Title: Shadow of the Raven (Sons of Kings Book 1)
Author: Millie Thom
Genre: Historical Fiction
By the mid ninth century, Danish raids on Anglo-Saxon kingdoms have escalated. Several bands even dare to overwinter on the coastal islands, particularly those at the mouth of the Thames, where the kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia border each other.
The kings of these lands must put past enmity aside and take the first steps towards unity; steps they see as vital in the face of this newfound threat to their lands . . .
Alfred of Wessex and Eadwulf of Mercia are the sons of kings, whose futures have been determined since birth. But the turbulent events in their childhood years change the natural progression of things – and shape the characters of the men they will become.
Their roads to manhood follow vastly different routes, but both learn crucial lessons along the way: lessons that will serve them well in future years.
Discovering that the enemy is not always a stranger is a harsh lesson indeed; the realisation that a trusted kinsman can turn traitor is the harshest lesson of all.
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.
Free to read on Kindle Unlimited!
author.to/MillieThomAmazon (Universal link to Amazon book page)
mybook.to/ShadowOfTheRaven (Universal link to Shadow of the Raven only)
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!
Social Media Links: