September 16th, 1767
Northern Yorkshire, Occupied England
The rain poured down, drenching everything in sight and some things out of it. Ingrid had been up since before dawn, and her mood was not improved by being soaked to the skin; but she suppressed that, as she suppressed hunger and fatigue. Now was the time for the cheerful mien suitable when things are very bad; nobody had to know that she was wildly irritated by every word spoken to her, or that she wanted to scream at the rain dripping off her nose. She had been through worse, after all. Walking alone across the Jotunheim had been no joke. But she had been young then, and not responsible for anyone but herself. Now she had an army to save.
She looked up from her plodding horse’s neck as Anita rode up, splashing mud. The younger Yngling – actually she had been born a year before Ingrid, but the Quantum Device had scrambled all that; now she looked, at her 22 chronological years, like a child to Ingrid – saluted, then reported without preamble. “You were right, they got ahead of us to the bridge. A regiment of dragoons, two guns. Shall I clear them out?”
Ingrid shook her head. “No, it would take too long, it’s not worth it for the Edinburgh road. But take a regiment and make a feint. I want to keep them concentrating on the east coast roads. Make it look like we’re going to fight them for it; meanwhile we’ll slip out to the west.”
“Yes, ma’am”. Anita saluted again and rode off. Ingrid suppressed a curse at her energy, then turned to deal with the next officer; a bridge washed out – damn the weather, it could hardly have turned at a worse moment. She gave orders for the wagons to be re-routed to the next bridge, replacing an infantry regiment which would in turn have to go to a ford; the change would likely lose her some gunpowder, horses were giving out right and left in this weather, but that couldn’t be helped, there was no time to rebuild the bridge. Supplies had to be considered expendable. The true worry was that her army might collapse. Ingrid knew her men, knew that they regarded her as a luck-piece and a talisman; but now she had won a battle and lost one, and if the retreat – north, through foul weather, into Scotland – turned bad she might never have a chance to retrieve her record. For all her training, these weren’t, after all, men of the Ynglinga Hird, who could take setbacks and defeats in their stride. They were not the heirs of a thousand years of battle, of a long history which included its share of routs as well as victories. They could not draw strength from knowing that their ancestors had died in trenches outside Narvik in the Twenty Years’ War; they knew nothing of the Long Retreat through Siberia, of the destruction of two army groups in the nuking of Nuremberg, of the desperate fighting in Poland and Germany, when the Ynglinga Rike controlled only a few hundred square miles of mud and ruins. To them every battle lost was catastrophic; they could not take comfort in the litany of disasters that uptime Norway had, nonetheless, recovered from.
Ingrid was, when she had time to think of strategy, less worried than her officers; control of the Atlantic – unfortunate slipups aside – was still in Norwegian hands, and that would be decisive in the long run. Even so, the loss of this army would extend the war for years, and there could be no certainties in such a conflict. That was why it was of such desperate importance to reach the west coast, and evacuate to Ireland. If she had an army for the spring campaign, it would still come right; more to the point, it would come right in a way that would not require her to spend another ten years rebuilding morale.
September 18th, 1767
Carlisle, Occupied England
Anita looked weary. Even 22-year-olds had limits to their energy, it seemed; in a way, Ingrid was comforted. The Burgundian army pounding the walls were all young, after all, many of them would not yet be out of their teens. It would be necessary to blunt their enthusiasm.
“Fifth Ohio has embarked. That leaves us twenty regiments to hold the walls – the worst mauled, as you instructed. And now you will tell me what the devil you’re up to. This city can’t stand a siege; the walls are literally medieval!”
Ingrid nodded, not for the threat in Anita’s voice but for the pleading. Anita was an Yngling, bred and trained for war; she would happily work for any strategy she could see the sense of, but she was a free woman of a people touchy about their rights. The citizen soldiers of the Hird did not enjoy being kept in the dark. “You’re right, we can’t stand a siege, but the walls will hold against field pieces, at least for some days. We may be able to hold long enough for the ships to come back; that’s what I’ll tell the troops, anyway.”
Anita looked skeptical. “You’ve got too much wall, not enough troops, and the regiments you’ve kept have half their men lying at Escrick field.”
“Yes. Which is why I need to lose, not a siege, but an assault. The Burgundians can’t afford to wait us out; we still control the river and no land-transportable gun will even tickle an ocean-going warship. If they wait for siege artillery we’ll be out of here. So they’ll attack. And I’m going to teach them just how much manpower a city can absorb, if it’s fought street by street with gunpowder weapons. Even these ancient smoothbores.”
“Hard on the city.” Anita’s tone was casual, not objecting, just observing. The sun is out, it’s warm, street fighting is hard on the city containing the streets.
“Oh well. It’s not much of a port anyway. Liverpool’s better sited for the America trade.”
Anita waved it aside. “Right, right. No, the more serious question is, will the men do it? They’re still an army, but they’re beaten. They look around them and see, like as not, both their rank-mates gone. We took heavy casualties at Escrick, Ingrid.”
“Yes, I know; that’s why I’m staying here, to inspire them.”
Anita nodded, not bursting into objections; Ingrid appreciated that. Ynglings thought like each other. The downtimer officers would no doubt want to pack her off to Ireland, but that was Anita’s rightful task, the young woman’s task, and Ingrid would not take it away from her. She needed, not a victory, but a glorious, hard-fought defeat, something to wave like a banner and inspire her people for generations, and wipe out the shame of retreat from Enscrick. There was no way to get that by having the general skedaddle, even for the best of reasons. She had spent her life making herself into the Lady of War, a living battle flag for her new Hird; she would not spoil that now, even though she would have liked to see her children again, or her husband. It was going to be hard work dissuading her officers, though, and she savoured Anita’s silence, her respect for Ingrid’s decision. Ynglings were bred for war, and grew up with the knowledge that they stood a one-in-five chance of dying in battle; everyone knew someone whose brother or father or cool older sister had died in the Finnish snows. But to volunteer for a last stand, knowing that there would be no cavalry – that was something else again, and rare. Ingrid was afraid, yes; that came with the territory. But there was something else, too – the romance and the power of the given sacrifice, the respect and the salute in Anita’s eyes. Uptime, Ynglings had died by the hundreds, in little border skirmishes that meant nothing, that ultimately were only the most dangerous sport in the world, of no significance in the game of empire except to keep score. Here, there could be meaning to death.
Anita broke the silence, briskly. “Very well. I’ll be sure to use your death ruthlessly. Would you like some help beating sense into the thick skulls of your staff?”
“That would be appreciated.”
They sat in silence for another minute, then Anita shook herself, rising to walk to the window – widened, but still showing traces of its origin as an arrow slot. Carlisle castle had seen sieges before, when the raids had come down out of Scotland, but those days were long past; the castle had been modernised to serve as an administrative center, not a fighting fortification. The view of the city was still excellent, though, including the Breton trenches outside the wall, where the guns fired desultorily. “Will you try to hold the castle?”
“Possibly. It depends on how the street fighting goes. It’s not really a serious fortification anymore, but as stone buildings go it’s not too bad. If I can keep enough men together it’s suitable for a last stand, not to mention the tower is a good place for flying a single golden Lion Rampant. Got to pay attention to the look of the thing, you know. But if things start collapsing before we’re pushed back that far, I’ll lead a charge at a barricade, instead. Bared breasts, wielding a torn flag, shouting a defiant battle cry. I don’t think they have that painting here; commission one for me, if that’s how it goes, will you?”
“Of course.” Anita hesitated. “But – ah – leading a charge into enemy troops – be sure, Ingrid. There’s an old and time-honoured way to destroy a woman’s reputation, and paintings or not, it works.”
Ingrid waved the concern aside. “Don’t worry; I’ve got two excellent pistols. They won’t take me alive. And besides, am I not an Yngling? Anyone who sticks anything where I don’t want it had better be sure of his manhood. Teeth, you know.” Anita snorted; the man-eating qualities of Yngling women were an old joke, uptime. The she sobered, and smiled; the Yngling women had their jokes, too, and their traditions. “And the female of the species…”
Ingrid joined in, baring her teeth, and they completed it together: “…is more deadly, than the male.”