The Great Game: Wladislaw

The unending Polish wars become more interesting in EU2, where there is actual strategy involved; raising troops during wartime will increase your war exhaustion, which in turn increases your revolt risk. In EU2 it is possible for even a nominally victorious realm to so exhaust itself that it crumbles at the edges.

OK. We tried for several hours this week to play with MyMap; it was just too unstable. Every five minutes someone would crash. In the end, we just gave up, went back to the CK save, and converted to the vanilla map, restarting in 1419. Thus, the events described in my previous update, and in the one I’ve been writing this week, never happened. That is unfortunate, except in the sense that I now have not lost large tracts of Russia in that hellish war with Poland.

So then. Because I had written most of this anyway, I’m going to post it, but it never happened. Consider it a might-have-been for this timeline. I’ll post this week’s update, which will cover 1419-1428 again, fairly soon. Since this history doesn’t actually exist, I won’t do any screenies, I’d need to reinstall MyMap and that’s too much hassle – sorry. 🙂

As a matter of actual fact, the campaigns in Poland were fought almost exclusively by cavalry, as is sensible for this stage of EU2. I am going to ignore this completely and write as if the armies made some kind of historical sense. Also, casualties of several tens of thousands in a few years is ridiculous. I’ll stick to ordinary defeats.

————————————–

Plains north of Krakow
High summer, 1433

Terrible as an army with banners… In truth, the Norwegian host did not look very terrible to Ragnvald Yngling, banners or none. But then, he had served with these men all his adult life, ever since King Erik had begun to expand the hird into an army large enough to stand on its own, without peasant levies. He tried for a moment to see them as their enemies might : Grey wool, muddy faces tired from the day’s march, smell of horse sweat and dung, the cavalry on little scrubby ponies… Not all that impressive, he conceded to himself. Still, they had fought well in the days since they’d crossed the Weser. Now Krakow itself lay ahead, its protecting levies brushed aside, and perhaps a swift end to the war.

They crested a small rise, and Ragnvald got his first sight of Krakow. At this distance, only the church towers were visible, glittering in gilt and marble. But of more immediate concern was the army that stood between him and the city. These were no local militia to be scattered with a charge. Ragnvald saw the Red Towers banner of the Krakowskie Guard, Fighting Mermaid of Warsaw, Black Bears of Novgorod – the whole strength of Poland, returned from its campaign in Russia and ready to kill him!

It was a confused sort of battle; the Poles were as unready as the Norwegians, both armies caught in marching order, not expecting to find their foes yet. Ragnvald soon lost track of the larger struggle; there was only his hundred, and killing Poles. The hot sun beat down on men yelling themselves hoarse to cover their fear. After a while, the noise faded to a white heat somewhere inside his head, as the world narrowed to the Pole in front of him, and the need to lift a ton of sword one more time.

At length he became aware that he was retreating from superior numbers more often than he was advancing; looking about, he saw that the entire Norwegian line, of which his hundred was the rightmost tip, was bending backward to form a crescent. He was given no time to try to rally others to his part of the fight; two Polish companies were riding hell-for-leather towards him, lances couched. There was nothing for it but to ride to meet them. His diminished hundred followed as he spurred forward. Time slowed; absently, he noticed the Polish banner, some nobleman’s personal standard; heard their battle cry, “Wladyslaw! Wladyslaw!” and the Norwegians’ answering “Til Krakow!” The lance point that sought his life seemed to move through treacle; he avoided it easily, brought his sword up to thrust into the Pole’s face – and then suddenly normal motion was restored as the Pole’s great charger smashed aside his smaller Finn-horse. He scrambled out of the saddle in time not to have his leg broken; then a mace came down on his helmet and the world went black.

Wladyslaw's banner

He woke sick and confused. For a moment he thought he was back in his father’s house in Bergen, and that his mother would bring him a brew to settle his stomach. But the hard ground below him soon penetrated the half-dream. He tried to sit up, and paid for the movement with a flood of vomit; afterwards he felt a little better, and stood up despite the desolate pounding of his head. Bodies lay strewn across the field, Norwegian and Pole intermingled in death, and their horses. Already a few bold wolves were coming out to scavenge. He shuddered in disgust, then regretted it as his abused head objected. Stumbling over his friends, searching for his army, Ragnvald walked away from the field.

Away from Krakow.

————————————–

Hamburg
Early spring, 1434

“Wladyslaw is coming!” The streets of Hamburg were filled with the rumour; it ran faster than a man could walk from the docks to the castle and back, gaining strength and detail. Wladyslaw had an army of a hundred thousand knights; no, they were only ten thousand, but each was a giant nine feet tall and had sworn never to rest until Norway was in ruins. Wladyslaw had impaled all the men taken captive outside Krakow; Wladyslaw had eaten the heart of a dragon and could breathe fire; Wladyslaw had sworn to rape every virgin in Hamburg; Wladyslaw had disguised himself as a beggar and was already inside the walls, waiting for the time to open the gate.

Ragnvald ignored the rumours; the truth was bad enough. The Norwegian host had holed up in Hamburg over the winter, straining the granaries to the utmost; rations had been cut in half, and it could only be a matter of time before the horses had to be killed. The Polish army was running wild and free through Germany, burning as it went; the rumours had that much right, it would not be a good time to be a virgin if Hamburg fell. Or any woman at all; maiden, mother, or crone, it was all the same to the Poles.

Not that there were many virgins on this street; Ragnvald had come in search of relief from his thoughts, and there was no shortage of those willing to supply it. The whores were doing a roaring business; every surviving soldier, it seemed, wanted to celebrate his life while he still had it. The priests had stopped preaching around the Reeperbahn after the third time the soldiers had beaten someone for spoiling their fun; calves and eyes flashed, and a few daring women had cut their skirts to the knee. Ragnvald even saw one who had unbound her hair – he felt a flash of lust at this wanton abandon, but the woman was already surrounded by soldiers, and was egging them on as they bid for her favour. He headed instead for a quieter alley, where some younger and shyer girls had their beat. He had picked out a clean-looking blonde when a flash of colour from the harbour caught his eye. Gold on red, and who could afford that much gold cloth for a sail? He forgot about lust in a rush of hope. It had been long and long since he had been able to satisfy that emotion; he ran for the docks, not quite believing his quick glimpse. But his eyes had not deceived him. It really was the King’s ship coming in to find a berth; and behind it followed dozens, hundreds of ships. Slender dragons filled with fighting men; tubby knarrs carrying horses and grain; carracks armed with guns; every kind of ship that plied the Baltic. And whatever their cargo, each one carried fresh hope for the Norwegian cause.

The fleet had arrived.

————————————–

Ford north of Torgau
Late April, 1434

“GET that GOD-rotted wagon OUT of my WAY!”
The crossing was not going well. Ragnvald hoped their local guides were being hung by the thumbs over a slow fire; the ford was nowhere near large enough for an army. If he had been leading the army, he’d have retaken the fortresses of southern Germany before crossing the Oder, even if it did take the whole campaigning season. Too late now. He gave the finger to the loudmouth behind him; if he was in such a hurry, why not get down and push?

The wagon wheels finally came out of whatever they were stuck in, and Ragnvald’s horse lurched forward with the release of tension; it was no work for cavalry, but what could you do? He shivered; the April air was merely brisk, but wet leather did not keep it out well. Deciding that he had done his bit to keep the army moving, he spurred ahead; if he hurried, he might have a choice of campsites and a good fire out of the wind.

His thoughts were brutally interrupted by a skirl of trumpets. He stopped on the bank of the river; the Norwegian army used lurs with a much deeper sound, and drums, but no trumpets. But there weren’t supposed to be any Poles for miles around… And this ford was supposed to be large enough for five wagons abreast! He snarled to himself. If the Poles were here in any force, this could be an utter disaster. It might just be a small scouting force, stirring up whatever trouble it could… But no. Up ahead, the banners of the hundreds that had crossed were moving about confusedly, trying to form a line; Krakow Field all over again, and God help them all if the Poles were better prepared.

There was nothing for it but to charge and hope. But, as he came out of the milling chaos around the ford, Ragnvald felt the cold sweat break out all over him. The plains were covered with Poles; carpets of marching polak as far as the eye could see. Men enough to break the Norwegian vanguard like a twig and flood across the Oder to take the supply train. Squinting, he could see the banner at their fore.

Wladyslaw again!

Wladyslaw again; Wladyslaw had stolen a march, had brought men from Russia in secret and now was poised to destroy the Norwegian army, again. Angry frustration washed through Ragnvald. He was going to die here, still wet and cold from crossing the river, and it would do no damn good; Wladyslaw was going to kill his comrades whatever he did. He screamed, not a battle cry but a simple wordless shout of aggravation, and spurred towards the Poles. He was going to die, but first he was going to kill.

He was still shouting when he reached the Polish line. Startled, the horsemen there gave way before him, and he was in among them, slashing. Anger – at the Poles, the Oder, Wladyslaw, the fact of his death – gave him strength and speed; his sword went into some luckless polak’s face, smashing teeth out the other side, then across to drive deep into a horse’s leg. A dim corner of his mind reflected that this must be the fabled berserkergang, the amok rage of his ancestors, and knew that it could not last. But most of him attended only to the savage joy of killing Poles; rejoiced in the speed and power of his body, the skill and deadliness of twenty years of practice, the chance to finally strike out at a foe he could see.

Even when the first lance entered his lung he was only dimly aware of it, cold and pressure more than pain; he whirled, sword landing on his surprised assailant’s arm and snapping it like a twig. A heavy blow numbed his left shoulder, and his shield drooped. He snapped around to slam his point into the man’s throat, but they were all around him now, and he was tired. It’s over, he thought, and watched dispassionately as his sword arm fell, unable to lift that weight of metal anymore; the exaltation of battle drained, and he felt only a great exhaustion, and a spreading cold from the spearhead in his lung. There was still no pain as the sword slid into his gut, only more coldness and a growing grey in his vision. He dropped his own weapon, unable to remember what he had wanted it for. Had he really wanted to kill these men? It seemed rather silly now.

He tried to draw a breath, but his collapsed lung refused; suddenly he wanted that breath more than anything in the world, even to see his home again. But his awareness of the want was brief; he was falling. And then he wasn’t.

The battle was over.

————————————–

The actual course of the war is quickly told. I landed my peacetime army in Mecklenburg, marched across the Polish border, quickly crushed what the AI had left there (choosing for inscrutable reasons of its own to march north into Russia), and settled down for three sieges. At the next session, Sterk was back, and quickly gathered an army at Krakow; I abandoned a siege to meet him on even terms, but it turned out his leader was better than mine. He harried me north into Denmark, where, with reinforcements from Sjælland, I made a stand and crushed his army utterly, killing his leader. Hah! I then marched south and tried to begin again the siege of Silesia. Unfortunately, Sterk stole a march with his Russian armies, and I found myself attacking across a river, against twice my numbers led by Wladislaw. That was the end of my army and my leader, and also of my war effort, as I was out of manpower. A really classically decisive ambush – I salute Sterk for his skill. I had no idea those 60k troops even existed.

Around this time Ear intervened, or I would have accepted Sterk’s rather harsh terms; my plan, then, was now to rebuild my armies (I had given up on keeping WE down) and try again in a year or so. But Sterk surprised me again; led by Wladislaw, his armies rapidly smashed Ear’s incursion and took the war into Hungary. Now, with two on one, I believe we could still have worn him down eventually; but Traveller has been annoyed by Hungary’s dominion over Persia since 1350 or so, and chose to intervene. His lapdog Byzantium joined him, and that was basically it. Only Ear’s stubbornness let the war continue.

I eventually settled for the loss of Lausitz and the province of Wurzburg, and giving Sterk a free hand in dealing with the nation Wurzburg, on the understanding that he will free it as a vassal when it is gone from Russia. As peace treaties go, it is rather nasty, but I didn’t feel I had much choice by then. My plan for the next session is to lick my wounds, build a manu (a FAA in Bergen), and plot revenge.

————————————–

Hear my tale!

I am an army,
marching in the morning,
bright with banners,
pride of my people.
Mountains behind me,
plains before;
shadows of dragons
march at my side.
Oh! Heavy is my burden.

Hear my tale!

I am an army,
fighting by noonlight;
trampling corn
under heavy heels.
Harsh are screams
of youth extinguished;
pride of their peoples
to see home no more.
Oh! Heavy is my burden.

Hear my tale!

I am an army,
vanquished at evening,
defeat the payment
of morning’s pride.
Broken the banners,
broken the bodies
left at the trail
to mark my path.
Oh! Heavy is my burden.

Hear my tale!

I am an army,
my dead remembered,
vowing return
by midnight’s moon.
Never forgotten,
the war continues
while men remain
to carry the fight.

Oh! Heavy is my burden.

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2 Comments

Filed under Great Game

2 responses to “The Great Game: Wladislaw

  1. corp

    I’m curious, is the poem at the end something translated from Norwegian (if so where?) or did you write it?

  2. kingofmen

    The answer is complicated. The poem is not entirely original; I read something very like it in my youth, in a children’s (well, YA, maybe) book in Norwegian, by Bente Lohne. But that was a long while ago and I don’t recall anything of the Norwegian text now, other than the refrain “Å! Tung er min bør.” which I’ve stolen pretty directly as “Oh! Heavy is my burden.” The theme was that the army is all bright banners and flashing trumpets in the morning, but by night it creeps away like a wounded beast leaving a slime-trail of dead people behind it. But the expression of this idea is certainly very different, because as I said I’ve no idea anymore what the Norwegian text was. So you can’t call it a translation, but it’s not an original composition either. A re-composition, perhaps?

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