An I For an Eye

Sartar, 1616
As told by Egil Nine Wounds

“Okay, okay… so you want to know how Siggyr lost his eye? I’ll tell you. It were about three year after he led that stupid charge against a horde of Dara Happan hoplites to rescue a fucking dog, and we were living like rats in a burrow on the Sartar border.

“I have no idea who we were working for, but it doesn’t really matter. In those years after Starbrow’s rebellion fell into the thunderpot, everything was crap. There were too few proper battles to fight, and everything had got all political. It was like the war was suddenly being fought with cows. Our job was reduced to raiding cows from one lot and giving them to someone else, or hijacking one lot of cows and sending them to the wrong place, or perhaps – on a good day – just raiding a stead to beat a collaborator who’d got cows from the wrong person. It was fucking dreadful, I tell you. Gods help me – to think I became a warrior to live such a life! A cattle thief! We were all pretty depressed about it, I can tell you. All we had to do was drink beer, sharpen our swords, and flirt with the local girls.

“Every so often we’d complain about being bored, and just to give us something to do our Hundred Thane Olaf would order a raid on a clan that had got its cows from the Empire. On those occasions – thank sweet Humakt – we didn’t have to steal the cows, just give the local boys a good drubbing and nick some food. I can see now it was a hard thing for Olaf to do – as Quartermaster I’m privy to these kinds of command issues that you mere squaddies are barely aware of. We weren’t getting any pay but we had to eat somehow, and not being naturally talented or equipped to do the farming thing, raiding hill-billies was about the only thing on our menu. On the other hand, you had to be careful about not killing too many of them. It’s true that not many were stupid enough to ask us for weregild, but instead they were likely to band together and get a bunch of Lunars in to the hunt. We’d have to spend a few weeks scrabbling around moving from one hidey hole to another, and often ended up moving to a new hideout altogether where the local girls were more virtuous, so we complained about that as well.

“Why did we run? You think we should have stuck around and fought the Lunars, eh? Okay, let me explain this for you. You’re a big brave weaponthane of the Shitflicker Clan, alright? You and your mates are wenching and boozing one night when twenty scary, deathlit bastards crash through your door and nick all your cheese. Not only can you not stop them, you barely try. So you go whinging to the local garrison, but you don’t want to look like a wuss to some fairy boy Yelmite under-captain, so you say fifty scary, deathlit, ironclad bastards nicked all your cheese, raped your livestock and ate your wives. The local garrison wallah’s only got forty lads under him, and most of them can’t find their own arsehole in broad daylight with both hands, a gallon of lamp oil and a spear butt, and gods knows most of them are trying. By the time it gets up to regional headquarters they’re looking for a thousand strong legion of scary, deathlit, ironbearing, vampiric broo ogre-troll bastards clad in their herolight, and the fact that they’re invisible just makes them scarier. Of course they’re invisible! Stands to reason! How else are you going to hide without trace a thousand scary, deathlit, ironbearing, vampiric broo ogre-troll bastards clad in herolight who can eat whole longhouses full of fat Sartarite steadwives in a single bite? Show some sense man!

“I tell you, they weren’t sending out patrols, they were sending out armies. In all that time we had only three stand-up fights. One was Siggyr’s first battle as ten thane, when the whole cohort mustered to defend against an imperial punitive attack on the Grey Owl clan. Another was the one that finally made us jack it all in and head back to Esrolia to join the rest of the Temple – but that really is a story for another day. The other was the one where Siggyr lost his eye.

“We’d accepted Siggyr as our leader, of course. He was a snotty little runt and kept trying to teach us how to fight from some book that he carried around, but – no seriously, he did – but he was good at a couple of things. First, and if you’ve ever seen him get angry you’ll know what I mean, he could put the living fear of Humakt into any man or beast. He’s more restrained these days, but back then his passion could lash you to climb up a mountain backwards, swim a waterfall upstream, or charge the Crimson Bat with your teeth. He used to terrify men twice his age and three times his size, men who only a year or two earlier had been giving him a kicking for being a smartarse. Another thing, right, was that not only did he fight like a bastard, but when he fought like a bastard so did everyone else at his side – we fought with him, we won. Another thing, that bloody book of his must have had some sense in it, because every so often he’d close it with a snap, pull us all together and lead us off on a raid that, against all the odds, came off right. And the last thing – and don’t laugh – he used to … what did he call it? Oh yeah, ‘bond’, with his file. I dunno, like help them write letters home and stuff, talk to them about their kids, pray with them… I told you not to laugh you little bugger! Yeah, well, it wasn’t exactly traditional, and it’s hard to imagine him doing it now, I guess.

“Anyway, the point is that this one time we’d been separated from Olaf for a week or two and we had about half the Imperial Army in Dragon Pass searching for us. We’ve no food, haven’t slept for days, and we’re getting backed into a very unpromising bit of terrain around Sambari lands. We’ve got an ex-Dundealos woman with us, and for some reason she knows the area pretty well. If we head north we’ll run straight into the Lunars, but apparently if we head west we hit a bad-sounding place called the Wasp Nest, if we go south we get stuck in a dead-end gully, and if we go east we run smack bang into the Firebull Clan, who are renowned as the craziest bunch of shitheads in the whole of Sartar. We’re not happy about any of the choices, but at least the Firebull have the reputation of hating the Lunars and so we head their way.

“To say they are not pleased to see us would be like saying Humakt was mildly vexed when Orlanth stole Death. These guys, they’re fucking pissed, right? We run into a posse on patrol, and they don’t spend a great deal of time checking us out. They start chucking rocks at us. I’m not kidding, it’s weird. They’re shouting at us as well, but we can’t understand a damn thing they’re saying, it just sounds like “gggaarrgg och me llaarrrrnnndd” or something. So we’re just standing there with rocks bouncing off our armour and waiting for Siggyr to give an order, and the silly bugger starts trying to negotiate.

He says, get this, “I say, do any of you chaps speak Sartarite?” And one of these Firebull blokes just loses it completely. He rips open his leather shirt and bares his breast, froths at the mouth, waves an axe and screams “ooiii fugginn arm spikkin Sadduhite, ye fugginn bastich, nu gggaarrgg och me llaarrrrnnndd, ye fugginn lu-land gebshat”. Siggyr turns to us and says, “well, I am inclined to interpret that as a ‘no’, then.”

At this the entire posse of Firebull warriors, who I guess are hugely offended, jump on us. The numbers are slightly in our favour, and they’re hillbilly clan boys, right? So even though they’ve got the height it should be easy, quick and fairly one sided, right? Except that we’re knackered, starving, and fairly bewildered, and these guys’ stench would floor a bull at twenty paces, and apart from any of that they fight like berserkers. They’re all shouting weird shit like “poond tha souftis!” and “fugginn dack ‘im roight!” and laughing like madmen, and punching us in the face and never mind the damage our helmets do their hands. Yeah, right – none of us are using weapons, they just ruck us and it’s not like we’re going to get swords out for that….

“So Siggyr is warding off the blows of this one guy… the rest of us are just laying into it, mind … and he’s saying “is there no way we can just discuss this peacefully?” when the guy he’s fighting decides to butt him. We figure this out later, but when the fella tries to butt him Siggyr sensibly steps back and the guy headbutts his chest – the only thing is, this fella’s got a spear with no hood on strapped to his back, and the point takes Siggyr’s eye out. Everyone stops brawling in shock, and Siggyr just fucking loses it. He knocks the guy down unconscious with one punch, then rounds on the rest of ‘em and just piles in. There’s blood and gore running down his cheek, and I’ve lost an eye myself – I can’t tell you how much it hurts – yet Siggyr is just punching his way through these stupid hillbillies like a giant knocking trees over. He puts a couple of ‘em down and then pulls his sword out, like he’s going to kill the damn lot, but it was clear the boys hadn’t meant for that to happen and – well, after all, this was their turf and we couldn’t very well fight a Lunar Army and a clan full of nutters like these. So we jumped him. Took pretty much all of us to hold him, but in the end he calmed down and promised not to kill anyone, and he even thanked us. The Firebull boys are just staring at him with a mixture of awe and amusement, and their leader said something like, “fugginn ‘ell, tha throos a meen ponch, eh? Sooree ‘bout tha i, bouts ull ah bitta fon, eh?”

The upshot was that they thought it the best scrap they’d had in ages, and that we were pretty okay. They gave us hospitality and cleaned up Siggyr’s eye, and told us not to worry too much about the Lunars in the valley below. When we moved on the fella who’d taken Siggyr’s eye out came with us as a guide, and eventually he joined up with the Temple and has served Siggyr ever since. Not exactly a blood-debt I think, more just like bloody impressed with the man. But that’s why they call him Fasten-Spear, to remind him to keep the bloody hood on it.

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