Matthew Harffy is the author of the Bernicia Chronicles, a series of novels set in seventh century Britain. The first of the series, The Serpent Sword, was published by Aria/Head of Zeus on 1st June 2016. The sequel, The Cross and The Curse was released on 1st August 2016. Book three, Blood and Blade, was released on 1st December 2016.
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635AD. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and third instalment in The Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.
Oswald is now King of Northumbria. However, his plans for further alliances and conquests are quickly thrown into disarray when his wedding to a princess of Wessex is interrupted by news of a Pictish uprising.
Rushing north, Oswald leaves Beobrand to escort the young queen to her new home. Their path is fraught with danger and uncertainty, Beobrand must try to unravel secrets and lies if they are to survive.
Meanwhile, old enemies are closing in, seeking brutal revenge. Beobrand will give his blood and blade in service to his king, but will that be enough to avert disaster and save his kith and kin from the evil forces that surround them?
“This mead is good,” roared the huge warrior who had arrived that dawn. He slammed down the horn he had just emptied, pushing the bench back and standing up. He staggered towards the door, almost losing his balance.
“Good and strong,” said Beobrand, smiling. “Watch yourself, Bassus. I wouldn’t want you tripping and hurting yourself, old man.”
“Who are you calling old?” bellowed Bassus. He spun around to face the high table, arms lifted in mock fighting pose. Losing his balance, he reached out and grabbed hold of one of the hall’s wooden pillars. “I’m not old,” he said, shaking his head to clear it. “Drunk, yes, but not old!” He pushed himself away from the beam and walked unsteadily out of the hall.
The men gathered there, most as drunk as Bassus, filled the warm, smoke-filled space with laughter. Bassus, erstwhile hearth-warrior and champion to King Edwin, was known to them. He and Beobrand had fought shoulder-to-shoulder in the battle of Elmet. The older warrior was their lord’s friend and had stood with them against the Picts in the darkness, and so they welcomed him.
Reaghan started at the raucous noise of the men in the great hall. They were full of cheer. Glad to be alive. Flushed with the morning’s victory over the Picts. The air of celebration was clear in the expressions of men and women alike. They all felt it. Revelled in it. It was a warm day and the food and drink was plentiful.
And yet, the happiness did not reach Reaghan. She had been so afraid in the black stillness of the night, cowering with the other women and the bairns. Waiting for the sound of battle. For the flash of fire in the darkness.
Beobrand, sitting at the head of the room, waved to her, beckoning her to his side. She lowered her head and made her way past the men who lined the boards. She felt their eyes upon her as she approached her lord. She knew what they wanted. What all men wanted.
“More mead, my lord?” she asked in a soft tone.
He grinned and raised his cup.
It was the first time she had seen him smile since before lady Sunniva’s death. Even when he looked upon Octa, his infant son, he displayed no emotion, save perhaps a brooding anxiety.
Reaghan poured amber liquid for him and stepped back, away from Beobrand. The fear of the previous night clung to her like a rain-soaked fleece. She shuddered.
The screams of the fighting, the clash of sword on shield and the crackle of fires had brought back to her the night she had been taken by Torran and his brother. She had not been as afraid since she was a child, when the Angelfolc had come on that autumn day, killing her family. But that was many years past and the memories had lost their edges, stones rubbed smooth in the stream of time. Her capture by the sons of Nathair had been recent, the wounds still fresh.
They had treated her hard. She was no stranger to the ways of warriors. She was a thrall. The property of Lord Ubba until his death, along with his two sons, the year before. All three of them had lain with her. Panting and pushing, grunting into her long auburn hair. Yet she had never feared they would truly hurt her. She had pitied them. Despised them. But she never believed they wished her harm.
The Picts were different. They had beaten her, slapping and punching her tiny frame. She had been powerless to prevent it, so had done the only thing she knew. Before they could knock her senseless, she had lifted up her dress, opening her legs, offering herself to them. They had stopped hitting her then.
What followed had been little better. The memories of that dark night threatened to engulf her with their black wings. She had passed out before they had finished with her.
She had awoken, battered and aching as the night erupted in flames and terror. The hall had filled with thick smoke and all about her men shouted. She recalled her own village all those years before, and the acrid smoke as her home was consumed. Her mother’s screams. The Angelfolc, descended from warriors who had come from across the Whale Road, had murdered her family and enslaved her. And yet, these Picts, people who had long shared this island of Albion with her folk, had forced themselves upon her. They had kicked and hit her. For years she had dreamt of running away from Ubbanford. Escaping her life of thralldom. To leave the accursed Angelfolc behind and return to her people in the west.