Edward and his sister Aethelflaed crouched silently in the darkness on top of the cliff as they stared intently down at the fires blazing in the ravine below them. While the Danes slept, they were oblivious of the fact that Alfred the Great’s two children were holding back their vast armies until just the right moment to attack.
Alfred the Great was never a strong man. He was slight of build and fragile and as a child, he’d suffered from Crohn’s disease. His death in 899AD at the age of 50 was predictable. What wasn’t expected was that his death would spark an intense family quarrel between Alfred’s son Edward and his brother’s son, Ethelwold. The squabble, of course, was over who should take the throne and both men had very definite ideas as to who should be the king.
The Danes who’d settled in York weren’t stupid. They were well aware of how much power they would have if they were allied to the successful king so they eagerly pledged their alliance to Ethelwold. What they hadn’t expected was Edward’s feisty sister, Aethelflaed stepping into the action. She had become Lady of the Mercians at her husband’s death, and at her disposal was a huge experienced army that she intended to use to help her brother.
You don’t see many women in history like Aethelflaed. The last warrior queen was a woman by the name of Boudica, the widow of a king from the Iceni tribe during the Roman occupation in 60AD. Boudica was imposingly tall with wild reddish-blonde hair hanging below her waist, a harsh voice and a piercing glare. She had been angry and out for revenge at all cost after the Romans had beaten her and raped her daughters. As the Romans pounded through northern Wales, Boudica led her army into Londinium in ferocious revolt.
Boudica attacked and burnt three cities along the way before reaching the terrified city and a total slaughter was estimated at between 70,000 and 80,000 people. No one was spared who had dealings with the Romans. Even Roman noblewomen were impaled lengthwise on spikes and had their breasts cut off and sewn in their mouths to the accompaniment of sacrifices and banquets.
But Boudica had one big disadvantage. Her army fought with long swords designed for slashing rather than stabbing and they needed plenty of room to swing their blades. And the Romans knew it. With that knowledge, the Romans adjusted their tactics and Boudica died on the battlefield, along with thousands of her tribe.
Here again, at the front of an army, stood another imposing woman … almost a reincarnation of Boudica. Another woman with flaming hair and a piercing gaze. Another woman out to extract revenge for her country and her people. And the Danes living in Wales were her first target.
Aethelflaed went straight to work with anger rippling down the muscles of her back and shoulders and her fiery hair streaming behind her. In these savage times, a women ruler must have had extraordinary qualities and together, she and Edward, knit by blood, marched together at yet another onslaught from the Danes in the north.
In Wales, she captured the king’s wife and thirty-four hostages and the Welsh, justifiably nervous, hastened to offer their perpetual loyalty. With that support, Edward’s army swelled even more. The two strong families, Wessex and Mercia, were now the two ruling kingdoms of Britain.
In the stillness, the two siblings straightened up from their crouch, they raised their swords in the air and their armies hurtled down the slopes towards the sleeping Danes.