A Book of Myths
Page: 124Beowulf, his face white and grim like that of an image of Thor cast in silver, watched a little while, then drew his bow and drove a bolt into the heart of one of them, and when they had drawn the slain carcase to shore, the thanes of Hrothgar marvelled at the horror of it.
Then Beowulf took leave of Hrothgar and told him that if in two days he did not return, certain it would be that he would return no more. The hearts of all who said farewell to him were heavy, but Beowulf laughed, and bade them be of good cheer. Then into the black waters he dived, sword in hand, clad in ring-armour, and the dark pool closed over him as the river of Death closes over the head of a man when his day is done. [Pg 258] To him it seemed as if the space of a day had passed ere he reached the bottom, and in his passing he encountered many dread dangers from tusk and horn of a myriad evil creatures of the water who sought to destroy him. Then at length he reached the bottom of that sinister mere, and there was clasped in the murderous grip of the Wolf-Woman who strove to crush his life out against her loathsome breast. Again and again, when her hideous embrace failed to slay him, she stabbed him with her knife. Yet ever did he escape. His good armour resisted the power of her arm, and his own great muscles thrust her from him. Yet his own sword failed him when he would have smitten her, and the hero would have been in evil case had he not spied, hanging on the wall of that most foul den,
An old brand gigantic, trusty in point and edge,
An heirloom of heroes.”
Swiftly he seized it, and with it he dealt the Wolf-Woman a blow that shore her head from her body. Through the foul blood that flowed from her and that mingled with the black water of the mere, Beowulf saw a very terrible horror—the body of the Grendel, lying moaning out the last of his life. Again his strong arm descended, and, his left hand gripping the coiled locks of the Evil Thing, he sprang upwards through the water, that lost its blackness and its clouded crimson as he went ever higher and more high. In his hand he still bore the sword that had saved him, but the poisonous blood of the dying monsters had made the [Pg 259] water of such fiery heat that the blade melted as he rose, and only the hilt, with strange runes engraved upon it, remained in his hand.
Where he left them, his followers, and the Danes who went with them, remained, watching, waiting, ever growing more hopeless as night turned into day, and day faded into night, and they saw the black waters of the lonely fen bubbling up, terrible and blood-stained. But when the waters cleared, hope returned to their hearts, and when, at length, Beowulf uprose from the water of the mere and they saw that in his hand he bore the head of the Grendel, there was no lonely scaur, nor cliff, nor rock of the land of the Danes that did not echo the glad cry of “Beowulf! Beowulf!”