These figures appear in a tale sung by Hrothgar's scop within the body of Beowulf (lines 1070-1158) as the Danes celebrate the defeat of Grendel. The Beowulf poet had acquired this story from another Anglo-Saxon poem, the only other remaining piece of which is known as The Finnesburgh Fragment.
Gardner has the young shaper sing this tale at the Shaper's funeral.
Hildeburh, daughter of the Danish king Hoc, is married to the Frisian king Finn.
When the Danish prince Hnaef visits his sister Hildeburh in Frisia (a chain of islands in the North Sea off the coast of Denmark), he and his sixty warriors are attacked by Finn's men. Hnaef (fighting for the Danes) and her son (fighting for the Frisians) are both killed. She has their bodies burned together on the same funeral pyre. Replacing Hnaef, Hengest has taken charge of the Danish forces.
Finn, Hildeburh's husband, recognizes that he does not have the military strength to continue the fight and calls for a truce with Hengest and the Danes. The terms of this truce are that 1) the surviving Danes will be given housing in Frisia; and 2) the Danes will be granted equal honor and status in Frisia and in Finn's hall.
In time, however, the Danes renew the fighting. Finn is killed, and Hildeburh returns to her Danish homeland bereft of brother, son, and husband.
Gardner presents the section of the song in which Hengest is deciding that he prefers to renew his quarrel with Finn rather than to return peacefully to Denmark: "revenge called harder to him than home" (148).
The tale, with its emphasis on Hildeburh's suffering, is an ominous portent of the doomed alliance-marriage between Hrothgar's daughter Freawaru and Ingeld the Heathobard. This is described in Beowulf (lines 2032-2069) - but is only darkly suggested by Gardner.