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