Page:A book of myths.djvu/303

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249
BEOWULF

no greater hero lived in his kingdom than Beowulf, his own sister's son. From the age of seven Beowulf was brought up at the court of his uncle.

A great, fair, blue-eyed lad was Beowulf, lazy, and very slow to wrath. When he had at last become a yellow-haired giant, of wondrous good-temper, and leisurely in movement, the other young warriors of Gothland had mocked at him as at one who was only a very huge, very amiable child. But, like others of the same descent, Beowulf's anger, if slow to kindle, was a terrible fire once it began to flame. A few of those flares-up had shown the folk of his uncle's kingdom that no mean nor evil deed might lightly be done, nor evil word spoken in the presence of Beowulf. In battle against the Swedes, no sword had hewn down more men than the sword of Beowulf. And when the champion swimmer of the land of the Goths challenged the young giant Beowulf to swim a match with him, for five whole days they swam together. A tempest driving down from the twilight land of the ice and snow parted them then, and he who had been champion was driven ashore and thankfully struggled on to the beach of his own dear country once again. But the foaming seas cast Beowulf on some jagged cliffs, and would fain have battered his body into broken fragments against them, and as he fought and struggled to resist their raging cruelty, mermaids and nixies and many monsters of the deep joined forces with the waves and strove to wrest his life from him. And while with one hand he held on to a sharp rock, with the other he dealt with his sword stark blows on those children of