Patrick E. McLean
Beowulf and The Dragon
Beowulf and the Dragon: Chapter 7

Beowulf and the Dragon: Chapter 7


The King paused in the telling. Gripping the sword in his right hand, he rose and threw a few more coals in the brazier with his left. The stable boy, to pretend he wasn’t interested, resumed sharpening his knife.

The King returned to his seat and asked the stable boy, “So what happened then, did I kill him? Did the Dragon? Does it matter?”


“Yes, what?”

“You took your revenge, as I will take mine.”

“Did I now? How can you be sure? We haven’t gotten to that part yet.”

“You stuck the blade in Beowulf and twisted it. I know because that is what I am going to do to you. That’s why you’re so proud of that sword. Finish your tale and don’t forget our wager. Or are not going to keep your word?”

“Very well,” said the King, “Beowulf drew his sword and gave it to me. This sword, in fact.” The King tapped the naked blade against his thighs for emphasis.

“We charged the dragon where it lay on the turf. Beowulf with shield raised, and I with sword. The beast lashed out and struck at Beowulf as a snake does, closing around the King’s leg. Beowulf brought the shield down upon the Dragon’s neck. As the Dragon held fast to his leg and engulfed him in fire, Beowulf held the beast to the ground.

“Battered by its wings I charged in and shoved this sword into the soft place of its armpit and deep into the heart. It died quickly, just like anything will when you stab it in the heart.

“Then, I held the dying, charred Beowulf across my knees and begged him not to go. But he died anyway.”

“You didn’t?” asked the boy, “You didn’t kill him?”

“I did not.”


“I am not at tenth or even a hundredth of what he was, but what I am, I am. You have that same thing in you, boy, that angry, unrelenting thing. That thing which strives, which seeks, that which would not yield without struggle to god or monster. And that thing is a flame I would not extinguish lightly. Not in him. Not in you.”

For a time there was only the sound of the knife on stone. Then, from far away, the sound of a cock crowing.

The King said, “It is morning, and I don’t think I’ve convinced you.”

“You haven’t.”

“Then enough games with your knife boy. You can sharpen ’til the end of days and it still won’t be a tool fit to your task.”

The King stood and tossed his sword in the straw. He undid the sword belt and took off his tunic. His bare belly hung, soft, white and heavy over his hips, but the King’s arms and shoulders were knotted with ropy muscle.

“I’ve lived long enough. So if you won’t fight for me, then it’s time for you to kill your monster.”

The stable boy stood with his knife. He pointed at the King’s stomach. Then he lunged a little, to see if the King would flinch. Wiglaf stood his ground and smiled, his fear falling away from him at last.

“Ah,” said the King, “battle.”

The boy lunged. 

* * *

Naked from the waist up and smeared with blood, King Wiglaf strode into the courtyard. The men saw the head he carried and murmurs swept through the ranks. He climbed a wagon next to the main gate and held his trophy high. Without ceremony, he said, “The Scyllan’s sent an assassin.” Then he threw the head to the ground.

The King said, “I am old. I am tired. And last night I was afraid that I did not have another battle left in me. Against odds like these, who would not tempted by a clean death and a forever after in the mead-hall?

“But then I thought of spring. And your mother,” he said pointing to young man in the front rank. “And yours, and yours, and yours. And how much I loved them all. And I realized, you dog-faced, unloved bastards, that I had one more rutting spring left in me.

"So fight with me now, and I will promise you two things. Victory and a fresh crop of brothers come January.” He waited for the laughter to die down. “Or do not fight and go your slaughter, meek as lambs. For me, it changes nothing. I  wait here no longer. I go to meet my fate.”

He drew his Dragon-killing sword and with a mighty stroke, he sundered the timber that barred the gates. As the cold wind of morning swung the heavy wood gate open, Wiglaf charged and the Geats followed with him.


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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.