Victory or Valhall! With the release of Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods, the time has come once again to weave a stirring saga of war, love, betrayal, and adventure. This is the Crusader Kings Chronicle: Lords of the North.
Last week , after weathering attempt after attempt to bring it to heel, the House of Stórr forged a throne, and Ragnarr Þórólfrsson became King Ragnarr I of Norway. Claiming descent from the Norse thunder god, Thor, he proclaimed his blood-right to rule over all the North, and began mustering his forces to attack and subjugate King Björn Ironside of Sweden, son of legendary viking Ragnarr Loðbrok.
Thunder's sons are rising! Onward!
Missed the original Crusader Kings Chronicle? Have a read!
The red and black banner of Stórr flew from dozens of ships as the spring of 898 rose. 5000 men had taken oar, eager to fight for the Wolf in the West, the scion of Thor, the new King of Norway. They came ashore in the lands of Björn Ragnarsson and marched from the sea with a terrible purpose, believing the gods were on their side, and wishing to see their leader crowned as liege lord to all Norsemen. By the 19th of July, King Björn's hall at Håtuna in Uppland had fallen. But the Son of Loðbrok was swift and clever, maneuvering his armies through the forests of Sweden and evading capture. He remembered well his defeat to Ragnarr under King Þórólfr's reign, and was not eager to make the same mistakes again.
It wasn't until January 899, in the heart of winter, that Ragnarr finally lured Björn into a trap with what was meant to look like a small, vulnerable scouting force. In reality, the bulk of his army had been hiding in a blizzard, where their fires could not be seen, and their icy jaws closed around their bold opponents. 2100 of Björn's men were slain at Borgnäs, to only 850 of Ragnarr's. The Swedish king's hopes were crushed, but still he fell back with his remaining men and melted into the countryside.
In late March of 900, the arrival of a new century brought sorrowful news for Ragnarr: His younger and only brother, Jarl Sveinn of Nordland, had died under suspicious circumstances, childless, at 22. Ragnarr grieved, and swore that if the killer was ever found, they would be punished. As his son Rikulfr was too young to govern, Ragnarr reluctantly gave his house's ancient homelands to Hroðulfr Einarsson, a Shetlander known to be wise with finances... though he kept Tröndelag for himself.
My dynasty is currently still small, meaning a few turns of bad luck could leave me with no heirs—and that's Game Over in Crusader Kings II. Losing a brother before he could add to our line is unfortunate, especially having only one son myself. It may soon be time to take advantage of the Norse religion's allowance for concubines, to make sure the bloodline survives.
As the summer of 900 drew on, the situation was becoming more complicated. Ragnarr had taken the hall of Jarl Vagn of Smáland, Björn's most powerful vassal. Ragnarr's wife, High Chieftess Freyja of Austergautland, had successfully brought her jarldom (once owing fealty to Sweden) into the fold. In the far North of Sweden, the Sami chieftains who had once followed Björn were rebelling for independence, knowing the Swedish King no longer had the men to keep them in line. And yet, the Son of Loðbrok still refused surrender.
It soon became clear why Björn was holding out hope. The landless son of the notorious Haraldr Fairhair, Halfdan Yngling, was raising a company of adventurers to take Norway from the Stórrs, believing the crown still the birth-right of his line. Björn, it seemed, had encouraged the young rebel, hoping that internal pressure could distract Ragnarr long enough to lose him the war. Ragnarr deliberated for some time about what should be done. It was ultimately on the counsel of his mother, Rikissa, that he elected to have Halfdan killed in secret.
I knew it was only a matter of time before some descendant of the Ynglings became an adventurer (a new mechanic in the Old Gods expansion) and pressed a claim on my titles. The quickest way to kill such a snake is to cut off the head. And luckily, it seems there are plenty of able conspirators around who also want Halfdan dead. Murder was considered very dishonorable in medieval Norse culture, but it was also fairly common—especially in matters of blood feuds and family disputes.
With Halfdan Haraldrsson's mysterious death, all risk of rebellion in Norway was crushed. Many suspected King Ragnarr's involvement, but nothing could be proven before an assembly. Later that year, on September 26, 901, Ragnarr met with King Eirikr Björnsson of Sweden at Sudermanland. The war had outlasted the new Swedish ruler's father, and he wanted no further part of it. He surrendered to Ragnarr and offered him fealty. With a pledge of friendship, the two now turned to their shared problem: the Sami rebels to the North. Sweden was now part of King Ragnarr's realm, and thus, their bid for independence was in opposition to him.
In the summer of 902, Ragnarr's men marched and put the Sami rebellion down with brutal efficiency. It was in the ruins of one of their camps that Ragnarr came across a chained slave taken from one of the Sami border raids. She was a sickly, haggard young woman, eyes aged beyond her years, who claimed to have the gift of foresight. Intrigued, Ragnarr brought her back to his hall, where she soon began to give him counsel and look after his newborn daughter, Holmfrid. In her dreams, she claimed, she saw a flaming, golden cross sweeping across all of Scandinavia, swaying the hearts and minds of Ragnarr's people and making them forget their ancestral ways.
The only way to prevent this, so she foretold, was for a Son of Thor to travel to distant Sjóland, where he would find a forgotten cave with a spring born from the Well of Mimir, from which Odin drank to gain ultimate wisdom. Sjóland, called Zeeland by the Frisians who now ruled it, was part of the Frankish kingdom of Lotharingia. Ragnarr endeavored to take the coastal province by force, allowing him to search for this cave.
Now that my secular power base is consolidated, I need to work on reforming the Norse religion. Failing to do so will make it much more difficult to hold my realm together without converting to Christianity, which I'm looking to avoid at all costs. I hold two of the three required Holy Sites—one in Sweden and one in Norway. There is another nearby in Denmark, but as a fellow follower of the Norse religion, I currently don't have a justification for war against the Danish king. Thus, I'll be pitting myself against Queen Irmengarde Karling, a descendant of Charlemagne, whose dynasty still rules most of continental Europe. This will be my first major conflict against a Christian monarch, and she has many familial allies to potentially call to her aid.
August 12, 903. 8000 Norsemen embarked on hundreds of ships, launching the largest invasion since the Sons of Loðbrok descended on England some 36 years earlier. They came aground in Holland, daring the armies of Queen Irmengarde to meet them on even ground. Like thunder, the hooves of the Frankish knights bore down on Ragnarr's men. They had never seen a true, united, Southern army such as this, always having raided and been away before forces could muster. A devastating charge of the Karling vanguard forced them to abandon the center, falling back to the sea.
The battle of Dorestad was the bloodiest the Northmen had ever seen, and while they managed to seize victory with a series of clever, last-minute maneuvers, it came a the cost of nearly 3000 men—over a third of their host, whisked away to Valhall over several days of fighting. Ragnarr acknowledged that these Franks were true warriors, and he would not underestimate them again. Yet still, the Franks had lost just as many, and fled the field as the ground drank the blood of both sides.
As the Norsemen regrouped to take the nearby islands, intriguing news arose. With Queen Irmengarde's armies shattered, the ambitious Duchess Agaete of Holland had forced her liege's hand, winning Holland's independence from Lotharingia. Ragnarr grinned wickedly. He now longer had to deal with the armies of a vast, Karling kingdom. Only a single Frisian noblewoman, and whatever peasant army she could muster.
Inevitably, the Frisians rose to defend their home, and were set upon by Ragnarr's remaining forces. Whereas Dorestad had been the closest confrontation they ever faced, The Battle of Haarlem in November of 904 was the most lopsided. Without the Frankish knights to support them, 3300 of the enemy fell to the fierce, northern host. Only some 500 of Ragnarr's men were lost. King Ragnarr found the wounded, Frisian commander on the battlefield afterward to accept his surrender.
"You are brave, Frisian," he is said to have told his enemy, "And your people followed the True Gods of the North once. Follow me, and help me find this cave of wisdom, and you may yet earn a chair in Valhall."
The Norse king, the seeress, and the Frisian general searched the isles of Sjóland for the cave of wisdom for nearly a year. During that time, Ragnarr's second son, Strybjörn, was born. As the months wore on, his men grew restless, and there was no sign of an end to their quest. To clear his mind, Ragnarr abandoned the search and took his men raiding in Iberia, sacking holds of both the Castillian Christians in Asturias and the Andalusian Muslims of the Umayyad Sultanate. His ships finally returned in the late winter of 907, whereupon he immediately called another Great Blot to Odin, in the hope that his sacrifice would clear the way to his destination.
Having taken Zeeland, the only thing I am missing to reform the Norse faith is the hefty 750 Piety. The temples I've burned and the captives I've brought back should fix that.
Many Iberian captives were given up in sacrifice at the blot, and the sagas tell that a great snake of mist came in from the sea as it ended. Ragnarr readied his fastest ship, and followed the trail of fog. On an islet mostly hidden from view, Ragnarr finally found the fabled cave, which he descended into for nine days and nights. It is said that he had no food nor drink, just as Odin had not when he hung from the World Tree to gain the wisdom of the runes.
Finally, the king emerged into the frigid air before his trusted companions. One of his eyes appeared milk white and blinded, while the other shone brighter than before.
"Come with me to the assembly," he commanded. "I now know the way forward."
Come back next week to see the continuing saga unfold!