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Also by Theodore Brun

A Mighty Dawn

A Sacred Storm

Theodore Brun studied Dark Age archaeology at Cambridge. In 2010, he quit his job as an arbitration lawyer in Hong Kong and cycled 10,000 miles across Asia and Europe to his home in Norfolk. A Burning Sea is his third novel.

First published in Great Britain in 2020 by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.

Copyright © Theodore Brun, 2020

The moral right of Theodore Brun to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities, is entirely coincidental.

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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Hardback ISBN: 9781 78649 615 7

Trade paperback ISBN: 978 1 78649 616 4

E-book ISBN: 978 1 78649 618 8

Printed in Great Britain


An imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd

Ormond House

26–27 Boswell Street

London WC1N 3JZ


For Sara, without whom I wouldn’t have finished this book.

Also, for my parents – Olaf and Dibby – without whom I wouldn’t have finished anything.



Osvald, son of Ostein – King of the Livi and Lord of the Estlandish tribes

Erlan Aurvandil – the Wanderer, a crippled warrior sworn to King Osvald

Aska – his one-eyed wolfhound

Valrik Viggorsson – a merchant-warrior, and skipper of the Fasolt

Adalrik – Valrik’s son, a karl of King Osvald, and companion to the Wanderer

Leikr – Adalrik’s twin brother

Vassili – an itinerant holy man


Ringast Haraldarsen – King of the Twin Kingdoms, a Dane by blood, eldest son of King Harald Wartooth

Lilla Sviggarsdottír – his consort, Queen of the Twin Kingdoms, a Sveär by blood, and only surviving kin of Sviggar Ívarsson, the murdered King of Sveäland

Prince Thrand Haraldarsen – King Ringast’s younger brother, and Lord of the Danish Isles

Sletti – King Ringast’s steward

Gerutha – Queen Lilla’s servant and friend.

Einar the Fat-Bellied – one of the king’s karls, a Sveär still loyal to the old Sveär king Sviggar and his kin


Ramedios – a Greek merchant and slaver

Ildur – a slave

Bayan – a translator

Jarpr – a junior member of Valrik’s crew


Emperor Leo III, the Isaurian – Basíleus of the Byzantines, previously Strategos of the Anatolikon Theme, the most powerful general in the Empire

Empress Maria – Basílissa of the Byzantines, consort to Emperor Leo

Arbasdos – Strategos of the Armeniac Theme, the second most powerful man in the Empire, and Leo’s personal ally

Katãros – Lord High Chamberlain of the Palace, or parakoimõmenos. A eunuch of Northern origin

Princess Anna – the Basílopoúla, only child of Emperor Leo.

Germanus – Patriarch of Byzantium. A eunuch

Daniel – the Eparch, chief administrator of the City

Alexios – commander of the palace guard

Davit – spatharios to General Arbasdos

Silanos – steward to General Arbasdos

Lucia – a servant of Arbasdos

Orlana – an actress and star of the Hippodrome

Alethea – a beggar-woman

Domnicus – a priest of the Imperial Household


Prince Maslama ibn Abd al-Malik – Commander of the Arab Armies and half-brother to Caliph Sulayman of the House of Umayyad

Abdallah al-Battal – Prince Maslama’s envoy to the Emperor Leo


Tervel, son of Asparukh – high khan of the Bulgar nation Prince Kosmesy – his son and heir





Blood dripped off the tip of his blade into the mud.

All around him the last of the winter snow was stained with it, a scarlet slush slowly melting into rivulets, mingling with the rain and the run-off from the pigsty into broad black puddles.

‘It’s over now,’ said Erlan Aurvandil, palming the strands of dark hair out of his eyes. His two younger companions were panting like hounds after the hunt.

‘What do we do with these?’ Adalrik, the older twin, prodded his spear-butt at the body crumpled at his feet.

‘The ground’s too hard to bury them. Drag them in there,’ Erlan said. There was a battered cattle byre huddled in one corner of the farmstead. ‘Then burn it down.’ He wiped his blade on his cloak before re-sheathing it in its wool-lined scabbard. His throat tasted foul. He spat into the mud. This was foul work any way you cut it.

They had come for settlement of a debt. A small debt from a small man, but Lord Osvald refused to overlook the sum. ‘Folk will reckon it an insult. And an insult can’t go unanswered.’ As if it were a personal slight to the Lord of the Livi that this farmsteader was beggar poor.

The man lay dead now, together with his thrall and his son. His woman had fled into the forest. All for what? A few ounces of silver? Two head of sheep? Erlan shook his head. The fool should have paid up whatever he had. But the man was stubborn and, worse, brave. He had gone for his axe. . .

And now there was this mess to clear up.

Erlan turned away in disgust as the twins reappeared in the byre doorway, their lanky frames stooping to clear the sagging lintel. Inside, the fire crackled as it went to work. Leikr still had a torch alight in his hand. He swung it over his shoulder onto the thatched roof.

‘Muttonhead,’ sniggered Adalrik.

‘What?’ his brother squawked.

‘It’s not going to burn in this weather, is it, dung-breath?’ Adalrik was right. Sheets of rain were slanting down

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