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UNFERTH spake, the son of Ecglaf,
who sat at the feet of the Scyldings’ lord,
unbound the battle-runes.—Beowulf’s quest,
sturdy seafarer’s, sorely galled him;
ever he envied that other men
should more achieve in middle-earth
of fame under heaven than he himself.—
“Art thou that Beowulf, Breca’s rival,
who emulous swam on the open sea,
when for pride the pair of you proved the floods,
and wantonly dared in waters deep
to risk your lives? No living man,
or lief or loath, from your labor dire
could you dissuade, from swimming the main.
Ocean-tides with your arms ye covered,
with strenuous hands the sea-streets measured,
swam o’er the waters. Winter’s storm
rolled the rough waves. In realm of sea
a sennight strove ye. In swimming he topped thee,
had more of main! Him at morning-tide
billows bore to the Battling Reamas,
whence he hied to his home so dear
beloved of his liegemen, to land of Brondings,
fastness fair, where his folk he ruled,
town and treasure. In triumph o’er thee
Beanstan’s bairn his boast achieved.
So ween I for thee a worse adventure
—though in buffet of battle thou brave hast been,
in struggle grim,—if Grendel’s approach
thou darst await through the watch of night!”
Sitting near the king’s feet was a man named Unferth. He was jealous of Beowulf and his bravery. He wanted to be the one who earned the fame and glory of victory. So he said, “Are you the same Beowulf whose vanity led him to battle Breca in the open sea just to show you could win? No one could stop you from swimming out after him. There was a terrible storm and you fought for seven nights, but in the end he came ashore the victor. He went back to his people confident in his superiority. You may be brave, but it won’t matter now-no one has lasted even one night against Grendel.”
Beowulf spake, bairn of Ecgtheow:—
“What a deal hast uttered, dear my Unferth,
drunken with beer, of Breca now,
told of his triumph! Truth I claim it,
that I had more of might in the sea
than any man else, more ocean-endurance.
We twain had talked, in time of youth,
and made our boast,—we were merely boys,
striplings still,—to stake our lives
far at sea: and so we performed it.
Naked swords, as we swam along,
we held in hand, with hope to guard us
against the whales. Not a whit from me
could he float afar o’er the flood of waves,
haste o’er the billows; nor him I abandoned.
Together we twain on the tides abode
five nights full till the flood divided us,
churning waves and chillest weather,
darkling night, and the northern wind
ruthless rushed on us: rough was the surge.
Now the wrath of the sea-fish rose apace;
yet me ’gainst the monsters my mailed coat,
hard and hand-linked, help afforded,—
battle-sark braided my breast to ward,
garnished with gold. There grasped me firm
and haled me to bottom the hated foe,
with grimmest gripe. ’Twas granted me, though,
to pierce the monster with point of sword,
with blade of battle: huge beast of the sea
was whelmed by the hurly through hand of mine.
Beowulf replied, “That’s quite a tale you’ve told about me and Breca. I think the beer must be going to your head. If you want to know the truth, I was the stronger swimmer. Breca and I had talked about having a swimming contest like that since we were young children. We swam holding swords to protect ourselves from the sea-beasts. Neither of us could gain the lead. We swam next to each other for five nights until a rough sea split us apart. The storm awakened the creatures of the deep. A sea monster pulled me down to the bottom, but my armor protected me. I was able to stab the beast with my sword and break free. The monsters kept attacking me. I drove them off again and again with my sword. I would not let them turn me into a feast at the bottom of the sea. I made sure that by morning they were washing up on the shore. I made that stretch of the ocean safe for sailors.