SILENTLY they fought in the fog-strewn hall of Heorot. Silently their bodies twisted and bent, this way and that, and Beowulf kept Grendel’s huge hands with their long claws of sharp bone from him, and Grendel in turn sought to tear apart the quick body that slipped so easily through his arms and legs.
All about them lay the sleeping earls, and not one moved in the deep magic of his slumber as the two fought that silent fight.
Their bodies wove in and out among the sleepers, and Beowulf felt the hot reek of Grendel’s breath upon his cheek, and the sweat stood out on Beowulf’s broad brow and ran down into his eyes and blinded him. And Grendel’s huge hands sought over and over again to clasp his opponent’s head, to crush it in their iron grip.
Then the fight became a deadly struggle in one far corner of the hall, and neither one gained any advantage over the other. Then Beowulf slipped. On the earthen floor of Heorot they fell together and the force of their fall made the earth tremble, as when two giants fight in mortal combat. But Grendel’s hold lessened, and fear smote the heart of the fiend. He strove only to free himself from Beowulf’s grasp and flee into the night, away from this white youth whose strength was the strength of thirty men.
And now Beowulf had the upper hand, and flew at the giant’s throat. But here his hands clutched at thick scales upon which he could get no grip. Grendel nearly took the advantage, but before he could seize Beowulf, the lord of Geatsland had fastened both mighty hands upon the monster’s arm, and with a sudden twist that forced a groan of agony from Grendel’s lips, leaped behind him, forcing the imprisoned arm high up Grendel’s back, and the beast fell prone on the floor.
Now came the final struggle, and sweat poured from Beowulf, while from Grendel there oozed a slimy sap that smelled like vinegar, and sickened Beowulf. But he clung to the monster’s arm, and slowly, slowly he felt its great muscles and sinews give way, and as his foot found Grendel’s neck, he prayed to all the gods for help, and called upon his father Ecgtheow for strength to sustain him in this desperate effort.
And the mighty arm of Grendel gave way in the terrible hands of Beowulf, and, with a piercing shriek that shook the gilded rafters of Heorot, Grendel stumbled forward, leaving in Beowulf’s hands the gory arm.
At that very moment the spell that lay upon the sleeping warriors of Geatsland was broken, and the thirteen remaining earls struggled, as Beowulf had lately struggled, with the nightmare that was in their eyes, and swam out of sleep into waking.
Beowulf fell back upon the dais, the bleeding arm of Grendel in his hands. And Grendel, with a prolonged and ghastly wail, his blunt fangs gnashing together in dumb fury, stumbled toward the door, and before Beowulf could recover, the fiend was away into the fog which swallowed him as surely and completely as though he had plunged into the everlasting sea.
And Beowulf, his magic-dazed companions crowding and babbling behind him in the doorway of Heorot, looked out into the fog-wet night, and the only sound that came to their dulled ears was the steady drip, drip, drip of the mist from the black trees.
From “The Story of Beowulf”