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’TWAS now, men say, in his sovran’s need
that the earl made known his noble strain,
craft and keenness and courage enduring.
Heedless of harm, though his hand was burned,
hardy-hearted, he helped his kinsman.
A little lower the loathsome beast
he smote with sword; his steel drove in
bright and burnished; that blaze began
to lose and lessen. At last the king
wielded his wits again, war-knife drew,
a biting blade by his breastplate hanging,
and the Weders’-helm smote that worm asunder,
felled the foe, flung forth its life.
So had they killed it, kinsmen both,
athelings twain: thus an earl should be
in danger’s day!—Of deeds of valor
this conqueror’s-hour of the king was last,
of his work in the world. The wound began,
which that dragon-of-earth had erst inflicted,
to swell and smart; and soon he found
in his breast was boiling, baleful and deep,
pain of poison. The prince walked on,
wise in his thought, to the wall of rock;
then sat, and stared at the structure of giants,
where arch of stone and steadfast column
upheld forever that hall in earth.
Yet here must the hand of the henchman peerless
lave with water his winsome lord,
the king and conqueror covered with blood,
with struggle spent, and unspan his helmet.
Beowulf spake in spite of his hurt,
his mortal wound; full well he knew
his portion now was past and gone
of earthly bliss, and all had fled
of his file of days, and death was near:
“I would fain bestow on son of mine
this gear of war, were given me now
that any heir should after me come
of my proper blood. This people I ruled
fifty winters. No folk-king was there,
none at all, of the neighboring clans
who war would wage me with ’warriors’-friends’
and threat me with horrors. At home I bided
what fate might come, and I cared for mine own;
feuds I sought not, nor falsely swore
ever on oath. For all these things,
though fatally wounded, fain am I!
From the Ruler-of-Man no wrath shall seize me,
when life from my frame must flee away,
for killing of kinsmen! Now quickly go
and gaze on that hoard ’neath the hoary rock,
Wiglaf loved, now the worm lies low,
sleeps, heart-sore, of his spoil bereaved.
And fare in haste. I would fain behold
the gorgeous heirlooms, golden store,
have joy in the jewels and gems, lay down
softlier for sight of this splendid hoard
my life and the lordship I long have held.”
It was at this moment that Wiglaf’s bravery revealed itself. Even though his hand was badly burned, he drove his blade into the dragon’s stomach. Its firey breath weakened. Beowulf regained his strength. He pulled his knife out and stabbed at the dragon’s side. The blow was fatal. Together, the two brave men had killed the beast. This was the last act of glory the king would ever perform. The dragon’s poison ran through his blood. He walked out of the lair and sat at the edge of the cliff. Beowulf looked up at the cliff face. The giant stones had held up the earth for ages. Wiglaf approached and washed his king’s wound. Beowulf knew that his life was ending. Despite his wound, he spoke to the loyal Wiglaf. “I would have liked to have given my armor to my son, if only fate had given me one. I have ruled the Geats for fifty years. No other king would dare challenge me. I focused on our own affairs and did not seek out wars or troubles, and I never broke a promise. Even though I am dying, the thought of all of this is a comfort. I never killed my kinsmen and have nothing to fear from the Ruler of Mankind. Go and look at the treasure while the dragon is dying, dear Wiglaf. I want to see those beautiful jewels before I die. It will make my death easier to see that treasure and think of my long rule.”

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