Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race
Page: 9The Story. The Coming and Passing of Scyld
Once, long ago, the Danish land owned the sway of a mighty monarch, Scyld Scefing, the founder of a great dynasty, the Scyldings. This great king Scyld had come to Denmark in a mysterious manner, since no man knew whence he sprang. As a babe he drifted to the Danish shore in a vessel loaded with treasures; but no man was with him, and there was no token to show his kindred and race. When Scyld grew up he increased the power of Denmark and enlarged her borders; his fame spread far and wide among men, and his glory shone undimmed until the day when, full of years and honours, he died, leaving the throne securely established in his family. Then the sorrowing Danes restored him to the mysterious ocean from which he had come to them. Choosing their goodliest ship, they laid within it the corpse of their departed king, and heaped around him all their best and choicest treasures, until the venerable countenance of Scyld looked to heaven from a bed of gold and jewels; then they set up, high above his head, his glorious gold-wrought banner, and left him alone in state. The vessel was loosed from the shore where the mourning Danes bewailed their departing king, and drifted slowly away to the unknown west from which Scyld had sailed to his now sorrowing people; they watched until it was lost in the shadows of night and distance, but no man under heaven knoweth what shore now holds the vanished Scyld. The descendants of Scyld ruled and prospered till the days of his great-grandson Hrothgar, [Pg 3] one of a family of four, who can all be identified historically with various Danish kings and princes.
Hrothgar was a mighty warrior and conqueror, who won glory in battle, and whose fame spread wide among men, so that nobly born warriors, his kinsmen, were glad to serve as his bodyguard and to fight for him loyally in strife. So great was Hrothgar’s power that he longed for some outward sign of the magnificence of his sway; he determined to build a great hall, in which he could hold feasts and banquets, and could entertain his warriors and thanes, and visitors from afar. The hall rose speedily, vast, gloriously adorned, a great meeting-place for men; for Hrothgar had summoned all his people to the work, and the walls towered up high and majestic, ending in pinnacles and gables resembling the antlers of a stag. At the great feast which Hrothgar gave first in his new home the minstrels chanted the glory of the hall, “Heorot,” “The Hart,” as the king named it; Hrothgar’s desire was well fulfilled, that he should build the most magnificent of banquet-halls. Proud were the mighty warriors who feasted within it, and proud the heart of the king, who from his high seat on the daïs saw his brave thanes carousing at the long tables below him, and the lofty rafters of the hall rising black into the darkness.