Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race
O giver of treasure, O gold-friend of heroes,
And speak to the Geats fair speeches of kindness,
Be mirthful and joyous, for so should a man be!
To the Geats be gracious, mindful of presents
Now that from far and near thou hast firm peace!
Tidings have come to me that thou for son wilt take
This mighty warrior who has cleansed Heorot,
Brightest of banquet-halls! Enjoy while thou mayest
These manifold pleasures, and leave to thy kinsmen
Thy lands and thy lordships when thou must journey forth
To meet thy death.”
Turning to Beowulf, the queen said: “Enjoy thy reward, O dear Beowulf, while thou canst, and live noble and blessed! Keep well thy widespread fame, and be a friend to my sons in time to come, should they ever need a protector.” Then she gave him two golden armlets, set with jewels, costly rings, a corslet of chain-mail and a wonderful jewelled collar of exquisite ancient workmanship, and, bidding them continue their feasting, with her maidens she left the hall. The feast went on till Hrothgar also departed to his dwelling, and left the Danes, now secure and careless, to prepare their beds, place each warrior’s shield at the head, and go to sleep in their armour ready for an [Pg 21] alarm. Meanwhile Beowulf and the Geats were joyfully escorted to another lodging, where they slept soundly without disturbance.
In the darkness of the night an avenger came to Heorot, came in silence and mystery as Grendel had done, with thoughts of murder and hatred raging in her heart. Grendel had gone home to die, but his mother, a fiend scarcely less terrible than her son, yet lived to avenge his death. She arose from her dwelling in the gloomy lake, followed the fen paths and moorland ways to Heorot, and opened the door. There was a horrible panic when her presence became known, and men ran hither and thither vainly seeking to attack her; yet there was less terror among them than before when they saw the figure of a horrible woman. In spite of all, the monster seized Aschere, one of King Hrothgar’s thanes, and bore him away to the fens, leaving a house of lamentation where men had feasted so joyously a few hours before. The news was brought to King Hrothgar, who bitterly lamented the loss of his wisest and dearest counsellor, and bade them call Beowulf to him, since he alone could help in this extremity. When Beowulf stood before the king he courteously inquired if his rest had been peaceful. Hrothgar answered mournfully: “Ask me not of peace, for care is renewed in Heorot. Dead is Aschere, my best counsellor and friend, the truest of comrades in fight and in council. Such as Aschere was should a true vassal be! A deadly fiend has slain him in Heorot, and I know not whither she has carried his lifeless body. This is doubtless her vengeance for thy slaying of Grendel; he is dead, and his kinswoman has come to avenge him.”
That they have looked on two such unearthly ones,
Huge-bodied march-striders holding the moor wastes;
One of them seemed to be shaped like a woman,
Her fellow in exile bore semblance of manhood,
Though huger his stature than man ever grew to:
In years that are long gone by Grendel they named him,
But know not his father nor aught of his kindred.
Thus these dire monsters dwell in the secret lands,
Haunt the hills loved by wolves, the windy nesses,
Dangerous marshy paths, where the dark moorland stream
’Neath the o’erhanging cliffs downwards departeth,
Sinks in the sombre earth. Not far remote from us
Standeth the gloomy mere, round whose shores cluster
Groves with their branches mossed, hoary with lichens grey
A wood firmly rooted o’ershadows the water.
There is a wonder seen nightly by wanderers,
Flame in the waterflood: liveth there none of men
Ancient or wise enough to know its bottom.
Though the poor stag may be hard by the hounds pursued,
Though he may seek the wood, chased by his cruel foes,
Yet will he yield his life to hunters on the brink
Ere he will hide his head in the dark waters.
’Tis an uncanny place. Thence the surge swelleth up
Dark to the heavens above, when the wind stirreth oft
Terrible driving storms, till the air darkens,
The skies fall to weeping.”