| 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 |
BEOWULF TELLETH HOW HE WARRED WITH THE SEA-FOLK
 Now among all the joyous company who feasted and made
merry in the Hart Hall there was one who bore a gloomy
face and angry heart. This was a knight named Hunferth.
At Hrothgar's feet he sat in jealous wrath, for he could
not bear that any knight in all the world should have
greater fame than he himself. The praise of Beowulf was
bitterness to him, and thus he spake in scoffing words:
"Art thou that Beowulf who didst contend with Breca on
the wide sea in a swimming match? Art thou he who with
Breca, out of vain pride swam
 through the sea, and for
foolhardiness ventured your lives in deep waters? No
man, 'twas said, nor friend nor foe could turn ye from
the foolish play. 'Twas winter-time and the waves dashed
with loud fury. Yet for a week ye twain strove upon the
"He overcame thee in swimming, he had more strength.
Then at morning-time the sea drave him to shore. Thence
he departed to his own land where he owned a nation, a
town, and much wealth. Yea, in that contest thou hadst
not the better. Now although thou art so splendid in
war, I expect a worse defeat for thee, if thou darest to
abide here the coming of Grendel."
"Friend Hunferth," said Beowulf quietly, "thou hast
spoken much of Breca and of our contest. Now will I tell
thee the truth of the matter. Rightly I claim to have
 the greatest strength upon the sea, more skill than any
man upon the waves.
"Breca and I when we were boys talked much thereon, and
swore that when we were grown to men we should venture
our lives upon the sea. And even so we did.
"As we swam forth into the waves, our naked swords we
held in hand. That was right needful to defend us
against the whale-fishes.
"Breca was not fleeter than I upon the waves. Strive as
he might, he could not flee from me. And so for five
nights upon the sea we swam. Then a great storm arose
and drave us asunder. Fierce and cold were the waves,
dark and terrible the night. The north wind drave upon us
till the ocean boiled in madness of wrath.
"Then too the anger of the sea-monsters arose. Glad was
I then that my shirt of mail, gold adorned and trusty,
 my body. For a spotted monster seized me fast in
his grim grip and dragged me to the floor of the sea.
But I strove with him and my bright blade was dyed in
the blood of the sea-brute.
"So I escaped me that time. Yet, although one was slain,
around me swarmed many another fearful foe. But my dear
sword served me well. They did not have joy of their
feast, the Evil-doers! They did not sit around on the
floor of the sea to swallow me down. Nay rather, in the
morning, put to sleep with the sword, they lay among the
sea-weeds on the shore, cast up by the waves. And never
since upon the great waters have they troubled the
"Yea, in that contest I slew nine sea-brutes. Never have
I heard of a fiercer fight by night under the arch of
heaven. Never have I heard of a man more
 wretched upon
the waves. Yet I escaped. And when the sun at morning
rose above the sea, the waves cast me upon the shore of
Finland, spent and weary of my journey.
"I have never heard it said that thou, Hunferth, didst
make such play of sword, no nor Breca, nor any of you.
Ye have not done such deeds. But in sooth I would not
boast myself. Yet I say unto thee, Hunferth, that
Grendel, the evil monster, had never done so many
horrors against thy king, that he had never brought such
shame upon this fair Hall, hadst thou been so
battle-fierce as thou vauntest that thou art. Yea, he
hath seen that he hath no need to fear the boasted
courage of the Dane folk. So he warreth, and slayeth,
and feasteth as he pleaseth. He looketh not for battle
at the hands of the Danes. But I, a Goth, shall offer
 war, war fierce and long. And after that, he who
will may go proudly to Hart Hall."
When Beowulf had ceased speaking there was a cry from
all the thanes and earls. The Hall rang with the sound
of clashing armour and loud shouts as the Dane folk
cheered the hero.
But Hunferth abashed held his peace.
Then forth from the
bower came Wealtheow, Hrothgar's queen. Stately and
tall, and very beautiful she came, clothed in rich
garments girdled with gold. A golden crown was upon her
head, and jewels glittered upon her neck. In her hand
she held a great golden cup set with gems. First to King
Hrothgar she went and gave to him the beaker.
"Hail to thee," she cried, "mayest thou have joy of the
drinking, joy of the feast, ever dear to thy people."
 And Hrothgar drank, merry of heart, glad with thoughts
of the morrow.
Then through all the Hall Wealtheow moved, speaking
gracious words, giving to each warrior, young and old,
wine from the golden cup. At last she, the crowned
queen, courteous and beautiful, came to Beowulf.
Giving to each warrior, young and old, wine from the golden cup
Graciously Wealtheow smiled upon the Goth lord, holding
the beaker to him.
"I thank the Lord of All, that thou art come to us,"
she said. "Thou art come, noble earl, to bring us
comfort, and to deliver us out of our sorrows."
The fierce warrior bowed before the beautiful queen, as
he held the wine-cup. He felt the joy of battle rise
within him, and aloud he spake:
"I sware it when I did set out upon the deep sea, as I
stood by my comrades upon the ship. I sware that I alone
would do the
 deed or go down to death in the grip of the
monster. As an earl I must fulfil my word, or here in
the Hart Hall must I await my death-day."
The queen was well pleased with the proud words of the
Goth lord. And so in splendour and high state she moved
through the Hall till she came again to the Gift-seat,
and there beside the king she sat.
Then again in the Hall there was sound of laughter and
merriment. The minstrels sang, and the earls told of
mighty deeds until the evening shadows slanted along the
wall. Then all arose. The sound of song and laughter was
stilled. It was time to be gone.
Farewells were said. Man greeted man, not knowing what
the morning might bring forth. But all knew that battle
was making ready for those who waited in that great
Hall. When the sun had
 gone down, and dark night covered
all the land, ghostly creatures would creep forth to war
in the shadow.
So with grave words Hrothgar bade Beowulf farewell.
"Good luck bide with thee," he said. "Into thy keeping I
give the Hall of the Dane folk. Never before did I
commit it to any man. Keep it now right bravely.
Remember thy fame, show thy great valour, and watch
against the Evil-doer. If thou overcome him, there is no
desire of thine that shall be unfulfilled, so that it
lieth in my power to give it thee."
Then Hrothgar and his band of warriors and thanes went
forth from the Hall, and Beowulf with his comrades was
left to guard it.
The beds were spread around the walls, and Beowulf
prepared himself strangely for battle. His coat of mail,
 with shining rings of steel, he cast
aside. He took his helmet from his head, and with his
sword and shield, and all his glittering war-harness,
gave it to the keeping of a servant.
And thus all unarmed, clad only in his silken coat, he
"In war-craft I deem I am no worse than Grendel.
Therefore not with the sword shall I put him to sleep,
though that were easy. Not thus shall I take his life,
for he is not learned in the use of war-weapons. So
without them we twain this night shall fight. And God
the all-wise shall give victory even as it shall seem
best to Him."
Having so spoken Beowulf laid his head upon his pillow
and all around him his warriors lay down to take their
rest. None among them thought ever again to see his own
land. For they had heard of
 the terrible death that had
carried off so many of the Dane folk from Hart Hall.
Little they thought to escape that death. Yet so
reckless were they of life that soon they slept. They
who were there to guard that high Hall slept—all save
Beowulf alone, watchful and waiting for the foe,
impatiently longed for the coming battle.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics