A Book of Myths

Page: 123

“Enjoy thy reward, O dear Beowulf, while enjoy it thou canst. Live noble and blessed! Keep well thy great fame, and to my dear sons, in time to come, should ever they be in need, be a kind protector!”

With happy hearts in very weary bodies, Beowulf and his men left the hall when the feast was ended, and they slept through the night in another lodging as those sleep who have faced death through a very long night, and to whom joy has come in the morning.

[Pg 256] But the Danish knights, careless in the knowledge that the Grendel must even now be in his dying agonies, and that once more Hereot was for them a safe and noble sleeping-place, lay themselves down to sleep in the hall, their shields at their heads, and, fastened high up on the roof above them, the hideous trophy of Beowulf.

Next morning as the grey dawn broke over the northern sea, it saw a sight that made it more chill than death. Across the moorland went a thing—half wolf, half woman—the mother of Grendel. The creature she had borne had come home to die, and to her belonged his avenging. Softly she went to Hereot. Softly she opened the unguarded door. Gladly, in her savage jaws, she seized Aschere, the thane who was to Hrothgar most dear, and from the roof she plucked her desired treasure—the arm of Grendel, her son. Then she trotted off to her far-off, filthy den, leaving behind her the noise of lamentation.

Terrible was the grief of Hrothgar over the death of Aschere, dearest of friends and sharer of his councils. And to his lamentations Beowulf listened, sad at heart, humble, yet with a heart that burned for vengeance. The hideous creature of the night was the mother of Grendel, as all knew well. On her Beowulf would be avenged, for Aschere’s sake, for the king’s, and for the sake of his own honour. Then once again did he pledge himself to do all that man’s strength could do to rid the land of an evil thing. Well did he know how dangerous was the task before him, and he gave directions [Pg 257] for the disposal of all that he valued should he never return from his quest. To the King, who feared greatly that he was going forth on a forlorn hope, he said:

“Grieve not!... Each man must undergo death at the end of life.
Let him win, while he may, warlike fame in the world!
That is best after death for the slain warrior.”

His own men, and Hrothgar, and a great company of Danes went with him when he set out to trace the blood-stained tracks of the Grendel’s mother. Near the edge of a gloomy mere they found the head of Aschere. And when they looked at the fiord itself, it seemed to be blood-stained—stained with blood that ever welled upwards, and in which revelled with a fierce sort of joy—the rapture of bestial cruelty—water-monsters without number.