Chapter XIII

THEN, AS MEN tell me the story, many warriors gathered in the morning around the gift-hall, leaders from far and near came by the wide roads to view the wonder, those traces of the hated one. The end of his life was no grief to any man who surveyed the tracks of the downed foe, how he, weary-hearted and bested in battle, doomed to death and a fugitive, fled in fear to the devil's mere. The surface there surged with blood, and the turbid tide of tumbling waves seethed with reeking gore spilled by the sword—he, doomed to death, had dyed it, and, forlorn, had yielded up his life in a boggy den; hell received his heathen soul there.

Then gray-haired clansmen, many youths, and stalwart warriors rode back in high spirits on horses from the mere, and Beowulf's victory was recounted. Many a man said that among all the seas of the world, south or north, that none of the other shield-bearing warriors under the expanse of heaven's vault were more valiant or more worthy to rule! They did not at all, however, disparage their gracious lord Hrothgar—he was a good king!

Now and then, the experienced warriors set their gray steeds to gallop, running a race when the roadways seemed fair or were well-known. Otherwise, a thane of the king who had told many tales and whose mind was full of sagas and songs of the old world began anon to bind words together in a well-knit rhyme, forging his tale; and this thane soon sang quite cleverly of Beowulf's quest. He detailed at length the war-like deeds heard in Sigemund's saga. Therein were many strange things, and he said them all: the Waelsing's wide wanderings, his battles which were never told to the tribes of men, the feuds and atrocities he faced with none but Fitela by his side, and how he never spoke as uncle to nephew of these things as they stood by one another in every conflict. They laid low many of the monster's spawn with their swords.

After Sigemund's death-day, no little fame arose for him, mighty in battle, who had vanquished a dragon that kept the treasure; he, the prince, was under the ancient rock when he ventured this perilous deed alone—Fitela was not with him. Nevertheless, it so happened that his sword pierced through that wondrous worm 'till the mighty blade struck the wall, and the dragon died in its blood. Thus had the fearsome warrior achieved by daring the mastery of the jewel-hoard, and the son of Waels loaded the boat, putting the shining gold on the ship's bosom; the worm was consumed by heat. Of all heroes, he had the highest renown among the races of men, and was the shelter-of-warriors because of the daring deeds that adorned his name after the hand and heart of King Heremod grew weak in battle. He was promptly banished and lured into ambush by his powerful foes; he was betrayed to death. Floods of sorrow had weakened him for too long, and he proved a worry to all his liegemen. Moreover, in his earlier days, many wise clansmen mourned the wayfaring life of this warrior, hoping to have help from grief and harm through him, thinking that the sovereign's son would wax powerful and take his father's place in protecting his people, the treasure, the stronghold, and the heroes' land, the Scyldings' home. Hygelac's kinsman here seemed more acceptable to all the people—this other, Heremond, was seized with villainy!

At times, they raced with their swift steeds on the fallow roads. The morning sun climbed higher. Many clansmen hastened to the high-vaulted hall, eager to witness the wonder. The king himself, guardian of the treasure, came with regal bearing from his bower with his retainers; his queen and her crowd of ladies walked the path to the fair mead-hall.