A quick mention of other goings-on: At this point Europe was divided between two alliance blocs, The Roman Commonwealth consisting of Georgia-Russia-Byzantium-Serbia-Brittany, and the Holy Roman Empire consisting of Italy-Bohemia-France-Prussia. They were roughly evenly matched. Our Serbia player had to quit the game; his replacement intrigued with the Italians to switch sides, and was found out. The remaining RC players promptly crushed him; various treaties of non-aggression prevented the HRE from making this the casus belli to touch off the Great War which we all believed, at this time, must surely be coming Any Year Now. This cold war lasted about five sessions and 40 ingame years, and ended in the collapse of one alliance bloc.
The Norse Law, they call it, and it is well named.
I remember years of no law but the sword, when the land was swept this way and that by armed men. Not just the great armies, eating the grain like locusts, which would have been bad enough, but bandit gangs of every size. I’ve seen a family, burnt off their land, come to the farm as beggars pleading for bread to feed their children – and leave as bandits, when they realised the menfolk were out in the fields and would not come back in time to defend our stores. After that we kept a watch in the farmhouse, and the field work went that much slower. I’ve seen several hundred men, armies almost, move in and feed off the district for a month or a year, until one of the kings would come through with his army and drive them out, or take them off to fight under his banner. And I’ve seen thirty men come to the farm at evening, and stay for a night, knowing that the neighbours would be gathering in the morning to see them off. Those were the worst. I was young then, and pretty. And now I’ve said enough about that.
How did we survive? God knows, many didn’t. Go three miles up the road, and look carefully, and you’ll see there were fields there once, and houses. That was Burton, before king Alexander brought in the wild Irish. Our tenant Tom, and his wife Jane, they owned land there. Or go out to the graveyard, and see the big stone with the year 1244; that was when the whooping cough came through here, and two of your brothers died. A dozen of our own lie buried under that stone, and the deserter we sheltered for his promise to work. After that we turned them away, even when we had to abandon the upper field for lack of men to work it.
But that’s not what you asked. Truth to tell, I’m not sure, myself. So many died, why should we have lived? But you must understand, nobody was trying to kill us. The kings, they wanted rich lands to tax after the war was over; and the bandits needed farmers, or they would have had to work the fields themselves. If they had set out to destroy us, we would not be here. But their distraction, in their dispute, was bad enough.
So. I tell you of old, unhappy, far-off things, and I see you do not believe – oh, you listen, you nod, but you do not understand. That’s as well. But you’ll believe when I tell you of the law, for you’ve seen it, although you didn’t know it. You’ve seen peddlers come through with no more guard than a long knife. That is the law, and the sheriff’s patrols that make the road safe. You’ve seen all the men and most of the women go out to the harvest, with none but the old and children left to guard the house. That is the law that makes beggars fear to turn robber. If you went up to the city, you would see men hung for the theft of a ham, or a good knife. And that too is the law.
And you’ll believe me when I tell you about the Norse, for you’ve seen them too. You’ve seen the hirdsmenn come through and demand the guest-right, and us feeding them and giving them the place of honour at the table, and not a piece of silver nor a word of thanks in return. You’ve seen the taxmen come through with their parchments and their questions, how many men on this farm, how many acres and fields and cows and pigs and bloody chickens! Next year they’ll want to count the lice on the dogs, and tax us a penny for each one no doubt. You’ve seen the settlers, the men that take up the farms their fathers burned, the way they hold themselves too good to speak our language or attend our dances or our church.
So then. I’ve seen the Norse Law, and so have you. And I’ve seen no law, and I’ve told you somewhat of that, and so you know that the Norse is the better of the two. Remember that. But there’s something else you should remember: There was a time, before the war, when a different law ran. A law we made ourselves, from moots and courts and hallowed custom. A law that didn’t levy half the young men of the district for their three years in the army. A law that demanded no tax but the land-rent to the lord, and he lived near here and would forgive the rent if the harvest was bad.
The Norse Law before no law, yes. But there are other laws, or once were. Remember that.