Patrick E. McLean
Beowulf and The Dragon
Beowulf and the Dragon: Chapter 6

Beowulf and the Dragon: Chapter 6


The men panicked and fled. As Beowulf had foretold, not a one went for a spear. Some dived back into the barrow. Others ran up or down the coast. Only the Dragon was not in a hurry. I remember that dread shape against that grey winter sky, flapping lazily as if it had all the time in the world. It wheeled off to the left of us in pursuit of some of the Thanes. Over the hill, I heard the roar of its flames and men screaming.

With a calm equal to the Dragon’s, Beowulf strolled down the hill to where the ponies had been. The beasts had also had fled, but the poor pony that carried the mighty shield was trapped. The bronze and iron had slid free from the pack and dragged behind the whinnying beast like an anchor. Foam flecked the pony’s lips and madness roiled in her eye.

Beowulf cut the lashing and the pony ran down into the valley. Then he shouldered the giant shield. As I watched the pony run, I hoped that she would make it, but somehow I knew that she would not. In that moment,  knew, with certainty, that none of us would make it out alive.

And it was then that I understood what Beowulf had meant when he had spoken of hatred in the heart. For men to war with men, courage is enough and greed will do. But to do battle with monsters, one must meet fear with something stronger.

The dragon flew low across the bottom of the hill, and snatched up the fleeing pony up with a lazy whip of its neck and a snap of its jaws. Then it breathed fire and spit the burning animal back at the Earth like a curse. It dove over the cliff and disappeared.

This was not a falcon on the hunt — terrible, beautiful, but still a part of the same skien as you or I.  This Dragon was a withering, animated greed for the suffering and end of all living things. Its joy was burning of crops, the eradication of species, the extinction of the sun. How could men who fought for treasure or power or glory in the eyes of other men stand against this monstrosity?

I looked to Beowulf, and saw him leaning on his shield as if all of this bored him. He felt my gaze upon him, turned, and saw that I had not fled. He nodded once. As much as I hated the man, I felt that I had just been awarded an honor worth having. Then he pointed to one of the spears the Thanes had abandoned.

As I took my first step towards the weapon, the hill beneath me erupted in flame. Where I had clawed an opening in the turf, a torrent of fire now poured forth. Smaller tendrils of smoke and flame welled up from the shaking ground. I fell and rolled down the hill, managing to stop near a spear. I picked it up and ran to Beowulf. I did not look back until I was behind the tower of his shield.

The Dragon’s head rose up over the edge of the cliff. It swiveled, snake-like, and filled me with an ancient revulsion. It clacked its jaws together twice, then vaulted into the air.  The Dragon blasted the unburnt oak tree with its flame, then settled onto a burning perch.

Beowulf’s eyes were filled with tears of fierce joy. The beast and the man roared as one and Beowulf advanced behind the shield. The Dragon dropped from the tree and breathed fire. As the flames surrounded us in the lee of the shield, Beowulf shouted, “When he passes!”

When the Dragon came, I stood and jammed the spear into its belly. The point scraped scales and caught between them. The force of the beast’s passage slammed the haft of the spear into the earth and it shattered. A splinter of wood lodged in my left hand. As I pulled it free, Beowulf roared for another spear and shoved me out from behind the shield.

As I ran, mostly falling toward the next weapon, the shadow of the beast passed over me. I dove for the spear, and when I came up again, I saw the Dragon, over the ocean, roiling around itself in a turn and lining up for another pass.

As it dove on me, I thought to myself, this is when I die. But the Dragon passed over me and struck at Beowulf with its claws. The bronze shield rang like a bell. Beowulf was cast one way and the shield the other. He landed hard and did not rise.

Now, I thought, Now is my chance to snatch revenge even from the jaws of my own death! I leveled my spear and charged. Beowulf raised himself wearily to hands and knees, the chainmail and the years weighing on him at last. The mouth! If he lifts his head, spear him in the mouth. But in the sky beyond Beowulf, I saw the Dragon turn again. No you damned worm, I thought I will take him first!

But when the Dragon dove, I could not tear my gaze from the  horrible thing. As I charged Beowulf, the beast opened its mouth to burn us both down. In that moment, my choice was made. I threw the spear not at Beowulf, but into the maw of the beast. It struck home in the jaw, and the creature veered off to the side, crashing into the slope and rolling away, screaming pain and fire as it went.

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Patrick E. McLean
Beowulf and The Dragon
A retelling of the classic tale of Beowulf's end as told by his squire Wiglaf, who plots to kill Beowulf in the crush of battle.