Northland Heroes
by Florence Holbrook
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Then Hrothgar spoke: "Into thy mind has the wise God sent these kind words. Never have I heard wiser words from one so young. Thou art strong and wise, and I think that if death should take Hygelac, the people would wish thee for their king. So well hast thou borne thyself that there shall be peace between the Danes and Goths, and many a gift I shall send to thee over the great sea."

Then Hrothgar gave to Beowulf rich gifts and bade him seek his home in safety. The good king wept when he said good-bye, for he loved the noble youth and was sad to have him go away over the deep sea.

Beowulf was glad and proud of the king's praise. He set sail from the land of Hrothgar, and often he and his men admired the rich gifts of the great and good king.

Beowulf and Hygelac

Over ocean-stream went the brave youths and soon saw the shores of the Goths, their homeland. Beowulf and his men brought the ship high up on the shore lest the billow's force might wreck it. Then Beowulf ordered them to carry the noble gifts of Hrothgar. Near the sea-wall was the home of Hygelac. The bright sun, the candle of the world, was shining when the brave Beowulf and his men went to greet their king. Hygelac was glad to see their safe returning, and said: "Tell me, friend Beowulf, how the Danes treated you. Long have I feared for you, knowing you would meet Grendel, the deadly foe of men."

Beowulf answered: "Right well did Hrothgar greet me and gave me a seat in his hall next his own son. All the people were gay, and never have I seen a grander hall or greater cheer. Oft the sweet queen left her seat and spoke to the young warriors, giving one and another a wreath. Oft their young daughter bore the mead-cup to her father's friends.

"So all the day we spent in song and story. At night the beast Grendel came. First he seized and slew one of my kindred, and then sought me. But I seized his right hand and would not let go my hold. Long we fought, and at last he fled, in the night, to his home in the black waters. But his hand and arm were torn from him, and from this wound he died.

"Much praise and many gifts I had from the old king, when he learned that the cruel Grendel must die. But the next night Grendel's mother crept up to the hall and seized one of the king's good friends. Sad were we all when morning came. The king with tears begged me to hunt out the wicked creature, and I plunged into the dark waters. Fierce was the fight, but at last I won, and never will Hrothgar's hall be sad again at the loss of brave warriors.

"Then Hrothgar gave me rich gifts which I bring to you, my king. With gladness I bring them, for because of you are my pleasures long."

As Beowulf spoke, his men brought in the banner, the shield, the battle-sword, and the helmet. They also brought four fiery steeds with rich trappings, fit for a king. All these did Beowulf give to his friend, the king Hygelac. To the queen he gave the lovely collar Hrothgar's queen had given to him, beautiful and rare with jewels. He also gave her three black horses with saddles bright.

The king and queen rejoiced in the precious gifts and in the love of this brave warrior. To Beowulf the king gave a sword of wonder, the best treasure he had, adorned with gold. Also he gave him many, many rings of gold and a beautiful palace.

So there was love between the king and the brave hero.

The Dragon of the Mountain

After many years, when the king and his son had perished in the wars, the Goths chose Beowulf for their king. No better king could they have, and for many years he ruled over them. He was a wise king and brave. The people loved him much.

Then a strange story came to his ears: that far away in a dark cave lived a terrible dragon. The way to his lair was rough and steep. In this cave was much treasure, and the dragon was guarding it.

Many men had gathered the treasures in this cave. Swords, helmets, and shields, and rings were hidden there in time of war, so that the enemy could not find them. For many years these treasures were collecting there. At last a dragon came, a fierce creature, and for three hundred winters he had kept watch with his fiery eyes.

At last a man found the cave filled with the treasures. The dragon was asleep, so the man took a golden cup and bore it home to his lord. Thus the secret of the hoard became known.

When the fearful dragon awoke and found that one of his treasures had been taken, he was very angry. Fire came from his nostrils and from his wicked mouth. He would find the man who had done this thing.

Then the dragon began to burn all the houses round. Nothing living was left. Ruin and death were in his path. Then he darted back to the dark cave. He trusted in its darkness, but in vain.

Beowulf goes against the Dragon

When Beowulf heard that his men were driven from their burning homes, his heart was hot with anger. He ordered a war-board of iron made, for well he knew that forest-wood could not help him against fire. All the foes of the kingdom Beowulf had turned to friends, and for many years had ruled the Goths in peace and joy. But now he must go against the fearful dragon who was guarding the hoard of treasures.

The man who had taken the cup showed them the path, for he alone knew the way. When they came to the mound near the great sea-waves, Beowulf said farewell to his warriors. For him alone was the fight with the enemy of his people, the fire-breathing dragon.

Sad was the hero at heart, for he knew this was his last fight. "I have dared many battles in my youth, and I will now, as safe guardian of my people, seek out this wicked creature in his earth-hall."

Beowulf then greeted each of his men, saying: "I would not bear a weapon against this dragon, but would fight him as I did Grendel, only I must expect hot fire. Await me near this mound. This is a battle for me, not for you or for any other man. I shall obtain the gold, or war shall conquer me, your lord."

Then the bold king, trusting in his good sword, went forth to battle, with his helmet and his shield. When he came to the mound by the sea he saw an arch of stone, and a stream flowing from the mound. The water was boiling hot and he could not get near the hoard unburned. Then the brave war-lord shouted to the dragon. First came forth from the mountain the hot breath of the dreadful monster. The earth shook and flames burst forth. The good king drew his sword and waited. When the dragon came, Beowulf strode at it with his sword, and fierce was the conflict. The hero knew that he would fall in the battle, but he would kill the dragon first. It is a brave man who enters such a deadly contest.

Beowulf's men had sought safety, but one of them felt that he must help his lord in this hour of deadly battle. He said: "Now Beowulf, our great lord, has need of us. Although he is the greatest of warriors and wishes to do this brave deed alone, yet he has need of our swords! Let us help our warlike leader. For me, I well know that Beowulf shall not fall alone."

Wiglaf aids his King

Then the noble Wiglaf went to his lord and said: "Dear Beowulf, once did you say that never would your greatness sink. But in this great deed I shall help."

After these words the dragon came forth in great anger. The fiery flames burned the broad wooden shield of Wiglaf. Then the young, brave hero fought from behind the great iron shield of his leader, Beowulf. Now this warlike king called to mind the glorious deeds of his youth. With all his strength he struck with his sword, but it broke in his hand. Then rushed out for the third time the deadly dragon and wound himself about his kingly foe.

To help the king in his great need did Wiglaf strike the dreadful foe. The king drew his deadly knife and together they destroyed the fiery creature. Then both rejoiced.

But now the wound in the breast of Beowulf began to burn. Wiglaf brought water to help the king. Then Beowulf spoke: "My joy in earth has gone. I have ruled this people fifty winters. All kings are my friends. Never have I spoken falsely, and for this I have joy to-day. Go quickly, dear Wiglaf, and find the treasures guarded by the great dragon, that I may behold all the jewels, the precious gems for which we fought."

Many wonders did Wiglaf find and bring to the eyes of his dying king: jewels, helmets, rings, shields, swords rich with gold and jewels. Most beautiful was a banner of cloth of gold so bright that it made the dark cave light.

The Death of Beowulf

When Beowulf saw these things of wonderful beauty, he said: "I thank the Father of the gods, for all; because I have been able to kill the great dragon and give my life for my people. No longer may I stay here. Tell my brave warriors to make a mound near the sea, so high that sailors may see it from afar and call it Beowulf's mound."

Then from his neck the bold-hearted prince took a golden ring and gave it to the young warrior. To him also he gave his helmet and shield and bade him use them well. "Thou art the last of our race. All my kinsmen fate has swept away. I shall follow them." These were the last words from the heart of the hero.

When the thanes came to where Wiglaf sat by his dead lord, the young warrior said: "The great prince who gave you rings, and shields, and homes, could not boast of you when need came. He alone conquered the beast. I could help him little, but yet I did what I could to help the good king. Death is better for every one than a life of reproach."

Then he told them of the wish of Beowulf and bade them prepare the mound by the shore of the noisy sea. Many, many warriors came to see the great king. Much they loved him and admired his great strength. Much they mourned for him and tears fell. All day they sat by the sea and spoke no word. They looked with dread at their great foe. Fifty feet long it stretched on the ground. At last the warriors threw the great dragon into the sea, never again to be seen by men.

Then Wiglaf took the warriors into the dark cave to see the treasures hoarded there. For a thousand years had gold and gems and jewelled armour been gathered there. Now there were more treasures than man could count. The Goths were amazed to see such treasures, but they wished not to take them for their own. They heaped high the mountain-pines for a funeral pile. To this they carried the precious treasures of the cave. Here they placed the king, so dearly loved. Then the greatest of the warriors kindled the pine trees high. The roaring flames arose; sounds of weeping were heard. Sad they waited until all was destroyed by the flames. Then they began the mound in honour of their lord. Ten days they worked, and built the mound so high that sea-farers far away could see it and say, "There is the mound of the good Beowulf, the king of the Goths."

And his people said: "Our Beowulf was of all kings the mildest, the noblest of men, the gentlest to his people and most worthy of praise."


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