Some backfilling required here. After the War of the Tapestry, I allied myself with Brittany to beat up on Prussia, gaining Finland and parts of England. Brittany then allied with Prussia to beat up on me – truly there is no honour among thieves – gaining the rest of England, while I lost Finland and Denmark. It was at this time I changed my title at the Paradox forums to “Jeg glemmer intet” – “I forget nothing”, modelled on “Je me souviens” – and began referring to Occupied Denmark. The net result of these wars was that Finland changed hands a few times, and England ended up completely under Brittany’s thumb. Clever diplomacy there by the Breton player, and another instance of the Curse of the Isles.
November 15th, 1206
As soon as he saw Karl’s face, Sigurd knew the news was bad.
“Not terms of life and limb, then?”
Karl sighed. “No. The terms are very bad.”
“We keep a third of it. But we lose Denmark.”
Sigurd blinked; that was very bad, indeed. Far worse than he had thought.
“And in the west?”
“We hold York.”
“And nothing. The Scots have it all, the whole Norselaw.”
“So – it is, as you say, very bad. Still, the Bretons never came here; so what, after all, is this to me? I am a farmer, now, and old. Cities and thrones and powers, what do I care? I have had my war, and I am done.”
“We held a council, at Geirvirke. It was decided that a new direction is needed. Your name was mentioned, and proved popular.”
Sigurd cocked his head, considering. He had not built the alliance that shook the thrones of Europe without learning something about how to read men, and the skills were still there. Karl, it was clear, did not really believe what he was saying. And the phrasing –
“‘It was decided’, you say? And who did this deciding?”
Karl looked away.
“Decisions at Geirvirke are made by consensus, as you well know. But Jorunn spoke very strongly in favour of change; as did Haldor.”
Sigurd nodded. The leaders of the main splinter factions of the Ynglings, the ones who did not take their direction from the men of Dovre; but neither Karl nor Varg, who had come from Dovre and whose word would usually decide matters.
“And so you have agreed to change. But why choose an old man? Why not Jorunn, or young Haldor, who have fire in their bellies and strength in their arms?”
Karl looked up, and conviction came into his eyes; this part he did believe.
“There are younger men among the Ynglings, yes. But there are no better ones. We need you, Sigurd. We need the skill to gather all of the West under one man’s driving will. We need the singlemindedness to devote thirty years to a single cause. And we need the wisdom to recognise when enough is enough, and to give over revenge and turn to other things. That is why I spoke for you as the choice.”
“I see,” Sigurd said, and he did. The Dovremen had been forced to accept that they were no longer in charge, but they still had enough influence to nominate their successor. And perhaps they had a point, at that. Neither Jorunn nor Haldor had much of a policy beyond choosing targets for aggression that the Dovremen wanted to use as allies, and vice versa. If the latest war had been so disastrous as all that, either of them would be a recipe for more disaster, just from a different direction.
But still, as Sigurd had said, what did he care? There was peace in the high mountains, and he had built a life here. Johanna would murder him if he – well, no. She would murder him if he went out to fight again, but Karl wasn’t talking about that. To go down to the court at Viken and have power and wealth, why, Johanna might not mind that very much. And – he looked about the farm. It was, when you got right to it, fairly small beans. Peaceful, yes. He had needed that, after Novgorod. But this past year – two, perhaps – he had felt a vague discontent with the rhythm of the seasons. Deep inside he could feel the old god stir again, and suppressed it sternly. He would make his own choices. But still, this choice was not so clear as he had thought at first. He looked thoughtfully at Karl.
“Why don’t you come in, and discuss this over a meal?”
They sat down to soup and bread, and did not speak for a while; the bread was tough enough that chewing it required attention and care from men with teeth starting to loosen. That gave Sigurd time to think. By the time they were done eating, he had his question ready.
“Nu, Karl, I can see you need me. The question is, do I need you? So – I have a price.”
“Most men do.”
“Quite so. And this is mine: You will tell me the truth about Dovre. Everything, holding nothing back. Or you can go back to Viken, and Jorunn will take over, and send the long ships to France, no doubt, or something equally foolish.”
Karl looked stricken, and said nothing for a minute. At last he sighed, resigned. “Very well; if you’re going to be in charge, you need to know. But it is a long story.” He thought for a moment, settling back in his chair with the air of a man preparing to talk for a while. “I shall tell you of the Ynglinga Saga.” His voice became formal, and he sat up straight, as uptime Ynglings do when telling the central epic of their nation.
“Olaf was king in Norway after the death of Harald Hardråde…”
It takes a while to recount the history of a thousand years, especially when one has to interrupt the smooth flow of saga to explain technological advances, alternative histories, geography, basic physics, and uptime ideologies. Karl spoke through the night and well into the morning of the next day. By the end his voice was hoarse and his eyes drooping, and Sigurd was not sure how well he was understanding what was being told. War and revenge and raid, this he understood, even with strange weapons and unimaginable ships that flew through the air. But the things Karl spoke of as the causes of wars, the thoughts that could move an uptimer to kill – incomprehensible, alien. Communism, fascism, the doctrine of absolute personal freedom for Ynglings. Capitalism, industry, free markets – words, just words, whirling past in a kaleidoscope of ideas. At last Karl came to the point where he explained the Secret Hird and the Quantum Device, and the appearance at Dovre of uptime agents, with their mission of making Norway strong: “So we came here, to change all that history, all that sacrifice. We have so little, between these mountains; only pride, and the strength of our warriors. We need an advantage, an edge. And so I came here, destroying all my nation and all our works; and so Geir Jonsson came in his time, and Anja Sigridsdottir, and Aslak before me, and now Varg to take the burden from my shoulders.”
Sigurd nodded. “And so you have failed, and made Norway weak instead of strong; and so you turn to us at last, who live here.”
Karl nodded, and it seemed to Sigurd that there might be a glimmer of moisture in his red-rimmed eyes. “And so we have failed. And so I turn to you. Help us, Sigurd. For sake of the Great Norway that was, that we have thrown away in our pride.”
“No, Karl. I won’t help you for that Norway.” Sigurd rose, his bones stiff from hours of listening, alternately enthralled and sickened. “Not for a nation of slaves. Oh yes, half of you called yourselves masters, perhaps, and were proud of your strength to subjugate the other half. You call that freedom? To live in terror of the day when your subjects rise against you? To spend all your time at weapons practice, against the Final War that will kill all men? As though all the future were a dream of the old gods, and Norway no more than a training ground for expendable einherjar, to fight and die at Vigrid field? I think not.”
“No. For that Norway, I will not lift a finger, except to consign it to the grave. Better you should have fought it out with the Chinese, and perished honourably in nuclear flames, than to bring that living death here. Who are you to bring your ancient cadaverous quarrels to this land, where my sons live?”
Karl rocked back in his chair, surprised and for a moment overawed by the older man’s fury. “The course of history,” he whispered, then cleared his throat and spoke more strongly, “has been changed. If not for us, your sons would not even exist.”
Sigurd sat back down again. “As may be. Done is done, and eaten is eaten. Not for the Norway you want, but for the Norway my sons will live in, I will help you. And by all the gods, old and new, it will be a better land than yours.”
Karl looked down, beaten. “Aye. Perhaps so. It is sure that we have not done well, we uptimers. From the civil war in Geir Jonsson’s time, to this. At every step we travel in the footsteps of our ancestors, and we are less than they. Let it be as you say, then. Perhaps there is a better way. Shape Norway as you wish. I will stand behind you.”
“Good. Then let us sleep; tomorrow we have much to discuss.”