A Tale from the Background
Sven stared enviously at the pile of gold in the dragon's lair. Wiglaf had just commanded all of the earls, Sven included, to trek to the lair and cart back the whole pile of gold back to the pyre.
He claimed this was penance for their cowardice in the face of the dragon's onslaught, but Sven felt he was just being practical. When a dragon comes to rend your flesh, only the heroes like Beowulf actually ran towards the beast. Sven knew his role in the world and promptly ran away as far as possible at the first sign of the dragon.
Of course, this meant that he left Beowulf to fight the dragon alone, but so had the other thirty-odd earls! When Wiglaf arrived, Sven and the others knew the dragon would soon be roasting over their cook fires tonight. No one expected the dragon to get the lucky shot in on the legendary Beowulf and they were even more surprised to see Wiglaf hold it together long enough at the sight of his dying friend to finish off the dragon.
Following Beowulf's requests uttered from his dying breath, Wiglaf had brought a piece of the dragon's treasure for Beowulf to inspect before he died. However, that small token of the riches did not satisfy Wiglaf's devotion to his king and friend.
So, here the earls were: loading carts of gold in the lair. Sven did his part, but he also loaded an extra coin in his pocket or gem in his sock every few minutes. Wiglaf had said that whoever took a piece of the treasure would be killed for the crime, but Sven was greedy and the treasure was so large that surely no one would notice a few missing pieces.
When he had loaded the last cart he followed it back down the muddy track to the pyre of Beowulf. He helped pour the gold and gems over the pyre alongside two other earls, Ulf and Halvar. Sven had had a long-standing feud with Halvar over many things, but they had both ran away at the sight of the dragon that morning.
As they were about to finish unloading the final cart, Halvar turned a quizzical eye to Sven. It was just then that Sven noticed that his shirt was clinking with the sound of coins as he moved, after they had finished. A look of triumph came over Halvar's face as Sven's sank into despair.
Quickly, Halvar called "Thief!" to Wiglaf and Sven stared in horror. Wiglaf, still bathed in dragon blood, strode over to Sven and knocked him out with one powerful blow to the jaw...
Sven awoke tied to a stake buried in the ground. His vision was still blurry, but he dimly saw the body of the dragon being rolled over the cliffs into the ocean below. As the crowd was returning to where Sven was tied, he noticed a pair of torches in Wiglaf's hands.
In between Sven and the cliff was the pyre of Beowulf. There stopped Wiglaf and the crowd for a few moments as he stooped down and lit the fire. It quickly flared up, the piles of gold glimmering in the blaze. Once the flames began to die down the crowd turned their attention to the bound Sven.
Wiglaf spake unto him, "You see that pyre over there? That pyre is burning to honor the death of a king. You will burn at this stake a thief who dishonored that king's memory. That gold you stole was meant for the king; but, because of your greed, I decided that which you stole will be burned with you. It will mar this ground and serve as a tainted reminder of an ignoble wretch."
Horror dawned over Sven at the same moment as he noticed the gold scattered amongst the pile of logs at his feet. He began to plead, but the resolve of Wiglaf was of stone as he plunged the torch into the logs. Casting a last, desperate look at the crowd, Sven saw the grinning face of Halvar before the flames rose and Sven crumpled amongst them.
This story is a narration of the death and burning of Beowulf, the Scandinavian hero. I wanted to try and change the perspective of the story by introducing a new character who was not present in the original tale: Sven. In the original, the earls are mentioned as a collective group multiple times and I wanted to personify what the earls must have been thinking and feeling in one representative character in this story. The earls did the smart things and ran from a dragon, but in the process they abandoned their king to face its alone which led to his death. Wiglaf honors his king's wishes and has the gold burned on the pile with him, an act the earls must have found ludicrous. Surely one would have tried to steal this gold and I felt that Wiglaf, in his grief-stricken state, would likely have responded in a way similar to what I wrote of. Thank you guys so much for reading!
Story Source: The Story of Beowulf by Henry Pitz
Image Source: Pixibay