And Rumours of War: More Deadly than the Male, pt III

September 4th, 1767
York, Liberated England

This ae neet, this ae neet
every neet an’ all
fire and fleet and candle-leet
and Christ receive thy saul.

The men’s singing drifted in distantly. It was a fitting one for this near-autumn day, Ingrid thought, with the campaigning season in England nearly over and the Bretons driven south of the Thames. There was a not-unpleasant melancholy in singing for the dead of a victorious campaign, with a good dinner inside and more victory to look forward to next year.

When from hence away art past,
Every neet an’ all,
To Whinny-muir thou com’st at last;
And Christ receive thy saul.

Her staff were all leaning back in various degrees of repletement, smiling – well, Ragnar’s mouth twisted in discontent, but that was hardly unusual. He had come over from Dovre a month earlier, following Anita, just arrived from the uptime, and was still struggling to adjust to how Christian Norway was outside of Scandinavia. Sulking over a throwaway ‘Christ’ in a song was a new low, though, and Ingrid decided she’d have to ask Anita just what she was doing to the boy. It wasn’t as though he were a stril, to be carelessly discarded when one grew bored with him, and the last thing she needed was hurt feelings and high drama on her staff. And besides that, female war-leaders were a breach of long-standing custom in Norway; if Anita was going to take over as Lady of War for the Hird, she would have to follow Ingrid’s example and marry someone outside the army. Otherwise every order would be followed by looking to her husband for confirmation. Not that Terje’s position in the Ting hadn’t occasionally been useful for her reforms.

If ever thou gav’st hosen and shoon,
Every neet an’ all,
Sit thee doon and put them on;
And Christ receive thy saul.

Ingrid was startled from her reverie by the entry of a messenger, still smelling of horse and managing to be mud-splashed; he must have ridden fast and hard, the ground was dry for many miles around. She raised her eyebrows; what could be so important as all that?

“Ma’am. Message from Colonel Vegardsson. 4th Ohio.” Ingrid nodded patiently; she knew perfectly well what regiments her colonels commanded, of course, but biting the messenger’s head off would not be productive. The 4th Ohio were stationed in Essex, keeping an eye on the thin Breton militias there.

If hosen and shoon thou ne’er gav’st nane,
Every neet an’ all,
The whins sall prick thee to the bare bane;
And Christ receive thy saul.

“The Bretons have landed a large army in London, and march up the coast road towards York. The colonel is retreating before them; they have raised the London mob against us.”

“That’s impo-” Ingrid stopped herself. Information was information, you couldn’t go about denying it just because it was unlikely. If she had still been in school, just the half phrase she had gotten out would have earned her a beating. She gathered herself for a moment, dropping her lassitude like a cloak; it felt a bit like starting up a machine in her mind, all angles and gears and efficient whirring. “What numbers? And where is the navy?”

“We counted forty regimental banners. As for the navy, I don’t know.”

From Whinny-Muir when thou mayst pass,
Every neet an’ all,
To Brig o’ Dread thou comes at last;
And Christ receive thy saul.

Ingrid thought about it. London wasn’t very far from York, and her army was dispersed to winter quarters, some of it even sailing back to America to deal with the Narragansetters. She could muster perhaps thirty thousand men in time to meet this attack south of York; more if she retreated northwards. On the other hand, it might be a bluff. Forty banners, fine, but how many thousands of men? And did they all have guns? It wasn’t possible to completely block the Channel at the current level of technology; a fog, a bad wind, or just a dark night could let a daring squadron slip through. But still, it was unlikely that they had screwed up badly enough for an army large enough to challenge her own to land – not that heads wouldn’t roll anyway; not stopping every ship was one thing, but a bit of warning would have been nice.

If ever thou gav’st siller and gold,
Every neet an’ all,
On Brig o’ Dread thou’lt find foothold;
And Christ receive thy saul.

Ingrid reached her decision and nodded. Forty regiments wasn’t impossible odds for the forces she could mobilise quickly. A defensive position across their line of advance, and they’d have to either attack her or retreat; they couldn’t keep an army in the field indefinitely at this time of year. Keeping York, not to mention the prestige of victory, was worth the risk. “Right. Messengers to everyone, concentrate on York.” Her staff had sat up, smiles and scowls both forgotten; this was serious business now. “Gunnar, coordinate that, make sure nobody gets in each other’s way. David, go over the maps, find me a good place to defend a bit south of here. Don’t put us on the far side of a river, we might have to retreat in a hurry, the good general de Crussol showed us that mistake and we don’t have to repeat it. Anita, here’s your chance at some fighting, take a cavalry regiment and ride south, count them and see if they’re bluffing. If you can get into their rear and interfere with their supplies, so much the better, but don’t kill my cavalry to do it. Remember we can’t call up half-a-million strils whenever we need them. Ragnar, get down to the Mayor, have him call out the militia, they can at least hold the walls of York. Issue them new muskets if they need them, and ammunition.”

If siller and gold thou ne’er gav’st nane,
Every neet an’ all,
Down thou’lt plummet into Hell’s flame;
And De’il tak’ thy saul.

(to be continued)


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