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Serpent-Breath is Uhtred's longsword.

Biography[]

The Saxon Stories[]

In "The Last Kingdom", the sword is forged by Ealdwulf, a Northumbrian blacksmith formerly employed by Uhtred's father, who later works for Earl Ragnar and the Danish occupiers.[1]

Ealdwulf uses seven iron rods, three hard and four soft. After finishing it, he whispers to Uhtred that one day he will "kill Danes with it."[2] Ealdwulf is killed along with Ragnar and his family in Kjartan's ambush.

A small silver cross - a gift from the Abbess Hild - was worked into the hilt after Uhtred's return from slavehood in "The Lords of the North".

As an old man, Uhtred still carried Serpent-Breath, remarking that it was still beautiful, in spite of the metal's glint having faded, and the blade being thinner from having been sharpened so often over the decades.[3]

Description[]

It took days, yet as the hammering and cooling and heating went on I saw how the four twisted rods of soft iron, which were now all melded into the harder steel, had been smoothed into wondrous patterns, repetitive curling patterns that made flat, smoky wisps in the blade. In some light you could not see the patterns, but in the dusk, or when, in winter, you breathed on the blade, they showed.

Serpents breath, Brida called the patterns, and I decided to give the sword that name: Serpent-Breath. Ealdwulf finished the blade by hammering grooves that ran down the center of each side. He said they helped stop the sword being trapped in an enemy's flesh. "Blood channels," he grunted. [...]

And there is magic in Serpent-Breath. Ealdwulf had his own spells that he would not tell me, the spells of the smith, and Brida took the blade into the woods for a whole night and never told me what she did with it, and those were the spells of a woman, and when we made the sacrifice of the pit slaughter, and killed a man, a horse, a ram, a bull, and a drake, I asked Ragnar to use Serpent-Breath on the doomed man so that Odin would know she existed and would look well on her. Those are the spells of a pagan and a warrior. [4]

A later observer compared the curling patterns on Serpent-Breath to those on the sword carried by Beowulf.[5]

The Last Kingdom[]

In "Episode 1.2", Uhtred and Brida ride to Oxford to hide from his uncle's pursuers. Using a share of silver from Earl Ragnar's hoard, Uhtred commissions a master smith, Ealdwulf, to forge "a warrior's sword to last a lifetime." Uhtred also asks the smith to set the amber pendant his father gifted to him at his birth into the pommel.

The smith finishes after several weeks, remarking that he has "given her some beauty, but she is a tool, no more, no less." Uhtred says the sword is exactly as he hoped, and is so pleased he agrees to pay the smith his original asking price of ten pieces of silver, instead of eight.

In "Episode 2.1", Hild refers to Uhtred's sword as Serpent-Breath.

Background Information[]

Several Viking sagas describe a sword named Skofnung; in one saga, its owner, Skeggi, loans it to another man named Kormac for fighting a duel, and tells him:

"When you come to the fighting place, go off to one side by yourself and then draw it. Hold up the blade and blow on it; a small snake will creep from under the guard; incline the blade, and make it easy for the snake to creep back again."
—Oakeshott, Ewart. The Archaeology of Weapons, Chapter 6.

Historian Ewart Oakeshott later wrote in his book The Archaeology of Weapons that the "snake" is a verifiable phenomenon, rather than a myth:

"Most of these swords were fashioned in a complicated and wonderful way... the result of all this was that the central portions of such blades had intricate patterns, made up of regularly repeating designs wrought into the fabric of the iron. Most of these patterns afre very similar to the markings on a snake's back.

Now you can see... what Kormac should have seen if he had done what Skeggi told him. If you blow on the cold surface of one of these blades, the faintly etched patterns will suddenly show up clearly and seem to wriggle as your warm breath condenses in passing over it."
—Oakeshott, Ewart. The Archaeology of Weapons, Chapter 6.

The television version of Serpent-Breath has another feature in common with Skofnung: it is accompanied by a special stone, either tied to the sheath or worked into the pommel; according to the sagas, a wound inflicted by Skofnung would not heal unless it was rubbed with this stone.[6]

References[]

  1. "The Last Kingdom", chapter 4.
  2. "The Last Kingdom", chapter 4.
  3. "The Last Kingdom", chapter 4.
  4. "The Last Kingdom", chapter 4.
  5. "The Empty Throne", chapter 10.
  6. Oakeshott, Ewart. The Archaeology of Weapons, Chapter 6.
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