Blood Feud
First edition cover






Young adult

Historical era

10th century


The Sea Dragon, Thames TV 1990

Blood Feud is a short novel published in 1976. It follows an English Christian who swears blood-brotherhood with a Danish Viking and is drawn into a pagan blood feud that takes them to Constantinople.


Jestyn the Englishman, a physician living with his wife and daughter in Constantinople, reflects on his youth. He was born in the far south-west of Britain to a Celtic father and a Saxon mother. After their deaths, he left his village at twelve years old and wandered eastward until he came to a Saxon village where he lived as a cowherd for the next five years (1). After a hard and lonely apprenticeship as a cattle-doctor under Gyrth, Jestyn's herd is attacked one evening by Norse raiders. With his beloved dog dead, and dazed by a head injury, Jestyn tries to fight the Norsemen and is taken captive to be sold in the Dublin Slave Market (2).

In Dublin Jestyn is sold to a slave dealer. He is noticed by a group of window-shopping Vikings from the Dublin Garrison, one of whom, Thormod Sitricson, buys him for six gold pieces and a wolfskin cloak (3). On Midwinter's Night, Jestyn sets out to return a lost lucky amulet to Thormod and finds him in the middle of a brawl. He steps in to fight at Thormod's shoulder before they are both rescued by his crewmates (4). In the spring when the Sea Swallow is ready to return to Jutland, instead of selling Jestyn off, Thormod has the thrall-ring cut from his neck and invites him to join their crew. Jestyn accepts, but on the road to Thormod's home steading, has the unchancy thought that he would rather be setting out on a journey with him than coming to Thormod's home where he is a stranger (5).

They arrive to find Thormod's father laid out for his funeral. He had killed a neighbour in a hunting accident, and the neighbour's sons, Thormod's close friends Anders and Herulf Herulfson, killed him rather than accept blood money. They have left a message for Thormod, that he might follow them to Miklagard to continue their Blood Feud at a safe distance from home (6). Jestyn is briefly afraid that Thormod will leave without him, and to reassure him Thormod swears blood-brotherhood with him, bringing Jestyn into the Blood Feud by more than friendship. They ride to the port of Aarhus, where they pick up news of Anders and Herulf's recent departure (7). Joining the crew of the Red Witch, they sail across the Baltic Sea and row up the River Dvina to the Great Portage, where the ship is dragged on rollers through the forest to the upper reaches of the Dnieper. Sailing downriver, they meet a northward-bound ship from which they learn that Anders and Herulf's ship Serpent awaits them in Kiev, because its Prince Vladimir is collecting ships to form a fleet in support of the beleaguered Emperor of Byzantium, Basil II, who is threatened by a revolted general, Bardas Phocas, while his armies are holding off the Bulgars in Greece. The Red Witch's crew elect to carry on and join Vladimir's forces (8). In Kiev, they lodge in the hall of Erland Silkbeard, a Rus lord who explains that Vladimir, who now styles himself Khan, has decided to adopt a new religion for his people, and not being prepared to abstain from drinking, has opted for the White Kristni over Islam, and is to marry Princess Anna, the Emperor's sister. Jestyn objects that neither can a Christian have multiple wives, and is informed that Khan Vladimir makes his own rules (9). Within a few days of their arrival, they encounter Anders and Herulf, and agree that they will meet at dawn for a Holm Ganging: the elder brothers, then the younger, will fight with knives, until one side or both is dead. Before their assembled ships' crews, Thormod kills Herulf, but before Jestyn can engage Anders, Khan Vladimir arrives to put a stop to the waste of his forces, and makes the three combatants swear to suspend their feud until he disbands his War Host (10).

The winter, spring, and summer are spent refitting two hundred longships and mustering an army of six thousand Rus and Northmen to sail to the aid of the Emperor of Byzantium. Before they depart, Jestyn, having wrestled with his conscience, takes his oath on Thor's Ring in the God-House instead of joining the service to the White Kristni, in order to remain with Thormod even if they are both damned (11). That winter, the Emperor and the Khan's army destroys Bardas Phocas's rebel camp in Chrysopolis across the strait from Constantinople, and in the spring readies for battle before Abydos. As the armies are awaiting their signals, a quail startles Bardas Phocas's horse, which throws him. He breaks something in his head, remounts, and falls off dead. Basil's forces rout the leaderless rebels (12). That night, Erland Silkbeard's men are chosen to guard the Royal Tent, and Jestyn overhears a regal chat between Basil and Vladimir, in which Basil proposes form a branch of his Guard from Vladimir's barbarians, or Varangians (13). Bardas Schlerus, the other rebel general in Anatolia, occupies the Emperor's army until, going blind, he sues for peace, is pardoned, and the campaign is over. When Khan Vladimir's fleet is disbanded, a herald with a suspicious resemblance to the Emperor offers places for one thousand of them in a new Varangian Guard captained by Erland Silkbeard. Jestyn, Thormod, their shipmate Orm, and Anders join up together (14).

While guarding the Emperor on a hunt, Jestyn is forced to search for and kill a straying tame hunting cheetah when he finds it menacing a farm girl and her pet gazelle. The dead gazelle was about to give birth, and Jestyn delivers the fawn by caesarian section, which he learned to do as a cowherd in England (15). Upon his return, Jestyn finds that part of the Varangian Guard has been ordered to Thrace to fight the Bulgars, and Thormod and Anders have disappeared into the city to settle the Blood Feud beforehand. He finds Thormod on the quayside, where he has stabbed Anders and seen him fall into the water, but the next day they hear that Anders has been found alive, and neither is willing to murder him in hospital (16). Jestyn's company goes to Thrace, the beginning of Basil II's thirty-year war to recapture the Balkan peninsula for the Byzantine Empire. In the spring, Anders's company arrives. While hunting Bulgars retreating from a retaken town, Jestyn and Thormod's party are lured into an ambush, where Jestyn's knee is smashed by a falling rock. As Thormod prepares for a last stand to defend him, Anders appears in advance of a Byzantine rescue party and kills Thormod with a throwing axe (17).

With his right knee permanently damaged, Jestyn is invalided out of the Guard. Finally feeling the Blood Feud as his own, but knowing he has better hope of waiting for Anders to find him than the reverse, he prays for guidance. The portrait of the Virgin and the scent of wet grass remind him of the farm whose mistress he helped, where he might find work as a cowherd again (18). He walks laboriously to the farm, where the servants tell him that the young lady, Alexia, is in Constantinople with her father, but that they would take him on with permission. Cloe the housekeeper assures Jestyn that they are sure to hire him out of gratitude, and Jestyn, hating the idea of collecting a debt, can't bring himself to knock at their city house (19). Alexia recognises him and introduces her father, Alexius Demetriades the physician, who says that their debt is too great for mere repayment and is interested in Jestyn's veterinary skill. Their supper is interrupted by the habitual arrival of injured chariot-racing fans, and after observing Jestyn's assistance to the patching-up, Demetriades offers him a job as his dresser instead of his cattle-man (20). Demetriades teaches Jestyn his medical skill, while Alexia teaches him to read medical texts in Greek. One evening, as they read the vengeance of Achilles against Hector for the death of Patroclus in The Iliad, Jestyn ends up telling her how he came to be a Varangian and what happened to Thormod. Eventually, Demetriades offers to train Jestyn as a physician. Jestyn longs to accept, but he cannot commit to "serving life" while still bound to kill Anders. A few months later, Anders appears on the doorstep (21).

He attempts to stab Jestyn, but he is starved and ill, and Jestyn disarms him without getting the chance to kill him. Demetriades diagnoses a fever and a lung abcess caused by Thormod's old stab wound. Jestyn considers killing him and knows that he cannot. He nurses Anders through the bursting of the abcess, when Anders becomes lucid enough to tell him that he has been enslaved by the Bulgars in Thrace since Thormod's death. The next night, when his fever returns terminally, he asks Jestyn why he has spared him, and Jestyn, perceiving that he is unhappy to die a "straw death", insists to him that his death wound was taken in battle with Thormod, and that he will be able to tell their fathers in Valhalla that their sons have done worthily by them. Anders dies, and Jestyn believes he has failed Thormod, but is now free to accept Demetriades's training. Thirty years later, married to Alexia, he remembers his youth and comrades on a spring evening (22).


The author's Historical Note gives the date of AD 987 for the partnership of Vladimir of Kiev and Basil II.

  • c. 966-967: Thormod Sitricson is born
  • 969, sometime after April: Jestyn is born
  • c. 969-970: Alexia is born
  • 974: Jestyn's father is kicked by a horse and dies; his mother remarries (1)
  • 981: Jestyn's mother dies (1)
    • Harvest: Jestyn is taken into a Saxon village
  • 986, late summer: During a storm, Viking raiders attack; Jestyn is taken captive
    • Jestyn is taken to be sold at the Dublin Slave Market, where Thormod Sitricson buys him for six gold pieces and a wolfskin cloak
    • Midwinter's Night/Christmas Night/Yule: Thormod and his friends go looking for trouble without Jestyn
    • Jestyn goes after Thormod to give him his amber Thor's-hammer and ends up leaping into an alley-fight to save Thormod; he is struck down almost immediately
    • Some time this year, Bardas Phocas and Barcas Schlerus revolt
    • Probably some time this year, Alexia finds Maia the gazelle abandoned by her mother
  • 987, spring: Thormod frees Jestyn
    • Old Sitric accidentally kills Herulf Blackbeard
    • Four days later: Anders and Herulf Herulfson kill old Sitric and leave Svendale
    • One day later, late spring/early summer: Thormod and Jestyn arrive in Svendale
    • One day later: Sitric is buried
    • That night Thormod and Jestyn swear blood brothership
    • Anders and Herulf sign onto the Serpent's crew, sailing for Constantinople
    • Thormod and Jestyn sell the ponies at Aarhus, where they join the Red Witch's crew and take ship for Bornholm
    • Some weeks later, they begin portage at the Dvina
    • Autumn: The Red Witch reaches Kiev and takes service with Khan Vladimir
    • Thormod and Jestyn find Anders and Herulf; there is a Holm Ganging and Thormod kills Herulf
    • Khan Vladimir forces the remaining three to swear peace as long as they are in his service
    • Winter: They work in the boat-sheds
  • 988, early summer: An embassy comes from Constantinople
    • Late summer: Khan Vladimir's army is ready; Jestyn goes with Thormod to the God-House
    • Early autumn: The army reaches Constantinople, where they train with Basil II's Imperial Guards
    • Winter: The army attacks the rebels in Chrysopolis
    • Bardas Phocas takes the rebels south to Abydos
  • 989, April 13: Basil and Vladimir's army attacks Abydos
    • Phocas has a seizure and falls from his horse, dead
    • Jestyn and his friends stand guard over Basil II; Basil decides to form the Varangian Guard
    • Spring and summer: The army hunts Bardas Schlerus through Anatolia
    • End of summer: Bardas Schlerus offers terms and Basil pardons him
    • Early autumn: the army is camped at Constantinople again
      • Thormod, Jestyn, and Anders join the new Varangian Guard, with Erland Silkbeard as the commander
    • Basil goes hunting with Jestyn and some of the other Guards
      • Jestyn finds Alexia and her pet gazelle Maia cornered by one of the hunting cheetah; he kills the cheetah
      • Jestyn performs a Caesarian section on the gazelle to deliver its fawn
    • Thormod stabs Anders; someone fishes him out of the Bosphorus and he lives
    • Winter: The Varangian Guard are sent to Thrace under John of Chaldea to fight the Bulgars and Khazans
  • 990: Khan Vladimir marries Princess Anna
    • Spring: Basil brings reinforcements to Thrace, among them Anders
    • The army hunts some Bulgar fugitives through the hills
      • Anders kills Thormod
      • Jestyn's knee is permanently damaged in the fight
      • After some time in the hospital tents at Berea, Jestyn is taken to Constantinople
    • Late summer/early autumn: Jestyn is released from the military hospital
      • Jestyn goes to the farm outside the city, looking for Alexia
      • Chloe sends him back to the city, where Alexia is with her father, Demetriades the Physician
      • Jestyn helps Demetriades patch up some chariot-racing fans and offers to take him as a dresser
      • Alexia begins teaching Jestyn to read; Jestyn learns about medicine
  • 991, spring: Jestyn tells Alexia about Thormod
    • Autumn: Demetriades offers to take Jestyn as an apprentice, but Jestyn cannot agree because of the Blood Feud
  • 992, autumn: Anders shows up, half-dead, and tries to kill Jestyn
    • Jestyn and Demetriades try to save Anders
    • Anders dies
    • Jestyn agrees to become Demetriades' student
    • At some unspecified point after this, Jestyn and Alexia marry and have a daughter
  • Post 1014: Jestyn narrates the story to the reader


  • Jestyn the Englishman (1), a British-born physician in Constantinople.
    • "A big man, I suppose, lean and rangy and scarred as an old hound, with a mane of hair brindled grey and yellow. Jestyn the Englishman, so most men call me, though indeed I am but half Saxon and half of an older breed." (1)
    • "I had always been something of a lone wolf." (2)
    • "t was on that long river-faring that he taught me, who had been a cowherd and a thrall, to be something of a fighting man." (8)
    • "'The one who looks and listens'" (9)
    • "Alas, in cold blood, I have never been the stuff of which heroes are forged."
    • "I had nothing of the Northmen's grim, amused acceptance of fate." (10)
    • "'your hair is long like a Northman's'" (15)
    • "I was still young-looking for my nineteen years, my beard no more than a yellow fuzz" (16)
    • "I saw a jagged boulder flying down towards me, and tried to leap clear — and did not quite make it. It took me on my right knee. It did not even hurt, in those first moments; there was just a numbing sense of shock, and I was lying sprawled out with my face in a patch of rough grass. I struggled to get up, but I seemed pinned to the ground by an enormous dragging weight where my right leg ought to be; and when I managed to get on to my elbow, and looked down, my knee had turned into a kind of soggy red mush with splinters of bone sticking out of it." (17)
    • "I felt the old Blood Feud as my own at last; the feud that had never been quite my own before. [...] And I had lost my brother, and I had lost my enemy, and I had lost my way…" (18)
    • "I was free to go where I chose and do what I would, except return to my comrades. No room in the Varangian Guard for a man with a smashed knee, who must swing one leg stiff as a broomstick to the end of his days. [...] with only twenty summers under his belt, a man is something young to find himself on the garbage heap." (18)
    • "The evening's work had woken in me things that had been sleeping or almost sleeping, for a long while. Following Thormod, I had become a fighting man; that had been all my life, or so I thought, the Viking way had been my way; now, suddenly, I was another Jestyn, who had once been the best cattle doctor after old Gyrth, in five manors. I needed time to grow used to myself again." (20)

Celts and Saxons:

  • Jestyn's father (1), a wandering blacksmith. "My father was a wandering smith out of the far south western horn of Britain, where the folk claim no kinship with the Saxon kind, but are of the older breed I spoke of. Smithing is a fine trade for a man with wandering in his feet, and a smith is sure of work and welcome wherever he goes." "When I was five summers old, my father was kicked by a horse that he was shoeing, and died of the hurt." (1)
  • Jestyn's mother (1), "My mother was a Saxon farmer's daughter who left her own folk to follow him when he went back into the west again." "she spoke to me in a tongue she used to no one else, and that no one else in the village used at all."
  • Jestyn's stepfather (1), one of the Chief's hearth-companions. "My stepfather must have hoped that my mother would have other children for him, but she never did, and I think, for that, he hated me. He was not cruel to me, but on the night she died, [...] he opened the house-place door and said to me, 'The door is open.' (1)
  • the Thane (1) of the Saxon village
  • Gyrth (1), the cattleherd, "a man with a small red angry eye" (1). "The only time I ever knew Gyrth gentle was in the calving season, especially with a cow in trouble and needing help to bring her calf into the world. He was the best cattleman and the best cattle doctor in five manors; and if he beat me, he also taught me his skills; and something more, for it was working with him at such times that I learned a thing about myself which it was good that I should know, though I did not understand it for years afterwards." (2)
    • Brindle (2), the old bitch cattle-dog, Jestyn's favourite, killed by the Norse raiders
  • King Malachy of Ireland (3), "Maelsechlainn II 949—1022" (glossary)
  • King Cuiran (4) of Dublin, a Christian
  • Aldred the Priest (4) of Jestyn's Saxon village

Danes and Northmen:

  • Aslak (2), the giant raider who captures Jestyn
  • the Ship-Chief (2), who decides to take him to the Dublin Slave Market
  • Thormod Sitricson (3), Jestyn's purchaser.
    • "a level voice but very alive and with a hint of laughter," (3)
    • "A man not more than two or three years older than myself, somewhat short for a Northman, with his head held on a strong neck above shoulders that were too broad for his height; eyes as grey as a sword blade, thick russet brows that almost met above his nose, a mouth that matched his voice — wide and straight, with laughter quirking at the corners. I suppose it was not a particularly memorable face, but it was the first to seem real to me in a long while; and I have remembered it well enough for more than half a lifetime." (3)
    • "Thormod was not a particularly kind master, but I had never known much of kindness, and it did not greatly matter to me. After that moment at the slave-sheds when I had thought that he looked at me as a man looks at a man, he had whistled me to heel like a hound; and like a hound, I had followed. Still, I knew that I could live as a thrall so long as I was Thormod's, but to be anybody else's would be beyond bearing." (4)
    • "I knew the voice. I'd have known it if it had come straight out of the Mouth of Hell."
    • "in the moment between waking and sleeping, it was not the thrall-ring that mattered to me most, but suddenly and warmly, the remembered feel of Thormod's shoulder against mine, mine against Thormod's, in the dark wynd." (4)
    • "'I am not minded to leave a man who's fought shoulder to shoulder with me, sold off in a strange land with a thrall-ring round his neck; that's all.'" (5)
    • "The grin that had flashed across his face had left it; and suddenly he was grave. We stood looking eye into eye; and for the first time it came to me that I need not have answered that shout in the dark alleyway at Yule; the Viking Kind meant nothing to me, and surely I owed him nothing because I was his thrall, bought whether I would or no. I had answered because it was Thormod in need of help, and I was Jestyn. Thormod and Jestyn. Nothing to do with Dane and English, master and thrall. And Thormod knew it also. There has to be a first time for everything; for friendship as well as love; and first friendship, once given, can no more be given again than first love." (5)
    • "Thormod was always a good person to be silent with" (5)
    • "Thormod, like most of his breed, had a strong sense of fate." (10)
    • "his voice at its most level." (10)
    • "I was Thormod's shoulder-to-shoulder man, Thormod's follower wherever he went; and I supposed I could face damnation with Thormod if I had to; assuredly I could not leave him to face it alone. It was simply, as I had explained to my own God, that there wasn't any other way." (11)
    • [with Anders] "he might have been speaking to another of the Red Witch's crew, save that a muscle twitched at the angle of his jaw. [...] And on the surface, they laughed. I think Orm understood them better than I did..." (14)
    • "that dead-level voice of his." (16)
    • "'We're all going to Valhalla, anyway,' he said. 'You and I will stick together on the road.' And he side-strode over me, sword in hand." (17)
    • "A throwing-axe always seems to be travelling so slowly that there should be time to avoid it. But in truth, there is not. It took Thormod between the neck and shoulder. He made a horrible choking sound, cut off short. The blood came in a hot red stinking wave, bursting out over both of us as he crumpled slowly to his knees and then on to his face on top of me, the axe blade still wedged in the bones of his neck." (17)
    • "So Thormod went to Valhalla alone — no, not alone; he went in good company, but without me. It did not come to me until long after, that that must have been the way of it in any case, for if I had died that day on the Thracian hillside, I would have had another road that I must follow — unless, indeed, I had lost that road for ever when I took my oath with the rest of the old Red Witch's crew on Thor's Ring at Kiev. Somewhere in the Scriptures, the Christ is set down as saying that in His Father's House there are many mansions; and from that saying, I draw hope that there is a Valhalla for Thormod at the end of the Rainbow Bridge. He and Orm and Hakon One-eye and the rest, they would not be happy in our Christian Heaven; and yet God made them, and I cannot believe in a God who would waste such man-stuff on Damnation."
  • Haki (3), Thormod's shipmate and roommate, "A man with a fierce narrow face and a sprig of late bell-heather thrust into the neck-buckle of his byrnie."
  • Eric and Tostig (3), ditto, "One had a silver arm-ring, one had studs of coral in the clasp of his belt"
  • Sea Swallow (4), their ship, out of Thrandisfjord
  • Sigurd (5), Sea Swallow's Ship-Chief
  • Grim the Smith (5), smith to the Dublin Garrison
  • Thord Loudmouth (5), a resident of Thrandisfjord, "first with the news as usual"
  • Herulf Herulfson (5), Thormod's close friend and killer of his father (6). "The elder of the two", buried in the Kiev marshes (10).
  • Anders Herulfson (5), Thormod's close friend and killer of his father.
    • "'He was ever one for the wind in his sails.'" (5)
    • "'When Anders and Herulf and I stood not much higher than the hounds under the table, we forged plans to take the road to Miklagard and make our fortunes in the south. We'd been listening to merchants' stories.'" (5)
    • "a small scar on his cheek-bone, and odd eyes, one blue, one grey." (6)
    • "two broad, steady faces under rough mouse-fair hair, as alike as the faces of two brothers could be, save that one of them — he looked as though he might be a year or so the younger — had a small puckered scar along one cheek-bone"
    • "the sad thing was that we could have liked each other well" (10)
    • "I saw Anders almost upon us; his face looking down, somehow not real, like a mask of Anders's face with something piteous and horrible behind it." (17)
    • "gaunt with a gauntness like something that has strayed after many days out of its grave." (21)
    • "He seemed to be nothing but bones and sodden rags, and the lamplight on his face cast great shadows into his eye-sockets and under his jagged cheek-bones; and a little blood and pus, that certainly had nothing to do with my blows, was trickling from the corner of his mouth. His eyes began to open, and he fixed them on my face, those odd eyes, one blue, one grey, burning bright with fever in their discoloured pits." (22)
    • "'I recognized you,' I said. 'I knew you in the dusk, before you spoke your name.' He was silent a moment, his eyes still on my face. 'As I would recognize you,' he said at last. 'But then, there is a thing between you and me which is as strong as love.'"
  • Sitric Sitricson (6), Thormod's brother, "somewhat like Thormod but a few years older, taller and darker, and of a blunter make." "He would always be a little uncertain, I thought, one who needed time to make up his mind." (6)
  • Sitric's wife (6), "young though she was, [...] the mistress of the house"
  • Sitric (the elder) (6), Thormod and Sitric's father, murdered by Anders and Herulf. "He'd a new bow to try out, and you know what he was like with something new."
  • Herulf Blackbeard (6), Anders and Herulf's father, killed accidentally by Sitric
  • Ulf (6), a thrall of Sitricstead, "a big man with a thrall-ring on his neck", who is given Anders and Herulf's message for Thormod
  • Thorn (7), a blind harper visiting Sitricstead. Also called Dark Thorn and Blind Thorn. "'Never forget what Thorn says. The eyes of his body do not see as other men see, but he has another kind of seeing.'"
  • Orm (6), "rangy and loose-limbed, so tall that his rough sandy hair brushed the salt-stained canvas overhead, with a fair, freckled skin, and grey-green sea-water eyes." Crewman of the Red Witch. (6) Joins the Varangian Guard with Jestyn and Thormod (14). Member of the Third Company with them (15). Killed retaking a Thracian town (17).
  • Hakon Ketilson (7), Ship-Chief of the Red Witch. "A square, squat man, with a face that looked as though it had been hewn from old ship's timbers, and only one eye, but that a very bright one that looked as though it did not miss much. He looked us over with it, and clearly he was one to pick his crews and not take any boat-strand garbage that drifted his way." (7). Also called Hakon One-Eye (9).
  • Red Witch (7), ship out of Aarhus
  • Serpent (7), ship out of Aarhus. Anders and Herulf's ship.
  • Thrand Ericson (16) "the Illarch [of the Third Company of the Varangian Guard] — Thrand Ericson, that was, but mostly, from his seafaring days, he went by the name of Thrand Thunderfist from the way he had of showing when he was not pleased with any of his crew. Himself, he was one of the biggest men I have ever known."
  • Gunna Butason (16), member of the Third Company
  • Wulf Aikinson (16), member of the Third Company
  • Eric Longshanks (17), killed with Thormod in Thrace
  • Swain (17), killed with Thormod in Thrace

the Rus:

  • Khan Vladimir of Kiev (8), "not one to sit at home with his sail furled." "'I doubt this Lord Vladimir is one who likes his thoughts being put to him, before he has had time to think them himself!'" (8). "The Khan is one to make his own laws for his own living." (9). "A big man, though broad rather than tall, with a face that seemed to have been made in a hurry, the nose crooked, one pale bright eye set a little higher than the other, a big mouth made for savage laughter and overfull of strong yellow teeth." "'I make my own right'" "I saw the laughter in his pale bright glance, but it might be the laughter of the God behind the thunderbolt," (10).
  • Erland Silkbeard (9), a lord of Kiev and friend of Hakon Ketilson. "a tall, long-boned man with a beard the colour of ripe barley, who wore his soft leather boots and goatskin jerkin as though they were dark silks." "He was a man who could relax more than most men, like a cat lying out in the sun. (But he could spring like a cat, too.)" "like me, he was of mixed blood; with his long bones and thick fair hair that contrasted so oddly with his sallow skin and high flat cheek-bones and those narrow dark eyes." (9). "Erland Silkbeard was the closest and most powerful of Khan Vladimir's Hearth-Companions" (13). Elected Captain of the Varangian Guard: "that year past we had found him to be a leader worth the following; as hard as any sea king, despite his silken ways, fierce as a mountain cat, one who could be merciless to his own men, but in the end would stand by them to the last barricade." (14)


  • Alexia (1), Jestyn's wife, a native of Constantinople (1).
    • "She was one [...] who would not waste time in useless protesting."
    • "There was a stillness about her; I noticed it even then, and thought that not many girls would be so quiet at such a time. And it was in that moment, in the quiet of that moment, that I first really saw her. She was about my own age, or maybe a year or so younger; her face almond-shaped and almond-coloured, set with long very dark eyes in the paleness of it, and a wide grave mouth. Her dark hair that had been knotted up in an embroidered kerchief, was breaking loose and falling about her shoulders. She wore a straight blue gown, rough as any farm girl's, and splashed and spotted now with blood. But her kerchief had gold threads in its embroidery, and I saw — not by the gold threads alone — that she was no farm girl." (15)
    • "I knew who it was that the smoke-darkened face set in dim silver [the Virgin] had reminded me of. The girl of the wild olive tree, the girl with the tame gazelle. Standing there in the crowded and noisy street, I remembered her quietness, a cool quietness like shade on a dusty road…" (18).
    • "girl in a straight dress of some dark stuff fringed with blue, her hair bound up, as the women wear it here in Constantinople, in a scarf of fine striped silk twisted about her head. There was red stain on her mouth, and her eyebrows were pencilled into fine arches of beetlewing black over the green-painted lids; and in that first moment I would not have known her, save for the yearling gazelle that stood beside her" (20).
    • "that quietness of hers that had always seemed to me like shade on a hot and dusty road." (21)
    • "Alexia was always a good person to be silent with, like Thormod." (21)
    • "It was as though she had called to me in some way that made no sound. Called with her eyes maybe, for they were fixed on me intently enough for that, with a strange questioning in them. She knew all that her father did not, about Anders Herulfson. Just for the moment, our gaze met, and then, as though she was satisfied, she looked away." (22)
  • their daughter (1), who is not sent up with candles
  • Emperor Basil II (8), invader of Bulgaria (8).
    • "our little square-set Emperor"
    • "Square and short-legged on a horse too big for him — he always rode horses too big for him in his younger days; but he could handle them as though he and they were one."
    • "even now that he is old he has the kind of voice a Ship-Chief might envy" (12).
    • "He was always a man more at home in an armed camp than within city walls, and always a man to bide with his men."
    • "Basil stood in his usual position, his hands on his hips and his feet planted well apart [...]. And the light of the watch-fire made a russet glow on his round face and magnificent ram's-horn moustache"
    • "The Emperor was always a practical man as well as a devout one." (13)
    • "He could be generous in his young days. Sometimes he can, even now." (14)
    • "I have never known any man so strong for sheer hard work, whether it was soldier's work or the duller business of administration" (15)
    • "We did not know that we were beginning the Emperor's life's work for him: the driving back of the Bulgarian frontier to what it was in Justinian's day, bringing all the lands between Macedonia and the Danube, the Inland Sea and the Adriatic again into the Byzantine Empire. It is done now. Thirty years in the doing, and treaties made and treaties broken, and a whole captured Bulgarian Army blinded along the way. (The Emperor Basil is nothing if not thorough!)"
    • "'clearly our little Basil is a man who keeps his bargains, even if sometimes a shade unwillingly. So — our service is his so long as he pays for it, and we die for him if need be.'"
    • "Basil has always been one for a thorough job, and no loose ends left hanging; and we had our orders." (17)
  • Constantine (8), "Basil had a younger brother, Constantine, who officially shared the throne with him, though he cared more about dancing-girls and feasting than he did about ruling an Empire."
  • Bardas Phocas (8), exiled general, emperor #3, menacing Byzantium from Chrysopolis (8). Killed by a fall from a startled horse before the Battle of Abydos (12).
  • Bardas Schlerus (8), Commander of Asia, emperor #4, penned up in his fortress by Phocas, troops deserted (8). "Bardas Schlerus, he that had been Commander of Asia, was out of his rock-hewn prison within a few days of Bardas Phocas's defeat, and collecting troops from the Eastern frontiers, to make his own bid for the Imperial Diadem." "And then at summer's end, he sent to the Emperor, asking for terms. The reason was simple enough: he had taken some sickness of the eyes while he was in prison, and was going blind." "And to Bardas Schlerus, besides a pardon, he gave one of the smaller of the royal estates in Bithynia to live on, and his old title of Commander of Asia back again — empty, to be sure" "the old man brought in, stooping a little, but not humbled, his hand on the shoulder of the officer who acted as his guide" (14)
  • Princess Anna (9), sister of Basil and Constantine, promised to Vladimir of Kiev (9). "Basil, it seemed, had listened to the tears and pleading of his sister the Princess Anna, and tried to back out of his bargain with Khan Vladimir. But at the first hint of delay about sending him his promised bride, Vladimir had seized the Byzantine port of Cherson on the Inland Sea, and threatened to do the same to Miklagard itself. 'So our Basil has had to give in, and hand the lady over, for all her tears,' said one of the supply-wagon men, sitting at our fire. I laughed with the rest, but I was still sorry for the Princess Anna. Ah well, if what I hear be true, she has had none so ill a life of it. At least she has borne sons who are like to be emperors themselves one day, and that should count for something with an Emperor's sister. If I am sorry for her even now, it must be that I am a foolish old man." (17)
  • Maia (15), Alexia's pet gazelle, who strayed from the house to give birth and was killed by the emperor's strayed hunting cheetah. Alexia raised her from an abandoned fawn.
  • Cloe (15), Alexia's housekeeper, a fat old woman, growing deaf. "'Cloe means well, but she is too heavy-handed.'" (15). "She was kind" (19). "'Did Cloe put that into your head? A heart of gold, but a heavy touch.'" (20).
  • Michael (15), Alexia's farm servant, old (15). "a little man as lean and sharp-angled as a cicada", Cloe's husband (19).
  • Maia II (15), Maia's posthumous fawn
  • Master of the Hunting Kennels (15), cheetah wrangler
  • John of Chaldea (15), Byzantine general in Thrace against the Bulgars. "that white-faced, black-bearded man with a fire in his belly" (17).
  • Demetriades (19), Alexia's father, "no finer doctor, they tell me, than Alexius Demetriades, in all Constantinople." (19). "a tall man, stooping a little under his own height, with a dark face that seemed all the darker by contrast with his greying hair and beard, and eyes that looked like a desert Arab's with the sun behind them." "The man had an extraordinarily deep voice, with a liquid note at the back of the throat." "He smiled, a slow smile that seemed to creak a little, as though it did not come often to his face. 'Jestyn Englishman, you saved for me the one thing in life, save for my work, that means very much to me.'" (20)
  • Anna (19), Alexia's maid, "a little old woman, wizened like a last year's walnut" (19). She answers the door, serves the meals, and fetches and carries for the clinic (20).



  • Jestyn's native village (1), on the high moors west of the Tamar River
  • Saxon village (1), east of Jestyn's home, in a combe above the sea
    • Black Head (2), Gyrth and Jestyn's pasturage, where raiders attack his herd
  • Bristow town (3) [Bristol] home of Jestyn's neighbour at the slave-dealer's
  • Orkney (3), seat of the Jarl, destination of the Bristow man
  • Sumburgh Roost (11), a tricky berth at ebbtide (presumably Sumburgh, Shetland Islands)


  • Dublin (2), "Dublin is a fine town. And through its streets the Danes and Northmen ruffle up and down like fighting-cocks, rubbing shoulders and picking quarrels with Saracens from Spain and merchants of Venice and the Frankish lands. It was the first and finest of the Norse settlements in Ireland, so I have heard, though when I was there it still had to pay tribute to King Malachy in his high Hall at Tara. But for the first few days, all I saw of the town was the open sheds down by the ship-strand, where the slaves were housed and the merchants who were interested in such goods came to buy." (3)
    • the King's Hall (4)
    • the Garrison's quarters (4), "They had their living quarters in the huddle of turf bothies behind the old King's Palace...It was like a kind of rough and ready town-within-a-town"
    • St. Columba Church (4)
    • the boat-strand
    • the markets
    • the God-House of Thor
    • the River Strand (5), alder-fringed
  • Tara (3), seat of the high king of Ireland


  • North Ness (5)
  • the Sound (5)
  • Thrandisfjord (5), home port of Sea Swallow, on the east coast
  • Svendale (5), Thormod's home valley, two days south of Thrandisfjord. "we came over a gentle ridge beyond which the land sank away to a broad shallow dale. And on the crest of the ridge, close beside the track, stood a tall lichened stone with what looked like a pair of eyes carved on it — carved long ago and half lost again to the wind and weather — and beside it, a wind-shaped thorn tree starred with sparse grey-white blossom. Thormod checked beside the stone, and touched it in a peculiar way. 'That is for home-coming,' he said. (6).
    • Sitricstead (6), Thormod's home, in-taken from the wild by his grandfather, now led by his brother and sister-in-law
    • Herulfstead (6), Anders and Herulf's steading
    • Loud Beck (6)
    • the Mark Stone (6), either the standing stone or a Sitricstead boundary marker
  • Aarhus (6), "where the Great Sound opens south into the Baltic Sea"
  • Bornholm (8), Danish island in the Baltic Sea, where Red Witch is storm-bound

The Rus Lands

  • the Dvina (8), river flowing north through pine forests into the Baltic Sea, with a trading post at its mouth, wide enough in parts for four ships abreast
  • the Great Portage (8), the forest track between the sources of the Dvina and the Dnieper. Settlements of the Rus at the heads of the Dvina and Beaver Rivers.
  • the Dnieper (8), river flowing south past Kiev to the Inland Sea
  • Kiev (8), city on the Dnieper. "Kiev, the High City of the Rus, that had become so when the Northmen first pushed south from their earliest settlements round Novgorod. Kiev, spreading its power up and down the great rivers and through the forests and across the empty steppe-lands, wherever the Viking breed had made their land-take, wherever they had bred their own blue eyes and fair hair into the darkness of the Tribes; wherever they held the trade and the weapons." (9) "In the wide flat country that spreads about Kiev, one is always aware of the sky; a great bowl of sky arching over the world, with nothing to break its power of brewing up weather, and streaked in autumn and spring with the dark flight-lines of birds going north or south." (10)
    • the Kiev marshes
    • the Khan's palace
    • Erland Silkbeard's hall
    • the God-House of the White Kristni
  • Beaver River (8), a rodent-ridden tributary of the Dnieper at the end of the Great Portage, local name unpronounceable by Northmen.
  • Novgorod (9), early northern settlement of the the Rus
  • the Inland Sea (8)
    • Cherson (17), Byzantine port seized by Vladimir

The Byzantine Empire

  • Constantinople (1), alias Miklagard (5), alias Byzantium (8): "I suppose no man who has once seen Constantinople ever forgets that first sight. For me — for us — it came in the honey-coloured light of an early autumn evening, as we swarmed ashore from the Golden Horn, with half the city, as it seemed, turned out to greet us. I remember city walls that seemed to have been built for a fortress of giants, tall buildings set about with cypress trees and roofed with russet and purple, gold and green, vast arches upheld on marble columns that twisted as fantastically as bindweed stems, towers that seemed straining up to touch the sky and great aqueducts that strode across the city on legs of white stone. I remember little fretted balconies that clung like swallows' nests high overhead to the walls of tall narrow houses; and wide streets that opened into gardens and open spaces where statues of marble heroes and golden saints and bronze horsemen stood tall and proud among shade-trees; and everywhere the domes of Christian churches catching the last of the run-honey light. I, who thought that I knew cities because I had seen Dublin and Kiev, had never imagined that there could be such a city in the world of men." (12)
    • the Street of the Golden Mulberry Tree (1), Jestyn's home (1). "'close by the Hippodrome. It's the last house on the right-hand side, going up. But anyone round that way will tell you, if you ask for the House of the Physician.'" " a quiet street running uphill towards a slim pencilling of cypresses clustered about the pinkish dome of a church." "The streets were already in shadow, though the upper storeys of the houses still caught the leas of the sunlight, thick as run honey. The last house of all, the House of the Physician, stood tall and narrow above the rest, even in the street of tall and narrow houses. Save for an arched doorway, it showed, like most houses in the city, only a blank wall to the street on the ground-floor and the floor above. One small window above that, and then on the two top storeys, broke out as a plant breaks into flower, into a riot of overhanging windows and delicate traceried balconies set with pots of trailing bright-coloured flowers that spilled over the balustrades. I stood beneath it, with my head tipped far back to look up, as though into the branches of a tree." (19)
    • St Mary Varangarica (1), St Mary of the Barbarians, domed church visible from Jestyn's house
    • the Golden Horn (1), the harbour
    • St Sophia (9), chief church of the city. "I have worshipped many times in the Church of the Holy Wisdom. I have heard the singing soar and swell and echo under the vast domes, till it is like no singing of this world; and seen how, in the light of the candles and the swirling incense smoke, the wonderful jewel-bright angels of the roof mosaics can seem to float free and swim down… Now, I have a fairly clear idea as to the marvels that convinced Khan Vladimir's envoys."
    • the walls of Theodosius (12), outside of which the Khan's army encamps
    • the Imperial Palace (14): "The Imperial Palace is like a city in itself, palaces and pleasure pavilions, armouries and stables, even the lighthouse and the Royal Mint, all set in shady gardens sloping to the Bosphorus. And everywhere one looks one sees beauty and strength and splendour. In the greatest things, the mighty tower of the lighthouse with its blazing crest of flame that speaks to shipping far across the waters of Marmara and up the straits towards the inland sea; in the smallest — the colonnade before the Emperor's private quarters, opening on to a tiny court, and in the court a tiny tree whose leaves were all of beaten gold." (14)
      • the Guardroom (16)
      • the Armourer's Court
      • the Night Gate
    • the Blachernae (15), "The Blachernae is a hunting palace of many stables and kennels, for being close under the land walls it save having to get the horses and the hounds or cheetahs right across the city every time the Emperor wishes to ride out after boar or gazelle. It is also the place where the Emperors withdraw when they wish to pray at the near-by Church of St Mary, a great place of pilgrimage by reason of the Virgin's robe, which is its cherished and most sacred possession."
    • the Kirkoporta (15), city gate near the Blachernae Palace
    • the Silver Salamanda (16), "The Silver Salamanda had been a favourite meeting-place from the first, for the Viking Kind. It was about midway between the Blachernae and the Imperial Palace; and with word going round that in a few days the Varangian Guard would be split up and some of us sent to Thrace, it seemed horribly likely that Thormod and Anders would be heading that way, looking for each other."
    • Fish Quay (16), where Thomod knifed Anders
    • Sycae (16), across the Golden Horn from Fish Quay
    • cistern of Theodosius (16)
    • St Irene's (18), with the dome of Christ Pantocrator
    • the military hospital (18), in the centre of the city
    • the Hippodrome (19), chariot-racing arena
    • the Golden Gate (19)
    • the Mesé (19), main street "that runs magnificently from end to end of the city"
    • Monastery of St. Sebastian (21), where Demetriades works at the hospital
  • the Bosphorus straits (8), between the Inland Sea and Sea of Marmara
  • Chrysopolis (8), across the Bosporus from Constantinople, occupied by Bardas Phocas (8), where his camp is slaughtered in a night attack (12)
  • Abydos (12), the fort and Customs port regulating the Hellespont, where Phocas regroups, gives battle, and is killed. "Bardas Phocas took his newly-gathered troops and headed south for Abydos, the Customs port, where the Emperor's dues were exacted from the Corn Fleet passing up and down the long narrows that men call the Hellespont. He laid siege to the fort; I suppose he had some thought of using the corn-ships to get his troops across to link up with the Bulgars in Thrace" "the walls of Abydos that had been a low black cliff behind the enemy camp, shone dusty pale against the deepening blue of the sky."
  • Hellespont (12), long strait between Sea of Marmara and Aegean Sea, through which the Corn Fleet passes
  • Greece (8), invaded by the Bulgars
  • Thrace (12), territory disputed by Byzantium and Bulgaria
    • "a small strong hill-town" (17), where Orm is killed. "The Bulgars were ready for us, and it was hot work for a while, among the half-ruined walls of the town, and through the narrow ways whose own people had been killed or driven out months before."
    • "a narrow valley, where a little rocky stream came down from the mountains. A stream that would dry out to bare bones in the summer; what we call in England a winter bourne, as are many of the watercourses in those parts. [...] When I am tired or anxious, or when the old wound pains me, I see that little valley in my dreams even now: in a soft clear light that is not quite the light of this world. Rugged outcrops of the mountain rocks thrusting through the ragged cloak of scrub; an ancient wild almond in the loop of the watercourse, three parts dead, yet with one unvanquished branch breaking into a starry cloud of pale blossom; a peregrine falcon hanging high overhead. The water was greenish with melting snows far up in the mountains: ice cold — cold enough to drown the taste of the sweaty leather and the iron rim. Thormod and I drank in turn, both from the same war-cap — mine — and I remember how good the water tasted." "Among the hill scrub, running hard, we scarcely noticed how the valley was changing, narrowing in on us, until we came out in to the open again, and found ourselves in a rocky defile with the hillsides rising almost sheer on either hand. Not a good place to be, in enemy territory." (17)
    • Berea (18), where Jestyn is in hospital
  • Anatolia (14), campaign against Bardas Schlerus
  • Bithynia (14), retirement of Bardas Schlerus
  • Alexia's farm (15), northwest of Constantinople.
    • "I came on a track looping down a shallow lightly-wooded valley, and on the far side, beyond the dusty wayside scrub, a plantation of almond trees, green and cared for. I must be on the edge of a farm or one of the small country estates some of the well-to-do have to provide them with fresh food and summer lodging outside the city."
    • "So we went up through the almond trees, and skirted a walled olive garth beyond; and so came to the house: not tall and narrow like the houses in the city, but long and low, forming one side of a courtyard, with farm buildings round the other three. In the courtyard an oleander arched over a stone wall-head and a brilliant painted Persian cock strutted among his duller hens. The main room of the house was full of dusk, though there was still an echo of sunlight in the sky outside. A great clattering of pots and pans came from some room beyond."
    • "the lower garden, harvesting the green olives"
    • "It was a room of contrasts, like the girl herself; a floor of beaten earth, but a silk rug, as golden as the lamplight, hanging on one of the rough-plastered walls; and the lamp itself of fine blue-glazed pottery." (15)
    • "'the farm came to him with my mother. I was born out there, and she died. Now, I do not think he can bear to go back often, it hurts him too much.'" (21)

Bulgaria (8), invaded by Basil's armies

Historical and literary sourcesEdit

Publication historyEdit