A Pact of Honour
Sartar, 1614

“This is embarrassing,” says the first warrior apologetically.

The other considers this at some length before acknowledging that, yes, that really was the only suitable word for it. He nods, and shrugs. “I wouldn’t mind so much, to be honest, but it’s my first battle as Ten Thane.”

The first grins in sympathy. “Well, it’s my third as an officer, and they still think I’m an idiot. They want a proper Heartland officer, not some provincial … wannabe, I think was the word they used.”

Siggyr grunts, and considers this. “What happened?”

“In the other battles?”

“Mmmm.”

“Nothing. In the first we never made it to the front before it was all over, in the second we got lost on the way because the CO had given me the wrong set of orders, and on the third we made it to the front, we charged, the Orlanthi ran away, and there was no loot to be had.”

“Ah.”

“Yep.”

Some moments pass, filled with squelching and sucking noises.

“Any luck?”

“Nope, I’m as stuck as a pig in a foot-wide furrow. You?”

“About the same.”

The two warriors rest for a while, panting and leaning on their sword pommels.

“This will never do…”

“What if they find us?”

“I dread to think.”

“I’ll have to retire; go home and raise turnips or something, marry a fat steadwife and produce hundreds of kneebiters.”

“I think I have to commit suicide in order to redeem Temple honour or something; I can’t quite remember the regulations.”

“Ah, the easy way out.”

There is more squelching.

“It’s useless,” says Siggyr, tiredly. “Any moment now they’ll find us, and the war will end from everyone laughing so hard. Look, can you actually reach me with your sword?”

“Dunno. I can try though.”

“Well, let’s make it sound like there’s a fight going on.”

The two men hoist their weapons, and try to move into something like sparring range. This is definitely hampered by the thick, adhering mud that reaches to their knees. The Lunar warrior swings clumsily, Siggyr parries, and there is a weak clash of swords.

They pause and look at each other.

Siggyr thrusts, leaning into the mud with all his weight until his knees feel as though they will break, but the point of his sword comes to halt inches before the other’s chest: he hasn’t even bothered trying to turn Siggyr’s blade aside.

Slowly Siggyr regains an upright position, and looks gloomily down at his knees. “Makes me wish I hadn’t given up my spear, to be honest,” he says, and tries lifting his feet once more, rotating his legs in the mud to make space.

“If you got free before me, would you do me a favour?”

Siggyr stops wiggling his legs to consider this, cautiously. “Like what?”

“Dig me out afterwards? Make it look like a fair fight? I don’t want to go down in history as the idiot who died like this, and you don’t to be remembered as the man who did it. I’ll do the same for you, if the story is the other way round.”

“Son, dying like this is a lose-lose situation for both of us, no matter which one lives. If I get free I’ll dig you out, and then we can see who kills who, how’s that?”

“That’s a deal! Shake on it?” he asks, holding out his hand with a big grin on his face.

Siggyr holds out his hand, and the two of them shake the air, smiling, a few feet apart too many.

“What’s your name?”

“Turen Kolsdave, son of Kurik.”

Siggyr looks surprised for a moment. “From Dolosin? You got an older brother called Odal?”

“Yeah, and yeah – how d’you know?”

“Well… Odal and I used to hunt together when we were serving at the Furthest court, years and years ago. My name’s Siggyr Dushreden, son of…”

“Bathrel! Yes! Odal told me all about you…”

The sound of battle is suddenly heard from over a nearby hill, and both warriors hurriedly begin digging themselves up once more, but the sound moves on fairly swiftly, and they pause to relax.

“So how is Odal?”

“Dead. His unit was destroyed in Starbrow’s Rebellion last year. No survivors.”

“Hmm,” frowns Siggyr, using his sword to dig around his right leg.

“Is it true, what he told me about you?”

“Well,” pants the tenthane, “that rather depends on what he said.”

“About your cousin, Ursula Torain. About how you and Odal tried to rescue her but were fought off by your own kin, and that’s why you left the Empire for the Aldachuri Revolt.”

Siggyr stops digging. He looks around him, and then at the young Tarshite before him. “Yes, it’s true. Her husband was leading a detachment of warriors sent to reinforce Ironfist, and I wanted to kill him – not that I got the chance, as it turned out. Not yet anyway. And if you live and I die, there’s another thing you can do for me, Turen. Find her and tell her I still love her.”

“Aye, Siggyr: I’ll do that.”

They dig in silence some more. Next time Siggyr looks up he sees Turen sat down on the mud, pulling his boots off. The young soldier is nearly free.

“Ahh, what the fuck,” grunts Siggyr, and stops struggling.

Barefoot, Turen drops his weapon and approaches the Humakti with care. Siggyr puts his sword down beside him in the mud, spreading his hands. Turen grins, and then begins to dig around the older man’s calves. It is only a few moments before they are both free. They stand, arms clasped around each other’s shoulders in an exhausted embrace, regaining their breath.

“Thanks, Turen - I owe you one. You know,” says Siggyr thoughtfully, “there’s no good reason that we have to fight.” Turen nods. Siggyr continues, “If I head that way, and you head that… oh, bugger.”

Behind Turen, the sound of approaching warriors can clearly be heard. The two men grab their weapons and shields, and stand back from each other.

Siggyr is indicating to Turen that he will run – there isn’t much time before the warriors will see them – but Turen shakes his head. “If they find me alone out here, with nothing to show for it, I’m finished. I’m better off dead at your hands than alive in theirs – I’d be either a deserter, or a disgraced officer who lost his unit.”

“And if you win, then you’re a hero.” Siggyr nods. He hoists his arms, his sword beginning to flicker with darkness. “Send my regards to Ursula, or Odal.”

“Likewise,” returns Turen. “Goodbye, Siggyr.”

As Turen’s detachment of twelve soldiers come into view, the two warriors clash together with the ring of bronze on bronze. All of their skill, magic and cunning is thrown into the fight, and the Furthest infantry hang back, respecting the rite of single combat on the field. Turen is a gifted bladesman, fluid and strong in his strokes – at last his men see something in him to respect. He charges swiftly with Yanafal’s speed, his thrust a blur, but is impaled on the point of Siggyr’s sword. The Humakti ensures the end is mercifully quick.

Siggyr now faces the approaching soldiers. His blade flickers with death-lit darkness, the mud around him stirs with the force of the Truewind. But the men coming towards him are many, and they have small fear for a single young man with a little death magic. He begins to chant softly, a song he hopes will take him to Humakt’s Hall, and backs steadily towards the copse of trees behind him – with a tree at his back he may take more of them before he goes.

They come. The first drops at his feet, the second’s face is smashed in by Siggyr’s shield, he backhands the third’s temple with his sword’s pommel. There is pain across his chest, a ringing in his ears, blood in his mouth and running freely down his leg, all made intense and pleasurable by the song that pours from his lips. Still he thrusts and cuts, each defence an attack, each attack a defence. He barely notices when the Tarshites begin to fall faster than he can cut them, barely hears the cry of “HUMAKT!” as the Third’s second file strike their flank. The fighting has suddenly moved beyond him. He can hardly focus on the overtaking bulk of Egil Seven-Wounds, his sword flashing, grinning maniacally and roaring, “You silly young fucker, didn’t I tell you not to go wandering off?” He can scarcely hear the song dying in his throat, nor Egil’s sudden, pained cry for a healer.

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