In this the sixth book in the Saxon Tales saga, Alfred the Great is still dying with his dream of a greater Wessex (England) still unfulfilled. His heir, Edward, seems ill prepared for the throne, though seems to be better in many ways than his father. Uhtred, Wessex’s best sword is unwilling to swear an oath to the presumptive king thus condemning the kingdom to turmoil and failure. The threats to the kingdom are not just from the Danes, but from “relatives” in and around Wessex. The big question is who will Uhtred support or will he return to fulfill his long-desired quest to take back his father’s kingdom.
“There are seasons of our lives when nothing seems to be happening, when no smoke betrays a burned town or homestead and few tears are shed for the newly dead. I have learned not to trust those times, because if the world is at peace then it means someone is planning war. Spring came and with it Edward’s coronation at Cyninges.”
This series has been one of my favorite. Bernard Cornwell has, in my mind, captured the beauty and brutality of life in the ninth century. To say life is frail is to put in mildly. Treachery is always around the corner, “friends” can be bought for gold or glory, and peace is not a time to enjoy, but a time to prepare for war.
“Lord Uhtred,” his hand tightened on my forearm to emphasize his next words, “I don’t want the Danes provoked! You understand me?” “Yes, lord King.” He suddenly realized he was gripping my arm and pulled his hand away. He was awkward with me, I assumed because he was embarrassed that he had made me nursemaid to his royal bastards, or perhaps because I was his sister’s lover, or perhaps because he had ordered me to keep the peace when he knew I believed that peace was fraudulent. But the Danes were not to be provoked, and I was sworn to obey Edward. So I set out to provoke the Danes.”