Story-telling

The Story of King Alfred
By Harry Ball

This is the story of King Alfred who was a king in England more than a thousand years ago and how he fought against the fierce Vikings to defend his kingdom and his people.

It was Christmas time, and King Alfred was having a good rest. It had been a busy year for him, the Vikings had raided his kingdom three times that year and Alfred had fought five battles with them and had only won two. Things had not gone well, but now winter had come all should be quiet for a while.
Alfred had just started his Boxing day feast at Winchester when bad news was brought to him. A huge Viking army was attacking again, and it was only a few miles away. It was led by a very fierce king called Guthrum who was not a Christian but a Heathen. Alfred called his men together, but most of them were away at their own homes for Christmas. So, there was no time to loose, he must leave Winchester and escape into the countryside before the Vikings got into the town. So with only a few men to help him he fled into the countryside.
They crept through the woods and hedges to hide from the Vikings who seemed to be everywhere. Slowly, they made their way westwards into Somerset where there were lots of marshes and where they could hide where the Vikings wouldn’t find them.
Soon they came to an island in the marshes with a small village on it, and the people of the village took them in and gave them food and shelter. By this time they were all scruffy and dirty and they didn’t tell the villages who they were, or that the king was with them, just in case the Vikings found out they were there.
After a few days Alfred’s men went out hunting for food, because the village was poor. Alfred stayed behind, on his own. He was just sitting thinking about what he could do to get rid of the Vikings from his kingdom when the wife of the man whose house it was came in to put some cakes by the fire to bake. “Look after these cakes young man” said the woman rather roughly. “And don’t let them burn”. Alfred nodded and she went out, but soon he was thinking about the Vikings again.
After a while there was a strong smell of burning, but Alfred didn’t notice. But he did when the woman came back. “You dozy idiot” she shouted, “You’ve let all my cakes burn. It took me ages to make those. All you do is sit about all day doing nothing, just day-dreaming. You only wake up when you want to eat my cakes. Now you will all have to do without any.”
Just at that moment Alfred’s men got back and heard the old woman shouting. They all rushed into the hut where Alfred was sitting looking very embarrassed. “Why are you shouting like that?” said one of Alfred’s men sternly to the woman. “Because he’s let all my cakes burn” she said angrily.” “But this is the King” said the man. When she heard this the woman became very frightened. “Oh dear” she said “I didn’t know. Nobody told me he was the King” At this Alfred laughed very loudly. As well as being a great King he was also a very kind man and didn’t want to get the old woman into trouble. “It was all my fault” he said “I was thinking about what I must do about the Vikings, and I forgot all about the cakes. I’m very sorry” he said to the woman. The old lady was pleased she wasn’t going to get into trouble so she promised to make every body some more cakes. And so she did, and she made a very special cake for Alfred, now that she knew that he was the King.

Alfred and his men stayed for some months at Athelney, for that was the name of the village. And he made plans and sent out messages to all the men who lived in the countryside round about to tell them to get ready for a big battle against the Vikings. When he thought his men would be ready Alfred sent a message out for them all to meet at Ecgbyrht’s stone. This was a great big stone which had been set up on its end so long ago that nobody could remember who Ecgberht was, or why the stone had been put up. But it was so big that everybody knew where it was, and so it was a good place to meet. When Alfred got there, there were hundreds of brave men who had come to fight the Vikings with him. Alfred thanked them all for coming and they all marched off together to fight the Vikings.
The two armies met at a place called Edington and there was a big battle. The Vikings attacked first but Alfred’s men held them back. Then the Anglo-Saxons attacked the Vikings, but they were held back as well. The Vikings attacked again, and then the Anglo-Saxons, and so it went on all day.
But slowly the Anglo-Saxons began to win and the Vikings became tired till at last they gave up and ran away. They were chased by the Anglo-Saxons until they reached a wooden castle they had built earlier, and there they were safe for a while. Alfred and his men surrounded the castle and kept the Vikings inside for two weeks until they were short of food. Alfred then sent a message to King Guthrum who was inside with his men, and said that he would let them all go if they promised to do two things. First that they must leave his kingdom and promise never attack it again, and second that Guthrum and all his chief men would give up being Heathens and would become Christians. Guthrum had to think about this for a bit. He would be happy to go home and never come back because Alfred and his men were too good at fighting for him to try again. But become a Christian? He hadn’t thought about doing that before. He talked it over with his chief men. Some said they didn’t like the idea of becoming Christians but others said they had heard about it and they wouldn’t mind if Guthrum said he was going to become one. In the end they agreed to go out of the castle to meet Alfred. Alfred brought along his priests and Bishops with him and they all talked about Christianity and at last Guthrum and his men agreed. They all became Christians and Alfred and Guthrum signed a treaty with Alfred promising that neither of them would attack each other ever again. Before the Vikings left to go home to East Anglia Alfred and Guthrum had become good friends and as long as he lived Guthrum never attacked Alfred or his people ever again.

Copyright © H.B.Wulfgar

Hengest, Horsa and the Coming of the English   by Matt Love

This story is is note-form, for story-tellers to embellish to taste…

Vortigern, a prince of Britain in the last days of the Romans, and before the coming of the English

 He was an ambitious man, who would be High King of the whole Island

He hired Picts to wage war on his rivals, and to assassinate their leaders.

In particular the High King Constan and his son Ambrosius

His Picts won many battles for him, and secretly killed Constan, so that Vortigern became high King himself.

But the boy Ambrosius fled across the sea to Brittany with his mother…

The Picts, meanwhile, demanded higher and higher wages, and blackmailed him

One day, two men introduced themselves at his hall

They were Hengest and Horsa, sons of the king of Saxony, across the Great North Sea.

They said they came in search of a new home, a new master, war, glory and honour

They had three shiploads of warriors at their backs.

In return for their services, they would accept whatever land and gifts Vortigern might offer them.

Vortigern saw a solution to his problems: Their first task, he said, was to rid him of his troublesome Pictish mercenaries

This they did, with great slaughter –

- but they realized that Vortigern might treat them the same way they had treated the Picts.

From that moment, they plotted the eventual downfall of Vortigern, and the acquisition of Britain for their own people, though outwardly they seemed loyal.

When a new Pictish army bent on revenge landed on the eastern shores, Hengest and Horsa met them man for man and drove them back into the sea, although they were outnumbered, for they were fierce warriors: there was great rejoicing in Vortigern’s Hall that night.

But Hengest warned him the Picts would be back again in even greater numbers, and that his brave Saxons would be too few in number to oppose them.

Vortigern thought on this

Hengest then suggested that some of his kin still in Germany might join him and Horsa here in Britain: in return for land, they would defend Vortigern against any number of enemies.

So more Saxons came to Britain, and their kin-folk the Angles, and just in time…

For the Picts send a greater army than ever – but Hengest and Horsa beat them back

This time for good, and Vortigern is overjoyed. He invites Hengest to name his reward

Just as much land as as I can encircle with a single leather thing.   Willingly!

But Hengest kills the biggest bull he can find, and cuts its hide in an intricate pattern so that the whole skin is one huge long strip of delicate thin leather. He can enclose a vast amount of land within it, but Vortigern cannot refuse. He builds a hall, an estate and a great fortress for himself within it.

He invites Vortigern to feast there, and at the feast Vortigern sees Hengest’s daughter Hronwen  and falls in love with her.

‘If you will give me your daughter,’  he says,    I will offer you anything
But you are married already…..                          I will send my wife away
But you’re a Christian ………..                          I will send away my priests
But she is not sufficiently noble birth ……        I will make you a British nobleman
What bride-gift will you offer                             the kingdom of Kent!

The Britons are appalled, and the priests, and Vortigen’s sons, and his wife’s family, and the exile Ambrosius – but the wedding goes ahead, and Hengest becomes Vortigern’s father-in-law.

When Hengest brings news of pirate raids in the north of the kingdom beyond the Humber, Vortigern agrees to even more Angles and Saxons being brought across from Germany to fight them off… they spread west and north until most of the Island of Britain is under their control.

And then the Britons lose their patience with Vortigern. He is deposed as king, and his son Vortimer succeeds him. Vortimer pledges to fight the Saxons and drive back into the sea whence they came.

And for a time he succeeds, until the Anglo-Saxons are driven all the way back to Kent. In the final battle, Horsa is killed, and Vortimer too, and the old British king of Kent whose land Vortigern had taken away from him.

Hengest asks for a truce, and for talks to take place. Surely, he argues, there’s room enough in this green and pleasant island for Britons and Anglo-Saxons to live side by side in peace…

Vortigern, king once more, agrees, and a great feast is prepared, with each British noble sitting next to a Saxon warrior. Weapons are forbidden, and all the talk is of peace and reconciliation.

But Hengest now secretly wants only revenge for his lost brother, the recovery of his lands in Britain, and the death of Vortigern.

At the height of the feast, he cries out ‘Nimmt eowere seax!’ which means ‘take out your knives! And every last British chieftain is killed. As Vortigern lies cowering in a corner, Hronwen spits in his face and turns her back on him. He has lost everything, and makes no resistance when Hengest deals the fatal blow.  Britain belongs to the English!

But what of Ambrosius? He had grown up to be a strong and noble young man, skilled in weapons and fighting, and burning to drive the English out of Britain once and for all. When he hears news of vortigern’s death, he parpares to sail for Britain, together with his chosen companions, foremost among them a young warrior called Arthur.

But that’s another story…

Matt Love, 2009