The Broken Sword

The Broken Sword


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The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

This acclaimed fantasy classic of men, elves, and gods is at once breathtakingly exciting and heartbreakingly tragic.

Published the same year as The Fellowship of the Ring , Poul Anderson’s novel The Broken Sword draws on similar Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon sources. In his greed for land and power, Orm the Strong slays the family of a Saxon witch—and for his sins, the Northman must pay with his newborn son. Stolen by elves and replaced by a changeling, Skafloc is raised to manhood unaware of his true heritage and treasured for his ability to handle the iron that the elven dare not touch. Meanwhile, the being who supplanted him as Orm’s son grows up angry and embittered by the humanity he has been denied. A pawn in a witch’s vengeance, the creature Valgard will never know love, and consumed by rage, he will commit a murderous act of unspeakable vileness.
It is their destiny to finally meet on the field of battle—the man-elf and his dark twin, the monster—when the long-simmering war between elves and trolls finally erupts with a devastating fury. And only the mighty sword Tyrfing, broken by Thor and presented to Skafloc in infancy, can turn the tide in a terrible clashing of faerie folk that will ultimately determine the fate of the old gods.
Along with such notables as Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury, multiple Hugo and Nebula Award winner Poul Anderson is considered one of the masters of speculative fiction.

This edition contains the author’s original text.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504054959
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 10/02/2018
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 263,388
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Poul Anderson (1926–2001) grew up bilingual in a Danish American family. After discovering science fiction fandom and earning a physics degree at the University of Minnesota, he found writing science fiction more satisfactory. Admired for his “hard” science fiction, mysteries, historical novels, and “fantasy with rivets,” he also excelled in humor. He was the guest of honor at the 1959 World Science Fiction Convention and at many similar events, including the 1998 Contact Japan 3 and the 1999 Strannik Conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Besides winning the Hugo and Nebula Awards, he has received the Gandalf, Seiun, and Strannik, or “Wanderer,” Awards. A founder of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he became a Grand Master, and was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.
In 1952 he met Karen Kruse; they married in Berkeley, California, where their daughter, Astrid, was born, and they later lived in Orinda, California. Astrid and her husband, science fiction author Greg Bear, now live with their family outside Seattle.

Read an Excerpt

The Broken Sword

By Poul Anderson


Copyright © 1954 Poul Anderson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-9422-4


There was a man called Orm the Strong, a son of Ketil Asmundsson who was a great landsman in the north of Jutland. The folk of Ketil had dwelt in Himmerland as long as men remembered, and were mighty landowners. The wife of Ketil was Asgerd, who was a leman-child of Ragnar Hairybreeks. Thus Orm came of good stock, but as he was the fifth living son of his father there could be no large inheritance for him.

Orm was a great sea-farer and spent most of his summers in viking. When he was in his twentieth winter, he went to his oldest brother Asmund and said, 'Now you have been sitting in Himmer-land and having the use of the farm for some years, and your brothers grow restless for a share. But it is plain that if we divide it five ways our family will sink from great landsmen to smallholders, and soon be lost and forgotten.'

'That is true,' replied Asmund, 'and if you will not yield the inheritance it were best we steered it together.'

'I will not be fifth man at the rudder,' said Orm, 'and so I will make you this offer: give me three ships, and outfit them, and supply arms to all who will follow me, and I will find my own land and quit all claim on our father's.'

Asmund was well pleased with this, the more so since two more of the brothers said they would go with Orm, and ere spring he had bought longships and all their outfit and found many of the younger and poorer men of the neighborhood who would be glad to fare westward. On the first clear day of spring, when the seas still ran high, Orm took his ships out of the bay, and that was the last Asmund ever saw of him.

The dragons turned their tails to the low gray moors and the high cloudy sky of Himmerland. With wind piping in their riggings and sea-gulls screaming about the mastheads and the strakes foaming, they pointed their heads westward. Orm made a verse:

White-maned horses
(hear their neighing!),
gray and gaunt-flanked,
gallop westward.
Wild with winter
winds, they snort and
buck when bearing
burdens for me.

By starting thus early, Orm reached the western islands ahead of most other vikings and had a good plundering. With this he bought more ships and gathered a following while he lay in Ireland over the winter.

Now for some time Orm harried the western lands and had a great booty. But he wished for land of his own, and so one summer joined his fleet to the great one of Guttorm, or Guthrum as the English called him. For some time he was with Guthrum ashore as well as at sea, and when peace was made with Alfred, Orm went into the Danelaw to seek land.

He found a green and fair tract beside a little bay where he could keep his ships. An Englander already dwelt there, but Orm ringed his house with men one night and burned it. The man, his brothers, and most of his household perished then. Some say that the man's mother, who was a witch, escaped the fire – for the burners let all women and children and thralls that wished leave first – and laid the curse on Orm that his eldest son should be fostered beyond the world of men, while Orm should in turn foster a wolf that would one day rend him.

Now Orm built a great house and other buildings on his newly gained land, and with the wealth and fame he had he was accounted a mighty chief in the Danelaw. When he had sat there a year, he felt it were well if he had a wife. He rode with a great following to the English ealdorman Athelstane and asked for his daughter Aelfrida, who was said to be the fairest maiden in England.

Athelstane dared not refuse, but Aelfrida said to Orm's face: 'Never will I wed a heathen dog, nor indeed can I. And while it is true you can take me by force, you will have little joy of me – that I swear.'

She was small and slender, with soft ruddy-brown hair and flashing gray eyes, while Orm was a huge bulky man with face burned red and hair nearly white from years of sun and sea. But he felt she was somehow the stronger, so after thinking for a while he said: 'Now that I am in a land where folk worship the White Christ, it might be well if I made peace with him as well as his followers. Indeed, most of the Danes have already done so. I will be baptized if you will wed me, Aelfrida.'

'That is no reason,' she cried.

'But think,' said Orm slyly, 'if you do not wed me I will not be christened, and then, if we may trust the priests, my soul is lost. And you will have to answer heavily to your God for losing a human soul.' He whispered to Athelstane, 'Also, I will burn down this house and throw you off the sea-cliffs.'

'Aye, daughter, we dare not lose a human soul,' said Athelstane very quickly.

Aelfrida did not hold out much longer, for indeed Orm was a not ill-looking man, and he was known to be rich and powerful. So Orm was christened, and the next day he wed Aelfrida and bore her home to the Danelaw. They lived together contentedly enough, if not always peacefully.

There were no churches near, so at Aelfrida's wish Orm kept a priest on the land, and for atonement of his sins he paid the priest well. But being a careful man with no wish to offend any of the Powers, Orm continued to sacrifice to Thor in midwinter and to Freyr in spring for peace and good harvests, as well as to Odin and Aesir for luck before each sea-voyage.

All that winter he and the priest quarreled about this, and in spring, not long before Aelfrida's child was born, Orm lost his temper and kicked the priest out the door and bade him begone. Aelfrida reproached him greatly for this, until he cried that he could stand no more of that woman-chatter and now would have to flee it. A few days later, earlier than he had planned, he left with his ships and spent the summer harrying in Ireland and Scotland.

Scarce were his ships out of sight when Aelfrida was brought to her bed and gave birth to a child. It was a fine big boy who after Orm's wish she called Valgard, a name old in that family. But now there was no priest to christen the child, and the nearest church lay a good two or three days' journey away. She sent a thrall there at once.

Meanwhile she was proud and glad of her son, and often she sang to him as her mother had to her—

Lullaby, my little bird,
of all birds the very best!
Hear the gently lowing herd.
Now the sun is in the west
and 'tis time that you should rest.

Lullaby, my little love,
nodding sleepy on my breast.
See the evening star above
rising from the hill's green crest.
Now 'tis time that you should rest.

Lullaby, my little one.
You and I alike are blest.
God and Mary and their Son
guard you, who are but their guest.
Now 'tis time that you should rest.


Imric the elf-earl rode out one night to see what had happened in the lands of men. It was a cool spring dark with the moon nearly full, rime glittering on the grass and the stars still hard and bright as in winter. The night was very quiet save for the sighing of wind in budding branches, and the world was all sliding shadows and cold white light. The hoofs of Imric's horse were shod with an alloy of silver, and there was a high clear ringing in the gloom as they struck the hard ground.

The elf-earl rode into a darkling forest. Night lay heavy here, but from afar he saw a ruddy glimmer of fire. When he came there he saw it shone through cracks in a little hut of mud and wattles huddled under a great gnarly oak from whose boughs Imric remembered the Druids cutting mistletoe. He could sense that a witch lived here, so he dismounted and rapped on the door.

A woman who seemed old and bent as the tree opened it and saw him standing there, the broken moonlight sheening off his helm and byrnie and his horse shimmering-white and mysterious, cropping the frosty grass behind him.

'Good evening, mother,' quoth Imric.

'Let none of you elf-folk call me mother, who have borne tall sons to a man,' grumbled the witch, but she let him in and hastened to pour him a horn of ale. Imric had to stoop inside the tiny hovel and clear away a litter of bones and other trash ere he could sit.

He looked at her with the strange slant eyes of the elf-folk, all cloudy-blue without pupil or white. There were little moon-flecks drifting in Imric's eyes, and shadows of ancient wisdom, for Imric had dwelt long in the land when the first men came. But he was ever youthful, with the broad forehead and high cheekbones, the narrow jaw and the straight thin-chiseled nose of the elf lords. His hair floated silvery-gold, finer than spider silk, from under his horned helmet down to his wide red-caped shoulders.

"Tis long since the elves have been abroad among men,' said the witch.

'Aye, we have been too busy in the war with the trolls,' answered Imric in his voice that was like a wind blowing through ancient trees far away. 'But now there is truce, and I am curious to find what has happened in the last hundred years.'

'Much, and little of it good,' said the witch. 'The Danes have come from the east, burning and plundering and breaking English lords. They are nigh to overrunning all the western islands.'

'That is not bad.' Imric stroked his long mustache. 'Before them the Saxons came with fire and death, and before them the Picts and Scots, and before them the Romans, and before them the Brythons and Goidels, and before them – but the tale is long and long, nor will it end with the Danes. And I, who have watched it almost since the land was made, see naught of evil in it, for it helps pass the time. I were fain to see these new folk.'

'Then you need not ride far,' said the witch, 'for Orm the Strong has taken land here and his hall is but the ride of a night or less to the east on a mortal horse.'

'A short trip for my windy-maned stallion. I will go.'

'Hold – hold, elf!' For a moment the witch sat muttering, and only her eyes had life, gleaming red out of the firelight's monster shadows. Then of a sudden she cackled in glee and screamed, 'Aye, ride, ride, elf, to Orm's house by the sea. He is gone a-roving, but his wife will guest you gladly. She has but newly brought forth a son, and he is not yet christened.'

At these words Imric cocked his long pointed ears forward and his ivory-white face tautened. 'Speak you sooth, witch?' he asked then, low and toneless like wind blowing through unpeopled heather.

'Aye, by Sathanas I swear it.' The old woman rocked to and fro, squatting in her rags before the dim coals that spattered her face with red. The shadows flowed out of corners and chased each other across the walls, huge and misshapen and noiseless. 'Go see for yourself.'

'I would not venture to take a Dane-chief's child. He might be under the Aesir's ward.'

'Nay, elf, nay. Orm is a Christian, but an indifferent one, and his son has yet been hallowed to no gods at all.'

'Ill is it to lie to me,' said Imric thinly.

'I have naught to lose,' answered the witch. 'Orm burned my sons in their house, and my blood dies with me. I do not fear gods or devils, elves or men. But 'tis truth I speak.'

'I will go see,' said Imric, and stood up. The scales of his byrnie rang together like little silver bells. He swept his great red cloak around him and went out and swung onto the moon-white stallion.

Like a rush of wind and a fleeting blur of moonlight he was out of the forest and across the fields. Far and wide the land stretched, shadowy trees and silent hills and rime-whitened meadows asleep under the moon. Here and there stood a lonely croft, dark now, huddled beneath the great star-crusted sky. There were presences moving in the night, but they were not men – he sensed a distant wolf-howl, the green gleam of a crouched wildcat's eyes, the scurry of furtive feet under the mighty oak-roots. They were aware of the elf-earl's passage and shrank deeper into the shadows.

Erelong Imric rode up to Orm's garth. Here the barns and sheds and houses were big, of rough-hewn timbers. The great hall stood with its carven dragon heads like a hill-ridge against the shining star clouds, but after Imric had overleaped the fence it was to a lesser dwelling that he rode. The dogs smelled him and snarled, hair a-bristle, but ere they could bark he had turned his terrible blind-seeming gaze on them, and they crawled off whimpering in fear.

He rode like a wandering night-wind up to the house and looked in a window. Moonlight shafted in over the bed, limning Aelfrida's lovely slumbrous face in soft silver and a cloudiness of unbound silken hair. But it was on the babe beside her that Imric gazed.

The elf-earl laughed within the locked mask of his cold beautiful face, and rode north again. Aelfrida moved in her sleep, woke, and looked at the little one beside her. Her eyes were still clouded with uneasy dreams.


In those days the elves and other folk of faerie still dwelt upon the earth, but even then a strangeness hung over their holdings, as if these wavered halfway between this world and another; and there were places which might at one time be a simple lonely hill or lake or forest and then at another gleam forth in all the ancient splendor of the true dwellers. Now and again the gaunt bare crags of the northern highlands known as the elf-hills might be seen by men as halls and castles, and thus they were shunned.

Imric rode to the grim form of Elfheugh, which he saw as a castle tall and slender-spired, having gates of bronze and floors of marble, hung with the fairest shifty-patterned tapestries of magic weave and crusted with great blazing gems. In the moonlight the faerie folk were dancing on the green before the castle, but Imric rode by into the courtyard. His horse's hoof-beats echoed hollowly from the massive outer walls, and the dwarf thralls hurried forth to attend him. He swung to the ground and hastened into the keep.

The clear unwavering light of the tapers was broken into a shifting, tricky dazzle of many colors by the gems and the gold in the walls. Music breathed through the vaulted rooms, rippling harps and keening viols and the voices of flutes like mountain brooks under darkling pines. The patterns on the rugs and tapestries moved slowly, like live figures. The very walls and floors, and the groined ceiling in its dim blue twilight of height, had a fluid quicksilver instability, they were never the same and yet one could not say just how they changed.

Imric went down a staircase, his byrnie chiming in the stillness. Of a sudden it grew dark about him, save for the occasional bloody light of a guttering torch, and the cold dark air of the inner earth filled his lungs. Now and again a clash of metal or a shuddering wail echoed down the rough-hewn water-dripping corridors, but Imric paid no heed. Like all elves, he had a rippling liquid cat-grace in his movements, he went swift and silent and easy as a questing wind down into the dungeons.

Finally he paused before a great door of brass-barred oak. It was green with moss and dark with age and cold with the dew of the inner earth, and only Imric had the keys to the three mighty locks. These he opened, muttering certain words, and swung the ponderous door back. It groaned, for three hundred years had passed since last he had opened it.

A woman of the troll race sat within the little cell. She wore only the bronze chain, heavy enough to anchor a ship, which fastened her by the neck to the wall. Light from a torch ensconced outside the door fell dimly on her huge squat mighty-muscled form. She had no hair, and the green skin moved on her bones. As she turned her great hideous head to Imric, her wolf-toothed mouth snarled. But her eyes were empty, two deep pools of utter blackness in which a soul could drown, sinking down forever into nothingness. For nine hundred years she had been Imric's captive, and she was mad.

The elf-earl looked down at her, but not into her eyes. He said softly, 'We are to make a changeling again, Gora.'

The troll-woman's voice rumbled like thunder out of the earth's inmost deeps. 'Oho, oho,' she said, 'he is here again. Be welcome, you, whoever you are, out of night and unending chaos. Ha, will none wipe the sneer off the face of the cosmos?'

'Hurry,' said Imric. 'I must make the change ere dawn.'

'Hurry and hurry, autumn leaves hurrying on the rainy wind, snow hurrying out of the sky, life hurrying to death, gods hurrying to oblivion.' The troll-woman's crazy voice boomed hollow down the corridors. 'All ashes, dust, blown on a senseless screaming wind, and only the mad can gibber the music of the spheres. Ha, the red cock on the dunghill!'

Imric took a whip from the wall and lashed her. She cowered and lay down, and quickly, because he liked not the slippy clammy cold of her flesh, Imric did what was needful. Thereafter he walked nine times widdershins about her where she squatted, singing a song no human throat could have formed, a song which certain beings had sung once, shambling around a strangely carved monolith, to bring forth the fruits of a quaking steamy world. As he sang, the troll-woman shook and swelled and moaned in pain, and when he had gone the ninth time around she screamed so that it pierced his ears and rang in his skull, and she brought forth a man-child.


Excerpted from The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson. Copyright © 1954 Poul Anderson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Broken Sword 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Bloggabook More than 1 year ago
When I read the book jacket and selected this one to write a review on, I had no idea this was a reissue. I'm so glad that these books are seeing the New Release section again. While this might not be the Grandfather of all Fantasy books, it's definitely in the lineage and an important part. Even as a short novel, this book reads like an epic. The author's merging of Fantasy elements and Norse mythology expertly molds a framework that the readers can easily slip into. By doing this, he can create a new Fantasy world without all the nomenclature and description that chews up pages and bogs down a story. As you read this you will find so many correlations to Fantasy authors of today. You have murder, parricide, incest, dark magic, and beasts of all kinds. Sounds a lot like Game of Thrones, I know.  This is a mold setter, and it does so with wonderfully lyric language and masterful descriptive ability.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
clong on LibraryThing 1 days ago
I read this on a friend's recommendation, although I was a bit skeptical going in (Viking tales are not really my thing). I found the introductory back story to be slow going, but by the time we get to the stories of Skafloc and Valgard the pace picks up and the narrative flows very quickly. Anderson's language is at times deliberately archaic, which took me a while to adjust to, but it clearly fits the storyline. This is a world where both the good guys and the bad guys (whp are mostly not really guys at all, but rather elves, trolls, gods and the like) are violent and amoral, and where the good guys are likely create their own doom through hubris and overconfidence. The Broken Sword is one of those books that is easy to read, but challenging to think about. It's definitely worth your time, not only for its own merits but also for some perspective on how fantasy has evolved in the last fifty years. I read the 1971 revision.
Petunia1 More than 1 year ago
Loved it. Sort of reminded me of Beowulf, Romeo and Juliet. Tragic compelling story. Loved how the characters developed, loved the plot twists.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is in Appendix E of the 5th e hand book and it veary well diserves its spot their.