The Great Game: Great Eastern War

Burgundian War

1485 – 1487

It was really all over very quickly. Absolut’s [the Burgundian player’s] strategy, naturally enough, was to build large cavalry armies and catch me on plains, causing casualties that manpower-poor Norway can’t afford even if he lost the battle. This did not work. I was careful to stay in forests and keep my armies in supporting distance of each other. I landed an army in Zeeland; forty thousand men swept into the Rhineland, smashing all before them; another forty thousand followed to do the mop-up work of sieges. The only real excitement was when Dominus tried to break my control of the English Channel; he failed. However, as I did not want to excite thoughts of vengeance against me, and as Italy (for whom I originally entered the war) had peaced out some time before, I stopped with Wurzburg. Also, while I could win any given battle, I was sharply mindful that in the long run, Burgundy and England controlled much greater resources than me. I could not afford a war of attrition; my best bet was to smash, grab, and get the hell out while the going was good. Hence, Wurzburg.

An early stage of the war :
Burgundy 1

Battle for the Channel :
Channel Battle

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Great Eastern War

1488 – 1495

This is what happened.

The Ynglings were a bit pissed with the Piasts, as usual. I didn’t quite get what the problem was, something about an agreement and a betrayal, the usual stuff that nobles are always going on about. Me, I just goes where I’se told. So this time it was Poland, just after we were done with Burgundy; well, Polish girls squeal as well as the German ones, so that was fine with me. Better than barracks any day. So we crossed the Oder and knocked the locals about a bit. The Poles were supposed to be far away fighting the Hungarians, so we had happy days at first. They build their farmhouses in stone, in Silesia, to stand off raids when our boys come across the Oder; but there’s not much they can do against the hird. The German lads we had with us went a bit wild, it’s not often they get a chance to raid so deep into polak lands.

This is what happened.

The Norwegian cavalry burnt our crops. But we were the lucky ones : They didn’t rape my sister; she managed to hide in the woods until they left. They didn’t look very hard. Later we found out they’d just finished with the Nowak farm, so maybe they were tired. Two of the Nowak girls died. Alicja was one of them. The others weren’t much good after that. Maybe it’s best Alicja is gone. I don’t think I’d like to marry someone who would look that way at men.

Well, naturally the polak screamed to their lords, and the lords screamed to their dukes, and the dukes must have screamed to the Piast. Maybe he screamed to God, I dunno, but anyway he sure as hell screamed at his army, for in pretty short order, there they were. Now the Hungarians were supposed to have been killing Polish soldiers for years, all the while we were doing that peahen shoot in Burgundy, but let me tell you, it didn’t show. Those damn polaks looked tough and surly, and there were a lot of them. I don’t mind telling you, I hoped they didn’t have too many relatives in the district that might name names and recognise faces. But it turned out all right for us. Not very fond of the Ynglings myself, but they have their uses; the guy they had in charge of us that time, Harald, well, a better nose for a plan you never saw. Got the leidang in front, keeping the Poles busy, then moved the hird in on their flank, pretty as you please. There wasn’t much fight in them after that, so we had the district to ourselves for a while again.

The Polish army took my brother to the big battle. We got back most of him, but he’s not much good on the farm without his hand. Not that it matters, since the Cossacks burned it down when they were running from the Norwegians. “To deny it to the enemy”, they said. I think they just wanted to hurt someone that couldn’t hit them back.

Well, after that we was pretty much free to go where we pleased, so we did. You never saw such farmland as those damn polaks got; peasants fat as Yuletide pigs. Squealed like pigs, too, when we took their stuff. Not like the borderlanders; you get further in, the peasants never saw a raiding party in their lives. So, we left the leidang behind to sit outside Krakow sucking their thumbs, and marched up the coast; which was a bit of a waste, really, because I was already holding so much loot, I just couldn’t carry any more. I tell you, there’s nothing worse than having to turn down a perfectly good bit of church silver because your horse just plain won’t take any more.

Scorched earth, yay!
Scorched Earth

We got into Krakow just before they closed the gates. It was supposed to be safe from the Norwegians, and so it was. Those walls are big. But we didn’t have much money – whoever heard of taking five pennies for one scraggly ham? So after a while we were hungrier than we had been on the road. Then my sister began coming in with good food. I think my father knew what was going on, but he was hungry too. So we were all right for a bit.

So, we burned up a good bit of Polish countryside, and then the word came down that we had to get back to Krakow and help the leidang out, since they were having trouble taking the place. Well, that wasn’t so nice as the march up, because the peasants were wise to us now and anyway we’d taken most of what they had on our first go. But we got down to Krakow all right – it’s not like Burgundy where there’s forests everywhere and you can have three ambushes in a mile. The polaks are tough but they have to do their own fighting, the land won’t do it for them. Anyway, we was just in time; the Piasts had gotten another army together, and let me tell you, if their last one looked tough, this one was a real terror in the night. They had everyone that could walk, crawl, or carry a scythe; fifty thousand if there was a one, and every last man down to the boys of twelve out for some Norse blood. Tell you the truth, I can’t say I blame ’em after what we done to their friends up north; but my blood is curious valuable to me, and I wasn’t letting any damn polak spill it.

After the big army drove the Norwegians away, we thought we’d be all right. Father was even talking about going back to our farm and building it up again. But the Piasts were getting really short of men, and the press-gang caught us sneaking out of the gates. So we joined up. They gave my father a pike, but there weren’t enough weapons to give me one; so they told me to stick close by my father, and grab his pike when he died. That’s how they said it – “when” he died. But it was better rations than we had in the siege, and my sister got better money too. My mother did laundry for some officers, and me and my brother did odd jobs, so it wasn’t so bad. We even bought some seed corn, that we saved up for when we had a farm again. It’s all right soldiering, when it’s summer and the Norwegians aren’t too close.

Krakow Field
A murthering great battle! I actually won, but was so attrited that I found it best to retreat.

Well, there’s some say we gave the Poles a bloody nose there on Krakow field, and I reckon they got a point; there was sure as hell plenty of blood spilt. But when you get right down to it, when the shouting was over, it was us going back to the Oder and them still holding that damn city, and three of my mates to go with it. So I don’t hold with calling it no victory, and never mind what the damn skalds say. They get paid to please Ynglings, not tell truth. But I was there, and I say the polaks got us good and proper. Not for free, though. You never fight the hird for free.

As I said, it’s not bad soldiering in summer; but when the fall came on, it wasn’t so much fun. So Father got together with some other soldiers from our district, and they planned it out that they’d all get assigned to the guard duty one night, and then we’d go off on our own with none the wiser. So when the time came, we grabbed a few things from an officer’s tent – he was sound asleep when my sister left him, and sounder still after I was done, so he wouldn’t be missing them – and off we went. We didn’t want any more part of the war, so we didn’t go back to the Oder; we headed east instead. We had decided we were all going to build a walled village together, and if the Piast wanted any taxes he could bring an army to get it.

After that there weren’t so many battles. I reckon the Poles had run out of fighting men; anyway, the ones I saw all looked pretty young. Not that we were much better off. They called down the leidang from the most gods-forsaken places along the coast, blond boys who never saw anything bloodier than a gutted fish. Still, it don’t take much brains to figure out which end of a pike to point at the enemy. We was burning back and forth in Poland two winters, and I tell you true, when we were done, a sorrier bunch of peasants you never saw. But I’ll say this for the Poles : They don’t give up easy. Odwaga, they call it. Me, I say they’re just plain stubborn. I reckon I’ve yet to meet the donkey that could out-stubborn your average Pole. Maybe they were waiting for a miracle to save them. If that’s it, well, I guess God must be on their side. Turns out the Burgundians hadn’t had enough last time around.

We’d been on the road maybe three months when Father said “Enough”, and we stopped. We’d found a good place, with some forest nearby for firewood, and good earth under the snow. But it was a hard winter with no proper houses. My mother caught a fever and died, and many of our friends died too of the same sickness. But at last spring came. We broke the ground with a plow we made from the pikes they had given us; one of our men was a blacksmith, and he knew the trick to making charcoal. Then we got to use the seed corn we’d carried all that way from Krakow. My sister had a little boy, and I became an uncle; for a while it looked like we’d landed in a sheltered place.

Well, the Burgundians weren’t messing about this time. None of your half-hard ambushes and peasant levies, they had good strong pike now and long guns to go with them, what they call arquebuses. Tell you the truth, I reckon we could still have handled them if the Poles hadn’t been nipping at our heels. But, well, there they were, still strong in the fight, and the Burgundians fresh and wanting their own back. And the Germans weren’t so happy with the war anymore, either. We damn near came to blows over getting some levies and food out of Brandenburg; and let me tell you, they were the most useless bunch of slackers I ever saw. As for the food, well, at least the hardtack had meat in it. So in the end they agreed to something or other, I can never keep those German cities straight, and we went back home.

Just a bit of trouble, I was in by then :
Trouble

They found us in May of the second year; men on scraggly little horses, who said they were the army of the Free State of Lithuania, and wanted to collect taxes. Well, we’d all seen a real army, and twenty hungry little bandits weren’t it, so we laughed them off. But we stayed up watching that night, and sure enough, they tried to come back and burn us out. They soon thought better of that idea. But we couldn’t very well stay up every night, so we held a council to figure out what to do. But we needn’t have worried; a week later, the real army marched through – a proper one this time, with the Piast banner at the front, and pikes and guns. They didn’t look so hungry as when we had been in the war, so we figured things must be going better; and they only took half our stores. So that was when we knew the Piasts were going to rule us still. And when you think about the Norwegians, and the Free State, and the just plain bandits that we had that trouble with, well, the Piasts don’t look so bad.

—————————————————

The net result of the war was that I gave Wurzburg back to Burgundy, along with Anhalt. (Later I was able to buy back Anhalt, so the border hasn’t changed.) Sweden declared independence, and Ufa defected to Poland. But I was just able to squash the other rebels before they got anywhere, and Sweden is my vassal again. Not that Poland got off free, either : Novgorod rebelled, and is now my vassal. It remains to be seen whether Sterk is prepared to live with that, but for the next ten years at least I expect there’s bugger-all he can do. He’ll have enough trouble suppressing his own rebels, thank you kindly. At the height of the war both Brandenburg and Lithuania broke loose, and I don’t think he can have been that far out of sight of a government collapse. But he held on by skill and stubbornness, and won a white peace in extremely difficult circumstances. I salute him; I really thought we had him over a barrel when his war exhaustion hit ten.

The Baltic after the Great Eastern War :
Baltic 1501
Novgorod is my vassal.

And Europe :
Europe 1501

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