for the last few weeks I had this idea for a short story in my head and I had to bring it somewhere. So here it is.
I hope you'll enjoy the read. I'm not a native english speaker, so sorry in advance for mistakes in the text.
Ballad of Sigurd the mad
As a wizard of the grey order I spent my entire life fighting the devious forces of Chaos. Through the entirety of the empire and back I battled the black armoured warriors, sunk norscan ships, uncovered the file corruption within the most noble of circles, side by side with witch hunters, warrior priests and knightly orders. I can claim to have done my part in banishing the darkness, to stop the great enemy. I never hesitated, and I would redo everything, if I would have the chance.
But now fellow magisters, you will want to judge me for the mistakes I made, the incident in Talabecland. I can see, that many of you already felt their judgement and I understand. If I would be in your position, if I wouldn’t have seen it with my own eyes, I would also see a coward at best or a traitor at worst in front of your seats.
I don’t want to justify my actions, nor will I ask for forgiveness. What destiny you decide for me, be it death or worst, I shall accept it. But I want you to hear my story first. And after that, you can do anything you want with my body, for my soul is already with Sigmar and the gods.
Some of you will remember the name of Sigurd the lunatic, Sigurd the mad, or as I would call him, Sigurd the benevolent. I met him in Altdorf such a long time ago, it seems like a different age.
We were both young acolytes, I visited the grey college, while he wanted to become an amber wizard. He had great potential. If destiny would have taken slightly different paths, he might become a hero for the imperium.
He was curious amongst many things, but also patiently. He was like an old oak, growing evermore, defying storms and winters, non-caring for the threats around him. Despite being an amber wizard, he was surprisingly civilized, and he showed interest in all lores of magic. An affront sure, but he did not do it out of a selfish thirst for knowledge, arrogance or all the other faults that may corrupt a magister. So, he went along jade and light wizards and, while not able to master any of these, he had perhaps a deeper understanding of the principles of those lores than most other wizards. As he used to say: Wisdom must be drunk from many springs, not one. Otherwise you will become shortsighted and ignorant, and worst of all you’ll become blind to chaos and corruption.
When he was drunk, he would say, it must be drunk from many different barrels…
Anyway, I think many of you will see his point. Even at that time he was called the mad, for some of his ideas were as alien to the old magisters, as elven brewed beer would be to a dwarf. It is a good drink, but the fact it wasn’t made by a dwarf is reason enough to condemn it. That’s why Sigurd left the amber hills as soon as he could.
The following years I heard nothing of him, expect for a small tale. A lord in Ostland wanted to cure his ogre mercenaries from their hunger to save money for the rations. He hired Sigurd for this job. After months of experiments and setbacks, it ended with an explosion after one ogre had eaten his staff. The surviving ogres’ rations could be cut short of half a rabbit per merc without them rebelling. The lord praised Sigurd for his outstanding success. But after this he vanished from hearsay again for many years.
Therefore, I was surprised to receive in invitation to come to Talabecland.
On my way to him, I heard from the local folk of a wild wizard, who battles the beastmen of the great forest, cleanses their dark influence and makes large parts safe to travel, except from natural beasts. The people seemed frightened but in awe at the same time. A young maid claimed Sigurd to be a herald of Taal. Her naiveté amused me.
After weeks of travel I finally reached his cave in a forest clearing. Cave might be the wrong word. It was a large underground home with several rooms. Roots and clay formed the floor and walls and the entry lied between an oak and a lime.
As I said he is more civilized than the average amber magister. Around the clearing totems, statuettes and other symbols of various goods were placed. Taal to be sure, but also Shayllya, Raal, Sigmar, Ulric and Morr. Next to his cave was a small field overgrown with herbs and mushrooms, and he kept several goats, sheep and horses.
When I first saw Sigurd, I saw a bear in human form. He was large with broad shoulders and thick arms. His entire body was covered by brownish hair. His face was raw, and he was covered in furs of several animals. Feathers and teeth were weaved into his hair and beard. Only his welcoming green eyes made him recognizable as a semi-civilized man. He reached out for me and said: “Greetings old friend. I’m surprised you’re already here. None of my birds saw you coming.”
“A magister of the grey order is only seen if he wants to be seen.”
“Oi a real magister? Explains the grey beard of yours. Do you have to dye them or what happened to your golden facefur?” Truly, he didn’t seem to have changed in all those years.
Sigurd let me into his cave and served me an herb tea and fish with cabbage and forest berries. A while we sat there and spoke about good old times. About the jokes we plaid, about the women we loved, about the misadventures we endured. Finally, I decided to ask the central question: “Why did you reached out for me? What is so important that it needs my advice?”
Sigurds joyous face turned grim. “As a grey wizard you travel the land. You’ve seen it, haven’t you? It is not the hearts of man we must worry about, but the very soil under our feed. Each year the tendrils of Chaos grow. They claim more and more land, corrupt beast and man alike. Visit the deep forest, where the beastmen lurk, travel the dark paths were unspeakable horrors stride. This is the true nature of Chaos.
It’s corruption of mankinds hearts is nothing compared to the damage of the world. The Old Ones have failed. But not everything is yet lost. See, I fought this corruption since I left the amber hills. The very ground we are standing on right now was a holy ground for the brayheards not so long ago. I killed their shamans, tumbled the herd stones and banished the chaotic influence with all my might. What do you see now? A healthy forest, safe for animal and man alike. “
“You fulfilled your duty.”
“’Did I? Ne, ne I don’t think so. You know the nature of Chaos, don’t you? How it feasts upon our emotions, how it drinks our passions, fears and actions. Tell me, how shall we defeat the legions of Khorne while using the same violence that strengthens him? How shall we evade Tzeentchs trickery when we nurture him with our cunning? The Old Ones couldn’t do it. How shall we?”
This statement made me nervous. I met many people, who lost their will and ultimately succumbed to the promises of the enemy. “What is your intention?”, I asked.
Sigurd stood up and brought me a talisman of Taal. “Nature knows no absolute”, he said. “Order, Change, everything is as an eternal flow. But in the end, it is still the same. The tides will ebb and rise again, leaves will fall and grow again, of winter follows the summer. This is the order of the world. When I recognized this truth, I saw a way out of our misery. You see, the great Chaos disrupts this natural order. But the world is strong willed. The wounds of the great incursions have become scars and the world itself, nature and all its beings, have arisen stronger than before.”
“I doubt that”, said I, “For the empires of old, elves and dwarfs, lie in ruin, for the great dragons slumber away. Since the polar gates fell, since the Old Ones left, the world is nothing but a weak husk.”
“Ne, you’re wrong. You see, what happens, if you become sick of pox? Your body fights the disease, as the world fights chaos. Griffons for example are creatures born after the fall of the polar gates. They are, in some way, creatures born out of chaos, an amalgamation of different beasts. Yet our beloved emperor and our greatest heroes ride these beast for honour and glory. The same with pegasi who are lead the noblest of bretonnian knights into battle. What are they, if not some form of cure against the darkness from the poles?”
“And what about trolls, mutants and beastmen? What about the pillaging barbarians from the north, the cults of the dark gods? How are they the cure?”
Sigurds eyes touched the ground and a small smile appeared on his face. He chuckled. “I hoped you would ask this question. But my answer might not satisfy you. I see you hand on your blade, and I don’t blame you. Ne, I would do the same, if our roles where changed. I want you to promise me to hear me out, to not strike out in anger or a feeling of betrayal.
You see, I fought more Beastmen than I could count. Many of them were savage beasts, horrific monstrosities. But there are those who are called turnskin. Often, they are born as normal humans, grow up as loyal servants of Sigmar and the empire. They have homes, a family and are respected members of their societies.
But then, without their doing, they start to change into a beastly appearance. Their mind is often untouched by the change of their flesh. But from now on they are outcast, and their loved ones banish them into the wilderness. Maddened by isolation, hunger and the feeling of betrayal they may be found by brayheards who take them in as slaves. And they root out the last remnants of humanity inside their minds.
Do you see the tragedy in this? What, if they could remain part of human society? Would they still become the vicious creatures? I think not.
Each greater town and many villages harbour mutants who hide their disfiguring successfully. Many more are driven into the chaotic cults because it is the only way for them to survive. Now I will ask you friend, can we allow that? Can we allow that the forces of Chaos grow with willing servants? Course not. So why do we push those poor souls towards them, as cattle toward the maw of a predator?”
Naturally I protested. “Mutants are already marks by Chaos. They are a festering wound within our society, an ulcer. We must disband them, either by death or banishment. Otherwise they would corrupt everyone else and lead the enemy into our homes!”
Sigurd sighed. “Come, I want to show you something.” He led me behind the cave into a small part of the forest. Symbols of Shayllya were carved into the surrounding trees. Within these woods was a small hut. A young man stood there. Seemingly he was Sigurds apprentice. When he saw me, he was shocked and hid his hands under his robes. But I already saw, that his right hand were the talons of a hawk. Now I understood Sigurds sympathy for mutants. “So that is why you told me all this.”
Sigurd shook his head. “Ne. They are.” He clapped into his hands and out of the hut came six childsized beastmen. I was sceptic after Sigurds monolog, but I never thought that he would go this far. I drew my sword and the gorlings screamed in fear. Sigurd stepped between them and me. “
To the side. If you have a small piece of sanity, then do as I say. To the side!”
“I will not move.”, he said with a calm voice. Birds started to flock around us, and the cattle blew angrily. I was not impressed. If we were to fight, I was sure to win.
“Put down your sword and let me explain!”
“Step aside. I warn you Sigurd. For our friendships sake I hesitated long enough.”
One gorling dug itself into Sigurds robe. It screamed like a human babe, its head red and with tears pouring over its snout.
“This is what I was talking about the entire time.” Sigurd took the gorling in his arms and press it against his breast. “What is it supposed to do? But to die by the hands of man or to kill man itself? Can’t you see why this is the wrong way?
With steel and blood, we can defeat the armies of chaos in a battle, but we cannot win the war. Not while we drive so many servants into their arms with our own ignorance and arrogance, not while we feed them with the same emotions we use against them.
Compassion, love, peace. Those are the things the Chaos Gods fear the most. Because it takes away all their strength. Do you want to defeat them? Than you must stop murdering anything you don’t understand!”
“You speak like a madman. You speak like a man fallen to Chaos. Those things cannot be reasoned with. They are part of the darkness with flesh and soul. So, one last time. Step aside!”
“Look at him. Look at Taalson. Does he look like monster? Or like a pup scared by a monster? They are not born evil. Nothing ever is. That is the point of Chaos. There must me a moment where every being loyal to it, must choose. Otherwise it is of no value to the dark gods.
Sure, gor are born with a taint in their soul, I do not deny it. Like a griffon cup, which unled by human hand from small age, will grow to become a murderous beast, they will fall prey to the dark ones. But if they are young, they can be saved. I saved them! I burnt out the seed of Chaos before it could set root in them.
Every horse, hound and cattle were once a wild, untamed and dangerous creature. Only thanks to people, who were willing to show those beasts another way, could they become companions of man. That is, what I’m doing with the gorlings! How much longer do I have to repeat myself, until you see my point, brother? How long still?”
Grudgingly I lowered my sword. Was it doubt, that I felt? I cannot say. I know the horrors of the beastmen. I saw it often enough. Villages wiped of the map, temples desecrated. And here in front of me was this small monster. Or so it seemed. All I saw now, was a crying cup seeking protection from his father figure. A cup named after a god of the empire! How could the gods allow this desecration, how could they allow beastmen alive in a place of their symbols of protection and banishment of evil?
Taalson the gorling stopped crying. He was put to the ground and the ran away from me to a statute of Rhya, hiding behind it. Some of his siblings ignored me and started to play with a leathery ball. They laughed. Could beastmen laugh? Not the horrific laughing at murder, but a genuine laughing of children playing? Here I saw it with my own eyes. These creatures should become banes of mankind? Horrors lurking in the woods? I could not imagine it. But why? Still I was sceptic. Chaos is full of false promises and illusions.
I casted a spell to clear my own mind, but I felt uncertain of this situation. Wasn’t Orion, king of the wood elves, sort of a beastmen to? I heard rumours about his appearance. He was amoral, hunted man as cattle if it was his mood, but he was no enemy like the great ones.
So, what would happen to Sigurds gorlings? If Sigurd was right, then this could be the beginning of a new era for the empire. If he was wrong, then the world would have six more beastmen growing up. There are already thousands. What would six more do?
I put back my sword and reached my hand out to Sigurd. “I will spare them. For now. Continue your work, but be sure, that you are always watched over. If I even hear the slightest rumour of you being corrupted in any way, I’ll drive my sword through your heart and rip out your treacherous tongue.”
Sigurd smiled and took my hand. “I want nothing less.”
The rest of the day I prepared spell after spell to ensure I would be informed of any activity of Sigurd. He would have not a single secret of me. The gorlings forgot their fear of me. First, they helped Sigurds apprentice in the garden, next they milked the goats. At evening they were in the main cave, sitting on small chairs and slurping the milk out of wooden bowels. Later the apprentice played on a fleet and the entire household enjoyed his play. Even me. Darkness befell the forest, mannslieb stood high in the heavens. I wanted to spend the night here and to leave the next day.
But then they came. In the middle of the night, while all were sleeping, one of Sigurd scouts espied a brayheard. Several dozen ungors and gors led by a shaman. The raven alarmed everyone. Sigurd stood up, took his staff, and casted a spell. Than the sounds of beast hurled through the forest. Wolves, bears and bats gathered around the cave.
“They are coming for the gorlings”, Sigurd said, “Do you see it know? They fear me and my doings, because it will end them. This proves that I am right!” Than he stormed out into the free. I followed him. On a hill the shaman showed himself. In the dark tongue he cursed us. His heard was pouring down the hill towards us. Sigurd thralls met them. It was a battle of fur and fang, claw and bite. But the shaman came not unprepared. The summoned his own bestial allies, mutated creatures like razagors and hounds, poured through. I casted them aside with a pendulum and cut my sword through the souls of many of the gor.
Meanwhile Sigurd and the shaman engaged in a magical battle, throwing bolts of spells and counter spells at each other.
Suddenly a group of centigores arrived. “Kill, kill for Chaos!”, screamed the leader of the centigores and led his group of wolves of Sigurd’s thrall. They cut the creatures down, before I and Sigurd could do anything. Than the rest of the beastmen army started pouring to us. “We need to protect the gorlings!”, Sigurd screamed. He changed his flesh and took the appearance of a great black bear, twice as large as a normal one. With one swing he broke a centigores horsern back, with one bite he cut a Gor in to. The entire battle host of the shaman throw itself against him, to be ripped apart by his claws.
I realised, that the shaman was gone. He headed towards the cave. When I caught onto him, Sigurds apprentice was all standing between the shaman and the gorlings. The shaman growled and laughed at him and is last act of defiance. Than with one spell, the body of the Apprentice was broken into two.
The shaman continued towards the gorlings, who were shivering out of fear and were screaming in sadness.
“No!”, I screamed and hurled a phantomic sword against the shaman. He blocked the strike and gnarled. We battled in the cave. I casted illusions to hide the gorlings and to lead them to safety, but the shaman saw through all my spells, attacked me with unnatural strength and magic power. His swings of raw magic were wild and powerful. I could only barley stand against him. He was not an ordinary shaman, but a disciple of Tzeentch himself, I presumed. In one last attempt I stormed forward. But he threw me aside like an insect. “Worm”, he growled. He drew the winds of magic for one final strike.
While the energies of chaos flew through his bodies, I attempted a final attack. My shadow bolt hit him and set the energy he harvested free. Only thanks to the embodiment of uglu I could escape the cave before the shaman.
As I stood in the herb garden and the sun was rising, I saw the carnage. The cave was gone and so were the gorlings. Sigurd as a bear lay dead on over a dozen gors. Axes and spears stuck in his body. The last surviving animals protected his carcass. If I would have come to close, his wolves would have attacked me.
I did not know what to feel. I was relieved but also felt crushed. Soon the beastmen would come again, reclaim this part of the woods and Sigurd and his doings would be forgotten. Was this his legacy? Could his plan truly work? These and more questions plagued my mind on my way back to Altdorf.
And now that I am here honoured magisters, I will ask you to help my troubled soul. Was what I did and did not do right? I spared the live of an wizard who misused the accords of magic, I had sympathy with creatures of chaos, even protected them! Am I still a servant of Sigmar? Or have I lost my way?