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Sword Song : Saxon Chronicles : Book 4 - Bernard Cornwell

Sword Song

Saxon Chronicles : Book 4

Paperback Published: 6th May 2008
ISBN: 9780007219735
Number Of Pages: 365

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Sword Song tells the story of the making of England and, like of Bernard Cornwell's previous novels, is based on true events.

It is a gripping story of love, deceit, and violence, set in an England of tremendous turmoil and strife, yet one galvanised by a small flicker of hope that Alfred, the great king of Wessex, may prove a force that lasts.

Uhtred, his greatest warrior, has become his sword, a man feared and respected the length and breadth of the land, his Lord of War.

Industry Reviews

'Beautifully crafted story-telling, complete with splendid set-piece battles and relentless derring-do, so gripping that it rarely stops to catch a breath. It demonstrates once again Cornwell's enormous skill as a historical narrator. He would have graced Alfred's court entertaining the guests with his stories'
Daily Mail

'Cornwell takes the spectres of ninth century history and puts flesh back on their bones. Here is Alfred's world restored - impeccably researched and illuminated with the colour and passion of a master storyteller'
Justin Pollard, author of 'Alfred the Great

'Praise for Bernard Cornwell: 'Bernard Cornwell is a literary miracle. Year after year, hail, rain, snow, war and political upheavals fail to prevent him from producing the most entertaining and readable historical novels of his generation.'
Daily Mail

'Cornwell's narration is quite masterly and supremely well-researched'

Really gets you excited about the Dark Ages


This series has me completely enthralled. I've never been a huge novel reader, but was recommended this author by some fellow tabletop gamers while playing the 'SAGA'. I have been plowing through these ever since! The perfect mix of historical accuracy and fiction keeps you constantly engaged, with characters so solid that they feel like your old school chums. Another great touch is the list of old/modern place names, which can really help connect you even more to the events, especially if you or your ancestors hail from British Isles. Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the Dark Ages, even if you're not a big reader. Fans of the Vikings TV series will also love this.

NSW Alps, Australia


Historical novel well worth reading


Cornwell always seems to grasp the historical aspect with such fervour and makes it so real and believable.



Sword Song

4.5 2


Chapter One

'The dead speak,' Æthelwold told me. He was sober for once. Sober and awed and serious. The night wind snatched at the house and the rushlights flickered red in the wintry drafts that whipped from the roof 's smoke-hole and through the doors and shutters.

'The dead speak?' I asked.

'A corpse,' Æthelwold said, 'he rises from the grave and he speaks.' He stared at me wide-eyed, then nodded as if to stress that he spoke the truth. He was leaning toward me, his clasped hands fidgeting between his knees. 'I have seen it,' he added.

'A corpse talks?' I asked.

'He rises!' He wafted a hand to show what he meant.


'The dead man. He rises and he speaks.' He still stared at me, his expression indignant. 'It's true,' he added in a voice that suggested he knew I did not believe him.

I edged my bench closer to the hearth. It was ten days after I had killed the raiders and hanged their bodies by the river, and now a freezing rain rattled on the thatch and beat on the barred shutters. Two of my hounds lay in front of the fire and one gave me a resentful glance when I scraped the bench, then rested his head again. The house had been built by the Romans, which meant the floor was tiled and the walls were of stone, though I had thatched the roof myself. Rain spat through the smoke-hole. 'What does the dead man say?' Gisela asked. She was my wife and the mother of my two children.

Æthelwold did not answer at once, perhaps because he believed a woman should not take part in a serious discussion, but my silence told him thatGisela was welcome to speak in her own house and he was too nervous to insist that I dismiss her. 'He says I should be king,' he admitted softly, then gazed at me, fearing my reaction.

'King of what?' I asked flatly.

'Wessex,' he said, 'of course.'

'Oh, Wessex,' I said, as though I had never heard of the place.

'And I should be king!' Æthelwold protested. 'My father was king!'

'And now your father's brother is king,' I said, 'and men say he is a good king.'

'Do you say that?' he challenged me.

I did not answer. It was well enough known that I did not like Alfred and that Alfred did not like me, but that did not mean Alfred's nephew, Æthelwold, would make a better king. Æthelwold, like me, was in his late twenties, and he had made a reputation as a drunk and a lecherous fool. Yet he did have a claim to the throne of Wessex. His father had indeed been king, and if Alfred had possessed a thimbleful of sense he would have had his nephew's throat sliced to the bone. Instead Alfred relied on Æthelwold's thirst for ale to keep him from making trouble. 'Where did you see this living corpse?' I asked, instead of answering his question.

He waved a hand toward the north side of the house. 'On the other side of the street,' he said. 'Just the other side.'

'Wæclingastræt?' I asked him, and he nodded.

So he was talking to the Danes as well as to the dead. Wæclingastræt is a road that goes northwest from Lundene. It slants across Britain, ending at the Irish Sea just north of Wales, and everything to the south of the street was supposedly Saxon land, and everything to the north was yielded to the Danes. That was the peace we had in that year of 885, though it was a peace scummed with skirmish and hate. 'Is it a Danish corpse?' I asked.

Æthelwold nodded. 'His name is Bjorn,' he said, 'and he was a skald in Guthrum's court, and he refused to become a Christian so Guthrum killed him. He can be summoned from his grave. I've seen it.'

I looked at Gisela. She was a Dane, and the sorcery that Æthelwold described was nothing I had ever known among my fellow Saxons. Gisela shrugged, suggesting that the magic was equally strange to her. 'Who summons the dead man?' she asked.

'A fresh corpse,' Æthelwold said.

'A fresh corpse?' I asked.

'Someone must be sent to the world of the dead,' he explained, as though it were obvious, 'to find Bjorn and bring him back.'

'So they kill someone?' Gisela asked.

'How else can they send a messenger to the dead?' Æthelwold asked pugnaciously.

'And this Bjorn,' I asked, 'does he speak English?' I put the question for I knew that Æthelwold spoke little or no Danish.

'He speaks English,' Æthelwold said sullenly. He did not like being questioned.

'Who took you to him?' I asked.

'Some Danes,' he said vaguely.

I sneered at that. 'So some Danes came,' I said, 'and told you a dead poet wanted to speak to you, and you meekly traveled into Guthrum's land?'

'They paid me gold,' he said defensively. Æthelwold was ever in debt.

'And why come to us?' I asked. Æthelwold did not answer. He fidgeted and watched Gisela, who was teasing a thread of wool onto her distaff. 'You go to Guthrum's land,' I persisted, 'you speak to a dead man, and then you come to me. Why?'

'Because Bjorn said you will be a king too,' Æthelwold said. He had not spoken loudly, but even so I held up a hand to hush him and I looked anxiously at the doorway as if expecting to see a spy listening from the darkness of the next room. I had no doubt Alfred had spies in my household and I thought I knew who they were, but I was not entirely certain that I had identified all of them, which was why I had made sure all the servants were well away from the room where Æthelwold and I talked. Even so it was not wise to say such things too loudly.

ISBN: 9780007219735
ISBN-10: 0007219733
Series: Saxon Chronicles
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 365
Published: 6th May 2008
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 19.7 x 12.9  x 2.4
Weight (kg): 0.258

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Bernard Cornwell

About the Author

Bernard Cornwell was born in London in 1944 - a 'warbaby' - whose father was a Canadian airman and mother in Britain's Women's Auxiliary Air Force. He was adopted by a family in Essex who belonged to a religious sect called the Peculiar People (and they were), but escaped to London University and, after a stint as a teacher, he joined BBC Television where he worked for the next 10 years. He began as a researcher on the Nationwide programme and ended as Head of Current Affairs Television for the BBC in Northern Ireland. It was while working in Belfast that he met Judy, a visiting American, and fell in love. Judy was unable to move to Britain for family reasons so Bernard went to the States where he was refused a Green Card. He decided to earn a living by writing, a job that did not need a permit from the US government - and for some years he had been wanting to write the adventures of a British soldier in the Napoleonic wars - and so the Sharpe series was born. Bernard and Judy married in 1980, are still married, still live in the States and he is still writing Sharpe.

Visit Bernard Cornwell's Booktopia Author Page

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