Our boy Lord Uhtred, of the Bebbanburg Uhtreds, way up in Northumberland, is still in the south of England, fighting the Danes. Also fighting some of the treacherous Saxons who all want to be king. Well, heck, who doesn’t want to be king?
He now has a son, Uhtred, who wants to be clergy, much to his father’s dismay, who would prefer the kid be a sword-wielding warrior like himself, and a couple of other kids. He has a wife, and a mistress here and there, and let’s face it, morals are not his strong point, but loyalty to dying King Alfred is. Alfred finally succumbs to a lifetime of illnesses at age 50, his son Edward becomes king if he can mange to stave off those who would themselves become king, can rid themselves of those murderous Danes, and unite the squabbling neighbors who all want to take over the territory. OK, now I see why we don’t all want to become king. A lot of work, plus there is the immanent death factor, never too far from one’s door.
King Alfred grants Uhtred an estate consisting of some huge parcel, including villages and churches, right before he dies, so now Uhtred is not broke and begging money for the war campaigns. He will be able to feed his men, supply horses and payment and thus ensure their loyalty to him.
The clergy really do meddle a lot in the affairs of kings, something which Uhtred doesn’t understand, being a pagan. When told they would be heading to Sain Rumwold’s monastery, he asks
Who was Rumwold? Father Willibald said, ‘He was a very pious child, lord.’ ‘A child?’ ‘A baby,’ he said, sighing as he saw where the conversation was leading, ‘a mere three days old when he died.’
‘A three-day-old baby is a saint?’
Willibald flapped his hands. ?Miracles happen, lord, he said, ‘they really do. They say little Rumwold sang God’s praises whenever he suckled.’
‘I feel much the same when I get hold of a tit,’ I said, ‘so does that make me a saint?’
Uhtred visits a sorceress to try to learn the fate of the land. Naturally, as opposed to things warlike, Uhtred is simple when it comes to the supernatural. He gets drugged and almost killed, and told lies by the ancient woman.
The battles go on, the bloody descriptions continue, slashing, stabbing and battle-axing being the order of the day. You know, same old, same old.
The real difficult of this book is the names. They are Saxon and all sound and seem alike: Aethelwulf, Aethelstan, Aethelbert, Aetherelbald, Aethelred, Aethelrod, Aethelflaed, Aethelgifu, Aethelweard, and Edward. One of them is a woman. Guess which one. Not telling you.
Two more books left in the series. I have to let my sword dry off before I continue. One can take only so much blood and gore. If you are interested in my observations of the previous books in the series, just put Bernard Cornwell into the search box and it will give you a list of four of the previous. I missed the one just prior to this book.