9 of the Most Disturbing Short Stories You'll Ever Have to Read for School
HASTENED the hardy one, henchmen with him,
sandy strand of the sea to tread
and widespread ways. The world’s great candle,
sun shone from south. They strode along
with sturdy steps to the spot they knew
where the battle-king young, his burg within,
slayer of Ongentheow, shared the rings,
shelter-of-heroes. To Hygelac
Beowulf’s coming was quickly told,—
that there in the court the clansmen’s refuge,
the shield-companion sound and alive,
hale from the hero-play homeward strode.
With haste in the hall, by highest order,
room for the rovers was readily made.
By his sovran he sat, come safe from battle,
kinsman by kinsman. His kindly lord
he first had greeted in gracious form,
with manly words. The mead dispensing,
came through the high hall Haereth’s daughter,
winsome to warriors, wine-cup bore
to the hands of the heroes. Hygelac then
his comrade fairly with question plied
in the lofty hall, sore longing to know
what manner of sojourn the Sea-Geats made.
“What came of thy quest, my kinsman Beowulf,
when thy yearnings suddenly swept thee yonder
battle to seek o’er the briny sea,
combat in Heorot? Hrothgar couldst thou
aid at all, the honored chief,
in his wide-known woes? With waves of care
my sad heart seethed; I sore mistrusted
my loved one’s venture: long I begged thee
by no means to seek that slaughtering monster,
but suffer the South-Danes to settle their feud
themselves with Grendel. Now God be thanked
that safe and sound I can see thee now!”
Beowulf spake, the bairn of Ecgtheow:—
“’Tis known and unhidden, Hygelac Lord,
to many men, that meeting of ours,
struggle grim between Grendel and me,
which we fought on the field where full too many
sorrows he wrought for the Scylding-Victors,
evils unending. These all I avenged.
No boast can be from breed of Grendel,
any on earth, for that uproar at dawn,
from the longest-lived of the loathsome race
in fleshly fold!—But first I went
Hrothgar to greet in the hall of gifts,
where Healfdene’s kinsman high-renowned,
soon as my purpose was plain to him,
assigned me a seat by his son and heir.
The liegemen were lusty; my life-days never
such merry men over mead in hall
have I heard under heaven! The high-born queen,
people’s peace-bringer, passed through the hall,
cheered the young clansmen, clasps of gold,
ere she sought her seat, to sundry gave.
Oft to the heroes Hrothgar’s daughter,
to earls in turn, the ale-cup tendered,—
she whom I heard these hall-companions
Freawaru name, when fretted gold
she proffered the warriors. Promised is she,
gold-decked maid, to the glad son of Froda.
Sage this seems to the Scylding’s-friend,
kingdom’s-keeper: he counts it wise
the woman to wed so and ward off feud,
store of slaughter. But seldom ever
when men are slain, does the murder-spear sink
but briefest while, though the bride be fair!
“Nor haply will like it the Heathobard lord,
and as little each of his liegemen all,
when a thane of the Danes, in that doughty throng,
goes with the lady along their hall,
and on him the old-time heirlooms glisten
hard and ring-decked, Heathobard’s treasure,
weapons that once they wielded fair
until they lost at the linden-play
liegeman leal and their lives as well.
Then, over the ale, on this heirloom gazing,
some ash-wielder old who has all in mind
that spear-death of men,—he is stern of mood,
heavy at heart,—in the hero young
tests the temper and tries the soul
and war-hate wakens, with words like these:—
Canst thou not, comrade, ken that sword
which to the fray thy father carried
in his final feud, ’neath the fighting-mask,
dearest of blades, when the Danish slew him
and wielded the war-place on Withergild’s fall,
after havoc of heroes, those hardy Scyldings?
Now, the son of a certain slaughtering Dane,
proud of his treasure, paces this hall,
joys in the killing, and carries the jewel
that rightfully ought to be owned by thee!_
Thus he urges and eggs him all the time
with keenest words, till occasion offers
that Freawaru’s thane, for his father’s deed,
after bite of brand in his blood must slumber,
losing his life; but that liegeman flies
living away, for the land he kens.
And thus be broken on both their sides
oaths of the earls, when Ingeld’s breast
wells with war-hate, and wife-love now
after the care-billows cooler grows.
“So I hold not high the Heathobards’ faith
due to the Danes, or their during love
and pact of peace.—But I pass from that,
turning to Grendel, O giver-of-treasure,
and saying in full how the fight resulted,
hand-fray of heroes. When heaven’s jewel
had fled o’er far fields, that fierce sprite came,
night-foe savage, to seek us out
where safe and sound we sentried the hall.
To Hondscio then was that harassing deadly,
his fall there was fated. He first was slain,
girded warrior. Grendel on him
turned murderous mouth, on our mighty kinsman,
and all of the brave man’s body devoured.
Yet none the earlier, empty-handed,
would the bloody-toothed murderer, mindful of bale,
outward go from the gold-decked hall:
but me he attacked in his terror of might,
with greedy hand grasped me. A glove hung by him
wide and wondrous, wound with bands;
and in artful wise it all was wrought,
by devilish craft, of dragon-skins.
Me therein, an innocent man,
the fiendish foe was fain to thrust
with many another. He might not so,
when I all angrily upright stood.
’Twere long to relate how that land-destroyer
I paid in kind for his cruel deeds;
yet there, my prince, this people of thine
got fame by my fighting. He fled away,
and a little space his life preserved;
but there staid behind him his stronger hand
left in Heorot; heartsick thence
on the floor of the ocean that outcast fell.
Me for this struggle the Scyldings’-friend
paid in plenty with plates of gold,
with many a treasure, when morn had come
and we all at the banquet-board sat down.
Then was song and glee. The gray-haired Scylding,
much tested, told of the times of yore.
Whiles the hero his harp bestirred,
wood-of-delight; now lays he chanted
of sooth and sadness, or said aright
legends of wonder, the wide-hearted king;
or for years of his youth he would yearn at times,
for strength of old struggles, now stricken with age,
hoary hero: his heart surged full
when, wise with winters, he wailed their flight.
Thus in the hall the whole of that day
at ease we feasted, till fell o’er earth
another night. Anon full ready
in greed of vengeance, Grendel’s mother
set forth all doleful. Dead was her son
through war-hate of Weders; now, woman monstrous
with fury fell a foeman she slew,
avenged her offspring. From Aeschere old,
loyal councillor, life was gone;
nor might they e’en, when morning broke,
those Danish people, their death-done comrade
burn with brands, on balefire lay
the man they mourned. Under mountain stream
she had carried the corpse with cruel hands.
For Hrothgar that was the heaviest sorrow
of all that had laden the lord of his folk.
The leader then, by thy life, besought me
(sad was his soul) in the sea-waves’ coil
to play the hero and hazard my being
for glory of prowess: my guerdon he pledged.
I then in the waters—’tis widely known—
that sea-floor-guardian savage found.
Hand-to-hand there a while we struggled;
billows welled blood; in the briny hall
her head I hewed with a hardy blade
from Grendel’s mother,—and gained my life,
though not without danger. My doom was not yet.
Then the haven-of-heroes, Healfdene’s son,
gave me in guerdon great gifts of price.
|Beowulf hurried to the hall. Hygelac soon heard of the return of the hero and ordered that the hall be made ready to welcome him. Hygelac greeted his loyal warrior and the two men sat down together. The king wanted to know all about Beowulf’s adventure. “How did it all turn out, Beowulf? You left here so quickly, hurrying to help destroy the evil that plagued Heorot. Were you successful? Did you help Hrothgar? I was heartsick at your absence. I didn’t want you to go after that slaughtering monster. I wanted you to let the Danes take care of Grendel themselves. Thank God you are safe and back home!” Beowulf replied, “The battle I had with Grendel is now well known among many men. I fought him in the very hall where he had caused so much suffering, and I avenged all those who died. No descendents of Grendel, no matter how long they may live, will brag about what happened there. But the first thing I did was greet Hrothgar and tell him why I had come. He asked me to sit next to his son at the table. The men in the hall were very happy, and I’ve never seen such great drinkers! The queen came into the hall and lifted the spirits of all the men. Freawaru, Hrothgar’s daughter, was there as well, handing around the ale cup. She is supposed to be married to Froda’s son. That union will hopefully help his people, the Heathobards, and the Danes put aside their old feud. But even the most beautiful bride cannot stop the spears if violence arises. Think about it: When the Danes and Heathobards are together at the wedding feast, someone will no doubt remember the old fighting. The Heathobards will see the treasure that the Danes took from them the last time they battled, and one of them-most likely an old man who remembers the past well-will urge them to renew their feud. And then all of their promises of friendship will be worth nothing. I don’t hold much hope for lasting peace between the Heathobards and the Danes. But enough of that. When the sun had set, Grendel came to the hall to attack us. The monster killed Hondscio and ate him. But that was the only man he got, because the next one he tried to attack was me. He carried a strange pouch made of dragon skin, and he tried to stuff me in there. I sprung free before he could get me. It would take a long time to tell you every detail of the fight, but with that battle I earned glory for your people. Grendel ran away, but his arm stayed behind in Heorot, where I tore it off. He died at the bottom of his swamp. The next morning the Scyldings gave me a lot of treasure as a reward for my victory. There was a banquet with a lot of music and good cheer. The king and other old men entertained everyone tales about the ancient days. We feasted that way for the entire day. That night, however, Grendel’s mother came to seek revenge for her son. She killed Aeschere, Hrothgar’s closest advisor, and took him back to her lair. That was the worst blow to Hrothgar, who then asked me to go kill the she-wolf who took his friend. So, as many men already know, I dove into the water where she lived. We fought for a long time down there, and the waves were full of blood. I found a sword in her lair that I used to cut off her head. Hrothgar gave me many gifts for this feat. Hrothgar kept his word and practiced the old customs. He gave me many gifts, all of which I am happy to offer to you, my lord. I have so few kinsman except for you, Hygelac.”|