Beowulf and his fourteen horsemen rode swiftly towards the palace of King Hrothgar of Denmark. It was already getting dark. They must hurry. They must reach the palace before the monster Grendel got there.
It was time someone stopped the dreadful activities of this monster and put an end to the terror he was causing. Every night Grendel invaded Hrothgar's feasting hall, Heorot, and carried off one of his warriors. These Danish warriors were once the greatest and bravest in northern Europe. Now they were afraid to stay at Heorot after dark.
Beowulf. a nobleman of the Geatas people of Sweden, was very angry when he heard of this.
"The Danes are our brothers!" he declared. "We cannot let the world laugh at them and call them cowards. We must kill Grendel and free the Danes from his tyranny. "Who will come with me?"
Fourteen Geatas warriors came forward at once and offered to accompany Beowulf. They sailed for Denmark that night.
By the following evening, they were riding full speed along the track that led to King Hrothgar's Palace. They galloped into the palace courtyard just as the last rays of the sun were fading from the sky.
Quickly, Beowulf and his men dismounted and hurried inside the palace. King Hrothgar was waiting for them.
"You are the most welcome of guests, Beowulf!" he said warmly. "Now, at last, we can be rid of the terrible Grendel!"
Beowulf came quickly to the point. "Is everything ready as I asked?" he wanted to know.
Hrothgar nodded and led him into the hall of Heorot, where the tables were laid for a great feast. A fire burned warmly in the centre of the hall. A sheep was turning on the spit set up over the fire. Beowulf looked around the hall. "It is very well done," he said. "Leave Heorot in my charge tonight, Your Majesty, and I promise that tomorrow night you may hold a great feast of celebration. For by tomorrow night Grendel will be dead!"
Soon afterwards, sounds of great feasting and merrymaking were heard. Beowulf and his fourteen men were enjoying themselves in the hall of Heorot.
"This is food fit for kings!" they shouted. "This is wine fit for the gods! More, bring us more!"
Though they sounded very drunk and carefree, they were actually very much on the alert. All of them were closely watching the door where Grendel would soon appear.
"You all know what you have to do," Beowulf had told them. "The noise we make will draw Grendel to the hall, and then we will strike."
The noise certainly did draw Grendel towards Heorot. While Beowulf and his warriors were feasting, Grendel was approaching.
When he smelled the delicious odours of the meat and saw the bright light of the fire, he licked his lips.
"There are dozens of them in there!" Grendel chuckled. "I shall have a great feast tonight - the dinner AND the men who eat it!" Suddenly, Beowulf and his men saw a huge, dark shape filling the doorway.
Grendel had arrived. As they expected, he was a mighty monster with broad shoulders and thick, strong arms. Grendel came clumping into the hall, each footfall making the whole place shake.
"Let him get further in," Beowulf whispered. He was watching Grendel closely. Then he yelled, "Now! Get him now!"
Beowulf's men snatched up their swords and, as their leader had instructed them, they all rushed towards Grendel. Before the monster could move, he was surrounded by a ring of swords pointing directly at him.
"No feast for you tonight, Grendel!"
Beowulf shouted. "Your nights of feasting are over!"
Grendel became terrified. He hit out with both fists and knocked five or six of Beowulf's men to the floor. When the others tried to attack him, Grendel gave a great kick with his foot and their swords ?ew out of their hands and went spinning across the hall. The hall was filled with the sound of groans from Beowulf's men as they lay on the ?oor, bruised and aching.
Grendel was now very angry. He looked at him, growling. He saw one of the men trying to get up. Grendel pounced on him and snatched him up, struggling and yelling. Before anyone could move to stop him, Grendel opened his mouth and stuffed his victim into it. Grendel's great teeth crushed him to death. It was a horrible sight.
Beowulf suddenly leapt up and flung himself at Grendel. Beowulf's hands grasped Grendel's wrist and his fingers closed round as if they were locked into place.
Grendel pulled and struggled and tried to shake Beowulf off. Beowulf refused to let go. With one last terrific effort Grendel heaved himself back, hoping to escape Beowulf's grasp in one go. Instead, there was a ghastly tearing sound. Beowulf tumbled to the floor and Grendel staggered towards the doorway moaning and crying and clutching his shoulder. Beowulf stared in amazement. No wonder! For Beowulf still had his hands locked around Grendel's wrist
"I've pulled his arm off!" Beowulf gasped.
Grendel, meanwhile, had disappeared through the doorway. His moans and cries could be heard outside as he stumbled away.
"After him!" cried Beowulf. "Quickly!"
Beowulf's men were too bruised and dazed to get to their feet quickly. By the time they set off after Grendel, the monster had disappeared from sight.
Then suddenly, one of Beowulf's men shouted, "Look! Here's Grendel's blood!"
"Here's some more!" said another. "The monster has left a trail of blood."
By the light of the moon, Beowulf and his men followed the trail of blood along the path that led away from Hrothgar's Palace. It led to the edge of a small lake.
"Look at the water!" Beowulf told them. "It's red!"
The water of the lake was a deep dark red. It was as if there were more blood than water in it.
"Grendel has drowned!" Beowulf said. "He must have fallen into the lake and could not climb out again."
"We have destroyed the monster! Our dead comrade is avenged! Let us get back to Heorot and tell King Hrothgar the news."
Beowulf and his men were right to think that Grendel was dead. They were wrong, though, to think that he had drowned in the lake. As he stumbled away from Heorot, Grendel knew he was dying. All he wanted to do was reach his home in the depths of the lake. He had succeeded. Once inside, he collapsed and as his mother wept over him, Grendel died.
"They shall pay for this!" his mother wailed. "I shall kill them one at a time, so that the rest can live in fear and terror, awaiting my return!"
When King Hrothgar heard that Grendel was dead and would trouble him no more, he ordered a splendid feast of celebration to be held the following night. It was certainly a great occasion. Jugglers and tumblers and musicians came to entertain the guests. Poets recited verses praising Beowulf and his companions. All the servants were kept busy filling and refilling the drinking horns with wine so that King Hrothgar and his guests could drink the health of the heroes who had killed the terrible Grendel.
"How can I thank you, Beowulf!" he cried. "Half my kingdom - or all of it - could not be enough to show how grateful I am."
Just then, a frightening sound reached the ears of everyone at the feast. It was a great, deep, angry roar. "It sounds like . . . but it can't be . . . " King Hrothgar gasped fearfully.
"It can't be Grendel! You told me he was dead!"
Beowulf was just as surprised as the King. "Grendel is dead!" he declared.
"He could not have lived long after I tore off his arm."
The roaring reached their ears again. It came nearer and nearer. Then, without warning, a huge giantess came rushing through the doorway. It was Grendel's mother.
"Which of you killed my son? I will be avenged!" She looked round the hall, snarling. Some of the people at the tables turned pale with fear and scrambled from their seats, rushing for the doors.
"I will start with the one who tore off his arm!" Grendel's mother cried, shaking her fists with fury. "Who was it? Show yourself!"
Beowulf jumped to his feet. "It was I!" he declared. "It was a deed well done."
"This too is a deed well done!" Grendel's mother retorted, and she leapt at Beowulf, seized him by the arm and started to drag him across the ?oor.
Beowulf struggled, but her grip was too strong. As King Hrothgar and his guests watched in horror, Grendel's mother dragged Beowulf through the doorway and disappeared.
"After them!" the King cried. "After them and rescue Beowulf!"
But everyone, including Beowulf's own men, was too startled and too horrified to move.
Beowulf felt the hard ground scratching and bruising him as Grendel's mother pulled him along the path. She was muttering and moaning to herself as she went. From what she said, Beowulf realised she was taking him to her home beneath the lake.
Beowulf thought quickly. He had his sword and fortunately Grendel's mother was not dragging him by his sword arm. He could fight for his life - when he got the chance!
Grendel's mother reached the lake and keeping a firm grip on Beowulf's arm, plunged into the water. When she reached her home, she pulled Beowulf through the door and into the room where Grendel lay dead.
Grendel's mother began to weep and wail. "See! See what you have done!" she cried, pointing to Grendel's body and the torn shoulder where his arm had once been.
For one moment, Beowulf felt pity for the grief-stricken mother, monster l though she was. The moment passed quickly, though. Grendel's mother turned angry and ?ung Beowulf roughly into a corner.
"Wait there!" she growled. You can watch as I prepare the vessels in which I will boil you alive!"
She turned her back on Beowulf and reached up for a huge cauldron which stood on a shelf above the fire. This was just the chance Beowulf had been waiting for. He jumped up, drew his sword and rushed towards Grendel's mother. She heard him, however, and turned round just as Beowulf was halfway across the room. With a yell of fury, Grendel's mother flung the cauldron at him. Beowulf ducked. The cauldron ?ew over his head and clattered across the floor. Then Grendel's mother kicked out and knocked Beowulf's sword from his hand.
She let out a shout of triumph and lunged towards Beowulf, her great hands open, ready to grasp him. But Beowulf stepped nimbly out of the way. Grendel's mother stumbled and crashed face downwards onto the floor. Then Beowulf saw a huge sword leaning against the wall in one corner.
"Grendel's sword!" he thought, as he darted across and took hold of its hilt. "Big enough, anyway, to kill a giantess."
The sword was very, very heavy, but the danger he was facing gave Beowulf the extra strength he needed. Grendel's mother was just raising herself off the ?oor when Beowulf swung the sword round in a mighty sweeping movement. The blade struck straight through her neck, slicing off her head. The force of the blow was so great that the sword broke and Beowulf found himself with just the hilt of the sword in his hand.
Beowulf arrived back at Heorot to find his companions sitting sadly at the tables, where he had left them. They were certain that Beowulf was dead, started up in surprise when they heard his voice.
"You may prepare for another celebration, Your Majesty," said Beowulf - as he walked into the hall.
"You have fought and struggled hard," said King Hrothgar, looking at Beowulf's torn clothes and dirty, mud-stained face. "No matter," Beowulf replied. "Grendel is dead and I bring you gifts that will gladden Your Majesty's heart."
Proudly, Beowulf laid the broken sword hilt and the head of Grendel's mother on the table before the King.
"This is a great day, Beowulf!" King Hrothgar declared. "There shall indeed be la great feast to celebrate it. For you came here to Heorot to kill one monster - but instead, you have killed two!"