After the Compromise Peace and considerable rebuilding, the wars began again. It turns out, unfortunately, that when you use a large armoured spearhead to blow a hole in the enemy lines and pour your army through, you should be sure to widen that hole as you go.
January 10th, 1943
Somewhere in Bohemia
March! The mud is caking good about our trousers.
Front! Eyes front, and see the colour-casings drip.
Front! The faces of the women in the houses
ain’t the kind of thing to take aboard the ship.
No colour-casings here; it had been long and long since the nations sent their champions to war decked in scarlet and gold, with drums and flutes and banners. But mud they had aplenty, the particularly gloopy grey mud of German winter; Ynglings knew that mud well. Passing the latest bend in the endless road that was – slowly – carrying IV Hird (Nidaros) towards Poland, they came across still another manifestation of it: A gun truck had bogged down, and a weary squad of stril auxiliaries was trying to pull it out.
There was no need to give any orders; Yngve simply nodded at Ulf, his sergeant, and the men fell out of marching order to help. It was one thing to boss the strils about in peacetime, but in this war they were all in it together, and any help was welcome help. As the saying went, Ynglings were few, and nobody loved them; no need to aggravate that in their own auxiliaries. Besides, they’d need that gun later; the word was that the Belgian panzers were driving up the Oder to block the Norwegian retreat.
The labour and tribute of continents went into ensuring that Ynglings were the closest to physical perfection that their heredity would permit them to be, and the culling of centuries had been at work on that heredity; Yngve had no doubt that his men would make short work of getting the truck out of its hole. Rather than supervise uselessly, he went over to talk to the young Fenrik commanding the strils, who saluted snappily, hand to heart.
“Good evening, Fenrik. Where’s the rest of your battery?”
“Further up the road, sir – no use bogging down three for the price of one.”
“Right. How’s your ammunition status?”
“Could be worse, sir – twenty-three rounds high explosive, ten shrapnel.”
That would last slightly less than three minutes at maximum rate of fire, but it was hardly likely they’d find a target worth that; husbanded a bit more carefully, it could add vastly to his company’s firepower for a whole day, even two, of fighting. Yngve nodded sharply.
“All right. Your men look tired; have mine replace them on the ropes, in shifts. I’m attaching you to my company until further notice.”
The truck was out of the bog; now the strils watched happily as Ynglings took their place in the rope harnesses that had been attached to its body and began pulling. It rumbled slowly forward; Yngve caught himself wishing for a team of horses, and redirected his though to a rather more to-the-point wish for a resupply of fuel. The painfully slow pace of the retreat gnawed at his soul after the glory of the swift attack through the Danomite line. It could still come right, though, if they could reach the Oder and resupply before the Belgians did. The war was not yet lost.
As he marched on, the men took up their rhythmic singing again, pulling in time to the chant:
Cheer! For we’ll never march to victory!
Cheer! And we’ll never live to hear the cannon roar!
The Large Birds of Prey, they will carry us away,
and you’ll never – see your soldiers – any more.