Chapter XX

HROTHGAR, CROWN OF the Scyldings, spoke: “Ask not of pleasure! Grief is renewed for the Danish folk. Æschere, elder brother of Yrmenlaf, is dead; he was my scribe and counselor, my comrade in the heat of battle when warriors clashed, and we defended our heads as the boar-helms were hewn; each prince should be as a famed hero as Æschere was! But here in Heorot he has met his death at the hand of a ravaging spirit. I know not which return path she took, exulting in her prey on her gruesome trail. She renewed her feud, as yesternight you smothered Grendel in a grip most severe because he ruined and ravaged my liegemen for too long. His life seized, he fell in battle; now another one, cunning and cruel, has come to avenge her kin and further aggravate this blood feud. So it appears to many thanes, sorrowful in heart for their ring-giver. The hand that once fulfilled their desires is now stilled in death.

“I have heard from landowners and liegemen of mine who dwell nearby that a pair such as these has betimes been seen stalking the marches; those mighty wandering spirits haunt the moors. So far as my folk could determine, one seemed a female hag, and the other miscreant walked wretched paths of exile in a man's form, though larger than a human. The landfolk named him Grendel in days of long ago; they know not of his father, nor of the lineage of these treacherous goblins. Their home is not trodden by man; they inhabit wolf-crags, windy headlands, and dread fens where the mountain streams fall amid rocks to the gloom of an underground flood. It is not far from here as miles are measured, and there the mere stands with a frost-bound forest of sturdy roots overshadowing the water. By night, a strange wonder can be seen: fire upon those waters; no one living among the sons of men is wise enough to know the mere's depth! The stag who roves the heaths, the hart with strong horns that runs through the woods, may be driven far and pursued by hounds, but he would sooner give up life and breath on the water's edge than dare to plunge his head in. That is no happy place! From thence surge up the waves, misty unto the clouds, and the wind stirs foul weather, the air becomes thick, and the skies weep. Now our help once more rests with you alone! You do not yet know that place of fear where you'll find that guilt-ridden being. Seek it if you dare! I will reward you for waging this fight as I did before, with ancient treasure and braided gold, should you return.”