Beowulf for beginners

The Fight at the Mere

wthe fight at the Mere ithout waiting for an answer Beowulf dived and the waves closed over him. For almost a day he swam down and did not see the bottom.

But she, who has guarded that watery place for a hundred years, she knows that someone from above is exploring her home. She darts upwards, feels for the man in the murky water and fixes her hooked claws into his armour, dragging him down. Sea-snakes and water-monsters swarm about him, wrapping themselves round him and ripping at his armour with their tusks and teeth. His arms are pinned to his sides and he cannot draw his sword.

She has dragged him to her lair. Beowulf finds himself in a large cave, an enemy hall, lit by a strange fiery glow. The water-monsters are gone, no water weighs on him now. He sees the size of the she-monster, Grendel's mother, as she turns to throw herself on him.

He strikes at her with his sword, a mighty blow to the side of her head - but the blade does not bite. For the first time Hrunting, that famous weapon, fails in battle. Beowulf flings it to the floor and grabs Grendel's mother by the shoulders, meaning to trust to his own strength. He is bursting with anger and does not think of his own life. He throws her down but she trips him and he stumbles. She is down on his back and has drawn her knife with its bright blade. His mailshirt saves him then, its rings linked together so closely and cleverly the knife-point can find no way in.

Grendel's mother  At that moment Beowulf sees the one thing that can save him and bring him success, a sword form the olden days of the Giants lying among some armour not far away. His hand reaches for it. It is larger than any human weapon - no other man could lift it in battle. His hand closes around the hilt of the sword, which is decorated with strange shapes and patterns.

With all his strength Beowulf swings the sword at his enemy, slicing straight through her skin and the bones of her neck. She falls to the floor. He is glad he has done it.

There comes a light through the cave like the sun, the sky's candle, rising in the morning. Beowulf rushes to the back of the cave and finds Grendel lying lifeless there. With the Giant sword he hacks off his head. The blood of those two monsters is so poisonous and hot that the metal of the sword-blade melts like an icicle, dripping away, until only the hilt remains in Beowulf's hand.

Soon those watching from the cliffs around the lake saw the water churning and coloured with blood. Grey-haired men began to shake their heads. There was no hope now, they said, of Beowulf's safe return. They felt certain the she-monster had destroyed him.

The ninth hour of the day came and the Danes left the lakeside. Kind Hrothgar, the gold-giver and friend of the people, turned towards home. Only the Geatish warriors stayed, staring at the surface of the pool, feeling sick with sorrow. They hope for Beowulf's return, but they are sure they will not see him again.

Grundel's head on a spikeBeowulf takes no treasure from the monster's cave, only the decorated sword-hilt of the giant sword and the head of Grendel. He sets out swimming upwards, pushing on through the clear water. There are no sea-monsters now to slow him down.

The Geats still sit by the mere, hardly speaking. One man sees something move beneath the water. He leaps up. It's coming nearer - a grey thing - a helmet - bursting out of the water, and Beowulf's face beneath it. They see their leader shaking the water out of his eyes, swimming to the shore.

Full of joy they run to meet him and take off his armour. Then they go stepping gaily back to Heorot. It is not at all easy even for four of them to carry Grendel's head on a spear. With Beowulf among them the Geats march boldly back to the hall.

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