Oh, wait. Wrong war. The Charge of the Light Brigade was written to memorialize a suicidal charge by light cavalry over open terrain by British forces in the Battle of Balaclava (Ukraine) in the Crimean War. Had nothing to do with the Danes and the Saxons and the Britons. But disheartening to see how all the battles and wars seem the same. Bloody, and often pointless.
But, back to ninth century England. The fourth in the Saxon Warriors chronicles has our hero, Lord Uhtred, sworn still to King Alfred, He is in charge of building and maintaining one of the many burhs that dotted the landscape of King Alfred’s territory. A burh is an Old English name for a fortified dwelling place belonging to a king or noble. Alfred the Great developed the use of burhs as strongpoints that could be used against an attacker. They could be constructed from scratch, but more often were situated at the site of Iron Age hill forts or old Roman towns where the fortifications could be rebuilt and strengthened. Many were situated on rivers with the intention of stopping an attacker from advancing into the interior of the kingdom. Many modern boroughs and place names containing ~bury derive their origins from the medieval burh.Here is an example of a burh.
Don’t you just love it when you can learn something interesting from reading fiction? Yeah, me, too.
So Uhtred is there with his now-wife Grisela and their two kids. And then Aethelwold, the king’s hapless nephew, a disputer to the throne, also a drunk and womanizer, came to Uhtred claiming that a corpse rose from the grave and spoke prophesies, that he, Aethelwold would be King of Wessex (ha, fat chance), and that Uhtred would be a king too. So superstitious Uhtred goes and see for himself a corpse rise from the dead and claim he will be a king, of Mercia. Pfffft. And Uhtred bought it.
Now, twin brothers, Danes, Viking guys, have taken over London. One of the brothers invites Uhtred to witness a crucifixion of some priests. Uhtred recognizes his old friend from the battle up north as Pyrlig, a priest, but a fantastic warrior as well. Uhtred tricks Sigefrid, the Viking dude, into promising the prisoners can go free if Pyrlig beats him in single combat – which he promptly does.
Uhtred is summoned by Alfred and ordered to plan an attack on London to dislodge the Norse brothers and turn the city over to Alfred’s son-in-law and ally Earl Aethelred of Mercia. You will recall that Aethelred is a cousin on his mother’s side, and has married King Alfred’s fourteen year old daughter. By stealth Uhtred’s seaborne assault works and the defenders of London are caught out in the open as they sally forth to confront Aethelred’s larger attacking army.
The defeated Danes set up a garrison nearby, and idiot Aethelred goes after them with 16 boats, but he was defeated, and the Danes were able to kidnap Aethelred’s young wife. Alfred is distraught at the threat to his daughter and is willing to ransom her from his foes. Uhtred is sent to negotiate the price and terms with Sigefrid. Whilst in their camp he learns that Erik (the other twin) and Aethelflaed have fallen in love, whereupon Erik and he plot to spirit her away from her captors; all without either of their leaders knowing what they plan.
There is a huge battle in the mouth for the inlet where the Vikings have holed up with it often being none too clear who is fighting for whom. This climax to the narrative is fought over marshland, waterside, on ship and across ships. Erik is killed by his twin brother Sigefrid, but Uhtred and his crew quickly gain victory over Sigefrid’s own warriors, and Sigefrid himself is killed. Aethelflaed, the king’s daughter, is rescued and the story ends with Uhtred taking her back to her father.
Whew. I get all out of breath just writing all this. What a story! Can’t wait to find out what happens next.
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honour the charge they made!