Great Game XXIII: The Black Death and the Third Polish War

The plague drops manpower in affected provinces by 90%, and because it starts in Persia and sweeps across Europe province by province, it hits unevenly. Norway tends to be among the last places hit. So my plague-ridden Norway is fighting an almost fully recovered Poland, and then in addition he is sending his forces north and ignoring the Italians. Very nasty for me.



Now for some years, a pestilence had raged in the southlands, such that no man had seen its like before. Men said it was the punishment of God for sins; for so fearful was the disease, that when the pestilence entered a house, those who were not afflicted would flee, and not remain to tend the sick. Many begged their relatives not to abandon them when they fell ill; but the living would reply, “So that you do not need to call out in the night and awaken those who tend you, here is some bread to put by your pillow, and here is wine to drink.” Then when the afflicted had fallen asleep, they would flee that house, and not return.

At every church, or at most of them, they dug deep trenches, down to the waterline, wide and deep, depending on how large the parish was. And those who were responsible for the dead carried them on their backs in the night in which they died and threw them into the ditch, or else they paid a high price to those who would do it for them. The next morning, if there were many in the trench, they covered them over with dirt. And then more bodies were put on top of them, with a little more dirt over those; they put layer on layer just as in making charcoal.

Now in Norway at this time there was much praying and some hope that the plague would not reach so far north; for there were some who believed that it was caused by the action of the Sun on middens, and others held that Norwegians were not as sinful as southern peoples. But in 1338 a ship came to Bergen from England with a cargo of grain; and before the cargo was fully unloaded all the crew were dead. It was found that they had the buboes under their arms; and when this was heard, there was a great outcry, and the ship was burned. But still the plague struck hard, and spread quickly into the deep valleys, as fast as a man could walk. One man, Gunnar Eiriksson, sailed north to Nidaros to escape the plague; he had a fast ship; but when he had got to Nidaros, the plague followed three days behind him, and he died there. His name is written in the Book of the Dead that the monks there keep. It is the last name for that year; for after this, the monks were too busy to keep their records, and many who died had no kin to say their names.


OOC : Or is it the fourth? I’ve lost count. Anyway, we had a lot of trouble with crashes this week, so I have to end in the middle of the war. Seems RP will get his wish for this update at least. 😦

It has been told how, after the Piast kings of Poland were driven from Gardarike by the West-kings, the Mongols invaded that land; also we have heard how King Olaf Halkjellson was forced to make common cause with the hereditary foe, and how his son Trond destroyed the Mongol armies on the White Coast and established Norwegian rule of that land. But by this means the Piasts came again to rule a large part of Gardarike; and as King Olaf was dead, and no man was as great as he in forethought or charming speech, the alliance of the West-kings could not be raised again.

Now many years had passed in this wise, and Poland had grown strong and wealthy on its rule in the East. Kazimierz Piast had the kingly power there at this time; he was a hard and greedy man, very stern, who never forgot any injury. But he always gave fair judgments, and so widely ranged his guardsmen and lawgivers that it was said a naked virgin could walk from Stettin to the Don with a bag of gold in either hand, and know no fear.

Kazimierz in his prime.

Now it happened that Kazimierz quarreled with Samuel, who was king in Hungary, over the ownership of Sandomierskie, and it came to war between them; and in this struggle Kazimierz had the advantage, for he had many more men, and better armed. Therefore he forced Samuel to give over Sandomierskie, and also to promise that the Cumans should have their own king again, as it had been in the days before the Mongols came. When Samuel had agreed to all this, he asked that the Piasts should not raise war against the Cuman for ten years; but Kazimierz replied with this poem :

Swords ring bright in sunlight;
woe has the vanquished.
He who loses battles
has no claim to spoils.
Let him beg for mercy,
or to his betters speak not.

Later Kazimierz raised an army, and went into the Cuman lands with many men, and gained the rule of most of it.

King of Cuman
The new King of Cuman, though not for very long,a s it turned out.

King of Hungary
His former master, Samuel of Hungary. Not best pleased with this development, you may be sure!

Now when the other Christian kings heard word of this, they became uneasy; and also there were some who said that to make war on a king who had his throne from one’s own acts was impious, and that the pestilence was God’s punishment for such a nithing deed. Therefore King Vladimir of Italy sent word to Samuel, to Eystein, and also to such other kings as he thought would support him against the Poles, and offered them ships and men if they would fight Kazimierz. And because there had long been peace in Christendie, and men of spirit chafed for great deeds, many listened to his words.

Vladimir Hauteville
Vladimir Hauteville, the organiser of the new Western Alliance.

So it happened that King Eystein sent word far around in Norway that there would be a muster when the harvest was in. But now the plague had ravaged far and wide, worse than any of the Viking kings of old; and when the leidang gathered outside Bergen harbour, there were only three hundred ships, and some were rather thinly manned. Because of this, there were some who said that Norway should not go to war, but instead pray for peace and good weather; Inge Raude was foremost among these. But King Eystein said “God’s punishment knows no flag; our foes are as weak as we. If I had known you were afraid as well red, I would not have made you chief of the hird.” At this Inge grew angry, and said “It is ill for a king to speak thus to his friends. But I will fight as hard as any, if you command it.” Eystein gave him a golden arm-ring, and they spoke no more of the quarrel.

Inge Raude
Inge the Red, my mouthy marshal. It’s all his fault, I tell you. 😀

Now King Kazimierz had gotten wind of the plan that Vladimir had proposed, that many kings should fall upon him and force him to give over rule of Gardarike; and therefore he had prepared his host, and had sent word to Richard of Flanders, and to Meinhard of Bohemia, asking if they would stand with him. And they agreed to fight by his side; for Richard was no friend to Norway, nor to France, and coveted the lands that King Eystein had won between the Elbe and the Weser. And Meinhard recalled the ancient friendship between Nordheims and Piasts, that had won his ancestors their throne, and also Kazimierz promised him the rule of Eystein’s lands on the Oder; and this included Brandenburg, which was a very rich city.

Now these three kings knew that they could not win over all their foes at once, and therefore Richard proposed this plan : “We shall fall upon Norway quickly, and bring Eystein to heel, so he is forced to acknowledge our might; then we can turn south and fight Vladimir when his men are hungry and tired from marching.” And so it was agreed; and all three kings sent word to their southern holdings that the men there should muster in the north, and not defend their own lands, but instead hide both harvest and women, so that the invaders should find no comfort.

Meanwhile King Eystein sailed southwards; also he had sent word to his landsmen and underkings in Svealand and Denmark, that they should come to meet him.But Eystein knew that there was little food in the lands that the plague had ravaged, and also he had fresh in minds the lesson of the War of Celleian Succession, when five men ahd starved for each that died in battle; and so he did not call all his host to the same place, but instead sent one to attack the south, one to hold back the Poles, and himself led an army west over the Elbe to deal with the Flandern army. Likewise he sent word that his vassals in Finland should not come south, but instead seize Novgorod and harry the Polish lands on the Dvina; and men from Sweden landed north of Danzig to ravage Kazimierz’ crown-lands.

BalticWarWar in the Baltic…

Siege of Novgorod
…war in the North. Truly a Great War, a war such as has not been seen in living memory.


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