Page:A book of myths.djvu/316

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awake. With its awakening, terror fell upon the land. Hither and thither it flew, searching for him who had robbed it, and as it flew, it sent flames on the earth and left behind it a black trail of ruin and of death.

When news of its destroyings came to the ears of the father of his people, Beowulf knew that to him belonged the task of saving the land for them and for all those to come after them. But he was an old man, and strength had gone from him, nor was he able now to wrestle with the Firedrake as once he had wrestled with the Grendel and the Wolf-Woman, but had to trust to his arms. He had an iron shield made to withstand the Firedrake's flaming breath, and, with a band of eleven picked followers, and taking the bondsman as guide, Beowulf went out to fight his last fight. As they drew near the place, he bade his followers stay where they were, "For I alone," he said, "will win the gold and save my people, or Death shall take me."

From the entrance to the cave there poured forth a sickening cloud of steam and smoke, suffocating and blinding, and so hot that he could not go forward. But with a loud voice the old warrior shouted an arrogant challenge of defiance to his enemy, and the Firedrake rushed forth from its lair, roaring with the roar of an unquenchable fire whose fury will destroy a city. From its wings of flame and from its eyes heat poured forth scorchingly, and its great mouth belched forth devouring flames as it cast itself on Beowulf.

The hero's sword flashed, and smote a stark blow upon its scaly head. But Beowulf could not deal death