War Lord is the thirteenth, and final, book in The Saxon Stories.
After years fighting to reclaim his rightful home, Uhtred of Bebbanburg has returned to Northumbria. With his loyal band of warriors and a new woman by his side, his household is secure – yet Uhtred is far from safe. Beyond the walls of his impregnable fortress, a battle for power rages.
To the south, King Æthelstan has unified the three kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia and East Anglia – and now eyes a bigger prize. To the north, King Constantine and other Scottish and Irish leaders seek to extend their borders and expand their dominion.
Caught in the eye of the storm is Uhtred. Threatened and bribed by all sides, he faces an impossible choice: stay out of the struggle, risking his freedom, or throw himself into the cauldron of war and the most terrible battle Britain has ever experienced. Only fate can decide the outcome.
The epic story of how England was made concludes in War Lord, the magnificent finale to the Last Kingdom series.
Many years before, Uhtred had trained the young Æthelstan, a grandson of King Alfred the Great, how to be a king and, by winning a crucial battle, placed him on the throne of Wessex. Æthelstan had given Uhtred his oath to never fight him or invade his native Northumbria while Uhtred lived.
For many years, Æthelstan kept his word, but having gained control of the Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and East Anglia, the only thing standing in the way of fulfilling Alfred the Great's dream of uniting all of the Ænglisc-speaking peoples under one monarch is a Northumbria ruled by a weak king named Guthfrith. Furthermore, Æthelstan's Christian advisors have told him that an oath to a pagan is not binding.
Finally, he breaks his promise and invades Northumbria. He orders Uhtred to capture the fleeing Guthfrith and turn him over, which Uhtred does. (Guthrith is allowed to keep his throne, but Æthelstan places a strong garrison in Eoferwic, Guthfrith's capital, to keep him in line.) Constantin, king of Alba, Northumbria's northern neighbour, grows concerned and starts forging an alliance against Æthelstan. He sends an envoy to Uhtred, trying to gain his support, but Uhtred does not want to be dragged in on either side.
When Uhtred neglects to inform Æthelstan of the meeting, Æthelstan distrusts his old friend and mentor, and sets into motion a plan to seize Babbenburg. He summons Uhtred and others to a gathering, then sends Ældred, one of his advisors, and 200 men to Babbenburg with a letter with a forgery of Uhtred's seal. Uhtred's estranged eldest son, Bishop Oswald, warns him, and Uhtred is able to race home before Ældred gets there. Remaining hidden, he watches as Ældred tries to bring his men into the fortress using the forgery, but then sends Ældred away.
Later, he spreads rumours that he has found a treasure trove of gold. As he had hoped, this lures both Guthfrith and Ældred into his trap. He captures and executes them, then blames the killings on a Scottish raiding party. Æthelstan is not fooled. He brings an army to (seemingly) besiege Bebbanburg. However, this is just a ploy to deceive Constantin. Æthelstan, after reaching Bebbanburg, keeps marching his men further north, into Alba. Though he advances all the way to the northern end of Britain, however, Constantine avoids meeting him in battle, and Æthelstan eventually has to return home.
There is peace for three years. Then Anlaf, the most powerful Norse leader in Irland, joins Constantin, Owain of Strath Clota, and others in invading Cumbria. There they challenge Æthelstan to a battle at a site they have chosen. Untred examines the spot carefully and realises that, while it favours the invaders, it also makes their battle plan obvious, and Uhtred believes Æthelstan can win, if he follows Uhtred's advice. Æthelstan does, and though outnumbered, crushes his enemies after a hard-fought battle.
Just before the battle, Æthelstan orders Uhtred to marry a rich, young widow so that he will have a strong, loyal man to guard his northern border. While Uhtred is content to be Lord of Bebbanburg, with his new lands and wealth, others start calling him the Lord of the North.
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- Battle of Bebbanburg
- Battle of Brunanburh
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