Sword Song
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Young adult

Historical era

Dark Ages


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Sword Song is Sutcliff's last, incompletely revised novel, published posthumously by The Bodley Head in 1997. It concerns a young Viking's adventures as a mercenary in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and is partly based on material from several Icelandic sagas.

It is the seventh novel about the Flavius Aquila family in chronological order and the eighth and last in publication order.


Bjarni Sigurdson, a sixteen-year-old Norwegian, has (accidentally) drowned a wandering priest for kicking his dog. Rafn Cedricson the chief of Rafnglas, where Bjarni has lived with his elder brother for the past six months, swore a vow to his Christian foster-brother that followers of the White Christ should be safe in his lands. He gives Bjarni a sword and exiles him from Rafnglas for the next five years (1).

Bjarni sails for Dublin aboard Sea Cow, the ship of Heriolf Merchant, where he is laughed out of the king's hall, robbed outside a tavern, and loses all his possessions, but acquires a black dog he names Hugin (2). Heriolf takes him along to the fleet base of Evynd the Easterner, the Norse ruler of Belfast Lough and the northern Irish coast, where an accident opens a place in the ship of Evynd's ally Onund Treefoot, a sea lord of Barra in the Outer Isles (3).

At the end of two summers' trading and raiding with Sea Witch, the raiders Vestnor and Vigibjord, brothers with whom Onund has a blood feud, surface in the Irish Sea, and the Barra fleet sails to engage them (4). Barra's five longships lure the brothers' eight into the Western Kyle, where they trap them in the close quarters, and Onund slays Vigibjorg (5). Returning to Barra for Onund's marriage celebrations, Bjarni publicly rejects Thara, the foolish daughter of the priest, who persuades her father to demand Hugin as a sacrifice to Thor. Onund maims his paw to make him unsuitable, then summarily dismisses Bjarni to protect him from further retaliation. The two sail aboard Sea Cow to Mull, the base of Thorstein the Red (6).

On Mull, Bjarni sells his sword to Thorstein and befriends his mother the Lady Aud, her eldest granddaughter Groa, her chief thrall Muirgoed, once a queen of Argyll, and Muirgoed's son Erp. Aud invites him to be among the rowers for her Easter voyage to the monastery on Iona, where Bjarni meets Brother Gisli, the foster-brother of Rafn Cedricson, and chooses to be prime-signed, a Norse compromise with baptism (7-9).

A year and a half later, Thorstein attends a council in Orkney with the Jarl Sigurd and envoys from the Picts of Caithness, regarding the likelihood of invasion from king Harald Finehair of Norway. While there, Onund Treefoot stops for water, tricking Sigurd into accepting his baby as a foster-son (10). He has been in Norway conducting a blood feud with Harald's allies and is now sailing for freer pastures in Iceland, following his fellow sea lords of Barra. Bjarni declines his invitation to go with his former leader, but Thorstein agrees to settle his people in the thinly defended territory of Caithness (11).

The next summer, Bjarni is left to defend Aud and Groa on Mull while Thorstein and Sigurd campaign against the Picts of Sutherland under their Mormaor Melbrigda Tusk (12). At summer's end, they are summoned to Caithness to marry Groa to the chief of the Picts at Pentland Firth, neighbours to Thorstein's new settlement, while Sigurd talks peace in Sutherland (13). The wedding over, Sigurd calls for aid, and Thorstein's warband arrives in Sutherland to find Melbrigda dead in battle and Sigurd dead of an infected wound. Melbrigda's son arrives to recover his body, attacks the new Jarl Guthorm, and is killed by Thorstein (14). Guthorm makes peace with a Pict chieftain, but Melbrigda's surviving son kills Thorstein on the way back to Caithness in blood feud, and is killed by Bjarni (15).

Her son dead, the Lady Aud declares that she will sail to her kin in Iceland. She has a ship built in the woods of Caithness over the ensuing winter, and sails in the spring with the freed Muirgoed and Erp. Before their departure, Bjarni rescues her chaplain Ninian from a bear, and while recovering from his injuries, decides to return to Rafnglas now that the five years of his exile are nearly over (16). He returns to Mull with the new chief Egil, whence he sails for the third time aboard Heriolf Merchant's Sea Cow. A sudden storm at sea blows them too far south, Bjarni jumps overboard to rescue Hugin, and they swim ashore on the Welsh coast (17).

They walk inland to find a derelict farm worked by Angharad, a young herbwoman and inheritor of the Flavius dolphin ring, and her bed-ridden herdsman Gwyn (18). She asks Bjarni to remain as her farmhand and guard, as her wealthy kinsman Rhywallan, who desires her and her property, encourages the nearby villagers to fear her as a witch. Despite Bjarni's advice, Angharad refuses to give up her family's land (19-20). On the evening they finish the harvest, Rhywallan arrives to tell them that the village's grain has been destroyed by deer, and to inspect Bjarni (21). Gwyn dies in the night, and while they are away burying him, Rhywallan and the villagers burn the farm. Bjarni resists the urge to throw himself into the fray for the first time in his life, and takes Angharad away to safety. She agrees to marry him and return to Rafnglas, where Bjarni delivers Brother Gisli's message of forgiveness to Rafn Cedricson (22-23).


Aud the Deep-Minded's settlement of the Dales in the spring after her immigration to Iceland is given as A.D. 892 in T. Ellwood's notes to his 1898 translation of Ari the Learned's The Book of the Settlement of Iceland. This puts the conclusion of Sword Song in the autumn of 891 CE and its beginning in spring of 886.

Timeline Edit


  • 300 years ago, St. Columba lands in Iona (9)
  • 870 Bjarni born in Norway.
  • 873-5 12 to 14 years ago, Jarl Sigurd killed Meldin of Argyll, enslaved Muirgoed and Erp. Gives them to Thorstein after a year (8).
  • <879 Onund, Vestnor & Vigibjorg raid the Irish Sea. V&V kill Onund's teenage brother; Onund attacks them (4).
  • 879 Seven years ago (3): Onund loses his leg in battle with Harald Finehair (4).
  • 885 Six months ago (1): Bjarni comes to Rafnglas from Norway

886 CE, Year 1

  • Spring (1): Bjarni banished from Rafnglas, departs on the morning tide. [unspecified travelling time]
  • May, waxing moon (2): Bjarni spends a day in Dublin, acquires Hugin, rejoins the Sea Cow. [unspecified travelling time]
  • Spring (3): Bjarni joins the crew of Sea Witch in Belfast Lough.
  • Summer (4): Sven Gunnarson and Hugin left in Belfast Lough for three months until summer's end.
  • Autumn (4): Sea Witch returns to Belfast Lough; collects Sven and Hugin

887 CE, Year 2

  • Autumn (4): End of Bjarni's second summer on Sea Witch. Has traded north to Orkney; fought for Evynd against a revolt of three Irish kings; raided Danish settlements on the Welsh coast with Onund. Return to Barra for the harvest.
  • Three-day gale and refit in prep for raid on Vestnor & Vigibjorg. Two weeks of shadowing them later, Onund draws V&V into Western Kyle. Slack water is before dawn; Barra fleet turns down the elbow of the Western Kyle against the rising tide. (5)
  • Next three days refitting on Bute; raise Barra on the third morning underway, land in the evening. Harvest taken in in the three weeks since they sailed. Wedding takes place some days later, two days after arrival of Sea Cow, an all-day affair; "the hunter's moon was up". (6)
  • Three days in the lee of Coll en route to Mull plus unspecified sailing time. (7)
  • Hugin's paw heals "before the next moon had waned and the yellow birch-leaves were falling". (8)

888 CE, Year 3

  • Spring (8): Easter journey to Iona. Sail on Shrove Tuesday, arrive on Ash Wednesday, meets Gisli on Thursday. Bjarni is prime-signed and Fionoula departs on Easter Monday.
  • 888 Sometime in year 2: Angharad's brother killed at boar hunting; she returns to Gwyn Coed.
  • Between autumns of years 2 and 4: Harald Finehair active; Aflaeg sails for Iceland.

889 CE, Year 4

  • Easter: Return to Iona; Gisli has died.
  • Spring: Thrond and Onund sail to Norway for Thrond's inheritance; Thrond sails for Iceland. ("Last spring, that had been." (11)).
  • Spring-summer: Onund fights Harda; the King's man who kills his grandfather "in the same moon"; and Jarl Anders; returns to Barra to prepare for Iceland (11).
  • Autumn (10): "A year and the half of another year had gone by since he had been prime-signed". Four summers passed since exile from Rafnglas. Four days' council on Orkney. Onund sails to Iceland via Orkney.

890 CE, Year 5

  • Winter (12): Preparations for war in Caithness.
  • Spring-summer (12): Fleet launched in spring. Bjarni left to guard Mull.
  • Harvest: Aud and Groa summoned to join Thorstein after the summer campaign.
    • 5 days' sailing to Caithness (12).
    • Wedding announced "on the fourth day, the day before the new moon" and occurs the next day; feasting in Dungadr's fort on the next day;
    • Norse return to their camp on the third day. Thorstein summoned to Sutherland. Finds Sigurd dead four days after a battle with the Picts.
    • Thorstein killed on 2nd of 4 day journey back north; howe-laid on the fourth day after Bjarni brings the news to Aud. (ch. 15)
    • Boat-building camp ordered the day after the funeral (16).
  • Winter (16): Seal Maiden built.

891 CE, Year 6

  • Spring (16): Seal Maiden launched. Bjarni five days in a shed recovering from a bear fight.
  • Summer (18): Bjarni washes up in Wales. Spends two days recovering in Angharad's hall, three more helping her before she hires him.
  • Harvest: Welsh harvest fails for the third year. Gwyn dies the morning after Gwyn Coed's harvest is finished; Angharad's neighbours burn Gwyn Coed.
  • Late autumn: Bjarni and Angharad arrive in Rafnglas.


Rafnglas Edit

  • Bjarni Sigurdson. "Not much over sixteen; a tall, raw-boned stripling whose voice, when he spoke, still sounded faintly rough at the edges"; blue-eyed, with "a thatch of barley-pale hair." Left-handed. "He was not good at loving" (ch. 1). "You're not so witless as you look." (ch. 4). Can swim. "what few brains you possess" "It's that fool Bjarni Sigurdson!" (ch. 5). "You've a man's shoulders on you" and a preliminary beard. (ch. 6) "Four summers that had grown his beard for him, short but thick, a young beard still" (ch. 10). "My shoulder is the same height as it ever was." "Broader than it used to be, though." (ch. 11). "You're one of those fools who needs to follow your way for reasons of your roots behind you and the heart within your breast." "he had the story-telling skill in him that he had not known he possessed before, with the story-teller's ability to improve on the truth." (ch. 16). "he was taller now than Gram." (ch. 23).
    • Astrid (ch. 1). Old, shaggy, rough-coated hound bitch, recently whelped. Came from Norway with Bjarni.
    • Hugin. "A black half-grown cur" Bjarni picks up in a Dublin tavern (ch. 2); named for Odin's raven (ch. 3). "grown and flehed out into a big powerful hound, black as midnight save for some white hairs under his chin, and still those surprisingly light amber eyes." (ch. 4). Sleeps at Bjarni's feet. Has the tips of the two central toes of his left forepaw cut off by Onund to spoil him as a sacrifice to Thor. (ch. 6). "he's not for strangers" (ch. 18) "not a fighter" (ch. 21).
  • Gram Sigurdson (ch.1, 23). Bjarni's older brother, husband of Ingibjorg. Has a steading in Rafnglas. Two children. "Gram had never been any good at covering what he was feeling" (ch. 23).
  • Ingibjorg (ch. 1, 23). Gram Sigurdson's wife. Pregnant. Mutually disliked by Bjarni. "She had a little pink greedy face, but she was a good cook."
  • Rafn Cedricson (ch.1, 8, 23). Chief of Rafnglas. Foster-brother to a Brother Gisli, for whose sake he vowed safety to Christians on his land. "the big grey-gold man" "not a man to whom the softer ways of speech came easily" (ch. 23).
  • The holy man (ch. 1). "the old man in the long brown kirtle who had come to the settlement to tell them about his god"; drowned by Bjarni in the horse-pond for kicking Astrid.
  • Kraka (ch. 1) "foremost of [Rafn]'s hearth companions, who rowed first oar in his galley"
  • Heriolf the Merchant (ch 1-3, 6-7, 17, 23). A trader, ship-master of the Sea Cow. Indulges the teenage Bjarni by hiring him as guard from Rafnglas to Dublin, and Dublin to Onund; later takes him Onund to Thorstein, and Thorstein to Angharad.

Ireland Edit

  • Halfdan Ragnarson (ch 1-2). King of Dublin. "Wolf that he is, he sits uneasy in the King Seat, and has been toppled out of it once already."
  • Olaf the White (ch. 1). Late king of Dublin, husband of Aud and father of Thorstein.
  • Evynd the Easterner. "held the North Irish coast-lands clear from his seat on Belfast Lough". "big dark-haired man with a noble paunch" Married to an Irish king's daughter with red hair; former ruler of Barra.
  • Hogni Bone-grinder (ch. 3). Doctor of Evynd's fleet-base. "A man who might have been a troll himself for his hairy ugliness and the length of his arms".
  • Erik (ch. 3). Crewman of the Sea Cow.

Barra Edit

  • Onund Treefoot (ch. 3-). Semi-pirate ship-master and pilot of Sea Witch and leader of the Barra fleet. "Lost a leg in battle to Harald Finehair... six – seven years since"; walks with "a sideways lurch of the shoulders". Built on "lighter and swifter lines, with hair like a fox's pelt growing low on his forehead, thick, upward quirking brows"; "fox-yellow" eyes; "dark red" hair (ch. 7); "lean white face" (ch. 10). Took Barra from Evynd the Easterner; later allied with him. (ch. 3). Uses Bjarni as a crutch when his stump is inflamed (ch. 4). His sword is named Skull-Splitter. Nicknamed Timbertoes. (ch. 5). Marries Aesa and dismisses Bjarni in autumn of  (ch. 6). Returns to Norway, then departs for Iceland, fostering his son on Sigurd of Orkney en route (ch. 10).
  • Thrond (ch. 3). Evynd's younger brother. Ship-chief and steersman of Wave Rider of the Barra fleet. Sailing partner of Onund; made peace between him and Evynd. Returned to Norway at his father's death; sailed for Iceland in the spring before the Orkney council (ch. 11).
  • Sven Gunnarson (ch. 3). "a young tawny-haired giant" who falls off Evynd's roof and breaks his right arm while drunk, making a place on the Sea Witch for Bjarni. Never lives it down (ch. 4). The arms heals slightly crooked but strong. Has a woman on Barra (ch. 6). Messenger for Onund on Orkney en route to Iceland. Shrugs one-shouldered (ch. 10).
  • Onund's young brother (ch. 4). Killed on a merchantman by Vestnor and Vigibjord when less than seventeen.
  • Aflaeg (ch. 4). Ship-master of the Barra fleet. Old raiding friend of Onund, older, of mixed Barra ancestry; the land ruler of Barra. Father of Aesa (ch. 4). Sails for Iceland sometime between Aesa and Onund's marriage and their emigration (ch. 10).
  • Aesa (ch. 4, 6, 11). Aflaeg's daughter, betrothed to Onund. Almost young enough to be his daughter; apparently willing. Resented by Bjarni. Brave.
  • Asmund (ch. 4). The priest of Barra. "after the chieftain, the priest. . . was generally the richest man in any settlement." Father of Thara. Remains on Barra after the emigration of the fleet (ch. 11).
  • Thara Priestsdaughter (ch. 4). "She was a plump little thing, but small-boned... speedwell-blue eyes". Fair-haired, pretty, "kitten-witted". Rejected by Bjarni, accuses him of ill-usage and persuades Asmund to have Hugin sacrificed in retaliation. (ch. 6). "a daughter, foolish and vengeful but probably much loved." (ch. 9). Marries a mainland farmer (ch. 11).
  • Thormod Shaff (ch. 4). Ship-master of the Barra fleet. Came west-over-seas with Onund and Thrond to escape Harald Finehair.
  • Orlig Anderson (ch. 4). "the oldest and most full of knowledge of Onund's ship-carles [sailors]"
  • Raud (ch. 4). Young fifth captain of the Barra fleet.
  • Fredi White (ch. 4). Blind, elderly warrior thought to be senile, who lives "in the warmest corner of [Aflaeg's] Hall"
  • Shoemaker (ch. 4). Black-eyed hump-backed native man who claims to have been taught by the Lordly People.
  • Vestnor (ch. 4). Brother of Vigibjord. "Old enemies. They used to come raiding along the Irish coast before Evynd Easterner took on the defences. . . when Onund had two sound legs". Killed Onund's teenage brother. Escapes the Kyle battle.
  • Vigibjord (ch. 4). Brother of Vestnor. "A huge man" in a horned helmet, whom Onund kills in the Kyle battle.
  • Arnulf Grimson (ch. 5). Steersman and first mate of Sea Witch. "You've always been one to croak like an old woman."
  • Leif Johanson (ch. 5). Sea Witch crewman; able to swim.

Mull and Iona Edit

  • Thorstein the Red (ch. 7-). Ruler of Mull. "a big man broad-built and already inclined to paunch... blunt features and a badly broken nose amid a bush of fiery red hair" "sea lord of a great fleet and many islands and a name to carry fear with it along the mainland coasts." (ch. 7). Raised Christian and reverted to paganism. (ch. 8). A skilled sailor (ch. 10). Allies with Sigurd to fight in Sutherland; marries his daughter to a Caithness chief (ch. 13); rides to Sigurd's relief; kills Melbrigda's son (ch. 14). Killed by Melbrigda's other son on the ride north. Buried above Pentland Firth (ch. 15).
  • Aud the Deep-Minded (ch. 7). Thorstein's mother and mistress of Mull, black-eyed and once black-haired, said to be of skraeling (Sami) descent. Widow of Olaf the White of Dublin. Charismatic, kind, tactful. A Christian. "the slow and beautiful smile" (ch. 13). Has brothers in Iceland (ch. 15), goes there after the death of Thorstein (ch. 16).
    • Asa (ch. 7). One of Aud's two brindled hounds.
    • Vig (ch. 7). One of Aud's two brindled hounds.
  • Groa (ch. 7). Eldest of three "saffron-haired" daughters of Thorstein, at 12 years old. Not susceptible to sea-sickness; would like to explore the Western ocean (ch. 8). Married at 15 to Dungadr; makes the best of it (ch. 12-13) Due to deliver at the end of the next summer, proud (ch. 16).
  • Signy (ch. 7, 15-6). Middle daughter of Thorstein, two years younger than Groa. Betrothed to Orkney or the Faroes the winter after Thorstein's death.
  • Lilla (ch. 7, 13-16). Youngest daughter of Thorstein. Betrothed to Orkney or the Faroes the winter after his death.
  • Muirgoed (ch. 7). Doctor of Mull, thrall and friend to Aud. Widow of Meldin, a chief of Argyll; taken as a slave with Erp by Jarl Sigurd and given to Aud. "The princesses of Erin are many of them herb-wise... Muirgoed  my mother was wise in herbs and healing before ever she came to be a queen." Susceptible to sea-sickness. (ch. 8) Nurse to Thorstein's daughters (ch. 12). "gentle horse-like face" (ch. 13)
  • Erp Mac Meldin (ch. 8, 12). Stable-thrall to Thorstein; son of Muirgoed and Meldin, chief of Argyll killed by Jarl Sigurd. Given by him to Thorstein and Aud after a year on Orkney. "a tall young man with a quiet face, not unlike a horse himself." Somewhat sardonic. Goes to Caithness, then to Sutherland as scout with Thorstein (ch. 14). Freed by Aud the day of Seal Maiden's launch, goes with her and Muirgoed to Iceland (ch. 16).
  • Kadir (ch. 7). "That moon-calf Kadir has let the brood-mare out again." In Thorstein's service on Mull.
  • Leiknen One-Eye (ch. 8). Mediterranean trader in Mull.
  • Andred (ch. 8). Has traded in the Hot Lands; had fruit thrown at him by monkeys.
  • Hrodni (ch. 8). Old master-shipwright of Mull.
  • Verland Ottarson (ch. 8). Ship-chief of the Fionoula. Probably Christian.
  • Haki (ch. 9) Rower on the bench before Bjarni. Ship-chief of Wild Horse (ch. 12).
  • Leif Ketison (ch. 9). Sailor of Thorstein's fleet.
  • Father Fairmail (ch. 9). Abbot of Iona, who baptises Bjarni.
  • Gisli (ch. 9). Monk of Iona, foster-brother to Rafn Cedricson. "a thick-set man of middle years, his face broad and bony under the bald dome of his tonsured forehead: a warrior's face... very blue eyes." A Viking who came west-over-seas with his foster-brother Rafn, fell ill, and was converted by "a solitary holy man who had healing skills". Witnesses Bjarni's baptism. (ch. 9). Dies before the next Easter (ch. 10).

Orkney, Caithness, and Sutherland Edit

  • Jarl Sigurd of Orkney (ch. 10) "galley-prow of a nose" Dies after 4 days of wound-fever in Sutherland, buried above Dornoch Firth (ch. 14).
  • Guthorm (ch. 10). Son and heir of Jarl Sigurd. Long-armed (ch. 11), thinner-handed, "a voice that flayed like an east wind" (ch. 14).
  • Dungadr of Duncansby (ch. 12). "one of the northern Pictish chiefs of Caithness", engaged to Groa. "A tall raw-boned man...dark eyes looking out from either side of a great beak of a nose...rough grey-brown hair that sprang from his forehead like ruffled feathers... At least he was not old. He was much older than Groa...but much younger than Thorstein Olafson."  Speaks Norse "with a strange dark lilting accent". Courteous. (ch. 13).
  • Jon Ottarson (ch. 13). Part of Groa's escort of young men to Dungadr's fort. Scarred shoulder and painful arm from summer's fighting.
  • Orm Erikson (ch. 13). "one of Sea Serpent's crew"
  • Melbrigda Tusk (ch. 13). Ruler (Mormaor) of Sutherland, named for a protruding canine. His head taken by Jarl Sigurd (ch. 14).
  • Melbrigda's sons (ch. 14). One comes to claim his head, attacks Guthorm, and is killed by Thorstein (ch. 14); the other who is perhaps his twin kills Thorstein on the ride north and is killed by Bjarni (ch. 15).
  • Pict chieftain (ch. 14) Negotiates the peace between Guthorm and the Picts. An old man.
  • Grim the Smith (ch. 14). Of Caithness or perhaps Mull.
  • Egil (ch. 15). "the captain". Leads Thorstein's warband back to the defense of Aud. Performs the death telling at Thorstein's arval. Becomes the new chief of Mull (ch. 17).
  • Ottar Erikson (ch. 15). Present at the death of Melbrigda's second son; crewman of Sea Serpent, Walrus, or Fionoula.
  • Ranulf Ormson (ch. 15). An old ship chief of Thorstein's at Caithness. Hawkish.
  • Brother Ninian (ch. 15). Lady Aud's priest. "when the need for prayer came upon Brother Ninian he lost all sense of the passing of time." "not a man to follow other men" (ch. 16).
  • Orm Anderson (ch. 16). Messenger to Fionoula.

Wales Edit

  • Anarand (ch. 19). King of Gwynedd; hires Danish and Norwegian mercenaries for his southern wars.
  • Angharad (ch. 18). Welsh farmer and doctor who takes Bjarni in. Speaks some Norse. Proud. "Beautiful, she would have been...if she had not always had the look of a harp tot tightly strung, the hair pulled up behind her small head so black that when the light touched the blackness it was almost blue. Her eyes were dark under brows like slim black feathers, her skin silky where it rose out of the worn neck of her sark and had not browned in the sun and wind like the rest of her face. On the creaminess of it a red mark showed" Daughter of "Iowan, son of Nectan, of the line of Erin." (ch. 18) "no older than himself". A Christian. Sent to a nunnery when her father was dying, where she learned medicine; returned home at the death of her brother. Feared by her neighbours (ch. 19).  "wondering why he should obey this chit of a girl in breeks as though she was the Lady Aud." (ch. 20). "there was little use in arguing with Angharad" (ch. 22).
    • Swallow (ch. 18) Angharad's old horse, brought with them to Rafnglas.
  • Gwyn (ch. 18) Old, paralysed but lucid cattleman loyal to Angharad. "An old man... straight and still... but with his head sharply turned, and his eyes, bright and desperately full of life" (ch. 18). Dies before at dawn the night after the harvest is finished, and buried at the High Cross where he used to herd (ch. 22).
  • Iorwen (18). Father of Angharad and her brother, owner of Gwyn Coed. Became ill before she was twelve, sent her to a monastery to keep her safe from Rhywallan, died before she took her final vows.
  • Nectan (18). Angharad's father's father, "of the line of Erin"; proprietor of Gwyn Coed.
  • Sister Annis (ch. 19). Elderly infirmarer who taught Angharad from a forbidden medical text from Alexandria.
  • Rhywallan (ch. 20). Angharad's kinsman, who covets her land. "Up that way towards the broad in-take lands. Chieftain and Lord of three valleys he is, and corn-land on Anglesey that the King gives him for his services as falconer...he has the King's ear." (ch. 20). Fostered at Gwyn Coed and close to Angharad's brother "he was greedy even then." Wished to marry Angharad when he was 22 and she was 12. Believes she cast a spell on him. (ch. 21).
  • Sister Garniflaith (ch. 21). "who was greedy and stole the honey cakes that the Holy Mother liked to keep for guests"
  • Mousis (ch. 21). The nunnery cat.

Norway Edit

  • King Harald Finehair (ch.1, 10, 11). "making [Norway] too hot to hold for those who valued their freedom to live as they chose"
  • The Grandfather (ch.1). Bjarni and Gram's grandfather, too old to leave Norway.
  • Harda (ch. 11). Kinsman of Harald to whom he gave the absent Onund's property. Killed by Onund.
  • Jarl Anders (ch. 11). Ally of Harald from whom Onund accepts wergild.
  • Arva (ch. 16). Boyhood friend of Bjarni in Norway, who broke into a burial mound with him.

Gods, heroes, emperors Edit

  • Ram (ch. 4). "The Mother of Foul Weather". Goddess invoked by Onund.
  • Cuchulain (ch. 6). "They do say the Hero Cuchulain must needs paint his down with bramble juice."
  • Iseult (ch. 8). Legendary Irish princess and healer.
  • St. Columba (ch. 9). Christian missionary from Ireland to Scotland, who landed in Iona 300+ years earlier.
  • Wayland Smith (ch. 13). Mythical figure.
  • The Sea Beast (ch. 19). Entity which Angharad tells a child will take away her warts.
  • Theodosius (ch. 19). Emperor who burned the great library of Alexandria.
  • The Horned One (ch. 20). "I think maybe they were afraid to find the the Horned One some stormy night sitting beside my hearth."


  • Sea Cow (1). Heriolf's merchantman. Broad-beamed, with a wallowing motion.

The Barra fleet

  • Sea Witch (3). Onund Treefoot's war-galley, with a part-vixen figurehead that resembles him. Said to bark at his approach. A particularly beautiful ship.
  • Red Wolf (ch. 4). Longship of the Barra fleet.
  • Reindeer (ch. 4). Longship of the Barra fleet.
  • Star Bear (ch. 4). Longship of the Barra fleet. With Onund in Orkney.
  • Wave Rider (ch. 4). Longship of the Barra fleet. Thrond is ship chief and steersman.

The Mull fleet

  • Fionoula (ch. 8). Lady Aud's galley, an especially beautiful ship named for an Irish myth. "She had no dragon-head but her carved and freshly painted stern post ended in a curve that was faintly like a shepherd's crook, or maybe the arched neck of a swan." Clinker-built. Captained by Verland Ottarson. Takes a crew of Christian rowers to Iona every Easter. "built for inland waters and rolled like a farrowing sow in the steep western seas" (ch. 13). Goes to Iceland with Seal Maiden (ch. 16).
  • Sea Serpent (ch. 10). Thorstein's longship, present at the Orkney council. Blue and red striped sail.
  • Star Wolf (ch. 10). Longship of the Mull fleet present at the Orkney council.
  • Wild Horse (ch. 10). Longship of the Mull fleet present at the Orkney council. Fionoula's escort to Caithness. (ch. 12)
  • Walrus (ch. 13). Ship of Thorstein's fleet whose crew goes to Sutherland with Thorstein.
  • Seal Maiden (ch. 16). Ship built in the Caithness forest for Aud. "A clinker-built merchantman to carry women and goods and gear on the Iceland faring, and deep in the draft and broad in the beam accordingly, yet with something of the longship's grace about her nonetheless", with a seal's head prow.


Lakeland (the Lake District) Edit

Site of the Norse settlements, northwest Angle's Land (17).

  • Eskdale (17). Valley of the river Esk, site of Rafnglas and other Norse settlements.
  • Rafnglas. Norse fishing and farming settlement in northwest Angle's Land, ruled by Rafn Cedricson. "So new that some of the house-places were still roofed with sails and ships' awnings, though others had their proper roofs of heather-thatch; and the God-House, raw with newness, stood among staked ash saplings, where in years to come the sacred grove would be." (1). "where the three great rivers of the Lake Country come to sea." (9).
    • Bjarni's land-take, Rafnglas (1). Stream glen halfway down the burn to the settlement from Gram's steading, where he buries his blue glass dolphin before leaving Rafnglas.
    • Gram's steading, Rafnglas (1). "up through the settlement, crossing the log bridge over the burn and following the stream upwards for half a mile until they came to the side glen".
  • Solway Firth (17). Bay north of the Lakeland.

Erin (Ireland) Edit

  • Dublin (2). Seat of Halfdan the king. "the narrow winding streets of Dublin seemed to be paved with split logs half sunk in springtime muck, where they were paved with anything at all. But the size of the place, and the close-huddled buildings and the shifting crowd. . ." A slave-market.
  • Evynd's fleet-base (3). On the north shore of Belfast Lough.
  • Findhorn (4). Norse settlement raided by Vestnor and Vigibjord; its people sold as slaves in Dublin.

Mainland Alba (Scotland) Edit

  • Argyll (17). West coast of Scotland. Erp's homeland. Sea Cow trades for wildcat skins there.
    • Kintyre (4). Peninsula in southwest Scotland. Trader who sights Vestnor and Vigibjord out of there.
    • Kyles, Eastern & Western (5). Tidal channels on either side of Bute, both wide enough for five longships. The Eastern Kyle has dangerous shoals at its head; the Western Kyle has a sharp bend. A ruined tower built by "the Old People" on the Western, used by Onund as a rock-throwing platform.
      • Eilean Dubh (the Dark Islet) (5). Barra fleet camps on its northern end before battle with Vestnor & Vigibjorg. Bjarni posted as lookout on southern tip. "Little more than a bowshot in length".
    • Loch Ruel (5). The loch that empties into the Kyles. Wide enough for five longships.
  • Caithness (10). Northern Scotland. "There's a great emptiness all over Caithness, hunting runs, wide moorland with good land under the heather, too much land for all the tribes of the Painted People." "The Jarl hunts there each autumn, and counts the hunting runs as good as his own."
    • Aud's winter camp (16). A river glen inland from Dungadr's fortress.
    • Dungadr's fort (13). "the headland fort...high on its sheer sandstone cliffs above Pentland Firth. The entrance to the great turf ramparts...". Nearby a path down the cliff-face to the beach opposite the nearest of the three stacks, where the chief passes his wedding night.
    • Cape Wrath (12). "The Ness of the Turning", where the west coast turns to face north.
  • The Great Glen (10).
  • Sutherland (14). South of Caithness, ruled by Melbrigda Tusk.
    • Dornoch Firth (14). Northern boundary of Sutherland.

The islands Edit

  • The Island Seas (6). Waters surrounding the Western Isles or the Outer Isles?

The Western Isles

  • Arran (17). Heriolf trades there.
  • Bute (5). Island dividing the Eastern and Western Kyles. Vestnor & Vigibjord camp on the northwest landing-beach the night before the battle, and the Barra fleet the night after.
  • Colonsay (4). Island where Kintyre merchantman escaped Vestnor and Vigibjord after Findhorn raid.
  • Ellan Skyaine (12). Skye. "The Winged Isle". close to the mainland across a narrows, traversed by Fionoula en route to Caithness.
  • Iona (8), the Holy Island. "St. Columba's Isle". Low green island at the western end of Mull, with white sand dunes about the landing beach. Site of a monastery founded by St. Columba 300 years earlier, from the mother abbey Kells.
    • Bay of the Coracles, Iona (9). A sheltered cove at the southernmost end of Iona, with white sand and pasture behind the dunes.
  • Islay (17). Heriolf trades on its "white ship-strand".
  • The Misty Isle (6). North of Mull
  • Mull (7). Island base of Thorstein. A sheltered main harbour. "Up from the ship-strand with its tall ship-sheds and slipways, rope-walk, smithy and timber stacks, into the warm huddle of the settlement. . . further up the glen the unmistakable whale-backed mass of the Chieftain's fine Hall standing guard, as it were, over all."
    • Ben Mhor, Mull (8). "the Great Mountain as the Gael folk still called it"
    • Calf Island (7). Island lying outside Mull harbour.

The Outer Isles (the Hebrides)

  • Barra (4-). Archipelago of 20+ small islands at the south end of the Outer Isles (Hebrides), base of Onund Treefoot and Aflaeg.
    • Ben Harr, Barra (6). Mountain to the north of the main settlement.
    • The God-House, Barra (4). "Just where the moorland fell away to machair a stream came down from the higher ground" in a narrow tree-filled glen with an ash grove. "Here there were bones in the sacred grove, things that had once been alive hanging from the trees." Home of Asmund the priest and Thara Priestsdaughter.
    • Greian Head, Barra (4). Bare rocky mountain shoulder with a view of Barra, Eriskay, and Uist.
    • Vatersay, Barra (6). Island lying south of the main harbour.
  • Eriskay (4). North of Barra in the Outer Isles.
  • Lewis (10) Northernmost of the Outer Isles. "Between Barra and Lewis there has been ill blood these many years" since the Lewis chief raided undefended Barra.
  • Uist (4). North of Barra in the Outer Isles.

Orkney. Ruled by Jarl Sigurd. Onund trades farm-slaves there (4).

  • Great Head, Orkney (4). Ships lie off it waiting for the tide to slip through Pentland Firth.
  • Hoy (10). Southwestern island of Orkney.
  • The Moot Hill, Orkney (10).
  • Pentland Firth (4). Strait dividing Orkney from Caithness. Site of a whirlpool called the Eater of Ships and the Widow-maker. Three stone stacks in the water mark the entrance to the strait.
  • The Standing Stones, Orkney (10). Site of the Orkney council.
  • South Ronaldsay (10). Southeastern island of Orkney.

Other islands

  • The North Islands (8). The Faroes, en route to Norway.
  • Iceland. Norse colony out of reach of the king of Norway; destination of Onund, Thrond, Aflaeg, and Aud.
  • St. Brendan's Isle (8). Putative Atlantic island, "with trees covered with white birds instead of blossom, every bird singing like the evening star."

Wales Edit

  • Anglesey (18). Island off northwest Wales, base of the king of Gwynedd.
  • Conway Bay (23). Between Orme's Head and Anglesey, where Sea Cow shelters from the great storm.
  • Dragon's Head (18). Headland near Angharad's farm, prone to wrecks.
    • Gwyn Coed (18). Angharad's farm. A short walk inland from the coast, behind a belt of woodland. "a shallow valley...and at the head of it, a small huddle of roofs" "the place began to look more and more derelict. No sign of sheep or cattle in the home pasture. No sign of anything living" (18). "the fine Hall and the surrounding byres and barns, half in ruins, showed signs of being the steading of a big and busy farm, with the in-take lands spread far up and down the valley." (19). "the land that was my father's and my father's father's father's" (20).

Europe Edit

  • Norway. Ruled by Harald Finehair. Original home of Bjarni and Gram Sigurdson.
    • Rogaland (11). Southern Norway, where Onund stays with an old shipmate.
  • Byzantium (Miklagard, Constantinople). Allegedly paved with gold (2).
  • Spain (4). Site of Saracen spice and slave trade.
  • The Mid-Land Sea (8). Well-known to Leiknen One-Eye.
  • The Hot Lands (8). Africa. Andred has traded on the rivers there and had fruit thrown at him by primates.

Historical and literary backgroundEdit

The unification of Norway by Harald Finehair (or Fairhair) is recounted in the 13th century saga Heimskringla, or Chronicle of the Kings of Norway, by the Icelander Snorri Sturluson.

The Orkneyinga, or History of the Earls of Orkney, is also by an unknown Icelandic author of the same period.

  • Orkneyinga, chapter 5, on Internet Sacred Text Archive

Onund Treefoot's life is recounted in the opening chapters of Grettir's Saga.

Laxdaela saga, the Laxdale Saga, recounts Aud the Deep-Minded's emigration from Scotland; she also figures in several other Icelandic sagas.

Landnámabók, or The Book of the Settlement of Iceland, records Aud, Erp, Muirgoed, and Onund's immigrations.

Publication historyEdit

In English:

  1. London : Bodley Head, 1997.[1]
  2. New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997.[2]
    • New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.[3]
    • New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999.[4]
    • New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.[5]
    • New York : Farrar, Strauss and Giroux [Paw Prints], 2008.[6]
  3. Somerset : Red Fox, 2001.[7]
    • The Sword Song of Bjarni Sigurdson. London : Red Fox Classics, 2013.[8]

In translation:

  1. Tsurugi no uta: Vuakingu no monogatari. Japanese by Shiro Yamamoto. Tokyo : Hara Shobo, 2002.[9]

References Edit