After the carnage of the Twenty Years’ War, I turn to politics – which in this timeline always carries the possibility of more bloodletting. The Ynglings made many short-term compromises to win the war, which are now coming back to haunt them.
June 18th, 1892
Tingvoll Hall, Bergen
The Tinghall was jam-packed and stiflingly hot; every Tingmann in the realm was present, from the fresh-sworn, hard-faced men representing Holstein down to old Yngve Jonsson, who had sat for Vardøhus for thirty years and was coughing his lungs out with pneumonia. There was breathless silence as the Tingmann for Bergenhus neared the end of his speech:
“Therefore, I, Harald son of Vegard, petition for the recognition of all these aforementioned Norse strils as Ynglings, with all the rights inherent in that status.”
There was utter pandemonium. The Yngling Ting, governing body of a warrior nation, was not a peaceful parliament at the best of times; now threats and counterthreats flew across the old stone hall, and hands reached for knives – the prohibition on weapons in the Tinghall being generally avoided by means of large, sharp ‘eating utensils’. There had been blood spilled in the Hall before; indeed, the Ynglings considered the occasional dead Tingmann a necessary price of avoiding all-out civil war. Now the unexpected radicality of the liberal faction’s proposal had set conservative tempers boiling: some loosening of restrictions had been expected, even agreed to, but to accept strils as full Ynglings without so much as a marriage? It went against all tradition, and neither the conservative Christians from the north, nor the radical neopagans from Sweden, were having any. The incipient bloodbath was interrupted, however, by a sudden volley of gunfire, which cut off the noise like an axe as the Ynglings, veterans to a man, dove for cover.
“Those were aimed at the roof. The next man to reach for a knife gets it in the gut.” The speaker was Harald Vegardsson again; his words were punctuated by a click-clack as the troops at the entrance reloaded. “Now. This is not a coup; but we will by the White Christ have a civilised discussion and not a brawl. You there, Geirr Ketilson. You object to my proposal?”
The Yngling he addressed rose, snarling, but keeping his hands conspicuously away from his belt. “Damn right, I do. We are Ynglings, curse it, not some country club that you can invite new members into as you see fit!”
Harald nodded. “All right, it’s a point. Have you considered what’s going to happen if we don’t let them in?”
“The Hird will shoot any malcontents, and we’ll import Russians to replace ’em. What’s your point? In fact, what’s the point of this whole thing? You know perfectly well you haven’t got the votes for any such nonsense.”
There was a murmur of agreement; even many of the liberals who usually voted with Harald were nodding.
“You are ignoring two things. First, we gave out half a million rifles to win the war. And second – I’m calling Eirik son of Jon as my witness.”
The swearing in of a witness to the Ting went rapidly; tension was still thick in the hall, under the guns of the soldiers. The man who took the stand might have been handsome, being blond and athletic in the fashion of an ideal recruiting-poster Yngling, if not for the utter deadness of his eyes. When he spoke, it was with a flat lack of affect, without the emotion that usually lends life to men’s speech.
“Eirik, son of Jon, Lagsfører, third battalion, tenth Ynglinga Hird. You will either give out Yngling privileges to the Norse strils, or they will rise in revolt. If they rise, it will be necessary to kill either them, or you. It would be less work to kill you. Therefore, I will join them in revolt. All the Hirdsmen I have spoken to feel the same. Make your choice.”
There was a hiss of indrawn breath. The flat, uncaring tone was convincing, and the thousand-yard stare of a man who would kill as easily as another might breathe even more so; such a man had no reason to lie. Geirr spoke for them all, less confident now:
“You would betray the Ting, and the Folk? Betray the blood of the Ynglings?”
Eirik shrugged, minimally. “I care nothing for the Ting, or the Folk. What I care for is efficiency, and getting things done with a minimum of fuss. Give over the privileges, or die in the revolt; I don’t care. But you might remember” – his voice grew sharp, the first time he had shown any emotion since entering the hall – “I am as you have made me. I fought ten years, from Canada to Brussels, and for what? So you could annex Holstein and kill a Piast king! You’ve played the game, now taste the meat.”
To be continued