The fervor of youth, the wisdom of age. Downtime Norway is changing the uptimers more than they are changing it. The inertia of history is not easily fought.
January 2nd, 1217
A camp south of Dovre mountain
The fire crackled, and the argument blazed equally hot.
“Strils! Downtime strils! The whole point of coming back here was to avoid contaminating the male bloodline with them, and now you want to give them actual rights?”
“Yes, Sverre. I do.” Varg stood stolidly, not letting himself be intimidated by the younger Yngling. After all he had his sons with him, and although they hadn’t had uptime training with every weapon known to man, they had practiced daily with their swords and axes since they were five. “You have not lived here; I have. It is not merely necessary. It is right and just.”
“Right and just, yet! Have you become a bleeding Christian, then?”
“No. But I have seen what a stril can do, when he does not know he is only a stril. And I have seen what our uptime ideas brought Norway to, and how it was a downtimer that rescued the wreck and steered us on to a new course.”
Sverre subsided. He had no answer for that; Varg had spent the previous three days of their trek recapitulating recent history for him.
“This Sigurd, now. You say he is one of ours?”
“A true Yngling, yes.”
“Well… that’s something, at least. I’m not taking orders from any damn stril. But I can live with a Liberal in command.”
Strictly speaking, Varg knew, he should tell Sverre he would take orders from a purple-arsed baboon if that was what it took. But one step at a time. If the truth were told, Sigurd’s reforms did not actually change the reality of who gave orders and who took them in Norway. Nor were they likely to. Wealth, land, and access to uptime ideas were always going to weigh heavily. It wasn’t as though Sigurd had let any strils into the inner chamber of Geirvirke.
“What rights have you granted, then? And how widely?”
“Wherever our writ holds, the Norrmanna Lag is read out at every Ting, before it can start. A Ting where this is not done is counted false, and its decisions void. From Iceland to Finland, all men have the right to be heard at Ting, to receive compensation for injuries to themselves or their family, and to the protection of the King.”
“That is enough. How would we have kept the strils under control if they had the right to compensation for blows struck? Or to vote!”
Sverre shrugged. “There are rights and rights. Speaking at Ting is an excellent privilege, if you have friends who’ll stand with you. And even better if you have money to buy more friends.”
“Yes, that is true. But here-and-now, there are not a hundred million Ynglings to laugh stril claims out of Ting. We are outnumbered worse than we ever were uptime. In time, perhaps” – it was Varg’s turn to shrug – “the rights may become a paper tiger. It happened in the real history, after all – no slaves on Norwegian soil, yes? Ha. I suppose some of our people will work towards that.”
‘Me among them!”
“Just so. But here and now, the Norse have lost a big war, and they need something to be proud of. The Norrmanna Lag gives them that. They may have been licked in a fair fight, but by God, they are free men, and they will kill whoever denies it!”
Sverre sat quietly for a moment.
“Well. There’s the nub of the matter. They can tell themselves whatever they like; they aren’t really free until they can do as they please. A truly free man has no law between himself and his will, no more than a wolf does. Only the reactions of other free men.”
“That is the center and the core, right enough. If what you said is true, then there are no free men in Norway today. We have a law, here, and all men are equal before it. But I think you are the only man in the world who believes that doctrine.”
“Not even you, Varg?”
“Not even me.”
Sverre looked shocked and a bit lost. The definition of true freedom he had given was hammered into every Yngling from the age of five.
“Then… what do you believe?”
Varg snorted. “I believe… in much less than I did, when I was your age, five minutes ago. Twenty-five years change a man. You will see. I believe…” he thought for a minute. “The love of my wife. My sons. My axe. That my family should grow and be happy. That is the core, and the whole of the core. Some other things follow. I believe that Norway must be strong, for we are Ynglings, and we would chafe under foreign rule. And to that end, I believe in the rule of law, as the best way to make a strong nation, and not a collection of – bah – truly free men.”
They were both silent for a time; then Varg added: “As for freedom, you may have the right of it. I don’t feel strongly on the subject. Perhaps we are not really free, here. But I do not care as much as I did when I was twenty. If freedom requires me to grind the faces of my stril comrades – men I have fought beside and trusted with my life – then to hell with freedom.”
Sverre looked away. “I see. A pity. If that’s your true opinion, then I do not see how I can call you friend any longer. Because I don’t care how strong it is. A Norway with laws is not one I care to live in, and I will work all my life to remove those fetters from the bloodline.”
Varg nodded. “As you wish. That is your right, and I will not dream of denying it to you. After all” – he smiled grimly – “you are a free man, and equal before the law. Just the same as me.”