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ONCE upon a time, in the far north of what is now called Europe, there was a kingdom known as Geatsland, and its ruler was named Hygelac. It was a harsh country, with high mountains and narrow valleys, and it had a long seacoast with many harbors and inlets, and the men who lived there were famous for their bravery, on both sea and land.
Like their neighbors the Danes and the Frisians, the Geats were warlike, and for the greater part of every year Hygelac and his warriors were engaged in fierce battles with various tribes, who would enter the territory of the Geats, to steal cattle and lay waste the fields of grain, and burn the farms of his retainers.
There were other foes, too, to be dealt with. The great caves along the coast were inhabited by all manner of evil monsters that lived partly in the sea and partly upon the land, huge serpents with scales of brass, that patrolled the coast and devoured fishermen when they could be taken by surprise at their nets.
In Geatsland were vast forests where loathsome beasts made their homes in the hollow trunks of dead trees and prowled only by night, feeding upon sleeping pigs and young rabbits and other innocent animals. It was not safe to travel in those woods after dark, and the wandering minstrels who went from place to place in the country-side were careful not to be caught in their ghostly depths.
But for the most part the sea-monsters and the forest terrors kept to their own lairs and seldom invaded the more populous districts. Only when an incautious farmer or fisherman had been foully killed by one of them did the lords of Geatsland wage war upon the strange inhabitants of the coastal caves and the forest fastnesses.
Now, for many years Hygelac ruled over his people with a stern but kind hand. Beside him was his queen, named Hygd, and called the Wise and Fair. About the king and queen were gathered the finest lords of the land. All were valiant warriors whose courage had been tried in many battles. They were tall like the trees of their forests, and broad like the stout beams of their boats, and each man had the strength of ten. They were yellow of hair; their eyes were deep-set and burned blue like the sea; on their arms and around their necks were great circlets of beaten gold; and upon their heads they wore helmets decorated with the horns of bulls or the black wings of ravens.