The Pale Horseman

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The Pale Horseman
BernardCornwell ThePaleHorseman.jpg
First edition cover
AuthorBernard Cornwell
CountryUnited Kingdom
SeriesThe Saxon Stories
GenreHistorical novel
Published3 October 2005 HarperCollins
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback) and Audio book
Pages400 hardback edition
ISBN0-00-714992-1 (first, hardback edition)
Preceded byThe Last Kingdom 
Followed byThe Lords of the North 

The Pale Horseman is the second historical novel in the Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell, published in 2005. It is set in 9th Century Wessex and Cornwall. Lord Uhtred of Bebbanburg arrives at King Alfred of Wessex's court to proclaim his victory over the Danish Chieftain, Ubba Lothbrokson, only to find that Ealdorman Odda the Younger of Defnascir has taken the glory for himself and been named leader of Alfred's bodyguard.

Plot summary[edit]

876 - 878: Uhtred, bored with the peace between Alfred and the Danish king Guthrum, goes off raiding into Cornwall. He comes across a settlement ruled by the British king Peredur, who hires Uhtred and his men to fight an invading Danish force led by Svein of the White Horse. Uhtred and Svein however ally to kill Peredur and pillage his settlement, and Uhtred carries off Peredur's wife, the shadow queen Iseult. A monk named Asser, who was at Peredur's court, witnesses the betrayal and escapes to Dyfed in Wales. Uhtred and Svein then sail up the coast to Land's End, where they part ways. Svein goes to Cynuit, where Ubba was killed previously, and Uhtred to the coast of Wales where he captures a ship laden with treasure. He returns to his estate and pious wife Mildrith, using his hoard of treasure to build a great hall and relieve his debt to the church.

The Witan summons Uhtred to an audience with King Alfred in Cippanhamm, where he is accused of using the king's ship to raid the Britons with whom Wessex is at peace based on the testimony of Asser, who has made his way to Alfred's court, and wrongfully accused Uhtred of attacking the Cynuit abbey on the false testimony of the warrior Steapa Snotor, who is loyal to Uhtred's enemy Odda the Younger. To settle the dispute, a fight to the death is ordered between Uhtred and Steapa. During the duel, Uhtred carries only his sword, Serpent-Breath, whereas Steapa is fully armoured. The duel is cut short when Guthrum's Danes attack and the crowd is scattered. Uhtred, Leofric, and Iseult hide in the fields until nightfall when they enter Cippanhamm and free their friend Eanflæd at the Corncrake Tavern, and the nun Hild. The five of them wander for a few weeks until they reach the swamps of Athelney. As they enter the marsh, Guthrum himself attacks Uhtred. Uhtred makes a fighting escape onto a boat that carries him, Leofric, and another passenger to an island within the swamp. The passenger insists that Uhtred should have left a Danish warrior alive, and turns out to be King Alfred himself. Uhtred becomes Alfred's bodyguard and for a few months they hide in the swamp, spreading the word that the King is still alive, hoping that enough men will find their way to join Alfred's army. When Svein anchors his fleet at the mouth of the River Parret close to their hideout, Uthred launches a surprise attack against Svein, during which the fleet is burned and many of Svein's men drown when the flood comes in, after they have been lured out too far into the marshlands. Later they assemble the army and fight at the Battle of Ethandun and Alfred takes back Wessex, with Uhtred being instrumental in the death of Svein of the White Horse. However, during the battle, Leofric and Iseult are both killed.

Characters in "The Pale Horseman"[edit]

  • Uhtred - the Protagonist, narrator
  • King Alfred of Wessex (Alfred the Great) - the King of Wessex
  • Leofric - Captain of the Heahengel, one of the ships of Wessex
  • Iseult - A Briton Shadow Queen from Cornwall
  • Father Beocca - priest and family friend
  • Guthrum the Unlucky - Danish King
  • Svein of the White Horse - Danish Chieftain
  • Haesten - Captured Dane freed by Uhtred, later joins Guthrum. Haesten is a historical character.
  • Ragnar Ragnarsson - Uthred's former Master's son, Uthred's Best friend
  • Odda the Younger - Son of Odda the Elder, Ealdorman of Defnascir
  • Steapa Snotor (the Clever) - Odda the Younger's bodyguard
  • Father Pyrlig - A Welsh priest and former warrior
  • Ælswith - Alfred's wife who dislikes Uhtred
  • Eanflæd - whore rescued by Uhtred in Cippanhamm
  • Æthelflæd - Alfred's daughter
  • Æthelwold - Alfred's nephew and friend of Uhtred
  • Hild - Nun rescued at the behest of King Alfred in Cippanhamm
  • Mildrith - Uhtred's pious West Saxon wife
  • Brother Asser - Welsh monk and enemy of Uhtred

Release details[edit]

  • 2005, UK, HarperCollins ISBN 0-00-714992-1, Pub date 3 October 2005, hardback
  • 2005, UK, HarperCollins ISBN 0-00-721098-1, Pub date 3 October 2005, audio cassette (Kati Nicholl editor, Jamie Glover narrator)
  • 2005, UK, HarperCollins ISBN 0-00-721099-X, Pub date 3 October 2005, audio CD (Kati Nicholl editor, Jamie Glover narrator)
  • 2006, UK, HarperLargePrint ISBN 0-06-087892-4, Pub date ? January 2006, paperback (large print)
  • 2006, UK, HarperCollins ISBN 0-00-714993-X, Pub date 22 May 2006, paperback (forthcoming edition)

See also[edit]