The Feud Isn’t Over Yet: Book XX – Book XXII

Grendel's mother menaces the pinned Beowulf with a knife.

Grendel’s mother has Beowulf pinned and raises her dagger over him, ready to finish the fight! By J. R. Skelton – Marshall, Henrietta Elizabeth (1908) Stories of Beowulf, T.C. & E.C. Jack, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11001837

XX

Hrothgar spoke, protector of the Scyldings:

“Ask ye not about the night’s joy; sorrow is renewed
to the Danish people. Æschere is dead,
Yrmenlaf’s elder brother,
my counsellor and confidant, my advisor,
my shoulder companion, when we at battle
were both at the fore, when we clashed with foes,
when the boar figures were struck. So should a man be,
a warrior who has proven his worth — so Æschere was!
A deadly creature came wandering to Heorot
to kill him by hand; I know not to what secret place
that terrible one slunk to turn him to carrion,
to make of him a gore-spattered feast. She carried on our feud,
that which you the other night inflamed by killing Grendel
in your violent manner with the might of your grip,
since he had for so long a time terrified my people,
ravaged and grieved them. He fell in that fight
and forfeited his life; and now another
wicked ravager has come, looking to avenge her kin,
she who has already done much for her vengeance,
so it may seem to many thanes,
after they have seen their ring-giver weeping from the heart,
submerged in his dire distress; now that his hand lay still,
the hand that proved generous to every desire.

“I have heard the dwellers in the land, my people,
and my hall counsellors say,
that they have seen two such
mighty prowlers of the murky moors, patrolling them,
alien creatures; there one of them,
they all can say with great certainty,
has a woman’s likeness; the other unfortunate
in a man’s form treads the path of exile,
but never had they seen a bigger man;
in earlier times the dwellers in the land named
him Grendel; they knew not their lineage,
their parentage was said to be hidden among
mysterious spirits. They occupy that
strange land, living along wolf-inhabited slopes, near wind-wracked cliffs,
up the perilous fen-path, where mountain streams
fall through mists from the headlands,
water creeping from underground. It is not many miles
hence that their mere can be found,
with frost-covered groves overhanging it;
tree roots overshadow those waters with their interlocking embrace.
Each night there you can see the oddest of wonders;
the water catches fire! None among the dear wise
children of humanity know of those waters’ bottom.
Even the stag, harassed by wolves,
that hart strong of horn, would seek security in the wood,
even if it was far off, would turn to offer its horns,
lose its life on the bank, before it would enter that water,
conceal his head. That is no pleasant place.
Thence rise up surging waves
to a darkened sky, there the winds stir
hateful storms, so much so that the air becomes gloomy,
and the sky weeps.

Now as before we depend
upon you alone for help. That region is not yet known,
that perilous place. There you may find
the creature carrying the guilt of killing; seek it out if you dare.
I will reward you with great wealth for ending this feud,
award you with ancient treasures, as I did already,
give works of twisted gold, if you seek out this wretch.”

XXI

Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow:

“Do not sorrow, wise lord! Better be it for each man
if he avenge his friend, than if he mourn long.
Each of us shall experience an end
to life in this world; achieve what glory you can
before death! That is the way to place among the best of warriors
after you are no longer living.
Arise, protector of the realm, head out quickly with me,
so that we can find the trail of Grendel’s kin!
I to thee promise this: it shall not escape into protection,
nor into the earth’s bosom, nor into the mountain wood,
nor to the depths of the sea, try as it might.
This day you shall have patience enough
for each misery, as I have come to expect you to.”

Then the old one leapt up, thanked God,
the mighty Lord, for what the man had said.
Hrothgar had his horse bridled,
the one with the braided hair; the wise king
rode out in fine array. His troop of shield-bearers
marched on. Tracks were widely seen
over the trails through the wood,
leading over earth, going straight
over to the darkened moor,
left by the lifeless body of the dear servant, drug along,
he who had watched over the home of Hrothgar.

The prince’s thanes then rode on
over steep rocky slopes, around narrowly winding paths,
through ways that fit just single file soldiers, up trails unknown,
over precipitous headlands, lined with the homes of water monsters.
Hrothgar went on ahead with a handful of the wise,
to see that strange place; they looked about
until suddenly they found a patch of mountain trees
all growing out over grey stones,
a joy-less forest, waters stood beneath them,
blood-stained and turbid. To all the Danes gathered there,
friends of the Scyldings, the sight caused harsh suffering
at heart, bringing the same heaviness to each of the many thanes,
striking each of them with grief, once they found
the head of Æschere on the cliff by the water’s side.
Amidst the waters blood surged — clear for the men there to see —
hot with gore. At times a thane sounded a horn,
sang an urgent war-song. Those on foot all sat down;
there through the water they saw many of the race of serpents,
strange sea-dragons knew those depths,
likewise, on the headlands lay water monsters,
those that often undertake to hijack ships as they
set out on fateful voyages down the sail-road in the morning,
dragons and beasts. They rushed about the waters,
fierce and enraged; they had heard that sound,
the resounding war-horn. One of the Geats
severed the life of one with an arrow from his bow,
than did it battle against the waves, since that war arrow stuck in
its side; it was then slower against the waters
in that sea, until death took its fight away.
That beast was quickly pulled from the waves,
assaulted with savagely barbed boar spears,
fiercely the thanes attacked it to tug that wondrous
wave-traverser to the shore; the men
all gazed upon that terrible stranger.

Beowulf geared himself
in warrior’s garb, he felt no anxiety for his life then.
His hand woven war-corselet, broad and skilfully decorated,
would soon know those depths,
he was confident in its ability to protect his bone-chamber,
so that no hand-grasp could crush his chest,
that no furious foe’s malicious hand could harm him.
And on his head a shining helmet he wore,
which would soon muddy the mere’s bottom,
would soon enter the surging waters, that treasure-embellished helm,
encircled by a lordly band, made as those in elder days,
wrought by a weapon smith, wondrously formed,
set all around with boar-images, so that the wearer
would not be bitten by blade or battle sword.
Next was an item of no little service,
such was the thing that Hrothgar’s man loaned him,
it was the hilted sword named Hrunting,
an ancient treasure beyond compare.
The sword’s edge was iron, decorated like an arm full of poison,
hardened in the blood of battle. Never in combat had it failed
any of its wielders, whoever fought with it in their grip,
those who dared do perilous deeds,
who entered the battlefield full of foes. Indeed this was not
the first time the sword had been called upon for heroic deeds.
For that son of Ecglaf, strong in might,
no longer thought of what that one had said before,
while drunk on wine, when he loaned that weapon
to the better swordsman; he himself dared not
to venture beneath the turmoil of those waves
and risk his life to do a heroic deed; there he lost
his fame, his reputation for courage. But the other
showed no fear, the one already well-girded for battle.

XXII

Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow:

“Now think upon it, son of Halfdane,
wise ruler, now that I am ready for this journey,
gold-giving friend of men, that which we two had spoken on:
that if I while in your service shall
lose my life, that you would go forth afterwards
always in a father’s place for me.
That you would be a preserver of my retainers,
my companions, if battle shall take me.
As for the treasure that you have given me,
dear Hrothgar, send it to Hygelac.
Thus, may the lord of the Geats gaze upon those riches,
thus the son of Hrethel will see, when he looks upon that treasure,
that I a liberal and great ring giver
had found, and enjoyed his generosity to the full.
And you, Unferth, are to have my own treasure,
my sword so forged its metal shows waves, you the wide-known
man are to have that hard edge. With Hrunting, I shall
wreak vengeance, or death shall take me.”

After those words the Geatish lord
was quickened by courage, no answer
would he wait for, into the sea-wave he
threw himself. It was nearly the length of a full day
before he could see the bottom of that lake.
Soon that one sensed him, she who that underwater expanse
had occupied for a fiercely ravenous fifty years,
grim and greedy, she knew that a man,
an alien being, one from above had come exploring.
With claw outstretched she grasped towards him, wrapped the warrior
in her terrible grip. Yet nowhere on his body
was he at all injured, his mail protected him all around,
she could not pierce through his war coat,
the linked mail shirt was locked against her loathsome fingers.
That she-wolf of the water bore him away, once they came to the bottom,
carried the ring mailed prince to her dwelling,
so that he was unable to wield his weapon,
though he had his fill of courage. A rushing horde of wondrous creatures
pressed upon him in those waters, many a sea-beast
tore with its tusks at his war-shirt,
gave a fierce pursuit. Than that prince perceived
that he was in some hostile hall,
a dry place where water harmed him not at all,
he saw that the roof of the place held back the current,
the sudden pull of the waters:
there a gleaming light shone bright within.
Then he saw that accursed woman of the deep clearly,
the strong sea-woman. A mighty blow he gave
with his battle blade, he held nothing back in his hand-stroke,
so that the ring patterned sword sang out upon her head,
howled its greedy battle dirge. Yet there that surface dweller discovered
that the flashing sword would not bite,
that it would not harm his target’s life: the sword failed
that prince in his time of need. Before it had endured many
hand to hand combats, had often shorn away helmets,
sliced through the fated ones’ war garments. That was the first time
that dear treasure failed to show its true glory.

But Beowulf was yet resolute, not at all did his courage wane,
mindful of the glorious deed at hand was that kin of Hygelac,
that angry warrior threw the sword with curved markings,
inlaid with ornamentation, so that it clattered, useless, on the ground,
hard and steel-edged. He then trusted to his own might,
the strength of his hand-grip. So shall a man do
when he thinks to gain long-lasting fame in the midst
of combat, not at all is he anxious about his own life.
He grabbed her by the shoulder — feeling no sorrow for his violent act —
the man of the warrior Geats pressed against Grendel’s mother,
then flung the fiend from where she stood, enraged
against the deadly foe, so that she fell to the floor.
She was quickly up and payed back that blow
with a fierce grip of her own, followed through with her forward grasp.
Stumbled then the wearied warrior, though the strongest,
a true foot-soldier, so that he fell to the floor.
She sat then on her hall-guest and drew a dagger,
broad of blade, bright of edge. She was ready to avenge her son,
her only offspring. But on Beowulf’s breast lay
the firm mail-coat, the protector of his life,
it prevented the dagger’s point and its edge from piercing.
The son of Ecgtheow would have perished
beneath the wide earth, that Geatish man,
if his war-corselet had not provided its help,
that tough mail-coat. And if holy God
had not controlled the victory in that battle, the wise Lord,
Ruler of Heaven; the Ruler easily decided
the right outcome for the fight, once that man stood up.

Want more Beowulf? Continue the poem here!

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One thought on “The Feud Isn’t Over Yet: Book XX – Book XXII

  1. Pingback: Heorot at Peace, Heorot in Sorrow: Book XVII – Book XIX | A Blogger's Beowulf

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