there came the sense of what had befallen him, and he strove to cast the last
remnant of the magic from him as he saw the great form of Grendel swoop down upon the innocent form of young Hondscio, catch him up in enormous hands, and tear him limb from sleeping limb. And now at last Beowulf saw what manner of thing this Grendel was. His legs were like the trunks of trees and they were covered with a kind of gray dry scale that made a noise like paper as the fiend moved this way and that. The body of the beast was shaped like that of a man, but such a man as no mortal eyes had ever before beheld, and the size and shape of it were something to be marveled at. The head was the head neither of beast or man, yet had something of the features of both, and the great jaw was filled with blunt fangs that ground the bones of the unhappy Hondscio to pulp. Shaggy matted hair hung over the low forehead, and the eyes in the face of Grendel were the color of milk. Horror-struck upon his couch, Beowulf felt his limbs in thrall and could move neither leg nor arm to raise himself as Grendel devoured the body of the young Hondscio. And when Grendel had finished his horrid meal, the beast straightened a little his vast form and looked now to the left, now to the right, until his gaze fell upon the length of Beowulf. Then the milk-white eyes burned with a dull light that was like the light of the moon, and slowly, slowly Grendel moved toward the dais. But Beowulf, stung with loathing, leaped from his bed. Silently they fought in the fog-strewn hail. Silently their bodies twisted and bent, this way and that, and Beowulf kept Grendel’s huge hands with their long claws of sharp bone from him, and Grendel in turn sought to tear apart the quick body that slipped so easily through his arms and legs. Their bodies wove in and out among the sleepers, and Beowulf felt the hot reek of Grendel’s breath upon his cheek, and the sweat stood out on Beowulf’s broad brow and ran down into his eyes and blinded him. And Grendel’s huge hands sought over and over again to clasp his opponent’s head, to crush it in their grip. Then the fight became a deadly struggle in one far corner of the hall, and neither one gained any advantage over the other. Then Beowulf slipped. On the earthen floor they fell together and the force of their fall made the earth tremble. But Grendel’s hold lessened, and fear smote the heart of the fiend. He strove only to free himself from Beowulf’s grasp and flee into the night away from this white youth whose strength was the strength of thirty men. And now Beowulf had the upper hand, and flew at the giant’s throat. But here his hands clutched at thick scales upon which he could get no grip. Grendel nearly took the advantage, but before he could seize Beowulf, the lord of Geatsiand had fastened both mighty hands upon the monster’s
arm, and with a sudden twist that forced a groan of agony from Grendel’s lips, leaped behind him. Now came the final struggle, and sweat poured from Beowulf, while from Grendel there oozed a slimy sap that smelled like vinegar, and sickened Beowulf. But he clung to the monster’s arm, and slowly, slowly he felt its great muscles and sinews give way, and as his foot found Grendel’s neck, he prayed to all the gods for help, and called upon his father Ecgtheow for strength to sustain him in this desperate effort. And the mighty arm of Grendel gave way in the terrible hands of Beowulf, and, with a piercing shriek that shook the gilded rafters, Grendel stumbled forward, leaving in Beowulf’s hands the gory arm. Beowulf fell back upon the dais, the bleeding arm of Grendel in his hands. And Grendel, with a prolonged and ghastly wail, his blunt fangs gnashing together In dumb fury, stumbled toward the door, and before Beowulf could recover, the fiend was away into the fog which swallowed him as surely and completely as though he had plunged into the everlasting sea.