Sunday Book Highlight: The Serpent Sword by Matthew Harffy

The Serpent Sword Cover


Certain that his brother’s death is murder, young farmhand Beobrand embarks on a quest for revenge in war-torn Northumbria. When he witnesses barbaric acts at the hands of warriors he considers his friends, Beobrand questions his chosen path and vows to bring the men to justice.

Relentless in pursuit of his enemies, Beobrand faces challenges that change him irrevocably. Just as a great sword is forged by beating together rods of iron, so his adversities transform him from a farm boy to a man who stands strong in the clamour and gore of the shieldwall.

As he closes in on his kin’s slayer and the bodies begin to pile up, can Beobrand mete out the vengeance he craves without sacrificing his own honour…or even his soul?

The Serpent Sword is the first novel of the Bernicia Chronicles.

Book Excerpt:

THE MAN STOOD IN THE SHADOWS preparing for murder. He pulled his cloak about him, stretching muscles that had grown stiff from inactivity. It was cold and his breath steamed in the autumn night air. It was uncomfortable, but he would wait. His mind was made up. His suspicions had been aroused before, but now he knew the truth of it. He had followed them here, had seen them go inside together. Soft sounds of a woman’s laughter drifted from the stable. His jaw clenched. His hand gripped the antler hilt of his seax. Holding the knife reassured him. But he would not use it tonight. No. There would be no fight. No clash of metal. No battle glory.

No deeds for the scops to sing of.

Warriors’ acts were recounted by the bards in the flickering light of mead hall fires. There was no light here. It would be a secret death. In the darkness.

What he must do was clear. But none could ever know of what happened here tonight. His life would be forfeit should he be discovered.

Somewhere, off to the land-facing, westward side of the fortress, a dog barked, then all was still again. From the east, he could hear the distant rumble of waves hitting rocks far below.

On the palisade, some distance away, he could just make out the silhouette of a guard.

A cloud scudded in front of the moon. The all-seeing eye of Woden, father of the gods, was closed. On such a night the gods slept and a man’s actions could bend his wyrd to his own ends. A great man could seize what was rightfully his. His mother had once told him he would be a man to dethrone kings and topple kingdoms. Great men were not governed by common laws.

Clinging to that thought, he girded himself for what he was about to do.

He shivered and convinced himself it was because of the chill. He moved further into the shadows.

From the building came a new sound. The rhythmic gasps and cries of coupling. He recognised the sound of Elda in those guttural moans.

How could she be so fickle? He had offered her everything. By Woden, he would have made her his wife! To think she had spurned him and then opened her legs to that young upstart. The anger he felt at her rejection bubbled up inside him like bile.

And him! Octa. The man Elda was rutting with inside the stable. Octa had all a warrior could want. A ring-giving lord who looked upon him with favour. He had land and treasures. And of course, the sword. The sword that should never have been his. The blade was named Hrunting and had been a gift from their lord, King Edwin. He had bestowed it on the man he thought had saved his life in battle. But he had given it to the wrong man. The battle had been confused, the shieldwall had broken and the king had been surrounded by enemies. It appeared all was lost until one of the king’s warriors, one of his thegns, had rallied the men and turned the tide of the battle.

Afterwards, Edwin had given Hrunting to Octa. It was a sword fit for a king. The blade forged from twisted rods of iron. The metal shone with the pattern of rippling water, or the slick skin of a snake. The hilt was inlaid with fine bone and intricate carvings. All who had seen the weapon coveted it.

But the man who waited in the shadows knew it should have been his. It was he who had smitten the leader of their enemies. He who had led the men in the charge that brought victory.

He who was destined for greatness…


Matthew Harffy lived in Northumberland as a child and the area had a great impact on him. The rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline made it easy to imagine the past. Decades later, a documentary about Northumbria’s Golden Age sowed the kernel of an idea for a series of historical fiction novels. The first of them is the action-packed tale of vengeance and coming of age, THE SERPENT SWORD.

Matthew has worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. He has co-authored seven published academic articles, ranging in topic from the ecological impact of mining to the construction of a marble pipe organ.

Matthew lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

When not writing, or spending time with his family, Matthew sings in a band called Rock Dog.

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