Long, long ago, there lived in Daneland a king called Hrothgar. The old men of his country loved him and bowed the knee to him gladly, and the young men obeyed him and joyfully did battle for him. For he was a king mighty in war, and valiant. Never foe could stand against him, but he overcame them all, and took from them much spoil.
So this king wrought peace in his land and his riches grew great. In his palace there were heaped gold in rings and in chains, armour finely welded, rich jewels which glowed as soft sunlight.
Then King Hrothgar looked upon this great treasure and brooded thereon. At last he said, "I will build me a great hall. It shall be vast and wide, adorned within and without with gold and ivory, with gems and carved work. The fame of it shall spread over all the earth, and men shall sing of it for all time. And when it is builded, therein shall I call all my warriors, young and old and divide to them the treasure that I have. It shall be a hall of joy and feasting."
Then King Hrothgar called his workmen and gave them commandment to build the hall. So they set to work, and day by day it rose quickly, becoming each day more and more fair, until at length it was finished.
It stood upon a height, vast and stately, and as it was adorned with the horns of deer, King Hrothgar named it Hart Hall.
Then, true to his word and well pleased with the work of his servants, King Hrothgar made a great feast. To it his warriors young and old were called, and he divided his treasure, giving to each rings of gold.
And so in the Hall there was laughter and song and great merriment. Every evening when the shadows fell, and the land grew dark without, the knights and warriors gathered in the Hall to feast. And when the feast was over, and the wine-cup passed around the board, and the great fire roared upon the hearth, and the dancing flames gleamed and flickered, making strange shadows among the gold and carved work of the walls, the minstrel took his harp and sang.
Then from the many-windowed Hall the light glowed cheerfully. Far over the dreary fen and moorland the gleam was shed, and the sound of song and harp awoke the deep silence of the night.
Within the Hall was light and gladness, but without there was wrath and hate. For far on the moor there lived a wicked giant named Grendel. Hating all joy and brightness, he haunted the fastness and the fen, prowling at night to see what evil he might do.
And now when night by night he heard the minstrel's song, and saw the lighted windows gleam through the darkness, it was pain and grief to him.
Very terrible was this ogre Grendel to look upon. Thick black hair hung about his face, and his teeth were long and sharp, like the tusks of an animal. His huge body and great hairy arms had the strength of ten men. He wore no armour, for his skin was tougher than any coat of mail that man or giant might weld. His nails were like steel and sharper than daggers, and by his side there hung a great pouch in which he carried off those whom he was ready to devour.
Terrible was this ogre Grendel to look upon
Now day by day this fearsome giant was tortured more and more, for to him it was a torture to hear the sounds of laughter and of merriment. Day by day the music of harp and song of minstrel made him more and more mad with jealous hate.
At length he could bear it no longer. Therefore one night he set out, and creeping through the darkness came to Hart Hall, where, after the feast and song were done, the warriors slept.
Peacefully they slept with arms and armour thrown aside, having no fear of any foe. And so with ease the fierce and savage giant seized them with his greedy claws. Speedily he slew thirty of the bravest warriors. Then howling with wicked joy he carried them off to his dark dwelling, there to devour them.
Oh, when morning came, great was the moaning in Daneland. When the sun arose and shone upon the desolated Hall, and the war-craft of Grendel was made plain, there was weeping. A cry of woe and wailing crept out over the moorland, and the woesome sound made glad the heart of the Wicked One.
But Hrothgar, the mighty, sat upon his throne downcast and sorrowful. He who was strong in war wept now for the woe of his thanes.
With eyes dimmed and dark, in grief and rage he looked across the wild wide moorland, where the track of the monster was marked with blood, and he longed for a champion.
But who could fight against an Ogre? Before the thought the bravest quailed. Such a fight would be too loathly, too horrible. It was not to be endured.
When night fell the sorrowing warriors laid themselves down to rest with sighs and tears, in the bright hall that once had rung with songs and laughter. But the greedy monster was not yet satisfied, his work was not yet done. Stealthily through the darkening moorland again the Ogre crept until he reached the Hart Hall.
Again he stretched forth his hand, again he seized the bravest of the warriors, slew and carried them off to his drear dwelling.
Then was there wailing and fierce sorrow among the mighty men. Yet was there none so brave that he would face and fight the demon foe. But each man swore that he would not again sleep beneath the roof of Hart Hall. So when evening fell, they departed every man to the dwellings around the palace, and the fair Hall was left desolate.
Thus Grendel, single handed, warred against the Dane folk until the great Hall, the wonder of men, was forsaken and empty.
For twelve long years it stood thus, no man daring, except in the light of day, to enter it. For after the shadows of evening fell, Grendel was master there. And in that stately Hall, when night was darkest, he held his horrid feasts. Only near to the throne, the carved Gift-seat or throne of the Dane folk, where Hrothgar the king used to sit, and from whence he dispensed gifts to his people, there only he dared not go. Something sacred and pure was there, before which the wicked Ogre trembled.
Thus for twelve long years Grendel warred against Hrothgar and the Dane folk. He prowled through the misty moorland, lay in wait in dark places, slaying young and old. Many were the grisly deeds he did, many the foul crimes. And the mighty warriors, strong of heart against a mortal foe, were powerless against him.
Downcast and sorrowful of heart Hrothgar sat among his counsellors. None among them knew how to give him advice or comfort. None knew how to deliver his land from the Evil One.
Then the minstrels made mournful songs, and far and wide they sang of how Grendel ever warred with Hrothgar. They sang of how year by year there was battle and wrath between the noble King and the Ogre of evil fame.