Book 1 of Sons of Kings Series Spotlight
Title: Shadow of the Raven (Sons of Kings Book 1)
Author: Millie Thom
Genre: Historical Fiction
Book Blurb for Shadow of the Raven
A tale of unforgivable betrayal and the ever-present desire for revenge…
The life of Eadwulf, ten-year old son of the Mercian king, is changed forever when his family is betrayed to the Danes by his treacherous uncle. In a devastating Danish raid, his father is killed, his mother raped, and along with his tutor and childhood friend, Eadwulf is captured and taken to the Danish lands to be sold as a slave.
As a slave in Jarl Ragnar’s village, Eadwulf’s life is hard, his days unbearably long. But on the return of Ragnar’s eldest son, Bjorn, from his summer raids, his life begins to change. Eadwulf spends the next few years aboard Bjorn’s beloved dragon-ship, sailing to places he’d never dreamed of, trading and raiding. And although still a slave, he becomes a well-respected member of Bjorn’s closely-knit crew. Yet through it all, the smouldering desire for revenge on those who destroyed his family refuses to abate.
Eadwulf’s story plays out against the backdrop of events unfolding in Wessex in the face of escalating Danish raids. Alfred, the youngest son of the Wessex king, faces family tragedies from an early age, losing first his mother, then his beloved sister when she is married to the new Mercian king: Eadwulf’s treacherous uncle. At his father’s court and the successive courts of his elder brothers, he learns the weighty art of kingship. And, like Eadwulf, he learns the harshest lesson of all … that a trusted kinsman can so easily turn traitor
Excerpt from Shadow of the Raven:
Extended in a drawn-out cavalcade, the Mercians didn’t stand a chance. The attackers came in waves from the concealment of the woods, their screeches obliterating the silence as they hurled themselves at Beorhtwulf’s men. Vastly outnumbered, the Mercians were dragged from their mounts and brutally hacked down. As the inevitable end neared, only Creoda and young Beornred stood with Beorhtwulf for the final strike.
Creoda suddenly dropped like a winged bird, blood gurgling through his lips. The axe had come so fast that Beorhtwulf hadn’t seen it coming. Then Beornred was dragged away and Beorhtwulf stood alone. Fur-clad shapes swooped on the dead to gather the spoils; like vultures stripping the very meat from their bodies. Fleeting images assailed his mind: of Morwenna and Eadwulf, and his brother, Burgred. He would never see them again.
‘Kill me now, you filthy savages,’ he screamed. ‘What in God’s name are you waiting for?’
The blow to his head sent him reeling. He retched with the pain and rolled onto his side, dizzy and disorientated. But he heard the voice.
‘God? Which god would that be? Do you think the Christian god has been looking after you well today? No? Perhaps you should try Odin, the Danish god of kings. Thor is better suited to warriors, I’m told. But you resemble neither king nor warrior today, grovelling down there in the dirt.’
Beorhtwulf gaped, speechless, as Burgred loomed over him, hatred bright in his eyes.
‘You can take that look off your face, Beorhtwulf. It truly is me, here to witness your long-awaited demise. And that young upstart, Beornred, can convey the sad news to Morwenna. No need to worry on my account,’ he said, his voice thick with mock concern. ‘Beornred will say naught of my presence at this unfortunate skirmish. He was moved well out of the way before I put in my appearance . . .
‘Oh yes, I’ve hated you as long as I can remember, dear brother, and at last I can be honest about it. You were the first born, and Father always loved you best. By the time I was born he wanted nothing to do with another snivelling brat. He actually told me that, did you know? Don’t look at me as though I were mad; every word I say is true. And Mother was so old when I was born, she was more like a grandmother, with a face like a wizened apple!’
Beorhtwulf dragged himself up on his elbows, striving to make sense of what he was hearing. ‘But I have always loved you, Burgred. When you were a child, I sought to develop your mind, train you in skills for later life. Haven’t I given you lands and manors in return for what I believed to be your loyalty to Mercia, and to me?’
‘No doubt such skills will be useful,’ Burgred admitted, examining his fingernails, ‘and the lands will serve me very well. I’ve built up a large number of faithful followers in the kingdom. But I always saw you as a weak-minded man, not the stuff kings are made of.’
‘And you think you can do it better, is that it?’
‘Something like that.’
‘By making yourself useful to our kingdom’s enemies. But what use are you to them, brother? What have you promised them . . . free rein to ravage Mercia?’
A dangerous light flashed in Burgred’s eyes. ‘You seek to anger me again. But you’re not in a position to fare well if you do, are you?’
‘You’ll burn in the fires of hell for all eternity!’
Burgred threw himself at Beorhtwulf in an uncontrollable rage. Threats of hell-fire and damnation had always caused him nightmares.
‘Enough!’ A shaggy-haired Dane with a thrice-plaited beard hauled Burgred to his feet. ‘Finish what you want to say to this cur and we’ll be on our way.’ His heavy features twisted midway between snarl and smirk. ‘We’ve a certain royal manor to raze tomorrow.’
Beorhtwulf could no more prevent his anguished howl than he could his tears of frustration and rage. ‘Dear God, Burgred, think what you’re doing! Are they all to be slaughtered, like these men who so recently gave you their trust?’
‘Chilling thoughts, eh?’ Burgred brushed down his tunic, an ugly smile on his lips. ‘But don’t worry about Morwenna. She’ll be fine, once she’s my wife.’
‘Surely all this carnage is not solely for the purpose of rendering Morwenna a widow so she’ll turn to you? Do you truly believe she could accept you after such betrayal?’
‘By all the pompous saints, Beorhtwulf, you must think me quite simple. Morwenna will never know of that. I shall return to the manor once Rorik has finished with it, to find Morwenna distraught in her bower, with Egil guarding her door. I’ll be heard to dispatch Egil and she’ll turn to me for support – as will the rest of Mercia, who’ll see me as a fitting king.’
‘You’re mad, Burgred! You’ve forgotten how to be a compassionate human being, a Christian.’
‘Remember, Beorhtwulf, not long ago I told that pathetic bishop that the Danes knew naught of compassion. As for being a Christian . . .’ Burgred rolled his eyes heavenwards. ‘As a king, Odin will look upon me in a very favourable light.’
‘So you see yourself as one of them, do you? But do they see you the same way?’
‘They will, when their tribute comes in regularly. Silver’s a persuasive commodity.’
‘You’ll be no more than their puppet, a simpering mindless doll, taking orders from savages. Do you really believe you’ll have any power in ruling Mercia?’
‘I shall be king, and have much authority. I have Rorik’s word!’
Ambition and jealousy had destroyed the brother Beorhtwulf thought he knew; greed blinded him to the lies and the drastic consequences of his actions. He searched Burgred’s eyes for some glimmer of humanity but recoiled at the hatred he found. ‘What about my son? What do you intend for him?’
‘The brat will be dead by noon tomorrow.’
The second blow to Beorhtwulf’s head rendered him unconscious as he launched himself at his brother to choke the last breath from his treacherous body.
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Millie Thom is the author of the first three books in the Sons of Kings series: Shadow of the Raven, Pit of Vipers and Wyvern of Wessex, and is currently writing Book 4 – which has a working title of King of the Anglo Saxons. The books are historical fiction, set in the mid-ninth century, primarily in the Anglo Saxon and Danish lands. They follow the stories of King Alfred of Wessex (later known as Alfred the Great) and Eadwulf of Mercia, the latter being the fictional son of real-life King Beorhtwulf.
Millie has also published a book of 85 very short stories and flash fiction pieces of mixed genres, titled A Dash of Flash.
Millie is a retired history and geography teacher with a degree in geology and an enduring passion for history. She and her husband have six grown up children and now live in a small village in Nottinghamshire where Millie writes her books and blog posts about historic sites they’ve visited. She is a passionate traveller, walker, collector of fossils and baker of cakes!
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Title: Pit of Vipers
Author: Millie Thom
Genre: Historical Fiction
In Pit of Vipers, the second book in the Sons of Kings trilogy, the lives of Alfred of Wessex and Eadwulf of Mercia continue to unfold against the ever-increasing threat of Danish raids. Now back in his homeland, Eadwulf sets out on his determined quest for revenge, whilst Alfred’s leadership skills develop at the courts of his successive brothers. Before long, those skills will be put to the test . . . The Danish invasion of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in 865 is merciless and relentless. Every year more Norse ships come to join their comrades in a quest to plunder for wealth and gain domination over the people. The Wessex king is now Aethelred, Alfred’s last surviving brother, and Alfred becomes his trusted second-in-command. Whilst the Danes take kingdom after kingdom, the brothers wait with baited breath for them to set their sights on Wessex. By 869 their worst fear is realised. In the meantime, Eadwulf pursues the objects of his revenge.
Excerpt from Pit of Vipers
Eadwulf and Olaf were ushered inside and the door closed behind them. High in the far wall a missing stone served as the only window through which sunlight streamed onto the cell’s sole occupant huddled on the straw-strewn floor. The features that met them were unmistakably Ragnar’s, though the weakened body bore little semblance to its former robust form. His ragged clothes hung loose, encrusted with food and dried mud, and stone-grey hair and beard clung greasily to his face, spiked with musty straw.
Ragnar dragged himself to his feet, the jangling wall-chains attached to his ankles preventing him from moving forward. But his eyesight had not yet failed him.
‘You,’ he snarled. ‘That guard said . . . For one glorious moment I thought Bjorn had come for me. But it’s you, the runaway thrall!’ He shot a gobbet of spittle at Eadwulf’s feet. ‘I’ve naught to say to a traitorous cur.’
Olaf eased a little further into the cell. ‘Do you know me, Ragnar? It’s been some years, but we had some good times together.’
‘I know you, Olaf, even without your hair, though I might have wished our last meeting to have been under more favourable circumstances.’ He gestured round the filthy cell, the movement rendering him unbalanced and he staggered a little. ‘Welcome to the hall of the Great Ragnar,’ he said, his tone heavy with self-mockery. ‘They tell me that today will be my last. Well, death I can accept; it finds us all eventually. But to be barred from Valhalla!’ He hung his head, a pitiful whimper stemming from his throat, like a dog cowering beneath a cruel master’s lash. ‘If I’d been conscious when they found me on that beach, I’d have taken a few of them down with me, died a true warrior. But now Valhalla’s doors are closed to me forever.’
‘I know,’ Olaf murmured, his fingers raking through imagined hair on his smooth scalp. No words of consolation would be enough. ‘But raiding again, Ragnar? If you’d stayed in Aros you’d not be in this predicament.’
Ragnar gave a thin smile. ‘Couldn’t let my sons get all the praise. I was jealous, simple as that; wanted to be a warrior again, just one last time.’ His attention suddenly focused on Eadwulf. ‘Tell me, Olaf, how do you come to be with this Mercian dog? Watch him carefully, my friend, he’ll betray any trust you put in him.’
Olaf shook his head. ‘You’re wrong about that, Ragnar. It was Ulf who brought me to you now. He was no traitor to anyone – just a man desperate to return to his homeland, as you or I would have been in his position. Bjorn understood that, the reason why he arranged for Ulf to sail with me.’
‘You lie!’ Ragnar strained against his fetters to hurl himself forward. Bjorn would not have done that . . .’
‘I swear by Odin I speak the truth. Bjorn owed Ulf his life and felt the need to repay the debt.’ Olaf beckoned Eadwulf to stand next to him. ‘And Ulf worked hard for me for over a year before we parted. I’d trust him with my life, as did your own son. And you’ve never had cause to question Bjorn’s judgement before.’
Ragnar sank to the floor, the effort of standing suddenly too great, and rattled the heavy manacles in frenzied frustration. ‘Curse these shackles. If not for these I’d have struck the guards with my bare hands; death beneath their swords may have won Odin’s approval.’ He hung his head, struggling to control his ragged breathing. ‘Why tell me this now, Olaf?’
‘Tomorrow you will die, Ragnar; I see no way of preventing it…’
Universal link to Pit of Vipers on Amazon:
Title: Wyvern of Wessex
Author:A Millie Thom
Genre: Historical Fiction
Eadwulf is back in the Sea Eagle with Bjorn and his crew on a quest to discover if Eadwulf’s father, King Beorhtwulf of Mercia, is still alive after twenty years as a slave. Bjorn’s great dragon-ship carries them down to the searing June temperatures and strict laws in the Moorish lands of al-Andalus. But searching for Beorhtwulf proves more difficult than they’d expected, causing them more trouble than they bargained for…
In Wessex, King Aethelred is now dead, leaving his twenty-one-year-old brother, Alfred, to succe to the throne. Though his succession was agreed by the Witan, Alfred must now prove himself worthy of the kingship, or lose it. But Wessex is in turmoil, besieged by Viking Danes intent on subjugating the kingdom – and knowing that the new king is young and inexperienced. Alfred must use all his wiles if he is to outthink and outmanoeuvre Guthrum, the Dane who almost becomes his nemesis.
Alfred’s victories and defeats take him on a journey of learning, during which he gains experience and strength. We share his highs and his lows and how he rises from the depths of despair to save his beloved kingdom from total conquest.
And, beside him at his greatest time of need is his new ally and friend, Eadwulf of Mercia.
Excerpt from Wyvern of Wessex:
Halfdan glowered at Guthrum as they rode at the head of their exhausted army. The new arrival was not a happy man, despite their victory over the Saxons at Wilton. It was Guthrum’s idea to head back to their stronghold at Reading to plan their next move, and none of the leaders seemed inclined to argue with him, least of all Halfdan.
As though feeling the heat of Halfdan’s glare, Guthrum suddenly twisted in his saddle to face him. ‘I think we’ve got more than we bargained for with the West Saxons,’ he said, before twisting himself forwards again.
Halfdan inwardly fumed. Guthrum had a habit of dropping the odd thought, observation or criticism then clamming up, leaving his listeners to figure out his point. By Odin, the man had only been in Wessex for a couple of weeks, but it was more than enough to make Halfdan take a dislike to him. Besides, Guthrum was steadily asserting himself as overall leader, just like Bagsecg had done before the fool got himself killed, and the men seemed happy with that. Guthrum certainly had an air of authority that let everyone know he wasn’t a man to be messed with. His dark-haired good looks and pleasant smile could rapidly turn into a venomous glare that could wither a man of lesser standing than Halfdan.
And Halfdan already had his own opinion to add to this particular remark. ‘It’s not the Saxon scum themselves we need to worry about but that young king of theirs. There’s more to Alfred than meets the eye.’ He let the thought hang, smiling to himself. Two could play at Guthrum’s game.
But Guthrum nodded. ‘I think that’s true. I could tell his men were right behind him. He must have done something in the past to win their approval, young as he is.’
Halfdan cringed, remembering his army’s humiliating defeat at Ashdown. And it was Alfred who had killed that bull of a man, Bagsecg. He reached to touch his bandaged thigh. The gash was deep and he’d lost a lot of blood, but at least he was still alive.
He could sense Guthrum watching him and refused to make eye contact, but it didn’t deter the man from speaking his mind. ‘The young king can fight, too. I’m told few men could inflict a wound on you, Halfdan.’
Halfdan wasn’t sure whether that was praise for him or for the whippersnapper of a king. He had a sudden longing to have Ivar here beside him. Guthrum wouldn’t be trying to rule the roost if his strange and powerful brother were around. Ivar could put any man in his place.
‘Alfred doesn’t lack confidence either, and makes a good show of himself in front of his shieldwall,’ Guthrum went on. ‘But he’s still much to learn as a leader in the battlefield.’
After another long, infuriating pause, Halfdan eventually asked, ‘Why do you say that?’
‘Look at our army, Halfdan. What do you see?’
Halfdan glanced back, beyond Oscetel and Anwend riding behind them. ‘Exhausted men, wounded men – but all look happy enough that we won and we’re all still alive.’
‘But that’s just my point, Halfdan. We’re not all still alive. We’ve lost well over a third of our army in a battle against a force little over half the size of ours to start with. The Saxons fought well today, and very nearly won. If we hadn’t used that old trick of retreating, they just might have done. Our shieldwall had begun to collapse and the Saxons knew it. Any longer and we would have been fleeing for real.’
Halfdan sighed and nodded. He’d known that himself, but could never have forced himself to openly admit it. ‘So, we head back to Reading to give our army time to recover and hope that a few more shiploads of men soon arrive up the Thames.’
Guthrum just grunted.
Universal link to Wyvern of Wessex: