April 24th, 1875
A sullen drizzle had banked the worst fires, but the grim rumble of distant guns showed that Brussels still stood against the invaders. The mood in the headquarters tent was downcast; the map showed the latest thrust, intended to outflank the Burgundian defenses and come at the city from the south, still bogged down in the outskirts of Etterbeek. Still, they were hard men, these Yngling officers; fifteen years of war had winnowed out the ones who expected attacks to succeed as planned. So it was not unexpected when Yngve, the commander, straightened up from his contemplation of the map with the air of a man who’s had enough grimness, and wants things to get done.
“All right, gentlemen. It’s not so bad as all that. We took prisoners from their 1st Guards in this attack – their last uncommitted regular unit. They can’t have anything left but city militia. One more attack, and we’ll crack them.”
The officers had been expecting it, and sat up, ready to begin the planning. But before the general could begin outlining his new plan, his aide spoke up.
“The question is, do our troops have one more attack in them?”
There was unbelieving silence; heresy had been spoken. The general’s reply was almost gentle, the tone of a man offering a really obvious observation that will settle the matter.
“Are they not Ynglings?”
“No, sir. With respect. They are not. They are strils, and women, and children. And they are very, very tired. We have twenty divisions in the line; and if you combed out the cadre, you might find enough adult Yngling males to man five. And of those, half would have been wounded at least once, and most would have been drafted at sixteen, before completing the full course of training.”
“Are you saying” – the general paused incredulously – “that Norwegian troops won’t fight? And if so, why haven’t I heard about it before?”
“No, sir. They’ll fight, right enough. They are as ready as any of us to die for Norway’s freedom. But that’s not the question, now. The Burgundians have offered us peace, and the troops know it. Now you’re asking them to die for Norway’s mere advantage, for a better border in Africa! And with respect, sir, even if they were Ynglings, they would be free men and citizens, and no toys of the General Staff.”
The silence was long, but no longer unbelieving; unpleasant facts were nothing new to these men. At length the general nodded slowly.
“All right. It’s a point. When you think about it, they were pretty sluggish in that last attack. But here’s another point to consider – in fact, let’s send it out as an Order of the Day. The troops won’t fight for mere advantage in the peace negotiations, you say, and I think you’re right. Well then, how about revenge? These Burgundians stabbed us in the back; they lost us half of Canada, and at least a million dead. Now they stand at bay in their last stronghold; we’ve fought them back from Grense Jakobselv to the suburbs of Brussels. Shall we let them off, then? Are they to have no more punishment than the loss of a few provinces? I say not. I say we take Brussels, and raze it to the ground, and sow it with salt! I say we take their government prisoners, and hang them up as a sacrifice to the Elder Gods! I say we show the world what it means to betray the Yngling Folk!”
There was another silence; the aide nodded slow agreement.
“Yes, sir. They’ll fight for that. Not for advantage, but for vengeance – for that they’ll give us one more attack.”