Another Yngling arrives, and finds that not all is as simple as it looked from the uptime.
December 27th, 1116
One moment: Warmth, lights, the hum of machinery, the sharp tang of adrenaline at the back of the mouth. The next: Cold, dark, utter stillness, and the dry crunch of snow underfoot sending chills up his back, remembered and loathed from a hundred training marches. A clear night, the aurora making swooping sheets of green and pink overhead – and the sky was empty. Eyvind sighed in relief and some surprise; it had worked. He looked about; Henrik or Geir should be meeting him, if they had made it.
There: A man coming down the hillside, mittened hand held up in greeting. He spoke in Old Norse: “Hail, wayfarer. You have come far. I bear word for you from Geir Jonsson; he says, Halkjell har våknet.” The last phrase was in uptime Norwegian, and Eyvind relaxed; only an Yngling would have found meaning in it. He replied: “Greeting. I would have words with Geir, or with Henrik Haraldsson if he is here; will you take me to them?”
“I do not know a Henrik; but Geir lives, and waits for you at his farm in Viken; I am his son Ragnvald.”
Ah so; not a random stril then, but a man of the Ynglings. Eyvind reappraised the man; he didn’t hold himself with the slight tension that showed in most uptime Ynglings, the instant readiness to fight, nor did he consciously project dominance as was taught in uptime schools. Geir would have had other things to do and to teach. But the axe at his side had seen use, and he was powerfully muscled; with the weapons of the age he might well be a match for Eyvind, who had trained mostly with guns and tanks before joining the Secret Hird. Well, they were on the same side, and respect was due an Yngling who could outfight you. Eyvind relaxed his stance; no need to fight or dominate here. “That is well. Let us begin; I think we have a ways to go.”
January 16th, 1116
The room was silent except for the crackle of the fire. Eyvind shook his head, trying to shake the air of unreality about it all; here was Geir, whom he had last seen young and healthy three weeks ago, looking aged beyond belief, with sons older than Eyvind and a grandson old enough to sit in council with his elders. He set aside the culture shock, and went for the part he could understand without making the mental effort to think like a downtimer: Yngling dominance games. “So Anja is out there somewhere, strength unknown, intentions unknown?”
“Yes. We’ve had the occasional bits of news – raiding in the Baltic, mainly. Some atrocities, even by local standards; men blinded, livestock killed, fields burned. Nothing lately, though. She may have run into someone smarter or tougher; or – not. She’ll be getting on a bit, though; she’s pushing forty-five by now.”
Eyvind reflected. “Well – not an immediate problem, then, and perhaps not one at all. Who knows, she may even be trying to help us; weakening the Baltic polities, building a power that will ally with us – she was never disloyal, Anja. Headstrong, but loyal. Let’s think of matters closer to home. What next?”
“Ah.” Geir frowned, staring into the fire. “I’ve thought about that, and I think there are two answers. First, foreign policy. I believe the time has come to conquer Sweden. We have, now, a strong base in a fairly unified Norway, with Ynglings in many powerful positions. Let’s push on.”
“Fair enough,” Eyvind nodded, “I can get behind that. Axes and shields, it’ll be interesting. And the other?”
“Domestic politics. I think the Secret Hird made a mistake, which we should rectify.”
“The pure, male-descended blood. Consider: Here we sit, six of us, all Ynglings. And nobody knows it but us. If we follow our instructions, our own descendants will be ground into poverty and submission! Unless of course they are female, and lucky enough to marry into the Yngling line. It cannot stand, Eyvind; none of us who got sent back will stand for it. And what’s more, it can’t possibly work: We cannot guide the politics of a Norway that allows only pure-blooded Ynglings into the upper class, if we are not acknowledged as pure-blooded Ynglings! So… someone writing that document had a rush of blood in a downwards direction, and let the Destiny and Will of the Yngling People overrule any actual thinking about what’s possible. You know what I’m talking about?”
Eyvind nodded, slowly. He’d seen it happen, of course: Ynglings so devoted to the idea of themselves as the master race that they forgot the long centuries of calculation, loss-cutting, and desperate fighting that had gotten them even to the precarious dominance they had in the uptime. There was a whole genre of literature that served them, power-porn as they called it. The Secret Hird had tried to recruit only the cold-bloodedly realistic – if nothing else, the powermongers tended to the assumption that Norway could win a nuclear exchange, so they wouldn’t be too attracted by a way to avoid that war – but it wasn’t hard to imagine one slipping through the cracks, and carrying along whatever committee had written those objectives by sheer rhetoric. After all, it was an ideal, that all Ynglings should be descended from King Olav; it was just that nobody had thought about how that ideal would affect the agents sent back, and their descendants.
“All right, I see the problem, right enough. I don’t fancy being a stril, or my sons being strils, any more than you do. So what do you propose to do?”
“I think we need to get out of the trap we got ourselves into, uptime. four-fifths of our population couldn’t fight because we didn’t trust them; and the rest couldn’t do anything but fight because they had to keep a lid on! And you saw what happened: China could grow around us, because sure, the Party skimmed off the best of everything, but at least it was possible to get into the elite. So… I think we need to do away with the whole thing. No more Ynglings, no more strils, just Norse. We’re all in it together, we’d better behave that way.”
Eyvind blinked, shocked; never mind Liberal, here was Radical beyond Radical, a doctrine to overturn worlds and nations. And yet, wasn’t that precisely what they had done? Truly, it was a new world; anything was possible here. And yet: “But in that case… why? Why fight to make Norway supreme, if not because we’ll rule in it? We might as well settle down on farms and make children, and wait for, I don’t know, the Burgundians to buy Denmark.”
Geir sighed, sinking back down into his chair. “Yes… I know. Well. We’ll still have strils; I don’t see a way around that. Nobody with the ambition and aggression it took to get sent back here will stand for any sort of egalitarianism, either. Even now, we don’t have a really clean slate; we still have to pay for our fathers’ choices. Even now… But we can make the same choice as them. And we can make it before we are forced to, and so reap larger benefits. Listen: In the uptime, after the Twenty Years’ War, ‘Yngling’ meant “anyone who speaks Norse and fought in the war”. It didn’t have anything to do with the bloodline. Well, they had to do it that way. It was either that, or a civil war that would tear Norway apart. And why? Because there were never enough Ynglings. And there never were, at any time, in the uptime history. It was the same every time the franchise was expanded: We had absolutely no choice, we had to have more Ynglings – more upper-class fighters. So first it was female descent, and freeing any slave who would fight, and then marriage licenses for strils, and childlessness taxes, and marriage licenses handed out like candy – and at last the Great Emancipation. Forced, every time; and because it always came at the last minute, it was always just enough to get us over the crisis. Well, I say we learn from that. Let’s forget about Yngling blood, we never enforced it anyway when push came to shove. Let’s talk about Norse blood. Let’s have a large fighting population right from the start, and not find ourselves forced to fight huge political battles to expand it every time we have a war, and get just enough people just in time. Let’s consider every man of Norse descent just as good as ourselves, and work from there to subjugate the rest of Europe. There are strils enough outside Norway; let’s not find any inside.”
There was silence then. Geir’s sons stood around their father, hulking men in peak physical condition, facing Eyvind; the fire glinted in their eyes. Eyvind felt no intimidation; they needed his conviction, not his mere forced cooperation. Even so, it was clear that five-sixths of the adult, male Ynglings in the land were of one mind in this; and that had to weigh in his decision. He turned it over in his mind, but could not get a grip on it; it was too large a revolution.
“I… will need time, to think. You may be right. But I cannot say at this moment.”
Geir nodded. “Yes, of course. I’ve had fifty years, and it is a large thought. Think, then.”