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LD King Hrothgar built for himself a great palace, covered with gold,
with benches all round outside, and a terrace leading up to it. It was
bigger than any hall men had ever heard of, and there Hrothgar sat on
his throne to share with men the good things God had given him. A band
of brave knights gathered round him, all living together in peace and
But there came a wicked monster, Grendel, out of the moors. He stole
across the fens in the thick darkness, and touched the great iron bars
of the door of the hall, which immediately sprang open. Then, with his
eyes shooting out flame, he spied the knights sleeping after battle.
With his steel finger nails the hideous fiend seized thirty of them in
their sleep. He gave yells of joy, and sped as quick as lightning across
the moors, to reach his home with his prey.
When the knights awoke, they raised a great cry of sorrow, whilst the
aged King himself sat speechless with grief. None could do battle with
the monster, he was too strong, too horrible for any one to conquer. For
twelve long years Grendel warred against Hrothgar; like a dark shadow of
death he prowled round about the hall, and lay in wait for his men on
the misty moors. One thing he could not touch, and that was the King's
Now there lived in a far-off land a youngster called
 Beowulf, who had
the strength of thirty men. He heard of the wicked deeds of Grendel, and
the sorrow of the good King Hrothgar. So he had made ready a strong
ship, and with fourteen friends set sail to visit Hrothgar, as he was in
need of help. The good ship flew over the swelling ocean like a bird,
till in due time the voyagers saw shining white cliffs before them. Then
they knew their journey was at an end; they made fast their ship,
grasped their weapons, and thanked God that they had had an easy voyage.
Now the coastguard spied them from a tower. He set off to the shore,
riding on horseback, and brandishing a huge lance.
"Who are you," he cried, "bearing arms and openly landing here? I am
bound to know from whence you come before you make a step forward.
Listen to my plain words, and hasten to answer me." Beowulf made answer
that they came as friends, to rid Hrothgar of his wicked enemy Grendel,
and at that the coastguard led them on to guide them to the King's
palace. Downhill they ran together, with a rushing sound of voices and
armed tread, until they saw the hall shining like gold against the sky.
The guard bade them go straight to it, then, wheeling round on his
horse, he said, "It is time for me to go. May the Father of All keep you
in safety. For myself, I must guard the coast."
The street was paved with stone, and Beowulf's men marched along,
following it to the hall, their armour shining in the sun and clanging
as they went. They reached the terrace, where they set down their broad
shields. Then they seated themselves on the bench, while they stacked
their spears together and made themselves known to the herald.
speedily bade them welcome. They entered the great hall with measured
tread, Beowulf leading the way. His armour shone like a golden net-work,
and his look was high and noble, as he said, "Hail, O King! To fight
against Grendel single-handed have I come. Grant me this, that I may
have this task alone, I and my little band of men. I know that the
terrible monster despises weapons, and therefore I shall bear neither
sword, nor shield, nor buckler. Hand to hand I will fight the foe, and
death shall come to whomsoever God wills. If death overtakes me, then
will the monster carry away my body to the swamps, so care not for my
body, but send my armour to my King. My fate is in God's hands."
Hrothgar loved the youth for his noble words, and bade him and his men
sit down to the table and merrily share the feast, if they had a mind to
do so. As they feasted, a minstrel sang with a clear voice. The Queen,
in cloth of gold, moved down the hall and handed the jewelled cup of
mead to the King and all the warriors, old and young. At the right
moment, with gracious words, she brought it to Beowulf. Full of pride
and high purpose, the youth drank from the splendid cup, and vowed that
he would conquer the enemy or die.
When the sun sank in the west, all the guests arose. The King bade
Beowulf guard the house, and watch for the foe. "Have courage," he said,
"be watchful, resolve on success. Not a wish of yours shall be left
unfulfilled, if you perform this mighty deed."
Then Beowulf lay down to rest in the hall, putting off from him his coat
of mail, helmet, and sword.
Through the dim night Grendel came stealing. All slept in the darkness,
all but one! The door sprang
 open at the first touch that the monster
gave it. He trod quickly over the paved floor of the hall; his eyes
gleamed as he saw a troop of kinsmen lying together asleep. He laughed
as he reckoned on sucking the life of each one before day broke. He
seized a sleeping warrior, and in a trice had crunched his bones. Then
he stretched out his hand to seize Beowulf on his bed. Quickly did
Beowulf grip his arm; he stood up full length and grappled with him with
all his might, till his fingers cracked as though they would burst.
Never had Grendel felt such a grip; he had a mind to go, but could not.
He roared, and the hall resounded with his yells, as up and down he
raged, with Beowulf holding him in a fast embrace. The benches were
overturned, the timbers of the hall cracked, the beautiful hall was all
but wrecked. Beowulf's men had seized their weapons and thought to hack
Grendel on every side, but no blade could touch him. Still Beowulf held
him by the arm; his shoulder cracked, and he fled, wounded to death,
leaving hand, arm, and shoulder in Beowulf's grasp. Over the moors, into
the darkness, he sped as best he might, and to Beowulf was the victory.
Then, in the morning, many a warrior came from far and near. Riding in
troops, they tracked the monster's path, where he had fled stricken to
death. In a dismal pool he had yielded up his life.
Racing their horses over the green turf, they reached again the paved
street. The golden roof of the palace glittered in the sunlight. The
King stood on the terrace and gave thanks to God. "I have had much woe,"
he said, "but this lad, through God's might, has done the deed that we,
with all our wisdom, could not do. Now I will heartily love you,
Beowulf, as if you were my son.
 You shall want for nothing in this
world, and your fame shall live forever."
The palace was cleansed, the walls hung anew with cloth of gold, the
whole place was made fair and straight, for only the roof had been left
altogether unhurt after the fight.
A merry feast was held. The King brought forth out of his treasures a
banner, helmet, and mail coat. These he gave to Beowolf; but more
wonderful than all was a famous sword handed down to him through the
ages. Then eight horses with golden cheekplates were brought within the
court; one of them was saddled with King Hrothgar's own saddle,
decorated with silver. Hrothgar gave all to Beowulf, bidding him enjoy
them well. To each of Beowulf's men he gave rich gifts. The minstrels
sang; the Queen, beautiful and gracious, bore the cup to the King and
Beowulf. To Beowulf she, too, gave gifts: mantle and bracelets and
collar of gold. "Use these gifts," she said, "and prosper well! As far
as the sea rolls your name shall be known."
Great was the joy of all till evening came. Then the hall was cleared of
benches and strewn with beds. Beowulf, like the King, had his own bower
this night to sleep in. The nobles lay down in the hall, at their heads
they set their shields and placed ready their helmets and their mail
coats. Each slept, ready in an instant to do battle for his lord.
So they sank to rest, little dreaming what deep sorrow was to fall on
Hrothgar's men sank to rest, but death was to be the portion of one.
Grendel the monster was dead, but Grendel's mother still lived. Furious
at the death of her son, she crept to the great hall, and made her way
 clutched an earl, the King's dearest friend, and crushed him in his
sleep. Great was the uproar, though the terror was less than when
Grendel came. The knights leapt up, sword in hand; the witch hurried to
escape, she wanted to get out with her life.
The aged King felt bitter grief when he heard that his dearest friend
was slain. He sent for Beowulf, who, like the King, had had his own
sleeping bower that night. The youth stood before Hrothgar and hoped
that all was well.
"Do not ask if things go well," said the sorrowing King, "we have fresh
grief this morning. My dearest friend and noblest knight is slain.
Grendel you yourself destroyed through the strength given you by God,
but another monster has come to avenge his death. I have heard the
country folk say that there were two huge fiends to be seen stalking
over the moors, one like a woman, as near as they could make out, the
other had the form of a man, but was huger far. It was he they called
Grendel. These two haunt a fearful spot, a land of untrodden bogs and
windy cliffs. A waterfall plunges into the blackness below, and twisted
trees with gnarled roots overhang it. An unearthly fire is seen gleaming
there night after night. None can tell the depth of the stream. Even a
stag, hunted to death, will face his foes on the bank rather than plunge
into those waters. It is a fearful spot. You are our only help, dare you
enter this horrible haunt?"
Quick was Beowulf's answer: "Sorrow not, O King! Rouse yourself quickly,
and let us track the monster. Each of us must look for death, and he who
has the chance should do mighty deeds before it comes. I promise you
Grendel's kin shall not escape me, if she hide in the depths of the
earth or of the ocean."
 The King sprang up gladly, and Beowulf and his friends set out. They
passed stony banks and narrow gullies, the haunts of goblins.
Suddenly they saw a clump of gloomy trees, overhanging a dreary pool. A
shudder ran through them, for the pool was blood-red.
All sat down by the edge of the pool, while the horn sounded a cheerful
blast. In the water were monstrous sea-snakes, and on jutting points of
land were dragons and strange beasts: they tumbled away, full of rage,
at the sound of the horn.
One of Beowulf's men took aim at a monster with his arrow, and pierced
him through, so that he swam no more.
Beowulf was making ready for the fight. He covered his body with armour
lest the fiend should clutch him. On his head was a white helmet,
decorated with figures of boars worked in silver. No weapon could hurt
it. His sword was a wonderful treasure, with an edge of iron; it had
never failed any one who had needed it in battle.
"Be like a father to my men, if I perish," said Beowulf to Hrothgar,
"and send the rich gifts you have given me to my King. He will see that
I had good fortune while life lasted. Either I will win fame, or death
shall take me."
He dashed away, plunging headlong into the pool. It took nearly the
whole day before he reached the bottom, and while he was still on his
way the water-witch met him. For a hundred years she had lived in those
depths. She made a grab at him, and caught him in her talons, but his
coat of mail saved him from her loathsome fingers. Still she clutched
him tight, and bore him
 in her arms to the bottom of the lake; he had no
power to use his weapons, though he had courage enough. Water-beasts
swam after him and battered him with their tusks.
Then he saw that he was in a vast hall, where there was no water, but a
strange, unearthly glow of firelight. At once the fight began, but the
sword would not bite—it failed its master in his need; for the first
time its fame broke down. Away Beowulf threw it in anger, trusting to
the strength of his hands. He cared nothing for his own life, for he
thought but of honour.
He seized the witch by the shoulder and swayed her so that she sank on
the pavement. Quickly she recovered, and closed in on him; he staggered
and fell, worn out. She sat on him, and drew her knife to take his life,
but his good mail coat turned the point. He stood up again, and then
truly God helped him, for he saw among the armour on the wall an old
sword of huge size, the handiwork of giants. He seized it, and smote
with all his might, so that the witch gave up her life.
His heart was full of gladness, and light, calm and beautiful as that of
the sun, filled the hall. He scanned the vast chamber, and saw Grendel
lying there dead. He cut off his head as a trophy for King Hrothgar,
whose men the fiend had killed and devoured.
Now those men who were seated on the banks of the pool watching with
Hrothgar saw that the water was tinged with blood. Then the old men
spoke together of the brave Beowulf, saying they feared they would never
see him again. The day was waning fast, so they and the King went
homeward. Beowulf's men stayed on, sick at heart, gazing at the pool.
They longed, but did not expect, to see their lord and master.
 Under the depths, Beowulf was making his way to them. The magic sword
melted in his hand, like snow in sunshine; only the hilt remained, so
venomous was the fiend that had been slain therewith. He brought nothing
more with him than the hilt and Grendel's head. Up he rose through the
waters where the furious sea-beasts before had chased him. Now not one
was to be seen; the depths were purified when the witch lost her life.
So he came to land, bravely swimming, bearing his spoils. His men saw
him, they thanked God, and ran to free him of his armour. They rejoiced
to get sight of him, sound and whole.
Now they marched gladly through the highways to the town. It took four
of them to carry Grendel's head. On they went, all fourteen, their
captain glorious in their midst. They entered the great hall, startling
the King and Queen, as they sat at meat, with the fearful sight of
Beowulf handed the magic hilt to Hrothgar, who saw that it was the work
of giants of old. He spake to Beowulf, while all held their peace,
praised him for his courage, said that he would love him as his son,
and bade him be a help to mankind, remembering not to glory in his own
strength, for he held it from God, and death without more ado might
subdue it altogether. "Many, many treasures," he said, "must pass from
me to you to-morrow, but now rest and feast."
Gladly Beowulf sat down to the banquet, and well he liked the thought of
When day dawned, he bade the King farewell with noble words, promising
to help him in time of need. Hrothgar with tears and embraces let him
go, giving him fresh gifts of hoarded jewels. He wept, for he loved
 Beowulf well, and knew he would never see him any more.
The coastguard saw the gallant warriors coming, bade them welcome, and
led them to their ship. The wind whistled in the sails, and a pleasant
humming sound was heard as the good ship sped on her way. So Beowulf
returned home, having done mighty deeds and gained great honour.
In due time Beowulf himself became King, and well he governed the land
for fifty years. Then trouble came.
A slave, fleeing from his master, stumbled by an evil chance into the
den of a dragon. There he saw a dazzling hoard of gold, guarded by the
dragon for three hundred winters. The treasure tempted him, and he
carried off a tankard of gold to give to his master, to make peace with
The dragon had been sleeping, now he awoke, and sniffed the scent of an
enemy along the rock. He hunted diligently over the ground; he wanted to
find the man who had done the mischief in his sleep. In his rage he
swung around the treasure mound, dashing into it now and again to seek
the jewelled tankard. He found it hard to wait until evening came, when
he meant to avenge with fire the loss of his treasure.
Presently the sun sank, and the dragon had his will. He set forth,
burning all the cheerful homes of men: his rage was felt far and wide.
Before dawn he shot back again to his dark home, trusting in his mound
and in his craft to defend himself.
Now Beowulf heard that his own home had been burnt to the ground. It was
a great grief to him, almost making him break out in a rage against
Providence. His breast heaved with anger.
 He meant to rid his country of the plague, and to fight the dragon
single handed. He would have thought it shame to seek him with a large
band, he who, as a lad, had killed Grendel and his kin. As he armed for
the fray, many thoughts filled his mind; he remembered the days of his
youth and manhood. "I fought many wars in my youth," he said, "and now
that I am aged, and the keeper of my people, I will yet again seek the
enemy and do famously."
He bade his men await him on the mountain-side. They were to see which
of the two would come alive out of the tussle.
There the aged King beheld where a rocky archway stood, with a stream of
fire gushing from it; no one could stand there and not be scorched. He
gave a great shout, and the dragon answered with a hot breath of flame.
Beowulf, with drawn sword, stood well up to his shield, when the burning
dragon, curved like an arch, came headlong upon him. The shield saved
him but little; he swung up the sword to smite the horrible monster, but
its edge did not bite. Sparks flew around him on every side; he saw that
the end of his days had come.
His men crept away to the woods to save their lives. One, and one only,
Wiglaf by name, sped through the smoke and flame to help his lord.
"My Lord Beowulf!" he cried, "with all your might defend life, I will
support you to the utmost."
The dragon came on in fury; in a trice the flames consumed Wiglaf's
shield, but, nothing daunted, he stepped under the shelter of Beowulf's,
as his own fell in ashes about him. The King remembered his strength of
old, and he smote with his sword with such force that it stuck in the
monster's head, while splinters flew all
 around. His hand was so strong
that, as men used to say, he broke any sword in using it, and was none
the worse for it.
Now, for the third time, the dragon rushed upon him, and seized him by
the neck with his poisonous fangs. Wiglaf, with no thought for himself,
rushed forward, though he was scorched with the flames, and smote the
dragon lower down than Beowulf had done. With such effect the sword
entered the dragon's body that from that moment the fire began to cease.
The King, recovering his senses, drew his knife and ended the monster's
life. So these two together destroyed the enemy of the people. To
Beowulf that was the greatest moment of his life, when he saw his work
The wound that the dragon had given him began to burn and swell, for the
poison had entered it. He knew that the tale of his days was told. As he
rested on a stone by the mound, he pondered thoughtfully, looking on the
cunning work of the dwarfs of old, the stone arches on their rocky
pillars. Wiglaf, with tender care, unloosed his helmet and brought him
water, Beowulf discoursing the while: "Now I would gladly have given my
armour to my son, had God granted me one. I have ruled this people fifty
years, and no King has dared attack them. I have held my own with
justice, and no friend has lost his life through me. Though I am sick
with deadly wounds, I have comfort in this. Now go quickly, beloved
Wiglaf, show me the ancient wealth that I have won for my people, the
gold and brilliant gems, that I may then contentedly give up my life."
Quickly did Wiglaf enter the mound at the bidding of his master. On
every side he saw gold and jewels and
 choice vases, helmets and
bracelets, and over head, a marvellous banner, all golden, gleaming with
light, so that he could scan the surface of the floor and see the
curious treasured hoards. He filled his lap full of golden cups and
platters, and also took the brilliant banner.
He hastened to return with his spoils, wondering, with pain, if he
should find his King still alive. He bore his treasures to him, laid
them on the ground, and again sprinkled him with water. "I thank God,"
said the dying King, "that I have been permitted to win this treasure
for my people; now they will have all that they need. But I cannot be
any longer here. Bid my men make a lofty mound on the headland
overlooking the sea, and there place my ashes. In time to come men shall
call it Beowulf's Barrow, it shall tower aloft to guide sailors over the
The brave King took from his neck his golden collar, took his helmet and
his coronet, and gave them to his true knight, Wiglaf. "Fate has swept
all my kinsmen away," said he, "and now I must follow them."
That was his last word, as his soul departed from his bosom, to join the
company of the just.
Of all Kings in the world, he was, said his men, the gentlest to his
knights and the most desirous of honour.