When Hrothgar’s brother, Halga, is murdered, Halga’s fourteen-year-old son, Hrothulf, comes to live at Hart. By this time, Hrothgar and Wealtheow have two sons of their own. Hrothulf, though polite, is sullen and withdrawn. Hrothgar tries to attribute the boy’s malaise to the trauma of losing his father, but he also suspects that the boy may be plotting against him.
In a soliloquy in the yard, Hrothulf describes the unfair socioeconomic situation he sees in the Scylding community. The peasants labor stupidly for the smug, self-satisfied thanes. Hrothulf wishes the laboring class could view the aristocrats critically and see that the thanes’ riches depend on the peasants’ labor. Hrothulf describes the system that keeps the two classes apart as a violent one, no more legitimate or just than the violence of savage animals.
In a second soliloquy in the woods, Hrothulf contemplates a large nut tree that provides a home for squirrels and birds, but kills any plants that sprout in its shade. Hrothulf wonders if he should call the tree tyrannical, as only it and its “high-borne guests” survive in its presence. He goes on to compare the tree and the birds to Hrothgar and his thanes. Though Hrothulf has nicer things to say about the kind and loving Wealtheow, simple love is not enough for him to justify the divide between the rich and the poor.
In a soliloquy immediately following, Wealtheow stands above the sleeping Hrothulf and marvels that such sadness can exist in one so young. Wealtheow knows that Hrothulf, though he shows kindness to her sons now, will come to resent them when they ascend to Hrothgar’s throne.
A year passes, and Hrothulf becomes even more taciturn and remote. The only times he speaks are on his walks with Red Horse, a deaf and cranky old peasant who acts as his counselor and mentor. One day, as the two are walking in the woods, Red Horse gives the prince advice on the revolution he is planning. First, Red Horse tells Hrothulf that it will be necessary for him to discover ways to frame his revolution—which will necessarily be brutal and violent—as a heroic, meritorious undertaking. Red Horse then goes on to claim, cynically, that the purpose of government is to protect the interests of those who already have power and to deny protection to everyone else. Red Horse also jibes Hrothulf for his revolutionary ideas, claiming that a revolution merely exchanges one tyrannical government for another. All governments, Red Horse claims, are essentially evil.
At a dinner back in Hart, Hrothgar watches Hrothulf sit between his young sons. Hrothgar marvels at the fact that there will come a time when Hrothulf, despite his current outward kindness and lonely awkwardness, will rise against him. Hrothgar scans the crowd before him and sees a series of traps. In addition to the threat that the resentful Hrothulf presents, there is the problem of Wealtheow’s brother, Hygmod. Furthermore, Ingeld, the increasingly powerful king of the Heathobards, also poses a threat to Hrothgar’s kingdom; Hrothgar plans to marry his elder daughter, Freawaru, off to Ingeld, but he has no guarantee that this measure will stave off an attack. Hrothgar sees Wealtheow as the worst trap of all: the youth she has wasted on an elderly husband reminds him of all the pain and potentially meaningless suffering they have endured together.