Now begins a period in which I am able to lift Norway out of the mud by dint of having excellent kings, and by playing one powerful player kingdom against another, building coalitions in which tiny Norway is the weight in the balance. In this session is born the first of the line of superb Ynglings which for three generations made Norway much more powerful than its size would indicate, just because its kings were so good.
It’s worth pointing out that Konrad Piast is being played by another human.
34. THE MIRACULOUS WORKS OF ST OLAF THE WARRIOR
King Gunnar was a most pious man, and in his time were many churches built in Denmark and up along the Baltic coast. Often he would hear three masses in a single day, and he always gave generously to the poor. Nor was his piety without reward, as shall now be related.
After the war with Germany had ended, the eyes of the Polish King fell upon Denmark; for the realm was grievously weakened by war, and sickness ravaged the new-won lands on the Elbe. Therefore Konrad Piast mustered his host for war and crossed the Oder, and the men of Anhalt and Altmark were forced to flee before his numbers. The entire Baltic coast was ravaged by his army, which advanced like locusts, burning wherever they went; and the cruel heart of the Piast was pleased by the carnage.
Konrad Piast. See? He’s not only cruel, but vengeful too!
Now at this time there were few fighting men left in Denmark, for the war with Germany had killed many of the best; and even when King Philip of England answered the appeal for aid, there was little to stand against the Piasts. It seemed therefore that there was little choice but to ask for peace; and Bjarne of Telemark, the King’s confessor, was chosen as the emissary. He was a stout man, brown of hair and eye, and well liked for his good advice that was always freely given.
Now as Bjarne was praying for guidance on the voyage south, he heard a voice saying, “An evil spirit has taken hold of Konrad Piast; but if you follow my word, we shall be rid of it, and win much advantage for our country thereby.” And he rejoiced, for it seemed to him that the voice was that of Olaf, the warrior-saint who had painted the Cross in his own blood on Norway’s mountains.
Now, when Bjarne came before the Piast King, he saw that evil had dug its claws deep into the man’s soul; but also he heard Olaf whispering in his ear, and knew that no man is beyond redemption. Therefore he went forward without fear; and at this the men of Konrad’s guard wondered, for they had become accustomed to their King’s eye quelling even the bravest. Still Bjarne went forward, and did not kneel before the Pole-King, but instead stood straight and asked what terms Konrad desired for peace. To this Konrad replied “First, that all the men of Denmark must bow before me, and acknowledge that I am the better warrior; and you shall begin.” Now Bjarne said “All men know that Konrad Piast is a great warrior; but I bow only to my own king.”
At this Konrad’s brows drew together in anger, and the spirit of darkness began to swirl in his eyes; which was just as Bjarne had hoped, for St Olaf had told him that to banish the spirit it must first be drawn out of Konrad’s body. Now Konrad rose from the throne and struck Bjarne a great blow, so that his teeth rattled in his skull, and he fell. “Before you gave me such a reply I would have shown mercy,” roared the Piast, “but now I shall burn Denmark to the ground! No stone shall be left on stone in Skåne or Halland, and I shall sow the ground with salt! Children shall tell for a thousand years of the vengeance of Konrad Piast!”
But now in his anger the spirit that possessed the Polish King was exposed, and Bjarne rose to his feet with gladness in his heart. Making the sign of the cross, and raising his crucifix with the other hand, he shouted words that Olaf had taught him :
Dies irae, dies illa
solvet saeclum in favilla,
teste David cum Sybilla.
Juste judex ultionis,
donum fac remissionis
ante diem rationis.
Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus,
cum vix justus sit securus?
At this Konrad trembled like a leaf, and a great light shone forth from the priest’s eyes; and in that light the darkness that had possessed the Polish King melted like snow before the summer breeze. And Konrad Piast fell to his knees and wept at the evil that he had done.
Now there was a great mourning through the land for those who had fallen; but Konrad promised to pay were-gild for the dead. And thus the war with Poland ended by the intercession of Olaf the Saint, and Denmark was at peace once more.
(OOC : Well, ok. It’s just barely possible that the threatened intervention of Byzantium and Naples, on balance-of-power grounds, had more to do with it than St. Olaf. But it reads better my way.)
35. OF HALKJELL KINGS-SON
Now King Gunnar had many sons; but his favourite was Halkjell, whom he had fathered upon a German woman he had found on campaign. Halkjell was a prodigy in strength and swiftness, deadly with any weapon or none. When he was three, one of his father’s guardsmen played at duelling with him; but Halkjell with his sword of wood struck through the man’s guard and straight to his throat, killing him. King Gunnar paid the were-gild, but thereafter there was none who would practice with Halkjell unless they wore armour. Nor was he slow in other matters; at seven he confounded the whole court with a riddle, asking
“Who makes it, has no need of it.
Who buys it, has no use for it.
Who uses it can neither see nor feel it;
What is it?”
to which the answer is, ‘A coffin’, but this was the first time that riddle had been heard in Denmark.
Unhappily, the ill luck that had plagued King Gunnar’s children fell also on Halkjell, and at nine years of age the wasting sickness came upon him. At this Gunnar was most distraught, and for many nights he would get no sleep, praying all the hours of darkness for the life of his son, and by day he fasted, until he grew as thin as Halkjell, though he was in perfect health. At last the thought struck him that he should pray to St Olaf, who has power to protect warriors. By dead of night he went to the chapel, and promised the saint three good stone churches if Halkjell was spared.
The next day Halkjell ate a bowl of gruel; the day after, he could walk outside his bed; and in a week, he could once more race the horses of his father’s guardsmen, though he had lain three months in sickbed. King Gunnar was overjoyed, and immediately set forth to fulfil his promise to the saint; in Lubeck and Skåne he ordered built great stone churches in the new style, so huge that ten men could stand on each others’ heads inside them, and also in Altmark he built a church for St. Olaf. And ever after he would light a candle each day for the saint.
You can see why I was so eager to save Halkjell’s life :
I really did build three churches, too. 🙂
35. RESTORATION OF NORWAY
Now while Magnus Sverkerätten had held the throne of Norway, there had been little luck in that kingdom; twice the Svear had forced Magnus to make peace, and to give them Småland, that his family had held since times immemorial. Therefore King Gunnar now decided that the time had come to retake the crown of his ancestors, and he mustered the men of Skåne, Viken, Halland, Dal, and Västergotland. It was his plan to fall upon Magnus by stealth as he celebrated the midsummer feast of St Hans; but as the host was marching through Närke a bonde of that land spied them, and roused the men of the district against them. So when they came to Östergotland where Magnus held court, they found there a large host raised against them; but still the Yngling men were twice as numerous. Therefore King Magnus challenged Gunnar to a holmgang, and said that the victor should have both crowns; and this Gunnar accepted, for he was much younger than Magnus, and felt confident of victory.
So they went to an island in Vättern, which was not far away. Now King Magnus was old, but also cunning and skilled in battle; and he struck the first blow so shrewdly that King Gunnar’s sword went flying. “Now I think Gunnar has lost, for he is weaponless,” said he. But the Yngling king replied, “He is not weaponless whom God fights for”, and he struck Magnus a mighty blow with his shield, so that his jaw and nose broke. But Magnus’ sword pierced his brynje and went into the stomach, so the guts broke and the shit came out. Then Gunnar fell atop Magnus, and they wrestled; and St Olaf was with the Yngling, and after a while he got his teeth into Magnus’ throat and ripped it out, so that he died.
So Gunnar was crowned King of Norway, and the jarls all hailed him, for they were glad to be ruled by an Yngling once more. But the wound that Magnus had given him in the fight festered, and he died soon after. He was much mourned in the land, for he had been good to the common people, and his piety was much admired. Some called him Gunnar the Holy by reason of the many churches he had built. But most call him Gunnar the Peacemaker, for he had brought Norway and Denmark together after many years of separation, and thereby created peace in the land; and also he had gotten peace with the Piast when all seemed lost.
Here ends the saga of Gunnar Torgeirsson Yngling.
The Yngling lands after my highly successful war with Norway, in which – grr – my King fell before he could legitimise Halkjell and make him heir. So much for my superman king; I fear his brother Olaf is not likely to recognise him as legitimate, and anyway he’s not in the direct line of succession anymore. Well, at least he’ll make a crackerjack marshal, or chancellor, or indeed anything else I put him to.