02. The Runelands
The Indomitable Stone Paladin of House Tiganog
Six-feet of muscle.
Wide shoulders and thick legs.
Scarred face and neck.
Joints are all bronze contact discs.
Tattoo of a black “sun” on left biceps.
I am a Northman.
My beginnings are humble. A Northman’s beginnings. I was born in the camp of a mercenary company. I was a child without a father, as most of the children around a company are. Our mothers’ raised us until we were too much trouble and then we lied, cheated, fought, whatever would get us daily bread. We hung about in gangs until we were large enough to follow onto the battlefield. Then, you either got dead or got noticed. I got noticed by Harker.
He was a heavy-man, all armour. I’d like to say I got noticed because there was something special about me, but there really wasn’t. I just killed his other boy in a squabble over a corpse. First, Harker beat me. Then he said, “Well, pick’em over and get back to my tent.”
It was a nasty company and we did nasty business. The goal was always the same: survival. Victory was everything. Knights and noblemen survive battlefields whether they win or lose… it’s the mercenaries that’re put to the sword. Winning is the only thing that matters; it is the only way to get paid. That, and the looting.
Harker was nasty. More than half the time, he was drunk. The other half the time, he liked his girls young and his boys younger. For me, it was a step-up in the food chain, though. I was no longer a scally-wag at the mercy of the camp; I had a modicum of protection. Except from Harker.
Harker liked to train. Usually he was hungover and looking for somewhere to vent his ill-temper. That was where I came in. On went the armour, and then began the clubbing. I quickly learned first to get my head out of the way and then to keep my arms in tight. Eventually, experience told me where to take the blow on the armour that it wouldn’t leave me maimed for the day.
I’ve been asked, many times, what was my first weapon-style. I have to chuckle. There was no weapon first. Harker didn’t want to take a blow, he wanted to beat someone up. That was me. My first style was learning to use armour. That first style has kept me alive thus far.
I grew, too. Getting your ass-whupped in armour on a daily basis has a way of filling-out the physique. That and regular food, too. I had always been a bigger kid, but now, I started to come into my own.
We were outnumbered about three-to-two. It wasn’t an ideal situation for a battle, however the general commanding this situation had maneuvered us so well that the enemy had us cornered. We were pretty much fucked. Harker came back from the briefing with an even fouler smile. “Orders have come,” he barked. “We fight.”
He opened his armour chest and pulled-out some of his old shit. “Put this on. You fight, too.”
He threw me a mace. “Keep it simple. Bash’em until they go down, and then bash’em some more. Stay away from horsemen.”
Then he paused and smiled at me. “Boy, looks like today you get a name. Welcome to the company. If you’re living at the end, let me know what it is.”
He turned and left the tent. I did what I was told, I put on the trash that Harker had tossed my way and went out to form the line.
I survived that battle. Harker never did get to know my name. I took over his kit, mainly because no one was willing to fight me for it at the end of the day. The commander stopped at the tent, nodded and said, “Hhm. Sign the charter in the morning.”
I did. Harker had worn his armour black. I kept that. It was more a superstitious thing. You take a dead man’s things, you better give a nod the dead man’s way. The commander sent me to Gunnarsen, who took over as the new bastard in my life, the next morning when I signed the charter.
That’s when I found out that soldiering was a lot more than getting bashed and bashing upon. Gunnarsen was relentless with the new bastards like me. We drilled daily. Where Harker was ill-disciplined, Gunnarsen took over the lives of the novices assigned to the Van and instilled a hearty dose of it. Formations, maneuvers, and marches. We worked our asses off.
The only thing I really knew how to do well, at that point, was wear armour. That changed. I learned the basic weaponry which was needed in the heavy infantry: the musket, the crossbow, the glaive, the hammer, the mace, the sword. We did a lot of training that year. We also did a lot of fighting.
When I was a rat-child, the company was in the Northlands; we were now far away from there. Originally, the company had all been human, too. That had changed over time, as well. Now, we fought the pirates, the Djin, anyone. We changed sides with whoever was paying the premium. We filled ranks as we went.
I became a heavy-hitter in the line. Dependable, flexible, indomitable. I stood against the horse, tackled other heavy infantry, and chopped-up light infantry with malice. As we moved toward Aluskan, the fights became stranger and the enemies more varied. The battlefields became more fluid and the commander needed shock troops. That’s when Black became the new bastard in my life.
Now Black is a completely wrong name for him. Red hair, blue eyes, and a scar that took away half his face one day, he didn’t look at all like Black. Actually, the man was all wrong. Didn’t talk like he looked, didn’t look like he talked. I was a quick study by this time in not pissing-off the boss; I quickly noticed that the veterans of Black’s cohort gave him wide berth and quick respect and attention. I did my best to do the same. It wasn’t enough. Black called me out at every opportunity, forcing the new doctrine upon me.
So I did the only thing I knew how to do… I learned to do it as well as I could.