Anno Domini 1399: Europe lies prostrate, recovering from the scourge of the bioweapon.
The exiled Pope, from his refuge in Salzburg, has proclaimed a Year of Jubilee. Few pay attention. Within living memory half the population of Europe has died. The continent is in no mood for celebration. And besides, a Pope who does not control Rome is only another bishop.
Real power, spiritual and secular - power to bind and to loose, power of the high and low justice, power of war and of peace - lies with the nine Electors of the Roman Commonwealth, and with the Hegemon selected from their number. But there is no danger of their growing arrogant; not in this generation. All the powers of men are humbled before the Plague, and the survivors will bear the scars to their graves.
For fifty years the continent has known peace, of sorts. This much, at least, the lords Elector have managed: They have not added human strife to the burden of fighting the Devil's own legions. But now the disease is burning itself out, and a tentative rebirth stirs. Nations that have lost half their men find that there is land enough for everyone, and much work to do. New-built ships carry a wakening commerce. And in the councils of the mighty, ambition dares once again show its face.
The mountains of Norway are poor places for farming; but pride and ambition have always borne a fine harvest there. The Ynglings at Bergenhus are chastened. They have broken the men of Dovre from their positions of power, and give no more heed to their advice - or so they believe. Nevertheless, it is one thing to reject the teachings of one's youth, and another to find a new guiding star. And the world does not cease to be dangerous, the lion does not lie down with the lamb, merely because one small nation turns away from uptime evil. Brittany is still vast and powerful, its German lapdog hardly less so. These are not cirumstances in which a meek pacifism gains much favour.
One thing at least has changed lastingly: At Ting, peasants and merchants are both able to make their voice felt. The days are done when anyone would defer to the Yngling caste out of simple respect, and they dare not press their advantage in military power too hard. In the end, all power rises out of the land, and the farms from which the Hird is recruited.
In these unsettled times, anyone may come to power and wealth - landless younger sons from the uplands as much as courtiers with a lineage stretching to Geir Jonsson. Norway roils with faction, cult, and coterie. Priests rail against the decadence and wealth of the capital - all the while looking nervously over their shoulders, for in the uplands a revival of the old gods, never completely suppressed, gathers strength. In the cities flagellants march in the streets, demanding that all join them in preparation for the apocalypse that is surely on the way. Has not God prepared the world with mighty signs and warnings?
And in the background, the uptime agents still work. They are named slaves of the state, and forbidden to own property. But they are too useful to kill, and such men are not rendered powerless by any official decree. The time is lost, perhaps, when they might have steered Norway into its uptime course. All governance rests ultimately on consent, and there is no longer anyone in Norway who will consent to the fascist-libertarian state. But there is still the will to power, and the search for dominion; and the Secret Hird is patient.
The dance begins anew.