Here are some comments on it, posted by readers like you.

"5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read!"

"Another tale of Ambrose, Alfred The Great, and now, his son Prince Edward."

"Hard to put down as the Vikings continue to pillage 9th Century England. I hope book

#10 is on the horizon!"

"The series about Ambrose Prince of Wessex and his adventures has been a good read."



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

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

needed. 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

ravaging 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

fifty! 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

five 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

last 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, Ireland, 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.






"The Northumbrians and East-Angles had given oaths to King Alfred, and the East-

Angles six hostages; nevertheless, contrary to the truce, as oft as the other

plunderers went out with all their army, then went they also, either with them,

or in a separate division."

......The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles


Ambrose and Phillip crossed the Thames from Southwark to London, and then, after

exiting through Aldgate, they rode east and north, along with an escort of twenty

riders. After resting one night on the trail, they crossed the frontier into East Anglia.

They rode without incident for another day, speaking to occasional farm laborers in

either Saxon or Danish.

On the second day, a force of mounted Danes spotted them and rode after them.

The commander, a giant of a man with crooked teeth, a crooked nose and a battle

axe clenched in one hand, ordered them to halt.

"You smell like mangy Saxon dogs! What are you doing north of the Thames?"

Ambrose spoke in perfect Danish. "My name is Ambrose, Prince of Wessex, and I am

emissary from King Alfred to King Eohric. Now that you have found us, you can

arrange for an escort to your king."

"Any Saxon dog in this country, whether he speaks a human tongue or not, wears an

iron collar and obeys his betters! You need training, Saxon!"

Ambrose replied. "Well, my loudmouthed friend, I have yet to meet a Dane who is

my better. Many have tried to teach me manners, but they all died a violent death."

"Do you have a death wish, stranger, that you, a pipsqueak of a man, would dare to

speak to a hersir so?"

 "Others call me Canuteson the Dane-Slayer, loudmouth, but all you need to know is

that I am an emissary, carrying a white shield. It is thus your sacred duty to get me

safely to your king!"

"It is my sacred duty to put you into the ground, Saxon dog! Get off your fine horse,

and I will hew you like a Quaking Aspen."

The second-in-command spoke up. "Hersir, he is right! I know of this man. It is he

who they sing about, and look, his companion is a giant. It is really them! We must

get them to the king as soon as possible."

The commander looked at Ambrose with smoldering anger. "One day we will meet,

Canuteson, when you are not an emissary. On that day you shall learn to fear a


"And you shall see Asgard, if you are capable of dying bravely. I will look forward to

the opportunity to rid the world of another a Dane who does not know his duty to his


"You go too far, Saxon!"

Ambrose sighed. "You are right, Dane. I am forbidden to take a life, even one such as

yours, as long as I am an emissary. Take me to King Eohric!"




The newly enlarged column rode deeper and deeper into the heartland of East

Anglia. At last, when Ambrose could smell salt in the air, they approached a sturdy

fortified tun. Horns blew at their approach, and hundreds of well-armed Vikings

swarmed to the walls. By the intensity of the reaction to their arrival, Ambrose was

sure that had finally found the East Anglian king.

The prince was led through the open gate, and his escort stopped in front of a large

and beautifully constructed Mead Hall, over 50 paces long. The massive door flew

open, and King Eohric himself came hurrying out.

"What is all this fuss about? Are we being attacked? Well, if it isn't the brother of my

very favorite Saxon king."

Ambrose smiled as he slipped from his saddle. "It is the brother of the only Saxon

king left on the island, King Eohric, thanks to you and some of your friends from the


Eohric chuckled. "You flatter me, Prince . . ."

Hakon, the commander of the king's royal bodyguard, came through the doorway

and immediately growled at the prince. "On your knees to a Viking king, you

Christian dog!"

Ambrose turned and stared at the big Dane. "In another time, and another place,

Victory-Maker would be pleased to teach you manners, Viking. You may call me

Canuteson the Dane-Slayer, and I bow to no man but my king."

"You dare to call yourself that in front of me?"

"Why not? It is what people have taken to calling me."

Eohric raised his hand. "Peace, Hakon! You are speaking to a royal prince of Wessex,

who is my welcome guest and will be treated as such! This man refused to bow to

the emperor of Byzantium, and I would call him friend. You insult my guest and may

remove yourself from my presence."

The big Dane glowered at Ambrose, but finally stalked away.

"Now, Prince Ambrose, as I was about to say before I was interrupted, you know that

we Danes are, while brave and ferocious, yet a people poor in land. It is sad

necessity that thousands of our young men must go a-viking each year. You, yourself

have lived in my homeland, and know that there are just too many people for the

land to support."

"My visit to your homeland was not voluntary, King. I wore chains and worked those

insufficient fields you talk about."

"And I see that it was the making of you! Here you are, a prince and a legendary

warrior whose ballads are sung even by your enemies. Few men alive have made the

journeys you have made, prince, nor had such adventures."

"It is true that I have had an eventful life, but that is not why I have come to see

you, King."

"Prince, I am told that you were welcome in Guthrum's court, and you are always

welcome in mine."

"I thank you, King Eohric. You honor me."

"Come inside my Mead Hall, Prince. Let's you and I talk alone. The mead cools in the

river even as we speak, and two friends and allies must do their best to honor the

nectar of the gods."

"I thank you, King. It has been a long and hot trail, and I would welcome good


Eohric smiled. "Come, then, Prince. Several ambats have already gone to fetch a

supply from the river depths."

So saying, the king led his guest past his bodyguards and into the dim interior of his

Mead Hall. They walked past the pit fire that illuminated the interior, and Eohric

took him to a trestle table where two chairs were set up.

"Sit, Prince. You need not worry about your men. Phillip and the rest of your escort

will be fed and provided with food and the same good mead as we are about to


After the mead was poured by several pretty serving wenches still soaked from

retrieving the mead from the cooling water, Eohric waved them away and grew more

serious. "Ambrose, you have ridden a long way when I know your kingdom is in crisis.

You obviously want something from me. Speak, Prince, so I know how I can help


"You are very astute, King Eohric, and what you say is true. As you know, King

Athelstan . . . Guthrum . . . signed a treaty of friendship with my brother."

"I know it well, Prince, and although I do not consider myself bound by its

covenants, I have yet tried to be faithful to them. Priests wander my domains at

will, and convert any who express a desire to follow your strange three-gods-in-one.

Difficult as it is to stop, I forbid my young men from raiding into your brother's shire

of Mercia. I even told your brother once that he is welcome to hang any he can

catch, without having to pay wergeld."

"And Alfred appreciates your forbearance. He welcomes you as an ally and neighbor

- as long as the covenants are upheld. And he holds back Ethelred's wolves, who are

hungry to re-acquire much of their homeland."

Eohric smiled. "Yes, I watched Ethelred's assault on the Welsh with great interest

and some amusement. After he quite thoroughly ravaged their lands, two of the

Welsh kings asked to submit to Alfred so your brother would rein in his son-in-law's

human wolves. It was brilliantly done. One hand attacks, while the other protects.

Now you tell me that the wolves are restless again."

Ambrose sipped from his horn of mead. "As long as you respect the covenants

between our two kingdoms, Alfred will control the wolves of Mercia. Even after

Guthrum marched against London, and then was defeated in battle, Alfred held

back the fyrdmen from launching an all out attack on your heartland. There were

not enough East Anglian warriors left to stop us, but we returned to Wessex.

Guthrum was allowed to live."

"You are right, Ambrose, though Alfred did end up with his treaty, London, and the

rest of Mercia. I also sometimes wonder if Rollo and his Danes in Francia had

anything to do with that decision."

"With Guthrum and most of his warriors dead, Rollo would have had little reason to

cross over from Francia . . .' Ambrose smiled suddenly, 'and we had already paid him

well to stay away."

"Ambrose, you well know an invasion against fortified positions may have cost your

brother more casualties than he wished to pay. I repeat, however, I have been a

good neighbor. What can I do for Wessex?"

"The bald truth?"

The king smiled. "I would have nothing less between two Danes, Canuteson."

"One. Do not allow Wessex's enemies to stay on your soil."

"Ambrose, many of my tribesmen have cousins and friends in the armies of Haesten.

It is hard for me to tell them that the cousins cannot come, in friendship, to my


"King Guthrum once said almost the same thing to me, and I told him that we

understood, but would come after any Viking who landed in Wessex, and then

crossed into East Anglia or Essex. It helped to cause the war between us . . . which

East Anglia lost.

Two. You must not allow your warriors to invade Wessex or reinforce the Viking

armies in Kent. Alfred will take that as an abrogation of our treaty and we would be

at war. Three. I need your assurances on both these matters. Today."

King Eohric pulled idly at his beard. "Prince, you ask a great deal."

"I promised to be blunt, King. I am sure that your scouts have already reported that

the wolves of Mercia have paused on their way south, and have already gathered

along your frontier. They can be burning down this Mead Hall within the week. You

cannot call up enough warriors in time to stop Ethelred if Alfred but gives the word."

"Ambrose, I have no wish for war, and would be a good neighbor. I will command

that no sworn man of mine may cross your borders. I will swear it on my armband

and by Odin, if you wish."

"Eohric, as you say, I have lived as a Viking and been adopted as a Dane. I know that

your oaths to a Christian king are meaningless."

Eohric sighed. "Prince, I will deliver to your custody six of my most beloved members

of this royal court. They will go back with you, and their heads will be my guarantee

of my good faith. I cannot do better than that."

"King Eohric, I will accept your offer, with thanks. I would still like an oath from you,

sworn to me personally."

"Prince, why would you ask such a thing?"

"Because I am the adopted son of a Dane, I think an oath from you to Canuteson has

much more meaning than one to a Christian king."

Eohric hesitated, then nodded his head slowly. "To Canuteson the Dane-Slayer? You

ask much, Prince."

"It is what I need to assure me that we are not going to war."

Eohric sighed. "If it is a matter of peace between us, then you have it."

"Then with your permission, King, I will return to Wessex immediately. I would like

to get back in time to prevent an invasion of your happy land."

"And the Mercian wolves?"

"There are many Danes to kill in Kent."

"I think we understand each other. May peace be with you, Prince."

"May we stay at peace, King Eohric . . . For the sake of both our people."

"Return to your men, Prince. I have made available a house and food. You can rest

and plan for your return trip. When I have had a chance to talk with the hostages

and prepared them, I will send for you.




King Eohric had Ambrose escorted back to his Mead Hall. There, the prince saw six

men standing in rich garments. The king saw him enter, and turned to face Ambrose.

He spoke.

"I promised you six important members of my court to act as surety, and here they

are. Meet Snorri, an esteemed cousin of mine. Meet Einarr, an important jarl from

what you probably still call Essex. The others are four of my greatest warriors, Oddr,

Torleik, and Folki. Hakon you have already met. In return for their agreeing to

accompany you, I expect that you and Alfred will treat them with the utmost


Ambrose nodded. "As long as you respect the conditions we discussed, King, they will

be treated as the noblest of royal guests."

Ambrose, his escort, and their hostages rode out together and headed south and

west. The Vikings followed peacefully enough. Ambrose rode along the trail until

they hit the old Roman road leading to London. Instead of turning west, however,

the prince led his band almost due south. Einarr the jarl spurred his horse and

caught up with Ambrose. He spoke in his guttural voice.

"Prince, I think you are confused. London lies in that direction, along the road we

just crossed."

"True, Jarl, but it is a long ride to London, and Alfred is due south of us."

"Prince, I do worry about you. The Thames has joined the ocean some Roman miles

west of here. There is no way we can cross to the southern shore."

"Ships, good Einarr. We Saxons also own ships."

"Ships!' the jarl snorted derisively. 'Haesten has eighty long-ships not far away. The

Thames is a highway for us. Any Saxon ship we find we take. You have no chance

finding a ship and making it across."

"Thank you for the information, Einarr. As long as I am commanding and you are a

hostage, we go south."

The further south they went, the more upset the hostages became. Ambrose sent

Phillip to check their back trail.

The weapons-master returned more than an hour later. When Ambrose looked at

him, he just shook his head negatively. Ambrose rode ahead, and Phillip joined him.

Ambrose spoke.

"Well, Weapons-master?"

"There seems to be nobody on our trail, and with thirty-odd riders, it would hardly

be difficult to follow."

"Phillip, if the Danes mean us some mischief, they do not have to follow closely.

They expect us to head for London, and fast couriers can be sent ahead to arrange

whatever they want."

"And our guests?"

"They are growing more and more unhappy. It seems that we are doing something

that they do not much like."

"That is telling, Prince. Why would they care how we travel back to Wessex? Even if

Haesten did find us and refuse to accept our emissary status, he would hardly harm

the Viking hostages."

"Why, indeed, Phillip . . . unless they are already arranging an ambush for us

somewhere, perhaps, near London."

"Wouldn't it have been simpler for King Eohric to just tell us we are going to war?"

"Agreed, old friend . . . unless . . . perhaps some of Haesten's Vikings were to

ambush us, or at least his banners flew during an unexpected attack. Eohric keeps

his pledge, but the incompetent Saxons are unable to protect their hostages. Alfred

is in his debt, Ethelred has been called off, Eohric has his men back, and you and I

could well be dead."

"Which would mean that Eohric already has plans to attack Wessex in some way and

doesn't want to sacrifice the hostages.' Phillip grinned wolfishly. 'But we mess up his

plan if we take a different route back!"

"Exactly, old friend. We are nearing the sea. I think there is a risk of running into

Haesten's army. Perhaps the fyrdmen should string their bows as a precaution."

Phillip smiled. "Aye, Prince. I shall see to it. It is our job, after all, to protect our


As dusk neared, the group passed the large rock that served as a guidepost to

mariners coasting along the northern shore. Ambrose ordered that their camp be

built on the shore of the Thames, about a mile to the east of the landmark. The

horses were tied, and everyone made ready for sleep, but Ambrose instructed Phillip

to take a couple of fyrdmen and build twin bonfires right at the high water mark.

As the cold breeze swept in from the sea, and the sky to the east began to lighten,

Phillip shook Ambrose awake. He spoke quietly.

"They are here, Prince."

"Excellent. Shake our fyrdmen awake first. I want them up, with bows strung and

arrows nocked."

"Are you expecting trouble?"

Ambrose shivered in the early morning cold. "I am just trying to prevent any, old

friend. How soon until the ship is close enough to board?"

"It will come into the shallows just as soon as it is light enough to see the rocks


Ambrose stood and stretched. The first thing he did was strap on Victory-Maker.

Within minutes, the Saxon escort was armed and armored. Only then did Ambrose

move to waken their guests. As the Danes got up in the dim morning light, the first

thing they spotted was a small long-ship just feet off the beach. The second thing

they spotted, when they looked inland, was twenty Saxon fyrdmen holding bows

with arrows nocked. Only Phillip was missing.

Einarr the jarl was belligerent. "What is this ship and why have your men drawn

arrows again?"

"We expected a Saxon ship this morning, Jarl, but want to be ready in case one of

Haesten's ship captains saw our campfires and decided to investigate. It is our sworn

duty, Jarl to protect you with our very lives."

"But we can't go aboard a ship here! Our horses . . ."

"It is regrettable that we must leave the faithful beasts here, Jarl. They have served

us well, but Alfred himself will replace them with the finest animals we can find in

Winchester . . . now if you don't mind, we need you and our other guests aboard

ship. As you say, this is a dangerous coast, and we must not linger."

At that point, Hakon stepped forward and drew his sword. "I am not going to board a

ship! I am going to climb on my horse and ride to London and no one is going to stop


Einerr spoke in rapid Danish. "You will follow your king's instructions, Hakon!

Haesten's ships will capture this scow!"

Hakon was red with anger. "I am riding. You! Prince! Perhaps you would like to stop


Ambrose drew Victory-Maker. The magnificent blade gleamed red in the early

morning light.

"Hakon, by disobeying my instruction, you have broken the bond between guest and

protector. You have both insulted me and dishonored your king. It would, indeed, be

my pleasure to teach you some manners."

Hakon sneered. "You, little man, with your toy sword? Einarr, give the little man a

real weapon. You clearly don't need it."

As he jeered Ambrose, he approached him. Suddenly, like a venomous snake, he

attacked without warning. His long blade swept low, and if Ambrose had not been

watching the man's eyes, he might not have jumped quickly enough to evade the

long sweep. Ambrose landed and rolled. Suddenly he was ten feet from Hakon, and

his sword was ready for the next attack.

He smiled. "Is that the cut you use on old men and women, Viking? I thought you

were going to teach me a lesson."

"I was going to let you live, little man. Now I am not so sure."

Again he sidled forward as he spoke. This time he exploded into a series of powerful


Ambrose parried each one easily, and soon he was facing a panting and tired warrior.

He spoke.

"You seem to be out of practice, Hakon. You have been indulging in too much food

and not enough exercise. Perhaps Eohric chose you because he couldn't find any old

women to send along."

With a roar of rage, Hakon charged Ambrose, but instead of closing, he ran right

past the prince and leapt on to the back of one of the horses peacefully grazing on

the lush grass. He kicked the startled animal into motion, but before the horse could

go more than a dozen paces, a yard-long shaft buried itself in the animal's chest.

Mortally wounded, the poor beast screamed and then fell to the ground.

Hakon rolled free as the animal fell, but when he went to get to his feet he

discovered his sword was out of reach and a second arrow was aimed in his

direction. Phillip stepped out from behind a cluster of trees, the arrow touching his


"On your feet, Viking scum! Today you made me kill a faithful and beautiful animal. I

would far rather have put the arrow through you. Now obey my prince and get on

the God-cursed boat!"

Hakon stepped over to where his sword lay. Phillip spoke.

"Pick it up and you die! You have dishonored your king and lost the privilege of

wearing a warrior's sword."

Hakon looked at his sword and then carefully stepped over it. The Viking, followed

by Phillip, Einarr and Ambrose, all headed for the waiting ship.

Einarr tried again. "Prince, you are sailing a Danish highway. You will never reach the

southern shore alive! Let us ride around through London."

Ambrose spoke. "I think you misunderstand the role of a hostage, Jarl. We decide

where you go and how we get there. You obey. It is that simple."

As they argued, the rest of the escort and hostages made it aboard. Finally, with

great reluctance, Einarr clambered aboard.

"Mark my words, Prince, a Saxon ship will never make it across!"

The oarsmen pulled the ship clear of the shallows, and then the captain, in perfect

Danish, ordered the square sail hoisted.

Einarr stared, dumbfounded, as Eohric's emblem suddenly appeared in the early

morning light. He turned to Ambrose, who smiled back at him.

"This is a Danish ship, Einarr, and all our crewmen speak Danish. As you say, the

Thames is a Viking highway, at least as far as Southwark, and what is one more

Danish vessel plying its waters? Why would we not make it safely to Rochester?"

"But that is Eohric's emblem on your sail!"

"Of course it is. Jarl Einarr, the previous owners were pirates who spent too long

ashore on a raiding expedition. Those who did not die in the fight were all hung. My

brother is very serious about his boast of six feet of ground and a good rope for

every Viking who invades his land."




Ambrose stepped over to the crewman who acted as cook for the crew. "Greetings,


"Greetings, Prince Ambrose."

"Edwy, you should be carrying some pigeons for me."

"Yes, Prince, the king was most particular about that. Polonius the Wizard delivered

them personally, with clear instructions not to eat them. Prince, I don't know why

you would want to. We have some particularly fine chickens for supper."

"Where are the pigeons?"

"They are in the cage near the mainmast."

"This is very important, my friend. I want you to ring the neck of the two black ones.

They are for the supper pot tonight."

"And the two white ones?"

"You are to say a short prayer of thanks to God, and then release them both."

The Saxon looked strangely at Ambrose. At last he just shrugged. "Aye, Master. As you say."

As Ambrose idly watched the two white pigeons spiral higher and higher, he felt a

presence at his side. Snorri stood beside him. The bearded warrior spoke in Danish.

"I hope that they were not our dinner tonight, Prince. Is it customary amongst

Saxons to release some of your food animals?"

Ambrose smiled. "It is a custom I learned in Africa. Look at the beauty of the birds

as they ascend towards heaven. Can you think of a better way to send a prayer for

peace to Almighty God?"

"I don't know, Prince. I worship the true gods, the Viking gods, but above all, I call

upon Odin to help me in my times of need. Your three gods in one is a puzzle to me."




The little party landed at Rochester and requisitioned enough horses to re-mount

the little force and their guests. Within hours after a peaceful trip across the

Thames, Ambrose was leading his little force towards Alfred and his army.




Ambrose signaled his little column to slow, and then galloped ahead. At the head of

the large mounted force just ahead of them on the old Roman highway rode a king

on a splendid white stallion. When Ambrose approached, several guardsmen

maneuvered their horses between him and Alfred, but when they recognized the

dusty rider, they just grinned and cleared out of the way.

Ambrose thus caught up with his brother. He called out. "Greetings, king of the West

Saxons! Have we won the war yet?"

"Ambrose, you rascal. Praise God! You do not know how I worried about you! Did you

have any trouble?"

"King Eohric promised all that we discussed, and even sent six hostages."

"Excellent, so you had no trouble."

"Nothing we couldn't handle. Our guests seemed very disturbed when we took the

sea route back here, so I am very suspicious. If I had to hazard a guess about what

they were planning, I would suspect that we might have been ambushed by Vikings

waving Haesten's banners if we had returned via London."

"But what would be the point, brother?"

"Actually, it would have been quite clever. Eohric would have his hostages back safe

and sound, we would be blaming Haesten for the deed. Having lost your hostages to

"raiders", you would have failed your side of the agreement and would be greatly in

his debt, I would be out of his hair, and, far from least, you would have called off

Ethelred and his warriors, giving Eohric time to call up his own warriors and throw

together some kind of coherent defense. The truth is, with Ethelred's fyrdmen

unexpectedly shifted eastward to the frontier, we had Eohric by the balls, and he

knew it."

"And did we call off Ethelred and his fyrd?"

"I am still not sure what game Eohric is playing, but he did give his oath, and he did

give us hostages. I therefore felt I had no choice but to send the white pigeons."

"Do you have any proof of any plot?"

"Not a shred, brother - Eohric was happy to swear an oath to you, but was strangely

reluctant to give me a personal oath. The other item was the behavior of the

hostages. It should not have mattered a bit to them which route we took to return

to Wessex, yet they were very upset when they realized that we were not planning

to take the Roman road back to London.

One particularly unpleasant specimen, Hakon, drew his blade and tried to run away

by going through me."

Alfred grinned. "And how did that go?"

"I didn't touch a hair on his head, but Phillip had to shoot a horse out from under him."

"How did you handle the rest of them?"

Ambrose smiled. "Well, the boat could have been Danish - correction - it was once

Danish, so our faithful escort strung their bows and nocked arrows - just in case.

We, of course, never threatened any of the other guests with violence. They got the

message, however, and eventually clambered aboard.

Einarr, in particular, then bragged that we would be taken on the water by Haesten's

sailors . . . until he saw Haesten's emblem when we raised the sail. Then he was


Alfred stroked his beard absent-mindedly. "The case is hardly irrefutable, but your

logic is impeccable, brother. I fear that we will have to watch our 'friend and ally'

very carefully."

Ambrose smiled. "I don't think for a moment that you considered doing anything

else, Alfred."

Alfred grinned. "You are quite right, big brother!"

"And what about you, little brother?"

"We have our fort just east of here, but there are two large Viking armies nearby.

We patrol daily, and have hung many Viking scouts and couriers."

"Have the Danes met you with serious forces, Alfred?"

"So far they have only sent out relatively small patrols. I think we have managed to

keep them blind and deaf, so they are bumbling through the forest."

"So what are we doing today?"

Alfred smiled. "Since you finally found me, I think I should take you to our new

home. There is a Byzantine there who is eager to talk with you!"