A monster called Grendel has created havoc in the kingdom of Scyld, ruled by Hrothgar. Hrothgar is old and unable to stop the atrocities of Grendel, as are his warriors, and Grendel's menace continues for twelve years as he attacks and kills Danish warriors in the Hall of Heoret. Beowulf, a thane at the court of Hygelac, the king of the Geats, is famous for this prowess and upon hearing of Hrothgar's distress, resolves to sail to Scyld to fight Grendel.
Beowulf is welcomed by Hrothgar and his wife Wealhtheow and is granted permission to fight Grendel. Beowulf sleeps that night in the Hall and, when Grendel makes his nightly raid, fights with Grendel in a hand-to-hand combat and mortally injures him. Grendel escapes to the marshes and dies soon after. Grendel's mother, who lived with him in the marshes resolves to revenge her son's death, and when the warriors are asleep in the Hall after a day's revelry over Grendel's death, she attacks them and carries away one of Hrothgar's favorite warrior, Aeschere. Hrothgar implores Beowulf to kill Grendel's mother too, in exchange for a rich reward and Beowulf concedes. He seeks Grendel's mother in her underwater lair, which she inhabits with sea-monsters and sea-beasts. After a long fight, during which his own sword (lent to him by Hrothgar's thane Unferth) fails him, and he has to take the help of a sword hanging in the lair, he succeeds in killing Grendel's mother. He carries back the hilt of the same sword (its blade having melted from the heat of Grendel's mother's blood) and Grendel's head to Hrothgar, and is richly rewarded by the latter. With oaths of friendship on both sides, Beowulf takes leave of Hrothgar, and sails for home.
In Geatland, he is welcomed warmly by Hygelac and his queen Hygd. Beowulf presents the gifts given to him to his king and queen, and in turn is rewarded with gifts and an estate. Hygelac is killed in a war with the Frisians, and Hygd offers the throne to Beowulf, as her son, Heardred, is too young. Beowulf declines the offer and offers to serve as liege to the young prince till he comes of age. Heardred becomes the king in time, and too is killed in battle. Beowulf then succeeds to the throne and rules peacefully for fifty years. Beowulf is now old, and he hears of a fire dragon, which has created havoc in his kingdom by burning houses and circling Geatland in a wall of fire. For three hundred years, the dragon had been guarding a treasure that had been buried in the earth by a nobleman, and the dragon's ire had been roused when a thief stole a flagon of gold from his treasure.
Beowulf feels a premonition of disaster, but resolves to fight the fire dragon. Armed with a shield of iron to counter the fire of the dragon, he sets out with twelve warriors. He reaches the dragon's lair, issues a challenge, and a fight ensues. Fate is against Beowulf this time, however, and both his sword and shield are unable to withstand the heat of the dragon's fire. The dragon digs his claws into his throat, making him bleed profusely. Seeing Beowulf on the verge of defeat, all but one of the warriors abandon the king and flee into the forest. Wyglaf, however, remains and comes to the aid of Beowulf, and together they kill the dragon, with Beowulf dealing him the final blow that cuts him in two.
Beowulf is mortally wounded and after having a glimpse of the treasure that Wyglaf brought to him, and giving instructions for his burial, he dies. There is widespread grief at his death, as well as a foreboding that Geatland will be beset by disasters in the form of invasions by the Frisians and Franks, who had so far been held in abeyance because of Beowulf's might. Beowulf is cremated and as per his instructions, a massive mound is built on the Cape of the Whales, where Beowulf's ashes are buried along with the treasure captured from the dragon.
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