The year is 1018 and the war with England is finally over, but the unified kingdom ruled by Cnut of Denmark is far from peaceful. Halfdan has lost everything to the war but his sense of humor. Once a proud nobleman, now he wanders the country aimlessly powered only by his considerable charm and some petty theft. When he finds an unlikely ally in Winston, a bookish former monk, the two set out together for Oxford, the seat of the new king.
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Halfdan and his master, Winston the Illuminator, are guests in a monastery when they’re awakened in the middle of the night and asked to solve a crime. A monk praying in the church has been brutally murdered, and his severed hand offers the first clue of a motive. As they investigate who could have committed such a heinous atrocity - and why - Halfdan and Winston must negotiate bitter rivalries within the monastery’s hierarchy, a sensitive class structure, and the tension between the new laws King Cnut has sworn to uphold and the codes of honor that precede them.
The crime-solving duo known as the King's Hounds - Halfdan and his master, Winston - are investigating a possible plot against King Cnut by onetime enemy-turned-ally Jarl Thorkell. Joined on the arduous journey by Winston's woman, Alfilda, and Atheling, his cranky mule, they venture to the markets in Thetford to gather information.