AD642 Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the fifth insalment in the Bernicia Chronicles.
Oswald has resigned over Northumbria for eight years and Beobrand has led the kind to ever greater victories. Rewarded for his fealty and prowess in battle, Beobrand is now a wealthy warlord, with a sizable warband. Tales of Beobrand’s fearsome black-shielded warriors and the great treasure he has amassed are told throughout the halls of the land.
Many are the kings who bow to Oswald. And yet there are those who look upon his realm with a covetous eye. And there is one ruler who will never kneel before him.
When Penda of Mercia, the great killer of kings, invades Northumbria, Beobrand is one more called upon to stand in an epic battle where the blood of many will be shed in defence of the kingdom.
But in this climactic clash between the pagan Penda and the Christian Oswaold there is much more at stake than sovereignty. This is a battle for the very souls of the people of Albion.
About the Author
Matthew grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him. He now lives in Wiltshire, England with his wife and their two daughters.
You can follow Matthew via Twitter @MatthewHarffy or you can check out his website here.
Blog Tour Information
Matthew and the staff at Aria, have kindly provided an extract of this amazing book, I hope you enjoy.
“If I die—” Oswald began, his voice intense and jagged.
“You will not die, lord,” Beobrand interrupted. He caught the glance of the warrior against whom Oswald still leaned for support. The man’s eyes were grim. “You will not die,” Beobrand repeated firmly.
“All men die,” whispered Oswald. Beobrand made to speak again, but Oswald raised his left hand. “Hush. I am your lord. Your king. And I would have you swear an oath to me.”
Beobrand nodded. He did not trust himself to speak, his throat was thick with emotion.
“You must swear to me that if I die, you will serve my brother, as you have served me. Oswiu is a father and husband now.” Beobrand recalled how three winters before Oswiu had wed the princess, Rhieinmelth of Rheged. She had quickly borne him a son and was again with child. “Oswiu must not die here today,” Oswald continued. “The kingdom will be his. He will need strong men. Men like you. Lucky men.”
Beobrand loathed it when Oswald referred to him thus. He was not lucky. But he had long ceased trying to correct his king on the matter.
“You are a father too, lord,” said Beobrand, his voice catching. He thought of young Œthelwald and Queen Cyneburg, daughter of Cynegils. “And a husband.”
“I am. But I am king first, and I would have your oath before I breathe my last. Would you deny me that, Beobrand?”
Beobrand shook his head.
“Good. Then swear on whatever you deem sacred that you will give your oath to Oswiu when I die.”
Beobrand clenched his right hand into a fist. By the gods, how had it come to this? Moments ago, he had been standing in the shieldwall, his gesithas by his side, ready to do that for which Oswald most valued him – to bring slaughter to the enemies of Northumbria in the steel-storm of battle. And now, here he was, kneeling in the gelid mud about to swear an oath that would see him tied to Oswiu atheling for the gods knew how many years. Oswiu. Brother of Oswald, son of Æthelfrith. Oswiu, atheling of Bernicia. A powerful man. A cunning man. A dangerous man.
Oswiu, who hated Beobrand.
Beobrand swallowed. The sun was rising red and burning into the empty sky. The men who crowded around them provided no warmth, only shade.
Of course, his oath would mean nothing should he die today. They had come to this place to fight, to put an end to the coalition between Mercia, the East Seaxons, Powys and Lindesege. The threads of Beobrand’s wyrd had long been entangled with those of the sons of Æthelfrith, but he could not have foreseen this twist of destiny.
There was no time for this.
He stared into Oswald’s brown eyes. The king was as pale as the snow atop the peaks of Rheged now. No, there was no time.
“Very well,” Beobrand said, “you have my oath.”
“Swear it on that which you hold most dear.”
“I swear on Octa’s life. I give you my oath, sworn on my son’s life.” He shivered. Why had he uttered those words? To offer up his son’s life so easily. Would that the gods had not heeded him. But he knew it mattered not. His word was iron. The oath was given. It was done. “But, lord, you cannot be seen to have fallen here today, before even a blow is struck. Penda’s host will take heart from such tidings. You must stand in the wall.”
Oswald gritted his teeth and gripped Beobrand’s wrist once more.
“Pull me up.”
But Beobrand did not heave Oswald to his feet.
“No, lord, you cannot fight as you are. Have these two take you to the priests, that they may tend your wounds and pray over you.” Beobrand had seen the magic the Christ priests could spin. He hoped they would be able to work their miracles for the king. The weight of the new oath weighed heavily upon him as if he had just donned another byrnie over his own.
Oswald looked confused.
“But the men…,” he looked about them at the shadowed faces of Wynhelm’s gesithas who watched them in silence, “the fyrd-men will know what has happened…”
Beobrand lifted his helm and placed it gently upon Oswald’s head.
“No lord king, for it is Beobrand of Ubbanford who has been struck with an arrow, not the king.”
Beobrand picked up Oswald’s grimhelm. The faceplate was finely wrought with patterns; images of warriors and beasts embossed in the metal.
“And Oswald, son of Æthelfrith,” said Beobrand, pulling the helm over his head and hiding his features completely, “yet stands in the shieldwall, hale and strong.” The helmet was tight, pressing against his ears.
He stood, towering over the men around him
Oswald smiled again.
“It would seem that the king of Northumbria is indeed blessed,” he said, “for he has grown in stature by almost a head’s height when confronted by this host of Mercians, Waelisc and treacherous men of Lindesege.”
Behind the helm’s faceplate, Beobrand did not return the king’s smile.
“Carry him to the priests,” he said to the warriors, his voice booming strangely against the metal of the helm. “Make it quick and see that they heal him. And remember, it is Beobrand who has taken the arrow.”
Beobrand reached down and hefted the king’s shield from where it had fallen. The handle of the shield boss was cold in his half-hand. He would miss the straps he used in his own shield, but he would have to make do.
The ranks of men parted before him as he stepped towards the front of the shieldwall. He rolled his neck in an attempt to alleviate the tension there, but it was no good. He reached down to his belt and touched the hilt of his sword, Hrunting.
Beobrand took a deep breath. Across the moor, the last vestiges of the morning mists had been burnt away by the rising sun. The frost sparkled like jewels scattered upon the ground. As if they had been waiting for him to take his place, the enemy host let out a huge clamour, hammering their spears and blades into shields and roaring their defiance.
“For Oswald,” started the chant around him, rising in intensity as ever more of the Northumbrians took up the battle-cry. “For Oswald! For Oswald!”
By Woden and all the gods he hoped that he was as lucky as Oswald believed. For he must lead these men into battle.
And he must be victorious.
Beobrand drew Hrunting from its finely tooled scabbard and held it aloft to catch the bright rays of the rising sun.
“For Oswald!” he screamed, lending his voice to the tumult. Then, slashing the sword down to point at the enemy shieldwall, he ran forward.
And the men of Northumbria, believing they followed their king, surged forward with him.”
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