The Great Game: Teaching the Horse

An introductory post, exploring some of the consequences of running a straightforwardly imperialist empire with a relatively small ethnicity. Balancing the economy and the military has been the bane of the Yngling empire since the EU2 period, but in these industrial times, when wealth depends on an educated workforce with access to all kinds of opportunities for sabotage, it has become a fatal weakness. The Ynglings of 1933 stare death in the face. Everyone can see that their empire cannot last as it is, but neither can they let go, because the subject races will rise in bloody revolt the moment the reins are loosened. And even if that were not so, the Ynglings are not the only imperialist ruling class in the world; they have to maintain their industrial strength and the empire that feeds it raw materials, or they themselves will become another oppressed subject race. Like Austria-Hungary in our timeline, keeping the Ynglinga Rike together is an insoluble problem; but with their best effort the pencil can be kept standing on its tip for another dozen years. And what else can a man do, when the fall will bring Chaos and Old Night to his homeland? So the Ynglings rush about looking for expedients, and their empire totters but it does not fall. Not yet.

Håkon’s Hall, Bergen
Spring, 1932

To an outsider, the room would have seemed filled with tension about to snap into violence. That was illusion, engendered by one of the many tricks the Ynglings used to maintain their dominance: They were trained to hold their bodies, at all times, in postures of dominance and threat, and thus force their subordinates into either open defiance, to be immediately punished, or to the submissive gestures that would produce a submissive mindset. Thus, even a calm discussion of industrial figures might look like impassioned argument accompanied by threats. Still, the figures made no pleasant hearing; by no means all the displeasure on the Law-Speaker’s face was habitual show.
“Thirty percent? That’s the best you can do?”
The Tingsmann for Finance shrugged. “It’s the best compromise my staff can find. Move people out of the truck factories, and you could get more steel. But then you’d have transport problems – they’re screaming as it is. And so on and so forth. You can rob the Germans and pay the Poles, but you can’t actually increase our output without more skilled manpower.”
“I knew it was bad, but… We’re going to have to export seventy percent of our iron ore?”
Another shrug, slightly defensive now. “At least it keeps the army fed, which frankly I don’t see how we can do otherwise. Look, Vidkun, we’ve known about the problem for years. There just are not enough Ynglings to run our industry and keep our army at this level at the same time. If we dropped the draft period down to three years, even, I could conscript another dozen labour regiments, say from Africa – then they wouldn’t grow up to be rebels; and in five years we could double our steel production. But right now, this is the absolute best I can do.”
“The army is too stretched as it is. If the Revanchist party gets three more seats in Belgium, they’ll go for our throats, and it’ll be touch and go, frankly. They’ve learned quite a bit since our last war – there won’t be any more frontal attacks on our trenches, and it’s not like we enjoyed that. Cut the army by a fourth, and we might as well cut our throats and save some steps.”
“Yes, I know. I’m just saying there isn’t a flake of uncommitted Yngling manpower anywhere outside the army. And we absolutely cannot educate any more strils. We’ve had three factory revolts just this year – in solid, reliable ironworks, or so we thought. We moved some supervisors out to those hydro works that had the trouble last year, they’re just getting back into production. Moved some strils up a bit to take their places. Two months later, boom, they’re organised and it’s “no more iron until you meet our demands”. They were damn smart about fortifying the place, too – lost five troops taking it back, not to mention the damage to the plant. It won’t be back up to full production until next year, at the earliest. Next time we might have to negotiate.”
“No.” There was flat finality in the Law-speaker’s voice, and his posture had withdrawn from its usual forward-leaning threat to utter neutrality. In an Yngling speaking to another, that was a warning sign; it meant that the speaker thought it might be necessary to fight, and was consciously reining in his threats so that primate instinct would not contribute to the tension. “No negotiating with rebels, ever. That way lies the dissolution of the empire.”
“No, no, you’re right of course. Perhaps we could let up on them just a little, though, negotiating in advance as it were. Say maybe we give them an extra meat ration each month.”
“Yes, fine, you’re in charge of that, do as you like. But you won’t double our steel production by tinkering with privileges.”
The third man in the room cleared his throat. “One moment, Karl. Let me see if I’ve got this straight. You’re telling us we can’t increase our production, the Belgians have three times our output, and their Revanchists are three seats from getting a givernment.”
“Well, I leave the Belgians to Vidkun, but yes, that’s the situation.”
“Right. In that case, why are we sitting on our asses and not attacking? The army situation will never get any better. Fine, are we not Ynglings? Let’s attack while training and courage still count for something, and take those factories for ourselves!”
Vidkun rubbed his forehead tiredly. “Yes, well, you fought in America in the last war, as I recall.”
“What’s that got to do with it?”
“We had the advantage in ships then. Their American troops never got reinforced or supplied properly. And anyway, you had room to maneuver. If you’d been on the German front… a nightmare. Sheer butchery. And we’re damn good butchers, I’ll give you that, and we were dug in and they very kindly insisted on attacking us head-on. And never mind what we feed to the strils, still they damn near had us. There’s just too buggering many of the bastards! A hundred million of them, and forty million Ynglings, and half of those are needed to keep an eye on two-hund-red-fif-ty-mill-i-on strils, count’em yourself if you like, who think life is unfair just because we kicked the shit out of their grandparents! And now, with barrels… tell you the truth, I wish we’d never invented the damn things, they make it just too easy to break a defensive line. If I thought we had any kind of chance, you’d be hearing the guns from here, but I just don’t see it.” The blue eyes were tired, almost despairing, and there was silence for a while.
Karl took a deep breath. “All right, look. There’s not enough Ynglings. Fine. Let’s make some more.”
Vidkun smiled twistedly, but did not make the usual joke about lending Karl his wife; instead he said “You think I haven’t thought about it? It can’t be done. Oh, maybe some of our Moderates would agree to it. But the Radicals would break from the government so fast you’d smell smoke, and because that’s true, the Moderates would drum us both out of the party just for suggesting it. And as for Sverre’s Ynglinga Lag, well…” He nodded in the direction of the third man, who took up the tale with a wry twist to his lips. “The one thing we agree with the Radicals on. No more Emancipations, ever! Forty years ago we thought it the finest idea since raiding England, and well we might. And now we’re Ynglings by Law, but not by Blood, and however hard we try we’re just not quite as good as you fine gentlemen. And so we cling to what we do have, and anyone who even breathes the suggestion that the Balts might be fine people worthy of a voice in the Ting, or a duel… Ye gods, you’d think I’d suggested eating our babies. I never rowed so hard in my life, and as it is I’m glad I was drunk that night, it makes a good excuse. No, gentlemen, if you want to see our government collapse and a Radical/Yngling-Lag/White-Christ’s-Army coalition take its place, and ourselves duelled right out of the Ting, just try that.”
“Yes. I know that. But I wasn’t actually thinking of the strils, that’s impossible this generation and the next, and never mind that Yngling-right was never meant for a suicide pact. That is as it will be. But what about the Poles?”
“Well, what about them?”
“Right now they’re our vassals.”
Vidkun waggled his hand, bob-bob-bob. “The Ukrainians and Russians in what used to be the Polish Empire are our vassals. The actual Poles, well, any of them with the education it takes to make a speech about odwaga got himself killed in the Twenty Years’ War, leading a rising against our occupation. So what’s left of them are peasants, basically.”
“Right, right, and the Ukrainians are loyal to us just so long as they think we’re helpful in keeping all that odwaga bottled up. But look you, being Governor of the Tributary Republic is a hardship posting, because who wants to live where everybody hates you? So our man Henrik, I don’t think he feels any too grateful to the Ting that gave him the job. If we give him orders, I think he’ll take them just to spite the Ting. So, that’s a part of the empire we can loosen up without consulting the Ting at all.”
“Well, yes. But they’re not stupid, after all, and unlike the strils they have an army. If we give them a bigger one, who’s to say it’s the Belgians they’ll use it on?”
“Well, if we lose a war with Belgium, then we can certainly kiss our overlordship of Poland goodbye, not to mention our asses. So, if we’re going to lose it anyway, let’s give it away generous-like and hope for gratitude. After all, it’s not as though the Poles like the Belgians any more than they like us, and besides, they depend on our iron for their industry. Suppose we give them the right to vote on an Advisory Assembly, and tell Henrik to pay close attention to what it says? And we could give them the right to duel among themselves, what the heck. It might make them a bit more polite, and any of them challenges an Yngling he’ll get what he deserves. Or else we’ll be rid of a weakling, so we win either way.”
“Ye-es… The thing about power is, you can’t give it away and keep it at the same time. Sooner or later they’ll begin to wonder why that Assembly has ‘Advisory’ in front of it, and they’ll vote for something we don’t like. And then, we’ve either given them real power to hurt us, or else we fight a war to take the Assembly away.”
“I know. It buys us… I don’t know, maybe ten years, maybe thirty. If the Poles will really fight for us, not just go through the motions, we can hold, at any rate.”
“Ah! And in ten years, why, anything could happen! The White Christ might return and solve all our problems for us!” This was a jab at Sverre, who like many of the law-Ynglings still held to the older Christian faith and not the neopaganism that most blood-Ynglings, those who weren’t atheists, swore by. Sverre smiled pleasantly and shot back “In which case you heathens will all go to Hell, but you’re right – my problems would be over. But more to the point, if we have a little time, perhaps we could make the bureaucrats understand that we actually need them to approve marriage licenses for soldiers, thanks kindly.”
“Or get the blood-Ynglings to stop snubbing the law-Ynglings, and by the way I’m sorry about that.”
“Can’t be helped, or anyway not right now. Maybe we could get the Radicals out of our government and back into Opposition where they belong.”
“Yes. Well. Let’s be honest; it’s not likely the situation will be that much better in ten years, but it’s all we’ve got. And maybe, just maybe, the horse will learn to sing.”


As you can perhaps tell, the conversion from Vicky did not go well for my Norwegian Realm. I had about one-third the industry of Belgium, which annoyed me quite a bit since I’d had three-fourths the Ind score, and indeed had spent the last twenty years promoting a craftsman every three days or so precisely to build that score. It seems the conversion looks at output; if I’d known that, I’d have gone for clerks and cappies rather than raw Ind score. But while mechanics-wise this was bad for me, I have to admit that for realism it’s probably pretty reasonable; Belgium, after all, controls the industrial heartland of Europe, from central Germany through the Rhineland and down to the eastern half of France. And you just don’t get the production from industrial serfs that you do from a real proletariat that can choose its own work. Then, in Vicky I’d spent a lot of time and money building Inf-Art divisions, and the conversion gave me plain vanilla Inf. Finally, Poland, a satellite state in Vicky, was now a plain ally.

Well, that last wasn’t so bad, actually – presumably, the first act of a human Poland would be to fight a war to get out of satellite-hood, and while I’d likely win, I’d be overstrained and fighting from the word go, and easy meat; besides, with my low IC I couldn’t use all the resources I had anyway, so satellites would be pretty useless to me. So… Let the Poles run free!

Some notes on the prior history for new readers too lazy to read the previous sections of the AAR, not that I know why I’m doing such shiftless people any favours. The ‘Ynglings’ are the ruling caste of Norway, originally my ruling family in Crusader Kings. You start in 1066 with two guys, and I ended in 1419 with about 700. Well, if you extrapolate that growth rate, you end up with a few million Ynglings by 1700. Also, because the strils – that is, people who are not Ynglings – were increasingly pushed out of the democratic institutions of Norway by sheer wealth, the Ynglings ended up as a sort of combination of ruling family, warrior caste, and ethnic group. Like the nobles of Poland, the title passes to all sons; in Poland, you ended up with entire villages of peasants all of whom had the right to call themselves noble, but Norway has a colonial empire and won some wars, so the ruling class was able to find land and wealth for most of its sons. However, there were never enough Ynglings to both fight wars and run industries; so there were a few ways for strils to pass into the class, chiefly by volunteering for the army, surviving a tour of duty, and then marrying an Yngling woman. (The extent to which this privilege has been granted has varied with how much the Ynglings have felt under pressure.) Then, from 1880 to 1900 I fought a really incredibly nasty war with the Belgians, Poles, and British; it ended with the Belgians giving up a lot of land, the Poles my vassals, and the British, damn their lucky eyes, being bought off with a large part of Canada. However, in that process I took two million casualties (and as for what I did to the poor Poles, who refused to give up, you don’t want to know) and the Ynglings were finally forced to let all Norse (that’s Danes+Norwegians+Swedes+Finns) into their class – or anyway, all those who had fought in the War, which with conscription and incredible manpower scarcity was everyone down to girls of fourteen. This was the Great Emancipation, and it created a class of ‘law-Ynglings’, as opposed to those who are actually descended from King Olav and are called blood-Ynglings.

If I thought I could win a war with Belgium, we’d be fighting already. But, like Vidkun, I just don’t see it happening with the initial forces, and with the industry, it’s never going to get any better. So, like him, I’m just hunkering down, trying to jury-rig something that’ll let this empire, already a vast mess of special cases, survive ten more years. There’s no actual plan, now; I’m just hoping for the best – say, a falling out between Spain and Belgium over division of the spoils of Italy, or something silly like that. And maybe the horse will learn to sing.

Oh, about Vidkun: I’ve got the Fascist ministers for Norway, who truly suck both as people and as game ministers. But, y’know, the Vidkun Quisling whose name is a byword for treason… why, that was in in another timeline, and besides, the swine is dead. Here we have Vidkun Yngling, a worried man of the Moderate party, trying his best to preserve the empire and the privileges of his caste. He’s not necessarily a nice guy. In truth most Ynglings are towering Fascist swine by our standards. But he has at least the virtues of his vices: He’s brave, an efficient soldier and administrator, feels a duty to protect his subordinates. And loyal to his own.


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