Uhtred is an English boy of 9th century Northumbria, orphaned at ten, adopted by a Dane and taught the Viking ways. Yet Uhtred's fate is bound up with King Alfred, who rules over the last English kingdom, after the Danes overrun the other three. That war with its massacres, defeats, and betrayals is the background to Uhtred's childhood, and leaves him uncertain of his loyalties. After witnessing a slaughter, he joins the English side just as the Danes launch their fiercest attack yet. Marriage ties him further to Alfred's kingdom, but when his wife and child vanish during a Danish invasion, Uhtred is driven to face the greatest Viking chieftain in a battle beside the sea, and there he discovers his true allegiance.