Thus Beowulf bore himself with valour; he was formidable in battle yet behaved with honour and took no advantage; never cut down a comrade who was drunk, kept his temper and, warrior that he was, watched and controlled his God-sent strength and his outstanding natural powers. He had been poorly regarded for a long time, was taken by the Geats for less than he was worth: and their lord too had never much esteemed him in the mead-hall. They firmly believed that he lacked force, that the prince was a weakling; but presently every affront to his deserving was reversed. The battle-famed king, bulwark of his earls, ordered a gold-chased heirloom of Hrethel's to be brought in; it was the best example of a gem-studded sword in the Geat treasury. This he laid on Beowulf's lap and then rewarded him with land as well, seven thousand hides, and a hall and a throne. Both owned land by birth in that country, ancestral grounds; but the greater right and sway were inherited by the higher born. A lot was to happen in later days in the fury of battle. Hygelac fell and the shelter of Heardred's shield proved useless against the fierce aggression of the Shylfings: ruthless swordsmen, seasoned campaigners, they came against him and his conquering nation, and with cruel force cut him down so that afterwards the wide kingdom reverted to Beowulf. He ruled it well for fifty winters, grew old and wise as warden of the land until one began to dominate the dark, a dragon on the prowl from the steep vaults of a stone-roofed barrow where he guarded a hoard; there was a hidden passage, unknown to men, but someone managed to enter by it and interfere with the heathen trove. He had handled and removed a gem-studded goblet; it gained him nothing, though with a thief's wiles he had outwitted the sleeping dragon; that drove him into rage, as the people of that country would soon discover. The intruder who broached the dragon's treasure and moved him to wrath had never meant to. It was desperation on the part of a slave fleeing the heavy hand of some master, guilt-ridden and on the run, going to ground. But he soon began to shake with terror;.............in shock the wretch........................................................................... panicked and ran away with the precious....................... metalwork. There were many other heirlooms heaped inside the earth-house, A newly constructed barrow stood waiting, on a wide headland close to the waves, its entryway secured. Into it the keeper of the hoard had carried all the goods and golden ware worth preserving. His words were few: “Now, earth, hold what earls once held and heroes can no more; it was mined from you first by honourable men. My own people have been ruined in war; one by one they went down to death, looked their last on sweet life in the hall. I am left with nobody to bear a sword or burnish plated goblets, put a sheen on the cup. The companies have departed.
The hard helmet, hasped with gold, will be stripped of its hoops; and the helmet-shiner who should polish the metal of the war-mask sleeps; the coat of mail that came through all fights, through shield-collapse and cut of sword, decays with the warrior. Nor may webbed mail range far and wide on the warlord's back beside his mustered troops. No trembling harp, no tuned timber, no tumbling hawk swerving through the hall, no swift horse pawing the courtyard. Pillage and slaughter have emptied the earth of entire peoples.” And so he mourned as he moved about the world, deserted and alone, lamenting his unhappiness day and night, until death's flood brimmed up in his heart. Then an old harrower of the dark happened to find the hoard open, the burning one who hunts out barrows, the slick-skinned dragon, threatening the night sky with streamers of fire. People on the farms are in dread of him. He is driven to hunt out hoards under ground, to guard heathen gold through age-long vigils, though to little avail. For three centuries, this scourge of the people underground treasury, until the intruder unleashed its fury; he hurried to his lord with the gold-plated cup and made his plea to be reinstated. Then the vault was rifled, the ring-hoard robbed, and the wretched man had his request granted. His master gazed on that find from the past for the first time. When the dragon awoke, trouble flared again.
He rippled down the rock, writhing with anger when he saw the footprints of the prowler who had stolen too close to his dreaming head. So may a man not marked by fate easily escape exile and woe by the grace of God. The hoard-guardian scorched the ground as he scoured and hunted for the trespasser who had troubled his sleep. Hot and savage, he kept circling and circling the outside of the mound. No man appeared in that desert waste, but he worked himself up by imagining battle; then back in he'd go in search of the cup, only to discover signs that someone had stumbled upon the golden treasures. So the guardian of the mound, the hoard-watcher, waited for the gloaming with fierce impatience; his pent-up fury at the loss of the vessel made him long to hit back and lash out in flames. Then, to his delight, the day waned and he could wait no longer behind the wall, but hurtled forth in a fiery blaze. The first to suffer were the people on the land, but before long it was their treasure-giver who would come to grief. The dragon began to belch out flames and burn bright homesteads; there was a hot glow that scared everyone, for the vile sky-winger would leave nothing alive in his wake. Everywhere the havoc he wrought was in evidence.
Far and near, the Geat nation bore the brunt of his brutal assaults and virulent hate. Then back to the hoard he would dart before daybreak, to hide in his den. He had swinged the land, swathed it in flame, in fire and burning, and now he felt secure in the vaults of his barrow; but his trust was unavailing. Then Beowulf was given bad news, a hard truth: his own home, the best of buildings, had been burnt to a cinder, the throne-room of the Geats. It threw the hero into deep anguish and darkened his mood: the wise man thought he must have thwarted ancient ordinance of the eternal Lord, broken His commandment. His mind was in turmoil, unaccustomed anxiety and gloom confused his brain; the fire-dragon had rased the coastal region and reduced forts and earthworks to dust and ashes, so the war-king planned and plotted his revenge. The warriors' protector, prince of the hall-troop, ordered a marvellous all-iron shield from his smithy works. He well knew that linden boards would let him down and timber burn. After many trials, he was destined to face the end of his days in this mortal world; as was the dragon, for all his long leasehold on the treasure. Yet the prince of the rings was too proud to line up with a large army against the sky-plague. He had scant regard for the dragon as a threat, no dread at all of its courage or strength, for he had kept going often in the past, through perils and ordeals of every sort, after he had purged Hrothgar's hall, triumphed in Heorot and beaten Grendel. He outgrappled the monster and his evil kin. One of his cruellest hand-to-hand encounters had happened when Hygelac, king of the Geats, was killed in Friesland: the people's friend and lord, Hrethel's son, slaked a sword blade's thirst for blood. But Beowulf's prodigious gifts as a swimmer guaranteed his safety: he arrived at the shore, shouldering thirty battle-dresses, the booty he had won. There was little for the Hetware to be happy about as they shielded their faces and fighting on the ground began in earnest. With Beowulf against them, few could hope to return home. Across the wide sea, desolate and alone, the son of Ecgtheow swam back to his people. There Hygd offered him throne and authority as lord of the ring-hoard: with Hygelac dead, she had no belief in her son's ability to defend their homeland against foreign invaders. Yet there was no way the weakened nation could get Beowulf to give in and agree to be elevated over Heardred as his lord or to undertake the office of kingship. But he did provide support for the prince, honoured and minded him until he matured as the ruler of Geatland. Then over sea-roads exiles arrived, sons of Ohthere. They had rebelled against the best of all the sea-kings in Sweden, the one who held sway in the Shylfing nation, their renowned prince, lord of the mead-hall. That marked the end for Hygelac's son: his hospitality was mortally rewarded with wounds from a sword. Heardred lay slaughtered and Onela returned to the land of Sweden, leaving Beowulf to ascend the throne, to sit in majesty and rule over the Geats. He was a good king.
In days to come, he contrived to avenge the fall of his prince; he befriended Eadgils when Eadgils was friendless, aiding his cause with weapons and warriors over the wide sea, sending him men. The feud was settled on a comfortless campaign when he killed Onela. And so the son of Ecgtheow had survived every extreme, excelling himself in daring and in danger, until the day arrived when he had to come face to face with the dragon. The lord of the Geats took eleven comrades and went in a rage to reconnoitre. By then he had discovered the cause of the affliction being visited on the people. The precious cup had come to him from the hand of the finder, the one who had started all this strife and was now added as a thirteenth to their number. They press-ganged and compelled this poor creature to be their guide. Against his will he led them to the earth-vault he alone knew, an underground barrow near the sea-billows and heaving waves, heaped inside with exquisite metalwork. The one who stood guard was dangerous and watchful, warden of that trove buried under earth: no easy bargain would be made in that place by any man. The veteran king sat down on the cliff-top.