Beowulf Sections 19-24 (lines 1251-1739)
The poet tells us the story of Cain, who was exiled to the desert, along with the 'race of fiends' he bore, and his descendent Grendel, who had attacked Herot, awaiting his match with Beowulf. Beowulf had been a good match for Grendel, ordained by God to avenge Grendel's greed and bloody attacks on Herot.
As the Danes sleep that night, after much rejoicing, Grendel's mother comes to Herot, and snatches a single warrior, Esher, Hrothgar's right man; her bloody claws hold her lunch. As she leaves Herot, she steals Grendel's claw, Beowulf's treasured prize. Hrothgar sends for the brave Beowulf, who arrives to hear the King's tale of Grendel's mother:
"She's taken revenge for your victory over Grendel./ For your strength, your mighty grip, and that monster's/ Death." pg. 65, lines 1334-1336
Hrothgar describes the two fiends, Grendel (the bastard son) and his mother. He describes their hellish home of hidden evil upon evil, windy wolf-dens, cliffs, and skies of dark air and black rain. He entreats Beowulf to take upon the challenge again, to kill Grendel's mother, to seek out and destroy the evil she represents. With victory, Beowulf will be rewarded with twisted gold and heaps of ancient treasure!
Beowulf vows to seek out Grendel's mother, no matter where she may hide, proclaiming to the Danes:
"Let your sorrow end! It is better for us all/ To avenge our friends, not mourn them forever./ Each of us will come to the end of this life/ On earth; he who can earn it should fight/ For the glory of his name; fame after death/ Is the noblest of goals. Arise, guardian/ Of this kingdom, let us go, as quickly as we can,/ And have a look at this lady monster." pg. 67, lines 1384-1391
Beowulf, his men, and the Danes, including Hrothgar on horseback at Beo's side, follow Grendel's mother's tracks through the forest. The entourage finds her lair, surrounded by cold gray stones, twisted trees, and a bloody gurgling lake which holds Esher's floating head. The lake is infested with serpents and sea-creatures; Beowulf kills one, shooting it through the heart. Beowulf prepares to enter the steaming lake; he puts on his armor and mail, dons Hrothgar's famed helmet, and grabs Unferth's sword, Hrunting, which has never failed any man in battle.
Beowulf speaks to Hrothgar by the lake, reminding him of their kinship, and his gratitude for the King's generosity as a ring-giver; her asks him to protect his beloved men should he die. In a flash, Beowulf leaps into the lake, sinking downward through the waves for hours. He reaches Grendel's hideous mother at the bottom. As the battle begins, Grendel's mother scratches the thickly ring-woven mail, but without success.
Grendel's mother carries Beowulf off to her home, holding him so tight he cannot move his sword. Greedy sea monsters fight and attack him on the way, stabbing at his armor. They arrive at a brilliant underwater battle-hall, where Beowulf realizes he is immune to her attacks:
"[S]he'd brought him into someone's battle-hall,/ And there...[not] anything in the lake [could] attack him through/ The building's high-arching roof. A brilliant/ Light burned all around him, the lake/ Itself like a fiery flame...he swung his sword/ ...straight at her head; the iron sang its fierce song" pg. 71, lines 1512-1521
Beowulf stabs at her head, but discovers that no sword or piece of armor can harm her evil skin. Grendel's mother bites at his helmet, and scratches his mail and sword until Beowulf throws down his weapons in a rage, seeing that they are of no use. Desiring only personal fame, he uses his hands to rip at her shoulder, and pounds her to the ground. Grendel's mother leaps up to him, seizes him and sits on him, stabbing him with a bloody knife. Her attacks fail, the ring-woven mail holding under her rage; God's glory, victory, and truth stand by Beowulf's side; he leaps again, and continues fighting!
Beowulf sees a giant sword hanging on the wall; it is a magical sword fashioned by monsters, and is too heavy for humans to hold. In a savage, angry and crazed rage, Beowulf pulls the weapon from its place, and swings it through the air at Grendel's mother's neck, cutting straight through flesh and bone. Grendel's mother dies instantly, a bloody and wet pile on the floor. The brilliant light of "Heaven's own candle" illuminates the sky; her and her son's bloody raids have been avenged. As a final gesture of revenge, Beowulf finds Grendel's body and decapitates him.
Above, next to the lake, Hrothgar and both tribes of men see pools of blood float to the surface. The sun sets quickly, and the Danes leave fearing that Beowulf is lost, dead at the hands of Grendel's mother. The Geats stay, watching for their Lord. Below the surface of the lake, the monster's sword melts away into blood, and mixes with the water; the Dane's curse is broken as the sword disappears. "like ice when the world's/ Eternal Lord loosens invisible/ Fetters and unwinds icicles and frost/ As only He can, He who rules/ Time and seasons, He who is truly/ God." pg. 73, lines 1607-1612
Beowulf takes the sword's hilt and Grendel's head as a prize for his victory, and leaves the rich treasures in the monster's lair. He swims to the surface of the calm lake, and the Geats rejoice upon seeing their Lord. They ride home, all fourteen glorious and bold, to Hrothgar's hall, where Beo presents Grendel's ugly head, giving the details of his battle with Grendel's mother, and how the monster's sword saved him.
Beowulf gives Hrothgar the ancient hilt of the sword, carved with runes from the beginning of time, of ancient wars between good and evil, the splitting of races, and of tyranny. Hrothgar speaks to Beowulf, proclaiming him a better man than himself. Hrothgar has become wise after a lifetime pursuing peace and justice for his people. He tells Beo that he will do what he promised, in the name of friendship, and entreats Beowulf to do the same, and to avoid becoming Hermod, who was ruled by hatred, wishing only for war, and murdering his comrades. Hrothgar says how a king must be:
"Our eternal Lord/ Grants some men wisdom, some wealth, makes others/ Great. The world is God's, He allows/ A man to grow famous, and his family rich,/ Gives him land and towns to rule/ And delight in...and who/ In human unwisdom, in the middle of such power,/ Remembers that it will all end, and too soon?/ Prosperity...nothing/ Troubles him, no sickness, not passing time,/ No sorrows, no sudden war breaking/ Out of nowhere, but all the world turns/ When he spins it. How can he know when he sins?" pg. 77, lines 1728-1739