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 the Water Witch Warred with the Dane Folk

And now while the people came and went, marvelling and praising the skill of him who had overcome the Goblin, men and women hurried hither and thither making gay the Hall.

The carving and gem work was much broken and destroyed by the fearful combat which had taken place within. The roof alone was quite unhurt. But beautiful tapestries gleaming with gold and colours were hung upon the walls, silken banners and embroideries were spread upon the benches, until the whole Hall glowed in splendour.

Then came the king with all his knights and nobles to the great feast which was prepared. Never was there more splendid banquet. Hart Hall from end to end was filled with friends, and laughter, and rejoicing sounded through it.

Then when the feasting was over Hrothgar gave to Beowulf rich presents. A splendid banner he gave him richly sewed with gold, a helmet and coat of mail, a sword the hilt of which was all of twisted gold.

Eight splendid horses, too, were led into the court about the Hall. Their harness was all of gold, and upon one was a saddle gaily decorated and finely adorned with silver. It was the saddle upon which Hrothgar himself rode when he went forth to battle.

All these the king gave to Beowulf, and much wealth besides.

And to his companions also, to the mighty heroes who were with their master, great treasure was given of swords and gold. Also for the man whom Grendel had slain Hrothgar ordered that much gold should be paid.

Then when the present-giving was over, the minstrel took his harp and sang. He sang of love and battle, and of the mighty deeds of heroes.

The singing ceased, and the noise of laughter and merriment burst forth once more. Around the board the cup-bearers carried the wine in vessels wondrously wrought.

Then came Queen Wealtheow forth once more, clad in splendid robes, wearing a golden crown upon her head, bearing in her hand a golden cup.

To the king she went where he sat with his sons and Beowulf beside him.

"Accept this cup, my beloved Lord," she said, "and be thou happy. Far and near now hast thou peace. Hart Hall is cleansed of the Evil One."

Then to Beowulf she turned bearing the cup to him with friendly words. At his feet she laid a rich dress with bracelets and a collar of fine gold.

"Take this collar, dear Beowulf," she said, "and this mantle. Long mayest thou wear them and enjoy life. A deed hast thou done this night that shall be remembered for all time. Far as the seas circle the land shall it be told of thee. Take thou my thanks, and be thou a friend to my sons."

Then the queen went again to her place and sat beside the king.

Once more there was song and laughter throughout the Hall until the shadows of evening fell. Then the king and Beowulf arose, and went forth to rest, each to his own chamber. But the Dane lords, as they had done so often before in days gone by, spread their beds and pillows upon the floor of the great Hall. For now that the Ogre was dead they had no more fear.

At the head of his bed each man placed his shield. Upon the bench near him stood his helmet, his sword and spear and coat of mail. Then each man lay down to rest secure and happy. For was not the terrible giant slain? No more was there need to watch and fear.

So silence and darkness fell upon the Hall, and all men sank to sleep.

But out on the wide moorland, far away in the Water Dragon's lake, there was one who waked and mourned. Over the dead body of her son Grendel's mother wept, desiring revenge.

Very terrible was this Water Witch to look upon. Almost as fearful as her wicked son she was. And as the darkness fell upon the land she crept forth across the moorland to Hart Hall.

On and on she crept until she reached the door. Then in she rushed among the sleeping warriors, eager for slaughter. The fear and confusion were great. A wild cry rang through the Hall, and each man sprang to his feet seizing his sword and shield.

Then the Water Witch, finding herself discovered, made haste to be gone. No mind had she to face these swords and spears. But ere she went she stretched forth her hand and seized a warrior, and tightly holding him, she carried him off to the moor. And though her haste to be gone was great she found yet time to seize the hand of Grendel and take it with her to her dark dwelling.

Great was the sound of woe throughout the Hall. For the warrior whom the Water Witch had carried off was a dear comrade of the king. He was the best beloved of all Hrothgar's thanes.

Now when messengers came running in all haste to the old king with the direful news, he was filled with grief and anger. His joy at the death of Grendel was all dashed with grief for the loss of his friend.

"Oh that Beowulf had been there," he moaned.

Then all men's thoughts turned to Beowulf. Quickly they ran to fetch him, and he, waked thus suddenly out of his sleep, came with his comrades wonderingly to the king where he awaited them.

The sun had not yet risen, and all the Hall was dim in grey shadow, as Beowulf and his men marched through it, breaking the stillness with the clang of their weapons and armour.

"My lord king," said Beowulf, as he reached the Gift-seat, "hath the night not passed fair and pleasantly with thee? Is some evil chance befallen that thy messengers seek me thus early?"

Hrothgar leaned his head upon his hand and sighed.

"Ask not thou of happiness," he moaned. "Sorrow is renewed to the Dane folk. My dearest comrade is dead, my friend and counsellor. Thou didst slay Grendel yesternight, but one hath come to avenge him, even his mother. She it is who hath carried off my dear warrior to slay and devour him in her dwelling.

"Scarce a mile hence lieth that grim lake. Dank trees overshadow it and no man knoweth its depth, for all shun the gloomy place. Yet if thou durst, seek it out. Rid me of this Water Witch, avenge there the death of my comrade, and with treasure and twisted gold will I reward thee," and overcome with grief Hrothgar ceased from speaking.

"Sorrow not, O king," replied Beowulf. "It is ever better to avenge than to grieve for one's friend. To each of us must death come, and well for him then who hath done justice while he yet lived. Arise, O king, let us see quickly the track of Grendel's kin. I promise thee she shall not escape. Do thou but have patience this day, that only do I ask of thee."

Then up sprang the aged king. "May the gods be praised," he cried, "who have sent me such a man."

Quickly he gave orders that horses should be brought, and mounting, he rode forth with Beowulf. After them came a great train of warriors as across the moor they went, following the track of the Water Witch to her home.

By rocky gorges and lonely ways over the murky moor they went, following always the gory track of the foe. At length they came to the place where gloomy trees hung over red and troubled waters. Upon the bank lay the head of that Dane warrior, Hrothgar's dear friend, and at the sight of it the knights were again filled with woe.

Upon the dark water there swam strange Sea Dragons, many kinds of snakes and savage worms. But when they saw the company of Danes upon the bank, and heard the blast of the war-horn, they fled swimming away, diving into the depths.

Yet ere they vanished Beowulf drew his bow and shot one of them. Then quickly with boar-spears and hooks the warriors drew him to land, and as he lay there dead they gazed in wonder upon the grisly monster.

And now once more did Beowulf prepare himself for battle. He wore his trusty coat of steel, and upon his head was a wondrously wrought helmet, through which no sword might bite.

Then as Beowulf made ready, Hunferth came to him. In his hand he bare an ancient and famous sword named Hrunting. The edge of it was stained with poisonous twigs and hardened in gore. Never had it failed a man, who carrying it went forth to ways of terror and war. Many valiant deeds had it wrought.

And now Hunferth, remembering how he had taunted Beowulf, and in sorrow at the memory, brought the famous sword to the Goth hero.

Hunferth himself durst not venture his life amid the waves to do the deed, and thus fame was lost to him. But he was now eager to aid Beowulf. And the Goth, who thought no longer of Hunferth's taunting words, received the sword right gladly.

Then Beowulf turned to King Hrothgar. "I am ready, O prince," he said, "for my journey. Let me but first call to thy mind what we have already spoken. If I for thy need lose my life, be thou a friend to my fellow-thanes. And do thou also send the treasure which thou hast given unto me to my king, Hygelac. Then by that gold may he know that I did fight manfully, and found in thee a noble rewarder.

"But to Hunferth I pray thee to give the curious war-sword which is among thy gifts, for he is a right noble warrior. With his Hrunting I will work renown, or death shall take me."

Then, waiting for no answer, Beowulf plunged into the dark lake and was lost to sight.

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