A Book of Myths

Page: 120

In the court of Hrothgar, the number of brave warriors ever grew smaller. One man only had witnessed the terrible slaughter of one of those black nights and yet had kept his life. He was a bard—a scald—and from the land where he had seen such grim horror, he fled to the land of the Goths, and there, in the court of the king, he sang the gloomy tale of the never-ending slaughter of noble warriors by the foul Grendel of the fens and moors.

Beowulf listened, enthralled, to his song. But those who knew him saw his eyes gleam as the good steel blade of a sword gleams when it is drawn for battle, and when he asked his uncle to allow him to go to the land of the Danes and slay this filthy thing, his uncle smiled, with no surprise, and was very well content.

So it came to pass that Beowulf, in his black-prowed ship, with fourteen trusty followers, set sail from Gothland for the kingdom of Hrothgar.

The warden of the Danish coast was riding his rounds one morning when he beheld from the white cliffs a strange war-vessel making for the shore. Skilfully the men on board her ran her through the surf, and beached her in a little creek between the cliffs, and made her fast to a rock by stout cables. Only for a [Pg 251] little time the valiant warden watched them from afar, and then, one man against fifteen, he rode quickly down and challenged the warriors.

“What are ye warlike men wielding bright weapons,
Wearing grey corselets and boar-adorned helmets,
Who o’er the water-paths come with your foaming keel
Ploughing the ocean surge? I was appointed
Warden of Denmark’s shores; watch hold I by the wave
That on this Danish coast no deadly enemy
Leading troops over sea should land to injure.
None have here landed yet more frankly coming
Than this fair company: and yet ye answer not
The password of warriors, and customs of kinsmen.
Ne’er have mine eyes beheld a mightier warrior,
An earl more lordly than is he the chief of you;
He is no common man; if looks belie him not,
He is a hero bold, worthily weaponed.
Anon must I know of you kindred and country,
Lest ye of spies should go free on our Danish soil.
Now ye men from afar, sailing the surging sea,
Have heard my earnest thought: best is a quick reply,
That I may swiftly know whence ye have hither come.”

Then Beowulf, with fearless eyes, gazed in the face of the warden and told him simply and unboastfully who he was, from whence he came, and what was his errand. He had come as the nation’s deliverer, to slay the thing that

“Cometh in dark of night, sateth his secret hate,
Worketh through fearsome awe, slaughter and shame.”