Now available in trade paperback.
Exploring the drama, passion and violence woven into England's most vibrant history, The Singing Sword continues Jack Whyte's bestselling chronicle of the dream that gave birth to an enduring legend.
Born of the chaos of the Dark Ages, the Dream of Eagles produced a king, a country and an everlasting legend. But legends do not tell the whole tale . . .
Britain, 395 A.D.: the Roman armies have withdrawn from Britain, and anarchy threatens the colony that will one day become Camelot. Creating their own army and joining with the Celtic people of King Ullic Pendragon, the colonists emerge as a new breed of Britons, ready to forge the government that will be the Round Table and its Knights and lay the groundwork for the future coronation of Arthur, first High King of Britain.
About the author
Best known for his original series of Arthurian novels, A Dream of Eagles (called The Camulod Chronicles in the US), and his Knights Templar trilogy, Jack Whyte has written 10 international bestsellers. He left Scotland for Canada in 1967 to teach high-school English, but soon gravitated to life on the road as a professional singer, actor and entertainer. In the 1970s he gained a wide audience as he wrote and performed his one-man tribute to Robbie Burns across North America. Public recitals of his own narrative verse led to him being appointed the bard of the Calgary Highlanders regiment, an honour he maintains to this day. A stint as a CBC national television writer preceded a successful business career in communications, but it was his long-time interest in both the legend of King Arthur and the 5th-century Roman military occupation of Britain that dictated Jack’s destiny. Since becoming a successful author, with his books translated into many languages, Jack has made time to support upcoming authors and participate in many writer gatherings, including the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. He writes every day and resides near his favoured golf course in Kelowna, BC. He is married with five adult children.
Excerpt: The Singing Sword: A Dream of Eagles Book II (by (author) Jack Whyte)
A broken shutter banged somewhere. I could hear it clearly over the howling wind and the hissing roar of the driven rain. It was almost dark. I could barely make out the shapes of the two men flattened against the wall on either side of the door of the one-room stone hut across the narrow street from me. To my left, two more men flanked the door of the hut I was leaning against, and there were twelve more men similarly placed at the other six buildings that lined the narrow street. My reserve of thirty-four men was split into two groups, one at either end of the village.
At forty-eight, I was far too old for this kind of nonsense.
I stood with my shoulders pressed against the wall, my sodden tunic clammy cold against my back. I raised my hand in a useless attempt to clear streaming rain-water from my eyes, and my waterlogged cape was a dead weight dragging at my arm. I cursed quietly.
A dim yellow glow appeared as somebody lit a lamp in the hut across the way, and then a quavering, moaning scream rose above the wind. I gave the signal—one blast on my horn—and my men went in, bursting through the doors, their swords and daggers drawn. House-cleaning can be brutal, dirty work.
I looked down at the dead man at my feet. The rain had washed most of the blood away, but he still looked bad. I guessed an axe had killed him. His open eyes were glazed in the fading light.
One of my men reappeared, silhouetted against the light in the doorway opposite me, wiping his sword on a rag. He leaned out into the street, and though I heard nothing, I saw him tense and open his mouth in a shout. Then he was running up the narrow street. I cursed my age and my bad leg and thrust myself away from the wall, forcing myself into a lumbering run, only now aware of the fight going on in the street about thirty paces from me. The weight of my cloak was awful. I fumbled at the clasp and felt the burden fall away, and then I was in the middle of the fight.
I remember little of the tussle itself, but with me, that is a far from unusual state of affairs. Images are all that remain in my memory: a bare neck with a prominent Adam’s apple, and then blood spouting as I jerk my sword point out of it—no memory of the stab; the feeling of a living body under my feet and then my braced arm, up to the wrist in mud because my crippled leg has let me down again and I’ve fallen; the crotch of a man whose sheepskin-wrapped legs are criss-crossed with cloth bindings, and my blade again, taking away his manhood; and a face, wide-mouthed and staring-eyed, and hands with no strength clutching at my sword, trying to pull it out of their owner’s breast. All this I recall in silence. There is no noise, no screaming—no sound of any kind.
When it was over, I was badly winded, puffing for breath like an old man. I leaned over, hands on my knees, and hung my head, sobbing to clear my chest.
“Commander Varrus? Are you all right?”
I knew the voice; it belonged to young Kyril, one of my lieutenants. I nodded my head as clearly as I could in that position and he left me, moving on to check the others. Gradually I became aware of my hands, gripping my knees. Neither held a weapon. I had no sword, and no memory of dropping it. I blinked my eyes clear of rain-water and saw, by the darkness of blood on my right wrist and hand, that I was wounded. I straightened up, feeling no pain, and touched my right hand with my left. My hand responded, but strangely. My whole arm felt numb. I moved my left hand up along my arm, and I felt the cut—just above the elbow, and bleeding fast. My stomach lurched and I puked—my normal reaction after a battle, and one that usually left me feeling better. But this time, as I straightened up from retching, it seemed to me I saw a light, somewhere ahead of me, spinning in the strangest fashion and coming towards me at a roaring speed. And that was all I saw.
They picked me up out of the mud in the roadway and carried me to one of the huts, and I was out of my mind for more than a week.
My wound, on its own, was not too serious, although there is no such thing as a dismissible battle wound. Some whoreson had swiped me with an axe that had no edge. The weight alone had dug what little edge the thing had into the flesh and had broken my upper arm in what the medics call a twig-fracture. At my age, it’s a wonder the whole bone didn’t shatter. At least, that’s what I thought then. Now I know that I was just mellowing into my prime in those days. But I bled a lot, they told me later: a sullen, angry bleeding that worried them because it would not stop. And on top of that, I’d caught pneumonia from the soaking. For a while my men thought they were going to lose me.
I still remember the corpse that lay at my feet that night. If the axe that hit me had been as sharp as the one that hit him, I would not be telling this story today. Of course, much of the story would not have happened.
My name is Gaius Publius Varrus, and I am an ironsmith and a weapons-maker. I was born and raised in Colchester, in East Britain close to Londinium, the imperial administrative centre of the Province of Britain, and it was to Colchester I returned to reopen my grandfather’s smithy after I was crippled in an ambush during the Invasion of 367 and invalided out of the legions.
During my years as a soldier, I met Caius Britannicus, a wealthy nobleman, a patrician Roman of ancient lineage. He first came into my life as a young tribune who saved my skin, then later as a Commanding Officer whose life I saved, and he finally ended up as a Roman senator, a proconsul of Rome and my brother-in-law and dearest friend. My friendship with Britannicus, however, made his enemies my enemies, particularly one family, the wealthy and powerful imperial bankers, the Senecas, who had feuded bloodily and bitterly with the Britannicus family for generations.
That adopted enmity brought me to violent, personal confrontation with Claudius, the youngest of the six Seneca brothers. We fought, and I scarred him for life. After that, I had to remove myself and my affairs permanently—and hurriedly—out of the way of Claudius Seneca’s wrath. I travelled west to the rich farmlands below the spa town of Aquae Sulis to live at Caius’s villa.
On my arrival there, my whole life changed. I met and married Luceiia Britannicus, and she showed me where to find something I had been dreaming about for most of my life: a stone made of extraordinary metal, which I called the skystone. I smelted the stone and sculpted a crude statue of Coventina, the Celtic goddess of water, to commemorate the struggle I had had to salvage the stone from the bottom of a lake. I called it my Lady of the Lake. My main intent was to preserve the metal in dignity, rather than leave it to rust as a plain, raw ingot until I should find a purpose for it. Someday, I knew, I would make a sword from that same metal, but I wasn’t ready yet.
Someday, too, we would have need of that sword—and hundreds like it, if Caius’s ideas about the disintegration of the Empire ever came to pass. He believed the Empire was dying rapidly. He was convinced that someday soon—in the foreseeable future—the legions would be withdrawn from Britain to defend the Motherland against invasion. When that happened, we, the people of Britain, would be left alone and defenceless, with nothing to rely on but our own strengths.
“Whyte’s found the key to refreshing the legend and making it live again.… The wealth and richness of the historical detail are fascinating. If James Michener is the past master of the sweeping epic, then Jack Whyte may well be the future one.” - Calgary Herald
“To read Jack Whyte is to surrender to a storyteller of the old school.” - Quill & Quire
“A superb piece of historical fiction, rich in detail and incident.” - The Globe and Mail
“Dazzling … perhaps not since the early 1970s, with Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills, have the Roman Empire and the Arthurian legends been intertwined with as much skill and authenticity.” - Publishers Weekly
“Rich in historical detail, especially where warfare and the use of cavalry are concerned.… We are not just dipped, we are plunged into the minutiae of life in post-Roman Britain.” - The Hamilton Spectator
“Whyte makes the reader think, Yes, this is the way it could have been.… [He] has taken the time to build the Arthurian legend piece by piece and make it come alive.” - The Leader-Post (Regina)
“If you have even a passing interest in Arthurian legend or the history of ancient Britain, you must read these books. You will not be disappointed.” - The Telegram (St. John’s)
“A remarkable saga, full of drama, suspense, battles, humour and set into a most accurate and detailed picture of the times.” - The Record (Kitchener-Waterloo)
Other titles by Jack Whyte
The Fort at River's Bend (The Sorcerer, Vol. I)
The Burning Stone
A Dream of Eagles Book VI, The Golden Eagle Volume II
Clothar The Frank
A Dream of Eagles Book VI, The Golden Eagle Volume I
The Saxon Shore
A Dream of Eagles Book IV
The Fort at River's Bend
A Dream of Eagles Book V, The Sorcerer Volume I
Metamorphosis (The Sorcerer, Vol. II)
A Dream of Eagles Book I
A Tale of Andrew Murray