The Great Game: A Final Skirmish

A final vignette of the savage broken-backed fighting in Europe, after the Bitter Peace and the Chinese withdrawal. Not a pleasant place.

September 5th, 1950
Eindhoven

The Burgundians had sent back the envoy alive, but he would never fight again. Ivar snarled at the ruin, and as if in response, a rifle cracked from a chink in the bricks and the bullet went whining off into the distance. Sloppy, he thought contemptuously, but he knew it wasn’t really; the Burgundians had plenty of ammunition but no hope, so if they needed an occasional stray shot to keep their spirits up, well, it might even hit someone.

At this point, Ivar could have used some keeping up of his own spirits, but fire discipline had been drilled too deep into him from kindergarten onwards. Instead, he mentally went over the options again, hoping that a magical solution would suddenly occur to him. Call for surrender. Right enough, and get the envoy back maimed. Didn’t these Burgundians know that Ynglings made an absolute point of taking a horrible revenge for things like that? Certainly, a POW camp and eventually a factory weren’t too desirable, but compared to having the Blood Eagle drawn with your own personal lungs… Then again, perhaps they thought they could be brave and not be taken alive. Or perhaps they really were brave. Call for air support. A bitter jest; the word was that corps commanders had requested single bomber sorties and been turned down. There was barely enough fuel for tanks. Bypass the enemy strongpoint. A splendid strategy, to be sure, and III Yngling Panser had applied it perfectly in their drive for Brussels. And now here was Ivar with the follow-up elements, a road with supply trucks waiting to pass down it, an enemy machine gun dominating the road, and damn well out of clever options.

Well then, it came down to the most important page of the Tactics Book, the first one: When in doubt, kill. It would just have to be brute force and massive casualties, and hope they fell among the more unreliable of his strils, the ones he’d get commended for losing. He took a quick look at the ground: Base of fire there, one squad – no, better make it two – to approach up the road, another to flank up the steep part of the hill – ah, he was out of squads. The machine gun would not be able to shift fire quickly from one attack to the other, they’d have to pick it up and move it and that would take time. With a large amount of luck they might not even notice the second group. He turned to his men, forcing a grim smile onto his face.

“All right, then, we’ll do it the hard way. Cheer up, at least you won’t die virgins.” That brought a brief, barking laugh; Yngling, Burgundian, Chinese, and Polish armies had rolled over this land three times in succession, and if there was a virgin left above the age of twelve – soldier or civilian – it was likely a dog. And there were rumours about the Chinese rations they’d captured, at that. “Sambo, take your squad and – form a base of fire at the wall, there.” Ivar had originally intended to order the big black to lead the charge, but the strils had made it clear that they wouldn’t put up with too-blatant attempts to kill particularly inconvenient soldiers, and he’d put Sambo on point in the last two dangerous attacks. Sambo claimed that his tribal fetish, having no one else to watch out for, put all its attention into deflecting the bullets, and Ivar was beginning to believe him. If this went on, they might have to make him an Yngling after all, black skin or none. “Kjetil, Gunther, you’ll attack up the road; I’ll lead a flanking attack from that house. Questions?”

“You want prisoners?”

“Eh. One or two maybe, to crucify as examples. Don’t want people messing with our envoys. But the fighting front is up ahead, so it’s not too likely anyone will come here and see what we do to them. Don’t take any risks for it.”

There were no more questions; most of the soldiers had been fighting for years, and the two newbies – German strils who had preferred a chance at Yngling status to the certainty of the salt mines – knew better than to bother an officer. It took them five minutes to get into position; Sambo, being able to see both attack groups, gave the signal for the charge by opening fire. Ivar bounced to his feet at the first crackle of Krag-Jørgensen automatics; ordinarily he would have held back a little to give his stril soldiers a chance to keep up, but the important thing here was to get one man across the wall, not to keep the squad together. The Belgians were alert; the machine gun opened fire almost instantly, and screams told Ivar that his main attack up the road was being slaughtered, as he had expected. He winced internally but kept his main attention on scaling the hill; it had looked less steep from the bottom. But he had climbed worse; that was the whole point of Yngling schooling, no matter what shit you dropped into in combat, you were always supposed to have experienced worse. It took him half a minute of struggle to get to the top; by that time his squad was about halfway up and his main attack was pinned down. But it didn’t matter; between the shouts and the firing, the Belgians hadn’t noticed his black uniform coming at them out of the dark until too late. Shots rang out, cracking past him unpleasantly close, but it’s a rare surprised soldier that can hit a fast-moving, man-sized target at ten meters by anything other than sheer chance. In a second he was over the wall. His bayonet went out, carefully flat to not get stuck in anyone’s ribs, and a dark Belgian man-shape went down. Rare to get into hand-to-hand fighting in this day and age; Ivar grinned savagely, in his element now. This was what Ynglings were born for, and so rarely got the chance to do against gunpowder weapons.

Somebody on the other side had registered that there was a problem. Dark shapes were rushing from the road side of the the ruin, where the machine gun was still pinning down his other squads with its deadly roar, towards him. He smashed the butt of his rifle into someone’s face, clearing some space around himself, then opened up. Automatic rifles were nowhere near as fun as a bayonet, but there was a time and place for everything. The Belgians were good; they hadn’t started a fire to steal their night vision or silhouette the men attacking him. But he had spent thousands of hours in shooting galleries, with targets that were mere slivers of movement in a darkened room, and no dinner if you missed too many – “Dead people need no food.” Crack, a man down clutching his belly. No time to get fancy with head shots now. Traverse the rifle smoothly, and crack, another man dead. Time to move, the muzzle blast would pick out his position for them and the shout of “Yngling!” was going up; they wouldn’t be so stupid as to get within arm’s-reach of him now. He sprinted left, right into the sudden flash and blast of the grenade that some brilliant Belgian had thrown at him. Can’t win every time, he thought as he spun down into darkness. Somebody will get lucky eventually…

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