There Will Be War: Orphan II

My second orphan, a war with some rebels in Sweden, which never occurred because I didn’t conquer Sweden until much later, due to the Westman Rising.

May 3rd, 1081
Uppland, Sweden

It was deep shame for an Yngling to admit it, but Geir was afraid. Had been, in fact, every time he went into the line, since that first battle in Brittany. It wasn’t like a duel, that was the problem. There was no downtimer Geir feared in single combat, where skill and speed could be made to count. But this was line fighting of heavy infantry, where the push of shields and weight of metal was decisive, and there was no room to dodge and only barely to use one’s shield. Geir still had an advantage; he was larger and stronger than any down-timer, his body shaped by five centuries of eugenics and a carefully scientific diet and training regime from age five. But that went only so far. In the heat and chaos of the line, where an axe or spear could come from any angle, he was nearly as vulnerable as the next man. And he was afraid.

He snarled at the Swedish line, mentally reciting words from his youth: “The mind knows no fear. Fear is the knowledge of the body. My will is master of my body, and my honour is master of my will. I shall not flee. I shall turn my fear to anger, and my anger to strength. My foes have brought me to this point; my enemies have caused this fear. I will overcome them, and know fear no more.” It helped a little.

There was nothing to be done about it; the men expected Geir Jonson and the axe Man-biter to be in the front line. And if he weren’t, the Swedes would take heart. They must know by now that it was a hopeless rebellion; Uppland had risen, well and good, but the other jarldoms and tings had been too beaten to follow. But they were stubborn folk, the Swedes, and anyway, as Geir himself had pointed out on many occasions, “They are more than us, but that does not tell all the tale”. A fine thing to read in a saga, but much more annoying when it meant an enemy would have a chance to bash your head in with an axe. Anyway, it wasn’t so certain as all that. Let someone in the Norwegian line slip and make a hole, or some berserk among the Swedes bash down his opponent and stride forward… The Swedes were right, that was all; the numbers didn’t tell all the tale. And if Geir lost this, then the rest of Sweden might rise to support the Upplanders, and then…

That was the deeper fear. Geir could deal with the fear of the body, although his sweat was cold; he had done so many times before. But the fear that his advice had bit off more than Norway could chew, that was something else again; it cut to the bone. Oh, yes, the geostrategy was fine: Take Sweden, call on its deep reserves of skilled warriors whose attitudes would fit right into the Ynglinga Hird, reach the Baltic, remove a threat on Norway’s eastern flank.. fine. But he hadn’t expected the Swedes to be so damn stubborn about it! There had been too many risings already. Norway was a kingdom, but not yet a people; let the Trondhjem folk, or the vestlenders, see the King weak, and they might rise as well. It had happened once in Geir’s timeline, and for twenty years the Yngling kings had held Denmark and its crown lands, and nothing else. If the Great Rising were to occur again, without Denmark, without Ynglings in most of the great offices of the land – it would be the end. And he, Geir Jonson, would be personally responsible.

The Swedes were coming forward at a steady walk, clashing swords against shields, up the hill towards where the Norwegian host stood. The noise was formidable, but Geir wasn’t worried about that; after five years of war, his front line was full of veterans. They weren’t going to run from a little noise. Indeed, the entire host was keeping perfect silence, just as he’d taught them – then, as the Swedes came within striking distance, broke into a single unified shout of “DREP! DREP!” and sprinted forwards.

It worked as it always did. The terrifying silence and stillness, then the sudden eruption – there were no cowards in the Swedish host, but it would have taken superhuman courage not to flinch a tiny bit. Just a moment’s shock, a tiny ripple along their advancing line; such a small thing to die for. But in that single instant of startlement, the Norwegians struck. Shields clashed on shields; for all that the skalds praised his axe Man-biter, Geir knew that it was shields that won battles, and he’d trained his men thus. It was shields, not swords, that let you rock a man back on his heels, unbalance him, break into his line – and then put him down with a single stroke of the axe.

Now that he was fighting, Geir had no time to be afraid. The Swedish line had shattered like fine china hit with a hammer; but there were no cowards in this land. One rose from the ground where he’d slipped, and rushed at Geir shield foremost. Geir stood his ground, using weight and strength to throw the Swede back, then striding forward to lend weight to his axe. Man-Biter bit deep into the Swede’s shield, cracking it and the arm beneath it; the man went down with a deep groan. Geir refrained from the killing stroke; the man was young and might be useful later, if he could be convinced to fight someone other than Norwegians. A broken arm was usually a fairly convincing argument. Primate dominance…

Geir realised that if he had time to think about that sort of thing, the battle was over; indeed, the few Swedes still on their feet were running off into the forest. It had worked, he was safe yet again. Norway would live.

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5. It is told of King Olav’s wife, Anastasia, that during the Swedish war, when her husband had sent her to rule in Angermanland, she grew cold towards him, and often complained that a true husband would not send her off to the ends of the earth. Now it happened one year that when the King’s man Havard came to collect the land-tax for Angermanland, Anastasia refused to give it to him; instead she gave it out to the men of the district, saying that as they were Swedes, it was not right for them to pay for a Norwegian war. As Havard had not gone man-strong to meet with the wife of his king, he had little choice but to accept this. But when the King heard, he was most displeased, and traveled swiftly to Angermanland, taking five hundred men of Viken with him. There he met with his wife, and demanded that the land-tax be paid. To this Anastasia said “The land-tax is gone, and cannot be recalled. But I will give you the same weight in silver from my own coffer; and feast your men besides.” And this the King accepted; and he then guested with his wife for some time. Nine months after this, a son was born to Anastasia; he was called Trond.

It was really quite interesting. My wife rebels against me (having become my rival some time before), I smash her, and the day after the siege ends, poof, “Olav and Anastasia are expecting a child.” Curious…

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