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While 9th-century England is being plundered by the fierce Danes, Alfred, who is about to become a priest, is persuaded to lead the Christian armies in the defense of their land. He uses a new concept in battle, the pincer movement, and his forces are victorious. Alfred, however, becomes aware of his own lust for blood. Now a hero, Alfred is offered the hand of Aelhswith, the daughter of Buhrud, King of Mercia, and he marries. Alfred remains chaste, nevertheless, maintaining his intention of becoming a priest. When his weak older brother, Ethelred, dies, Alfred inherits the kingdom of Wessex. He is still caught between the two forces of Church and State, but he finally gives up his priestly ambitions when he violently consummates his marriage. Again he faces Guthrum, leader of the Danes, who have entered England to pillage the countryside. Alfred finally agrees to a treaty--he will give up a huge amount of gold and his wife (of whose pregnancy he is unaware) as hostage. Alfred, after a tragic loss by his army, goes into the marshland to live with bandits, vowing that he will never again take up the sword. The need to resist the Danes, however, changes his mind; and with the help of the nobles and peasant reinforcements, he is victorious. He rescues his wife and newborn child and gains the respect of the Danes, leading Guthrum to believe in the Christian God. Having united England, he becomes known as Alfred the Great.