The Legend Of Beowulf - The Dragon Hunter
of reading - words
Prelude to the prelude
The legend of Beowulf comes to us from the depths of time, from an era of magic and mystery... It is one of the oldest poems in Anglo-Saxon literature, dating back to around the 7th century AD.
It is the oral tradition that shaped the legend and, if the poem has come down to us, it is thanks to the unique copy of a 10th century manuscript, carefully preserved by its successive owners. Over the centuries, however, his trace was lost, before it was found in the catalogue of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton (1571 - 1631), an English politician passionate about old manuscripts, happy owner of a huge library (a so-called "cottonian" library). Unfortunately, poor Cotton had to turn over in his grave when, a century after his death, about a quarter of his invaluable works went up in smoke during a fire... Unfortunately, among them was the manuscript of our brave Beowulf... Many pages were damaged, but most of the document was still saved.
It was with great effort that Guilhem managed to sit on the ground. He painfully bent his legs under his pelvis to adopt a position that relieved his back. He closed his eyes and allowed himself a few moments of concentration.
Ah, Elias! More than twenty years had already passed since the tragedy occurred, and not a day passed without Guilhem blaming himself for the death of his little boy.
He had just celebrated his tenth birthday. Weakened by an incessant, feverish cough, he had fallen into a tormented sleep during which his entire body was fighting the disease. All night long, Guilhem had watched over his son's bedside, praying to the Lord that he would save his life.
But nothing had done about it.
In the early morning, Elias' lifeless body lay in his bed. Guilhem had deposited a last kiss on his pale and cold cheeks. His life as a acrobat had taken its toll. Walking from town to town, in the rain, snow and wind, was not a possible life for such a puny boy.
Getting to a city. Sit in the middle of the market. Captivating attention and telling his best stories in the hope of raising some money... he had no other life to offer his child than the one he had always led himself.
A tear ran down the old man's face.
- Are you going to tell us a story?
Guilhem jumped, surprised by the presence of a little boy standing a few steps away from him. His face was emaciated and his clothes tattered, but he felt calm and serene.
- Yes, kid, that's what I've been doing all my life. Do you like stories?
The kid nodded. Without ceasing to observe the strange old man attentively, he sat on the ground a few metres away from him and waited.
The old man smiled tenderly at him, while the child continued to observe him, his eyes wide open. "As he looks like my little Elias," could not help but think of Guilhem while grabbing the little bell at his feet. He sounded it energetically for several seconds. Around him, the people stopped walking and, with a surprised look, everyone turned around.
It was now time to take the stage.
- Chapter I: the merciless struggle between Beowulf and Grendel
- Good people, be quiet, be quiet, be quiet! I've been telling you for years, for centuries! And I've told a lot of stories. I know a hundred stories, I know a thousand!
As if hypnotized by the clear and inspired voice of the old storyteller, people began to approach. Still sitting on the ground, the child also approached him so as not to miss a crumb of the show that was to follow.
- My story begins. Good people, will you be brave enough to listen to him?
Guilhem paused to spare his effect. Slowly, he stared one by one at the thirty people around him. Farmers, for the most part, used to a life of hard work and suffering. Everyone turned their heads so they wouldn't have to cross their piercing eyes. Guilhem was used to this reaction, and even had fun with it. We were suspicious of storytellers. Were they not in direct contact with the elements? Was it not the winds themselves that blew their age-old stories into the hollow of their ears? People with such powers, it was better to just listen to them with respect and not rub shoulders with them. And look away when they stared at you.
Only the little boy supported the old storyteller's gaze. Guilhem smiled at him again before continuing.
- The story I am about to tell you happened a thousand years ago, perhaps two thousand years ago, in a distant land called Denmark. There was a king named Hrotgar. Hrotgar was loved by his people and, to show his gratitude, he offered his people a huge palace capable of welcoming thousands of guests. The construction was complex, the work titanic. But all the surrounding tribes wanted to participate in the work and the sumptuous palace quickly emerged from the ground.
In this palace, which he named Heort, the king loved to dance and sing and laugh and eat with his wife, his warriors and all his people. People were happy.
But, lurking in the shadow of a deep cave, an evil creature was awakened by all this unrest. From the darkness, the creature heard the sounds of joy rising from the room every day, and this put her in a mad rage. Day after day, his hatred grew.
This infernal spirit was called Grendel, and Grendel was soon determined to spread terror in the kingdom of Hrotgar.
Guilhem was delighted to see that the crowd listened to him without a sound, hanging from his lips. He smiled with a small smile of contentment and continued his story.
There was nothing men could do against Grendel. He was too great, too powerful, too evil for anyone to hope to defeat him. Grendel regularly arrived without warning, killed men, women and children within reach of his claws and, in a breath, went back to his cave. Hrotgar was unable to protect its people from this constant threat. Then, with death in his heart, he decided to abandon the palace and asked his people to go into exile. "It is not cowardice, but on the contrary great wisdom, to flee from an evil that cannot be fought," his advisors slipped into his ear. These words warmed the king's heart a little.
Weeks, then months passed. The Heort area was now deserted. Even the travellers, aware of the danger, made a great detour to avoid passing near the place where the monster Grendel reigned supreme.
Regularly, men who claimed to be reckless claimed that they would soon leave to take down the Beast. But until now, no one had dared to put these words into practice.
A warrior in search of glory and adventure would soon change that... Despite his young age, he had already shown exemplary courage in battle, and all his companions praised his strength and greatness of spirit. This warrior's name was Beowulf, and he made the decision to go fight Grendel to free the ancient kingdom of Hrotgar.
Was this proof of the young man's courage, or on the contrary, blatant proof of his overflowing vanity? It is not for me to judge, good people. But the terrible events that will follow force me to show my respect for Beowulf.
After a journey of a few days, he and his companions arrived in Heort. They were surprised to find a completely empty palace, without any trace of any creature. They settled in the castle's largest hall, the one where once great celebrations were held, and planned to spend the night there. The warrior Warglof was charged with taking the first watchtower.
In the middle of the night, Warglof saw a shadow move into the darkest corner of the room. Not wanting to wake his companions for a false alarm, he stood up, weapon in hand and attentive to the slightest noise. But he didn't even have time to shout when the monster fell on him... In a flood of unheard-of violence, the warrior was crushed, shredded. In a few seconds, there was already nothing left of him.
A murmur of fear rose from the audience. Guilhem raised his hand as a sign of appeasement: immediately, everyone kept quiet. The old storyteller remained silent for a few seconds before continuing:
The noise of the attack woke Beowulf's men. All rushed to Grendel with swords in hand. But the monster seemed protected by a powerful magic: the blows of swords bounced off his flesh, while only one of his movements was enough to break the bones of even the most powerful warrior. The fight, which was too uneven, seemed to be lost in advance.
Then Beowulf threw his weapon on the ground and jumped on the monster. The violence of the struggle was such that the whole castle seemed to be convulsing. The walls were shaking, the ceiling of the main hall was in danger of collapsing, a huge crack cracked even the floor. But Beowulf never gave up... After several minutes of hard work, he finally managed to grab Grendel's arm and block it. He shouted a terrible cry and, using all his strength, tore off the arm of the evil creature.
He who had done so much harm to the human race, who hated good and men, saw life slipping away from him. Howling in pain, Grendel fled and took refuge in his lair, where he died a few hours later.
The tension in the audience had subsided. There was even some applause to praise the hero's courage... The storyteller spoke again.
- Don't rejoice too quickly, good people. They still don't know it, but there is an even greater danger hanging over the heads of our heroes.
We felt people stiffening. Some, even, could not help but look up at the sky, watching for the danger they had just been told.
Chapter II: Grendel's mother's revenge
Beowulf and his men celebrated all day long. But the next night, the monster's mother appeared. She's bigger, stronger, more evil than Grendel. But, above all, she is unpredictable because she is desperate for the death of her son.
Guilhem stopped again. This time, it was not to spare the suspense, but to contain his own emotion. Oh, that he could understand Grendel's mother's emotion! His little Elias... He looked at the little boy sitting on the ground staring at him with his innocent eyes, and the pain was even greater. The storyteller repressed a sob and then continued, with a slightly shaky voice.
Beowulf realized that he would never defeat the monster on land. Then, still equipped with his heavy armor, he dived into the lake where Grendel's mother followed him. The battle was too uneven... Soon, the brave warrior needed to catch his breath, but his opponent held him back at the bottom of the water. As he thought he was living his last moments, Beowulf's eyes were drawn to a light at the bottom of the lake. With a final effort, he swam there and discovered the entrance to a cave. He had just discovered Grendel's and his mother's lair.
The soil was strewn with corpses, in a state of more or less advanced decomposition. While he was used to death and the horror of the battlefields, Beowulf could not repress a gaggle. But he had to come to his senses quickly, because his enemy was already on his heels. The fight was about to end in this cramped cave.
He spotted on land, an ancient weapon forged by the race of the Giants. It was such a heavy sword that no man on earth could carry it. But Beowulf was no ordinary man... He grabbed the weapon and, screaming with rage and anger, split his enemy's skull.
This time, Beowulf had just definitively freed the Heort region from its terrible curse. King Hrotgar and his people were able to regain possession of their lands.
With this achievement, Beowulf gained an immense reputation throughout Denmark. During his life, he accumulated wealth and later succeeded his father on the throne of the Skåne region.
At the end of his life, he still had to face many dangers, including a terrible dragon that threatened his kingdom. But this, good people, is another story, which I will tell you another day, if my old carcass allows me to last until then....
It took people around Guilhem several seconds to realize that the story was over. Many left quickly and quietly, lest the storyteller ask them for some money. Others, more generous, took a penny or two out of their purse and put them at the old man's feet.
All this unrest was of little interest to Guilhem, who was only concerned about the little boy. He saw a young woman approaching him and taking him by the hand. His gestures were affectionate, his face soft. The old man was reassured to know that he was in good hands. As he walked away, the boy looked at him for the last time. He smiles at her one last time. "Goodbye, Elias..." he whispered.
And a tear ran down his cheek.