The first was The Last Kingdom (The Saxon Chronicles Series #1, by Bernard Cornwell.
The second was The Pale Horseman (The Saxon Chronicles Series #2), also by Bernard Cornwell.
This is historical fiction, set in 9th and 10th Century England. It is the story of King Alfred the Great and his defense of Wessex from Viking invasion. Several of the characters did, in fact, really exist. Ivar the Boneless, Ubba, Halfdan, Guthrum, Asser, Alfred and his nephew Athelwold, aldorman Odda and others. The main character, Uhtred, is fictional.
In the first book, Uhtred of Bebbanburg (Bamburgh Castle) is a young boy in Northumbria. When he is 10 he is captured by the Dane, Ragnar, in a battle in which Uhtred's father is killed. (The 'Danes' are not referred to as 'Vikings' in the book. Sometimes 'Northmen' or 'Pagans' are used. Viking is a verb that means 'raiding'.) He is raised by the Danes and looks to Ragnar as a father and truly Ragnar loves him as a son - unlike Uhtred's dead father who never showed love to his son while he was alive.
When Uhtred grows up he is not quite sure where his loyalty lies. Back and forth he goes a couple of times between King Alfred - who is not the most likeable fellow - and Ragnar's surviving son. Also called Ragnar. Uhtred has never forgotten his home in Bebbanburg and vows to have it back, but as a freeman, no gift from the Danes. I think it's his evil Uncle who took over in Bebbanburg and it appears that Uhtred will have to face this nasty man - and probably fight him - in order to take back his birthright one day. In any case - he's in the south now.
The second book starts after the battle in which Uhtred, fighting on the side of King Alfred, defeats Ubba Lothbrokson, a formidable foe. Many leaders in the North have submitted to the invading Danes and pledged loyalty to them in exchange for their lives and the illusion of being left in power. King Alfred has refused. Alfred is a skinny, weak and sickly man who does not like Uhtred but realizes in the end that the Uhtreds of the world are the ones who fight and win the battles. Uhtred refuses to give up his Pagan beliefs, much to Alfred's dismay. Anyhoo - Alfred and his family end up hiding in the swamps of Aethelingaeg. (Athelney near Taunton.) They have been driven there by the Danes and are in a desperate situation. Uhtred finds himself there with a British sorceress as his companion. He was pretty much forced into marriage with 'Mildrith' who has a young son by him. He has left them behind after tiring of the farming life - plus, it was time to go a'viking!
Alfred rallies in the swamp and decides to stay and fight even though others are trying to persuade him to get on a boat and get somewhere else, and fast! You have to give Alfred credit - weenie though he may appear, he had the stuff to gather the forces and make a stand. The book ends with the Battle of Ethandun (Edington, Wiltshire). The noble King and his strong, if unseemly, fighters win against all odds. Svein, the Dane on the white horse, and the Danish armies led by Guthrum and assembled against the Anglo-Saxons, are thoroughly routed.
The descriptions of the battles, behind the 'shield wall', are riveting and brutal. I am half tempted to draw my own weapon and go dancing in that space between 2 armies with Uhtred, taunting and tempting and threatening. The bloodlust is there, buried. Perhaps I have a few drops of the Danish blood in me. I am of Cornish and Irish descent, afterall. The Cornish were able to repel the 'Vikings' - but they made some good headway in Ireland.
I see now that there is a 3rd book in the Series: 'Lords of the North'. Perhaps Uhtred finally finds his way home. I'll be reading that next.
Would you like to go A'Viking with me?