Heorot’s Makeover: Book XIV – Book XVI

An ale house like a mead hall from Beowulf that's in Sweden.

An ale house just north of Göteborg in Sweden, but a pretty good approximation of what Heorot would look like (except for the lack of gold). Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Viking_house_Ale_Sweden.jpg

XIV

Hrothgar spoke — he stood upon the steps
once he reached the hall, saw the lofty roof
with its gold decor and Grendel’s hand aloft:

“For this sight to the Almighty may thanks
be given immediately! Great grief I endured,
the affliction of Grendel; always may God work
wonder after wonder, the Shepherd of glory!
It was not long ago that I expected never
to meet anyone who could soothe
my miseries, when blood-bedecked
stood the best of halls, gory from battle.
Everyone knew wide-reaching woe so that
none would venture near, so that for a long time
the people in their stronghold had to hold out against
hated demons and evil. Now shall we have, through
the might of God this deed done,
a thing requiring skill that that none before
may have even conceived of. Indeed let us say
to the singular woman who gave birth to such a son
among the human race, if she yet lives,
that the God of old was gracious to her
in her child-bearing. Now I, Beowulf, accept you,
best of warriors. I shall see you as a son
in heart and in hand! Keep well this
new kinship. And be thee never wanting for
any desirable thing in the world, that I have power to give.
Quite often I’ve given rewards for less,
honouring with gifts men more lowly,
weaker in battle. You yourself have
done this deed, that thy fame may
endure well into the future. The Ruler of All
reward you with good, as It has to now done!”

Beowulf spoke, the son of Ecgtheow:

“We that brave deed did with much good will,
carried out the fight, daringly risked ourselves
against strength unknown. Wish I very much
that you yourself might have seen it,
witnessed the enemy entangled and exhausted to the point of death!
I swiftly grasped him tight and thought
to bind him then and there to his death bed,
so that for my hand-grip he should
lie struggling for life, but his body slithered out.
For I could not, God willed it not,
prevent him from going, nor could I then firmly enough grasp him,
that deadly foe. Nevertheless he relinquished his hand
to protection his cowering life, hideous proof to leave behind,
an arm complete with shoulder. Not in any way did that
wretched being find comfort here.
Nor will the hateful attacker be afflicted
with a long life of sin, but he knew pain
while tightly squeezed in my inexorable grip,
the deadly fetter. Where he goes he shall await
the great judgment with men be-speckled with crimes,
what for them resplendent God will allot.”

Then more silent were those words, of the son of Ecglaf,
of boastful speech about warlike deeds,
after the noblemen saw that man’s strength
proven in the hand hung on the high roof,
the fiend’s fingers. At the tip of each was
set a firm nail like steel,
the heathen’s claw, chosen weapon of the horribly dreadful
warrior. Everyone assembled said
that they had never heard of any time-tested sword
that could properly strike it, that would injure the wretch’s
bloodied battle hand.

XV

Then came quickly the command to the people
to adorn Heorot inward; many were there,
men and women, so that the wine hall,
that guest hall, was bedecked. Variegated with gold,
wall tapestries shone over walls, such a wonderful sight
they all agreed as they stared upon the same.
That bright house had been swiftly broken into pieces,
all of the inside’s iron bonds no longer fast,
the hinges sprung apart; the roof alone escaped
all untouched. That fiendish foe’s wicked final deed,
winding away in his escape, could be seen in the damage,
his thrashing while despairing of his life. That wave cannot be
fled — no matter what one does to avail themselves —
but seeking shall be all humankind,
those desirous of need, the sons of men,
earth-dwellers, hopeful to escape the place eager for us,
the place where this body holds fast to its bed,
gains sleep after the feast. Then came the due time
that Hrothgar’s son come to the recast hall;
and Hrothgar himself would come to enjoy the feast.
I have no need to ask if ever a greater group of assembled peoples
has gathered around their revered ring-giver.
The renowned then bowed onto the benches,
filling the host with joy; they tore into the fare
and went round after round through cups of mead,
becoming bold minded, in that high hall,
Hrothgar and Hrothulf among them. Within Heorot were
many friends; not at all was treachery
yet made among the Scyldings.

Then to Beowulf, Hrothgar, the sword of Halfdane,
gave as reward a golden banner of victory,
an ornamented battle banner, helm and byrnie.
And he also gave a famed treasure sword that many past peoples
had seen a hero use. Beowulf was indeed duly
feted on that floor; he felt no need there
to be ashamed for the largesse shown before the warriors.
And, to be sure, never have I heard of a friendlier gift
of four gold-adorned treasures from
such a great man in any other ale hall.
Around the given helmet’s protective top there
was a wire-wound ridge to keep the blows out,
so that its wearer would not be imperilled
by the battle-hardened sword’s bite when the wicked
craving comes over blade and battler.
The lord then ordered a man to draw eight mares
with gold-pleated bridles into the hall,
within Heorot’s bounds; among them one stood
with a saddle skilfully coloured, a worthy treasure.
That was the very battle seat of the high king,
the place in which the son of Halfdane rode forth
to make the battle even — never was he in
wide-known wars laid low, even when the ridge was overthrown.
And then the lord there, descendant of Ing,
conferred both those gifts upon Beowulf,
horses and weapons. He entreated him to use them well.
Thus the famed lord, the guardian of those treasures,
nobly rewarded the warrior for the storm of battle
with treasures and steeds, so that no man might ever find fault with
the two, for those words they had exchanged were rightly aligned with truth.

XVI

Then the lord to each man
who had undertaken the sea-way with Beowulf,
there at the ale bench gave treasure,
bequeathed booty, and then commanded that immediately
gold be paid up, to cover the one whom
Grendel earlier killed, as he surely would have killed more,
had not wise God and a single man’s
daring prevented that fate. The Measurer ruled
over all human kings then, as It now yet does.
Thus understanding is always best,
the fore-thinking mind. Much shall one endure
of love and of hate, so long as one partakes of
this world’s days of strife.

After that there was song and clamour together there
before the Danish commanders.
The harp was played, many tales told,
when the hall joy Hrothgar’s poet
among the mead benches would recite.
He sang of Finn’s children, when calamity struck them,
when the Halfdane hero, Hnæf Scylding,
in the Frisian slaughter found death.
Indeed, Hildeburh had no need to praise
Jutish loyalty; guiltlessly she became bereft
of loved ones at the shield play.
He sang of her son and of her brother, how both were burdened
with ruinous spear wounds. He sang of how she was made a mournful woman.
Not without reason was Hoc’s daughter
then fated to mourn, after morning came,
when she might under the sky see
the violent death of her kin, where they earlier
had held the great joy of the world. War had borne away
all of Finn’s warriors, save for a few alone,
so that he might not take to the field
to wage war against Hengest,
nor could the wretched remnant defend against hostility,
that lord’s man. But Hengest to Finn offered terms,
that they for him would clear the other side of the floor,
of the hall and high seat, so that he could control half
of what the sons of the Jutes possessed,
and that at the giving of gifts the son of Folcwalda
daily do honour to each Dane,
that even as generously to Hengest’s kin
he would grant those things, treasure rings
of twisted gold, as to his Frisian kin
during the giving in the beer hall.
Then they with trust their two halves together
secured in a peace treaty. Finn to Hengest
with ill-fated courage swore oaths
that he would treat the survivors of the carnage
honourably as his counsellors advised, ensure that no man
there would by word or deed break the treaty,
nor through any artful intrigue complain of it.
All this the Danes agreed to though they were forced to serve the slayer
of their ring-giver while leaderless, bound to him by necessity.
Though if any of the Frisians were to remind them of that
through boldly speaking of the blood feud,
then the sword edge should settle it.

What was promised was prepared, and treasure-gold
was raised from the horde: the Scyldings’
best battler was readied on the pyre.
Mail-shirts shiny with crusted blood were easily visible
on that heap, old gold boar images,
the iron-hard boar, many wounded warriors
were piled there; those few that fell in battle.
Commanded then Hildeburh that at Hnæf’s side
her own son’s body be placed for the blaze,
that his body burn on that same pyre.
Beside her son’s uncle the lady mourned,
lamented them both with dirges. The warrior went up;
the great funeral fire wound into the sky,
the burial mound roared with it; heads melted,
gaping wounds burst anew, then blood gushed out,
the bodies’ grievous hurts. Yet the flames swallowed all up,
speediest of spirits, there the blaze’s belly bore away men
of both peoples; together their glory passed away.

Want more Beowulf? Continue the poem here!

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One thought on “Heorot’s Makeover: Book XIV – Book XVI

  1. Pingback: Getting a Hand from Grendel: Book X – Book XIII | A Blogger's Beowulf

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