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A Promotion, of Sorts

The stench of death - blood, faeces, sweat and pain – rolls through the blackness, borne by the acrid smog that is this battle’s aftermath. Exhausted, Siggyr stumbles through the Deathlit dark, pausing now and then at the side of a wounded Shargashi to sever the thread of his life with a quick and practised sword-thrust and a murmured a prayer to Humakt. He is keeping a tally of the men he has killed today, but these mercy slayings count for only half points. When Siggyr was a child he played a game with himself – that when entering the main house he had to race up the first flight of stairs before the slaves had fully closed the door. Now, with the same superstition, he believes that personally slaying a number of men equal to those in the Third will somehow avenge the lost Cohort, his lost dream.

His boots slip in gore disguised by darkness, and Siggyr tumbles on his side next to yet another fallen Alkothi. The warrior is still breathing raggedly, and Siggyr holds his sword nearer the dying man’s face, the better to observe it. They lie in stillness for a moment, and by the Deathlight Siggyr is able to see the man’s eyeballs frantically but uselessly turning, blind in the darkness. “I am your Death, and I have come for you,” he tells the man in New Pelorian. “You fought well, and were long in the dying, and now I have come to send you to Hell.”

The soldier’s breathing becomes more rapid, and he gasps, attempting to speak. Siggyr leans closer, trying to make out the man’s words. “No, my son, you failed. The Humakti drove back your assault,” he whispers. “And the attack above – that too failed. It has been a day for ravens and wolves, the deaths of heroes, and victory for Heortling swords.” The man groans, and pants a little more.

Siggyr regards his face – the lolling tongue, the blood speckled foam that dances on his lips, the gathering dullness in the fallen man’s eyes. He suddenly finds it a sight of terrible, ultimate beauty. “You came to this place, and we killed you, we have brought you your doom, for that is what we do, my swordbrothers and sisters and I. Our lives are duty, waiting, fighting, gore, death, the shattering of shields, the ringing of blade on mail, the rending of bone and sinew, the cutting of flesh, the letting of blood, obedience, killing and dying for our Warleader’s word, for our comrades, for the God, for the Legion. Yet when I was a boy, I played with puppy dogs, and my greatest joy was an apple stolen from my uncle’s orchard, and then later a kiss stolen from a pretty slave girl. In those days I hoped to be a poet, if you can believe that.”

There is a longer silence. “I have come a long way from that time, but it is not so far as the journey I shall send you upon now. Are you ready, Shargashi?” The soldier groans once more, and Siggyr lends full force to the weight of the sword thrust that severs the man’s neck.

When Siggyr is done wiping the blade, he draws his forearm across his face and is surprised to find tears coursing down his cheeks, mingling with the blood, sweat and dirt.





The aftermath is longer than the battle. Warriors call to each other through the smog, units try to reform, to thread their way to the world above from the Hell that the basement has become. Siggyr finally loses count of his tally, and sinks into a weariness that seems numbing. Somehow he gathers together the Herewardi that come his way, and leads them towards the light, sloshing through half-flooded tunnels and muddied, broken-up expanses of darkness. He finds several Legionnaires from the Second, and recognises some of the ragtag crew that collect around Yodi and call themselves the Seventh – Brenna, Dorinda, Jamal, Hrolf. There are others that have survived. Siggyr speaks when needed, gives orders which are obeyed, does what a good officer should, and brings them out of the darkness.

He does no more than he can. He does not bring back to the light any warrior of the Third. He does not bring back the standard of the Third. He does not bring back its honour.





“Siggyr.”

“My Lord.” Siggyr falls to his knees before the Warleader.

“I thought you fell – I saw a spear take you.”

“Yes, my Lord, but it’s tip found my left eye, which has lain empty these many years. I was stunned, no more, but when I rose again you were far away and I could not reach you. I failed you.”

“Don’t be foolish, Siggyr. You killed thereafter, you lived, you led warriors back from the field.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

There is silence between the two warriors then, Illig gazing around him at the remnants of his Temple, Siggyr staring blankly at Illig.

“The Third is lost, Siggyr. Every legionnaire, every officer, the standard, everything. It is a disaster.”

“Humakt places many trials before us, Lord,” Siggyr replies stonily, mechanically, Mostali-like. “We shall regain the Honour of the Third.”

“No, Siggyr, we shall not. Not yet. Perhaps in time, if any of us survive this, but it shall be many, many years before the Third musters with the Legion, if at all. We must endure this loss as we have endured others, and fight to the end.”

“My Lord.” Siggyr can feel the tears welling again, and masters them only by force of discipline.

“Remember, your oaths were to the Legion, not to the Third. You shall serve the Legion, and you shall lead men, even if in another Cohort. I took you from the Third to serve me, to study at my side, precisely because the Temple needs warriors capable of leading, and those warriors need training. When you are in the shieldwall of your Cohort, love for your swordbrethren is a useful thing. When you are its Hundredthane that love is no longer necessary.”

“I do not mourn my lost brothers, Lord,” Siggyr says stiffly. “I mourn the loss of the Cohort, the loss of honour, the weakening of the Legion. I have learned the lesson of which you speak, … my Lord.”

Again, there is silence.

“Siggyr, I want you to report to Yodi. Farrel Barrelchest has gone to Humakt’s Hall, and the Seventh has need of a Standard Bearer. That honour is to be yours. You are dismissed from service in my file.”

Siggyr recoils as though slapped, and his eyes fall to the ground. The Seventh! Great Gods – what depths do you send me to? “My Lord…”

“This is not a punishment, Siggyr, though I know your opinion of the Seventh. This is graduation from my service and my training. This is promotion. As Cohort Standard Bearer you will bring discipline to the Seventh, and they have need of your abilities and dedication.”

“Lord, it is your order and it shall be done. To serve the Legion is never a punishment,” Siggyr replies dully.

“Exactly.” Illig reaches down and offers his forearm to the new Senior Tenthane, who grasps it and is hauled to his feet. “Now then, we each of us have much to do. Attend to Yodi. I will report to the Council in the city above, and I will need a full report upon my return. Then we will see what we will do next. And at some point we must find the time to initiate you to the service of Efrodar, Siggyr, for he makes great commanders.”

Siggyr watches Illig stride off, his bodyguard filing in behind him, and feels absolutely nothing. There is duty and waiting, fighting, gore, death, the shattering of shields, the ringing of blade on mail, the rending of bone and sinew, the cutting of flesh, the letting of blood, obedience, killing and dying for the Warleader’s word, for comrades, for the God, for the Legion. Before him lies the Seventh, disciplining and forging a rabble into a Cohort. Behind him lies the Third, crushed by Shargashi maces and bound to a Lunar Hell.

Yet when I was a boy, I played with puppy dogs, and my greatest joy was an apple stolen from my uncle’s orchard, and then later a kiss stolen from a pretty slave girl. In those days I hoped to be a poet, if you can believe that.

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