Early May, 1852
Oxford Street, London
The broken shop windows gaped where impatient looters had spotted some particularly choice piece of merchandise; the spilled glass made a constant crunch-crunch under the heavy infantry boots of the Yngling platoon. They moved warily, rifled muskets at the ready; almost a month after the hastily raised militias defending the city had been crushed, there was still the occasional shower of rocks thrown from ambush, or the bark of an ancient Brown Bess hauled out from the attic of an Imperial family. They were soft, these British, but no cowards. Even now, only one of the prisoners was weeping, although they had all checked a little when they saw the scene at what had once been Tyburn village. Some of the bodies were still moving feebly, though it had been three days since the last set of crucifixions.
As they neared the place where the stril auxiliaries waited with the newly made crosses, the Ynglings slowed their steps a little, unconsciously. They were none of them squeamish, but crucifixions were not a pleasant job. It was almost a relief when a sudden cry of St George for England! rose on every side, and the mob came boiling out of Tottenham Court Road waving clubs improvised from chair legs, paving stones, even an antique jezail that must have been looted from some doomed Indian army.
The Ynglings moved with the grace of long training; Petter and Gunnar peeled off to the left to form a base of fire out of the mob’s direct path, Johan moved his squad to the rear to watch Charing Cross road and form a reserve, while sending young Fredrik to run for help; the rest formed line and fired a volley as one, briefly checking the mob’s advance. There was no time for two shots; it was “Fix bayonets” and make ready to hold them off. Then the second mob came raging out of the houses on Charing Cross, and the situation turned serious.
“No formed unit is ever outnumbered by a mob”, the instructors had told them, and they had a point. It was especially true when the soldiers were Ynglings, tall, hard men trained from birth to kill. A quick thrust of the bayonet, a devastating kick that broke a kneecap, or a gunstock smashing in teeth; all worked to keep the mob at bay, to establish the personal space that was all they needed to remain fighting. Strils, even brave ones, did not conceive of throwing themselves onto a bayonet, to take a wound so that a comrade might kill the soldier whose weapons was thereby entangled; they sought to kill without taking hurt themselves, and could thus be killed. Rapid firing from the left made their situation no better; the crack-crack-crack could not really kill very many, though the heavy Minie balls could easily drill through a man to kill or wound a second, but they made a fine addition to the noise and chaos that was battle, which was all to the Ynglings’ advantage. Panic and chaos were their friends; they could not hope to kill so many, but they could break their hearts and make them run, and they moved with a smooth efficiency towards doing just that. Swick, out went the bayonets, finding a place in a gut or throat, coming back red-dripping to be thrust out again. An Yngling boy who could not hold a rifle at arms’ length for an hour by age fifteen was beaten daily until he could; as long as they had space before them, the soldiers could keep their rhythm for hours.
Still, Ynglings are not superhuman. The skirmish had lasted only a minute when an unlucky stril stumbled on a body, and went flying onto a bayonet being withdrawn from a killing stroke. Not properly aimed, the point went between ribs, where it stuck on gristle and muscle instead of sliding smoothly between soft vital organs. In that moment when the soldier was effectively unarmed, a lead pipe smashed into his face, and he dropped with the instant sack-of-potatoes limpness of a man whose forebrain has been mashed to grey porridge. His killer – a dock worker, perhaps, with experience from many a street brawl – stepped swiftly through the hole in the line, slashing out left and right with his pipe; others followed, and the Yngling line bent back in two directions from the sudden gap. Encouraged, men poured forwards, howling for revenge – no formal battle cry now, not “St George and England”, merely the baying cry of a hunting pack that sees its prey weakened.
One of the prisoners, hands still tied, leaped at an Yngling; the clumsy assault would not have fazed even a stril if it had come from the front, but the Ynglings were being attacked from two sides, now, and could spare no attention for their prisoners. Teeth met in the soldier’s muscled neck, ripping out a bloody chunk of meat; the unexpected agony froze him for a moment, and a paving stone he would otherwise have dodged smashed in his face. Another spill of Londoners broke through the Yngling line, reducing it to little knots of men fighting back to back; with the cohesion of the line broken, it was swiftly over. Even Ynglings could not stand long in the midst of a howling mob seeking their blood; not without the protection of comrades to either side. Soon there was nothing left but a bloody pulp where mob and prisoners alike had trampled their victims into the mud.
The London Rising, and subsequent Commune, is something of an anomaly in Yngling history. Its war-winning powers have clearly been exaggerated by later British myth-forming; there seems little doubt that the Yngling armies, fresh from the final victory over the last organised resistance in the Scottish Highlands, could have destroyed the ill-armed People’s Militias. Even the arrival of fresh British forces from the outer reaches of the Empire (“A blockade can’t last forever, you know”, as the song goes) does not on the face of it seem decisive; Yngling forces had not really been stretched in the lightning-fast initial occupation of the Isles, and were much better armed and trained than even the regular regiments of their foes. Why, then, did the Ynglings choose to negotiate with their stricken enemy, and negotiate such light terms, merely adjusting the border in the Americas?
The answer must be found in the internal politics of the Yngling Ting. In spite of the warlike reputation of the Ynglings, and their conscious effort at maintaining an image of unity against outsiders, support for a war against the premier Power of Europe, at a time when Norway was struggling to find enough manpower for its industries, was somewhat lukewarm. The radical faction, certainly, was ever eager to avenge previous humiliations, real and imagined. Their rhetoric of vengeance for the Great Raids of the 1740s, and in particular the war song that swept the nation, ‘It has rained’, has tended to dominate scholarly analysis of the causes of the war. But the number of actual votes they controlled was relatively small, and had been shrinking rapidly as Norway industrialised. The Ting’s thin majority for war seems to have been based on numerous motives, none of which were traditionally expansionist :
- The aforementioned revenge motive of the radicals.
- A desire to test the new weapons being issued the Ynglinga Hird, and in particular to use Britain as a laboratory for tactics.
- National-romantic concepts of war as the test of a nation’s will and strength, along with a somewhat more practical idea of maintaining a core of junior officers and NCOs experienced in large-scale warfare against a modern Power.
- A simple desire for loot – not so much for the wealth of it, which could never be great on a national level, but for the prestige of owning items taken in battle.
- Above all, the perception that Britain had let its guard down, and could be kicked with impunity. In a rather curious manifestation (for a people with such a reputation as hedonists) of prim puritanism, the Ynglings appear to have objected to Britain’s reliance on their wooden walls for defense, and subsequent lack of a proper garrison for the Island; especially since the wooden walls had been allowed to waste away in port.
In short, then, the proper model for considering the Canadian War may not be a war at all, but simply a vast Viking raid on a national scale, perhaps the most successful one ever. It was fought not for territorial aggrandisement, nor to weaken a rival, but for loot, glory, revenge, and fun. Having accomplished these aims, the Ynglings simply went home. In this view, the military threat, or lack thereof, of the London Commune is quite irrelevant; the Ynglings had done what they came for, and had no need for further fighting. The annexations of thinly-populated American lands were more in the nature of a sporting trophy than a transfer of territory : A way of keeping score, rather than a real prize.
However, with that said, it is worth noting that the Commune nevertheless forced a change in the operations of Norwegian armies. In examining letters of the time, it is clear that the Ynglings were quite surprised by the savage fury of the Rising; they do not seem to have considered beforehand that terrorising a modern urban population is rather a different business from plying the whip and the cross in the African bundu. A certain contempt for non-Yngling peoples also contributed; the ease with which the train-bands defending London had been swept aside made the occupation garrison rather over-confident, even arrogant in its assumption that there could never be effective resistance. Crucifixion of partisans, in this case, was decidedly counterproductive; rather than cowing Londoners into submission, it vastly increased their determination to resist.
The loss of two regiments taught the Ynglings caution; although they never formally subscribed to the full Laws of War, they did begin, at least in Europe, to exercise some restraint, if only for tactical reasons. The habits of casual brutality learned in wars with badly-armed African and Indochinese principalities had to be moderated in wars with peoples of real power, capable of genuine retaliation. The crucifixions in London were the last.
Actually, I’m not quite sure who would have won if Bob had decided to take it to the wall and go all-out. I certainly had a lot more artillery and somewhat better techs than him, and for a change I was in no danger of running out of manpower, at any rate not for a while. On the other hand, Britain just plain has more resources than Norway, and my blockade was failing. His fleet recovered remarkably quickly from being at minimum maintenance; unfortunately, I failed to catch it at sea and destroy it in the opening phases, and his admiral was damn good. Even so, we were about equal in fleet strength through most of the war. It might have been decided by who got the Ironclad invention first – though actually, it still hasn’t fired for me, in 1856, nor for Britain to the best of my knowledge. I decided that honour had been satisfied by my initial blitzkrieg over the green and pleasant land, and didn’t push for reparations.
The initial naval clash, with the Royal Navy completely unprepared:
Simultaneously, the landings into a totally undefended Britain :
A last stand in the mountains of Scotland :
America, with the annexed provinces cross-hatched: