The Saxon Shoreby Jack Whyte
Merlyn Britannicus and Uther Pendragon---the Silver Bear and the Red Dragon---are the leaders of the Colony, lifeblood to the community from which will come the fabled Camulod.
But soon their tranquility is in ruins, Uther lies dead from treachery, and all that is left of the dream is the orphaned babe Arthur. Heir to the Colony of Camulod, born with Roman/p>
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Merlyn Britannicus and Uther Pendragon---the Silver Bear and the Red Dragon---are the leaders of the Colony, lifeblood to the community from which will come the fabled Camulod.
But soon their tranquility is in ruins, Uther lies dead from treachery, and all that is left of the dream is the orphaned babe Arthur. Heir to the Colony of Camulod, born with Roman heritage as well as the blood of the Hibernians and the Celts, Arthur is the living incarnation of the sacred dream of his ancestors: independent survival in Britain amidst the ruins of the Roman Empire.
When Arthur is adopted by Merlyn Britannicus, an enormous responsibility is placed on Merlyn's shoulders. Now he must prepare young Arthur to unify the clans of Britain and guard the mighty sword Excalibur.
And, above all, Merlyn must see that Arthur survives to achieve the rest of his ancestors' dreams, in spite of the deadly threats rumbling from the Saxon Shore.
"Of the scores of novels based on Arthurian legend, Whyte's Camulod series is distinctive, particularly in the rendering of its leading players and the residual Roman influences that survived in Britain during the Dark Ages."--The Washington Post
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The Saxon Shore
The Camulod Chronicles
By Jack Whyte
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1999 Jack Whyte
All rights reserved.
I could not identify the clattering noise that woke me, and for a space of heartbeats I lay befuddled, not knowing where I was. The sun was high and hot, and I felt my bed tilt alarmingly. Then I became aware of the warmth of the tiny baby held cradled in my arm, and I remembered everything.
We were adrift in a small galley or birney that was much too large for me to control alone, even had I known how. The smell of the bearskin pelt on which we lay mingled with the scents of sun-warmed pitch and timber. A heavy, rusted, three-pronged grappling hook had landed on the planking beside me, close to my head. As I focused on it, the thing leapt away from me again, before burying two of its points in the solid timbers of the boat's side. I rolled away from the child and struggled to my feet, throwing myself to the side of the boat and looking up and out.
Above me, towering over and dwarfing our small boat, was a great galley with a single, soaring mast and a rearing, giant, painted dragon's head at the prow. In my first glance I saw a row of long oars, glistening with water, raised vertically to permit the two craft to come together, then a red-bearded warrior standing on the prow behind the dragon's head, leaning backward against the pull as he drew in his rope, hand over hand, dragging my smaller craft towards him. Beside him, another man was in the act of throwing a second grappling hook, and I pulled my head down and out of sight as the metal head landed behind me and was jerked back to thump into the birney's timbers, lodging farther forward, beside the first. As I sprawled away to one side, a roar of surprise told me that my appearance had disconcerted them no less than theirs had me. A third and then a fourth hook clanked aboard and made themselves fast, and I felt our boat being hauled in like a fish, its motion changing as it struck laterally against the waves.
This time I raised my head cautiously and saw that it was the target for a score of bows, all of their arrows pointing at my eyes. I raised my hands high above my head, fingers spread, showing them I had no thought of fight or flight, and immediately slid back down the sloping side before stepping hastily back to the centre of the deck, my hands still high above my head as I fought to keep my footing, waiting for the first arrow to find me. Below me, the child had awakened and begun to howl with hunger, his tiny, angry protests lost amid the noises that now swelled all around us.
I glanced towards him and my eyes were suddenly filled with the bulk and substance of the heavy, golden signet ring with the red dragon crest that hung on a golden chain against his tiny chest. I threw myself towards him and removed the thing from around his neck, stuffing it hastily into my own breechclout and hoping it would remain lodged securely there and not fall out onto the deck. It was the only recourse open to me, and I had no time to improve on the instinct that prompted me to hide the ring there.
Moments later, the first of our "rescuers" leapt aboard from the raised deck of the other ship, closely followed by a half-dozen others. He landed lightly, then stepped towards me, noting that I was unarmed but extending his sword point towards my naked throat and glancing around him in curiosity as he closed the distance between us. He was big, as big as I, and hairy in the way of the Celts, with a full black beard, long hair and moustaches, and thick black chest hair showing through the open front of a sheepskin tunic worn fleece-outward. As I lowered my hands and made to speak to him he drew the point of his sword away from me, then brought it swinging, backhanded, to clout me almost heedlessly across the side of the head with the flat of the blade. I fell sprawling and stunned.
I huddled there, my knees drawn up instinctively to protect the contents of my breechclout, clasping my head in my hands, almost blinded by the pain and waiting for his attack to continue. My assailant, however, had done with me and ignored me completely thereafter. By the time my vision cleared enough to see him again, he had stepped away and was bent over the discarded pile of my armour that lay where I hadthrown it on the bottom of the boat. My eyes moved onward, ignoring the others who had come aboard with him, searching frantically for the black bearskin that lay at the foot of the central mast. There, surrounded by three of the newcomers, the baby kicked and squirmed, and even through the racket all around me, I could clearly hear his anguished screams. The three men were looking down at him, arguing among themselves. After a single and dismissive glance towards me, one of them shifted his axe from his right hand to his left, stooped quickly and picked up the child by the ankles, crushing them together carelessly.
My head swam with panic.
Once, twice, he spun the tiny form around his head and then released it to fly into the air, high over the vessel's side.
Afterwards, I was unaware of having moved, let alone risen to my feet, but suddenly I was upon them. I heard my own roar of rage as my shoulder took the big man low in the back, hurling him forward and off balance, and my fingers gripped the shaft of the axe that had hung from his left hand. Still reeling from the momentum of my charge, I swung one foot around hard to kick one of his companions behind the knees, sweeping him off his feet. The third man, caught by surprise, simply stood there, giving me time to shift my weight, grip the shaft of the axe firmly in both hands and spin again to bury it in the killer's shoulder, splitting him from neck to breast bone. Pulling him towards me, his flesh locked around the blade of the axe, I used the dead weight of him for leverage and leapt high onto the edge of the boat's side. I saw a flash of white among the waves and threw myself outward towards it, bringing my hands together above my head to break the water.
The sea was far warmer than I had expected, and after the first shock of my plunging dive my head was cleared of noise and pain. A thousand bubbles hissed all around me, and I opened my eyes, searching frantically for a glimpse of the infant. There was nothing, no matter where I looked, and I kicked my way back to the surface, treading water as I looked around me, shaking the hair and water out of my eyes. I surfaced at the top of a wave and quickly found myself in the trough between it and the next, from where I could see nothing. Allowing myself to relax, I waited to be lifted again to the wave top, and heard a zipping noise as an arrow sliced into the water ahead of me. Now I was high again, and saw the galley, enormous from this vantage point, riding high above and in front of me. More arrows hissed into the sea around me, and I heard a distant chorus of shouts and jeers. I ignored them and tried to turn myself around as I went sliding to the bottom of another trough. Moments later, as I rose to the crest of the next wave, I saw the baby on the surface very close to me, disappearing again as I caught sight of him. I filled my lungs, gulping in air until my chest would hold no more, before folding my body and kicking my feet vertically. In the booming, reverberant silence beneath the surface an arrow dropped in front of me, wobbling harmlessly before falling vertically into the depths below. I strained my eyes towards where I thought to have seen the tiny shape of the child, and there he was, pallid and insubstantial at the limit of my sight, floating beneath the waves. I kicked out strongly towards him, knowing I was too late. The shock of hitting the water alone must have killed him, and with him the hopes of my family.
There are times when the mind of a man performs the most amazing feats; when the speed of thought is so enhanced that lifetimes seem to pass in moments; when the mysteries of life seem crystallized, are clearly understood and then forgotten again in the blinking of an eye. Later, I was able to recall the chaos of my thoughts as I swam towards the baby, and to piece them together into coherent patterns that bore no resemblance to the panic-filled, despairing screams that echoed in my mind during those moments. This was my cousin and my nephew both, this babe of two, three months at most, drifting in the clear, warm water just beyond my reach; the son of Uther Pendragon, my dearest friend whom I had sworn to kill. And now they both were dead; as dead as my own unborn son, denied a chance to live, murdered in the womb, I had once believed, by that same Uther. I felt a swelling, aching, unbearable hardness in my chest that told me I was going to have to breathe very soon, and then saw the baby drifting upwards to the surface, rising away from me to where the waves formed a clear green ceiling streaked with lines of writhing, golden light. I kicked harder, forcing myself through the water, clawing my way towards him and seeing without really noticing the way his tiny arms and legs moved rhythmically, almost as if he himself were swimming. Suddenly my face touched him and I grasped him close, breaking the surface, raising him high above my head as I fought for breath, coughing and spluttering and sinking again as I waited for the arrows to find us, finding some insane satisfaction in the knowledge that we would meet death together, united in our blood. Again I broke surface, and this time was able to breathe and keep myself afloat. The galley loomed above us, very close now. We were an unmissable target. I closed my eyes and hugged the baby close, holding his head above the water.
The arrows did not come. A wave broke over us. I opened my eyes and blinked them free of water, and as I did, a rope came snaking down, uncoiling as it fell, to land across my head. Unknowing and uncaring whence it came or why, I grasped it with my left hand, twisting coils of it around my arm as I went under yet again, mouth open and inhaling. Choking in agony, my lungs revolting against the sea water, I felt myself being dragged forward and up, and hands grasped at me, catching my arm, my tunic and my hair. Someone took the child from me, and I felt myself propelled upward and inward and then lowered, quite gently, to the decking of the ship. I rolled onto my belly, coughing and vomiting the brine I had breathed and swallowed, fighting the searing pains that racked my chest and lungs.
The paroxysm passed eventually, leaving me spent and breathless, and I pushed myself up to lean on my elbows, gazing down at the planking of the deck between them and waiting for whatever would befall me next. I had no thought of avoiding it, whatever it might be, knowing that it would be death in one form or another, blooding and vengeance for the man I had killed with the axe. That was why they had dragged me from the sea. They required blood for blood, and death by water would not suffice. The manner of my death was beyond my control, and beyond my caring. The only matter of import in my mind was the death of the child and what it meant to Camulod. The dreams of many people had perished with that baby boy, and I saw them all there in my mind as I gasped and heaved for breath. Caius Britannicus, my grandfather, and Publius Varrus, his friend, both of whom I had revered throughout my life; Picus Britannicus, my father; and Ullic and Uric Pendragon, father and son, and a host of others who had dared to dream of surviving in the face of conquest by barbarian hordes, the same hordes who had now wiped out their line. My mind filled up with the image of the baby boy I had discovered wrapped in a black bearskin here in this very boat, and I recalled the pride and the passionate, exultant tenderness that had swept over me in realizing who he was, in knowing this was he, the one who would arise to call the peoples of our land to action and to unity; the future champion for whose hand Publius Varrus had crafted the sword Excalibur. And as I felt the pain of that memory, I also felt another, sharper, localized pain against my pubis, where the signet of Uther Pendragon was evidently still secure, wedged uncomfortably between my body and the deck of the ship.
My chest constricted and I retched again, moving at the same time to ease the discomfort caused by the ring and gasping against the agony of the convulsion that racked me, and as I gulped for breath another image came into my mind: a tall, young man with long, bright golden hair; a champion who perhaps, even now, would be in Camulod, and into whose hands I had commended Excalibur should I not have returned within the year; Ambrose, my own half-brother, absent from my mind since my discovery of the boy.
A heavy foot kicked my elbow and I snatched it away, falling face downward into the bile I had just voided. I lay helpless as my wrists were snatched and bound together at my back, the rough rope burning my skin. When I reared my head back and tried to look around me I saw only legs. At least a dozen men surrounded me, and I saw now that I was on the big galley, not the birney as I had supposed, and that I was lying at the bottom of the well that held the rowers. They hauled me to my feet again and thrust at me, turning me around and pushing me forward until I saw what they required of me.
There was a lateral bench of some kind at the level of my knee, pressing against me. Above it, a narrow wooden step descended from a planked walkway that ran the length of the galley, front to back. Urged onward by the point of either a spear or a sword at the small of my back, I climbed upward, making heavy going of it with the rocking of the vessel and the awkward weight of my arms, tied tightly as they were behind me. I managed the ascent without falling, nevertheless, and stood swaying on the causeway.
I was somewhere approaching midway along the boat, facing the rear. Below me, ranged in rows on either side, a sea of faces glowered up at me in silence. The men were resting on their oars, evidently waiting. At the end of each row, closest to the centre of the keel and within their owners' reach, were piles of axes, swords and spears. Barbarians. The expressions on those faces I could see varied from wild-eyed hatred to dull disinterest. I ignored them, refusing to acknowledge their presence, although I had time to estimate their strength at close to a hundred. A hundred in one galley! That bespoke great wealth on the part of its owners and great skill on the part of their shipbuilders. I looked straight ahead to where the massive mast reared, thick as a horse's barrel, from the bottom of the ship, beneath the planks of the central causeway, which parted around it, leaving enough room for one man to pass on either side. A great cross-spar, half the thickness of the mast itself, was attached to it about head height, though I could not see how because of the billows of dense, saffron-coloured sailcloth that lay draped across the spar.
Prodded roughly from behind again, I made my way rearwards, passing the mast and dipping my head to avoid the overhead spar. The rearmost part of the ship, I estimated about one sixth of the vessel's total length, was decked over completely at the level of the causeway, fronted by a solid wooden wall with a single doorway leading to the enclosed space below. A group of men huddled on this platform, their backs to me. I counted eight of them as I approached, and their armour, such as I could see of it, was mainly toughened leather of the kind our own Celts wore, bossed with iron and bronze, although one wore overlapped iron strip armour in the Roman fashion and another wore a shirt of ring mail. Three wore long cloaks, so I could see nothing of what they wore beneath. All eight wore helmets; conical iron caps, two of which were homed. Alerted by some signal, they swung around as one to look at me, then stepped back to form an open, wedge-shaped grouping that reflected the taper of the vessel's stern and directed my gaze to the man they had concealed.
I stopped short, trying to absorb what I was seeing, and no one pressed me further. The man himself was, of course, the first thing I perceived, but immediately after that I saw the device in which he hung suspended, and my eyes devoured it, attempting to define what it was and how it operated, disdaining its occupant temporarily despite the fact that he obviously held the order of my dying.
Four thick beams, each a handspan square, had been erected from the body of the ship, mortised into the rail that ran around the deck and cantilevered inward at a uniform angle, supported from the deck by other, smaller struts. I saw instantly where they should have met to form a pyramid, but each had been truncated short of that to provide a corner support for a heavy, rectangular frame that hung thus suspended, level with the deck. I had a vision of the great catapults and siege artillery depicted in the books of Publius Varrus, and as my eye took in the workmanship I knew instantly that the craftsman who built it had been the same man who designed and built the galley. The device was a natural extension of the ship. Below it, suspended by ropes and pulleys from strong hooks attached to each corner of this frame, hung a seat, apparently made from strong leather, stitched and shaped and strung from an open-fronted girdle of iron as thick as my thumb. Thin hempen ropes, three of them, hung from this metal chair rim to the floor, whence they passed through a ring bolted into the deck and separated to three other rings, where they were stoutly knotted, one in the back and one on either side. They looked for all the world like reins, and I realized that they were nothing less. The person seated in that chair might ride the turmoil of the waves in comfort, suspended above the deck and able to master all but the wildest motion of the seat by pulling on these ropes.
Excerpted from The Saxon Shore by Jack Whyte. Copyright © 1999 Jack Whyte. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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Meet the Author
Jack Whyte is a Scots-born, award-winning Canadian author whose poem, The Faceless One, was featured at the 1991 New York Film Festival. The Camulod Chronicles is his greatest work, a stunning retelling of one of our greatest legends: the making of King Arthur's Britain. He lives in British Columbia, Canada.
JACK WHYTE was born and raised in Scotland and has lived in Canada since 1967. He has been an actor, orator, singer, and poet at various stages of his life, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters for his contribution to Canadian popular fiction. Whyte is the author of the internationally bestselling Dream of Eagles series and the Templar trilogy. He lives in Kelowna, British Columbia.
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Very wonderful read
I am hooked on this series. This 4th book in the Camulod series does not disappoint. Historical fiction with a touch of the mystic. Read the books in order. They are all outstanding.
The saxon shore is the best book i have ever read. The way Whyte throws fantacy into the historic fiction is truely amazing. Each character has an absolute personality individual to themselves. The setting is wonderfuly constructed and the event through out the book are exelently timed. I recomend this book to everyone who enjoys reading. I gave it a 5 star!
I loved the series. The best ever written about the coming of Arthur and Myrlin!