The Fire Dragon and the Treasure
The years pass and Hygelac is killed in battle, and then his son Heardred in a battle with the Swedes. Beowulf becomes king and rules peacefully for fifty years, until a fire dragon begins to ravage his kingdom. The dragon lived in the upland heath, where he guarded a treasure. The treasure had belonged to the last surviving member of a clan, all of whose kin had been killed in battle. He had buried the treasure, dying soon after. The dragon found and kept guard over the treasure for 300 years, until a thief stole a flagon of gold. The dragon followed in pursuit of the robber, and unable to find him, was enraged at the theft, and began belching fire and burning houses, circling Geatland with a wall of fire.
When Beowulf hears about the disaster, he is grieved and blames himself for having either angered God or broken some ancient law. He has dark forebodings and orders a shield of iron to be built for him to fight the dragon. The poet observes that Beowulf's dark thoughts were perhaps a premonition of his impending death. Yet Beowulf was never averse to hard combat, as when he had fought Grendel, or later when Hygelac had fallen in war in Frisland, Beowulf had swum across the ocean with thirty sets of armor on his back. He had returned home to be offered the kingship by Hygd, as her son Heardred was too young, but Beowulf decided to serve as liege to the young king instead. Indeed he was loyal to Heardred, till he was killed by Onela, the Swedish king, for harboring the fugitive sons of Ohthere. Only then had Beowulf become king, after taking revenge by helping Ohthere's son, Eadgils, wrest back the Swedish throne from Onela.
Beowulf sets out with 11 men and he is in low spirits. As they march, Beowulf recounts his life. As a seven-year-old child he had been taken by Hrethel, then king of Geatland to this court, where he was as beloved as the king's sons, Herebeald, Haethcyn and Hygelac. Herebeald was accidentally killed by Haethcyn, and the king was greatly grieved, for even wergild could not be demanded as the death had been accidental. The king died of sorrow and Haethcyn succeeded, till he was killed in a war with the Swedes, as the Swedish brothers, Onela and Ohthere, Ongtheow's sons, were constantly plundering Geatland. The murder was avenged by Eofor who killed Ongtheow, and Hygelac became king. Beowulf had then served Hygelac loyally, such that Hygelac had never had to look to anyone else for help.
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