Sequel to Harrison's tremendous alternate-world saga (The Hammer and the Cross, 1993) set in the turbulent northern Europe of the late ninth century. One-eyed Shef, ex-slave and ironsmith, now co-king of England with Alfred of Wessex, seeks peace, stability, and wealth for his people. But, though the ranks of Shef's followers--enlightened priests, brilliant inventors, fearsome warriors, doughty sea-captains--continue to swell, the marauding Danes pose a dreadful threat to his dreams. And soon, after a naval battle off the Frisian islands with his sworn enemies, the Ragnarsson brothers, Shef is tricked into running his ship aground. He flees across the sandbanks and marshes to Hedeby, whose king, recognizing Shef, sells him to the priest of the Way in distant Norway. The Way's leaders are divided over whether Shef is the messianic leader they seek. So, as a test of his luck, they arrange for Queen Ragnhild to first beguile, then betray him; but here, as in further adventures among furry trolls (Neanderthals?), hostile Finns, and bloodthirsty Swedes, Shef proves his ability not only to survive but to persuade his antagonists to support his cause. In Germany, meanwhile, the Christians seek a powerful holy relic behind which to unite the tribes and renew Charlemagne's Holy Roman Empire. More pounding, evocative history as it might have been, into which--notwithstanding the unabashedly contrived plotting--Harrison has poured his heart and soul.