Myths and Legends of All Nations Famous Stories from the Greek, German, English, Spanish, Scandinavian, Danish, French, Russian, Bohemian, Italian and other sources

Page: 100

Standing with his huge shield held well before him, Beowulf received the attack and struck from beneath his shield at the monster's side. But his blade failed him and turned aside,[Pg 175] and the blow but served to enrage the dragon, so that he darted forth such blasting rays of deadly fire that Beowulf was well nigh overwhelmed and the fight went hard with him.

Now his eleven chosen comrades could see the combat from where they stood; and one of them, Beowulf's kinsman Wiglaf, was moved to great sorrow at the sight of his lord's distress. At last he could bear it no longer, but grasped his wooden shield and his sword and cried to the other thanes:

"Remember how we promised our lord in the banquet-hall, when he gave us our helmets and swords and battle-gear, that we would one day repay him for his gifts. Now is the day come that our liege lord has need of the strength of good warriors. We must go help him, even though he thought to accomplish this mighty work alone, for we can never return to our homes if we have not slain the enemy and saved our king's life. Rather than live when he is dead, I will perish with him in this deadly fire."

Then he rushed through the noisome smoke to his lord's side, crying:

"Dear Beowulf, take courage. Remember thy boast that thy valor shall never fail thee in thy lifetime, and defend thyself now with all thy might, and I will help thee."

But the other warriors were afraid to follow him, so that Beowulf and Wiglaf stood alone to face the dragon.

As soon as the monster advanced upon them, Wiglaf's wooden shield was burnt away by the flames, so that he was forced to take refuge behind Beowulf's iron shield; and this time when Beowulf struck with his sword, it was shivered to pieces. Then the dragon flung himself upon him and caught him up in his arms, crushing him till he lay senseless and covered with wounds.

But now Wiglaf showed his valor and strength, and smote the monster with such mighty blows that at last the fire[Pg 176] coming forth from him began to abate somewhat. Then Beowulf came once more to his senses, and drawing his deadly knife, struck with it from beneath; and at last the force of the blows from the two noble kinsmen felled the fierce fire-dragon and he sank down dead beside them.

But Beowulf's wounds were very great, and he knew that the joys of life were ended for him and that death was very near. So while Wiglaf with wonderful tenderness unfastened his helmet for him and refreshed him with water, he spoke, saying:

"Though I am sick with mortal wounds, there is yet some comfort remaining for me. For I have governed my people for fifty winters and kept them safe from invading foes; yet have not sought out quarrels nor led my kinsmen to dire slaughter when there was no need. Therefore the Ruler of all men will not blame me when my life departs from my body.