HOW THE FIRE DRAGON WARRED WITH THE GOTH FOLK
 And now when many years had come and gone and the realm
had long time been at peace, sorrow came upon the people
of the Goths. And thus it was that the evil came.
It fell upon a time that a slave by his misdeeds roused
his master's wrath, and when his lord would have
punished him he fled in terror. And as he fled trembling
to hide himself, he came by chance into a great cave.
There the slave hid, thankful for refuge. But soon he
had cause to tremble in worse fear than before, for in
the darkness of
 the cave he saw that a fearful dragon
lay asleep. Then as the slave gazed in terror at the
awful beast, he saw that it lay guarding a mighty
Never had he seen such a mass of wealth. Swords and
armour inlaid with gold, cups and vessels of gold and
silver set with precious stones, rings and bracelets lay
piled around in glittering heaps.
For hundreds of years this treasure had lain there in
secret. A great prince had buried it in sorrow for his
dead warriors. In his land there had been much fighting
until he alone of all his people was left. Then in
bitter grief he gathered all his treasure and hid it in
"Take, O earth," he cried, "what the heroes might not
keep. Lo! good men and true once before earned it from
thee. Now a warlike death hath taken away
 every man of
my people. There is none now to bear the sword or
receive the cup. There is no more joy in the battlefield
or in the hall of peace. So here shall the gold-adorned
helmet moulder, here the coat of mail rust and the
wine-cup lie empty."
Thus the sad prince mourned. Beside his treasure he sat
weeping both day and night until death took him also,
and of all his people there was none left.
So the treasure lay hidden and secret for many a day.
Then upon a time it happened that a great Dragon,
fiery-eyed and fearful, as it flew by night and prowled
seeking mischief, came upon the buried hoard.
As men well know, a dragon ever loveth gold. So to guard
his new-found wealth lest any should come to rob him of
it, he laid him down there and the cave became
dwelling. Thus for three hundred years he lay gloating
over his treasure, no man disturbing him.
But now at length it chanced that the fleeing slave
lighted upon the hoard. His eyes were dazzled by the
shining heap. Upon it lay a cup of gold, wondrously
chased and adorned.
"If I can but gain that cup," said the slave to himself,
"I will return with it to my master, and for the sake of
the gold he will surely forgive me."
So while the Dragon slept, trembling and fearful the
slave crept nearer and nearer to the glittering mass.
When he came quite near he reached forth his hand and
seized the cup. Then with it he fled back to his master.
The slave crept nearer and nearer to the glittering mass
It befell then as the slave had foreseen. For the sake
of the wondrous cup his misdeeds were forgiven him.
 But when the Dragon awoke his fury was great. Well knew
he that mortal man had trod his cave and stolen of his
Round and round about he sniffed and searched until he
discovered the footprints of his foe. Eagerly then all
over the ground he sought to find the man who, while he
slept, had done him this ill. Hot and fierce of mood he
went backwards and forwards round about his
treasure-heaps. All within the cave he searched in vain.
Then coming forth he searched without. All round the
hill in which his cave was he prowled, but no man could
he find, nor in all the wilds around was there any man.
Again the old Dragon returned, again he searched among
his treasure-heaps for the precious cup. Nowhere was it
to be found. It was too surely gone.
 But the Dragon, as well as loving gold, loved war. So
now in angry mood he lay couched in his lair. Scarce
could he wait until darkness fell, such was his wrath.
With fire he was resolved to repay the loss of his dear
At last, to the joy of the great winged beast, the sun
sank. Then forth from his cave he came, flaming fire.
Spreading his mighty wings, he flew through the air
until he came to the houses of men. Then spitting forth
flame, he set fire to many a happy homestead. Wherever
the lightning of his tongue struck, there fire flamed
forth, until where the fair homes of men had been there
was nought but blackened ruins. Here and there, this way
and that, through all the land he sped, and wherever he
passed fire flamed aloft.
The warfare of the Dragon was seen
 from far. The malice
of the Worm was known from north to south, from east to
west. All men knew how the fearful foe hated and ruined
the Goth folk.
Then having worked mischief and desolation all night
through, the Fire-Dragon turned back; to his secret cave
he slunk again ere break of day. Behind him he left the
land wasted and desolate.
The Dragon had no fear of the revenge of man. In his
fiery warfare he trusted to find shelter in his hill,
and in his secret cave. But in that trust he was misled.
Speedily to King Beowulf were the tidings of the Dragon
and his spoiling carried. For alas! even his own fair
palace was wrapped in flame. Before his eyes he saw the
fiery tongues lick up his treasures. Even the Gift-seat
of the Goths melted in fire.
 Then was the good king sorrowful. His heart boiled
within him with angry thoughts. The Fire-Dragon had
utterly destroyed the pleasant homes of his people. For
this the war-prince greatly desired to punish him.
Therefore did Beowulf command that a great shield should
be made for him, all of iron. He knew well that a shield
of wood could not help him in this need. Wood against
fire! Nay, that were useless. His shield must be all of
Too proud, too, was Beowulf, the hero of old time, to
seek the winged beast with a troop of soldiers. Not thus
would he overcome him. He feared not for himself, nor
did he dread the Dragon's war-craft. For with his valour
and his skill Beowulf had succeeded many a time. He had
been victorious in many a tumult of battle since that
day when a young man
 and a warrior prosperous in
victory, he had cleansed Hart Hall by grappling with
Grendel and his kin.
And now when the great iron shield was ready, he chose
eleven of his best thanes and set out to seek the
Dragon. Very wrathful was the old king, very desirous
that death should take his fiery foe. He hoped, too, to
win the great treasure of gold which the fell beast
guarded. For already Beowulf had learned whence the feud
arose, whence came the anger which had been so hurtful
to his people. And the precious cup, the cause of all
the quarrel, had been brought to him.
With the band of warriors went the slave who had stolen
the cup. He it was who must be their guide to the cave,
for he alone of all men living knew the way thither.
Loth he was to be their guide.
 But captive and bound he
was forced to lead the way over the plain to the
Unwillingly he went with lagging footsteps until at
length he came to the cave hard by the sea-shore. There
by the sounding waves lay the savage guardian of the
treasure. Ready for war and fierce was he. It was no
easy battle that was there prepared for any man, brave
though he might be.
And now on the rocky point above the sea King Beowulf
sat himself down. Here he would bid farewell to all his
thanes ere he began the combat. For what man might tell
which from that fight should come forth victorious?
Beowulf's mind was sad. He was now old. His hair was
white, his face was wrinkled and grey. But still his arm
was strong as that of a young man. Yet
 something within
him warned him that death was not far off.
So upon the rocky point he sat and bade farewell to his
"In my youth," said the aged king, "many battles have I
dared, and yet must I, the guardian of my people, though
I be full of years, seek still another feud. And again
will I win glory if the wicked spoiler of my land will
but come forth from his lair."
Much he spoke. With loving words he bade farewell to
each one of his men, greeting his dear comrades for the
"I would not bear a sword or weapon against the winged
beast," he said at length, "if I knew how else I might
grapple with the wretch, as of old I did with Grendel.
But I ween this war-fire is hot, fierce, and poisonous.
 have clad me in a coat of mail, and bear
this shield all of iron. I will not flee a single step
from the guardian of the treasure. But to us upon this
rampart it shall be as fate will.
"Now let me make no more vaunting speech. Ready to fight
am I. Let me forth against the winged beast. Await ye
here on the mount, clad in your coats of mail, your arms
ready. Abide ye here until ye see which of us twain in
safety cometh forth from the clash of battle.
"It is no enterprise for you, or for any common man. It
is mine alone. Alone I needs must go against the wretch
and prove myself a warrior. I must with courage win the
gold, or else deadly, baleful war shall fiercely snatch
me, your lord, from life."
Then Beowulf arose. He was all clad in shining armour,
his gold-decked helmet
 was upon his head, and taking his
shield in hand he strode under the stony cliffs towards
the cavern's mouth. In the strength of his single arm he
trusted against the fiery Dragon.
No enterprise this for a coward.