The Burning Land: A Novel (Saxon Tales)
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The fifth installment of Bernard Cornwell’s bestselling Saxon Tales chronicling the epic saga of the making of England, “like Game of Thrones, but real” (The Observer, London)—the basis for The Last Kingdom, the hit BBC America television series.
At the end of the ninth century, King Alfred of Wessex is in ill health; his heir, an untested youth. His enemy, the Danes, having failed to conquer Wessex, now see their chance for victory. Led by the sword of savage warrior Harald Bloodhair, the Viking hordes attack. But Uhtred, Alfred’s reluctant warlord, proves his worth, outwitting Harald and handing the Vikings one of their greatest defeats.
For Uhtred, the sweetness of victory is soon overshadowed by tragedy. Breaking with Alfred, he joins the Vikings, swearing never again to serve the Saxon king. Instead, he will reclaim his ancestral fortress on the Northumbrian coast. Allied with his old friend Ragnar-and his old foe Haesten-he aims to invade and conquer Wessex itself. But fate has different plans . . .
In The Burning Land, Bernard Cornwell, “the reigning king of historical fiction” (USA Today), delivers a rousing saga of Anglo-Saxon England-an irresistible new chapter in his thrilling Saxon Tales, the epic story of the birth of England and the legendary king who made it possible.
striking. He had been born to a servant girl whom Alfred had taken to his bed in the days before Christianity had captured his soul. Once, in an unguarded moment, Alfred had confided to me that Osferth was a continual reproof. “A reminder,” he had told me, “of the sinner I once was.” “A sweet sin, lord,” I had replied lightly. “Most sins are sweet,” the king said, “the devil makes them so.” What kind of perverted religion makes pleasures into sins? The old gods, even though they never deny us
my men, and battle-hardened warriors from Wiltunscir and Sumorsæte. They were eager for a fight, well mounted, armed with the best weapons, and their attack caused chaos. The Danes, unable to form a shield wall, tried to run, except the only safety lay across the ford and that was blocked by the men waiting to cross, and so the panicked enemy clawed at their own men, stopping any chance of a shield wall forming, and Steapa’s men, huge on their horses, hacked and slashed and stabbed their way into
soon as easier plunder offered itself. They were like packs of wolves that would attack a flock, but sheer away if enough dogs defended the sheep. Danes and Norsemen were constantly listening for news of some country that offered easy plunder, and a rumor of an undefended monastery might send a score of ships on a scavenging voyage, but in my own lifetime I had seen how easily the Danes were repulsed. Kings had built burhs all across Christendom and the Danes had no appetite for long sieges. They
grinned. The water lapped at Seolferwulf ’s hull. We slept aboard her and most of the crew had already swathed themselves in cloaks and had lain down between the benches while Skade, Finan, Osferth, and Rollo, who was the leader of Ragnar’s men, talked with me on the steering platform. “Skirnir has around four hundred men,” I said. “Maybe four hundred and fifty,” Skade said. “So we kill six men apiece,” Rollo said. He was an easygoing man like Ragnar, with a round and guileless face, though
the Scots. They were trouble back then, they are trouble now, and I daresay they will still be trouble when the world dies. As that winter ended a party of Scots raided Ragnar’s northern lands and killed at least fifteen men. They stole cattle, women, and children. Ragnar made a retaliatory raid and I took twenty of my men with his hundred, but it was a frustrating errand. We were not even sure when we crossed into Scottish land because the frontier was an uncertain thing, forever shifting with