The Lords of the North is the third book in The Saxon Stories.
The third volume in the exhilarating Saxon Chronicles is about the story of the birth of England as the Saxons struggle to repel the Danish invaders.
The year is 878, and as Lords of the North begins, the Saxons of Wessex, under King Alfred, have defeated the Danes to keep their kingdom free. Uhtred, the dispossessed son of a Northumbrian lord, helped Alfred win that victory, but now he is disgusted by Alfred's lack of generosity. Uhtred flees Wessex, going north to search for his stepsister, who was taken prisoner by Kjartan the Cruel, a Danish lord who lurks in the formidable stronghold of Dunholm.
Uhtred arrives in the north to discover rebellion, chaos, and fear. His only ally is Hild, a West Saxon nun fleeing her calling, and his best hope is his sword, Serpent-Breath, with which he has made a notable reputation as a warrior. He needs other partners if he is to attack Dunholm, and chooses Guthred, a seemingly deluded slave who believes he is a king. Together they cross the Pennines, where fanatical Christians and beleaguered Danes have formed a desperate alliance to confront the terrible Viking lords who rule Northumbria.
Instead of victory, Uhtred finds betrayal. But he also discovers love and redemption as he is forced to turn once again to his reluctant ally, Alfred the Great. It is Alfred who sees opportunity in Northumbria's chaos, and Alfred who looses Uhtred and his stepbrother, Ragnar, onto Dunholm, the invincible fortress on its great spur of rock. A breathtaking adventure, Lords of the North is also the story of the creation of England, as the English and Danes fight against each other, but also find common cause and create a common language. In the end they will become one people, but as Uhtred will discover, their union is forged through the white heat of battle.
Uhtred of Bebbanburg makes his way back to his native Northumbria seeking revenge against his uncle Ælfric and childhood enemies Sven the One-Eyed and Kjartan the Cruel. He travels by ship with his friend, Hild. They make landfall near Eoferwic (York) to find the region in disarray. Lord Ivarr Ivarsson and his army are engaged with the Scots in the north. The formerly Danish-held Eoferwic has been conquered by Saxons, who have begun a massacre of Danes under the fanatical Father Hrothweard. The central lands of Dunholm are ravaged by Kjartan and Sven, and Bebbanburg remains under the control of Ælfric. Uhtred is hired to escort a Danish merchant's family north, through Dunholm, to safety.
As they travel and attempt to avoid the Dunholm fortress and Kjartan's troops, they are unsuccessful and are led into a slave trading station led by Sven. In order to prevent himself from being recognised, Uhtred disguises himself as Thorkild the Leper, Dark Swordsman of Niflheim, and convinces Sven he is sent from the dead to haunt him and his father. He frees Danish King Guthred of Cumbraland from the slave pens.
In Cumbraland, Guthred converts to Christianity and is hailed as King of Northumbria by the Saxon Abbot Eadred, who believes Guthred has been anointed by Saint Cuthbert and claims to have dreamed of Guthred, though he initially mistakes Uhtred as being the king. Uhtred becomes the commander of Guthred's household troops, as well as his closest adviser. He trains a band of thirty new warriors and foils an attempt by Kjartan's infiltrators to capture him and Guthred. Whilst serving Guthred, Uhtred is immediately smitten with the King's sister, Gisela.
Uhtred marches east with Guthred while Ivarr Ivarsson, the son of Ivar the Boneless and the most powerful Danish Lord in Northumbria, is away fighting the Scots. Eoferwic is captured with ease, and Father Hrothweard joins them. As they march north to Dunholm, Guthred reveals to Uhtred that he has made a deal with Uhtred's treacherous uncle, Ælfric, through his two agents, the monks Jænberht and Ida, for support against Kjartan, which is to be sealed by his enslavement. Uhtred is taken off and cast into slavery at the hands of a Danish merchant, Sverri.
During two years spent chained to the oar of a Danish trading ship, Uhtred befriends Finan the Agile, an Irishman and former warrior. Uhtred notices a red Danish longship pursuing them, which he believes to be pirates. During a trading venture to England, Uhtred is confronted by Sven, who recognises him, but is then scared away by the Red Ship, which attacks Sverri's men. Uhtred is rescued and it is revealed that the ship is crewed by Ragnar and Steapa, and Uhtred is overjoyed to be reunited with his foster-brother and his friend.
Uhtred returns to Wessex to learn that it was Hild who convinced Alfred to send Steapa and Ragnar to his rescue. Hild had promised to Alfred that she would use Uhtred's hoard of silver to build an abbey and recommit herself to Christ, and in return Alfred agreed to rescue Uhtred. Upon meeting with a Mercian traveller and spy, Offa, it is revealed to Uhtred that Guthred, Ivarr and Ælfric besieged Kjartan at Dunholm, but failed.
Uhtred, Father Beocca, Steappa and Ragnar are sent on embassy to Guthred with a message to make peace in Northumbria. They arrive in Guthred's court to find that Gisela was married to Ælfric via proxy in return for support in another attack against Kjartan, and that Ivarr has abandoned Guthred and is raising men to fight him. Uhtred is certain his uncle will send no men to support Guthred. He fends off Ælfric's men and kills Brother Jænberht when he insists that Gisela is still married to Ælfric. Out of fear of suffering the same fate, Brother Ida agrees that Gisela is not married, as the marriage has not been consummated.
Uhtred then forgives Guthred for casting him into slavery and declares his intention to marry Gisela. Despite the calls of many churchmen to instead execute Uhtred for the killing of Jænberht, Guthred agrees to the marriage and Uhtred and Gisela spend their first night together, after which Uhtred takes command of Guthred's troops for the attack on Dunholm.
Uhtred's plan to take Dunholm is to once again become a sceadugengan, a shadow-walker. In the darkness, he along with eleven of his best men climb the hill upon which Dunholm sits and sneak into the fort through a gate used to fetch well water. Although they are discovered, they are assisted by Ragnar's sister Thyra, who has been held by Sven and Kjartan since the events of The Last Kingdom. Thyra rouses Kjartan's hounds and turns them on their masters, allowing Uhtred and his men to open the gate for Ragnar with the main forces of Guthred's army to enter the stronghold. Kjartan's men are defeated in a Shield Wall, Sven is defeated by Finan, and then savaged to death by the hounds at Thyra's behest, and Kjartan himself is killed in single combat by Ragnar, who refuses to allow him to die with a sword in his hand, denying his entry into Valhalla. After the battle, Guthred transfers control of Dunholm to Ragnar.
After the Battle, Guthred's claim to the throne of Northumbria is still incomplete. Guthred's army meets Ivarr's stronger force in the field. Uhtred provokes Ivarr into single combat and the novel ends with Uhtred winning the duel against Ivarr.