Guerrilla warfare, Yngling style.
Herjedalen, Prussian Sweden
The pigs squealed and shat, leaving a malodorous trail through the snow. The Prussians would have no difficulty tracking the raiders. That was all right, though; they were not far from the Lillråndan, and beyond that the land was tacitly acknowledged as Yngling territory by the garrison. There had been too many successful ambushes. The Prussian soldiers muttered about witchcraft, and the most hard-headed Junker commanders were reluctant, now, to enter the land in less than regimental strength. And when regiments did come, their hands closed on nothing but smoke and the vast emptiness of the mountains.
Controlling the empty highland plateaus was not of any actual use, of course. The pinpricks that a few hundred rebels could inflict – even if the Prussians believed they numbered in the thousands – would never be enough to topple the bureaucratic apparatus of a state stretching from Kola to the Adriatic. The area under effective Yngling control produced nothing but a few berries in summer. Food for the rebels came from the black economy of the Gudbrandsdal, whose farms produced more grain than made it into official accounting; and from pig and cattle raids on German settlers. A few hundred men making a living by theft; a few thousand square miles of utter emptiness; the temple at Dovre, and the farms that contributed to its upkeep – that was the Yngling realm, in this downtime year 1665. But still, it was an Yngling realm. The borders were permeable to Prussian punitive expeditions; the GDP was zero; the Ynglinga Hird got its firepower from smuggled muskets; but for all that it was a true expression of the idea. The citizens of the Realm were the products of more than a century of hard culling of the weak; they were stronger, faster, and smarter than the Prussian conscripts that opposed them. That was the true measure of Yngling success, not land controlled or weapons manufactured; and every skirmish or ambush that saw a handful of rebels defeat many times their number of strils proved the uptime way correct. Victory would come in its own time; meanwhile the struggle was an end in itself. What use was a man who did not struggle for supremacy?
Helge was shaken from his thoughts by the sight of a fur-swathed man, standing in the raiders’ path and leaning on a staff. Curiosity stirred, along with a bit of fear. It was rarely useful to have a fake Odin speak to raiders. The inner circle at Dovre had spent decades cultivating the old gods’ reputation for infallibility, which was not too difficult when it came to saving infants from the whooping cough. But fighting men, even Prussian conscripts, was another matter entirely. The uncertainties of battle made it hard to ensure that the advice of the “gods” was always good; and besides, while a bit of supernatural help was good for morale, it wouldn’t do to have the Ynglinga Hird grow dependent on it. The binoculars and personal radios brought down from uptime wouldn’t always give a deadly advantage to the Ynglings’ C3I loop. So when a “god” did appear on a raid, it was generally with bad news. Bad news was always reliable.
“Hail, Wayfarer,” Helge greeted the man – his cousin Ragnvald, in fact. Another reason for the rarity of god-appearances on battlefields was that, in daylight, someone might see a familiar face from a visit to Dovre, and put two and two together. The inner circle did its best to ensure that the “gods” only appeared to men who had never seen them in their more mundane capacities, but there were only so many who could be trusted with the secret.
“Hail, Helge Bjørnson. I bring a warning. The Prussians have a new captain, who wishes to make a name for himself. He has taken thirty of his men on skis to the Lillråndan, carrying only their muskets and powder; they have made a fast march, and now wait in ambush for you.”
Helge grimaced. It had been inevitable that the Prussians would think of something like that eventually; they were habit-bound to the ways of regular warfare on the continent, but not actually stupid. There were limits to how long any enemy would stick to tactics that didn’t work. Nevertheless, this new Prussian commander was about to find out why the lands beyond the Lillråndan had such a deadly reputation. An ambush you knew about was an ambush of the other side, and scouts with radios and binoculars made it almost impossible for the Prussians to move troops unobserved.
“Thank you for this word, Wayfarer,” Helge said formally. “There will be an offering, should we reach our homes.” Then he turned to his men and gave rapid orders, while the “god” faded into the trees – he wouldn’t go far, in case there were new developments important enough to warn Helge about, but it didn’t do to let the ordinary hirdsmenn get too close a look. The ten best skiers split off from the main party, heading up the mountainside for the next valley over. They would repeat the Prussian captain’s trick, crossing the Lillråndan further up its course and coming in on the flank of the ambush at the crucial moment. The remaining raiders settled down for a rest. The main Prussian pursuit was still a good distance behind, and it was important to let the flanking force get into position.
Helge gave it half an hour, then got his men moving again. It was another hour before they reached the Lillråndan’s valley and began the descent towards the frozen river. There was no sign of any ambush, for either side – but Helge spotted a yellow circle in the snow of a hillock, and was satisfied. Ragnvald had gotten word from one or another of the scouts, and the counter-ambush was in place; had they not got there yet, he would have pissed to form a cross.
Even so, Helge’s skin crawled as he led the raiders across the river, kicking at recalcitrant pigs. The Prussians attack wouldn’t be anywhere near as surprising as they thought, but they’d still get off a volley at fairly close range – there! A shout, and Prussian soldiers rose all around from where they had dug themselves into the snow. The Norwegians got their muskets unslung as quickly as the Prussians could rise from lying prone, and the ragged volleys crashed out almost simultaneously. Even at close range there were not many hits with the awkward weapons, both sides being in skirmish order; but that didn’t matter. The Prussians had expected to cut down utterly surprised raiders, and to have ten priceless seconds before the Norwegians got their wits about them; instead they were faced with an instant counter-volley, and it was they who were frozen for precious moments by the difference between expectation and reality. And then Helge’s flanking party swept in from upstream, skiing for all they were worth and hitting the surprised Prussians in the rear.
Fighting on skis is awkward, but even so it took only a minute of confused hand-to-hand struggle before the Prussians broke and tried to flee. It did them no good. Helge’s men swept after them, howling triumph to block out the sobbing breaths and cries for mercy, and caught the last one within two hundred meters. They paused briefly to snatch up valuable muskets and ammunition. Then they continued up the valley, carrying their dead.