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A PERILOUS path, it proved, he trod
who heinously hid, that hall within,
wealth under wall! Its watcher had killed
one of a few, and the feud was avenged
in woful fashion. Wondrous seems it,
what manner a man of might and valor
oft ends his life, when the earl no longer
in mead-hall may live with loving friends.
So Beowulf, when that barrow’s warden
he sought, and the struggle; himself knew not
in what wise he should wend from the world at last.
For princes potent, who placed the gold,
with a curse to doomsday covered it deep,
so that marked with sin the man should be,
hedged with horrors, in hell-bonds fast,
racked with plagues, who should rob their hoard.
Yet no greed for gold, but the grace of heaven,
ever the king had kept in view.
Wiglaf spake, the son of Weohstan:—
“At the mandate of one, oft warriors many
sorrow must suffer; and so must we.
The people’s-shepherd showed not aught
of care for our counsel, king beloved!
That guardian of gold he should grapple not, urged we,
but let him lie where he long had been
in his earth-hall waiting the end of the world,
the hest of heaven.—This hoard is ours
but grievously gotten; too grim the fate
which thither carried our king and lord.
I was within there, and all I viewed,
the chambered treasure, when chance allowed me
(and my path was made in no pleasant wise)
under the earth-wall. Eager, I seized
such heap from the hoard as hands could bear
and hurriedly carried it hither back
to my liege and lord. Alive was he still,
still wielding his wits. The wise old man
spake much in his sorrow, and sent you greetings
and bade that ye build, when he breathed no more,
on the place of his balefire a barrow high,
memorial mighty. Of men was he
worthiest warrior wide earth o’er
the while he had joy of his jewels and burg.
Let us set out in haste now, the second time
to see and search this store of treasure,
these wall-hid wonders,—the way I show you,—
where, gathered near, ye may gaze your fill
at broad-gold and rings. Let the bier, soon made,
be all in order when out we come,
our king and captain to carry thither
—man beloved—where long he shall bide
safe in the shelter of sovran God.”
Then the bairn of Weohstan bade command,
hardy chief, to heroes many
that owned their homesteads, hither to bring
firewood from far—o’er the folk they ruled—
for the famed-one’s funeral. “ Fire shall devour
and wan flames feed on the fearless warrior
who oft stood stout in the iron-shower,
when, sped from the string, a storm of arrows
shot o’er the shield-wall: the shaft held firm,
featly feathered, followed the barb.”
And now the sage young son of Weohstan
seven chose of the chieftain’s thanes,
the best he found that band within,
and went with these warriors, one of eight,
under hostile roof. In hand one bore
a lighted torch and led the way.
No lots they cast for keeping the hoard
when once the warriors saw it in hall,
altogether without a guardian,
lying there lost. And little they mourned
when they had hastily haled it out,
dear-bought treasure! The dragon they cast,
the worm, o’er the wall for the wave to take,
and surges swallowed that shepherd of gems.
Then the woven gold on a wain was laden—
countless quite!—and the king was borne,
hoary hero, to Hrones-Ness.
The man who hid his treasure there made a bad decision. The dragon killed him, and it took many deaths before the feud was settled. Even the mightiest man does not know how his life will end. That was the case for Beowulf. He did not know whether his battle with the dragon would be his last. The treasure had been cursed so that those who tried to steal it would suffer, but Beowulf did not look at it with greedy eyes. He wanted it only for his people. Wiglaf spoke: “One man’s decisions can bring suffering to many. That has happened to us here. Our king did not take our advice not to fight the dragon alone. He died for it and earned this treasure, but we cannot enjoy it because of the sad way it came to us. I went into the den and brought back all the treasure I could carry to Beowulf. He was still alive then. He asked that you build a memorial mound for him. He deserves such a mound because he was the mightiest warrior of all. I will take you into the lair so that you can see this amazing treasure. And let’s build the pyre so that we can send our beloved king to God.” Wiglaf ordered that wood be brought from the nearby homes in preparation for Beowulf’s funeral. “Fire will carry away our brave lord, who stood his ground amidst the flying arrows until one finally hit home.” He took the seven best men that were left and went into the dragon’s den. He carried a torch to light their way. The men did not fight about who got to take the treasure, as there was so much of it lying there unguarded. They carried it out easily. The men pushed the dragon’s body off the cliff and into the sea, where it sank in the waves. Then they carried the treasure and their king to Hrones-Ness.