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Ambrose, Prince of Wessex; Journey Home.

Ambrose, Prince of Wessex; Journey Home.

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Ambrose, Prince of Wessex; Journey Home.

346 Seiten
4 Stunden
Apr 28, 2012


Ambrose and his comrades have been marked for death by the emperor of Byzantium. Having being chased from Alexandria and crossing North Africa, they flee north through Italy, doggedly pursued by the Byzantine Admiral Demetrious. The Church attempts to help them, but the Byzantine Emperor has a very long reach. With the pass to France blocked for the winter, they find themselves trapped in northern Italy. Assassins come in the night, and their guides are bribed to kill them. Before the friends can escape to France and England, they must face avalanche, bandits, and savage Viking raiders.

Apr 28, 2012

Über den Autor

After counselling teenagers and adults for over 40 years, Bruce Corbett retired to concentrate on his writing and photography. To date, he has written a collection of Science Fiction short stories and two Science Fiction novels. His greatest project, however, is his series of historical novels based on a fictional hero, Ambrose, Prince of Wessex, set in the time of Alfred the Great.

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Ambrose, Prince of Wessex; Journey Home. - Bruce Corbett


Some seven years before this story opens, Prince Ambrose and Phillip, his faithful tutor and guardian, are captured in a Viking raid on a village along the Wessex coast. While on the way to Europe as captives, a terrible storm almost sinks the ship, and Ambrose, and then Phillip, struggle to save it.

The battered vessel makes a Frisian port, and there many of the Saxon captives are sold. One stranger however, is brought aboard. Thus Ambrose and Phillip meet Polonius, at the time just a chained slave, but once a linguist and scholar of Imperial Byzantium.

The ship reaches the Danish home port, and the three friends are put to work. Ambrose has a generous master, and he falls in love with a slave girl. Phillip is brutally treated, however, and Ambrose and Polonius are forced to flee in order to prevent Phillip from becoming a sacrifice to a Viking god.

The three companions flee by small ship north and then east, until they hit the coast of Norway. They land in an isolated Norwegian village, and after being treated hospitably, leave to begin their overland trek to Sweden to find a friend of Ambrose's old master. Once in Sweden, they meet Gunnar of the Rus and happily settle down as apprentice traders.

The arrival of pursuing Danish tribesmen ends these plans abruptly, however. They are forced to flee once again. Gunnar arranges for the friends to join an expedition sailing for Novgorod; a Slavic river town where Rus tribesmen have been invited to settle.

Ambrose, Phillip and Polonius set up a trading post there for Gunnar. Within months however, they get an opportunity to join another expedition that will take them deep into the heartland of the continent.

After a bitter fight against nomad raiders on the way south, they reach the town of Kiev. There, they work with the leaders to train men and develop a string of fortifications along the river. The vast open steppes are close and nomad raids are frequent.

A fierce attack on the Kiev area by a Pecheneg horde is fought off only with great difficulty, and Polonius’ knowledge of military history becomes instrumental. Soon thereafter, the war arrow is sent up and down the river. A punitive attack on Constantinople, the greatest city in the world at the time, is being planned by the audacious Varangians.

The three friends join the attack on Constantinople, and, after considerable adventures, return to Kiev in the fall. In the spring, the three friends are sent south again, but this time as official emissaries for Kiev's Varangian leaders.

With luck and skill, the three emissaries reach an agreement with the Emperor of Byzantium. They head north again with the good news, only to discover that Kuralla, Polonius' wife, has mysteriously disappeared.

A Slav outlaw risks his life to bring them news of her whereabouts from the north, and the three friends quickly take an expedition north to rescue the beautiful Kuralla. After hard travel and battle, they succeed. They no sooner than reach Kiev, however, than they must sail south again. The emperor of Byzantium awaits their return.

Welcomed by the Emperor in Constantinople, the three find that the doors of the most prominent citizens of the magnificent and decadent city are open to them. Ambrose becomes infatuated with a married noblewoman, and only the timely arrival of Phillip and Polonius save him from assassination. Soon thereafter, Polonius finds himself an unwilling pawn in the imperial power struggle, and the friends must again flee for their lives.

Their ship is captured by Cretan pirates, and the travelers are enslaved. After a daring escape, they make it to the port of Alexandria. Gold and treachery forces them to ride eastward, along the coast of Africa. A Byzantine Admiral pursues them doggedly. After many adventures, they reach Tripoli, where a Moslem slaver delivers them to Byzantine Italy. They are attacked again, and only clever planning allows them to reach the Lombard state of Benevento safely, There, Ambrose renews an acquaintanceship with a priest from when he was a child, and they travel northward with a strong military escort.

The above story may be found in Ambrose, Prince of Wessex; Trader of Kiev, Ambrose, Prince of Wessex; Emissary to Byzantium, and Ambrose, Prince of Wessex, Southern Journey. This Story, Ambrose, Prince of Wessex; Journey Home, begins when Ambrose and his friends start north to Rome, and, eventually, Calais and Angleland.



As much as possible, this story is based on historical fact. I played fast and loose with the dates when Basil became co-emperor and then emperor, but at most I am off by a few months. All of the events referred to, except for those surrounding Ambrose and his friends, are historical facts and concerns. Byzantium and the Holy See were allies against the common menace of Islamic warriors invading Sicily and Italy itself, but there were serious rifts within the Catholic Church. The issues discussed by Admiral Demetrious, the Pope, and Emperor Louis were real. There was great rivalry over which priests, from Rome or Constantinople, should convert the Bulgarians. Several sees in the south of Italy had been taken from the pope’s direct control some time earlier, and the pope was eager to get them back. The Patriarch of Constantinople had been forced to resign under very suspicious circumstances, allowing Emperor Michael to appoint a layman in his place, and this man, Photius, had indeed called a synod of eastern churchmen, where they voted to depose the pope! The serious ideological differences, led, not too much later, to a formal split between the eastern and western wings of the church. Meanwhile, Emperor Louis did lead, about a year later, an army south to attempt to dislodge the Moslems from the city of Barium.

To the north, the great empire of Charlemagne was no more. The king was struggling simultaneously with the ravaging Vikings and his own rebellious noblemen.


Cast of Characters

ADAMO: (Fictitious) The priest who brings Eldred to Ambrose’s chamber in Rome.

ADELCHIS: Ruler of Benevento.

ADOLF: (Fictitious) is a trader with Hans who tests Polonius when they first met.

ANDRETTI, (Archbishop): (Fictitious) Once Brother Andre, he took care of Ambrose when, as a child, the prince visited Rome. He escorts Ambrose and his friends to Rome and then Milan.

ANTONIO: (Fictitious) is the leader of the armed guards based in Aosta. He and his men are hired for the winter and their departure leaves the trade caravan with no guards for the hazardous journey through the mountain pass.

BASIL: (The Bulgarian) Basil was a former slave who made his way to Constantinople and worked in the stables. Noticed by the emperor of the time, Michael III, he became High Chamberlain and, eventually, co-emperor. In 867, he became sole emperor by killing Michael.

BENOIT: (of Paris) (Fictitious) Benoit was the commander of the Franks who drove off the soldiers of Count Boso.

CHARLES: (The Bald) is king of Francia Occidental (France) in 867.

CIRO: (Brother) (Fictitious) The monk in charge of the dismantling of the bridge near Naples.

DEMETRIOUS: (Fictitious) Is the personal aide to Emperor Basil, in charge of the courier ship that was to return Ambrose and his companions to Constantinople. He then took the rank of admiral, and led a fleet to Alexandria, Tripoli, and Italy, in an attempt to catch Ambrose and his companions.

ELDRED: (Fictitious) Brother to Rheda, he is a Jute captive sold in Rome but freed by the woman who bought him.

EMILIO: (Fictitious) The innkeeper in Aosta where Ambrose and his friends spent the winter.

ETHELBALD: Eldest son of Ethelwulf. He seized the throne in his father's absence, but agreed to let Ethelwulf rule the kingdoms of Kent, Essex, Surrey, and Sussex. He ruled from 858 to 860, when he suddenly died.

ETHELBERT: He was crowned king of Wessex upon the death of his brother Ethelbald (860). He re-united the subject kingdoms with Wessex. He died in 865, and was succeeded on the throne by ETHELRED.

ETHELRED: The fourth son of Ethelwulf, he became king upon the death of his brother Ethelbert in 865. He was the king on the throne when Ambrose and his party originally returned to England from his adventures in Russia and Byzantium. Ethelred, in turn died in 871, and the Witan chose Alfred over Ethelred's young children.

ETHELWULF: King of Wessex, he reigned from 839 to 858. He was the father of Ethelbald, Ethelbert, Ethelred, Ethelswith, Alfred, and Ambrose.

FRANCOIS: (Fictitious) Chamberlain to King Charles the Bald of Francia Occidental (France)

GARR: (Fictitious) Was Lieutenant to Hans the Trader.

GABRELLI: (Cardinal) (Fictitious) is commander of the Pope's personal galley when the Byzantines stop it.

GIOVANNI: (Brother) (Fictitious) Monk who is sent to retrieve the oxcart and the timbers at the bridge outside of Naples.

GIUSEPPE: (Fictitious) One of the Italian warriors hired to protect the group of traders when going through the Alps. He was commander of the force.

HADRIAN: (Brother) (Fictitious) Young monk who took the horses away at the bridge near Naples.

HAKIM: (Fictitious) Is the man Ambrose meets when they are imprisoned on the island of Crete. He later journeys across Africa with the friends. Babak, the famous Turkish general, is his grandfather.

HANS: (Fictitious) Is the German trader appointed as caravan-master by the traders.

JEAN MARC: Was one of the bandit soldiers of Count Boso.

JUDITH: Daughter of Charles the Bald, she was the Frankish princess who marries Alfred’s father. After her husband, King Ethelwulf, dies, the new king and son-in-law, Ethelbald, forces his own step-mother to marry him.

JULIUS: (Brother) (Fictitious) The monk who drives the oxcart at the bridge near Naples.

KHALIL: (Fictitious) The first of the two Byzantine spies in North Africa, he encounters Ambrose twice more, once in Southern Italy, and again in Aosta, where he warns him of approaching assassins.

KURALLA: (Fictitious) Wife of Polonius, she is a Slav chieftain's daughter who watched her family killed when she was enslaved. Prince Ambrose bought her to prevent multiple rape, and then frees her to marry Polonius.

LOUIS II: (Emperor): One of Charlemagne’s descendants, he is ruler of northern Italy and part of present-day France.

LUDWIG: (Fictitious) Second trader who tests Polonius when he first met Hans in Aosta.

MARCO: (Bishop) (Fictitious) who sends a warning to Archbishop Andretti of a Byzantine presence.

MORCEAU: (General) (Fictitious) is the commander of the Frankish army who rides against the Danes on the Normandy coast.

NARCISCO: (Fictitious) Is the enemy warrior who tries to ride Polonius, Phillip and Ambrose off the cliff. Polonius wounds the warrior’s horse with a dagger, and both man and horse plunge to their death.

NICHOLAS: (The Great) is pope when Ambrose reaches Rome.

OTTO: (Fictitious) was a Viking who met Ambrose in France and wanted to rob him.

PEPIN: (Fictitious) Was squadron commander for Emperor Louis of Italy.

PIERRE: (Fictitious) Was missis domincus, or ‘envoy of the king’ for Emperor Louis of Italy. He blackmails his way into joining the trade caravan through the Little St. Bernard Pass.

PIETRO: (Fictitious) One of the Italian mercenaries hired to protect the group of traders when going through the Alps. His brother was commander of the force.

POLONIUS: (Fictitious) Ambrose's friend, he is a Byzantine scholar who was sold into slavery and found himself a Viking slave. Once they escape, he travels from Russia to Constantinople and then back to Italy via North Africa.

RHEDA: (Fictitious) is the Angle girl found chained in Demetrious' chambers in Naples.

ROLF, (Captain): (Fictitious) Commander of the Guard who meets Ambrose‘s ship when he lands in Benevento.

SALVATORE: (Fictitious) Owner of the inn in Naples.

THEODOTA: (Fictitious) A Byzantine courtier who seduces Ambrose and tries to get the prince to kill her old and very rich husband. Basil intends to use her money to bribe the palace guards when he seizes the throne.

ZANOLIN: (Sergeant) (Fictitious) Is the soldier who reports the arrival of the Byzantine spy, Khalil.

Nb. Italicized words are in the glossary at the end of the story.


Chapter 1

Centurion Khalil Meets The Travelers South Of Rome.

The armored Lombard warrior pulled his lathered mount to a halt just in front of Archbishop Andretti. He spoke. Your Grace, a Byzantine ship has been spotted along the coast just north of here.

What is it doing?

Nothing, Your Grace. It appears to be anchored.

There is only the one ship?

Yes, Your Grace.

Have any crewmen been seen ashore?

The watchers are not sure.

Either strangers have been spotted on the shore, or they haven’t. How can they not be sure?

No small boats were seen in the water, but the ship must have arrived after dark. It was not there when the sun set.

The archbishop looked at Ambrose and Polonius. "Then I think, Prince and Ambassador, that we must assume that your Byzantine friends have put at least a few men ashore. There is little other reason to arrive at night and anchor in an isolated location. Byzantine ships are always welcome in any of our harbors.’

Polonius looked puzzled. You surprise me, Your Grace. I understood that the Beneventians and the Byzantines were bitter rivals for southern Italy.

That is true, Ambassador, but there is an old Beneventian saying that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Benevento and Byzantium are Christian allies in the never-ending war against the Arab and Berber invaders. Except for a few isolated islands, nothing remains of Byzantine Sicily, and the pirates already hold a base on the mainland, at Barium. Now that the crescent rules across all of North Africa, the Berber tribes send their restless young men north across the sea by the thousands. We do not have a strong-enough navy to fight off the invaders by ourselves. The Byzantines are masters at naval warfare, and we would be fools to not support our Christian cousins when they cruise our waters in their very impressive warships.

Except in this case you do not think that they are here to fight against your common enemy?

Archbishop Andretti sighed. There is always the chance of a pirate ship or two off the coast, but there are no Berber armies anywhere in Benevento. The Berber Italian foothold is on the east coast. Let us look at the facts. A Byzantine ship slips into a dangerous bay at night, carefully avoiding our nearby port where they would be warmly welcomed. I think it would be wise to order more scouts out.

Polonius nodded. I think that would be wise, Your Grace. I warned you that Admiral Demetrious would eventually show up, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has brought his entire fleet.

The archbishop smiled. We will take precautions, my friend, but you must relax. You are in sovereign Beneventian territory now, The Byzantine fiat ends at the border south of here. The Beneventian scouts will soon be beating the bushes for any lost Byzantine sailors. We have a strong escort of soldiers and the good people of Benevento do not bow to the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. Even the powerful emperor of Italy has been forced to accept Beneventian independence.

Bishop, do you mean the holy Roman emperor?

Of course, Prince. Less than 70 years ago, Charlemagne himself swept south into Italy with the intent of conquering it all.

And Benevento held out against Charlemagne?

Well, the truth is . . . no. The duke of Benevento’s sons were taken north as hostages and it took a considerable tribute to buy peace. Charlemagne died, however, and his heirs started squabbling. The sons were released. Benevento just quietly ceased sending any tribute north, and none of Charlemagne’s brood were strong enough to come south and subdue the Beneventians a second time. Ergo, Benevento was forced to pay tribute for a few years, but it has fully regained its independence.

Sergeant Zanolin, commander of the archbishop’s scouts, came around a bend in the road and rode towards his master at a quick trot.

The Archbishop idly watched him approach. He called out when the scout commander was close. Sergeant, what is the news?

There is a single rider on the road, Your Grace. He is a stranger, and he comes this way.

We are worried about an ambush from a strong military force, Sergeant. One stranger does not sound so frightening.

He is not Beneventian, Your Grace. He has the hard look of a veteran soldier and the calluses of a fighting man on his hands. He claims to be a Frank, but I do not believe him.

Then let him approach, Sergeant, but provide him with an escort, and make sure you send scouts out both front and rear. I do not wish to be unhappily surprised by any of the stranger’s friends.

I hear and obey, Your Grace.

As the stranger approached with his Beneventian escort, Ambrose watched him with great interest. He was a big man, armed but not armored. Most intriguingly, he looked vaguely familiar.

Kuralla, wife of Polonius, spoke suddenly. Prince Ambrose, do you not recognize our visitor? It is Centurion Khalil!

Ambrose looked again as the man approached. He smiled at Kuralla as he spurred his horse forward and called out. Why so it is. Welcome, Centurion. Not long ago we were riding the dusty trails of North Africa together, and now I find you in Benevento. I am greatly surprised to see you, but that makes it no less a pleasure. Will you turn around and ride with us a little way?

I am just a humble legionary now, Prince Ambrose. My centurion’s plume was taken as punishment for my failures in North Africa. I would, however, be honored if I could ride with you for a time.

It seems you have a harsh master, Khalil. You did the task assigned you to the best of your ability. No one should fault you for what happened in North Africa.

Both the squadron commander and, when he arrived, the admiral, were very upset, Prince. They needed to vent their frustrations on somebody. A certain Saxon prince managed to extract a rather large sum of gold from the squadron commander, and then had the audacity to throw fire bombs at his ships. Your bombs caused serious damage. I am lucky I escaped a whipping.

That is a shocking story, Khalil, but if I remember correctly, this same admiral and squadron commander tried to kill the innocent Saxon prince you refer to, and his friends, not to mention an entire caravan of innocent merchants. They were that angry over a couple of minor fires?

The squadron commander was upset, Prince, but when Admiral Demetrious arrived, he was livid. The fires you started caused more than minor damage. On one of the ships, the stored Greek Fire caught fire.

Polonius drew his horse near and spoke. Peace be with you, Khalil. Then the ship was a total loss?

"And may the blessing of God be with you, Ambassador Polonius. To answer your question - yes - the ship burned to the waterline, and the other ship burned badly enough that it took some two weeks of hard work to repair the damage. Demetrious had to write Constantinople to explain to Basil where all the gold had gone. Then, to add insult to injury, a day or two later, while they were in the midst of repairs, the emir’s real soldiers showed up and extracted a second bribe - even bigger than the one paid to you. Neither Admiral Demetrious nor his squadron commander were happy men, and both cast around for scapegoats. I can only imagine how the emperor took the news.

Ambrose looked serious. You did nothing wrong, Khalil.

I returned, alive, and did not warn my commander that you were attacking.

That’s because we held you prisoner.

My crime was that I failed in my task and did not have the good sense to die, Ambassador.

Ambrose turned to Polonius. I told you that we could have asked for more gold, Scholar!

The archbishop kneed his horse closer. Is this man a spy, Prince?

Khalil is a Byzantine soldier doing his job, Your Grace. He is one of the men who scouted us out on the caravan trails in North Africa.

Prince, if you but say the word, I will pray for his immortal soul while the Duke’s men stretch his neck from the next tree we pass. The world needs fewer spies, and, if he seeks forgiveness, God will welcome him this very day to a better world.

Khalil is a good soldier, Your Grace, and as Christ took even prostitutes to his bosom, so I would like to take Khalil to mine.

Archbishop Andretti stared at Ambrose for several moments. You never cease to amaze me, Prince. This man is your enemy, who will report your position to his master as soon as he is out of our sight. Yet you wish to let him live?

I believe Khalil to be an honest man and would like to consider him a friend, Your Grace. I think I would prefer it if we just let him eat lunch with us, and then I will send him on his way.

Even Khalil looked surprised. Prince, as much as it grieves me to say it, you know that the archbishop is right. You know that, as long as I am breathing, I will report to my Admiral. I bear you no ill-will, yet I will obey my commander. I am sworn to do so.

Of course, Khalil. I know you to be a good soldier, and I would expect nothing less of you.

"And I will have to tell the admiral where you are, Prince.

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