But now at length it chanced that the fleeing slave lighted upon the hoard. His eyes were dazzled by the shining heap. Upon it lay a cup of gold, wondrously chased and adorned.
“If I can but gain that cup,” said the slave to himself, “I will return with it to my master, and for the sake of the gold he will surely forgive me.”
So while the dragon slept, trembling and fearful the slave crept nearer and nearer to the glittering mass. When he came quite near he reached forth his hand and seized the cup. Then with it he fled back to his master.
It befell then as the slave had foreseen. For the sake of the wondrous cup his misdeeds were forgiven him.
But when the dragon awoke his fury was great. Well knew he that mortal man had trod his cave and stolen of his hoard.
Round and round about he sniffed and searched until he discovered the footprints of his foe. Eagerly then all over the ground he sought to find the man who, while he slept, had done him this ill. Hot and fierce of mood he went backwards and forwards round about his treasure-heaps. All within the cave he searched in vain. Then coming forth he searched without. All round the hill in which his cave was he prowled, but no man could he find, nor in all the wilds around was there any man.
Again the old dragon returned, again he searched among his treasure-heap for the precious cup. Nowhere was it to be found. It was too surely gone.
But the dragon, as well as loving gold, loved war. So now in angry mood he lay couched in his lair. Scarce could he wait until darkness fell, such was his wrath. With fire he was resolved to repay the loss of his dear drinking-cup.
At last, to the joy of the great winged beast, the sun sank. Then forth from his cave he came, flaming fire.
Spreading his mighty wings, he flew through the air until he came to the houses of men. Then spitting forth flame, he set fire to many a happy homestead. Wherever the lightning of his tongue struck, there fire flamed forth, until where the fair homes of men had been there was naught but blackened ruins. Here and there, this way and that, through all the land he sped, and wherever he passed fire flamed aloft.
The warfare of the dragon was seen from far. The malice of the worm was known from north to south, from east to west. All men knew how the fearful foe hated and ruined the Goth folk.
Then having worked mischief and desolation all night through, the fire-dragon turned back; to his secret cave he slunk again ere break of day. Behind him he left the land wasted and desolate.
The dragon had no fear of the revenge of man. In his fiery warfare he trusted to find shelter in his hill, and in his secret cave. But in that trust he was misled.
Speedily to King Beowulf were the tidings of the dragon and his spoiling carried. For alas! even his own fair palace was wrapped in flame. Before his eyes he saw the fiery tongues lick up his treasures. Even the Gift-seat of the Goths melted in fire.