A Brother’s Oath
(Book 1 in the Hengest and Horsa Trilogy)
by Chris Thorndycroft
Publication Date: September 13, 2015
eBook; 282 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
The Untold Story of England’s Beginning.
Denmark, 444 A.D. Two brothers – the cold and calculating Hengest and the intrepid but headstrong Horsa – find their separate worlds thrown into turmoil by royal treachery and an evil cult thought long dead. Reunited by an oath sworn in their youth, they set off on a journey that will define their destiny and set them upon the path to greatness.
When Hengest’s family is kidnapped by an unknown enemy, Horsa knows his oath has become more than a thing of words and he infiltrates the crew of one of the most feared raiders in the northern world to find out who took them. Meanwhile, Hengest struggles to unite his rag-tag group of followers into a united people. His heart yearns for a safe haven for his family; a land that he and his followers can call their own for generations to come.
This is the first part of the thrilling saga of the two warriors who spearheaded the Anglo-Saxon migrations to Britain and whose names became legendary as the founders of the land that would one day be called England.
On one of the boats behind Hnaef’s, Hengest gripped the bulwark and focused on breathing deeply. The deck lurched beneath his feet and his stomach lurched with it. The white caps of the waves rose and fell with sickening regularity and the swell beneath the shallow keel tossed the small craft about as if it were driftwood.
Hengest hated the sea; the nausea, the constant wind and wet spray and the thought of the vast, black chasms yawning beneath them and the nightmarish creatures that dwelt in those dark depths. The distant coastline of Frisia was a dull grey bulge on the horizon beneath a leaden sky. Another winter was coming.
Twelve years had passed since Horsa had left. It had all but destroyed their mother when she had learned that her youngest son had run away. Hengest had remained with her the night he told her, comforting her as she wept until the dawn came. Their father had ranted and raged as could be expected, but on the whole, as much as Hengest was loathe to admit, life went on just fine without Horsa.
Hengest had married Halfritha and the two of them had moved into the farm she had inherited from her parents. He had purchased theows to work the land and their home had been a happy one. Halfritha had borne him two children; a daughter they named Hronwena and a son they named Aesc. Both were nearing adolescence now, and he missed them terribly.
Year by year, news of Horsa had trickled back to Jute-land like the melt of spring. There had been rumours of him taking up with a crew of Angle raiders and enjoying great success plundering the merchant vessels and coastal towns throughout the northern world. One year a messenger arrived with a large sum of silver to be paid to Ealdorman Wictgils. It had been sent by Horsa to repay his father for the horse that had been given to Wulfgar. Wictgils accepted the money but said nothing. As far as he was concerned, Horsa was dead to him.
But the happy and safe home Hengest had built for his family had been thrown into turmoil by the recent rise to power of Hnaef. There had long been enmity between the Jutes and the Dane-tribes; blood feuds and territorial disputes that reached back further than anyone could remember. With this new upstart uniting the West Danes, the Jutish ealdormen began to worry that they would be next to fall to this Dane’s boundless ambition.
Their concern was well-founded. Ealdorman Guthulf, a good friend of Wictgils, was the first to succumb. Guthulf, his wife and two sons had been slain by Hnaef’s men, but the third son, Garulf, had escaped the slaughter with a few of his father’s retainers and had fled Jute-land. Another ealdorman, Herebeorht, was next to fall under Hnaef’s shadow and there was talk of a treaty between the two.
Wictgils was outraged at the idea and sent Hengest to Herebeorht’s hall to persuade the chieftain not to join with Hnaef on a point of honour and for the pride of all Jutes, but upon arrival, Hengest was shocked to find the negotiations already underway and King Hnaef a guest of Herebeorht.
Far from being a bloodthirsty tyrant as Hengest had been led to believe, he found Hnaef to be a fair and sensible man with strong political opinions and a heart that was big enough to feel for the misfortunes of the common people. As the mead flowed and the three men got to speaking freely, Hengest had begun to like Hnaef.
The Danish king was the exact opposite of his father. Wictgils was content for his earldom to live in total independence and total isolation. That was the way it had always been; an ealdorman looked after his own people and let others look to the protection of their own leaders. But Hnaef proposed a new era of unity throughout the northern world and an end to the petty blood feuds and territorial arguments.
Hengest saw in Hnaef a visionary and he wanted a stock in this new world that was to rise from the ashes of the old. That night, with the gods watching from Esegeard, he had pledged his allegiance to the king of the West Danes.
As could be expected, his father was furious. Instead of preventing an alliance between Herebeorht and Hnaef, his son had sealed the union and had joined the Danish tyrant himself, dishonouring his people and shaming his family.
The waves that rushed past the strakes of the boat could never wash away the bitter memories of that argument. Hengest remembered his mother weeping whilst his father had raged at him and for the first time in his life he had felt as if he had taken the place of his younger brother; the black sheep of the family.
About the Author
Chris Thorndycroft is a British writer of historical fiction, horror and fantasy. His early short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies such as Dark Moon Digest and American Nightmare. History has long been his passion and he began thinking about a series set in Arthurian Britain when he was a student. Ten years later, A Brother’s Oath is his first novel under his own name and the beginning of a trilogy concerning Hengest and Horsa. He also writes Steampunk and Retropulp under the pseudonym P. J. Thorndyke.
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