There Will Be War: Democracy and Disaster

Events finally forced me away from the Royal Prerogative law I had been running, and rather than continue with Feudal Contract – which I dislike, although in game terms it is probably the best law due to the vassal loyalty boost – I switched to Popular Law. Not every Yngling approves.

At this point our Bohemia player quit for RL reasons, and our England player left that cursed island with a sigh of relief. Norway and Brittany split what was left of the kingdom between them. Bohemia now changes name to Prussia due to the preferences of the player.

August 2nd, 1292
Bergen, Norway

“This”, said Ask heavily, “is a disaster”.

Jon looked at him dryly. Had he been so cock-sure of everything when he came to Dovre? Perhaps it was only youth, but it seemed to Jon that both the uptime Ynglings who had come down after him had had a particularly large dose of the know-it-alls.

“Well then”, he replied. “It is intolerable. You had better not let it stand.”

Ask glared hotly at him, and Jon flinched internally, though he managed to keep it off his face. He had forgotten how deathly touchy uptime Ynglings were – like living with old dynamite, on occasion.

“It’s no laughing matter. Didn’t you read the history of England, uptime?”

“I did, but it’s been fifty years. And what did England matter, anyway?”

“That is just the fucking point. They didn’t matter. Not after the Chinese rolled over India. And do you know why the Chinese could do that?”

“They had five million men under arms?”

“And when they tried the same thing in Siberia, we killed three million of them – rifles and tanks, mind you, none of your NBC-weapons-free. No, the English could have handled them if they’d had the balls. If they hadn’t been a democracy. Warm bodies! And this is precisely how it got started. Some damn half-rich farmers didn’t want to pay a tax, so they got up their friends and threatened revolt, and the King gave in! That’s all it takes. Oh, sure, four hundred years, but once you let the peasants decide what taxes they will or won’t pay, you’re on the road to universal suffrage whether you like it or not.”

“Four hundred years is a long time”, Jon observed mildly, but Ask had the bit between his teeth.

“And for what? A threat of rebellion in the north! We’ve put those down before, and -”

“We?”

Jon had not intended to interrupt. Better to let the boy have his rant. But this was too much. Rebellions had indeed been put down before; Jon had done it himself, in ’45, and again in ’53. That was when the axe had broken his hip, and he had walked with a limp since. They were poor, the northerners – not least because of the way Jon had burned farms and slaughtered livestock, half as revenge, half as warning – but they could fight.

We have put down rebellions? No. Oh no. I have fought the northmen. And the Swedes, and the Scots. Ingvar has fought the mad Irish, and the Scots, and the northmen again when they rose in ’76. But you? You, my lad, have fought nothing and no-one, and by the elder gods, until you have, you will speak with respect and trepidation of rebellion!”

Ask was leaning back, speechless. In the world he came from, men of seventy did not speak like that to those still in their twenties. But – Jon could see the thought crossing his eyes – that world was gone, and here it was illegal to duel. And Jon had sons, and grandsons, and tenants; the balance of their powers was not limited to strength and speed. Jon continued more calmly.

“When you have yourself spent three years in the snow, fighting rebels, then you can speak with authority on what threats are, or are not, serious. Not until then.”

There was silence for half a minute; when Ask spoke, he was much more subdued.

“All right. But I still don’t understand how you can be so calm about it.”

“Eh. You have to take the long view. Today the Tings have vetoed the tax on turnips, and so we can’t afford the extra hundred Hirdsmenn. In a year or a decade, we’ll find something else to tax. And anyway, what are we ruling here? Free Norsemen, or Italian peasants? You can’t give men a voice and expect never to hear it; and free men have a voice in their ruler’s councils, or they are slaves.”

Ask looked confused, and Jon sighed.

“Get your head out of the uptime, boy, and look around. Norway was a democracy too, you know, if you don’t count the strils. Any time we didn’t like a tax, why, we could have voted it down just the same as here.”

“We never did, though.”

“No; for two reasons. First, we were rich. Wealthy beyond dreams of avarice, wealth squeezed from the labour of millions and the resources of continents. And second, because there was a wolf at our door, and we all knew that the next war we lost would be our last. Here there is no wolf – and so they, and we, have the luxury of not paying taxes on our turnips.”

“China is still out there. And you’ve told me of something strange in Russia, and Georgia.”

“Yes. I know that. All the Inner Circle knows it. But the bønder, they don’t; and if they did, would they believe, and think in terms of centuries? No. That is luxury, and poor men buy no such luxury as that, without the wolf at their door.”

Ask looked thoughtful, which made a nice change from the three expressions – arrogant, angry, contemptuous – he seemed to have been issued with in the uptime.

“All right, then. The Inner Circle, at least, can think in terms of centuries; but we need information. We’re at peace, and will be so for a while; I’m not needed here to train or lead the Hird. Give me ten men and a ship, and I’ll go south, and scout out the land. There is something in Georgia, so much is clear – something we need to understand. Perhaps if we have a wolf, we can move the Realm in the right direction.”

“Perhaps so.” And perhaps, Jon thought to himself, you might unlearn some propaganda, and see how many ways there are to be human; and when you come back, you won’t be so certain what ‘the right direction’ is. “Yes… it’s not a bad idea. You can go in the spring, when we send the fosterlings.”

“Spring, then.”

Ask nodded firmly, once, and walked away.

————————————–

I was forced to give up Royal Prerog this session, and changed to Popular Law. The Ynglings are finding out that it’s one thing to declare that all men have a voice at the Ting, and that the Tings have real power; and quite another to get that voice to support your own plans.

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