Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 14

Wulfgar hurried down the hall to the place where Beowulf stood with his little band; he led them gladly to the high seat, so that they stood opposite to Hrothgar, who looked keenly at the well-equipped troop, and kindly at its leader. A striking figure was Beowulf as he stood there in his gleaming ring-mail, with the mighty sword by his side. It was, however, but a minute that Hrothgar looked in silence, for with respectful greeting Beowulf spoke:

“Hail to thee, Hrothgar King! Beowulf am I,
Hygelac’s kinsman and loyal companion.
Great deeds of valour wrought I in my youth.
To me in my native land Grendel’s ill-doing
Came as an oft-heard tale told by our sailors.
They say that this bright hall, noblest of buildings,
Standeth to every man idle and useless
After the evening-light fails in the heavens.
Thus, Hrothgar, ancient king, all my friends urged me,
Warriors and prudent thanes, that I should seek thee,
Since they themselves had known my might in battle.
[Pg 11] Now I will beg of thee, lord of the glorious Danes,
Prince of the Scylding race, Folk-lord most friendly,
Warden of warriors, only one boon.
Do not deny it me, since I have come from far;
I with my men alone, this troop of heroes good,
Would without help from thee cleanse thy great hall!
Oft have I also heard that the fierce monster
Through his mad recklessness scorns to use weapons;
Therefore will I forego (so may King Hygelac,
My friendly lord and king, find in me pleasure)
That I should bear my sword and my broad yellow shield
Into the conflict: with my hand-grip alone
I ’gainst the foe will strive, and struggle for my life—
He shall endure God’s doom whom death shall bear away.
I know that he thinketh in this hall of conflict
Fearless to eat me, if he can compass it,
As he has oft devoured heroes of Denmark.
Then thou wilt not need my head to hide away,
Grendel will have me all mangled and gory;
Away will he carry, if death then shall take me,
My body with gore stained will he think to feast on,
On his lone track will bear it and joyously eat it,
And mark with my life-blood his lair in the moorland;
Nor more for my welfare wilt thou need to care then.
Send thou to Hygelac, if strife shall take me,
That best of byrnies which my breast guardeth,
Brightest of war-weeds, the work of Smith Weland,
Left me by Hrethel. Ever Wyrd has her way.”

The aged King Hrothgar, who had listened attentively while the hero spoke of his plans and of his possible fate, now greeted him saying: “Thou hast sought my court for honour and for friendship’s sake, O Beowulf: thou hast remembered the ancient alliance between Ecgtheow, thy father, and myself, when I shielded him, a fugitive, from the wrath of the Wilfings, paid them the due wergild for his crime, and took his oath of loyalty to myself. Long ago that time is; Ecgtheow is dead, and I am old and in misery. It were too long now to tell of all the woe [Pg 12] that Grendel has wrought, but this I may say, that many a hero has boasted of the great valour he would display in strife with the monster, and has awaited his coming in this hall; in the morning there has been no trace of each hero but the dark blood-stains on benches and tables. How many times has that happened! But sit down now to the banquet and tell thy plans, if such be thy will.”