Here are some comments on other books in the series.

"I love this series."

"I have been following the entire series of books, one better than the other. Good development of characters."

"5 out of 5 stars. I love this series."

"Terrific concept and plot."



(#9 in the Ambrose series)

By Bruce Corbett

Copyright © 2012, by Bruce Corbett.

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This is the ninth book in the Ambrose historical adventure series and the third

dealing specifically with King Alfred. In this novel, an alliance of Viking leaders

threatens the very existence of Wessex as the Danes invade in unheard of numbers.

The more I read about Alfred the Great, the more impressed I am with his foresight.

His innovations in Wessex prevented the Danes from conquering the last Anglo-Saxon

kingdom in Britain. In his lifetime, he went from hiding in a swamp to being hailed

as Bretwalda - over-king - of most of England. His military reforms meant that never

again were the Danes able to land and ravage more-or-less at will. His son,

introduced here, inherited a kingdom with burhs, military strong points within a

day's walk for most of the inhabitants, with both a summer and winter army, and

with permanent garrisons assigned to defend the women, children, and food

supplies, leaving the rest of the king's sworn men, the fyrdmen, free to march where


His fleets sailed the coastal waters, and river forts stopped the Vikings from

sailing up many of the rivers that had once been highways for their sleek ships.

The titles of this and the two previous books have changed, since the main focus in

these three novels is on Alfred the Great, though Ambrose, Polonius and Phillip will

continue to play a major part in the war against the pagan Danes.


Some years before this story begins, in 876 A.D., King Guthrum of the Danes invaded

the Anglo-Saxon country of Wessex. Trapped at the town of Wareham by Alfred the

Great and his West Saxon army, the Viking agreed to a truce, but, instead, slipped

out and retreated to Exeter. After a Viking fleet was destroyed in a storm, Guthrum

was forced to sue for peace and retreated to East Anglia, a country that he and his r

avaging Vikings had already conquered.

Just before Christmas 877, Alfred, whose army was disbanded for the winter, was

caught by surprise by a second invasion of Guthrum's army. The Saxon king was

forced into hiding in the forest of Selwood. Eventually he found his way to Athelney,

an island surrounded by marshes. From there, he organized a secret gathering of his

fighting men. Meantime, to the west, one of his ealdormen, Odda, destroyed a

second Viking army newly arrived from Wales and led by Ubbi Ragnarsson.

A single major defeat could mean the end of Saxon Wessex. All of the Angle, Saxon

and Jute kingdoms north of the Thames were reeling or had already fallen under the

Viking onslaught. Alfred's army managed to gather in May, however, and they

confronted the Vikings at Edington. Alfred was victorious and the Vikings fled to

Chippenham. After a two week siege there, Guthrum agreed to be baptized and

signed a peace treaty with Alfred. Wessex was saved. This story is told in Alfred the

Great; Viking Invasion.

In 885, Wessex was threatened by a new enemy. Another Viking army, fresh from

France, landed in Kent and besieged the town of Rochester. This is where Alfred the

Great; King's Revenge, begins. Guthrum and his powerful army were bound by

treaty to stay out of the fight, but his men were ever hungry for more land and

adventure. The territory north of the Thames River belonged to Guthrum. If the

Viking king joined his forces with the Danes from France, Wessex may have been

finally overwhelmed. Alfred arrived with his army before the city fell, and the

combined Saxon forces routed the Vikings, who fled precipitously, even leaving

behind their entire horse herd.

In this story, Alfred the Great; Young Edward, a Viking alliance brings an

unprecedented number of Viking warriors into Wessex. Again and again, Haesten, a

pirate leader, invades Wessex. Again and again, he pillages, is eventually cornered

and besieged, and then manages to break free and retreat to safe territory.

I found this portion of Alfred's story very difficult to write. All of my stories, though

fiction, are as close to historically accurate as I can make them. I actually enjoy

doing the research as much as the creative writing.

I faithfully read the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, and the story was both very sketchy and

far from clear. I turned to three different expert interpretations of the Chronicles,

only to find each had interpreted the same data quite differently! At last, I took the

novelist's way out. Since there are serious differences in my sources, I just picked

the parts I liked best, and where the Chronicles were silent, I invented plausible

facts to make the story flow. Nevertheless, I stuck as closely to the story as told in

the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles as I could. (See Appendix II) Ambrose, Polonius and

Phillip, while old and dear friends of mine after eight stories together, are pure

figments of my imagination.

Words in italics generally have special meaning and the details may be found in

Appendix I. I hope you enjoy the story half as much as I did writing it.

The author,

Bruce Corbett



The Courier.

The drivers' whips cracked and the massive oxen strained against their multiple

yokes. One by one, the great wagons that made up the royal caravan crested the

long rise. As the wagons appeared, dozens of armored Saxon riders escorted each

wagon. The riders quickly spread out into a protective ring that spilled out over the

chalk downs.

The royal court of Alfred, King of Wessex, Sussex, Kent and Cornwall, was again on

the move. The two dozen wagons and the hundreds of young drengs, the warriors

who made up the king's Personal Guard, were gradually joined by an equal number

of servants, noblemen, churchmen, and a vast assortment of children.


The immense caravan paused to give the oxen, horses and children a chance to

catch their breaths.

Toward the rear of the caravan rode four figures. One, Ambrose the bastard prince,

was short and slim. The second, a rail-thin and dark haired former Byzantine named

Polonius, had many nicknames. Askold, Rus conqueror of Kiev and vast stretches of

land along the Dnieper River, had once called him the most dangerous man he had

ever met. He was alternatively known as the Scholar, the Spy-master, and the

Wizard. Most important, the emaciated looking foreigner was friend to Ambrose and

royal advisor to Alfred the Great.

The third rider was so massive that he had been compared with a living oak tree. His

name was Phillip, and he had been weapons-master to three generations of royal

Wessex athelings.

The fourth rider was younger and handsome. His name was Edward, and he was the

eldest son of King Alfred. Today he traveled with his father's caravan, but even at his

young age he had already shown both exceptional maturity and intelligence. His

father had recently given him responsibility for the entire expanse of land that

made up the eastern portion of Wessex.

As the four riders topped the rise, Phillip called out and pointed back the way they

had come. "Someone is hard on our trail - riding hard."

Polonius spotted the man in the distance. "It is a bit early for my next courier, but I

was expecting one from Winchester somewhat later this evening."

Even as they watched, the rider appeared appreciably nearer. Ambrose shook his

head. "Well, Scholar, that man is close to foundering his horse. He had better be

carrying important news!"

"We shall see soon enough, Prince Ambrose. He will be here in a matter of minutes if

he keeps up that brutal pace."

Ambrose stared back down the hill. "I am never happy when I see a courier killing his

horse to bring us news. It is generally a hint that something is very wrong."

The royal courier let his mount slow from its headlong gallop to make the long climb

up to the chalk downs, but he still urged it on at a merciless pace. The rider

recognized each of the group waiting for him, but he rode directly to Polonius, long

known as King Alfred's spy-master.

"Lord Polonius, I have an urgent message from Sigehelm, Ealdorman of Kent!"

Polonius dismounted and took the leather pouch from the rider's hands. He removed

the single rolled sheet of parchment and broke the wax seal. After scanning the

sheet quickly, he looked up.

"It is grave news, indeed. Prince Edward, would you please alert your father?"

"Polonius, he is finally sleeping after that last dose of elixir you gave him. He is not

at all well."

"Prince, he needs to hear this now. Wessex is about to go to war. Wake him if you


"Very well! Before I disturb him, however, I will order the chamberlain to call a halt

and to set up camp right here. Second, I will have the royal campaign tent erected

immediately. You know that he will want to consult his precious maps.

The food supply caravan was supposed to reach us in another mile or two, so

supplies should not be a problem. I guess there is no reason we cannot simply stay

right here for the night. Phillip, would you please be so kind as to find all the

available members of the Witan and alert them to a possible council meeting?"

Within minutes, the efficient servants had started to set up a comfortable camp.

Alfred's campaign tent rose almost magically, and Edward escorted his father

directly to it. The king appeared wan and held his stomach, but he looked alert

when he caught the eyes of Ambrose, Edward and Polonius.

"It is rarely good news when a king is roused from his sickbed. What is the problem,

my friends?"

Polonius held out the parchment toward the king. "Sire, I was expecting a dispatch

from the continent, forwarded through Winchester, but this is direct and urgent,

from Ealdorman Sigehelm of Kent."

Alfred took it in his hands, but didn't look down at it. "Spymaster, I have recently

noticed that my arms are getting too short to allow me to see the letters clearly,

and my stomach is not doing well. Just tell me what it says."

"Sire, you know that Eudes, Count of Paris, managed to defeat the Danes last year?"

"I remember, Scholar. Haesten and his Danes were soundly trounced. You told me all

about it."

"And then Arnulf managed to inflict an even more crushing defeat on Haesten and

his Vikings at the River Dyle."

"The story is etched forever in my mind. Scholar, just tell me what happened."

"Of course, Sire." Polonius took a deep breath and looked at the sheet again before

speaking. "Two hundred and fifty Viking ships left Bastogne last week, and they

subsequently landed in Kent."

Alfred groaned. "God's breath! I feel this is a bad dream. Edward! A chair for your

father, before I fall down!

Was it only six years ago that I heard those same words?"

Ambrose spoke. "Then there were an initial fifteen ships at Rochester, but we

defeated them, brother."

"Aye, that we did, though it cost us dearly in both treasure and lives, and fifteen is

very different than two hundred and fifty!'

The king sank gratefully into the chair his son had brought him. 'Two hundred and f

ifty! Well, we have been preparing for a major attack for many years. We knew it

would come one day, and truthfully, we have never been in a better position to

defeat the pagan Danes than we are right now."

Polonius continued. "Ealdorman Sigehelm's scouts estimated the force at a little over f

ive thousand warriors - with their own horses brought from Francia."

"That alone is serious cause for worry. Usually it takes them several weeks to steal

enough horses to become mobile. This cuts into the time we have to react . . .

Polonius, what else does our good ealdorman tell us?"

"Only that the Vikings beached at the mouth of the Lympne River."

Alfred idly pulled at his beard. "Well, that could be worse. It is boggy land

thereabouts and I don't remember any strong point there that they can occupy. They

will at least be tied down for a considerable time while they build a defensive


"Except they went up-river to the Forest of the Weald."

"Better. Then we can block the lower reaches and trap their fleet."

"Except Appledore, our soon-to-be completed fort for the region, was almost empty,

and the Danes occupied it."

"By the cloak of St. Peter! So the pagan devils have both a strongly fortified strong

point and are mobile . . . we have prepared for years for this eventuality, but

Merciful God! Five thousand warriors? That is probably the largest invasion force in

my lifetime . . . perhaps a little dose of your elixir would be in order, Polonius. Just

a little to ease the pain. I can not afford to have my wits dulled right now."

King Alfred scanned the map that lay on the trestle table before him. "There are

clearly pieces of a puzzle that I am missing. Ambrose, would you just land and

attack a country with a strong fleet, dozens of fortified burhs, each with its own

permanent garrison, and not one, but two fyrds - each numbering well over three

thousand sworn warriors?"

"If I could raise a force of five thousand battle-hardened and eager warriors, brother

- probably. You have a summer and winter army, but after the debacle at

Chippenham, when you were left with few sworn men to fight with, I might

conclude that you are unlikely to call up both together, and the garrisons, while they

provide security for your subjects, eats up many thousand more fyrdmen. So, you

would not, in actual fact, outnumber me on the battlefield."

"But my mounted and armored fyrdmen can be supplemented by five or even ten

thousand other followers."

"The fyrdmen are the equal of the Viking warriors, brother, but the rest are churls

and slaves, who might hold their own behind a city wall, but generally break before

a determined Viking shield-wall. It is only your trained fyrdmen that I would fear,

and that I outnumber. I would also be very aware that most of your sworn men have

not faced serious action in six years.'

"And if I did call up both of my armies at the same time?"

"I would sit behind my walls until your fyrdmens' service time is up and they went

home, leaving you with little more than your Personal Guard to face me."

"And if I ordered in the Saxon fleet?"


"Against two hundred and fifty ships? It is true that some of your vessels are larger

and higher than the Viking ships. On a one to one basis, the Saxon ships have shown

themselves to be capable of holding their own, but we have dozens, brother, not

hundreds, and you have already recruited most of the Frisian seamen that are

available. Our fleet can play little part in this struggle - unless you want to lose it -

as happened when we went against King Guthrum some years ago."

"Is it possible that this is a simple raid?"

Ambrose shook his head. "This wouldn't be the first time the Danes have tried to

overthrow your kingdom, Alfred. To move five thousand warriors, and all their

horses, is a massive undertaking. It has to be more than a simple raid."

"Ah, now we get to the meat of it! Polonius, pen and paper, please. Let us make a

list of what we are likely to face."

Ambrose spoke first. "If I was the Danish commander, Brother, I would make big

promises to any disaffected noblemen in the West Saxon Empire. I would offer to

make any traitorous ealdormen into kings - until it is time, of course, to practice

archery or perform the Blood-eagle on them."

Alfred nodded. "Noted. I have a short list of possible suspects in my mind. Both

Ethelwold of Dorset and Anwell in Cornwall did their best to betray us when the

Vikings invaded last time . . . Polonius, the sons of our two suspect shire

commanders are needed immediately in Winchester. I have decided to allow them

the honor of fighting in my Personal Guard. I will need their presence for the

duration of the war. Please make sure . . . quietly . . . that their fathers understand

that disobedience to this command will be construed as treason and punished with

the utmost severity."

Polonius smiled. "Would you like me to arrange for their kidnapping, Sire, like last


"No, I am, perhaps naively, hoping that their fathers learned their lesson from their l

ast experience. Let us try a more subtle approach this time, but be sure the fathers

understand all of the implications."

Polonius bowed his head. "I will send one of your most articulate senior duguos with

both the public summons and the private message, Sire."

Alfred looked around the table. "What is next on our list?"

Polonius spoke. "Personally, I would have sent agents to Northumbria, East Anglia, I

reland, and Denmark itself, calling on any restless Danes to go a-viking.

"And how do we counteract that?"

Ambrose looked at the map. "Last time, we offered Guthrum legitimacy, if he

respected our treaty and supported us."

Alfred frowned. "For all the good it did!"

"Brother, he did not openly lead his army against us. He merely did not prevent his

warriors from coming south individually and joining their cousins."

"That is sophistry! Fifteen out of the thirty ships at Rochester were East Anglian . . .

but Guthrum did pay for his perfidy . . . and the real truth is, which I will never

admit to outside of this tent, I needed an excuse to seize both old London and Saxon

Lundenwic.' The king sighed. 'So what do we do this time?"

"Brother, thanks to you seizing London and supporting your son-in-law Ethelred in

Mercia, we are in a much stronger position north of the Thames. After Ethelred

made repeated incursions into Wales, two of the major Welsh kingdoms begged to

become your allies and acknowledge you as Bretwalda, and the East Anglian Vikings

are well aware that you could have destroyed them if you had wanted, after you

defeated Guthrum. The priests continue to make inroads amongst the Danes there,

and in a generation or two, the Danelaw should be solidly Christian. Why do we not

demand hostages from East Anglia and Northumbria both?"

Alfred looked around the table. "Please note that, Polonius. We shall do it. And what

else can we expect?"

Polonius spoke. "I would arrange as many feints as I could, splintering your forces,

and hopefully leaving the main force relatively unopposed."

"Then if this is more than a raid, we should expect more landings. All lookouts are to

be on the alert for new landings. Polonius, is it noted?"

"It is all noted, Sire."

"Well, my friends, what have we missed?"

Edward turned to Alfred. "Father, I think that is a very thorough list."

Alfred smiled through his pain. "This is possibly the biggest crisis I have ever faced,

but at least we have prepared for this day. If we survive this onslaught, my son, then

you just might inherit a secure throne. My dream is to see all Angleland united as

one country. Perhaps in your life you will make it happen, but first I fear we must

deal with over five thousand seasoned warriors, plus whatever other devilment

Haesten, Eohric, and Guthfrith have dreamed up for us. Polonius, are you still in

contact with the Picts of Northumbria?"

"Sire, they will never love Saxons, but, as an old saying in my country goes, the

enemy of your enemy can be your ally. We still have some influential friends

amongst them, and their leaders are never averse to our gold and weapons."


"Let us wait to hear the answer from Northumbria before we foment more rebellions

in the north, but it is an option that I won't forget. They may hesitate to send their

young men south when the Scots and Picts keep swarming over their northern

borders. Polonius, how about your spies?"

"I will have a half-hundred riding north before the week is over, Sire."

The king held his belly. "Be not stingy, my friend. I would rather deplete my kingdom

of gold than lives . . . one more small dose of your elixir, and then I must sit down

with the Witan . . . oh, and Polonius?"

"Yes, Sire?"

I will excuse you from the meeting of the Witan. Asser can act as secretary. We will

no doubt meet until the dawn and painstakingly hammer out many important and

intricate details, but the truth is, I want the couriers on their way by dawn. Will you

see to the writing of the messages for me?"

"I will collect all the literate priests and clerks I can find, Sire, except Asser, and put

them to work. What, specifically, do you want the summons to say?"

"The summer fyrd from Hampshire east is to answer the summons in full force and

immediately. I expect the ealdormen to have their fyrd on the move within seven-

night or less. They are to ride for Winchester or wait along the Dover Road for my

Personal Guard to reach their position.

I expect strong mounted contingents from the western shires, but I do not want to

denude those shires of the possibility of forming a mobile force for their own

defense. I expect every subject in the eastern shires to head for the fortified burhs,

without delay. I want every man, woman and child out of reach of the heathen

devils, along with their pigs and cows and even their chickens - let the Vikings learn

to eat grass . . . Garrison troops are to man their walls forthwith - throughout the

kingdom. All coastal watchers are to man their posts, both by day and night. The

sailors should hold themselves ready, but they are not to man their ships until called

upon . . . You know what to say, Polonius. You are the man responsible for much of

our preparation."

Polonius bowed to his king. "It shall be as you say, Sire."


Even as Polonius spoke, a mud-splattered courier pushed his way into the command

tent. Seeing his king staring at him, he dropped to his knees and held out his courier


"Excuse me, my King, but I carry an urgent message from Ealdorman Sigehelm!"

Alfred nodded towards Polonius, who took the pouch, removed the parchment,

broke the wax seal, and read the message.

"Well?" the king said, impatiently.

"It is another message from Ealdorman Sigehelm of Kent, Majesty. Jarl Haesten

himself, with an estimated eighty ships, has landed at Milton Royal, on the bank of

the Swale River."

"By all that is holy! I think God must be testing me.' He took a deep breath.

'No, that is just my frustration speaking. I will pray tonight for true humility and for

divine guidance. Ambrose, you said that there would be more surprises. Here is the

first . . . only eighty ships. If they are operating in concert, and we can assume for

the moment that they are, why the discrepancy in numbers?"

"Brother, East Anglia is close to Haesten's camp. I would assume he expects

considerable reinforcements from north of the Thames."

Alfred nodded. "That makes sense. This could also be, however, their first mistake."

Ambrose looked surprised. "How so, brother?"

"Seven thousand warriors would be more than we can handle without calling up

every fyrdmen in the empire. Two separate camps, however, splits their forces,

whereas we will have one single force. If we are careful, then we can set up camp

between the two armies, strike in either direction, and do our best to keep the two

Viking forces apart."

Edward spoke. "Father, this could add up to two thousand more veteran warriors to

the struggle. Our main force will be heavily outnumbered. Surely we should consider

calling up the winter fyrd as well as the summer army."

"Son, if we call up both fyrds for immediate duty, we will be left with nothing when

they start to go home in six months. After Guthrum caught us at Chippenham with

no army that winter, I swore I would never again be without an army at my back.

You were young then, but it was a bitter winter, and only the swamps around

Athelney kept us from dying at Guthrum's hands. What we shall do is build one of

Polonius' Roman marching forts for protection, and then we will strike separately at

the heathens."

"Father, if both Viking armies catch up to us at the same time, our fyrdmen are

likely to be overwhelmed."

"You are right, Edward, if we are caught in the open. There is a risk, but Kent is our

land and there are a lot of marshes and trees to slow the Danes. With the help of

Sigehelm's foresters, we will systematically kill their couriers and scouts so they

cannot communicate effectively. We should be able to ambush any Viking forces

smaller than ours, and we will use Kentish scouts and the game trails to fade away

before any larger ones."


The couriers rode with the dawn. Over a hundred riders spread out from the little

encampment at the edge of the chalk downs. North, east, south and west, the riders

rode hard to call the fighting men of Wessex to war. Seven thousand enemy had

already landed on their shores, and it would take every fyrdman in the empire to

prevent the final destruction of the last independent Anglo-Saxon kingdom on the

island of Britain.


Ambrose sat across from his brother, and spoke. "Alfred, let me be the one to go to

Eohric's court. It shows how seriously you take the threat of his army, and he will not

play games with me. We will talk Dane to Dane."

Alfred sighed. "I was afraid you would ask that."

Ambrose smiled. "I will be safe enough, brother. I will take Phillip and a white

shield. The Danes treat emissaries with great respect. It is in their culture to do so."

The king nodded. "I hope you will forgive me if I keep Polonius with me. I have great

need of his skills."

"Of course, brother. The best place he can be is at the center of his web, feeling for

various vibrations through his many contacts. It is what he does best."


"Upon this (arrival of Viking armies) King Alfred

gathered his army, and advanced, so that he

encamped between the two armies at the highest

point he could find defended by wood and by

water, that he might reach either, if they would

seek any field."

......The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles

Thousands strong, but stretched out for miles, the armored and mounted fyrdmen

trickled into the site. Behind, thousands more, churls and slaves, traders and

prostitutes, trudged along, followed by hundreds of wives, lovers, and even


Alfred stared at the high spot his scouts had chosen. There was water nearby, and

Polonius' engineers had already hammered in pegs that denoted the size of the walls

and the location of the various shire encampments. He spoke to the emaciated-

looking Byzantine who sat his horse near the king's side.

"Well, Wizard, we are half way between Milton Royal and Appledore. We are now

going to play a dangerous game."

"And what is that, Sire?"

"First I need a secure fort to rise here. I need you to use every devious trick you

know to set up a fort that can hold out against several times our numbers."

"Sire, if you count the churls and slaves, you already outnumber the Danes, and

more fyrdmen will be trickling in for days to come."

Alfred sighed. "After we have established a strong defensive position here, I do not

want to sit on my hands. I want to send most of the men out to strike hard against

any wandering Viking bands, and I want the entire forest to be filled with the bodies

of Viking scouts hanging by their necks."

"And so there will be times when we have relatively few men to man the walls."

"Exactly so, Wizard, but I am also keenly aware that after our first rank or two of

veteran fyrdmen, our battle lines will consist largely of our churls and former

slaves. In order to help make up for the lack of heavily armed and trained fyrdmen,

I intend to strike at any foraging parties with overwhelmingly massive forces."

"That is a recipe for success, Sire. If the veteran fyrdmen can break the Danish lines,

the churls can kill as efficiently as your best warriors."

"But, Polonius, we are between a hammer and an anvil. If one Viking force can hold

our attention, and the other can manage to secretly approach our rear, we will be

massacred. We will use your maxim of local superiority and rapid mobility, but the

truth is, their two separate forces, if united, would probably be able to chew their

way through our veterans, and if that happened, we could be in very serious


"Thus the need for a strong fort, Sire. Even an untrained man on the wall is more

than the equal of the best warrior on open ground."

Alfred was in pain, but he smiled. "Exactly so, Wizard. That is the very thing I am

counting on."

"And my new title is a hint that I am in charge of having this miraculous fort built,

preferably before the sun sets tonight."

"Astute as ever, my friend. I don't want to make you nervous, but there are five

thousand Viking warriors over that way . . . and perhaps two thousand, armed and

very hostile, in that direction. If they find us here, without those stout walls, we

would be in serious trouble."

"Your logic is impeccable, Sire. Perhaps I should get to work."

The king held his stomach, but his voice, when he spoke, sounded normal. "Just tell

me what you need, my friend, and you shall have it."

"I need every man and woman who is here, Sire. You are right. The fort must be a

priority. The walls and ditches should be completed before anyone so much as


Alfred turned. "Edward - spread the word to all the ealdormen. Until further notice,

all men and women will work on our defenses - until Polonius here declares that he

is completely satisfied."

"Father, it is going to be dark in a few hours, and everyone is exhausted from the

march here."

"Then we will work by firelight, son-of-mine. The walls must be complete before the

God-cursed pagans find our location. It could literally be a matter of life and death

for all of us!"

Edward just nodded, turned his horse, and headed after the various shire fyrds and

their commanders.

"I shall pass on the word, father . . . and then I will go find a shovel."

Within minutes, tired men were driven to strip off their armor and outer clothing,

and take up shovels, mattocks and pickaxes. A deep ditch was laboriously dug, and

the dirt and rocks were mounded on the inside, while others took axes and started

to cut poles for the palisades. Four centuries after the last Romans abandoned the

island of Britannica, a Roman marching fort began to appear on a modest height in

the middle of Kent.


When the first rays of light illuminated the tents and shelters of the West Saxon

fyrd, formidable walls surrounded the sleeping warriors. The work had taken long

into the night, and Alfred allowed most of the men to sleep late. Everyone was

exhausted from the long march and the back-breaking labor, but they were safe

behind stout ramparts. Kentish scouts had been excused from the labor, and, as they

had all night, they constantly patrolled the nearby forest trails. Somewhere in the

Forest of the Weald were thousands of brutal raiders, intent on pillaging and raping,

and, if they could, conquering the last free Anglo-Saxon kingdom on the island. Only

Alfred of Wessex, his son-in-law, Ethelred of Mercia, and their sworn men, stood

between the Danes and their final victory.

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