Sword Song (novel)

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Sword Song
Sword Song cover.jpg
First edition cover
Author Bernard Cornwell
Cover artist Larry Rostant
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series The Saxon Stories
Genre Historical Novel
Publisher HarperCollins
Publication date
September 2007
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 366 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN 978-0-00-721971-1 (first edition, hardback)
OCLC 123796905
Preceded by The Lords of the North
Followed by The Burning Land

Sword Song is the fourth historical novel in The Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell, published in 2007. Uhtred leads battles against the Danes, as King Alfred strengthens the defences of his kingdom of Wessex in the 9th century.

Plot summary[edit]

Uhtred is serving Alfred, King of Wessex, by building one of the fortified towns that will make up Alfred's system of defence against attacks by the Danes when he learns that two powerful Norse leaders have occupied nearby London, giving them the ability to interfere with traffic on the Thames to and from Wessex. He is contacted by his former friend, Danish chieftain Haesten, who invites him to a meeting across the Thames in Mercia. Haesten takes Uhtred to a graveyard, where a corpse appears to rise from the earth to tell Uhtred that the Fates have decreed he is to be King of Mercia. Torn between his oath to Alfred, whom he dislikes, and the temptation to become a king in his own right, he follows Haesten to London, where he meets the Norse leaders Sigefrid and his brother Erik. Haesten and the Norse brothers have a proposition for Uhtred: if Uhtred convinces his foster-brother Lord Ragnar of Northumbria to bring Ragnar's men to join them in attacking East Anglia, Mercia and Wessex, then Uhtred will be given the throne of Mercia while the others rule East Anglia and Wessex.

Uhtred ponders this offer while Sigefrid invites him to watch the crucifixion of some Christian prisoners. Among the prisoners Uhtred recognizes his old comrade at arms, the Welshman Father Pyrlig. Uhtred decides to save Pyrlig and lose his chance to join Sigefrid's plot. Knowing Pyrlig to be an experienced fighter, Uhtred tricks Sigefrid into promising the prisoners can go free if Pyrlig beats him in single combat - which he promptly does. Uhtred, Pyrlig and the prisoners leave London.

Returning to Wessex with Pyrlig, Uhtred is summoned by Alfred and ordered to plan an attack on London to dislodge the Norse brothers and turn the city over to Alfred's son-in-law and ally Earl Aethelred of Mercia. By stealth Uhtred's seaborne assault works and the defenders of London are caught out in the open as they sally forth to confront Aethelred's larger attacking army. Wedged between what was their safe London refuge, the Saxons in front of them and Uhtred's force behind, the Norse are defeated. A particularly cruel blow is struck by Osferth (King Alfred's illegitimate son) who leaps from the walls onto Sigefrid and injures him, leaving him crippled.

Sigefrid, Erik, and Haesten retire to East Anglia. Fortune smiles on them again when Aethelred mounts a seaborne raid on their hurt forces. After initial success against the Danes, Aethelred manages to lose his wife, Aethelflaed. Alfred is distraught at the threat to his daughter and is willing the ransom her from his foes. Uhtred is sent to negotiate the price and terms with Sigefrid. Whilst in their camp he learns that Erik and Aethelflaed have fallen in love, whereupon Erik and he plot to spirit her away from her captors; all without either of their leaders knowing what they plan.

The battle in the mouth for the inlet where the Vikings have holed up is as desperate as they come, with it often being unclear who is fighting for whom. This climax to the narrative is fought over marshland, waterside, on ship and across ships. Erik is killed by Sigefrid, but Uhtred and his crew quickly gain victory over Sigefrid's own warriors, and Sigefrid himself is killed by Osferth. Aethelflaed is rescued and the story ends with Uhtred taking her back to her father.

Characters in "Sword Song"[edit]

  • Uhtred Ragnarson - the Protagonist, dispossessed Ealdorman of Bebbanburg, narrator[1]
  • Gisela - Uhtred's wife
  • Stiorra - Uhtred's baby daughter
  • Uhtred Uhtredson - Uhtred's son
  • King Alfred of Wessex - The King of Wessex and Utred's feudal superior.
  • Aethelflaed - King Alfred's daughter and wife to Athelred
  • Aethelred - Ealdorman of Mercia and Alfred's son in law
  • Aethelwold of Wessex - Nephew of King Alfred
  • Steapa Snotor - A fierce Saxon warrior, captain of Alfred's house troops, former rival of Uhtred
  • Father Pyrlig - A Welsh priest and warrior who is a close friend of Uhtred
  • Sihtric Kjartansson - Kjartan's illegitimate son sworn to Uhtred
  • Father Beocca - Uhtred's friend and teacher
  • Father Willibald- West Saxon Priest and good friend of Uhtred.
  • Thyra Ragnarsdottir - Father Beocca's wife
  • Osferth - Leofric's nephew and Alfred's illegitimate son
  • Ralla - Uthred's new shipmaster
  • Finan (the Agile) - Irish ex-slave and captain of Uhtred's household troops
  • Rypere - a Saxon, one of Uhtred's household troops and oath-men
  • Clapa - One of Uhtred's household troops and oath-men
  • Cerdic - One of Uhtred's household troops and oath-men
  • Sigefrid - A Norse warlord antagonist with an ambition to conquer Wessex
  • Erik - Sigefrid's brother
  • Earl Haesten - A prisoner who broke a life-oath to Uhtred who is now a powerful enemy (seemingly based on a Viking leader of the same name recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle)

Publication history[edit]

  • 2007, UK, HarperCollins (ISBN 978-0-00-721971-1), pub date 3 September 2007, hardback (first edition)
  • The US release was published in January 2008.