Zénaïde A. (Zénaïde Alexeïevna) Ragozin.

Siegfried, the hero of the North, and Beowulf, the hero of the Anglo-Saxons online

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from her hand, and, ere he drained it,
repeated his solemn pledge :

" When I went on board and sat in my
ship, as she sped over the waters, with
this my chosen band, I vowed I would
work out the deliverance of your people.
I am bound as an earl to fulfil my vow, or
in this hall to meet my death to-night."

He quaffed the mead, and she, the
noble lady, inclined her diademed head
as she took from him the cup, for his




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The Feast 243

words were well to her liking. Then
slowly, with trailing robes, she walked to
the head of the hall, to sit by her lord.

For some time yet the banqueting went
on as merrily as ever,- -until the daylight
began to wane, when suddenly song and
laughter died on the revellers' lips, and
King Hrothgar bethought himself that it
was time to retire, for he knew that the
monster came forth when shrouding night
decends and the creatures of darkness go
stalking abroad. In silence all the com-
pany arose.

Hrothgar greeted Beowulf and spoke
solemn words :

" Never before, since my hand lifted
shield, did I entrust the Guard-house of
the Danes to any man, never but now
to thee. Have and hold the sacred house
against the foe. Be watchful, valiant, and
may victory wait on thee ! No wish of
thine shall go unfulfilled if thou dost per-
form the great work and livest to tell it."

Thus spoke Hrothgar the Skylding,
and gravely departed from the hall, with
his Queen, followed by his men.



VIII

THE COMBAT

OILENTLY Beowulf looked after the
^ Danes ; silently he began to divest
himself of his armour, mindful of his vow
to fight the goblin bare-handed. He
laid off his shining mail, his helmet and
his sword of choicest steel, and gave them
in charge to his esquire ; then he stretched
himself on the floor and laid his cheek on
a pillow. For the hall had meanwhile
been promptly cleared of tables and
benches, which were pushed against the
walls, and couches of soft pelts and rugs
were spread on the floor. His comrades
did likewise. Not that rest came to any
of them at first ; for not one thought in
his heart he should ever again see his
own folk, his native land, the castle where

244



The Combat 245

he was nurtured. But even as they kept
turning these things over in their minds,
their limbs relaxed, their lids grew heavy
with very weariness, and they slept. All
slept, but one,- -and he lay quite still,
straining his ear to listen and his eye to
peer through the dim night.

And hark ! tramp, tramp, he came
marching from the moor, - Grendel, the
God-sent scourge. Straight for the hall
he made through the gloom : it was not
the first time he visited Hrothgar's home-
stead ; but never had he met such a
welcome as now awaited him there.

He came carelessly along, as one assured
of his entertainment. The door, though
fastened with bars of wrought iron, sprang
open at his touch. Quickly he stepped
across the flagged floor, big with rage,
with eyes ablaze. Suddenly he perceived
the troop of strange warriors, lying close
together, asleep. He laughed aloud. He
gloated as he stood over them, and thought
that, ere day came, the life of each of them
should have been wrenched from the body,
since luck had sent him such a treat.



246 Beowulf

Beowulf curbed his rage to watch the
fell ruffian and see how he meant to pro-
ceed. The delay was not long : Grendel
quickly, at one grab, seized a sleeping
warrior, tore him up, crunched the bony
frame, drank the blood from the veins,
swallowed the flesh in huge morsels ; in
a trice he had devoured the lifeless body,
feet, hands, and all. Then he stepped
forward to where the hero lay, and reached
out a hand to seize him on his bed but
suddenly felt his arm held tight in such
a grip as he had never met with from any
man in all the world. He knew at once
that he was in an evil plight- -in mortal
fear he strove to wrench himself free and
flee. This was not the entertainment he
had been wont to meet there in bygone
days.

Now all were awake, and the hall was
in an uproar. And over at the castle, a
deadly panic came over all the Danes,
noble or simple, brave men as they were.
Furious were both the maddened champ-
ions ; the hall resounded with their wrest-
ling. It was a great wonder the building



The Combat 247

did not fall to the ground ; only that it
was inwardly and outwardly made strong
with iron stanchions, with such masterly
skill. In this night of terror it made good
the Danes' boast that no mortal force short
of fire would ever be able to wreck it.

The noise rose high, with increasing
violence. The Danes outside were numb
with horror at the unearthly shrieks and
dismal howlings of the God -forsaken
fiend. Many an earl of Beowulf's un-
sheathed and plunged into the fight ; they
knew not that they could not help their
leader, much as they desired it, for that
no choicest blade on earth could touch
that destroyer, because he had secured
himself by spells and incantations against
weapons of all kinds. But he was not
proof against human heroic might, and
from that he now got his death-wound,

o

as Beowulf, with a desperate grip and tug,
wrenched his arm off from the shoulder.
With a terrific yell, which told the listen-
ing Danes that the dire struggle was
ended, and victory won by their champ-
ion, Grendel fled to the coverts of the



248



Beowulf



fen : well he knew that the number of
his days was full.

Thus was the valiant champion's pledge
redeemed ; thus was Heorot purged. The
leader of the Goths had made good his
vaunt, and, in token thereof, he hung up
Grendel's hand, arm, and shoulder grim
trophy !- -under the gabled roof.




IX



REJOICINGS AND THANKSGIVINGS

ARLY in the morning there was a great
gathering about the hall. Chieftains
came from far and near, to hear the mar-
vellous tale, to gaze at the loathsome pro-
digy. Then they took up the vanquished
monster's bloody trail, and followed it to
the Nicors' Mere, whither, death-doomed
and fugitive, he had betaken himself to

o

die. There was the face of the lake surg-
ing with blood, the gruesome plash of
waves all turbid with reeking gore. There
he had yielded up his heathen soul, there
pale-faced Hela, the dread queen and
guardian of the heathen dead, received it.
After surveying the uncanny spot, they
rode home from the Mere in high glee, as
from a pleasure-trip. Now and then one



250 Beowulf

and the other loosened their nags for a
gallop, to run a match where the turf
looked smooth and inviting. Then again
a thane of the King's, his mind full of
ballads, stored with old-world tales, began
to compose Beowulf's adventure into a
story on the spot, to be sung later at the
feast, to the sweet-stringed harp. Or yet
another compared him to Siegfried, the
Dragon-slayer, the greatest hero of all
North countries.

Thus, alternately racing and talking and
singing, they rode joyously back to the
hall, and when they reached there, the sun
was already high in the sky, and crowds
were still flocking to Heorot ; and the King
himself, with the Queen and with a gor-
geous following of lords and ladies, was
coming the short way from his palace to
view his enemy's monstrous arm and hand
hanging from the gold-glittering roof.

Hrothgar was very different this sunny
morning from the bent and sorrow-
stricken old man who greeted Beowulf
the night before as his last hope on earth.
Right royal he looked now in his rich



Rejoicings and Thanksgivings 251
robes as he walked along- with head erect

o

and firm step, and clear, glad eye. He
stood awhile, gazing silently on the horri-
ble hand, with fiendish fingers, and nails
straight and sharp like steel spikes, then
devoutly raised his voice :

" For this sight thanks be given the
Almighty ! It was but now that I
thought I should never see an end of all
my woes and now a lad, through the
might of God, has achieved the deed
which we, with all our wisdom, were un-
able to accomplish. Now I will heartily
love thee, Beowulf, thou most excellent
youth ! From this day forth shalt thou
be to me as my son ; thou shalt have
nothing to wish for in the world so far as
I have power. Full oft have I, for far
less service, decreed great guerdons from
my treasury. May the Almighty reward
thee always, as He hath just done ! '

Beowulf accepted these thanks and
praises with most becoming modesty.
Indeed, he rather apologised for having
let the enemy escape him ; " for," he said,
11 1 would have liked vastly better to show



252 Beowulf

thee his very self, instead of only his arm
and hand."

Men, in those days, were not, as a rule,
shy of boasting of their valorous deeds
and making the most of them. Therefore
the young hero's quiet bearing won him
still heartier admiration and louder ap-
plause. One man alone in all that joy-
ous crowd kept silent and to himself and
that was Unferth, the story-teller, who had
given vent so freely to his envious malice
at the feast. He dared not now either
brag of his own doings, or belittle Beo-
wulf's exploit, and so held his peace.
But in his heart, alone of all men, he
grudged him his triumph.




HEOROT RESTORED FEASTING AND

GIFTS

AND now orders were given that
Heorot should be promptly swept,
cleansed, and decorated ; men and women
trooped in in great numbers to do the
work. No light work it was, for the
whole interior of the building was nearly
demolished ; in fact, the roof alone es-
caped quite unhurt. Substantial repairs,
of course, would take time ; but the hall
must be garnished and made ready for
that day's banquet. So they hid the
walls with brocaded tapestries which de-
lighted the eye with their pictured
stories.

When the time came, King Hrothgar
walked to the Hall, for he intended to

253



254 Beowulf

share the entire feast from beginning to
end. And never did a braver throng of
revellers muster more merrily around the
feast-giver.

The first beaker of sweet mead the
King drank to Beowulf, and at the same
time presented him with a complete suit
of preciously-wrought, gold-adorned, ar-
mour helmet, coat of mail, and heavy
battle-sword, all from the royal treasury.
Then, at a sign from the King, eight beauti-
ful horses, with cheekplates of gold, were
led into the hall. One of them was gaily
caparisoned and bore the King's own fa-
vourite saddle, all decorated with silver.
Horse and saddle were well known to all
present, having been seen often and often
both at knightly games and in the field,
where foemen fell before the royal rider
both in play and in deadly earnest. Arms
and horses the King bade the young hero
have for his own, and enjoy them well.

Moreover, each one of those who had
made the voyage with Beowulf received
some precious gift, some old heirloom.
As for the comrade whom Grendel had



Heorot Restored 255

so atrociously killed and devoured, King
Hrothgar gave order that gold should be
brought from his treasury, to make good
his loss to his people.

And now the King called aloud for
music and song. The harp was struck
and Hrothgar's minstrel recited a ballad,
often heard, but always a favourite, a lay
of an old feud and vengeance, which made
the revellers realise the more joyfully their
deliverance from the tribute of blood
which, through so many years, they had
unwillingly paid.

The merriment ran high, and high rose
the sounds of revelry as the attendants
served the wine out of curious flagons.
When suddenly there was a pause : Queen
Wealhtheow came forward, wearing right
nobly her golden diadem, and, as the day
before, stood before her lord, and spoke :

" Receive this beaker, King of the
Danes ! Be merry thyself, and gladden
those around thee with gifts and gracious
words. For now, far and near, thou hast
peace. Heorot is purged and is once
more the most splendid of banqueting-



256 Beowulf

halls. Dispense, then, thy bounties while
thou mayest, and to thy children peace-
fully leave folk and realm when thy time
comes to pass into eternity."

She turned then towards the bench
where her young sons sat. And there,
by the two brothers, Beowulf modestly
sat among the youth of the land, separ-
ate from the elders and mighty men.
To him the Queen offered the beaker,
with friendly words, inviting him to drink,
then presented him with her own special
gifts : a rich mantle, armlets of twisted
gold, and rings, and crowning gift of all
-a jewelled carcanet, the most gorgeous
piece of jeweller's work ever seen under
the sun.

" Wear this collar, Beowulf, beloved
youth," the Queen said, " and make use
of this mantle stately possessions both
Prosper well, win more and more fame by
thy valour, and to these my boys be true
friend and kind adviser. Thou hast done
that which will make thee the theme of
minstrels' song, far and near, for all
time. Be then, whilst thou livest, a happy



Heorot Restored 257

prince, and loyal to my sons in word and
deed. For such is the manner of our
land : here is each warrior to other true,
loyal to their chief ; the thanes obedient,
the people willing. And now, I bid ye
all- -be merry ! '

With that she walked to her chair, and
music once more filled the hall, and wine
flowed freely. No thought was there of
evil to come, only of the evil from which
they deemed that they were freed for-
ever : for who ever hears the fiat of des-
tiny as it goes forth ? . . . And so the
evening came, and Hrothgar betook him
to his rest.

Silence fell upon Heorot; the festive
sounds died out. For the first time in
many years, the hall was not deserted for
the night ; the ethelings stayed to guard
it as they had often done in earlier times.
The benches were cleared away against
the walls ; beds and bolsters were laid in
rows upon the floor, and the revellers laid
themselves down to rest, happy and at
peace. Yet did one among them lie down
that night a doomed man, and knew it not.



258



Beowulf



At their heads they set up their bright
bucklers ; on 'the benches, plain in sight,
lay each etheling's helmet and mail-shirt,
and against them stood the strong-shafted
lances. For such was their custom to
be at all times ready for war, whether at
home or in the field, wherever their liege
lord might have need of their services.
Truly a brave and noble people !




LAY II



GRENDEL'S MOTHER



I



THE AVENGER

SO they sank down to sleep. One there
was who sorely paid for that night's
rest. For ere morning it was found that
Grendel had left an avenger his mother,
the Mere-wife, loathsome beldame, a creat-
ure that had to dwell in the dreariness of
marshes and cold streams, like all the rest
of Cain's murderous, outlawed brood.
That very night the hag, on bloody ven-
geance bent, betook herself to Heorot,
where the Danes slept careless, all un-
conscious. Who shall paint their horror
and dismay when the goblin-wife suddenly
burst into their midst? Swords were

259



260 Beowulf

drawn and bucklers raised, but there was
no time to think of helmet or mail-shirt.

The hag was in a hurry ; finding herself
discovered, all she thought of was to
get away with her life. So she quickly
snatched up one of the ethelings at ran-
dom, and gripping him tight, made for
the fen. That man was Hrothgar's dear-
est comrade, most constant companion
sad end for an illustrious warrior ! But
hurried as she was, the hag managed to
carry away with her Grendel's arm and
hand. A great cry went up from Heorot,
and reached the aged King, who was
startled out of his sleep by the news that
the old horror was revived, and that the
man dearest to his heart was dead.

Beowulf was not there. No one thought
that his prowess should be needed again ;
so, as he was in want of rest after his last
night's exertions, he and his companions
had been assigned a lodging at some dis-
tance, and they knew nothing of what had
happened. Bright and early, he and his
little band, rested, cheery, marched to the
palace, straight to the King's apartment,



The Avenger 261

the floor-timbers resounding under their
tread, and, courteously accosting him, en-
quired if, according to their sincere wish,
he had had a restful night.

Great was their astonishment to find the
King more deeply dejected than ever, the
tears coursing down his withered cheeks,
and to hear his heart-broken answer :

" Speak not of rest to me ! New grief
has come over the Danes. ./Eschere is
dead, my friend and counsellor, my trusty
body-squire, who has stood with me,
shoulder to shoulder, in battle, a hundred
times. In Heorot has he met his death
at the hands of another raging fiend.
Yesternight didst thou overcome Grendel
in deadly fight, and now his mother comes
to avenge her kin ! I know not in what
direction she took her way, but her tracks
will show. I will be bound they lead us
no farther than the Mere, a few miles
from here an uncanny water wolf-crags,
windy bluffs, woods with gnarled, inter-
twined roots overhang it. A precipitous
mountain waterfall vanishes into the earth,
and flows on, an underground river. And



262 Beowulf

on the Mere itself, every night, a fearful
portent may be seen : fire playing on the
water. The man liveth not who knows
the depth of that mere. The antlered
hart, as he makes for the wood coverts,
harried by hounds, will sooner give up
life on the bank, than plunge his head
into the unhallowed flood. Now it is
once more to thee alone that we look
for counsel ! Thou knowest not yet the
dreadful haunt go seek it if thou dare !
I will reward thee with treasure to thy
heart's content, if so thou comest away
alive."

Beowulf answered straightway, and his
brave words fell like balm on Hrothgar's
dejected spirits :

" Cease sorrowing, wise sire ! Aveng-
ing a friend is better than mourning for
him. Arouse thee ! let us promptly set
out to find the trail of this new terror. I
vow to thee she shall not escape ; neither
in the bowels of the earth, nor in the
haunted woods, nor in ocean's depth go
where she will ! Have patience but this
one day, and all thy woes shall end."



II

THE MERE

UP sprang then the aged King, thank-
ing God for the hero's words, which
filled him with new vigour. He mounted
his charger, a stately high-stepper with
wavy, flowing mane, and rode forth with
Beowulf and the mixed band of Danes and
Goths, the foot-force of shield-bearing men
marching behind. The track lay broad
and plain over the ground, down the
slope straight across the murky moor.

Lightly did Beowulf step over steep
stone-banks, narrow gullies, lonesome,
untravelled paths, sheer bluffs, under many
of which were deep caverns, the dwelling-
place of nicors. With a few tried men
he went forward, exploring the ground,
until all of a sudden he perceived the

263



264 Beowulf

gloomy trees overhanging the grisly rock
of which Hrothgar had spoken a cheer-
less wood ; beneath it a standing water,
dreary and troubled. The whole scene
was so desolate and eerie that it made
the Danes shudder ; horror seized them
as they looked, for on that cliff they came
on the head of ^Eschere in a pool of
blood.

The horn sounded from time to time
a spirited blast to keep them together.
But they had little wish to stray. They
all sat down on the ground, terrified, yet
curious for the weird sights of the Mere :
they saw gliding along the water many
shapes of serpent kind, monstrous sea-
snakes at their swimming gambols ; like-
wise nicors lying lazily on the jutting
slopes, the water-goblins which often, of
an early morning, churn up the waves to
make disastrous sailing for voyagers,-
dragons, and other strange beasts tumbled
about, then hurried away with eye of spite
and body swelling with rage at being dis-
turbed by the clarion's clang and the
intrusion of men. Beowulf, with an arrow



The Mere 265

from his bow, picked off one of the mon-
sters, which was swiftly pulled out on
land ; his swimming days were over, his
tricks ended.

But this was play. The business of the
day was now to come, and Beowulf be-
gan to prepare for it. Piece by piece he
donned his princely armour, which was
to stand the novel test of deadly battle
in the waters of the unholy lake. Most
anxiously did his friends, both Danes and
Goths, watch and assist him as he silently
armed, with brow and mouth firmly set
under the helmet, for well they knew that
the contest he was now going to engage
in was far more dangerous than that in
which he had but lately ventured life and
limb. Even Unferth, the unmannerly,
forgot what he had recently uttered when
flushed with ale- -or perchance he wished
to atone for past ill-will by present service.
Enough, he pressed to Beowulf's side,
and placed in his hand a wonderful sword,
an old heirloom of his house, most highly
prized of all his possessions. That precious
blade, like other famed swords belong-



266



Beowulf



ing to mighty heroes, had a name of its
own, like a human friend : it was called
Hrunting. The edge of the blade was
iron, welded onto the brass, mottled with
poison, and hardened in the gore of many
battles. Never had it proved false to him
who wielded it ; this was not the first time
that heroic work had been required of it.





Ill

UNDER THE WATERS

AND now Beowulf stood armed, and
ready for the fray. But before he
went whence he might not come back, he
turned to King Hrothgar and once again
repeated the request he had made before
he remained in Heorot to await the com-
ing of Grendel :

" See now, O wise King, I am ready to
start. Bethink thee of what we lately
talked of : that, should I lose my life in
thy service, thou shouldst, after my death,
fulfil my wishes even as my own father
would. They are but few and easily re-
membered : be thou friend and protector
to my thanes when I am gone, and send
the presents thou hast given me to Hyge-
lac ; so will he see for himself that I had

267



268 Beowulf

found a bountiful friend. And let Unferth
keep my own heirloom, my curiously
damaskeened sword, Hardedge. With
Hrunting I will either achieve renown or
find my death."

He said, and, waiting for no answer,
leaped from the bluff the eddying flood
engulfed him. So deep was the mere,
that it took some time before, sinking, he
reached the bottom.

Soon the grim creature that for a hund-
red seasons had kept house in the watery
realm perceived that one of the children
of men was coming from above, exploring
the goblins' home. She made a grab at
him and clutched him in her grisly talons,
but could not pierce the well-knit ring
mail which fenced him around. But she
bore him to her mansion at the bottom of
the lake, so swiftly that, although his
heart did not fail, he was powerless to use
his weapons, the more that countless
water-beasts harassed him in swimming,
battering at him with tusk and claw.

At length the earl felt the grip loosened
on him, and as he hurriedly cast his eye




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Under the Waters 269

around, he perceived that he was in a vast
hall, high-roofed, and protected from the
water on all sides ; it was light, too, with
an eerie, bright lustre, something like fire-
light. But the hero had no time for won-
der or exploring ; for before him stood
the grim she-wolf of the abyss, and it be-
hoved him to be quick in attack. Grasp-
ing Hrunting, he whirled it around her
head ; but when it descended to strike,
he found, to his dismay, that the edge did
not bite ; for the first time the costly
blade failed the master at his need. With
prompt decision he angrily flung it away,
and once again trusting wholly to his
own strength, seized the hag by the
shoulder, and swayed her so violently in
his rage that she sank to the pavement.
She swiftly repaid him and closed in upon
him, crushing the wind out of his body,
so that he, fearless as he was, staggered
from sheer breathlessness and fell pro-
strate. Then the hag sat upon his back
and drew her broad knife, and her goblin

o

son would have been avenged then and
there, but that Beowulf's mail-shirt was



270 Beowulf

proof against point and edge, which gave
him time for a last mighty effort to throw
off the hindering weight,- -and presently
he stood once more erect on his feet.

Still, even then his life might have been
forfeit in the unequal combat, had he not
chanced to espy among the armour lying
scattered about the hall, an old cutlass of


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Online LibraryZénaïde A. (Zénaïde Alexeïevna) RagozinSiegfried, the hero of the North, and Beowulf, the hero of the Anglo-Saxons → online text (page 11 of 14)