A Book of Myths

Page: 121

With joy the warden heard his noble words.

“My men shall beach your ship,” he said, “and make her fast with a barrier of oars against the greedy tide. Come with me to the king.”

It was a gallant band that strode into Heorot, where [Pg 252] sat the old king, gloom overshadowing his soul. And fit leader for a band of heroes was Beowulf, a giant figure in ring-mail, spear and shield gleaming in his hand, and by his side the mighty sword, Nägeling. To Hrothgar, as to the warden, Beowulf told the reason of his coming, and hope began again to live in the heart of the king.

That night the warriors from the land of the Goths were feasted in the great banqueting-hall where, for twelve unhappy years, voices had never rung out so bravely and so merrily. The queen herself poured out the mead with which the king and the men from Gothland pledged each other, and with her own hand she passed the goblet to each one. When, last of it all, it came to the guest of honour, Beowulf took the cup of mead from the fair queen and solemnly pledged himself to save the land from the evil thing that devoured it like a pestilence, or to die in his endeavour.

“Needs must I now perform knightly deeds in this hall,
Or here must meet my doom in darksome night.”

When darkness fell the feast came to an end, and all left the hall save Beowulf and his fourteen followers. In their armour, with swords girt on their sides, the fourteen heroes lay down to rest, but Beowulf laid aside all his arms and gave his sword to a thane to bear away. For, said he,

“I have heard
That that foul miscreant’s dark and stubborn flesh
Recks not the force of arms ...
Hand to hand ... Beowulf will grapple with the mighty foe.”

[Pg 253] From his fastnesses in the fens, the Grendel had heard the shouts of revelry, and as the Goths closed their eyes to sleep, knowing they might open them again only to grapple with hideous death, yet unafraid because of their sure belief that “What is to be goes ever as it must,” the monster roused himself. Through the dank, chill, clinging mists he came, and his breath made the poisonous miasma of the marshes more deadly as he padded over the shivering reeds and trembling rushes, across the bleak moorland and the high cliffs where the fresh tang of the grey sea was defiled by the hideous stench of a foul beast of prey. There was fresh food for him to-night, he knew, some blood more potent than any that for twelve years had come his bestial way. And he hastened on with greedy eagerness, nightmare incarnate. He found the great door of the banqueting-hall bolted and barred, but one angry wrench set at naught the little precautionary measures of mere men.