Chapter XXXVI

HIS NAME WAS Wiglaf, Weohstan's son, a beloved warrior and thane of the Scylding lord, a kinsman of Ælfhere. He now saw his king hard-pressed by the heat beneath his helmet. He brought to mind the prizes his lord had given him: a wealthy seat of honor in the Wægmunding homestead and every right in society that his father owned. He did not hesitate, but seized the yellow linden of his shield and drew a sword, known among men as the ancient heirloom of Eanmund, son of Ohtere, who, when an exile killed Weohstan in battle, won for his kin the brightly burnished helm, a coat of ringmail, and an old sword of the giants. Onela yielded these to him as well: the armor of the warrior-thane and the brave gear of battle. Although a brother's son was slain, Onela spoke no word about a feud. Weohstan kept this war-gear many winters, until his son had grown old enough to earn his warrior's rank as his sire had. He then gave to him among the Geats that armor and armament of every sort, after which he went forth—an aged man—and passed from life.

The young liegeman was now bidden to share the shock of battle with his lord and leader. His courage did not melt, and his father's bequest did not grow weak in war. So did the worm find out when the foes met in battle! Wiglaf spoke, and his words were sagacious. Sad in spirit, he said to his companions: “I recall the time when we drank mead in the banquet hall and promised to our prince, our ring-giver, to give him recompense with the war-gear, with tempered swords and helmets, if need of this type would befall him! This is why he chose us from among his army to aid him now; he spurred us on to glory and gave us these treasures because he counted us skilled warriors with the spear and brave beneath our helms. Although our lord hoped to finish this hero's work for us alone and unhelped—this defender of the people who has gained for himself glory greater than any man for his deeds of daring!—now the day is come that our noble liege has need of stout warriors' might. Let us now be bold to help the hero while the flame about him glows grimly! For, with God as my witness, I would far more want the fire to seize these limbs of mine, along with my lord, than to idle! It would be unfitting for us to bear our shields homeward lest we undertake to fell the foe and defend our Geatlord's life. I know that it is not the way of loyalty in the days of old that the king alone among the Geatish warriors should endure and die in the fight! My sword and helm, breastplate and shield, shall serve our lord, though a common death overtake us both.”

Then he strode through the deadly reek to aid his chieftain. He bore his helm of battle, and spoke a few words: “Dearest Beowulf, now make brave that boast of yours in your days of youth, that while your life should last, you would in no way let your glory decline! Now, steadfast prince, great in deeds, shield your life with all your strength! I will stand and help you.”

At these words, the worm came on in fury; the murderous monster came for a second time with flame-billows flashing to seek its foes, those hated men. It burned the shield to the boss, and the breastplate failed to shelter the young spear-thane at all—yet the young warrior went quickly beneath his kinsman's shield, now that his own had been burned by the blaze. The bold king once again thought of glory, and with great might he drove his glaive into the dragon's head; this blow was given force by hate. But Nægling was splintered; Beowulf's blade, though ancient and gray, was broken in battle. It was not granted to him that the edge of iron should ever help him in battle—his hand was too strong, so the tales tell, and he tried to strike too hard with his strength, such that no matter whatsoever the strength of the swords he wielded, he was none the better for it.

Then for the third time the monstrous destroyer, the infuriated dragon of dread fire, rushed at the hero, who had yielded ground. Burning with baleful battle, its bitter teeth enclosed upon his neck, covering him with waves of blood that welled from his breast.