The Half Danes Daughter (The Hengest Saga)

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Oaths were given, and ancient gold heaped from hoard. All on the pyre were plain to see the gory sark, the gilded swine-crest, boar of hard iron, and athelings many slain by the sword: at the slaughter they fell. It was Hildeburh's hest, at Hnaef's own pyre the bairn of her body on brands to lay, his bones to burn, on the balefire placed, at his uncle's side.

In sorrowful dirges bewept them the woman: great wailing ascended. Then wound up to welkin the wildest of death-fires, roared o'er the hillock:[10] heads all were melted, gashes burst, and blood gushed out from bites[11] of the body.

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Balefire devoured, greediest spirit, those spared not by war out of either folk: their flower was gone. As before about Sigemund and Heremod, so now, though at greater length, about Finn and his feud, a lay is chanted or recited; and the epic poet, counting on his readers' familiarity with the story, -- a fragment of it still exists, -- simply gives the headings.

Finn, a Frisian chieftain, who nevertheless has a "castle" outside the Frisian border, marries Hildeburh, a Danish prin- cess; and her brother, Hnaef, with many other Danes, pays Finn a visit. Relations between the two peoples have been strained before.

Chapter Two. The Foreign Beowulf And The “Fight At Finnsburh”

Something starts the old feud anew; and the visitors are attacked in their quarters. Hnaef is killed; so is a son of Hildeburh. Many fall on both sides. Peace is patched up; a stately funeral is held; and the surviving visitors become in a way vassals or liegemen of Finn, going back with him to Frisia. So matters rest a while.

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Hengest is now leader of the Danes; but he is set upon revenge for his former lord, Hnaef. Probably he is killed in feud; but his clansmen, Guthlaf and Oslaf, gather at their home a force of sturdy Danes, come back to Frisia, storm Finn's stronghold, kill him, and carry back their kinswoman Hildeburh. If, again, one of Finn's Frisians began a quarrel, he should die by the sword. THEN hastened those heroes their home to see, friendless, to find the Frisian land, houses and high burg. Hengest still through the death-dyed winter dwelt with Finn, holding pact, yet of home he minded, though powerless his ring-decked prow to drive over the waters, now waves rolled fierce lashed by the winds, or winter locked them in icy fetters.

Then fared another year to men's dwellings, as yet they do, the sunbright skies, that their season ever duly await. Far off winter was driven; fair lay earth's breast; and fain was the rover, the guest, to depart, though more gladly he pondered on wreaking his vengeance than roaming the deep, and how to hasten the hot encounter where sons of the Frisians were sure to be. So he escaped not the common doom, when Hun with "Lafing," the light-of-battle, best of blades, his bosom pierced: its edge was famed with the Frisian earls.

The Half Dane's Daughter

On fierce-heart Finn there fell likewise, on himself at home, the horrid sword-death; for Guthlaf and Oslaf of grim attack had sorrowing told, from sea-ways landed, mourning their woes. The burg was reddened with blood of foemen, and Finn was slain, king amid clansmen; the queen was taken. To their ship the Scylding warriors bore all the chattels the chieftain owned, whatever they found in Finn's domain of gems and jewels. The gentle wife o'er paths of the deep to the Danes they bore, led to her land.

The lay was finished, the gleeman's song. Then glad rose the revel; bench-joy brightened. Bearers draw from their "wonder-vats" wine. Comes Wealhtheow forth, under gold-crown goes where the good pair sit, uncle and nephew, true each to the other one, kindred in amity.

Unferth the spokesman at the Scylding lord's feet sat: men had faith in his spirit, his keenness of courage, though kinsmen had found him unsure at the sword-play. The Scylding queen spoke: "Quaff of this cup, my king and lord, breaker of rings, and blithe be thou, gold-friend of men; to the Geats here speak such words of mildness as man should use. Be glad with thy Geats; of those gifts be mindful, or near or far, which now thou hast.

Men say to me, as son thou wishest yon hero to hold. Thy Heorot purged, jewel-hall brightest, enjoy while thou canst, with many a largess; and leave to thy kin folk and realm when forth thou goest to greet thy doom. For gracious I deem my Hrothulf,[2] willing to hold and rule nobly our youths, if thou yield up first, prince of Scyldings, thy part in the world. I ween with good he will well requite offspring of ours, when all he minds that for him we did in his helpless days of gift and grace to gain him honor! Collect- ing a force, they return to Frisia and kill Finn in his home. There is something finely femi- nine in this speech of Wealhtheow's, apart from its somewhat irregular and irrelevant sequence of topics.

Both she and her lord probably distrust Hrothulf; but she bids the king to be of good cheer, and, turning to the suspect, heaps affectionate assurances on his probity. A CUP she gave him, with kindly greeting and winsome words. Of wounden gold, she offered, to honor him, arm-jewels twain, corselet and rings, and of collars the noblest that ever I knew the earth around. Ne'er heard I so mighty, 'neath heaven's dome, a hoard-gem of heroes, since Hama bore to his bright-built burg the Brisings' necklace, jewel and gem casket. Hygelac Geat, grandson of Swerting, on the last of his raids this ring bore with him, under his banner the booty defending, the war-spoil warding; but Wyrd o'erwhelmed him what time, in his daring, dangers he sought, feud with Frisians.

Fairest of gems he bore with him over the beaker-of-waves, sovran strong: under shield he died. Fell the corpse of the king into keeping of Franks, gear of the breast, and that gorgeous ring; weaker warriors won the spoil, after gripe of battle, from Geatland's lord, and held the death-field.

Din rose in hall. Wealhtheow spake amid warriors, and said "This jewel enjoy in thy jocund youth, Beowulf lov'd, these battle-weeds wear, a royal treasure, and richly thrive! Preserve thy strength, and these striplings here counsel in kindness: requital be mine. Hast done such deeds, that for days to come thou art famed among folk both far and near, so wide as washeth the wave of Ocean his windy walls. Through the ways of life prosper, O prince! I pray for thee rich possessions.


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To son of mine be helpful in deed and uphold his joys! Here every earl to the other is true, mild of mood, to the master loyal!

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Thanes are friendly, the throng obedient, liegemen are revelling: list and obey! Wyrd they knew not, destiny dire, and the doom to be seen by many an earl when eve should come, and Hrothgar homeward hasten away, royal, to rest. The room was guarded by an army of earls, as erst was done. They bared the bench-boards; abroad they spread beds and bolsters. THEN sank they to sleep. With sorrow one bought his rest of the evening, -- as ofttime had happened when Grendel guarded that golden hall, evil wrought, till his end drew nigh, slaughter for sins. The livelong time after that grim fight, Grendel's mother, monster of women, mourned her woe.

She was doomed to dwell in the dreary waters, cold sea-courses, since Cain cut down with edge of the sword his only brother, his father's offspring: outlawed he fled, marked with murder, from men's delights warded the wilds. But the man remembered his mighty power, the glorious gift that God had sent him, in his Maker's mercy put his trust for comfort and help: so he conquered the foe, felled the fiend, who fled abject, reft of joy, to the realms of death, mankind's foe. And his mother now, gloomy and grim, would go that quest of sorrow, the death of her son to avenge.

To Heorot came she, where helmeted Danes slept in the hall.

the half danes daughter the hengest saga Manual

Too soon came back old ills of the earls, when in she burst, the mother of Grendel. Less grim, though, that terror, e'en as terror of woman in war is less, might of maid, than of men in arms when, hammer-forged, the falchion hard, sword gore-stained, through swine of the helm, crested, with keen blade carves amain.

The Half Danes Daughter

Then was in hall the hard-edge drawn, the swords on the settles,[1] and shields a-many firm held in hand: nor helmet minded nor harness of mail, whom that horror seized. Haste was hers; she would hie afar and save her life when the liegemen saw her. Yet a single atheling up she seized fast and firm, as she fled to the moor.

He was for Hrothgar of heroes the dearest, of trusty vassals betwixt the seas, whom she killed on his couch, a clansman famous, in battle brave. Long-tried king, the hoary hero, at heart was sad when he knew his noble no more lived, and dead indeed was his dearest thane. To his bower was Beowulf brought in haste, dauntless victor.

As daylight broke, along with his earls the atheling lord, with his clansmen, came where the king abode waiting to see if the Wielder-of-All would turn this tale of trouble and woe. Strode o'er floor the famed-in-strife, with his hand-companions, -- the hall resounded, -- wishing to greet the wise old king, Ingwines' lord; he asked if the night had passed in peace to the prince's mind.

Pain is renewed to Danish folk. Dead is Aeschere, of Yrmenlaf the elder brother, my sage adviser and stay in council, shoulder-comrade in stress of fight when warriors clashed and we warded our heads, hewed the helm-boars; hero famed should be every earl as Aeschere was!

But here in Heorot a hand hath slain him of wandering death-sprite. I wot not whither,[1] proud of the prey, her path she took, fain of her fill. The feud she avenged that yesternight, unyieldingly, Grendel in grimmest grasp thou killedst, -- seeing how long these liegemen mine he ruined and ravaged. Reft of life, in arms he fell. Now another comes, keen and cruel, her kin to avenge, faring far in feud of blood: so that many a thane shall think, who e'er sorrows in soul for that sharer of rings, this is hardest of heart-bales.

The hand lies low that once was willing each wish to please. Land-dwellers here[2] and liegemen mine, who house by those parts, I have heard relate that such a pair they have sometimes seen, march-stalkers mighty the moorland haunting, wandering spirits: one of them seemed, so far as my folk could fairly judge, of womankind; and one, accursed, in man's guise trod the misery-track of exile, though huger than human bulk. Grendel in days long gone they named him, folk of the land; his father they knew not, nor any brood that was born to him of treacherous spirits.

Untrod is their home; by wolf-cliffs haunt they and windy headlands, fenways fearful, where flows the stream from mountains gliding to gloom of the rocks, underground flood. Not far is it hence in measure of miles that the mere expands, and o'er it the frost-bound forest hanging, sturdily rooted, shadows the wave. By night is a wonder weird to see, fire on the waters. So wise lived none of the sons of men, to search those depths! Nay, though the heath-rover, harried by dogs, the horn-proud hart, this holt should seek, long distance driven, his dear life first on the brink he yields ere he brave the plunge to hide his head: 'tis no happy place!

Thence the welter of waters washes up wan to welkin when winds bestir evil storms, and air grows dusk, and the heavens weep. Now is help once more with thee alone!


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The land thou knowst not, place of fear, where thou findest out that sin-flecked being. Seek if thou dare! I will reward thee, for waging this fight, with ancient treasure, as erst I did, with winding gold, if thou winnest back.