42 BEOWULF, GRENDEL AXD HIS MOTHER
his shoulder from the furious blow she gave. Suddenly he saw lying on the floor a magic sword ; a huge weapon with finest edge, forged of old in the time of the Jotuns, or giants, whose work it was. No ordinary man could have wielded that blade, but Beowulf seized it, and smote the witch a fearful blow, almost cleaving her body in twain. A bright light shone up at once in the cavern, which the warrior now began to explore ; nor had he gone far before he found Grendel lying on a couch, dead, so Beowulf cut off his head. Meanwhile Hrothgar and the rest of the Danes had been sitting watching the water, which suddenly became thick and stained with blood ; they had no hope that Beowulf survived. What then, was their astonishment and delight to see him swimming towards them, breasting the waves with mighty strokes, and bearing the head of Grendel with him. And now a marvel befell; the sword with which Grendel's mother had been slain began slowly to melt away, just like ice; for the hag's blood was of such power that it consumed the blade, until nothing was left but the hilt, which was of gold, richly chased, and carved with strange characters called ' runes.' Beowulf swam ashore, and gave an account of his adventures ; four men, as we have already said, bore Grendel's head to the Palace, where the hilt of the magic sword was closely examined. The characters graven upon it were found to be a description of the battle between the Gods and the Frost-Giants, in which the Giants were defeated and overwhelmed in a flood. There is an account of it in an Icelandic poem, called the ' Yoluspa,' or the ' Song of the Prophetess,' which describes the Northern ideas of the creation of the world ; and tells how evil and death came upon man, predicts the destruction of the universe, and gives an account of the future abodes of bliss and misery. Thus did Beowulf deliver the Danes from their misfortunes, after which he returned home, and on the death of his uncle, Hygelac, became King of Gotland.