Gateway to the Classics: Stories of Beowulf Told to the Children by H. E. Marshall
Stories of Beowulf Told to the Children by  H. E. Marshall

How Beowulf Overcame the Water Witch

Down and down and down Beowulf dived. It seemed to him that he dived for a whole day's space ere he reached the bottom of that dark lake.

But as soon as he touched the water, the grim and greedy Water Witch knew by the movement of the waves that a mortal man was coming. So she made ready to seize the daring one in her horrid clutches.

No sooner then did Beowulf near the bottom than he was grasped by long and skinny fingers. The fingers crushed him, and tore at him, but so strong and trusty was his coat of mail that the Water Witch could in no wise hurt him.

Then seeing that she could not so easily as she had hoped harm him, she dragged him into her dwelling. And so fast was Beowulf in her clutches that he could not unsheath his sword.

As the Water Witch dragged Beowulf along, wondrous sea-brutes followed them. Beasts they were with terrible tusks, shining scales and sharp fins. With these they attacked the hero so fiercely that his armour was rent, yet was he unwounded.

At last the Water Witch reached a great cave. Here there was no water, and a fire burned with a strange weird flame, lighting up the vast dim place.

Then by the pale light of the goblin fire Beowulf saw that it was no other than Grendel's mother, the Water Witch, who held him. And he knew that the time for battle had come.

With a mighty effort he wrenched himself free. Then drawing the sword Hrunting which Hunferth had given him, he dealt with it many great blows. But all his strength was vain. Hrunting, so famous in many battles, was useless against the Water Witch. No harm could the warrior do to her.

Then in wrath Beowulf threw the shining blade upon the ground. He would trust no more in weapons but with his hands alone would he fight.

Seizing the Water Witch by the shoulders, he dragged her downwards. But she grappled with him fiercely. Then was there a fearful fight in that dim hall, deep under the water, far from all hope of help.

Back and forth the two swayed, the strong warrior in armour and the direful Water Witch. So strong was she that at last she bore him to the ground and kneeled upon his breast. She drew her dagger. Now she would avenge her son, her only son.


She bore him to the ground and kneeled upon his breast

The dagger shone and fell again and yet again. And then truly Beowulf's last hour had come had his armour not been of such trusty steel. But through it neither point nor edge of dagger might pierce. The blows of the Water Witch were all in vain, and again Beowulf sprang to his feet.

And now among the many weapons with which the walls were hung, Beowulf saw a huge sword. It seemed the work of giants. Its edge was keen and bright, the hilt of glittering gold.

Quickly Beowulf grasped the mighty weapon. And now fighting for his very life he swung it fiercely, and smote with fury.

Down upon the floor sank the Water Witch, and from the red-dyed blade a sudden flame shone out, and all the cave was lighted up.

Curiously Beowulf gazed around him. Dead at his feet lay the Water Witch, and hard by on a couch lay the body of Grendel.

Then Beowulf was minded to bear away with him some prize. So once more swinging the great sword, he smote off the Ogre's head.

Meanwhile far up above beyond the water-waves Hrothgar and his men and all Beowulf's comrades sat waiting and watching. And now as Beowulf smote off Grendel's head they saw the waves all dyed with blood.

Then the old men shook their heads and spoke together. They talked sadly of the brave champion who had gone alone beneath that awful water. For now that they saw the waves red-dyed they had no longer hope that he would ever return. Nay, these red and turgid waters seemed to prove to them that the Water Witch had overcome Beowulf and torn him in pieces.

So as the hours passed, and Beowulf came no more, Hrothgar arose, and he and all his warriors sadly wended their way homeward. Nevermore did they hope to see the hero.

But Beowulf's comrades would not go. Sad at heart they sat by the lake's edge gazing into the water, wishing, but hardly hoping, that they might see their dear lord again.

And now far beneath the dark waves a strange thing happened. As Beowulf struck off the head of Grendel, the great sword began to melt away. More quickly than ice when the thaw is come melted the shining steel, until there was nothing left but the golden hilt which Beowulf held in his hand. Such was the poison of the Ogre's blood.

Beowulf gazed in wonder at the miracle. Then he made haste to be gone. All around him lay great treasure. Gold and gems gleamed in the pale firelight. Yet of it all Beowulf took nothing save the hilt of the sword wherewith he had slain the Water Witch.

Hunferth's sword, Hrunting, he once more hung at his side, then, with the grisly head of Grendel in his hand, he dived up through the waves. And as he swam through it, all the water was made pure and clear again, for the power of the grim Ogre was over for ever.

Long time Beowulf swam upwards, but at last he reached the surface and sprang to land. Then round him, greatly rejoicing, crowded his thanes. Quickly they loosed his helmet and coat of mail, and joyed to find that he had suffered no hurt.


They carried with them the hideous head of Grendel

Then right merrily they turned back to Hart Hall. With them they carried the hideous head of Grendel, which was so huge and heavy that it had need of four of them to bear it. Yet gladly they bore it, rejoicing as they went at the return of their master.

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