One might argue that I was vastly lucky to get so skilled a general with my relatively low Army Tradition. Or one might argue that chance favours the writer of good AARs; the ways of the RNG are inscrutable.
They say, in the Norselaw, that the hour calls forth the man, and never was that more true than in the Second French War. Gunnar Magnusson remains, to this day, a mysterious figure. No census records him before his appearance at the Ting of 1594, nor are any of the numerous sightings after his vanishing in 1605 credible. What is clear is that, through some trick of rhetoric, he managed to impress the Ting sufficiently that they gave him command of the army, ahead of several candidates for the position who were sons of prominent families – a Viktorsson and a Torsteinsson among them. How a complete stranger, Yngling or not, could perform such a miracle of persuasion is unclear. His recorded speech can hardly be the reason; it is fiery patriotic stuff to be sure, but that was common fare in those days. The Ting, itself, seems to have been not quite clear on its reasoning, as is shown by the Questions raised at the next session; but by then Norway was at war and Gunnar’s competence to lead the Ynglinga Hird had been amply proved by the famous victories at Radcot Bridge and Brentford.
5 April, 1595
Outside York, the Norse Law
“You call this the Ynglinga Hird?”
Gunnar managed to keep the discouragement out of his voice, letting only the rage and contempt through. He had known it would be bad; superstition aside, there was no magic component in the Yngling blood that would make a ruling class maintain martial customs they did not really need. Without uptime guidance, and isolated from the mainstream of the European wars, it had been inevitable that they would decay, or “turn their focus elsewhere” as they would no doubt phrase it. But it was one thing to know it, and another to see for himself.
“Yes, sir. ‘Yngling’ after the family, and ‘hird’ from an old word meaning ‘king’s guard’.”
Gunnar suppressed the urge to knock a few teeth out; his position was not yet secure enough that he could offend the sons of powerful men just because they were idiots. The colonel had apparently thought he was asking about the meaning of the term, rather than criticising the regiment. He contented himself with a meaningful sigh, and pointed to one of the soldiers.
“That man is fifty if he is a day.”
He picked out another.
“That one is actually fat.”
“This one can barely lift his pike.”
“This is no musket, it’s a bloody fowling piece. And an antique at that.”
“You think these rags are going to keep you warm?”
The colonel was looking increasingly angry. He burst out,
“Well, curse it, sir, where were you when we built the army? These are men who will fight for their country; shall I send them home?”
Gunnar looked at him coldly.
“You are mistaken, colonel. If you send these men into battle against the Frogs, they will die for their country. The proper objective is to make the other bastard die for his. Now. How far can this regiment march in a day?”
“Fifteen miles, perhaps? It’s a good dry day for it.”
Gunnar winced and muttered the old proverb to himself. “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want.” Then he raised his voice to address the soldiers. “I can see that we shall have to start at the beginning, here. First, you are no longer the 4th Yorkshire Regiment, Ynglinga Hird. That is an honourable title, which you have not earned and are not worthy of.” Angry mutters began to spread through the ranks. “Until further notice, you are the 4th Regiment, Yorkshire Militia. What’s more: Twenty miles north of here is the village Northallerton. Any man who is not there by sunset tonight, with his gear, can consider himself a member of the Yorkshire civilians. MARCH!”
There was a frozen silence for some seconds; then the man with the fowling piece spoke up. “And who died and made you God? I’m a freeborn Yngling, and I’m damned if” – but he got no further, for Gunnar’s hand had smashed into his belly – pulling the blow to less-than-lethal force, but it still made an audible thump – and as he doubled over, Gunnar picked him up by the armpits and threw him two meters out of the ranks, antique rifle and all. That was a strain even for uptimer muscle, but Gunnar let no sign of it show in his face.
“Is anyone else feeling mutinous today?” he snarled. The wind was blowing towards the regiment, carrying the dominance pheromones he’d doused himself with earlier. The look on his face was probably more effective, though; he saw the closest soldiers swallow and edge away. “No? Good. In that case, get marching. Colonel, I’ll meet you in Northallerton; if you still have half a regiment left, you can keep your rank. Now scat, I’ve other regiments to inspect today.”
Another long moment; then the colonel shook himself. “Right,” he growled. Gunnar smiled to himself, careful not to let it show. Not every officer would take a challenge like that and determine to damn well show the interloping stranger what they could do; the ones who didn’t would be broken back to the ranks. But this colonel would keep his lions. “Sergeant-major, you heard the man; make it so.”
With a heavy tramp of boots and shouted curse-commands, the regiment began to march north. Gunnar watched for a moment, then took off in the other direction. There were other regiments to be demoted to the militia.
An army that had fought only colonial skirmishes and tax riots for almost a century was not the most promising material, and there was little time to prepare it. Gunnar Magnusson reformed it by the roughest of ready means; no less than 28 hangings are recorded, thousands of men and officers were dismissed, and after the war it was the army’s boast that not a man had gone unflogged, although this is probably an exaggeration. The baggage train was lightened, the proportion of shot to pike was decreased – ammunition being at a premium – and the pike were trained to charge to hand strokes after the first volley, rather than protecting the shot as was the custom on the Continent. Such fighting produced high casualties, but disconcerted Continental troops used to more formal methods; no doubt they would have mastered it in time, and then made their numbers count, but Gunnar gave them no time. The pursuit after Radcot Bridge, ruthlessly pressed, left hundreds of Norwegian stragglers to trickle in to their regiments in the days following the battle – and be flogged for tardiness, more often than not – but broke the fighting power of the Armee d’Thames and whipped its remnants back across the border. The Norwegian army then turned east with savage speed – by this point it was marching thirty miles a day and could sustain that pace for a month – to ravage the Armee d’Angleterre at Brentford; so unexpected was its approach that the French general, de Langley, seems to have believed the troops were friendly until the first musketry volleys arrived.
An army can be built in a year; not so a navy. The French still controlled the Channel, and, drawing on the vast wealth of their fertile country, might well have been able to drum new regiments out of the earth and invade with better generals. Failing that, a descent on Ireland or the colonies, or a plain blockade of the coastline, might well have forced the Ting to make terms. But metropolitan France now had difficulties of its own. Norwegian diplomats had been hard at work, and the Great Powers were roused to the defense of the balance of power. Here France was its own worst enemy; having boasted openly of its intent to conquer the whole of the Isles, and then to continue by building an empire in wealthy India, it found no friends when it needed them. Why should anyone fight for French dominion over the Atlantic and the North Sea? The thought of British shipbuilding and seamen allied to French agriculture and fighting skill worried even the Great Powers. Armies from Brittany crossed the Pyrenees, Georgian troops landed near Marseilles, and even France’s erstwhile allies, Germany and Italy, sent men for their fair share of the carcass. The eventual peace was a diktat, reducing the size of France by half and extending the Norse law to the Channel.
The French navy was disbanded for lack of funds, its army reduced to what could be dredged out of enemy prisoner camps. The French countryside erupted in rebellion against the government that had led it to this pass, beginning ten years of bloody civil war. The Great Powers retreated, well satisfied with their work of maintaining the balance of power. And in England, the Norse people, aroused for the first time in two hundred years to an awareness of its own martial strength, looked across the North Sea.