Beowulf Sections 31-36 (lines 2144-2693)
Beowulf praises the generosity and kindness of King Hrothgar, who opened his store of jewels and treasure to Beowulf, to choose what he pleased to bring to King Higlac. Beowulf has his men carry out these treasures to Higlac, pledging his loyalty to his Lord:
"Beowulf had brought his king/ Horses and treasure-as a man must,/ Not weaving nets of malice for his comrades,/ Preparing their death in the dark, with secret,/ Cunning tricks." pg. 91, lines 2165-2169
Higlac and Beowulf are cousins and comrades, who rely on each other in times of war and peace. Beowulf gives Higd, Welthow's gift of a necklace and three horses; he understood Hrothgar's advice of generosity.
The poet tells us of how Beowulf was scorned as a child, and not favored by any of the Geats. Higlac brings forth Beowulf's grandfather's sword and gives it to Beowulf. In the years after Higlac's death, Herdred, his son, ruled for many years. After his death at the hands of the Swedes, Beowulf ruled the Geats for more than fifty winters, with wisdom and justice. It was then that a dragon, who had been sleeping in a hidden tower, awoke in Geatland.
A slave had come to the entrance of the dragon's lair, saw a hoard of treasure and gold, and fled with a jewel-studded golden cup. The dragon awoke, knowing exactly what had been stolen. The man escaped:
"He was someone's slave, had been beaten/ By his masters, had run from all men's sight,/ But with no place to hide; then he found the hidden/ Path, and used it." pg. 92, lines 2223-2226
The poet tells us the history of the treasure, left in ancient times at the end of a dynasty, its King burying the gold in a stone tower, giving it up to the earth. Gold and treasure should not be left unused by men, even if the gold can bring no pleasure to those who abandon it. A flaming dragon, raging in the night for caves and food, came upon the gold many centuries ago, and has forever since slept on its heap.
The dragon follows the tracks of the slave who roused it, seeking revenge for the stolen cup; his greed for treasure will cause war and death. It waits until night comes,
"counting off/ the hours till the Almighty's candle went out,/ And evening came, and wild with anger/ It could fly burning across the land, killing/ And destroying with its breath. Then the sun was gone,/ And its heart was glad; glowing with rage/...impatient to repay/ Its enemies. The people suffered." pg. 95, lines 2302-2309
The drago, with its deadly fire-breath, destroys all the homes and land in Geatland. It destroys Beowulf's hall and his throne; sorrow spreads throughout the land. Beowulf, now old, yet still a warrior, begins to plan his revenge for the dragon's rage. A large iron shield is fashioned; the poet tells us in advance that this battle will be Beowulf's last, and that it will end in both his and the dragon's death.
Beowulf tells the story of his first Lord, Hrethel's sorrow, how when he was young, his Lord's oldest son, Herbald, was killed by his brother, Hathcyn. The death was an accident, a mistake on a hunting trip. Hrethel's sorrow for his dead son was great; he felt no sympathy for Hathcyn, and life became cheerless. When Hrethel had died, his two younger sons inherited all his treasures and the kingdom. War arose between the Swedes and the Geats, as a response to Hrethel's death. Hathcyn, now King of the Geats, was killed by a Swedish sword. Higlac's soldiers avenged this most horrible of deaths, and Efor cracked open the Swedish King's skull.
Beowulf speaks next of Higlac's death, of how he crushed the man who had killed Higlac with his bare hands. He justifies his use of a sword in his duel with the dragon; he 'shall fight with both hand and sword.' Beowulf needs the iron shield to protect himself from the dragon's burning breath.
Beowulf prepares for battle, declaring the treasure kept by the dragon will be his when the monster is dead. He enters the arching hall, and gives a battle-cry. Hearing it, the dragon, thirsty for blood, attacks, breathing fire and smoke upon Beowulf. The iron shield at first holds, but then begins to melt, a sign that fate is against Beowulf. Beowulf strikes at the dragon with his sword, piercing its skin, and drawing blood. The sword breaks under the weight. Unwilling to leave this world for eternal darkness, Beowulf fights on. Falling back, the dragon envelopes Beowulf in a swirl of flames, while all his brave followers run for the woods - all save one: Wiglaf.
Wiglaf, son of Wexstan, stays by Beowulf's side, raising his yellow sword and shield, weapons once belonging to Onela's nephew which his father had won and later given to him. Both sword and soul strong, he speaks for all, remembering his Lord's graciousness, and how his comrades had once pledged loyalty and now ran off like traitors. He shouts:
"He took us/ For soldiers, for men. He meant to kill/ This monster himself, our mighty king,
Fight this battle alone and unaided,/...By almighty God,/ I'd rather burn than see/ Flames swirling around my lord...I swear that nothing/ He ever did deserved an end/ Like this, dying miserably and alone,/ Butchered by this savage beast." pg. 105, lines 2641-2644, 2650-2652, 2656-2659
Wiglaf dives through the ravaging flames, screaming his Lord's name, distracting the dragon by jumping under Beowulf's shield. The warrior Beowulf strikes the dragon with the last of his strength; Nagling smashes the dragon's head. The sword breaks to pieces in Beowulf's hands, the dragon spews fire at him, and drives its tusks deep into Beowulf's neck.