| Stories of Beowulf Told to the Children|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|The Anglo-Saxon saga retold in excellent English prose, with the heroic qualities emphasized. Relates how Beowulf, the hero of the Anglo-Saxons, came to Daneland and how he overcame Grendel, the ogre, and the waterwitch; also how the fire dragon warred with the Goth folk and how Beowulf fought his last fight. Ages 8-10 |
HOW BEOWULF OVERCAME THE DRAGON
 Beowulf left his comrades upon the rocky point jutting
out into the sea, and alone he strode onward until he
spied a great stone arch. From beneath the arch, from
out the hillside, flowed a stream seething with fierce,
hot fire. In this way the Dragon guarded his lair, for
it was impossible to pass such a barrier unhurt.
So upon the edge of this burning river Beowulf stood and
called aloud in anger. Stout of heart and wroth against
the winged beast was he.
The king's voice echoed like a warcry through the
cavern. The Dragon heard it and was aroused to fresh
hate of man. For
 the guardian of the treasure-hoard knew
well the sound of mortal voice. Now was there no long
pause ere battle raged.
First from out the cavern flamed forth the breath of the
winged beast. Hot sweat of battle rose from out the
rock. The earth shook and growling thunder trembled
through the air.
The Dragon, ringed around with many-coloured scales, was
now hot for battle, and, as the hideous beast crept
forth, Beowulf raised his mighty shield and rushed
Already the king had drawn his sword. It was an ancient
heirloom, keen of edge and bright. Many a time it had
been dyed in blood; many a time it had won glory and
But ere they closed, the mighty foes paused. Each knew
the hate and deadly power of the other.
 The mighty prince, firm and watchful, stood guarded by
his shield. The Dragon, crouching as in ambush, awaited
Then suddenly like a flaming arch the Dragon bent and
towered, and dashed upon the Lord of the Goths. Up swung
the arm of the hero, and dealt a mighty blow to the
grisly, many-coloured beast. But the famous sword was
all too weak against such a foe. The edge turned and bit
less strongly than its great king had need, for he was
sore pressed. His shield, too, proved no strong shelter
from the wrothy Dragon.
The warlike blow made greater still the anger of the
fiery foe. Now he belched forth flaming fire. All around
fierce lightnings darted.
Now he belched forth flaming fire
Beowulf no longer hoped for glorious victory. His sword
had failed him. The edge was turned and blunted upon the
 scaly foe. He had never thought the famous steel would
so ill serve him. Yet he fought on ready to lose his
life in such good contest.
Again the battle paused, again the king and Dragon
closed in fight.
The Dragon guardian of the treasure had renewed his
courage. His heart heaved and boiled with fire, and
fresh strength breathed from him. Beowulf was wrapped in
flame. Dire was his need.
Yet of all his comrades none came near to help. Nay, as
they watched the conflict they were filled with base
fear, and fled to the wood hard by for refuge.
Only one among them sorrowed for his master, and as he
watched his heart was wrung with grief.
Wiglaf was this knight called, and he was Beowulf's
kinsman. Now when he saw his liege lord hard pressed in
 he remembered all the favours Beowulf had heaped
upon him. He remembered all the honours and the wealth
which he owed to his king. Then could he no longer be
still. Shield and spear he seized, but ere he sped to
aid his king he turned to his comrades.
"When our lord and king gave us swords and armour," he
cried, "did we not promise to follow him in battle
whenever he had need? When he of his own will chose us
for this expedition he reminded us of our fame. He said
he knew us to be good warriors, bold helmet-wearers. And
although indeed our liege lord thought to do this work
of valour alone, without us, because more than any man
he hath done glorious and rash deeds, lo! now is the day
come that hath need of strength and of good warriors.
Come, let us go to him. Let us help our
although the grim terror of fire be hot.
"Heaven knoweth I would rather the flame would blast my
body than his who gave me gold. It seemeth not fitting
to me that we should bear back our shields to our homes
unless we may first fell the foe and defend the life of
our king. Nay, it is not of the old custom of the Goths
that the king alone should suffer, that he alone should
sink in battle. Our lord should be repaid for his gifts
to us, and so he shall be by me even if death take us
But none would hearken to Wiglaf. So alone he sped
through the deadly smoke and flame, till to his master's
side he came offering aid.
"My lord Beowulf," he cried, "fight on as thou didst in
thy youth-time. Erstwhile didst thou say that thou
wouldest not let thy greatness sink so long as life
 Defend thou thy life with all might. I will
support thee to the utmost."
When the Dragon heard these words his fury was doubled.
The fell wicked beast came on again belching forth fire,
such was his hatred of men. The flame waves caught
Wiglaf's shield, for it was but of wood. It was burned
utterly, so that only the boss of steel remained. His
coat of mail alone was not enough to guard the young
warrior from the fiery enemy. But right valiantly he
went on fighting beneath the shelter of Beowulf's shield
now that his own was consumed to ashes by the flames.
Then again the warlike king called to mind his ancient
glories, again he struck with main strength with his
good sword upon the monstrous head. Hate sped the blow.
But alas! as it descended the famous
 sword Nægling
snapped asunder. Beowulf's sword had failed him in the
conflict, although it was an old and well-wrought blade.
To him it was not granted that weapons should help him
in battle. The hand that swung the sword was too strong.
His might overtaxed every blade however wondrously the
smith had welded it.
And now a third time the fell Fire-Dragon was roused to
wrath. He rushed upon the king. Hot, and fiercely grim
the great beast seized Beowulf's neck in his horrid
teeth. The hero's life-blood gushed forth, the crimson
stream darkly dyed his bright armour.
Then in the great king's need his warrior showed skill
and courage. Heeding not the flames from the awful
mouth, Wiglaf struck the Dragon below the neck. His hand
was burned with the fire, but his
 sword dived deep into
the monster's body and from that moment the flames began
The horrid teeth relaxed their hold, and Beowulf,
quickly recovering himself, drew his deadly knife.
Battle-sharp and keen it was, and with it the hero
gashed the Dragon right in the middle.
The foe was conquered. Glowing in death he fell. They
twain had destroyed the winged beast. Such should a
warrior be, such a thane in need.
To the king it was a victorious moment. It was the crown
of all his deeds.
Then began the wound which the Fire-Dragon had wrought
him to burn and to swell. Beowulf soon found that
baleful poison boiled in his heart. Well knew he that
the end was nigh. Lost in deep thought he sat upon the
mound and gazed wondering at the cave. Pillared and
 arched with stone-work it was within, wrought by giants
and dwarfs of old time.
And to him came Wiglaf his dear warrior and tenderly
bathed his wound with water.
Then spake Beowulf, in spite of his deadly wound he
spake, and all his words were of the ending of his life,
for he knew that his days of joy upon this earth were
He knew that his days of joy upon this earth were past
"Had a son been granted to me, to him I should have left
my war-garments. Fifty years have I ruled this people,
and there has been no king of all the nations round who
durst meet me in battle. I have known joys and sorrows,
but no man have I betrayed, nor many false oaths have I
sworn. For all this may I rejoice, though I be now sick
with mortal wounds. The Ruler of Men may not upbraid me
with treachery or murder of kinsmen when my soul shall
depart from its body.
 "But now, dear Wiglaf, go thou quickly to the hoard of
gold which lieth under the hoary rock. The Dragon lieth
dead; now sleepeth he for ever, sorely wounded and
bereft of his treasure. Then haste thee, Wiglaf, for I
would see the ancient wealth, the gold treasure, the
jewels, the curious gems. Haste thee to bring it hither;
then after that I have seen it, I shall the more
contentedly give up my life and the kingship that I so
long have held."
Quickly Wiglaf obeyed his wounded lord. Into the dark
cave he descended, and there outspread before him was a
wondrous sight. Treasure of jewels, many glittering and
golden, lay upon the ground. Wondrous vessels of old
time with broken ornaments were scattered round. Here,
too, lay old and rusty helmets, mingled with bracelets
and collars cunningly wrought.
 Upon the walls too hung golden flags. From one a light
shone forth by which the whole cavern was made clear.
And all within was silent. No sign was there of any
guardian, for without lay the Dragon, sleeping death's
Quickly Wiglaf gathered of the treasures all that he
could carry. Dishes and cups he took, a golden ensign
and a sword curiously wrought. In haste he returned, for
he knew not if still he should find his lord in life
where he had left him.
And when Wiglaf came again to where Beowulf sat he
poured the treasure at his feet. But he found his lord
in a deep swoon. Again the brave warrior bathed
Beowulf's wound and laved the stricken countenance of
his lord, until once more he came to himself.
Then spake the king: "For this treasure
 I give thanks to
the Lord of All. Not in vain have I given my life, for
it shall be of great good to my people in need. And now
leave me, for on this earth longer I may not stay. Say
to my warriors that they shall raise a mound upon the
rocky point which jutteth seaward. High shall it stand
as a memorial to my people. Let it soar upward so that
they who steer their slender barks over the tossing
waves shall call it Beowulf's mound."
The king then took from his neck the golden collar. To
Wiglaf, his young thane and kinsman, he gave it. He gave
also his helmet adorned with gold, his ring and coat of
mail, and bade the warrior use them well.
"Thou art the last of our race," he said. "Fate hath
swept away all my kinsmen, all the mighty earls. Now
must I too follow them."
 That was the last word of the aged king. From his bosom
the soul fled to seek the dwellings of the Just. At
Wiglaf's feet he lay quiet and still.
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