Beowulf: Chapter 14

A few miles from here
A frost-stiffened wood waits and keeps watch
Above a mere; the overhanging bank
Is a maze of tree roots mirrored in its surface.
At night there, something uncanny happens:
The water burns. And the mere bottom
Has never been sounded by the sons of men.
On its bank, the heather-stepper halts:
The hart in flight from pursuing hounds
Will turn to face them with firm-set horns
And die in the wood rather than dive
Beneath its surface. That is no good place.
When the wind blows up and stormy weather
Makes clouds scud and the skies weep,
Out of its depths a dirty surge
Is pitched towards the heavens. Now help depends
Again on you and you alone.
The gap of danger where the demon waits
Is still unknown to you. Seek it if you dare.
I will compensate you for settling the feud
As I did last time with lavish wealth,
Coffers of coiled gold, if you come back.”
Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:
“Wise sir, do not grieve. It is always better
To avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning.
For every one of us, living in this world
Means waiting for our end. Let whoever can
Win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,
That will be his best and only bulwark.
So arise, my lord, and let us immediately
Set forth on the trail of this troll-dam.
I guarantee you: she will not get away,
Not to dens underground nor upland groves
Nor the ocean floor. She’ll have nowhere to flee to.
Endure your troubles today. Bear up
And be the man I expect you to be.”
With that the old lord sprung to his feet
And praised God for Beowulf’s pledge.
Then a bit and halter were brought for his horse
With the plaited mane. The wise king mounted
The royal saddle and rode out in style
With a force of shield-bearers. The forest paths
Were marked all over with the monster’s tracks,
Her trail on the ground wherever she had gone
Across the dark moors, dragging away
The body of that thane, Hrothgar’s best
Counselor and overseer of the country.
So the noble prince proceeded undismayed
Up fells and screes, along narrow footpaths
And ways where they were forced into single file,
Ledges on cliffs above lairs of water-monsters.
He went in front with a few men,
Good judges of the lie of the land,
And suddenly discovered the dismal wood,
Mountain trees growing out at an angle
Above gray stones: the bloodshot water
Surged underneath. It was a sore blow
To all of the Danes, friends of the Shieldings,
A hurt to each and every one
Of that noble company when they came upon
Aechere’s head at the foot of the cliff.
Everybody gazed as the hot gore
Kept wallowing up and an urgent war-horn
Repeated its notes: the whole party
Sat down to watch. The water was infested
With all kinds of reptiles. There were writhing sea-dragons
And monsters slouching on slopes by the cliff,
Serpents and wild things such as those that often
Surface at dawn to roam the sail-road
And doom the voyage. Down they plunged,
Lashing in anger at the loud call
Of the battle bugle. An arrow from the bow
Of the Geat chief got one of them
As he surged to the surface: the seasoned shaft
Stuck deep in his flank and his freedom in the water
Got less and less. It was his last swim.
He was swiftly overwhelmed in the shallows,
Prodded by barbed boar-spears,
Cornered, beaten, pulled up on the bank,
A strange lake-birth, a loathsome catch
Men gazed at in awe.
Beowulf got ready,
Donned his war-gear, indifferent to death;
His mighty, hand-forged, fine-webbed mail
Would soon meet with the menace under water.
It would keep the bone-cage of his body safe:
No enemy’s clasp could crush him in it,
No vicious arm lock choke his life out.
To guard his head he had a glittering helmet
That was due to be muddied on the mere bottom
And blurred in the up swirl. It was of beaten gold,
Princely headgear hooped and hasped
By a weapon-smith who had worked wonders
In days gone by and adorned it with boar-shapes;
Since then it had resisted every sword.
And another item lent by Unferth
At that moment was of no small importance:
The brehon handed him a hilted weapon,
A rare and ancient sword named Hrunting.
The iron blade with its ill-boding patterns
Had been tempered in blood. It had never failed
The hand of anyone who had hefted it in battle,
Anyone who had fought and faced the worst
In the gap of danger. This was not the first time
It had been called to perform heroic feats.