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Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 17

Thus Hrothgar departed, to seek slumber in a less dangerous abode, where, greatly troubled in mind, he awaited the dawn with almost hopeless expectation, and Beowulf and his men prepared themselves for the perils of the night.

Beowulf and Grendel

The fourteen champions of the Geats now made ready for sleep; but while the others lay down in their armour, with weapons by their sides, Beowulf took off his mail, unbelted his sword, unhelmed himself, and gave his sword to a thane to bear away. For, as he [Pg 16] said to his men, “I will strive against this fiend weaponless. With no armour, since he wears none, will I wrestle with him, and try to overcome him. I will conquer, if I win, by my hand-grip alone; and the All-Father shall judge between us, and grant the victory to whom He will.”

The Geats then lay down—brave men who slept calmly, though they knew they were risking their lives, for none of them expected to see the light of day again, or to revisit their native land: they had heard, too, much during the feast of the slaughter which Grendel had wrought. So night came, the voices of men grew silent, and the darkness shrouded all alike—calm sleepers, anxious watchers, and the deadly, creeping foe.

When everything was still Grendel came. From the fen-fastnesses, by marshy tracts, through mists and swamp-born fogs, the hideous monster made his way to the house he hated so bitterly. Grendel strode fiercely to the door of Heorot, and would fain have opened it as usual, but it was locked and bolted. Then the fiend’s wrath was roused; he grasped the door with his mighty hands and burst it in. As he entered he seemed to fill the hall with his monstrous shadow, and from his eyes shone a green and uncanny light, which showed him a troop of warriors lying asleep in their war-gear; it seemed that all slept, and the fiend did not notice that one man half rose, leaning on his elbow and peering keenly into the gloom. Grendel hastily put forth his terrible scaly hand and seized one hapless sleeper. Tearing him limb from limb, so swiftly that his cry of agony was unheard, he drank the warm blood and devoured the flesh; then, excited by the hideous food, he reached forth again. Great was Grendel’s amazement to find that his hand was seized in a grasp such as he had never felt before, and to know that he [Pg 17] had at last found an antagonist whom even he must fight warily. Beowulf sprang from his couch as the terrible claws of the monster fell upon him, and wrestled with Grendel in the darkness and gloom of the unlighted hall, where the flicker of the fire had died down to a dim glow in the dull embers. That was a dreadful struggle, as the combatants, in deadly conflict, swayed up and down the hall, overturning tables and benches, trampling underfoot dishes and goblets in the darkling wrestle for life. The men of the Geats felt for their weapons, but they could not see the combatants distinctly, though they heard the panting and the trampling movements, and occasionally caught a gleam from the fiend’s eyes as his face was turned towards them. When they struck their weapons glanced harmlessly off Grendel’s scaly hide. The struggle continued for some time, and the hall was an utter wreck within, when Grendel, worsted for once, tried to break away and rush out into the night; but Beowulf held him fast in the grip which no man on earth could equal or endure, and the monster writhed in anguish as he vainly strove to free himself—vainly, for Beowulf would not loose his grip. Suddenly, with one great cry, Grendel wrenched himself free, and staggered to the door, leaving behind a terrible blood-trail, for his arm and shoulder were torn off and left in the victor’s grasp. So the monster fled wailing over the moors to his home in the gloomy mere, and Beowulf sank panting on a shattered seat, scarce believing in his victory, until his men gathered round, bringing a lighted torch, by the flaring gleam of which the green, scaly arm of Grendel looked ghastly and threatening. But the monster had fled, and after such a wound as the loss of his arm and shoulder must surely die; therefore the Geats raised a shout of [Pg 18] triumph, and then took the hateful trophy and fastened it high up on the roof of the hall, that all who entered might see the token of victory and recognise that the Geat hero had performed his boast, that he would conquer with no weapon, but by the strength of his hands alone.


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