The Pagan Lord is the seventh book in The Saxon Stories.
At the onset of the tenth century, England is in turmoil. Alfred the Great is dead and Edward his son reigns as king. Wessex survives but peace cannot hold: the Danes in the north, led by Viking Cnut Longsword, stand ready to invade and will never rest until the emerald crown is theirs.
Loyalties will be divided and men will fall, as every Saxon kingdom is drawn into the bloodiest battle yet with the Danes; a war which will decide the fate of every king, and the entire English nation.
With The Pagan Lord, New York Times bestselling author Bernard Cornwell-"the reigning king of historical fiction" (USA Today)-continues his magnificent epic of the making of England during the Middle Ages, vividly bringing to life the uneasy alliances, bloody battles, and deadly intrigue that gave birth to the British nation.
Uhtred rides to disown his elder son Uhtred, who has just taken vows to be a Christian priest. He renames his elder son as Judas, and then bestows the name Uhtred Uhtredson on his younger son, born Osbert and now 19 years old. Abbot Wihtred strikes Uhtred in anger, whereupon Uhtred grabs a staff and strikes Wihtred dead (unintentionally, as usual). The Christian clerics condemn him so fiercely that the Christians among his band of warriors cannot follow him. Æthelflaed takes these men into her service.
Reaching home, Uhtred sees his hall burning. Cnut Longsword burnt the hall because he believed Uhtred had taken his wife and children, which did not happen. The two meet at Cnut’s hall to settle, in Hæsten's presence, two Danish jarls. Returning home, Uhtred finds all the outbuildings burnt, this time by Bishop Wulfheard. He has nothing to rebuild and a shrunken force. He decides to reclaim his inheritance, the fortress at Bebbanburg in Northumbria, held by his uncle Ælfric. Aelfric stole the fortress from Uhtred after Uhtred’s father was killed by the Danes forty years earlier. His uncle had tried and failed to kill Uhtred; then he had him sold into slavery.
They reach Bebbanburg, succeeding in entering past the first gate. While Uhtred confronts his cousin, also named Uhtred, Finan slips into the smithy coming out with cousin Uhtred’s wife Ingulfrid, 11-year-old son (also Uhtred), and the hated uncle. Uhtred kills his uncle and leaves with the wife and son of his cousin. They sail out to Frisia to rest and refit.
Uhtred realises that the Danes are readying for war, after ten years of relative peace. He sees that Cnut’s wife and children have not been taken; it is part of a grand ruse. Æthelflaed’s husband is influenced to move on East Anglia, a Dane-held area that is also Christian. The Danes will attack Wessex by surprise, their main goal, and beat Æthelred’s forces in East Anglia. Uhtred sails to the east coast of Britain, brought by the winds to Gewæsc (the Wash), on the Danish side. He and Osferth proceed to Bearddan Igge (Bardney Abbey), site of an old monastery near Lincoln in Dane-held lands, where Mercians have been called to find the bones of St. Oswald. The priests say that if all of the bones of the saint can be brought together, it will be a sign that Wessex and Mercia can defeat the Danes. Uhtred makes sure they do find the bones, digging up one of the skeletons himself. Osferth notices that the right arm is missing, also recalling that Uhtred told him that the left arm of this saint is held as a relic at Bebbanburg. Uhtred directs Osferth to ride back to Finan, asking him to bring the men to join Uhtred and one hundred of the Mercians. Then Osferth is to sail to London to persuade his half brother, King Edward, son of Alfred, to join the battle at Gloucester, and send orders to Æthelred. The rest of the Mercians will join Æthelred in East Anglia, and persuade him to travel west to join the King. Osferth will keep Inglefred and Osbert (her son) with him, as he is in love with the lady, and keep them safe. Uhtred plans to capture Cnut’s wife and children, which he does.
They ride to Ceaster (Chester) and enter the gates by a clever maneuver by Utred’s son. They leave Hæsten’s grey-haired wife Brunna, and take Cnut’s deaf and dumb wife Frigg and children. When the children see a priest, they mistake him for Uncle (Abbot) Wihtred. The Danes – a force of 4,000 men in 168 ships - sailed on the Sæfern (River Severn) deep into Mercia. Gloucester is the first city they will find, and where Uhtred goes. He drives away the attackers outside the city by threatening the lives of Cnut’s wife and children. Inside Glaewecestre (Gloucester), they are met by Osferth, Æthelflaed, and the bishop who burned Uhtred’s barns. Uhtred realises the abbot he killed was sent by Cnut, part of his ruse to distract Mercia. The action needed now is to draw Cnut away from Æthelred until King Edward can bring up the Wessex forces. Uhtred sets fire to the Danish boats, all but one. That one is for Osferth to sail to reach King Edward.
At the place of Uhtred’s choosing, Teotanheale (Tettenhall) they meet Cnut, Haesten and Sigurd Thorsen. Uhtred gives Cnut his wife and daughter back, keeping the son. The first battle is across the river Tame at a ford, but the ford has large rocks placed to trip the Danes. When Uhtred and Cnut are about to fight one on one, Cnut realises the warriors coming from the west are not his men. Father Judas, the disowned son, brought Father Pyrlig and a few hundred Welsh warriors with him. Uhtred joined the shield wall with his son Uhtred on one side and Finan on the other, and Father Pyrlig just behind him. They moved their line up the ridge for an advantage. Then Cnut and Uhtred fight with shields until Cnut is carried away by his men. Sigurd Thorsen comes up to them, and Uhtred the son slays him. Then King Edward arrives with his men and the Mercians, and the Danes fall back. The Danes break and the Saxons have this victory. Word is that Æthelred is badly wounded in battle, but he still lives. Cnut comes back for a one-on-one fight with Uhtred. Uhtred kills Cnut, taking serious injuries himself, at the edge of death. But he lives.