Vortigern's Rule: The Assassination of King Constans

Image by by Matthew Paris – Public Domain

Vortigern and the Chaos  of Britain

According to the Regum Britanniae, or History of the Kings of Britain, written in about 1136, by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Vortigern was a 5th century King of the Britons. He was considered one of the most notoriously devious and immoral kings in British history. To be fair he was only doing behaving as his contemporaries behaved. It was a question of dog eat dog in those days with no quarter given or asked for. He was attributed with most of the blame for inviting the Anglo-Saxon war-leaders Hengist and  Horsa into Britain as his mercenaries, sowing the seeds for the eventual Anglo-Saxon takeover of much of England and the many years of war and strife that was to come.

This is a retelling of how Vortigern usurped the crown of Britain based on the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Although his work was once considered reasonably accurate it is now no longer seen as reliable by modern scholars.  Nevertheless his work does provide his own version of the history of Britain and its kings and still has its merits as a cultural product of its times and still wields considerable influence in many Arthurian creations in the modern times. This part of the story of the history of the island of Britain begins with the assassination of King Constantine and the succession of his son Constans.  It continues to reveal how Vortigern grabbed power and ends with the threat of war hanging over him and the arrival of Hengist and Horsa.

The  Assassination of  King Constantine

After King Constantine of Britain had been in power for ten years he was assassinated by a Pict who stabbed him in the back.  After his death the crown of Britain was greatly disputed. The legitimate successor to the throne was Contans, the eldest son of Constantine, but his father had placed him in a monastery.  Although he was unhappy with the monastic life he was not really interested or suited to being king.  The next oldest and second in line was Aurelius Ambrosius his younger brother and the third was the youngest brother whose name was Uther.  Some nobles favored Aurelius to rule while others preferred Uther.  It was finally agreed that both were too young and all were at a loss as to what to do.  

Vortigern Becomes Ambitious

Vortigern had his own ambitions and his own ideas on who should be King of the island of Britain. He preferred Costans knowing that he had little interest in ruling and lacked the necessary qualities and strength of character that a monarch of Britain would need to control and unite the nation. Furthermore, he knew that he had no desire to remain a monk all his life.  Vortigern reasoned that if he helped him escape the clutches of the monastery to become king he could easily manipulate him while all the time working towards his ultimate unspoken goal of taking the crown for himself.  To further his ends he offered to set the unhappy Constans free from the monastery and make him king if in return he would make him his chief adviser. 

Constans: The Puppet King

Constans agreed and left the monastery and  Vortigern took him to London to be crowned king.  The consent of the nobles or the people was never asked for or obtained. Inconveniently the recent death of Archbishop Guethelin meant there was no one else of sufficient authority and stature in the clergy to fulfill such an important role. Conveniently for Vortigern the only other person with sufficient governmental experience and authority to fulfill such a role was himself and he performed the coronation ceremony. 

Constans lacked any knowledge or experience of government and had little or no credibility with the nobles or the people.  He relied heavily on the experience and guile of Vortigern for advice making him the effective ruler of Britain in all but name.  With many of the more experienced nobles killed in the wars with the Picts there were few alive who could match his statecraft and experience and Vortigern was using these personal assets to further his own ambitions ruthlessly.  

The next part of his plan was to remove Constans from the throne and set himself upon it. As always he was patient and bided his time while always seeking ways to consolidate his power at home by clandestine means.  At the same time he secretly used his position to increase his influence with nearby countries. He persuaded King Constans to give him control of the Royal Treasure to keep it safe. The inexperienced king at his Chief Advisor’s request also gave him control of all of the fortified towns and cities of the realm after claiming a fictitious threat of foreign invasion was imminent.  As soon as he had control of the cities he replaced their rulers and governors with his own men ensuring total control over the major fortified population centres.

Vortigern’s Treachery

He then persuaded King Constans that he was in danger and needed more men in his bodyguard to protect him from assassination.  Constans, perhaps bearing in mind what had happened to his father and trusting fully in Vortigern gave his permission to hand pick his personal bodyguard.  This made it easy for Vortigern who told the king that he had received word that an alliance of Picts and Dacians were preparing to attack Britain. He also assured him he knew of some trustworthy Picts who were not involved in the plot and he advised they should be offered a place at his court to form his new bodyguard. They would be loyal to Constans and act as spies informing him on what their compatriots were plotting.  Despite his father having been assassinated by a Pict such was his trust and reliance on Vortigern that Constans agreed.

Vortigern’s real intention was not to protect the king but replace his loyal bodyguards with men of his own choosing whom he believed he could control.  He knew the Picts were quarrelsome and often indulged in heavy drinking and in such a state they were unruly but easily manipulated. He also knew full well that they would have no qualms about assassinating Constans if the seeds of the idea were sown carefully and the right conditions prevailed. Therefore, he was confident that if he set the stage right they would act out the part he planned and take the blame while he looked beyond suspicion and took the crown.

To bring his plan into action he sent messengers to Scotland seeking one hundred Pictish warriors whom he could install as the King’s household guard.  When the Picts arrived he made a great show of welcome.  He gave them expensive presents and a luxury table for them to dine from and he showed them more respect than he gave the King’s original bodyguard.  So pleased were they with his welcome of them they began to see him as their lord and master above King Constans, exactly as Vortigern had planned.

Soon they began to make songs revering Vortigern and belittling Constans.  In these they praised Vortigern as king suggesting Constans was unworthy. They sang these songs in the streets in full view of the public pleasing Vortigern greatly. The greater they praised him the more he praised them in return and bestowed greater favor upon them.  Soon the next stage of his plan was ready to put into action.

The Killing of King Constans

He waited until one day when the Picts were well and truly drunk and solemnly told them the day was coming when he would leave Britain.  Mournfully, he told them he did not want to go but could no longer afford to keep more than fifty men in his retinue. With that he feigned great sorrow and left them drinking to think about it. The Picts were sorry to hear this for Vortigern had been good to them.  They began to think about their own position and how that could change and one of them said,

“Why do we suffer this monk to live? Why do not we kill him, that Vortigern may enjoy his crown? Who is so fit to succeed as he? A man so generous to us is worthy to rule, and deserves all the honour and dignity that we can bestow upon him.” (1) 

After more drinking and such talk between one another they broke into the King’s bedchamber.  They killed him while he slept and then proudly presented his severed head to Vortigern. Putting on a great show of sorrow and tears, while really elated with joy, he ordered the assassins to be bound. Wasting no time he summoned the citizens of London to witness their execution for what he called their terrible crime.

Not all of Britain’s nobles were taken in by Vortigern’s show of false sorrow. Many suspected villainy but with no one left in Britain powerful enough to stop him Vortigern seized the crown.  In fear of their own lives and for the safety of the brothers Aurelius and Uther – the true heirs – they fled across the sea to Armorica.    The brothers were well treated by King Bude who educated and kept them in a manner befitting their royal blood.

As time passed his treason was at last discovered. The Picts were furious at the execution of their own people and constantly attacked and ravaged the border country.  Vortigern was at daily war with them and lost many of his best warriors keeping them at bay. 

The Threat of Aurelius

Over the years in Armorica, Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther were coming of age and sought revenge for the murder of their father and elder brother.  Aurelius, the elder of the two had built himself a formidable reputation on the continent as a war leader and was mustering an army to retake the crown of Britain.  He remembered how Vortigern had favoured the Picts and now he knew he had orchestrated their deaths to remove any witnesses. Now with his own star on the rise he was burning to avenge his father and elder brother and reclaim the crown of Britain.

Although Vortigern was now High King of the island of Britain his troubles were just beginning.  With the growing threat of Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther he began receiving reports of the building of a vast fleet and the mustering of a great army. His spies confirmed his fears that they were intent on taking back their inheritance.  Therefore an invasion force was expected to land at any time somewhere along the south coast of England.  

With the Picts making daily forays in the north of his realm he knew he was in trouble. Taking stock of the situation on both fronts he found he was desperately short of men at arms to defend the kingdom. Despite his military weakness he still had  his political guile and ruthlessness which he used to quell any opposition among his own war leaders. Nevertheless, these were dangerous times with the promise of worse to come but things were going to take an unexpected turn that he would at first welcome and then live to regret.   As the clouds of war were gathering on the northern and southern edges of his realm there appeared completely unexpectedly off the coast of Britain three long ships carrying a detachment of armed warriors from foreign parts. These warriors were under the command of two brothers named Hengist and Horsa and they came ashore at Kent.

To begin with the presence of these two brothers looked to be a welcome gift in nullifying the brothers Aurelius and Uther and countering the Picts and Vortigern welcomed. However, while he was ruthless and treacherous Hengist would prove to be a master beyond compare of deceit and treachery. Hengist also has had a beautiful daughter name Rowena who Vortigern would become obsessed with and marry. All the time across the sea in Armorica, Aurelius was preparing his revenge.

© 12/02/2020 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 12th, 2020 zteve t evans

English Folk Heroines: Maid Marian

Olivia de Havilland in The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938 Warner Bros. [Public domain]

Maid Marian  

Maid Marian, famous as the legendary girlfriend of Robin Hood, took on many roles and personas over the centuries, changing greatly with the times.  Although she is absent from the earliest known ballads of Robin Hood she later appear in many plays, ballads and stories. Her character and role varied greatly, sometimes appearing as a noblewoman at other times as a commoner or shepherdess.  From her early beginnings which can be found in folklore she evolves through literature from a simple medieval shepherdess and May Day Queen, to the girlfriend of the famous Robin Hood.

Folklore is dynamic and changes with the ages reflecting changes in attitude and circumstances by society. This can be seen in action with Maid Marian and how she became a folk heroine.  Over time she becomes a deeper, more complex character and much more than just the love interest of the famous Robin Hood and more than just an important character in someone else’s adventure.  It is in comparison to her and her character and traits that much of the morality of these stories comes out, making her an important ingredient to the overall plot, exposition and denouement of the story through the ages.  The overall impression is of a strong, independent lady in a relatively equal relationship with Robin. Her qualities of loyalty and compassion mixed with boldness make her a popular figure in the Robin Hood canon of literature providing a strong folkloric tradition.  There is also more than a hint of her dangerous side when she is found in a role of noble woman covertly undermining the patriarchal and ruling order by passing information on to Robin. The fact that she has male suitors in high society and chooses Robin rather than them underlines her independence of mind and action.

Marion and Robin in France

In the  pastourelle songs of France, Marian became Marion and she and Robin are found together but not in the way that we are familiar with.  In these songs Marion is a shepherdess who rejects the romantic attention of a knight to stay faithful to Robin who is a shepherd.  From this, Marion and Robin appeared in Jeu de Robin et Marion, a French play by Adam de la Halle in the later part of the 13th century. 

Later they became connected to spring festivals and traditions in both France and England to celebrate the passing of winter and welcome the new growth of spring.  These were often outside events enjoyed by the community with lots of feasting, singing, dancing, games and all sorts of fun activities and entertainment.

Marian as the May Queen

Maid Marian also has associations with the rustic figures of the May Queen and Lady May the personifications of May Day, springtime and summer connecting her with renewal, new growth, fertility and abundance.  With the figure of Robin Hood becoming increasingly popular appearing in plays, games and ballads especially during Whitsun, Robin and Marian eventually became integrated into new roles as the King and Queen of the May Day.  

The Virgin Mary

It was not Marian in the early works that was Robin’s important female interest but the Virgin Mary.  However, society changed and England became more protestant. With Marian’s strong associations to nature and fertility she complemented the forest environment and was a good partner for the outlaw of Sherwoos, eventually taking on the role of his lover.  However social attitudes modified her behaviour making her become much more modest, ladylike and virtuous rather than the lusty, rustic figure of fertility, vitality and renewal. 

As Marian  became more integrated in the Robin Hood stories her character, social status and circumstance change and evolve considerable.  She is not just a damsel in distress in need of rescue by some bold heroic male, she evolves into a much more complex character. Some of the tales portray her as a robust woman of action, her fighting expertise matching, or even surpassing male counterparts and even that of Robin in some stories.

At times when she is found within the stately and highly patriarchal confines of Norman society within Nottingham Castle she is the  secret rebel passing on information to Robin in Sherwood Forest. She can move between the two worlds of Norman and outlaw society while remaining true to her own values and personal beliefs and her love for Robin.

Nineteenth Century Marion

In the nineteenth century Marion loses much of her power becoming a highborn, chaste and delicate noblewoman of high birth and very much an archetype of the Victorian lady.  Her love story with Robin becomes central but she is now a supporting character to her lover rather than one in her own right. Perhaps to please Victorian audiences she and Robin are married by King Richard the Lionheart in St Mary’s Church in Edwinstowe making the story of Robin Hood and Maid Marion more romantic  and sanitized.

Modern Marian

From the early days to the present we can see how the changes in society and attitudes to women have evolved and expressed at different times through the ages. Her character and her role are reflections of those times and the attitudes that prevailed towards the male and female role models.  We have seen her evolve from the rustic mysticism of the May Queen to the archetypical lady of high society with a secret lover, to a more competent, confident and assertive female whose history in many ways reflects the lot of women through the ages. Marian stands out as one of the strongest female characters in folklore and literature and there is ample potential for further interesting developments in the modern age.   The potential for further development for her is also seen in modern times with the greater freeing of women from their traditional archetypes.

© 07/01/2020 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright January 7th, 2020 zteve t evans

The Outlaws of Inglewood Forest and the Hidden Feminine Influence

Source

This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com on September 26, 2019, under the title British Legends: The Outlaws of Inglewood and the feminine Influence, by zteve t evans

Adam, Clym and Wyllyam

The story of William of Cloudesly is found in a 16th century ballad, Adam Bell, Clym of the Cloughe and Wyllyam of Cloudeslee, but may be older. It was included in the influential 19th century collection, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, as ballad 116, by Francis James Child. Although it is a male dominated, rip-roaring, all action story, three women play a significant part, emerging at points to influence events. Presented here is a short retelling followed by a brief discussion on the influence of the three females on the story.

Outlaws of Inglewood Forest

After falling foul of the authorities for poaching deer, William of Cloudesly, Adam Bell and Clym of Clough ranged Inglewood Forest as outlaws. William had a wife and three children and began to miss them badly. They lived in Carlisle and he knew it would be dangerous to visit them, but told his friends that he had to take the chance. They were aghast, and tried to dissuade him, but he would not listen, and, promising to be careful, set off for Carlisle.

William and Alice

As night fell, William made his way to the family home and tapped quietly on the door. His wife, Alice, let him in, and William joyfully embraced her and his children. It was a very happy family that evening — but there was one in the home who was not family, yet  terribly interested to see William’s return. Before William was outlawed, purely from the goodness of his heart, he had taken an old woman into his home, giving her food and a bed for free. Seeing he was back, she crept out and reported his presence to both the Magistrate and Sheriff of Carlisle, who rewarded her with a scarlet dress.

Capture

The Sheriff enlisted a gang of men and besieged William’s home. William, with stout support from Alice, defended the house, keeping the attackers at bay.  The Sheriff ordered the place to be set on fire, forcing the man to lower his children through the upstairs windows to safety using knotted sheets. Alice at first refused to go, wanting to die at his side, until William pointed out the children would have no one to take care of them, so she reluctantly agreed.

Once alone, William put up a fierce resistance, shooting many of the attackers with arrows. Eventually, the smoke and flames forced him to jump through the window into the crowd below, where he was overpowered. Taking no chances, the Sheriff ordered that all the city gates be locked to deter any possible escape, and instructed carpenters to build a gallows.

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Ghostlore: The Phantom of the Fell

Public Domain

Presented below is a retelling of a Lancashire folktale from Goblin Tales of Lancashire by James Bowker, where it was called The Phantom of the Fell.

The High Fell at Night

The High Fell is an impressive sight in daylight but at night when the moon is full it takes on a glory of its own.  One evening in the middle of June a local man named Giles Wheeler had been celebrating the wedding of a distant relative. During those celebrations he had felt within him a longing for the company of his own dear sweetheart the rosy-faced, warm-hearted Lisa, who was the miller’s only daughter.  It was a long road home and in daylight the quickest way was through the ravine that split the Fell in two but that was something few local people did after dark. It had long been rumoured that something evil lurked in the ravine and walked the Fell at night. Even in daylight people walked a considerable distance out of their way to avoid passing near the darksome place.

Giles was not overly superstitious and being a vigorous man in the prime of life had little fear of the Fell at night or the supposed fiend that haunted it though normally by habit  he would have played safe and avoided it because of its darkness and danger from the cliffs and ridges. However, this night the moon lit the hillside gloriously and he judged he had sufficient light to pass through safely.  Had he not been in such a hurry he might have noticed that as well as being gloriously moonlit, it was a calm and peaceful night. The only sound was the gently whispering of the breeze through the bracken.

Giles took no notice of such trivialities as moonlight and the breeze through the bracken he had his mind full of the delights of Lisa.   Maybe another night, with less pressing concerns on his mind Giles would have avoided the ravine on High Fell despite it being a substantial short cut to the old mill and the miller’s cuddly daughter.

The Ravine

On this night he was in a hurry and putting aside all of the terrifying stories he had heard he stepped into the darkness of the ravine leaving the moonlight behind.  His desire for Lisa was strong but as he walked along in the moonlight he kept thinking back to those tales. Each shadow that loomed before him and each rustle behind him made him start and his heart jump.  His skin grew cold and prickled and his fear rose. He told himself not to be foolish, that the shadows were nought but shadows and the rustling behind him was nought but the breeze in the bracken. Entering into the ravine he was surprised to find it was very misty and he pulled his coat around him feeling chilled to the bone despite it being a warm midsummer night. He felt it before he heard it.  The scream penetrated his brain.  He froze in fear. It cut right through him.  Possessed him! 

Forcing himself on the deathly wail broke the night again as he reached a curve in the ravine.  The terrible wail was not intended to terrify rather to express melancholy, sadness and woe. As it washed over him he knew the maker of such a sound could not be from this world.  Startled, he looked in its direction and in the moonlight saw the shape of a woman against the moon standing upon a cliff.  Her face was pale with a fragile beauty, her long black hair had a strange lustre, her dark eyes a melancholy, pleading, allure that sought him out and looked deep into his soul and then she was gone.

She appeared a little way before him and he stood spellbound worshiping her beauty.  All fear was replaced by a delirious desire to speak – to speak and to be spoken to – by this most beautiful woman who appeared to be in such anguish.  As her lips moved his heart beat faster expecting her to speak to him.

To his shock and disappointment instead of speaking words she uttered another long, low, lamenting wail and held out her arms invitingly to him.  Now, he hurried forward eager to greet her. She turned slowly gliding on a few paces before turning and beckoning – inviting him to follow. She floated further along the ravine where the moonlight was at its brightest beckoning and appealing to him with those dark eyes and he hurried after her.  She turned and holding her arms out towards him, her eyes pleading, inviting, her arms welcoming. As he reached out to touch and take her, she vanished and he grasped at nothing.  Bewildered and deeply disappointed he ran around anxiously trying to find her again. Frantically, he looked around, but there was no sight of her to be seen. He retraced his steps through the ravine but even in the bright moonlight could find no trace of her.  Fearful of losing her he crisscrossed the ravine desperately seeking her and roamed around High Fell until dawn.  Finally, instead of continuing his journey to his sweetheart Lisa he went back to his own family home.

Home

Unwilling to tell his parents of his experience on the High Fell during the night he told them that he had not left the wedding celebrations until midnight. Having drunk too much ale he had become lost on the way home. This appeared to satisfy them though it was remarked that after such festivities it was a wonder he had found his way home at all! 

Throughout the day his mother and father became aware their son was unusually quiet and reflective and nothing like his usual cheerful and energetic self.  His father put it down to the ale the night before, while his mother thought perhaps the wedding was making him reflect on his own marital status and hoped for one for her son soon.

When Giles suddenly stood up and announced he was going out for a few hours, giving no hint of where he was going, his mother nodded and looked knowingly upon her son as he walked purposefully through the door into the falling twilight.  In fact, it was not in the direction of the old mill that Giles turned when he left the house but the opposite direction he stepped with his eyes fixed upon High Fell. He deliberately took his time loitering here and there with the deliberate intention of entering the ravine that evening after the gloaming by the light of the moon.

He walked unwarily with no intent at concealment knowing on the path he traveled at that time of the evening he would be unlikely to meet anyone.  All he cared about was meeting the beautiful woman – phantom – or spirit, that he had met the night before on the Fell. Taking a seat on a boulder outside the ravine he sat down to wait for the moon to rise hoping she would appear once again to him.

Woman or ghoul he did not care he had to see her and he waited.  He waited and watched as the night began to unfold around him feeling her presence, knowing she was near as the mist appeared and thickened around him. Once again he felt it before he heard it a strange lamenting wail cutting through his mind.  He knew there were words in that long moaning scream but could not make them out. 

Return to the Ravine

He entered the ravine as the moon rose in full glory and walked slowly down the path between the crags.  Again he felt her presence, but stronger than before, then the low, long mournful wail crept through the night he looked towards the sound and saw her standing in the moonlight high upon a crag her outstretched arms beckoning to him.

In growing desire and anticipation he moved towards her as she floated down from the crag to stand a short way down the path before him.  He caught a glimpse of those mysteriously dark eyes – appealing – pleading. She beckoned to him, turned and glided further down the path toward the heart of the dark clough.  He had no other choice than to follow as she drew him deeper into the jagged maw of the ravine and turned to face him her dark eyes shining in the moonlight her black hair flowing in the breeze.  There she stood, white dress shimmering in the moonlight her arms outstretched beckoning, her eyes pleading – inviting. Giles stumbled on reaching out for her but as he looked into the depths of her pleading eyes, she uttered a low mournful cry and as he reached to hold her she dissolved before him.

Aghast, Giles ran up and down trying to find her but she was gone.  All that was left was that low mournful sound that echoed in his mind.  He spent the night searching the ravine and the Fell but all in vain. As the sun rose he made his way back to the farm of his parents feeling mournful at her loss, bewitched and musing upon how he could find her again.

Over the following days the urge to gaze upon that beautiful face and to lose himself  in those pleading eyes consumed him. He took to sitting around and refused to eat. In the evenings he would leave his parents farm to ramble alone on the High Fell in the hope of once again seeing that mysteriously beautiful stranger.  

Lisa

June passed into July and his mother, father and Lisa could not help noticing the change in his behaviour. Worse still, the continual refusal to explain himself and his nocturnal ramblings caused them great worry and they speculated wildly upon what it was that was troubling him.

July passed into August and the miller, Lisa’s father, to her upset took a less than charitable view suggesting Giles nocturnal rambles were in fact visits to a nearby town and that he had fallen into evil ways. Despite her father’s dark opinion of Giles, the ever faithful Lisa went to her fiance’s house to meet and talk with him in the hope of winning back his devoted attention.

Giles listened to her earnest and heartfelt pleadings full of shame but would not, indeed, could not, give her assurances that he would change his ways.  She argued with logic, she reasoned, she begged she pleaded and used all her womanly wiles, but Giles refused to promise to change his ways.

Lisa was left thinking that her father was right and bitterly accused him of being dishonest and unfaithful to her and left for home in tears.  Halfway home she stopped and thought about running back to him, throwing herself upon him and begging him to tell her the truth. She would forgive any indiscretions but insist his behaviour must stop.  Something inside her stopped her, perhaps pride, perhaps anger but she didn’t. Instead, she went back home to her father at the mill. As for Giles, he was deeply upset and desperately ashamed and sorry for his behaviour but he knew he could not stop and refused to tell further lies. Nevertheless, he realised he was steadily falling completely under the power of the mysterious woman and tried to resist. 

August passed into September and then into October and all those long days and nights his mind was assailed by the vision of the woman of the Fell and he heard her long lonely moan day and night.

The Mad Man on the Fell

One night towards the end of November he made his way up to the High Fell to the ravine and began searching for the mysterious woman in white.  He walked up and down and round and round in circles, becoming increasingly frantic as the night progressed without her appearance. Again and again he spoke out loud appealing to her to present herself to him, but to no avail.

Occasionally, as on this night poachers visited the High Fell in the hope of finding game.   This night two of the miller’s men were out poaching and on hearing a voice quickly concealed themselves so as not to be discovered in their illicit activity.  They were both intrigued and shocked at what they witnessed that night. 

In their place of concealment they saw Giles appear out of the ravine frantically babbling as if he was talking or appealing to an invisible being.  He ran straight towards them appearing half-crazed shouting and babbling in agitation. They could not quite make out what he was saying but as he drew nearer they realized he appeared to be appealing and begging to some invisible being to show themselves to him. 

The two poachers remained hidden, first not wanting to reveal themselves in their illegal activity, but also, quite simply, they were scared at what they saw and agreed together to say nothing to anyone of what they had seen of the madman on the Fell.  When Giles ran the opposite way to where they were they took their opportunity and ran as quickly as they could back home.

Fever

At dawn Giles somehow made his way down the hillside and back home.  To the worry of his parents he was in a state of high fever and delirium ranting and calling out to some invisible presence only he could see. He raved about a beautiful, mysterious face and someone with dark, pleading eyes. 

This confirmed to his parents their worst fears. Sorrowfully they tended to his needs as he lay raving in bed.  This terrible affliction continued for several weeks and in that time, especially at night, Giles would try to leave the safety of his family home to go wandering in the dark.  His parents steadfastly thwarted this ambition but still he called out to someone they could not see or hear, sometimes whispering, “She of the dark, dark eyes is calling,” while his broken-hearted parents wept by his bedside.

It was bad enough for his devoted parents to see the physical deterioration in his body along with his mental state.  It was made worse for them by learning from his ravings of a beautiful woman with “dark, dark eyes” that he appeared to have been meeting up on the High Fell.  Nevertheless, he was still their son and although they loved him dearly they could not help but to think he had fallen into sin and shame as they listened to his wild and impassioned ravings.

The Feeroin

They lived on the edge of a tight knit community and it was not long before people began to talk and word reached the ears of Lisa.  She carried herself through these troubled times staunchly, believing she was now seen as an object of pity.

It so happened that the two of the miller’s men who had been up on the fell poaching went to their employer telling him of what they had seen that night. They told him they believed Giles was under the spell of the feeorin of the fell.  The miller rebuked them for poaching but sent them to speak to the worried parents of Giles of what they had seen.  For Lisa this gave her hope that her fiance had not been unfaithful as she had feared. She was sorry for ever doubting him and she went along with them.

After the two told their story of what they had seen and that they believed him to be under the spell of the feeroin of the fell his parents readily seized upon it.  To them this seemed the most sensible explanation of their son’s behaviour and rebuked themselves for not having more faith in him. Although a load was removed from their shoulders Giles still remained critically ill, but now Lisa stayed on and helped to take care of him.

Lisa and Giles

Both she and his parents now ignored his ravings and nursed him diligently and carefully.  Eventually his condition improved enough for him to sit in a chair by the fire. As the December snows began to fall he sat by the hearth in a dream-like state watching the pictures in the flickering flames.   Seeing his improvement Liza dared to dream of the day when he would return to his old self and happiness would smile upon them. She desperately wanted their wedding day to be fixed, despite all the love and attention she heaped upon him Giles treated her with a cold, but polite dispassion.   He was not being ungrateful, in fact he fully appreciated the dedication and nursing  she had lavished upon him. He always politely thanked her for each and everything but realised that Lisa sensed something was still amiss with him.  Despite this, she still she lovingly continued her service to him without question. 

Giles, no matter how he tried, could not return the love she bestowed upon him.   He was completely possessed by the dark eyes of the mysterious woman on the Fell. Knowing that the truth would devastate Lisa he kept himself to a polite silence.

On Lisa’s part she sensed the coolness towards her but restrained from remonstrating with him fearing it might reverse the good progress in his physical health he had made.  Sadly, when she was alone she wept for the change she saw in him. 

For all the love she poured upon him Giles could not return what he not  did not feel. His heart and mind was entirely possessed by the mysterious woman on the Fell.  He knew it was wrong and he was wracked with guilt at the same time. No matter how he tried he could not get the image of her out of his mind; her dark eyes, her long flowing hair, and that sad mournful cry. It was these that dominated his thoughts and his emotions while he knew poor Lisa suffered but could not in anyway alleviate that suffering.  

For him the intense longing he was feeling or the mysterious girl in the moonlight was building up. As the days moved towards Christmas and the festive season, he again began to see her dark eyes everywhere and hear her mournful lament in the wind through the trees. He tried to enter into the spirit of the season hoping it would take his mind off the mysterious woman.

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve came and Lisa went home to her father promising to visit him in the morning.  His parents went to bed early being exhausted and feeling their age and left him to sit up alone staring into the fire.  From where he sat by the fire he could turn his head and look through the window to the High Fell and saw in his mind’s eye the woman in the moonlight beckoning and crying her long, sad cry. 

In the distance he saw the High Fell black against the sky and he knew she was calling to him.  He longed more than anything in the world to take her in his arms and look into those dark eyes though he feared what he knew he would see. 

Fortunately there had always been someone nearby, either one or other of his parents or the faithful Lisa, who had prevented him from venturing out.  Tonight on Christmas Eve he found himself alone and looking through the window at the falling snow and glancing towards the High Fell he swore he saw her.   And then she came to him ….

The Phantom of the Fell

He heard her call and through the window he saw her.  Those dark, dark eyes pleading and her outstretched arms beckoning him into her loving embrace. With no one to stop him he left the fireside and put on his coat and ventured outside into the snow.  Slowly and weakly but with steely resolve he made his way through the biting wind and thick snow to the haunted ravine.

When his parents awoke Christmas morning they let their son lay in while they prepared the festivities. When Lisa arrived bearing him a special Christmas gift his mother called into his room to see where he was and his absence was discovered.  She called her husband who wasted no time in seeking help from his neighbours and they followed his tracks in the snow. They reached the High Fell and found it shrouded in a thick mist which frigid pink sun shone through turning the ravine into a  phantasmagoria of ghastly jagged teeth. In the weird light they followed his footprints up to the ravine and pausing looked at one another in hushed silence and then and then entered the dread place.

From the tracks Giles had made they guessed he had become frantic with steps leading back and forth and hither and thither.  His father, who was leading the party, suddenly stopped holding up his hand. The tracks ended abruptly at the edge of a cliff he had almost stepped over.  After a short discussion it was decided to follow the course of the path which would twist round and pass below the cliff. With growing dread they followed the path to place below the cliff where the grief of his father father and the horror of all present they found his broken body on the path his face frozen in a wild death mask.

© 23/12/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright zteve t evans December 23rd, 2019

Winter Folklore: Traditions and Customs of the Cailleach Bheur

Gustave Doré [Public domain]

In Scottish, Irish, Manx and Gaelic mythology the goddess of winter is known as the the Cailleach, Beira or the Cailleach Bheur, which means old woman or hag. In Celtic mythology she had a similar role to Jörð in Norse mythology  and Gaia, in Greek mythology.

Donald Alexander Mackenzie

The Scottish folklorist Donald Alexander Mackenzie (1873 – 1936) wrote frequently on the subjects of mythology, anthropology and religion and developed a theory that there was a matriarchal society spread across Europe in Neolithic times.  In his book,  Myths of Crete and Pre-Hellenic Europe (1917), he argues that these early societies were gynocentric and matriarchal venerating goddesses above gods but during the Bronze Age a patriarchal society evolved supplanting it.  Mackenzie called the Cailleach Bheur by the name of Beira, Queen of Winter.  

He saw her as a giantess with  a single eye who had her mountain throne on Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain and the highest in the British Isles.  According to him she had white hair, dark blue skin, and rust-colored teeth. She had a magic hammer that she used to create the mountains and valleys  of Scotland.  Loch Ness was created when she changed a careless maid named Nessa into a river which then formed the loch.  Each year her rule would come to an end when the longest night of the year arrived when she would seek out the Well of Youth and drink its waters which made her grow younger by the day. 

As the Cailleach

In Scottish folklore and mythology, as the Cailleach she was believed to have created many of the mountains and hills.  She carried a wicker basket containing rocks and as she strode across the land at such a pace many of these rocks accidently fell out creating hills and mountains as she went. Sometimes she was said to have created the mountains on purpose and carried a hammer which she used to shape the hills and valleys.   She opposed Spring and herded deer and when she strikes the ground with her staff the ground freezes. 

The Cailleach and Brigid

Sometimes she is seen with the goddess Brigid in partnership or operating as two faces or aspects of one goddess.  They ruled the winter and spring months between November 1st or Samhain to May 1st or Beltane. Brigid rules from Beltane through summer and autumn  to Samhain.

In some traditions the Cailleach turns to stone on Beltane and reverts to her human form on Samhain to rule the winter and spring months. However, this is not straightforward,  in some traditions the transfer of jurisdiction between the two goddesses and winter to spring can be celebrated any time between Là Fhèill Brigid or February 1st, Latha na Cailliche or March 25th and Beltane or May 1st.  Festivals named after either of the two goddesses are held in between these dates.

Saint Brigid’s Day

According to tradition the Imobolc, or the 1st of February or  Là Fhèill Brigid is the day the Cailleach gathers her firewood for winter.  If she is planning a long winter she will make that day sunny and bright to help her find plenty of fuel to last her through the cold days of winter.  Therefore with this legend in mind people are pleased if the weather on February 1st is wet and dismal as the winter will be short. A tradition on the Isle of Man  where she is called Caillagh ny Groamagh, says that on St. Bride’s day she has been seen to take the form of a giant bird that flies around collecting sticks in its beak.

The Whirlpool of Corryvreckan

Another tradition from the west coast of Scotland tells how the Cailleach by washing her great plaid, which can be a kind of kilt, or sometimes a large shawl, in the waters of the Gulf of Corryvreckan causes the whirlpool in the gulf and brings in winter.  This also causes a storm that can be heard twenty miles away and lasts for three days.  When she is finished her plaid is clean and white and covers the land as snow. 

Harvest Traditions

There was an old custom in Ireland and Scotland where the farmer who was first to finish harvesting his crop of grain made a corn dolly that represent the Cailleach from the last sheaf that he cut.  This would be thrown into the field of one of his neighbors who had yet to finish bringing in his harvest.  If the farmer finished before his other neighbors this was passed to one of them. This was passed on until it at last came into the hands of the last unfortunate farmer to finish who it was implied had the misfortune to have to take care of the corn dolly for the following year. In doing so he was obliged to feed and house the Cailleach, the hag of winter, until summer returned.  This gave all of the farmers the encouragement and motivation to get their harvest in quickly.

© 06/12/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attribution and Further Reading

Copyright December 6th, 2019 zteve t evans

Legendary Ship’s Cats


Image by IsaszaCC BY 4.0Source
This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com titled Ship’s Cats in Legend and Folklore written by zteve t evans.

Ship’s Cats

Ship’s cats have been sailing the seven seas alongside humans for centuries. They were not usually taken along as pets or tourists, but performed an essential role controlling vermin. Rodents managed to find their way on to most types of ships and cats being a natural enemy were taken along to reduce their number.

Vermin Control

Rats and mice could cause all sorts of problems for sailors. Ships carried many different types of cargo and the profits of the ship owners and crew depended on keeping that cargo as safe as possible. Rodents would eat and contaminate anything edible such as grain or food and ships also carried sufficient provisions and stores for the crew which needed protection. Rodents also gnaw and chew inedible items such as rope or woodwork causing problems with the working of the ship. In modern ships, electric cables or hoses were also vulnerable to rodent attack, often leading to fires or breakdowns. Rodents carried disease, and in the small enclosed community of a ship infections could spread rapidly. Cats, being natural predators, made a good choice for rodent control onboard while offering companionship to the sailors.

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Beowulf: The Slaying of Grendel and the Water Witch

J. R. Skelton [Public domain]

Beowulf was originally written in Anglo-Saxon times as a poem in Old English by an anonymous writer.  It tells the story of its heroic protagonist, Beowulf, who embodies the much revered Anglo-Saxon qualities of strength, courage, heroism and virtuous behaviour.   It is these qualities, blended with fictional, legendary and historical elements that make Beowulf the ideal role model for the Anglo-Saxon warrior aristocracy.   Presented her is a retelling of the story after his arrival in Denmark to his triumphant return to Geatland drawn from the sources below.

Beowulf comes of Age

The story of Beowulf begins in a part of Scandinavia called Geatland that was a land of tall mountains,  narrow valleys and a long rugged coastline. It was populated by a brave and virtuous people called the Geats who were ruled over by King Hygelac and his wife Queen Hygd, the Wise and Fair.  At regular times King Hygelac would call his earls and warriors to his great hall for feasting and drinking.  These were popular and events that brought together his people from distant parts and helped bond his nation to him and each other.  At these events the stories of their valour and that of their of their ancestors were told by the bards and sometimes one of them might be called upon to tell of a heroic deed they had performed.  Young Beowulf would sit in the great hall taking in all of the stories. He was the son of the king’s sister who from a very young age had caught the eye of his uncle for his physical stature and strength. 

One night a great feast was held in the king’s hall and all of the bravest and renowned warriors and noble of Geatland gathered to enjoy the festivities.  As the evening progressed, King Hygelac stood up and introduced a visiting minstrel, whom he named as The Wanderer,  and asked him to sing a song.  The minstrel brought a stool before the king and sat down and began to play his harp.   He sang of the wild northern lands and of the forbidden mountains that were home to beasts and demons far more dangerous than any of those found in Geatland.  He told of terrible dragons and of their slaying by brave men and he told of the sea serpents and wild things of the sea.

The Song of Grendel

The song of The Wanderer began to change and took on a darker and more disturbing tone.  It told of King Hrothgar of Denmark and of the terrible calamity that had struck that land. He sang of a demon that was part animal, part man and part all terrible creatures and the name of the demon was Grendel. He told how Grendel had appeared one fearful night, twelve years ago after a great feast in the great hall of King Hrothgar that was called Hereot.  After all had ate and drank their fill and the king and queen retired to their own apartments his earls and warriors lay asleep in the great hall. As they had lain peacefully sleeping unaware of any pending peril, Grendel had come and forced aside the great door and carried away thirty of the sleeping earls, murdering and devouring them.

This had caused great sorrow throughout the land and although there had been many attempts to kill Grendel he violently defeated and killed all of his attackers showing no mercy at all.  Now no one dared to sleep in the great hall of Heorot because Grendel often visited it and wreaking his havoc wherever it was in use.  He has killed most of the young and vigorous warriors of the Danes who has dared to stand up to him and now all that remained were defenseless women, children and the elderly.   Beowulf was now completely taken with the song and a fire sprang up in him lighting up his blue eyes. As he listened he knew what he must do.  Springing from his seat he thumped the table shouting, 

“My King and Queen and earls of Geatland, in days gone by King Hrothgar of Denmark was the friend of Ecgtheow my father in his hour of need.  I, Beowulf, the son of Ecgtheow, will slay Grendel for King Hrothgar in thanks for his friendship to my father and the glory of Geatland!”

The Wanderer stopped his song and throughout the hall a silence fell.  King Hygelac stood up and commanded silence and turning to Beowulf said in a voice that all could hear,

“Beowulf your time has come to prove yourself.  You have been blessed with the strength and vitality of thirty men and you should use your powers to help everyone.  Hrothgar, our friend and neighbor has great need. Go now to Denmark and prove yourself and slay Grendel!”

King Hygelac ordered that Beowulf should be given suitable equipment for his purpose and told him to choose fourteen comrades to accompany him.  These should be such as Beowulf, young men who had come of age and in need of proving themselves.  At last suitable equipped and attired the company made their way to the harbour where a ship had been prepared.  At sunrise the next day Beowulf and his company set sail on their great adventure.

Their voyage across the sea was not to be an easy one as they sailed into a great storm. At last they came safely through and arriving on the shores of Denmark they pushed their ship up a beach.  There they met an old man who welcomed them and showed them the path to the great hall of King Hrothgar of Denmark and promised to stray and guard their ship until their return.

The Hall of King Hrothgar

Beowulf and his company followed  the path through dense forest for many miles until the came into a long valleyAt the far end of the valley stood the once fair hall of Heorot.  As they passed through the valley they saw the deserted farms and the homes of the people while all around there hung the stench of death like the very land rotted.  There was no sign of humans so Beowulf led his company onwards towards the great hall. until at last came to it gates.

Three times Beowulf knocked upon the gates and at last a frightened gatekeeper appeared and nervously asked what business they had at the hall.  Beowulf requested the man go to King Hrothgar telling him that a band of warriors from Geatland had arrived wishing to speak to him and were asking for food and lodging.

The gatekeeper hurried off and presently Beowulf saw the king approach in the company of a band of elderly warriors.  King Hrothgar was now an old man himself with a full beard of flowing white and eyes that told of days of fear and sorrow.  As he approached he opened his arms wide saying,

 “Welcome strangers,  I can see by your bearing you are friends and here on some errand to my sad and unhappy kingdom.  Therefore, speak of your errand and who you so that I may help you as I can.”

Stepping forward Beowulf loudly proclaimed, “I am Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow whom you befriended and KIng Hygelac of Geatland is my uncle.  We come to Denmark to slay the demon called Grendel and free you from his terror.”

Then Hrothgar looked long and hard at him and said, “Ecgtheow was my friend and brother-in-arms.  You and your friends are very welcome in Denmark but I warn you Grendel comes often to Heorot and is hungry for young men to devour.  Now come rest and tonight for the first time in twelve years there will be feasting in Heorot and Queen Wealhtheow the Beautiful will pass to you the drinking-horn as is our tradition of friendship.”

For the first time in twelve years the great hall of Heorot was made ready for a great feast and fires were lit cooking meats of every kind.  When all was ready the king and queen arrived followed by a great company and took their seats in the hall according to rank. Their number had been greatly diminished by Grendel and now it was mostly old men who sat with the king and queen.  It was not a very joyful atmosphere for fear dwelt in the hearts of all those present of the evil of Grendel.

Queen Wealtheow Pouring Wine – J. R. Skelton [Public domain]

King Hrothgar sat at the head of the assembly with Queen Wealhtheow the Beautiful.   In a place of honour below the king sat Beowulf. Beside him on the right his right sat Aescher the king’s most trusted advisor. Next to him on his left sat Unferth, whom The Wanderer had sang about that night in Geatland in his uncle’s hall.  At the word of the King the feast began and as the drinking-horns were passed around many oaths were uttered encouraging the slaying of Grendel.   It was only Beowulf’s company of Geat warriors that were joyful and as the drink flowed they began boasting of the prowess and courage of Beowulf. Aescher endorsed their praises of their leader but Unferth became increasingly sullen and silent never offering a single word of praise as was the Danish custom.

Beowulf noticed this and turning to him said, “You keep very quiet Unferth, the son of Ecglaf, tell us of your deeds of valor that we may give praise to you.  Come, tell us and then I can drink from the cup with you!”

At this Unferth stood up and slamming his fist on the table cried, “Beowulf!  Who is this Beowulf but a beardless boy who stands before us telling us he will save us from Grendel?  Who are the beardless boys who accompany him over the sea? Does anyone think that what so many good Danes have failed this stripling will succeed?  Let him and his friends return to Geatland instead of laughing at our sorrow and loss!”

Beowulf felt his anger burn hot for this was the same Unsferth the Wanderer had sung about who had not dared to fight the demon himself.  Beowulf rose, but knowing the words of his accuser to be false spoke clearly and softly without anger, “Take back your words they are dishonorable.  I come in friendship offering to rid Denmark of this vile Grendel.  Unferth, tell us of your great battle with Grendel?”

A murmur of approval of Beowulf’s words from Danes and Geats ran around the hall and KIng Hrothgar stood up and said, “Having listened to the quiet words of Beowulf I know he is a hero. There has been too much sorrow these last twelve years and makes us bitter and say things we do not mean.  Beowulf, forgive us!”

Then Queen Wealhtheow the Beautiful took up a jewelled cup and filling it with wine passed it to Hrothgar who drank from it and then she took it to Beowulf.  He drank and she went around the company of Geatland and thanked them for coming to Denmark in their time of great need and asking each to drink. When they had done so she went around the king’s earls and they also drank to the king and queen and the death of Grendel.

Then the festivities were reopened with much good will from both Danes and Geats.  While the Danes praised the glory of King Hygelac and Queen Hygd, the Wise and Fair, the Geats praised KIng Hrothgar and Queen Wealhtheow the Beautiful.  At last Hrothgar rose from his chair and taking his queen by the hand said,  “Now it is time for us Danes to go to our beds and leave Beowulf and his company alone and pray their sleep be untroubled.” 

He led his queen out through the great door of Heorot followed by all of his earls and retainers and the Geats were left to face the night as the great fires slowly burnt out.

The Demon Grendel

Grendel by J. R. Skelton [Public domain]

Beowulf ordered that the doors of the hall be secured and his companions made them so well no mortal man could have entered.  With the doors safe the company spread their cloaks over the benches and lay down to sleep. One of Beowulf’s favorite companions named Hondscio took it upon himself to lay next to the door vowing to be the first to do battle should Grendel choose to appear.   Soon all except Beowulf were sound asleep.  He had vowed to stay awake and lay still and quiet listening as silence crept over the hall.  He could hear the breathing of his comrades but little else.

Outside fog was forming and hiding the moon.  Slowly all sounds died away and even the wind stopped its sighing and all was silent.  As the fog crept across the land and wrapped itself around the hall, despite his vow, Beowulf became very drowsy.  He fought to stay awake but his limbs felt heavy and his eyes closed and he sank into a deep slumber.

Outside the fog thickened and completely obscured the moon and tightened its hold upon the hall.  For a second the fog parted and a gigantic black shape loomed and slowly moving towards the great hall and stood before the door in the weird light.

Inside, unaware of the horror that lay outside, Beowulf and  his company slept under the bewitchment Grendel had wrought upon them.  Beowulf fought hard to break the spell and desperately tried to crawl out of the nightmarish pit he found himself in.

Outside Grendel slowly brought his strength to bear silently pushing the door open despite its  securings. Beowulf, fighting hard, crawled from the pit and saw the door wide open and fog streaming in.  He saw the great shape of Grendel bend down and picking up the sleeping Hondscio tear his limbs from his body and now he saw clearly the nature of the demon he faced.  It resembled a gigantic but twisted and deformed man yet there was something beast like about it. Its body was covered in grey scales that rattled when it moved and a pale light flickered from its eyes.  Struggling to his feet he watched in horror and disgust as it crushed the body of Hondscio and greedily ate his remains. Then it turned its vile gaze around the hall until it fell upon Beowulf. Slowly the monster moved towards him.

Beowulf, full of loathing and disgust shook off the spell and ran at the beast.  Clashing together the two grappled to gain a hold on one another. Although the claws of Grendel were strong and dug into his flesh, Beowulf was quicker and slipped easily from his hold.  As Grendel sought to grasp, hold and tear his opponent apart, Beowulf moved quickly around him dodging his grabbing hands. While his company lay in spell induced sleep he and Grendel engaged in a deadly hand to hand fight for life. 

Grendel tried to grasp and crush the head of Beowulf who in turn evaded him and continued to seek some advantage or weak spot.  At last Grendel managed to grab Beowulf but his quick turn forced both of them to the ground and for a split second the demon experienced fear and doubt. Like a true warrior Beowulf sensed this and quickly took advantage of this lapse and managed to grasp him briefly by the throat, but its scales prevented him from taking a killing grip. 

Then Grendel thrashed out and almost gained the advantage but Beowulf grasped hold of his arm and giving a quick twist jumped behind the brute pushing it high up its back causing it to scream in agony.  The two fell to the floor and Beowulf continued to grip his arm wrenching this way and that until he felt the muscles and sinews weaken and give way and he pulled the arm free from its socket. Grendel stumbled up and through the door disappearing into the fog leaving the exhausted Beowulf clutching his severed and bleeding limb.  With the spell broken his companions awoke and gathered around in wonder and horror. 

As dawn broke people slowly appeared at the great hall to see how the Geats had fared though they expected the worse.  Soon a great crowd of people thronged the hall and they were astounded by what they saw. Hanging high from one of the roof beams was the massive severed and bloody arm of Grendel.  Upon the king’s dais stood Beowulf wearing a scarlet cloak his blue eyes flashing fire and his fair hair shining like gold like some god of old. 

King Hrothgar was sent for and quickly arrived and said, “Give thanks now to Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, to be sure, this is the end of Grendel and his terror.  Hail, to Beowulf hero of Geatland!” Then Queen Wealhtheow praised him and called on the servants to prepare a great feast. The celebrations went on all day and into the night and Beowulf was greatly honored by all.

Vengeance of the Water Witch

Beowulf and the Water Witch by J. R. Skelton [Public domain]

The next day a  messenger rushed in his face white with fear, body shaking and eyes wild and kneeling before the king said in a trembling voice,   “Sire, I have just run as fast as I could from Heorot;  The good and wise Aescher has been most terribly murdered.  His head has been severed from his body and his limbs crushed to a pulp.”

With that Hrothgar and Wealhtheow, accompanied by Beowulf, hastened to the great hall. They found the mangled remains of Aescher amid a scene of great destruction and the severed arm of Grendel had been removed.  Queen Wealhtheow cried, “This is the revenge of Grendel’s mother.  In our gladness at the defeat of Grendel we had forgotten her evil presence.  Unless she too is slain she will wreak unending devastation upon us. Beowulf, we implore you to hunt her down and slay her too!”

On hearing  this Beowulf called his company to him saying, “Come, let us finish this evil once and for all before night comes,” and begged Hrothgar for horses and hounds to hunt down the monster.  Then Unferth, stepped forward from the crowd and said, “Beowulf, I am put to shame that I have ever doubted you.  Take with you my sword. Its name is Hrunting. It is a magical sword and will be of help to you.  Forgive my foolishness and let us be friends.”

Gladly, Beowulf embrace Unferth and taking the sword he and his company mounted the horses that had been brought for them.  He called for the dogs to be set loose and they soon picked up the powerful scent and raced away on the trail with Beowulf and the Geats  and King Hrothgar and the Danes following on behind. The dogs ran over hill and fen for many miles until at last they reached a small dark mere.  Strange and slimy things moved in its depths and putrid vapours rose from its surface. The dogs stopped at the water’s edge and Beowulf and his company rode up.  Throwing off his cloak and unbuckling his sword he cried, “I go into the mere alone.  Wait here until I return!”

All of his companions protested, each wanting to accompany him but he would not allow it.  He embraced his followers in turn and paid homage to King Hrothgar and turned and ran into the dark water holding Hrunting before him.  The mere covered him and he found himself sinking into the cold darkness. To his surprise the water was deep and as he sank through the darkness he entered into light. Looking down he found he was being dragged by a most vile hag. Her hair was a mass of twisting and hissing snakes. Her mouth was filled with long green fangs and her eyes  burned red like hot coals. She held him by her skinny arms and dragged him into the cave.

Quickly, looking around Beowulf saw he was in a cavern with a great fire at one end.  Huddled in one corner was a dark mass that he knew to be Grendel and now he knew this to be Grendel’s mother who now gripped him.  In that cave at the bottom of the world Beowulf grappled with the fiend striking her with his sword but it could not pierce her skin while she clawed at him trying to reach his throat.  She cast a spell and he found the strength ebb from his body. He managed to trip her off balance and threw her in the air, but she fell on top of him and he felt her claws around his throat.  Confident she had him in a death grip she relaxed a little and for a split second the spell lifted. 

Quickly, he threw her from him and staggered to his feet and moved to put his back to the wall.  There he found driven into the wall the hilt of an old sword. Grasping it he heaved with all of his might and pulled it free.  As she attacked he struck a blow that cut her clean in two. Turning to Grendel he cut off his head and then threw both bodies into the fire.  Clasping the severed head of Grendel he ran to the cave’s mouth and into the mire and surged upwards through the water until he reached the surface where his friends were waiting.

His companions were still there but King Hrothgar and the Danes had gone for he had been absent for a very long time.  He was greeted joyfully as they all crowded around wanting to hear his story, but he would tell them nothing. Instead he showed them the head of Grendel as proof of his victory.  With that he commanded them to mount their horses and they returned to Heorot and King Hrothgar. 

When the company arrived back at Heorot bearing the head of Grendel, Hrothgar was delighted Beowulf had survived and even more so to see the head of the demon he carried.   He presented all of the company with rich gifts of fine swords and weapons and chests of gold, silver and precious jewels rewarding Beowulf the greatest of all.

Having achieved all he had set out to achieve Beowulf thanked the King and Queen of Denmark and took his leave deciding to sail for home with his company. He led the company back along the forest path and at last they reached the beach where the old man still sat guarding their ship.   With all aboard he gave the order to set sail for Geatland.

Return to Geatland

King Hygelac was delighted to welcome his nephew home bearing riches from his exploits in Denmark.  After hearing of his heroics in freeing Denmark of its monsters he acclaimed Beowulf the greatest hero of his people.  The minstrels made songs of his bravery and heroism and he became famous throughout the northern lands but there were still further exploits written in the stars including a great flame dragon for him to overcome.

© 20/11/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright November 20th, 2019 zteve t evans