There Will Be War: Daggers in St Olafsburg

Providing place names that both make sense in the other timeline, and are halfway recognisable, is a perennial challenge. There won’t be a Peter the Great to found a capital city at the end of the Bay, here. But there will certainly be a trading city there, so what do you call it?

There is, unfortunately, no way to actually support rebels in other countries in Crusader Kings. It would be a much more interesting game if you could. I did have a largish revolt in Sweden about this time, though, and replaced the rebellious counts with Ynglings.

I see I have a minor continuity error here: Aslak is providing uptime drugs in the form of powders, which are not mentioned anywhere else; they are all liquids wherever else they appear. No matter, this sort of thing must be expected when you use forbidden science to warp the very structure of reality.

June 20th, 1150
St Olafsburg, Norwegian Finland
(Our timeline: St Petersburg)

The iron offered was of good quality, but the price was absurdly high. After two hours of haggling, Bjarne suggested they break for drinks, which the trader accepted happily. It was a standard maneuver, of course: Get the pagan Finn drunk, then haggle him down. The Finns had been wising up lately, though, and Bjarne knew that Jarkko, in particular, had a reputation for a truly cast-iron stomach, and for using it to swindle foreigners who thought they could drink him down. Blind and double-blind: Strong drink would not work, but Bjarne had an extra trick up his sleeve. Aslak had given him a powder before he left Norway, and now he sprinkled a little of that in Jarkko’s mead.

Aslak had come from Dovre, like Bjarne’s grandfather in his time. He thought strangely, but his advice was good; and his tricks were excellent. Bjarne watched with satisfaction as Jarkko’s eyes widened a little and his expression loosened. “So,” he began, “why are you asking this price? You must know nobody here will pay a hundred marks for a hundredweight of iron.”

“Ah, but they will!” Jarkko was animated. “If you cannot afford to match their price, that is your business; I’ll tend to mine.”

“Who would pay such a price?”

“Fools and madmen.” Jarkko winked and leaned closer, lowering his voice. “And Russians. They try to deal through Balts, but I keep my ear to the ground – I know who hires go-betweens, and who rents warehouses.” He blinked owlishly, perhaps surprised at having revealed what he knew; telling secrets of that sort was bad for business. The powder would wear off quickly, but Bjarne had what he wanted: He knew who had been bidding up the price of Finnish iron. He made small talk for a while, then launched one more attempt to get the price down to a reasonable 80 marks, for form’s sake, before stalking off in a huff. If anyone was watching him, they would only see another frustrated Norwegian trader, unable to make a profit.

Now, why would the Russians want Finnish iron? They could hardly be needing it for themselves; they had their own sources in the heartland of their empire, and no need to buy from the Finns – at high prices – and ship it over hundreds of miles of cranky rivers and bad roads. No, if they were buying here – and working in secret, too – they were up to something sneaky. Something labyrinthine and indirect. Something Russian.

———————————————–

June 22nd, 1150
St Olafsburg, Norwegian Finland

In a larger city the docks would have been still lively, even well past midnight; in summer it never became truly dark here, and the whores and bars would have taken advantage of the cheap lighting. But St Olafsburg was a new city, and its population ran only to a few hundred, mainly sobersided merchants; there weren’t enough sailors yet to support a real red-light district. So the streets, if the mud between the houses could be dignified thus, were quiet. Bjarne waited until he was sure his targets slept; then he climbed up onto the barrel he’d placed behind their house earlier in the day, and began digging through the thatch. A few minutes’ rustling work made a man-sized hole in the roof, and he slipped through.

He stood still in the half-darkness for a few minutes while his eyes adjusted; gradually he was able to see the inside of the single room of the house. A trunk bed with two people in it, a cot on the floor, a table, some chairs. Moving carefully, he sprinkled a little powder on the lips of the man in the cot, timing with his breath so it would get sucked in; then repeated it on one of the men in the trunk. They would sleep through a viking raid, now, if Aslak was right, and his powders had been splendid so far. For the third man, Bjarne had something different; the powder he’d used on Jarkko, to loosen his tongue, and an evil-smelling purple liquid to make him forget.

“What is your name?”, he began, shaking the man gently; no need to begin with the dangerous questions. Still half-asleep, the Russian willingly mumbled “Anatoliy”.

“Where were you born?”

“Great Novgorod, in the Traders’ Street.”

“Who sent you here?”

“Vladimir…”

“Why?”

“To buy the iron.”

He was well into the rhythm now, perhaps thinking himself dreaming, slurring his answers a bit but not hesitating. Now for the hard questions.

“What will you do with the iron?”

“Ship it to Eirik. Eirik knows what to do.”

“Where is Eirik?”

“Gotland.”

That was it, the next link in the chain. Bjarne administered a dose of the purple liquid, holding Anatoliy’s nose to make him swallow it; he slipped almost instantly back into sleep. He would remember nothing when he woke.

So: Gotland. And why would one ship iron to Gotland? So the smiths there could make weapons of it, of course. And what use could Russians have for weapons in Gotland? Weapons made with good iron that wouldn’t be available to Norwegian smiths? With King Einar Sigurdsson an old man, and his son in ill health, and the Swedes restive under new Norse domination?

———————————————–

The Swedish Rising of the early 1150s is difficult to explain in terms of actual grievances; Norwegian rule, it is true, was a recent development, but still fairly light. Old rights were respected as long as the noble families acknowledged Yngling suzerainty and paid the yearly tribute. It may be that the Swedes wished to return to the days of valley kings, with each province independent, and saw their chance in the youth of Olaf Mattison. If so, they had miscalculated badly; Olaf himself was too young to lead armies, but his advisor Aslak Magnuson, with his band of young nobles largely descended from Geir Jonsson, proved excellent and loyal generals, and crushed the risings in five years of swift punitive campaigns. The resulting restriction of Swedish privileges, with ‘envoys’ of proved loyalty sent to each provincial Ting, was the first step in the emergence of Norway as a centralised kingdom, rather than tribute-based conglomeration of autonomous areas. If the Risings were indeed orchestrated by outside forces, as is hinted in letters preserved from the time, one may reasonably wonder just who was manipulating whom.

Long Ships, Long Memories: Norway in the Baltics 1102-1305, London University Press, 1976.

———————————————–

July 13th, 1152
Viken, Norway
Jonson farm

“Iron shipments, is it?” Aslak smiled grimly.

“Two can play at that game.”

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