Some comments on the previous novels in the series, posted by readers.

"Great series."

"This is a great book!"

"It is anything but dry... A great read."

"Fast pace. Lot's of action. Historically accurate. What more do you want?"

All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2020, by Bruce Corbett


This is a story that starts with the death of Edward, the son of Alfred the Great. A strong king, he had continued his father’s work and organized the kingdom of Wessex to counter the inroads of the ferocious Viking invaders who had conquered so much of the island. The story continues with his son, the king some historians consider to be the first Anglo-Saxon king to earn the title of king of all Britain.

It is historic fact that a coalition of Angles and Welshmen rose up in revolt over the new boundaries that Edward imposed on their area, and in their anger they forcibly occupied the city of Chester. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles report that Edward was subsequently wounded some eight miles south of Chester, at Fardon-on-Dee, and he eventually expired from his injuries. While the tale is based closely on historical facts where provided, many of the details that follow in this story are from my imagination.

One version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles states that while the Witan of Mercia selected Athelstan as king upon the death of Edward, the noblemen of Wessex rallied behind Edward’s second son, Elfweard. Another just states that, six weeks after the death of King Edward, Elfweard died, and Athelstan was selected to rule. Which story is true? I have no idea, but there is obviously a more complicated story here than is told so briefly in the Chronicles.

I really do not know if Elfweard was an incompetent fool or not, but it appears that Elfweard, his mother, and her family had a great deal of influence in Wessex, and she was reportedly bound and determined to see her son sit on the throne of the vastly expanded kingdom of Wessex. In this story, my old friends Ambrose and Polonius, tired and aged as they are, are thrown into the middle of the brutal political and dynastic struggle.

Soon after ascending the throne, King Athelstan married one of his sisters to Sihtric Caech, king of Jorvik (Northumberland). The name of this sister is uncertain. One document I consulted said it was Eadgyth, but another listed her as being the sister sent to marry the ruler of Saxony, and yet a third suggested it might have been Edith. In any case, when King Sihtric died unexpectedly the following year, Athelstan took the opportunity to seize the northern Viking-controlled kingdom. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles report that the Viking king and heir apparent of Jorvik, Guthfrith of Dublin, set out to forcibly seize the Jorvik throne, but was driven away by the West Saxons. There are no further details. The sea battle in this story is plausible, but it has no basis in known historical fact.

Alfred the Thane did exist, and was apparently involved in a scheme to blind King Athelstan, but the Chronicles are unclear as to exactly who he was or when the incident occurred. For dramatic purposes, I moved it to AD 933, the year Atheling Edwin drowned at sea. There are a few historical hints that Edwin may have been involved at this time in another attempt by his family to seize the throne.
There is one story I came across that suggests Edwin was given a decrepit boat that was incapable of crossing the channel. His body was apparently recovered along the coast of France, and he was buried there. A variation of this story is the one that I decided to use.

In this story, Ambrose threatened a Trial by Combat. Although Ambrose would have been exposed to such events (It was a Germanic tradition and I have often referred to the Viking holmgang elsewhere in this series), but it was not part of the law in England until after the Norman Conquest.

While the word ‘Viking’ actually means to go on an overseas expedition, I use it in a very general sense in this story to loosely label any Danes, Swedes or Norwegians (Norse). You are about to read the story of a very important part of British history that is not well known. Athelstan becomes the first Anglo-Saxon king to completely dominate all of Britain, including the north.
The conflicts with Alba (Scotland) were very real, and Athelstan did invade in 934. I chose a plausible reason, but could not actually find a definitive reason for the attack.

The Battle of Brunanburh is arguably one of the greatest battles in Anglo-Saxon history. There seems to be no consensus as to where the battle took place. One article I found mentions the Humber River, and another states it was near Chester. I used my prerogative as author and arbitrarily chose the latter location.
Historian Michael Livingston wrote “it would be no small stretch to consider the battle the moment when Englishness came of age . . . making the Battle at Brunanburh one of the most significant battles in the long history not just of England but of the whole of the British Isles.” For the first time in history, a single Anglo-Saxon king was recognized as either direct ruler or over-king of all the territory stretching from the southern coast to northern Scotland.

As always, I have attempted to separate facts from fiction in the Timeline (Appendix III). Individual words in italics generally have a special meaning and the details may be found in Appendix II.

I hope that you enjoy the story!

The author,
Bruce Corbett


Rebellion in Mercia

Prince Ambrose shaded his eyes against the sun and watched hundreds of warriors approach along the road. At last he could make out the royal dragon on the approaching banner, and he sighed with relief. The banner meant that his nephew, lord king of Wessex and Mercia, had finally caught up with the vanguard of his fast-moving Saxon army. King Edward rode directly to the slight rise where Ambrose stood beside his horse. When Edward slipped off of his own horse and began to climb to where Ambrose stood, the king’s personal guardsmen quickly dismounted and fanned out in a defensive formation.

Prince Ambrose smiled and hugged the king in a tight grip that belied his age. “Welcome, Sire!”

The king smiled at his aged uncle and then spoke. “Well? Have you caught up with the slippery bastards yet?”

Ambrose replied. “If you look through the opening in the trees to the right, King, you can just see the tun of Chester. That is our target and our challenge. The rebels have gone to ground within the ancient fortress.”

“Ambrose, I am happy to peek through the bushes if that is what you want, but why do we not just boldly ride directly to Chester? I am not afraid to let the rebel scum know that my army and that of my greatest general, accompanied by the greatest wizard in all the land, are outside their walls. It might help to put the fear of God into them!”

“Because, my king, I would prefer that they do not see us quite yet. The entire strategy of your wizard and your greatest general hinges on the enemy not knowing how many of us have arrived.”

The king stared in silence for some time. “You know, Ambrose, it was not so many years ago that you were on those battlements over there, looking out at Ingimund and his damned army of Norsemen.”

Ambrose nodded. “Aye, and many of those Mercians presently manning those walls were on our side then.”

The king sighed “Uncle, there is no one in all Britain who is sorrier than I that our cousins have risen in armed rebellion. Christians should not have to kill Christians. There are more than enough hostile pagans to go around.”

Ambrose just nodded silently, and the two men stared for long minutes at the distant stone walls of Chester. They were ancient, but still sturdy, built by the old Romans when they ruled Britain and most of the known world. At last Ambrose turned to his king and gave voice to his thoughts.
“Personally, King, I think that Chester is going to be a tough nut to crack. If the enemy numbers as reported by our scouts are to be believed, then we don’t have enough men for a full frontal assault.”

“Then let’s challenge them to come out and meet us!”

Ambrose sighed. “Edward, the rebels would be fools to abandon the protection of Chester’s walls. If were in their place and fa

ced a clearly superior force, nothing would pry me out of the safety of that tun.”
King Edward sighed in turn and then replied. “Not words that I want to hear, Uncle. If you are right, then we will be forced to call up a lot more men before we could launch what Polonius’s old friend Sun Tzu so strongly advised against - a long and bloody siege. Such an action is not my first choice, but we cannot leave Mercian rebels and traitor Welshmen in control of one of my major tuns - certainly not one as well-fortified and strategically placed as Chester.”

“We, Edward?”

The king smiled at his uncle. “All right, you and Polonius. I have ridden far to bring you reinforcements and your siege equipment. I will stay with you for as long as I can, but the Danes in the north and east are still restless, and I want to put on a show of force in their territory before they get any treasonous ideas. Now, what was I saying? Oh, yes - if these rebels here are not dealt with firmly, then I fear that we can expect mutiny throughout all the conquered territories! Many former enemies will be watching and reporting what we do here.”

Ambrose spoke. “Then you want us to vigorously pursue a siege?”

“Only as a last resort, but the matter must be resolved one way or the other.”

“Forgive me for asking, Edward, but who is in charge of the siege?”

“You are right to ask, Uncle. Polonius taught me long ago that there should always be a clear delineation of the command structure. I will stay for as long as I can, but I have given you and Polonius full authority to do whatever is necessary to end this mutiny. I am comforted that I have officially turned over command here to the two most capable commanders in all Britain! I am hoping and praying that you and Polonius can find an easy way to settle this damned rebellion without an excess of bloodshed.”

Elfweard, the king’s second son, had caught up with his father and had been waiting impatiently for his father to finish the conversation. Suddenly, he spoke up. “Father, enough of this old man’s caution! Give me the command and I will have the rebel heads piled in front of you within a seven-night!”

Edward snapped at his son. “Boy, if you would learn to shut your mouth and listen to your elders, just once, you might actually learn something! You are in the presence of the greatest military engineer and the greatest general in all Britain, and you, a young and unblooded puppy, have the balls to think that you can teach them how to run a siege?”

Polonius, Ambrose’s lifelong companion, Byzantine scholar, advisor and chief spymaster to Wessex, turned to King Edward. “Sire, I have been trying to figure out some solution that obviates the need for a protracted siege. There is little doubt that we would win it, but it would tie down a large portion of your army for a long time, and it is likely to be very costly in terms of casualties. Moreover, as my ‘old friend’ Sun Tzu taught so many centuries ago, we would need a lot more men if we have to go over, under, or through those walls.”

Edward nodded. “Wizard, You know that I am always interested in minimizing casualties. Sometimes I lie awake at night thinking of how many good and loyal men have gone to their Maker because they obeyed my orders. One of the reasons I assigned the siege to you and Ambrose is because you so often come up with ingenious solutions that saves lives. Just what magic do you have in mind this time?”

“I was hoping, my king, that we might be able to tempt the rebels out of the tun by dangling a small weak force in front of them. If we look vulnerable enough, they just might decide they want to crush us in a single battle, shield-wall to shield-wall.”

“So that’s why my uncle here wanted to keep me and my reinforcements out of sight of the city walls.”

Polonius smiled. “Correct, my king!”

Edward continued. “Do you think that there is any chance of them falling for it?”
“Sire, no sane man wants to be trapped in a tun during a protracted siege, and certainly not when they face the array of siege equipment you have brought. It is the attackers who face the specter of long casualty lists, but the defenders must deal with starvation, disease, fire, giant rocks and other miscellaneous objects flying overhead, and, in the end, angry warriors who are in no mood to exhibit Christian mercy when the tun finally does fall.”

Edward looked at his faithful advisor and sighed again. “Many of those warriors on the walls fought in our ranks for years, my learned friend. I fear that they know your tricks all too well. I can’t tell you how infuriating it is to me that, after conquering most of the island, we now find ourselves fighting our own formerly loyal and faithful subjects!”

“Forgive a humble Byzantine for speaking bluntly, Sire, but I warned you of the consequences of arbitrarily redrawing the shire boundaries without due consultation. To you it was just some new lines on a map, but those lines you drew sundered properties and changed centuries of traditions and perceived rights. People become attached to the way things are and change can be very frightening to them.”

King Edward’s face reddened. “So frightening that they rise against their lawful king and risk their property, their lives and the well-being of their entire families?”

“Two of your closest allies have risen, Sire, and, so far, they appear to be willing to fight to the death. I think that those two facts alone sufficiently answers your question.”

The king looked even more annoyed. “By the many-colored coat of Joseph! You know as well as I that the kingdom of Wessex has tripled in size in less than twenty years, Wizard! Instead of huddling precariously along the southern coast, our greater Wessex now stretches as far north as the Humber River, and our influence stretches far beyond that! There are going to have to be many more changes to boundaries before we complete the reorganization of all Britain!”

“But what we see here, Sire, are the results of a quick decision, made without adequate consultation with your subjects.”

“I am king, Byzantine! All of the land belongs to me, and it is my right to divide the land any damn way I please!”

“And it is the right of your subjects to protest, Sire. These men need not have become your enemies. Forgive me for saying it, but they would not be, unless they had felt driven to open rebellion by someone who they thought would not listen to their concerns.”

Edward sighed. “Then you are telling me that this rebellion is my fault?”

A smile flickered across Polonius’ face. “A Byzantine never likes to use a single word when he can obfuscate the answer with a hundred, but if you insist on a simple answer, Sire, then the word I must use is ‘yes’.”

The king’s face grew red again. “You are speaking to your king, Polonius!”

“Who has told me many times that I must always tell him the unadorned truth or at least give my honest opinion. I humbly obey. I have never broken that promise to you, Sire.”

Edward suddenly calmed. “Aye, I did say that to you, didn’t I?”
“Yes, Sire. Many times.”

“Then don’t ever let me ever catch you saying words just to flatter my delicate ego or placate my somewhat volatile temper, Wizard! Much as I sometimes dislike hearing critical comments, a wise king wants, and need, complete honesty from his most trusted advisors.’

The king put his arm on his advisor’s shoulder. ‘The truth is - you and Ambrose are the only ones in all Britain who dare tell me the unadorned truth as you see it. My world is full of sycophants who will lie through their teeth to mollify, placate or flatter me. Sometimes even a king needs to hear the unvarnished truth - no, especially a king!

You know, Polonius, I remember once when we were sitting around our campfire one night on a campaign long ago, you told me a story of slaves who rode in the chariots of Roman generals when they were given a triumph after a great military victory. I think I understand now why the ancient Romans insisted that the slave had to sit in the chariot and quietly remind the conquering general of his mortality during his public triumph. Great power and adulation is highly addictive, and it can be terribly corrupting.”

Polonius smiled again. “I fear you will not get much adulation from the good residents of Chester today, Sire. They are in open rebellion and they want your blood - or, perhaps, just the chance to be listened to.”

Edward turned suddenly to Ambrose. “Uncle, what is your honest opinion? Do you think that this rebellion is my fault?”

Ambrose thought for a few moments before he spoke. “Some of Ingimund’s Norsemen who Polonius and I drove out of the Wirral some years ago have quietly returned to resettle on their old land, and they have been joined by Danes from all over the island seeking unoccupied land to farm. I would have expected both of these groups to make trouble, whatever we did. The fact that they joined in common cause with the local Angles and some of the Welsh from across the border, however, indicates to me that the people here were pushed too far. As you say, many of those warriors manning the walls over there fought bravely at the siege of Chester, and they are good men.”

Edward went red again. “Then it is my fault?”

“Nephew, a series of meetings with the local leaders would probably have come up with suggestions quite similar to what you imposed. The Mercians have been rather sensitive to perceived insults since you told them that you were adding their throne to your own and making their country part of a greater Wessex. The Welsh are always upset at our influence over their internal affairs, and you know that it is the custom of both the Norse and the Danes to hold meetings to decide policy - what they call their ‘thing’.”

Edward sputtered. “Meetings! Do you know the effort and length of time it would have taken to get all these groups to reach a consensus? Bah! The councils you visualize would argue for nights and weeks, and even then they would never reach consensus!”

Ambrose nodded. “You may be right, Sire. Then, and only then, they would have reluctantly accepted their king’s decision on any unresolved issue.”

“Then it would be no different from now, when I simply impose new boundaries!”

Polonius spoke. “That is your perception, Sire, but I fear that the people here see a great difference - instead of reluctant agreement, you h

ave once-loyal men who have felt the need to rise in open and armed rebellion!”
Edward sighed. “Damn it, Polonius, I hate it when you and Ambrose gang up on me - especially when I fear that you are right!’

The king took a deep breath and consciously attempted to control his infamous temper. ‘So what do we do now, Wizard?”

“First we get out of here, King, before some rebel scout spots your men and undoes my plans. We should retreat to the marching fort our men are constructing even as we speak, and then I want to double our sentries between here and there.”

Edward couldn’t help but smile. “What do we do about the rebels, Wizard, about the rebels?”

“We have few choices left, Sire. We can try talking with them. For that to work, I need to know how much you are willing to forgive. If negotiating doesn’t work, then we have only one remaining option - we crush the rebellion. As you said, there are a large number of unhappy new subjects to the north and east in the new lands coming to be called the Danelaw, and, as you said, they are watching to see how you handle armed insurrection. Still, Christian mercy is never unwelcome,”
“You mean let these rebels get away with their mutiny!”

“You want loyal and trustworthy men, Sire. Honey attracts more flies than vinegar. If we could find a middle ground that would satisfy both sides, I think that would be a greater victory than enslaving or massacring once-loyal subjects and leaving a legacy of hate amongst a brave people who fought valiantly at our side for years. I have no doubt that they would prefer even now to be our friends. The hatred we could generate in the next few weeks through ruthless suppression would take generations to dissipate.”

“Damn it, Wizard, I understand what you are saying, but I cannot and will not tolerate open rebellion, though I must admit, in my hearts of hearts, I have no wish to ruthlessly slaughter my own subjects.”

“Then, Sire . . .”

“I know! I know! Look before I leap!”

In spite of himself, Polonius grinned. “Sire, I wasn’t going to say that!”

“Well, you would have been right if you had. What did you wish to say?”

“Mercy is a noble Christian virtue, my king, and in this case, it just might bring a lasting peace to this corner of your empire and, not incidently, allow us to get on with the real fight.”


Polonius’ Plan

The king looked in turn at his uncle, his spymaster, their two boys - Apion and Edgar, and his own two sons, Elfweard and Athelstan. At last he spoke. “Wizard, I have been pondering on what you said earlier. You said that you have a plan to win a cheap victory?”

“If it comes to battle, Sire, I have some ideas, but there is no guarantee that they will work. As you said before, most of the Mercian warriors in Chester have fought in our ranks and are very familiar with my more devious strategies.”

“Polonius, I have put you and my favorite uncle here in charge of this siege. Just think of me as a simple observer. If your plan doesn’t work, then you are back to battering down the walls, and we both know the cost in blood of that kind of attack, even with your Pernicious Fire and your magnificent Byzantine siege engines. What did you have in mind?”

Polonius answered. “Sire, the main problem is the sturdy walls of Chester. My thought was to leave fully half of our force here, in this marching fort, with instructions to follow first thing on the second morning - just as soon as there is sufficient light to travel by. The rest of us move close to the tun and set up another marching fort, but within sight of Chester.

Come that second morning, our small but brave force, camped within sight of the ancient city, rides out and forms our shield-wall in front of the east wall of Chester. Even as we form up, our heavy siege engine pieces start to arrive, are dragged into place, unloaded, and their crews begin to set them up.”

King Edward interrupted. “Wizard, if we only take half of our force and try to cover the length of the entire eastern wall of Chester, then you will barely have enough warriors to form a shield-wall consisting of a single line of men. That is a pretty thin protective barrier for our very valuable onagers and scorpions.”

“Exactly my thought, Sire. I am hoping that the rebels think the same way. I am praying that they might even decide to gamble on a sudden and overwhelming attack. After all, if we lose our siege equipment, then Chester is all but impregnable, at least for the few weeks it would take for our blacksmiths and carpenters to cobble together new machines and for our ealdormen to raise new troops.”

Edward pursed his lips. “I did hear you say that the rebels would be facing only half our men.”

“Yes, Sire, but it is vital that they don’t know that. As you have already astutely noted, that’s why we were so eager to keep you and your men from being spotted when we were scouting out Chester. The rest of our force leaves here before dawn of the second day, and they move by forced march. It is essential that we do not form our shield-wall until the new men secretly arrive and are safely ensconced in the shelter of the forest.”

“And then what happens?”

Polonius stroked his thin beard. “Maybe nothing, but if the rebels fall for it, they will come out and match our formation. If I were them and had sufficient men, I would form my own shield-wall, stretching the line out as much as I could so that the dastardly West Saxons - us - have no reserve available. Then, once the two shield-walls are committed and about to engage, I would use my superior numbers to launch a sudden column of attackers in a boar’s-snout formation. We - the West Saxons - would not have the reserves to stop them, and success in breaking our line would give the rebels the ability to both split our formation in two, with all its implications, and, not incidently, get directly at the scorpions and onagers.”

“Sire, as far as they would know once their scouts have counted our fyrdmen entering our soon-to-be-built nearby marching fort, they have a considerable numerical advantage, and, if their boar’s-snout succeeds in punching through our shield-wall, then we are routed, whatever the numbers of warriors who compose our line.

You have stood many times in the shield-wall, my king, and you know that no shield-wall can hold when a large force of enemy warriors manages to get behind or through it. Besides, the rebels know that if we somehow manage to break their line, then they always have the option of running for the shelter of their walls. Even relatively small numbers of archers and spear-throwers on the walls could decimate any force of ours that is foolish enough to approach too closely.”

“Then just how do we turn this to our advantage? At the moment I am visualizing our shield-wall shattering and our very valuable siege weapons burned or seized.”

“Except, my king, that we still have almost half of our men nearby, hidden and uncommitted. As the rebels commit themselves to a shield-wall, our two groups of archers and swordsmen break from the shelter of the forest and reinforce the thin line where needed. If the rebels then send the rest of their men out in a boar’s-snout formation, they will be tightly-packed, and the fire from the Welsh archers in our ranks, in particular, should be devastating. Almost every arrow would strike home, and at that range, the bodkin tips would have the power to penetrate shields and armor.”

“And the rest of the men in hiding?”

“They break from the forest on our signal, and, mounted on their horses and armed with Polonius’ pig-stickers, they attempt to swoop in and attack both flanks at the same time.”

“And who do you see leading them? Their role and timing will be crucial.”

“I would propose your two sons, Sire - Athelstan and Elfweard. Elfweard seems keen to show us his fighting prowess, and Athelstan has already proven himself over and over as a capable commander.”

“And if the rebels manage to stay in their boar’s-snout or swing part of their shield-wall enough to block a breakthrough?”

“I am hoping that the archers can prevent such disciplined maneuvering, but if the rebels manage to pull it off, then our horsemen dismount and simply support the shield-wall. We would at least be fighting the rebels outside the walls. We should outnumber them by a considerable margin, and the arrows would keep coming. I don’t have a thousand loaded camels, but I did bring several wagon-loads of extra arrows.”

The king thought for a minute before speaking. “Wizard, do you think that it could really work?”

“As you said, Sire, timing is everything.”

“What are you thinking?”

“Our second force must arrive in time to join the battle, but too late to be spotted by the enemy scouts. The swordsmen and archers must arrive in time to prevent the collapse of our shield-wall. Most important, the riders must arrive when the rebels are in sufficient disarray that two forces of fifty-odd horsemen apiece can finish the task of shattering their broken formation.”

Edward nodded. “I think that, if they fall for it, then we could save months of drudgery while we dig endless ditches and then tear down the tun walls stone by stone. The ancient Romans built well! I put you and Ambrose in charge of this siege, but if you want the thoughts of a humble former student of yours, then know that I heartily approve.”


The Parley

The long column of West Saxon men and equipment snaked slowly out of the shelter of the newly-built West Saxon marching fort and moved obliquely toward the ancient Roman tun of Chester. In response, dozens of distant horns sounded, and hundreds of helmeted heads popped up all along the battlements of the ancient fort.

The West Saxon and allied fyrdmen proceeded to march in column to just out-of-range of the archers on the walls. Then, moving parallel to the wall, they slowly formed their traditional shield-wall, though it was stretched so far that it was composed of only a single line of warriors. Even as the flimsy line formed, teams of men, mules and oxen came into sight, dragging the heavy weapons of war into place. As soon as the West Saxon shield-wall was complete, King Edward, Prince Ambrose, and a small escort, led by a thane carrying a white-painted shield, rode to within an easy bow shot of the eastern gate. The heavy gate swung open just enough to allow a trio of riders to exit the tun. A Dane, a Welshman and an Angle rode forward to meet the self-styled king of Britain and his escort.

Apion and Polonius moved forward and flanked their king. Neither looked deadly, nor were they even armed with sword or spear, but with their unique skills with the flying saxes, they could quickly kill anyone close if there was any hint of treachery.

The Angle thane reined in his mount as he neared, and he spoke. “I see you, King!”

Edward all but growled. “And I see you, Thane Wulfnod! I see an oath-breaker and a traitor! It is something that I might have expected from your two companions, but not from an Angle thane!”

Wulfnod spoke angrily. “And for that, you only have yourself to blame, Edward the Stubborn! Your cursed lines carelessly scrawled across some parchment in Winchester ripped apart farms and entire shires! For twenty years we answered first your sisters’ summonses, and then yours. During all that time we were sworn men. We fought faithfully at your side, and, under the command of either you or one of your minions, we were maimed or died by the hundreds! Together, as partners, we conquered most of Britain! Then, with no consultation and less thought, your faithful Mercian thanes and ealdormen found their territories arbitrarily stripped of choice land and water rights. Many of us found ourselves displaced from land that we and our families had held for generations. In the name of Almighty God, why would you be surprised that we rise up in protest?”

Edward replied. “I think that you misunderstand my intentions, Thane. My plan is to make any loyal subjects’ holdings larger, not shrink them! To do that, I had to move some of the landholders to larger holdings, but sometimes the new holdings were at some distance from the original land.

Thane, my kingdom has tripled in size in just a few years, and there are vast unoccupied territories where raiders killed or drove out thousands of families - Norse, Danish, Angle and old British alike. I need to reassign these vast territories to men whom I can trust - to the men who now rule in my name. My only thought was to reward those who had followed me so faithfully, though in some cases it involved a move. Now, however, I have a problem. I simply can’t ignore sworn warriors who have broken a sacred oath to me and risen in rebellion.”

Thane Wulfnod interrupted. “I thought that you were a man of honor, king of the West Saxons. What about your oath to provide land and be a gold ring-giver to your followers? You suddenly tell me that we were going to receive vast new tracts of land to rule, but it is the first I have ever heard of it. Why were we not told this before now? Why were we not consulted about where the new lines should go? Why did you not let us decide between ourselves who would move to a distant holding, or ask for volunteers? I know you to be an honest and God-fearing man, but the news is shocking and the timing of your statement is just too convenient.”

Edward replied angrily. “Perhaps you could have shown a little trust in the man who has led you in an endless string of victories. As you said, between us we have conquered virtually all Britain!’

The king was going red in the face, and he paused to take several deep breaths before he continued in a different tone. ‘Thane, I have been convinced by my advisors to offer Christian charity to men who have long fought faithfully at my side. I will make an offer from the heart, just once, to you and your companions.”

“Speak, King. We are here to listen to your words.”

“If the rebels within Chester surrender their weapons and turn over their leaders, then I will allow all of the warriors to go home peacefully, and, I will agree to accept recommendations from a land-grant council set up in the disputed territories.”

The thane sneered. “First, king, I would point out to you that to ask honorable men to give up their weapons hardly helps to engender trust between us! Without weapons, how can we fight for you when called upon, as is our duty? I also note, King, that you mentioned only the warriors. You expect the men, who at this point are going to have considerable trouble trusting you, to voluntarily give up their weapons. Just what, then, do the leaders give up?”

Edward face was red and he spoke harshly.“I will decide that when they are all standing before me. There must be some consequences for treason, Thane. I have been betrayed and someone must pay a price for it!”

“And if we all refuse your ‘generous’ offer?”

“There is only one answer for traitors who have been offered Christian charity, offered the chance for consultation, and yet still refuse to submit to their king. Death or slavery to all within.”

“You would kill good men who spent years fighting loyally in your shield-wall and have shed their blood for you time and again?”

“I thought I had just made it clear that I have no wish to kill loyal subjects, and I can accept that some good men were led astray. I will deal separately, however, with any leaders who have broken a sacred oath before God, convinced others to rebel against me, and then raised their swords against me. Even the most forgiving Christian king can do no less if he wishes to remain a king.”

Thane Wulfnod snarled. “Son of good king Alfred, I thought for a few moments that you had actually listened to your subjects and were prepared to offer a peaceful solution. I do not have to confer with my companions. I can tell you now - your terms are unacceptable and an insult to my fellow commanders! It is you who will lose your life at our hands! I swear before Almighty God that you will rue this day!”

So speaking, he turned his horse and the three envoys galloped back toward the tun of Chester.As the West Saxons watched the rebel leaders ride back toward the old tun. Ambrose tapped his king’s arm. Edward turned in surprise and spoke.

“It seems you want your king’s attention, favorite-uncle-of-mine. Well, you have it. What did I do wrong?”

“Edward, we were just a few words away from a fair compromise and a peaceful resolution to the problem. Your intransigence on the fate of the leaders, however, has now pretty much ensured that we must fight! You just told the main leaders of the rebellion that you would condemn them to a punishment, which they would interpret as a death sentence.”

“I said I wanted them handed over for punishment. I did not say what I would do to them, and no one mentioned death!”

“Sire, you know as well as I that death is the usual punishment for treason. King Alfred himself decreed death for treason in his Dooms. The rebel leaders may have jumped to conclusions, but their conclusions are not unreasonable, and the implied threat of execution is hardly an incentive for those men to return and convince their followers to stand down. Personally, if I was a rebel leader, I would much rather go down fighting than have a noose put around my neck and be strung up in some tree to slowly strangle to death.”

“Then you are saying that I should have just ignored their affront to my royal dignity?”

Ambrose sighed. “How many good fyrdmen is your pride worth, Nephew? These are men who were driven to rebel in order to protest your, from their perception, somewhat high-handed treatment of them and their rights. With a few simple promises from you, they would have likely returned to the fold.”

The king appeared angry and sat his horse in silence. When he spoke, however, it was in a contrite tone. “May God forgive me, but I fear that I allowed my temper to color my statements. Our Byzantine advisor, sitting so quietly at your side, has often told me that I make rash statements when I am angry. Advisor, how can I unsay what I just told the rebel leaders?”

Polonius sighed. “I fear that you cannot, Sire. You can, however, learn from your mistake. Phillip once went and slit the throats of a dozen hostages because Ambrose told the enemy commander that that would be the hostages’ fate if he dared to attack. The Viking ruler dared attack, and Phillip wanted to both save Ambrose, then a young and unseasoned boy, the need to order their deaths personally, and, perhaps, also to teach Ambrose a lesson - ‘do not say what you do not mean’.”
Ambrose nodded. “It is a lesson I have never forgotten.”

Edward sighed. “Then we fight. I swear before God that that was not my wish or intention! Perhaps we can call out the leaders again and clarify . . .”
As the rebel leaders neared the tun gates, they swung fully open, and a horde of warriors on foot dashed out with weapons drawn. The column of rebel warriors quickly spread out along the protection of their stone wall and transformed into a shield-wall that was both longer and composed of more ranks than that of King Edward’s shield-wall. Once formed, the lines left the shelter of the tun walls and began a slow but steady advance. Almost before the rebel shield-wall was in place, a second force of screaming warriors erupted from the gate and charged forward in a boar’s-snout formation. Screaming war cries and pounding swords or axes against shields, they were a terrifying sight as they charged through their own line and thrust up against the pitifully thin line of West Saxon warriors.

Edward, not far from the center of the line, saw and spoke. “Well Polonius, it seems that they fell for your plan. Now all we have to do is to survive until support comes!”

Polonius yelled to be heard over the din. “First we must send for it, Sire!’ He turned to the three men with horns who stood close behind him. ‘Two long blasts - now!”
The mournful sound of the three horns, blown in unison, could be heard even over the cacophony of noise the rebel warriors were making. At the sound of the horns, two formations, each composed of several hundred archers and swordsmen, broke from the forest. The swordsmen ran to support and strengthen the thin West Saxon shield-wall where it was threatened by the surging boar’s-snout, while the archers formed their own lines behind the shield-wall and nocked arrows to strings. Within seconds, a blizzard of arrows began to arc into the oncoming boar’s-snout of rebel warriors. Closely packed, the rebel fyrdmen could do little to avoid the rain of death, but they stoically absorbed the casualties and kept advancing.

Ambrose carefully watched the battle unfolding. With all the reinforcements, the attacking boar’s-snout of rebel warriors was gradually being brought to a halt, while King Edward’s deadly archers continued to harvest brave rebel warriors.
Polonius called out to his closest friend. “Prince, the rebel column is struggling to advance, but their shield-wall does not yet look ready to break. Shall we see how they handle simultaneous attacks on each flank?”

Ambrose nodded. “They seem to be struggling to hold our superior numbers. Two good hammer blows just might shatter the line!”

Polonius smiled as he turned to the signalers. ‘I will call for the horsemen, Prince . . . three long blasts - now!”

The mournful sounds brought two separate mounted forces out of the forest. Athelstan’s force rode at a hard gallop toward the northern end of the rebel shield-wall. Elfweard’s force exited the forest, but then inexplicably halted.
Edward turned to Polonius and Ambrose. “What is the boy waiting for? The archers and the infantry by themselves are not enough! The rebels are disheartened, but they still need the hammer blow of both squads of horsemen before they will panic and break ranks.

The boar’s-snout is still struggling to move forward. Only a large force attacking the flanks and rear is going to bring its advance to a complete halt! If Elfweard has the brains God gave to squirrels, he would know that now is the time for the hammer blow of all his horsemen!”

Polonius turned to his signalers again. “Repeat the three blasts - now!”

The urgent summons echoed once again across the battlefield, and this time there was a spontaneous surge of horsemen from Elfweard’s force. The fyrdmen, their duty clear, whipped their horses into a gallop, actually leaving behind their erstwhile leader.

The West Saxon shield-wall bent under the onslaught of crushing numbers of enemy warriors in the boar’s-snout, but the hundreds of fresh swordsmen had reinforced the crumbling West Saxon shield-wall, and arrow after arrow continued to fly at the struggling rebels. Large numbers of rebel bodies began to litter the ground.

One of the formations of racing horsemen, supported by the blizzard of arrows from the archers, finally managed to slip behind the main rebel shield-wall, and the rebel formation began to crumble. The horsemen rode down the newly panicked rebel warriors at both ends of their formation and the fear quickly spread to the entire rebel force. The fighting boar’s-snout, absorbing hundreds of arrows a minute and threatened with the flood of fresh warriors, finally ground to a halt and then began to slowly retreat. Now the reinforced West Saxon shield-wall began a systematic advance. The remainder of the rebel warriors broke, and all who still lived raced for the safety of the walls and the open tun gate.

The West Saxon lancers, relatively few in number and helpless against a solid line of armed and determined men, were now able to tear into the panicked and running warriors. The weight of the horses and the length of the lances meant that individual rebel warriors not in a solid defensive formation stood little chance.

Hundreds died within minutes. Soon the savage battle was all but over.
Athelstan led his mounted force into the gaping maw of the gate, and they bravely fought to keep the gate open until a strong force of archers and fyrdmen was able to reinforce him and his exhausted riders. Several dozen West Saxon fyrdmen had died on the field of battle, but the tun of Chester was again in the hands of men loyal to King Edward.

The vanquished lay still or moaned from their grievous wounds. Some of the rebel warriors were thrown to the ground and restrained with short lengths of ropes, while the quicker or more cowardly ones made it over the western wall and into the forest.

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