London, Norway and Lapland, then Miklagard (Constantinople), Norway again, Denmark, Normandy and back to England, AD 1020-66
“The heroes of the north live on” and when the second book opens (it goes straight on from Viking: Odinn’s Child, and does not attempt to stand alone) Thorgils, now nineteen, is in London, being introduced to the pleasures of love by Aelfgifu, Knut’s beautiful Saxon queen. But this delightful situation cannot and does not last. All too soon, Thorgils finds himself back at the bottom of the heap and has to begin once more fighting his way to the top.
He spends time working (as the queen’s eyes) at a mint in London, but is forced to flee when he clashes with both the archbishop (over the queen) and the owner of the mint (over the forging of illegal currency).
Back in Norway, he meets up with Grettir Asmundarson, Grettir the Strong, who befriends him and who later becomes Thorgils’ “Sworn Brother”. The adventures continue as Grettir is hunted by his enemies and, when he is finally overcome (by witchcraft!), Thorgils makes his way north and lives with a shaman and his family among the Sabme, a nomadic people who herd reindeer in what seems to be modern Lapland or Finland. One of the family is Allba:
When he travels on, Allba is expecting his daughter.
In the third and final book in the trilogy, King’s Man, Thorgils is right at the centre of the new world of the White Christ, Constantinople. But the title is misleading, for it is not the Byzantine Emperor (or later Empress) he serves whose man he is; on the contrary, the king in question is a Norwegian adventurer named Harald, another mercenary in Constantinople who happens to have a claim to the throne of Norway and whom Thorgils follows when he heads north with his men.
I have to say that finally I am not entirely convinced about this trilogy, of which the best was the second. The old Icelandic pagan in the quiet English monastery, posing as a monk while he secretly writes his life story, works well and probably no one could handle such a story better than Tim Severin, who has immersed himself in the lives led by the peoples of the north in medieval times (and sometimes literally in the ice-cold waters of the north Atlantic). On the Vikings, the ships, the forests, the Great Temple at Uppsala and so on, Severin is excellent. I could read that stuff for ever. He has some wonderful ideas such as Thorgils’ meeting with MacBeth and Lady M:
When the chamberlain fetched me that evening and brought me to the king’s private apartments, I was shown into a small room furnished only with a table and several plain wooden chairs. The light came from a single candle on the table, positioned well away from the woman in a long dark cloak seated at the far end of the room. She sat in the shadows, her hands in her lap, and she was twisting her fingers together nervously. The only other person in the room was Mac Bethad, and he was looking troubled.
‘You must excuse the darkness,’ he began, after the chamberlain had withdrawn and closed the door behind him. ‘The queen finds too much light to be painful.’
I glanced towards the woman. Her cloak had a hood which she had drawn up over her head, almost concealing her face. Just at that moment the candle flared briefly, and I caught a glimpse of a taut, strained face, dark-rimmed eyes peering out, a pale skin and high cheek bones. Even in that brief instant the cheek nearest to me gave a small, distinct twitch. Simultaneously I felt a tingling shock as though I had accidentally knocked the point of my elbow against a rock, the sort of impact that leaves the arm numb. But the shock was not to my arm, it was to my mind. I knew that I was in the presence of someone with otherworldly powers …
His version of this story had me spellbound, but turned out to be only an interlude, quickly abandoned. I have rarely been so disappointed, suddenly, in the middle of a book.
Also unforgetable is his depiction of primitive people living in the forests of the north (in this book Folkmar and Runa on the borders of Sweden and Norway, in Sworn Brother Allba and her family, and how Thorgils comes upon them and is welcomed by them and stays with them and adapts to their way of life, and finally has to move on, leaving in one case a baby and in the other twin children behind him.
But the first half of the book (more – 200 pages out of 320) is composed of intrigue in Constantinople, which has been done better by many other writers from Henry Treece down, and much even of the last hundred pages is an attempt at presenting the story of the Norman Conquest from an outsider’s viewpoint and of no particular interest.
However, and that said, the whole trilogy is worth reading for the good parts: they are gems, and unforgettable. And what is more, I for one would love to read a sequel – as in Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the fourth book of the trilogy! What happens to Thorgils after he leaves the monastery? Does he in fact head north again when he “disappears”? Does he find his children, the twins by Runa? What happens to them? We are given a mouth-watering hint of their significance (the twins named after Frey and Freya) but nothing more.