Sword of Kings is the twelfth book in The Saxon Stories.
England is in turmoil as Vikings and Saxons battle for territory. Rumours build about the fatal sickness of the King, and the country awaits an heir.
A violent clash at sea forces the warrior Lord Uhtred to lead his men from his Northumbrian fortress to London and plunge into the eye of the storm. For two kings claim the empty throne, and a new kingdom cannot be born without bloodshed.
Uhtred’s sword will leave one king dead and the other victorious. But sometimes it is hard to know the will of the gods…
A fishing ship from Bebbanburg goes missing. Then the body of one of its crew washes ashore; it is clear the fisherman had been tortured before being killed. Uhtred, as ruler of Bebbanburg, goes to sea to investigate and then sets a trap for those responsible. He and his warriors kill or capture the crews of three ships, but the fourth vessel gets away. He learns that Waormund, a huge, sadistic warrior who tortured the fisherman, was aboard the ship that got away. Uhtred knows Waormund is one of Ealdorman Æthelhelm's most trusted men. He also finds that one of his prisoners is Æthelwulf, Æthelhelm's younger brother, and that Waormund and his men were sent to try to kill him.
Edward, King of Wessex, is dying. There are three strong candidates to succeed him: Edward's vicious adult son Ælfweard; Æthelstan, Edward's eldest son (though many incorrectly believe he is illegitimate); and Edmund, Edward's infant son by Queen Eadgifu. Uhtred has raised Æthestan and trained him to be king, so Æthelhelm tried to pre-emptively remove Æthelstan's most effective supporter.
Eadgifu sends a message to Uhtred, begging for his help. Over the objections of his wife and friends, he heads south, accompanied by Finan and a handful of his men. They rescue Eadgifu from Æthelhelm's men and flee. Then Uhtred receives the news that Edward is dead. Edward's will gives Wessex to Ælfweard and Mercia to Æthelstan; Uhtred realises that this will inevitably result in civil war.
Uhtred heads to Lundene, which is held by Æthelstan's men. He spots Waormund there, but Waormund gets away. Uhtred becomes concerned when he discovers that Merewalh, the commander of the garrison, has taken most of his men and marched east, having been deceived into believing that an enemy army is approaching. Before Uhtred can do anything, Waormund and his men open one of the city's gates, letting in Æthelhelm's army. The city falls.
Uhtred's party hides, then steals a ship and flees. By bad luck, Waormund sees him and sets out in pursuit with a large force. Eventually, Uhtred is trapped. He gives himself up so his men (as well as women and children he took responsibility for) have a chance to get away. Waormund humiliates him, but does not kill him immediately, as he wants to do so before a much larger audience, in Lundene. Fortunately, some of Merewalh's cavalrymen show up and free Uhtred.
Uhtred persuades Merewalh to give him a portion of his warriors and to agree to his plan to attack Lundene, despite being seriously outnumbered. They have no real choice, as Æthelhelm keeps growing stronger as reinforcements continue arriving. Messengers are sent to fetch Æthelstan's army, which is supposed to be nearby. Uhtred and his men ride boldly into the city, masquerading as some of Æthelhelm's allies. They seize a city gate and hold it long enough for Æthelstan to charge through. A sizeable part of Æthelhelm's forces are from East Anglia and have no real stomach for battle; as Uhtred had hoped, the East Anglians stay out of the fighting.
Æthelstan wins. Æthelhelm is killed trying to flee, and Ælfweard is captured. Æthelstan personally executes Ælfweard. Uhtred is told that the plague has broken out in the north; his wife, his son-in-law and his grandchildren are dead.
- (To Be Added)