- "Before you perish, know that your death will not be meaningless. The lord of skulls shall feast on your heart and drink of your blood, woman. And know, that in the times of Darkness that will soon come to engulf the world, the gods themselves will walk the land, leading their legions in the battle to end all battles. And in those End Times, Great Kharnath will cut down your Lady, hacking her head from her shoulders and great shall be the lamentation. Your goddess shall perish -- she knows this. And now, you too know the truth."
- —High Jarl Egil Styrbjorn, to a dying priestess of the Lady of the Lake.[1e]
Egil Styrbjorn of the Skaelings, also known as the Slayer of Souls and the Butcher of Immortals, was a Norscan High Jarl, and one of the greatest champions of the Blood God Khorne to ever walk the land.[1t]
Egil Styrbjorn attained leadership of his clan by defeating his own father in single combat, hacking his head from his shoulders and thus ensuring his passage to the Blood God's halls of battle. As a result, the ancient hellforged axes, Garmr and Gormr, heavy with infernal power and the bound essence of raging Bloodthirsters, became his to wield on the battlefield. Holy artifacts of his forefathers, they had been passed down the line of High Jarls for generations.[1a]
Under the chieftain, the Skaelings of Strovengaard attained many glorious and bloody victories in their countless raids and battles against their rivals; the neighbouring Norse tribes, such as the mighty Graelings and Vargs, the countless Kurgan horse-clans, and even the slant-eyed Hung barbarians to the far east.[1e] Along the way, Styrbjorn had, as many warlords of Norsca, made an alliance with the Chaos Dwarfs, specifically with the Dwarf Lord Zumarah, in order to avail their craft, particularly the mighty Hellcannon of Ereshkigal-Namtar; so named for the twin daemons of blood, fire and industry bound in its creation. While Styrbjorn was wary of the excessive greed of the Dark Dwarfs, the power of the daemon construct proved great enough for him to tolerate the presence of the Dwarfs, paying them their geld of slaves and gold without rancour after every victory bought with the fury of the powerful Hellcannon. He had become particularly impressed with the weapon's might during his war with the rival Aesgar clan, as its power had reduced their mighty fortress to a flaming ruin within moments.[1i]
High Jarl of the Skaelings
Styrbjorn had taken many consorts from amongst the womenfolk of Strovengaard, for many women of Norsca are desirous to share their beds with warriors who bear the stigmata of the Dark Gods. From these countless wives did Styrbjorn sire a brood of 13 progeny of all ages, amongst them were Hrefna and Fraygerd, sword-maidens of consummate skill and deadliness.[1m] Yet not one amongst his wives could give to him a son -- a true warrior who could carry on the name of the warlord name after his death. The hoary bearded champion was troubled by this, and long awaited a sign from the Dark Gods to reveal the woman who would be blessed with the honour to carry his true heir. It was under Styrbjorn's reign that a Bretonnian was inducted into the tribe, and this was no slave taken upon a raid, but a male child adopted and set under the guidance of the tribe's shaman; a boy who had drifted across the northern seas on a rickety fishing coracle half-dead, but with a defiant glare in his eyes born from hate and desperation.[1e]
Styrbjorn's god-touched eyes saw the power radiating from the boy and perceived the mark of the Dark Gods upon him, for he had the ability to tap into the powers of Chaos and command the Winds of Magic, what the Bretonnians ignorantly knew and feared as 'Fay-touched'. Thus did Styrbjorn see the favour of his gods in taking this child as his own, and taught the child the ways of the Skaelings -- the ways of war, how to honour the gods with one's actions, and how to live and die with the honour befitting a man of Norsca, and named him Bjarki, or "Little Bear."[1e]
Styrbjorn had slain tens of thousands of foes in battle, and had amply demonstrated the favour of his god Khorne by doing so. Amongst some of his greatest achievements was to duel a mighty Dragon Ogre Shaggoth atop the high Knife Peaks of Norsca, amidst a mighty storm conjured by the Dark Gods that woke the beast, defeating the primaeval horror in single combat and carving its very heart out from its chest. He alone faced a great serpent of the Undersea, spearing it through its belly and dragging it ashore before cutting its head from its neck. He took leave of his clan for a time to wander the darkened roads of the Chaos Wastes and smite the numberless monstrosities there to further show his power. He had ran with the terrible Ulfwerenar, hunted alongside the hulking white-furred Beastmen of Norsca, the Ymgir, and had feasted at the tables of the terrible Bloodbeasts of Khorne.[1t]
This and more Egil Styrbjorn, wielder of the legendary daemonaxes, Garmr and Gormr, had done; for the bloodthirsty Chaos Warlord was truly the beloved of his grim god, and Khorne had lavished his favoured champion with blessing upon blessing. Clad in black, impenetrable Chaos Plate forged in the likeness of wolves, his long blonde beard and hair streaked with iron, a sign of an elder warmaster who had been the doom of thousands of foes. His pale eyes blazed with the fiery rage of Khorne, and his ornate Chaos Plate was festooned with trophies of his brutal and bloody victories. He stood as a true avatar of his god's power, and it was clear to many that he was long ahead on the path to ultimate glory and daemodhood in his own right.[1t]
Invasion of Bretonnia
- "Only a foolish hunter returns to the same hunting ground every day. A wise hunter varies his hunts, so as not to hunt any one of his prey-flocks to extinction."
- —Jarl Egil Styrbjorn.[1e]
Styrbjorn made preparations for a massive invasion of the far southern kingdom of Bretonnia -- realm of the horsemen, when his seer, the shaman Bjarki, received a blood-vision from the Dark Gods of the woman destined to bear Styrbjorn's daemonic son. The Realm of Chivalry had for far too long gone unmolested by Styrbjorn and his raiders, and the mighty warlord knew at once that the gods had answered his prayers. Determined to at last ensure his legacy, Styrbjorn did bid his legions of battle-hardened tribesmen to take to their dragonships that they might make war upon the horsemen once again.[1a]
Styrbjorn's longships initially made landfall on the great island of Landri, off the coast of Lyonesse, located in the far north-west of the country. Though there were literally thousands of inlets that made up the archipelago of north-western coast, Landri was by far the most significant of these barren isles, able to support a relatively large and modestly prosperous population. It was also reputed to have been protected by the Lady of the Lake, though this was soon proved an erroneous assertion, and though it was true that the people of Landri had often paid homage to the god Manann, offering sacrifices unto him that he might guard the seas from the fury of the Chaos raiders, whatever supplications they had made to that god proved insufficient to protect them from Styrbjorn's brutal invasion.[1e]
The Norscans had made landfall upon the isle with the coming of winter, and despite the seas having roiled and heaved with fury, their fleet had emerged unscathed by the grace of the Dark Gods. Styrbjorn's legions; composed of bloodthirsty axe-men, feral Ulfwerener and mighty Huskarls bedecked in hulking Chaos Plate fell upon the meagre defenders of Landri and slaked their thirst for death with the blood of the innocent. Styrbjorn himself made short work of all those who dared his wrath, slaying both mere militiaman and priestess alike with terrible ease. His raiders had closed in on the isle from both sides, thus blocking off all routes of escape from their rage. Those who could not fight thus clambered their way to take refuge in the only place left that could afford protection -- the Holy Abbey of the Lady, for which the Isle was so famed. Though he had raided the Bretonnian coastlines many times, Styrbjorn had paid little attention to the faith of the men there.[1e]
Having once hailed from the land himself, Bjarki explained the role of the Lady, describing her as a petty deity of little true power, and her clergy as doddering women who were weak of both body and mind. Striding into the chapel, beholding a statue of the Bretonnians' goddess, the warlord had felt all the more disgusted. Here, in his mind, was a weak and degenerate god; not one of power and might like the gods of the north. The dying priestess who tended the chapel spoke of how the Lady would defend her people and avenge the Norscans' desecration of her holy place, but Styrbjorn scoffed at this disingenuous statement and retorted to the dying priestess the Norscan prophecy of the End Times, where the Dark Gods who descend from their halls and lead the men of the North in the final conquest, and of how Khorne, God of War and Death, would strike down the weakling deity of Bretonnia. In order to further demonstrate the weakness of the southern gods compared to those of the north, Styrbjorn personally destroyed the holy statue of the abbey depicting the weeping image of the Bretonnian deity. As no divine retribution fell upon him, he had established the superiority of the northern gods.[1e]
Those few amongst the people of Landri who had fought to the last were given an honourable death by the axe and the sword, in honour of Khorne, Lord of Battles. Those far more numerous who had begged and bargained for life were left impaled upon great brazen stakes to die by inches, their foul cowardice robbing them the dignity of honourable death. The blackened throne of Styrbjorn was taken out from his kingship and placed within the defiled chapel, his very presence so tinged with the daemonic that it further despoiled that once holy place. The Norscans made sport of those few survivors of their raid, and ransacked the wealthier homes for plunder. As the roiling of the sea had delayed the rest of his longships, Styrbjorn and his warriors thus stayed at Landri, awaiting the rest of his mighty Skaelings to join him in despoiling the kingdom further inland. Amongst those forces were the mighty Tuskers, the hulking war-mammoths of Norsca. Though Styrbjorn had utmost faith that his warriors would easily overcome any foe, he nonetheless wished to see the terror that would grip the horsemen upon bearing witness to those magnificent monstrosities. When the rest of his longships reached Landri, he marshalled his forces further inland, intent on finding the woman prophesied to bear his promised son.[1e]
Ravaging of Lyonesse
- "We will slaughter them all, and laugh as they beg for mercy. It will be a good day."
- —Jarl Egil, regarding the battle with the Bretonnians.[1h]
Though the decision to wait at Landri for the rest of his forces to gather rankled with some elements of his followers, particularly the Chaos Dwarfs, Styrbjorn silenced all dissenters in his ranks easily enough. When the rest of his forces finally arrived after two days, the Skaelings made the push further inland. In particular, Styrbjorn was beginning to truly pursue his goal in the southern land. The seer had prophesied that the consort, revealed to be a sorcerous Witch, was even now making way north to meet with Styrbjorn, as the gods had decreed. They would meet on the eve of a great battle against the horsemen, where Styrbjorn would gain a great victory, and on the eve after, in sight of the daemon-moon Morrslieb, they would conceive their child together. Concerned that the mother of his son would come to peril alone, despite Bjarki's claims of her great power, he nonetheless charged Bjarki to take a pack of horsemen southwards to the crow fields where the battle with the armies of the Bretonnians was to take place, and bring her to him. Meanwhile, Styrbjorn turned to plot his victory over the armies of Lyonesse.[1e]
No mindless berserker Styrbjorn, the elder warmaster embodied also the bloody tactical mastery of his Lord, and had plotted the downfall of these enemies since the time of hearing of where he must invade. He knew that the Bretonnians would, given the reputation of the Norscans, underestimate their foes, believing them limited only to a full-frontal assault. Styrbjorn had sent a force of Marauders ahead of the main horde to harry the Bretonnian forces of Duke Adalhard of Lyonesse, while the rest of his warriors moved inward, slaughtering and plundering supplies. Duke Adalhard met Styrbjorn's vanguard, but only succeeded into fighting them to a standstill. Skirmishes with the Norscans continued after that initial engagement, with the Northmen attempting to gauge the full strength of the Bretonnian defenders, and to hold them off while Bjarki and Kveldulf roved the western countryside, searching for the prophesied bride.[1h]
Dispatched by the King himself, the forces of L'Anguille too marched for the defence of their southerly neighbours, despite the lingering border dispute between the two Dukedoms. Bjarki soon succeeded in finding the witch, Haegtesse, pale-skinned and darkly beautiful, the sorceress had forcibly taken possession of a young Bretonnian noblewoman, supplanting the soul that had originally resided there that she might be able to bear the Norscan's daemon-son. She was brought into the Skaeling war-camp, on the eve of the battle to come, under the baleful gaze of Morrsleib. Though her eyes settled hungrily upon the Skaeling warlord, their coupling had been decreed by the Gods themselves and was to take place under careful ritual, with the lifesblood of Bretonnians to baptize the product of their union. The next day the first snows of winter had come early, unnaturally so some had thought[1h].
Battle of the Four Armies
The Skaelings had assembled into a wide advance, with a strong centre comprised of the mighty, heavily armoured Huskarls. As a predominately infantry army, given the Norscans' general mistrust for horses in the thick of battle, it was thought that the Skaelings would position themselves atop an elevated position, such as the great motte just behind their position, but instead they had marched forward to engage the Bretonnians in open battle. The field was seemingly poorly chosen; a wide flat plain with little in the way of hills, rocks or trees to obstruct the charge of heavy cavalry, thus, it was a theatre of war that favoured the Bretonnians' tactics. Duke Adalhard had intended to launch a single, devastating heavy charge that would cut through into the centre of the enemy horde, where Styrbjorn was thought to have dwelled, thus routing the Norscan invasion. The Pegasus Knights, however, could not deploy along with the rest of the army, due to the inclement weather.[1h]
It was a simple strategy on the part of Styrbjorn's adversary, Duke Adalhard, but one that had nonetheless been exploited effectively by countless Bretonnian generals. The army of Duke Adalhard marched under the banner of Lyonesse, the Banner of Thierulf, depicting the legendary hero and Companion of the great king Gilles le Breton standing victorious over a mountain of Orc corpses, framed by a halo of holy light. It was said that the hair of an Elven princess had been woven into the banner, and that any army that fought under the standard would never know defeat. Ten thousand heavily armoured knights charged forth, with several hundred kept behind as a tactical reserve, at the barbarian ranks.[1h]
The Norscans unleashed their corrupted war-hounds at the charging horsemen, the unbridled fury of the mutated beasts blunted the charge, slowing the Bretonnian advance. The Norsemen too began to charge at their foes, though slowly, as though anticipating something, and overhead, a crimson light thundered into the sky. Here was the herald for the first phase of the Skaeling battle-plan; for the thundering crimson fire was the signal to unleash the blazing fury of Ereshkigal-Namtar. The hellcannon's arcane payload of daemon-fire smashed into the mass of knights, even as they themselves crashed through the Norscan battle-lines. Hundreds of knights were slain by the first barrage, burned and cooked alive in their own armour. Flesh bursting into flame along with tabards, banners and horseflesh, and blood boiling and bursting in veins, mingling with plate armour turned to quicksilver.[1h]
The majority of knights who had survived the barrage stubbornly renewed their pursuit of the now retreating Norscans, despite the fact that it was very clear that the Norscans were attempting to draw the knights deeper into their midst. Only when they found themselves encircled by thousands of giant, black-armoured Chaos Warriors did the knights realise that they had been duped into charging the foe's centre, which had given away to them intentionally with little resistance. It had been a simple, yet excellently crafted ploy on Styrbjorn's part, and it was now clear that few Bretonnians would leave the field alive. The hammer had now fallen, and the savage fury of the Northmen saw thousands of knights and yeomen alike slaughtered and torn apart. Even with that, concealed Marauders emerged violently out from under snowdrifts, roaring bestial war-cries as they leapt from their concealments and fell upon knights and peasants left out on the rapidly disintegrating army's edge.[1i]
The shining army of Lyonesse had been brought to its knees. The defeat of the enemy was assured now, and the Bretonnian ranks, gripped by fear, were already being torn asunder even further from within as elements of the army began to push for retreat. The inevitability of their deaths warring with their inherent pride. Nonetheless, Stybjorn had one last malignant hand to play; for his mighty war-mammoths had taken to the field. Towering beasts with rage burning in their eyes, touched by the Dark Gods, they smashed the ranks of Bretonnian and Norscan alike with earth-shattering force. A trio of the behemoths slaughtered hundreds of knights as Norsemen hurled axes and javelins from their howdahs, slaughtering hundreds. Styrbjorn himself sat in one of these howdahs, surveying the glorious carnage with delight. At the sight of the Norscans' monstrosities, the remaining knights quit the field in panic.[1i]
With that victory in hand, the eve was devoted to the enactment of the ritual to conceive Styrbjorn's daemon-son. Eight of the tribe's mightiest were sacrificed for the ritual, having given their lives gladly for their master's service. Under the sight of Morrslieb and the Dark Gods, in the presence of daemons and spirits who had crossed forth from the Realm of Chaos to bear witness, it was thus clear to Styrbjorn that his son would be favoured indeed, and so he took Haegtesse under the sight of the Witch Moon, and a daemon-son was conceived.[1i] Haegtesse herself had one hand to play, however, and after Styrbjorn had taken her, she offered him a goblet which he drained in a single drought. The cup itself held a dosage of Whorlsroot, a deadly herb known to kill men in a wasting fashion. In large enough quantities, it could kill outright, and Haegtesse had laced the warlord's goblet with enough to kill one of the immense Tuskers of Styrbjorn's horde. His god-given constitution allowed him to survive long enough for Bjarki to concoct an antidote, something the Kurgan had not foreseen.[1j]
Haegtesse had intended to birth the child alone, and then sacrifice it to the Gods to attain immortality, given how her decrepitude was beginning to consume the bodies she claimed to prolong her life all the more rapidly. Bjarki hurriedly brought his adoptive father back to health, and Styrbjorn awoke burning with fury, incensed that the woman would be so brazen as to try to kill him, and worse, try to kill his son. The Kurgan had not gone far, and had not counted on the Skaeling shaman having the knowledge necessary to save the Chaos Lord, and had thus not managed to get far before Styrbjorn caught up with her. Shocked by his survival, the hag could barely summon her daemons to aid her before Styrbjorn's fist had sent her screaming to the ground in pain. Captured, she was taken back to the warcamp, an arcane device of Khorne, a black cage etched with runes of the Dark Tongue and filled with blood, was placed upon her head to arrest her magic.[1h]
Siege of Castle Lyonesse
Having accomplished what he set out to do, Styrbjorn was ready to leave Bretonnia, though the initial decision had rankled with some of his tribesmen and allies, particularly the Chaos Dwarf Zumarah, who had yet to receive his payment of slaves from amongst the captures thralls of the raid. Zumarah had gone so far as to threaten to take his geld from amongst Styrbjorn's own tribe, specifically singling out his daughters, but the Chaos Lord made light of that threat, reciting an old proverb about the fury of Skaeling women, and would not be deterred. Any challenge to his decisions he quelled with violence. Realising the birth of the Skaeling daemon-child would herald great devastation for Bretonnia when father and son returned to her shores, Morgiana Le Fay, Fay Enchantress and leader of the Cult of the Lady, charged one of her disciples, Anara to prevent this from coming to past. To this disciple, she afforded the aid and protection of the Grail Knight Reolus, a warrior reckoned by many within Bretonnia and beyond to be amongst the most elite swordsmen of the Old World.[1i]
The two travelled to Castle Lyonesse, where Adalhard's army had fled. Joined by a contingent of knights, the Bretonnians crept into the Skaeling camp under the cloak of sorcery, while Styrbjorn and his warriors rejoiced and celebrated their great victory in the lands of the horsemen, the tribe's skalds regaling them with the saga of the berserker, Knut the Bloody.[1k] The Bretonnians succeeded in capturing Haegtesse, along with the unborn child. When he realised this, Styrbjorn flew into an apocalyptic rage, his god-touched bellow carrying easily through the winding halls of the fallen temple of Landri, rallying the Norsemen to battle. Eyes ablaze with the fire of Khorne, Styrbjorn vented his anger upon the assailants, hacking men from crown to sternum as he frantically attempted to prevent the Bretonnians from fleeing. Ultimately, however, the warlord's prize was stolen away from him. Burning with fury, the Skaeling Chaos Lord swore that he would slaughter every last man, woman and child of Bretonnia in order to save his son.[1k]
Norscan longships began sailing from their rallying point on the Isle of Landri, making beachhead upon Lyonesse's shore once again. The sight of the dreaded sails of the Skaelings, combined with the utter terror the devastating defeat suffered by the Duke's army caused, led to the peasantry almost rioting in fear, frantically attempting to book passage to the island stronghold of the count. The Norscans sacked the townships of the Lyonesse mainland, plundering the settlements for supplies with which to carry out their coming siege; creating siege ladders, battering rams and makeshift catapaults. A barrier was formed around the island, created by lashing hundreds of longships together, while all the while hundreds more made beachhead, unloading their cargo of bloodthirsty warriors and feral Chaos beasts.[1o]
When the last thousand made it ashore, the vast horde of High Jarl Egil Styrbjorn had finally gathered, and the Champion of Khorne led them in a blood-curdling war-cry. The Norscans began the siege by building a defensive emplacement, far out of range of the Bretonnian trebuchuets, for the mighty hellcannon that had been instrumental in their prior victory. Its power would now be all the more necessary for the coming siege. The first offensives were to probe and weaken the defences of the great citadel; the opening wave consisting of blood-maddened berserkers. Though the thousand-strong wave was utterly defeated, they had inflicted grievous casualties upon the defenders - 19 knights and 200 peasant levies. Though Castle Lyonesse had stood unconquered for nigh 1500 years, no man was quick to forget the bloody defeat they had suffered at Styrbjorn's hands, and some began to whisper it was better simply to give the barbarian king that which he sought.[1o]
Regardless, the battle looked set to continue. With the second assault, the fury of Ereshkigal-Namtar was once more unleashed. The daemonic fire of the hellcannon lanced into the battlements of the castle, reducing the topmost towards to molten rock, sending flaming debris in all directions and killing hundreds of men-at-arms. The next barrage was just as devastating, and though Castle Lyonesse had stood undaunted against the hail of cannonfire of the Empire's warmachines, not even its ancient stone could withstand the power of raging daemons and dwarf-craft. Realising that the siege would end in defeat unless the enemy's artillery was neutralised, the Grail Knight Reolus led a sortie forth to destroy the cannon, which he succeeded at, banishing the daemons too that had been bound to the cannon's iron and steel. Nonetheless, this was but a mere setback to the grizzled Styrbjorn, for though the hellcannon was no more, the Bretonnians had revealed a damning truth when their priestess parted the seas that their champion might lead his sortie; the waters of the strait were not but thirty feet deep. As masters of the sea, this knowledge would proven devastating in the hands of Norsemen.[1o]
The Norscan offensives soon restarted, and with even greater lethality. The next wave was filled with heavily armoured, blood-crazed Chaos Warriors and grizzled veterans eager for the chance to die honourably in battle. The warriors smashed into the defenders on the battlements, reaping a hefty toll from the Bretonnian knights. While they were driven back, yet another wave was all too ready to attack, affording the Bretonnians no breathing room for which to recover. The defenders were thus forced to quickly shore up their defences, in spite of mounting casualties and weariness. Regardless, the true blow of Styrbjorn was not marshalled on the walls, but rather in assigning a special task to Bjarki and a cadre of warriors. Having 'questioned' prisoners of war, the Norscans uncovered the existence of a secret route into the castle.[1p]
Bjarki and his warriors made their way to the mechanism that operated the castle portcullis, slaughtering their way through the opposition they encountered on the way. A score of Sveinbjorn's dragonships arrived, sailing the shallow strait and through the portcullis, each ship with a hold filled to bursting with bloodthirsty berserkers too long denied the glory of slaughtering their foes in the name of Khorne, and with the arrival of these warriors came the sounds of deafening trumpets, heralding the coming of the great war mammoths that had wrought such havoc on the battlefield amongst the knights of Lyonesse just three weeks prior. Stomping their way across the shallow strait, carrying yet more warriors in their howdahs, the mammoths would allow the invaders to bypass the walls entirely. Like living battering rams they hammered open the mighty gates of the castle, allowing the elite of the Norscan army -- Styrbjorn's mighty Huskarls, each a powerful Champion of Chaos in his own right; massive giants encased in unholy armour festooned with bloody trophies and fetishes declaring their brutal piety, to charge into battle. With contemptuous ease did these warrior-kings slaughter everything that stood before them, hacking through armour, flesh and bone. However, the Huskarls eventually met their match in the Grail Knight, Reolus. Many attempted to earn further glory by slaying the living saint, and all failed...[1p]
With massive battle-axes in hand, Styrbjorn slaughtered his foes in their scores, a bloody god of war astride the battlefield, his twin axes wailing and screaming as they hacked off limbs and heads from bodies with every swing. With every life he took, the warlord roared and bellowed, laughed and sang; revelling in the screams of the dying, the geysers of blood streaming from the severed necks and the pleasing sound of shattering bones as he crushed their skulls and tore asunder their bodies under his axe blades. The Norscans' assault forced the remainder Bretonnian army to retreat to the inner keep. From then on, the Norscans started to besiege that building. In the surrounding area, the Norscans had desecrated the sacred temple of Manann that stood on the outskirts of the island, slaughtering the knights who protected the holy place, before murdering the venerable priests and tearing down the statue of Mannan in honour of their blasphemous gods, eliciting cries of outrage and sacrilege from the defenders on the battlements of the keep.[1t]
Styrbjorn ordered wave after wave of men at the keep, uncaring of the mounting casualties as victory lay so close. Thousands of Skaelings were slain within minutes, so great was the scale of bloodshed, but it made no difference, for the Norscans were winning -- swiftly and surely. It was thus Egil Styrbjorn, a raging warlord of the Norse, an Exalted Champion of the Blood God, whose puissance and tactical acumen had allowed him to take the legendary castle of Lyonesse were all others before him had failed, and at such an unfathomably quick speed as well. It staggered the nobles of Lyonesse that it was a savage raider of the northern seas that had finally brought them so low. As the Norsemen began to hammer the gates apart, a wailing cry pierced the air - the birth scream of the daemon child that was Styrbjorn's blood-son. An excruciating sound that echoed not only in the mortal realm, but also in the madness of the Realm of Chaos, existing in both simultaneously. Those to attuned to the Winds of Magic fell to their knees in agony upon hearing the cry, and even those not gifted with the powers of magic felt their souls tremble before the scream of this unnatural birth. Only the father, Styrbjorn, was not unmanned by the sound, but rather beamed with pride and joy that the gods had at last answered his prayers.[1t]
- "I am Egil Styrbjorn, High Jarl of the Skaelings, slayer of souls and butchers of immortals. Hear my words! The blood of ten-thousand slaughtered enemies stains my blades. I have bested the nameless horrors of the northern wastes and have walked free to speak the tale. Alone, I speared a great wyrm of the underseas, battling it for a day and night before dragging it ashore and cutting its head from its neck. I have walked the smoking paths of the nightshades and have emerged unharmed. I have strangled Ice Trolls with my bare hands. I have run with the Ulfwerener, hunted with the Ymgir and feasted with the Bloodbeast. I have stood upon the Knife Peaks as the gods threw jagged bolts of lightning down upon me, and defeated one of the great dragon-kin wakened by the storm, cutting its still-beating heart from its chest. This and more have I done, I, Egil Styrbjorn of the Skaelings! Never have I asked for quarter from an enemy, and never have I offered it. Until now."
- —Egil Styrbjorn making his challenge.[1t]
Though Styrbjorn's advisers had protested his decision to parley with the Bretonnians, he had remained adamant in his decision to throw down the gauntlet before them, challenging their greatest warrior to a duel in order decide the fate of the siege. He would not leave the life of his beloved son to chance, for who was to say that the Bretonnians would not smother him to death as the keep fell, or throw him from the battlements out of spite. It was, after all, what he would do in their position. Styrbjorn thus offered his terms; the greatest warrior amongst the Bretonnians would come forth to face him in battle. If he prevailed, the horsemen would bring out his son. If he failed, then he would be dead. In either case, he pledged the Skaelings would grant the Bretonnians mercy and return to their homeland.[1t]
Styrbjorn's choice had brought some murmurs of bewilderment amongst the Skaelings, for many men had lost sword-brothers in the battle to take the keep, and now that they were to offer the Bretonnians mercy had elicited great disapproval from many. Amongst these malcontents stepped forth the Dwarf Zumarah, with whom it was a gravely rankled to spare the Bretonnians, as he was yet to receive his geld of slaves and gold for his services. He angrily accused Styrbjorn of being a coward and oathbreaker, which angered the prideful Norscan king greatly, and the two fought. While Styrbjorn was a true paragon of warfare, Zumarah was an ancient Dwarf Lord who had forged his strength and skill across countless centuries, and so were evenly matched. Ensorcelled obsidian clashed with hellforged steel as the two warriors matched their titanic strength.[1t]
Though Styrbjorn was easily twice the height of Zumarah, the Chaos Dwarf was as implacable as the mountains, and weathered each of the warlord's crushing blows with iron resolve. The two warriors traded a dozen blows in barely the space of a single heartbeat, such was the fury of their battle. Styrbjorn struck his mighty armoured fist into the Dwarf's broad face several times, each blow strong enough to shatter stone, but still the Dwarf would not fall. Zumarah hammered his greataxe into the Norscan's side, but this likewise did not phase Styrbjorn, who held Zumarah in place and rained many unforgiving blows down upon him. The Dwarf Lord threw the Skaeling Jarl onto the ground, and charged forth screaming to deliver his killing blow. Grasping the haft of one of his daemon-axes, Styrbjorn threw the mighty blade at the loping Dwarf, striking him square between the eyes and killing him instantly.[1t]
Styrbjorn's god-touched flesh quickly knit itself back together, and he retrieved his holy weapon from the Chaos Dwarf's skull, roaring a challenge for any other who sought to dispute his rule. No man stepped forward. Styrbjorn shouted again at the battlements, Bjarki serving as his translator, demanding that the Grail Knight Reolus, whom he had briefly met during the melee in the castle courtyard, to come forward. For the High Jarl judged the Paladin as being able to provide him an adequate challenge. Realising the battle was all but lost, Duke Adalhard agreed to these terms, asking for an hour's time to make the arrangements.[1t]
Egil Styrbjorn stepped forward from the endless ranks of his bloodthirsty country-men, his weathered, bearded face ritualistically painted a daemonic red in honour of his god under his massive horned battle-helm. His stride was that of a man supremely confident in his ability, of a man who had slaughtered whole races single-handed, and who had trod entire nations underfoot. Halfway before the keep he bellowed his challenge, his voice reverberating with unholy power. To oppose him stepped forth the holy knight Reolus, legendary Grail Knight of Bretonnia, whose very eyes burned with fay-light. In his hand the anointed warrior held the mighty blade Durendyal, which sang with holy might. The two gods of war faced each other, but separated by a mere twenty paces. What happened next was a glorious battle, one that would live long in the songs and legends of Bretonnia regardless of the outcome...[1u]
The revered Grail Knight seemed calm and relaxed as he marched forward to meet Styrbjorn. His weapon was sheathed and he carried no shield. When Reolus was forty paces from his enemy, the Norscan unhooked one of the handaxes strapped to his thighs. The Grail Knight's holy blade, Durendyal, was instantly in his hands, the movement so fast that the gathered onlookers had not even seen it drawn, and Reolus broke into a run towards the Norscan. The black-armoured warlord hurled the axe at his closing attacker, eliciting an angry murmur from the Bretonnians. Duels were meant to be fought hand to hand, face to face; it was dishonourable and cowardly to utilise missile weapons on the field of battle, let alone in a formal challenge.
The axe was hurled with incredible power, and it spun through the air, end over end, towards Reolus's head. He swayed to the side as he increased the speed of his run, and the throwing axe hissed by him, missing him by scant inches. Less than twenty paces separated the two paragons of war, and the Norscan had his other throwing axe in his hand. He waited for the Grail Knight to draw closer, then hurled the missile at Reolus with even more power than the first. The Grail Knight swatted the axe aside with his sword and sprinted towards the Norscan, his blade clenched in both hands. Then, the enemy warlord drew his twin daemon-axes and stalked forward to meet Reolus head on.
The two heroes clashed, Styrbjorn's unmatched, brutal strength pitted against Reolus's sublime swordsmanship. The Bretonnian's blade was a blur of silver that weaved a deadly pattern through the air as he ducked and spun, in constant motion, as he avoided the Norscan's brutal attacks. Though the Grail Knight soon succeeded in drawing first blood, this elicited no cheers from the Lyonessans, who merely watched the battle impassively. The spectacle of the two champions doing battle, both displaying skill and strength far beyond normal men, was breathtaking. With the most delicate of touches, Reolus ensured that blows that would have shorn his head clear of his shoulders and severed limbs were deflected, just missing their mark and leaving him unscathed. He deftly turned aside axe blows that, had they connected, would have hacked him in half, and his blindingly fast ripostes sliced through the Norscan's armour, scoring several wounds within the first minute of the duel, splattering the snow underfoot with the Jarl's blood.
The battle took a sudden and dramatic turn when Reolus finally bypassed Styrbjorn's defences and impaled him with the length of his holy longsword, before wrenching it into a disembowelling cut. Enraged, Styrbjorn gave Reolus a back-hand blow that sent the Grail Knight sailing backwards in the air, sending him to crash upon the hard-packed ground. Arising from the terrible blow, Reolus turned his gaze upon his Northern adversary and silently willed him to die. The Norscan was crouched on the ground in agony, blood flowing from his grisly wound, and his twin axes had dropped from limp fingers onto the ground. What happened next stole the breath of all who saw it.
In defiance of Morr's rightful claim upon his soul, in defiance of his own mortality, in defiance of all sane and logical reason, the Chaos Lord dragged the great blade Durendyal out of himself. The gifts of Khorne had served him well, for whatever gruesome wound the blade had dealt quickly healed, leaving Styrbjorn no worse for wear. Yet out of respect for the fighting prowess he had shown, Styrbjorn kicked the discarded blade Durendyal back to its master, and allowed Reolus to prepare himself for the next phase of their battle.
The two warriors clashed once again in a furious contest of arms. Reolus stepped around his larger opponent, every movement in perfect balance, his glowing blade flashing back and forth to turn aside the Norscan's furious attacks. For long minutes the two battled, each straining to land a killing blow, yet they were so closely matched that few hits found their mark at all, and none of those were fatal. Soon, the Chaos Lord and Grail Knight were spent. Styrbjorn was struck with over a dozen wounds that wept blood, and parts of his Chaos Armour were hanging loosely. Reolus bled from a cut to his head where he had suffered a glancing blow, and his armour was rent in two places.
Still, neither warrior relented, and after no more than a few heartbeats rest, they closed the distance separating them, grunting with effort as their blades came together. The Norscan snarled and brought one axe crashing down in a powerful blow, intending to cut Reolus from crown to sternum. The Grail Knight whipped his sword around in a circular double-handed parry, and the axe blade slid down his sword to slam into the ice-hard ground. The Norscan's second axe wailed as it hammered around in a vicious arc, slicing towards Reolus's hip. Rolling his wrists deftly, Reolus continued the movement of his circular parry and his blade flashed up, slicing cleanly through the Norscan's wrist even as the axe screamed towards him. The Chaos warlord's hand was completely severed, and it fell to the ground, axe still clutched in its grasp. The move had been so perfectly executed, so perfectly timed, that it took onlookers a moment to register what had just occurred. The barbarian bellowed in agony, blood pumping from the stump of his mutilated arm, but he still managed to clutch his other axe blade.
With a roar, Egil Styrbjorn launched himself again at his foe, kneeing the knight in his sternum with sickening force, driving his breastplate inward and wrenching the once-immaculate armour out of shape. In response, the Grail Knight swung at the Skaeling, his blade slashing a bloody gash across his enemy's weathered face. Ducking beneath a hate-filled strike, Reolus then slashed his blade across the barbarian's thigh, slicing through armour, flesh and iron-hard muscle before striking bone. Continuing his assault, the holy Paladin tore his sword free and lashed out once more, impaling the bleeding stump of Egil's arm. Reolus's gleaming blade slid clear through to the other side, becoming lodged...
With a twist of his arm, Styrbjorn disarmed the great knight. Using his body's momentum, he brought his screaming daemon-axe wailing in a murderous arc that hacked the Grail Knight's head from his shoulders, sending it flying through the air in a shower of blood. The men of Lyonesse let out a cry of utter shock and horror as their holy champion was felled, which was all but drawn out by the roars and adulation of the Skaeling hordes as they celebrated their lord and master's triumph. In turn, that sound was eclipsed as Styrbjorn raised the severed head of the Grail Knight to the heavens, and roared his victory to the bloody throne of his god Khorne, who looked down upon his favoured champion with great pleasure. For a moment, plain to all who beheld him, Styrbjorn's form was superimposed with the image of a towering black daemon bathed in fire and blood, with but a single hand, gripping a familiar wolf-headed axe - an image of the glory that Khorne had always intended for him. With a guttural roar, the Norseman demanded his son to be brought to him.[1u]
- "I shall honour your dead champion, and hold to my promise. I leave these shores, but I shall return. On that day, my son will stand at my side. Together we shall lay waste to your lands. We shall kill every man, woman and child that we find, and smash every last one of your stone forts to rubble. There shall be no quarter given. There shall be no bargaining for your lives."
- —The High Jarl tells the Bretonnians what their future has in store for them.[1v]
The Bretonnians honoured Reolus's pledge, and delivered the daemon-son of Styrbjorn to his father. The child was strong, large for his age, the promise that one day he would match his father's strength and height clear to see. His eyes the same ice blue, there was little outward indication of the evil of his bloodline. Yet nonetheless, the child's wailing screams died as he was set into his father's arms, and he looked upon the daemonic face with delight. Styrbjorn beamed with pride, raising his son into the air and declaring him to his clan, who cheered at their future Jarl. His advisers were now ready to press the attack, to spill the blood of the Lyonessians and garland the throne of Khorne with their skulls. But Styrbjorn refused; for he had defeated a mighty foe this day -- a champion the equal of any man or beast that he had ever fought, and sought to honour his memory by keeping to his word. But despite that, Styrbjorn left the Bretonnians with a warning of his return, of the destruction he and his son would one day wreak.[1v]
In response, a lone knight shouted his defiance. Styrbjorn turned to face this Bretonnian noble. He had dark hair, and wore a tabard of blue and red over his armour. A silver dragon was emblazoned on his chest, a symbol that the Chaos Lord regarded favourably. To the Norse it represented power, martial strength and passion. He saw that the warrior was young, and bristled with hatred. That was an emotion Styrbjorn understood, and he knew that had the angry young knight been born of a Skaeling woman he would of been blessed by great Kharnath and become a mighty warrior indeed. Asking his shaman to translate the knight's words, Styrbjorn learned of his wrathful vow. The knight had promised that when the Norscan returned, he would be waiting...
- "I said that I would be waiting, and I am not a man who breaks his word..."
- —Calard of Garamont, on his promise to Egil Styrbjorn.
Egil Styrbjorn would not return to Bretonnia until fifty years after the Siege of Lyonesse. His half-daemon son was now a mighty warrior, perhaps greater than the Chaos Lord himself.
The Jarl's heir had come to face his destiny in the form of Calard of Garamont, the betrothed of his own mother, murdered after the ritual that spawned him. As destiny dictated, these two champions were to challenge each other on the field of battle, once again deciding the outcome of a war. Styrbjorn was confident, his son radiated with daemonic power, his massive cleaver was wreathed in chaotic flame, and his eyes were filled with fury and destruction. The gods themselves were watching.
Calard, however, was no longer the young Knight of the Realm Styrbjorn had ired years before. As the Bretonnian prayed, his eyes blazing with a fey light, the old Jarl realised that his patron goddess was also watching. The Grail Knight approached Styrbjorn's son, his own blade wreathed in a pale flame, and with thunder overhead, the two champions of the gods came together.
The Grail Knight would later ride to Bretonnia's aid during the Cleansing of Mousillon, all but confirming the outcome of that fateful duel...
Wargear and Abilities
Styrbjorn is amongst the deadliest warriors in all the world; having defeated countless mighty foes, including a Dragon Ogre Shaggoth and most recently, a favoured Grail Knight of Bretonnia. The Jarl's naturally prodigious strength is further augmented by an unnatural constitution, as the blessings of his god has made him capable to shrug off even the most terrible of blows with ease.
- Garmr and Gormr: The twin hellforged battle-axes of the High Jarl of Strovengaard; ancient daemon weapons forged in the realms beyond flesh in honour of the bloody wolves said to accompany Khorne the Blood God on his wild hunts across the heavens, which drive the sun to cower and flee before the god's fury, creating the alternation of night and day in Norscan mythology. The axe heads are thus forged in the likeness of howling wolves, and are heavy with infernal power, possessing the captured essences of Bloodthirsters. Inset into their hafts are red stones the colour of blood, which serve as the eyes of the wolves. These gems burn with unholy power as the axes taste the blood of Styrbjorn's enemies, wailing and screaming with delight as they kill. The mighty weapons are capable of splitting fully armoured men in two from crown to sternum, and in Styrbjorn's hands can deliver truly mighty blows.
- Chaos Plate: Forged of blackened steel and adorned with grizzly trophies and foul emblems, the Chaos Armour of Egil Styrbjorn is forged to bear the likeness of howling wolves. The very shoulder-plates themselves are forged in the visage of snarling, tusked wolves, which heightens the armour's ferocious appearance. All enclosing, the armour is spiked and segmented, particularly around the gauntlets, which lends great lethality to Styrbjorn's unarmed blows.
- 1: Knights of the Realm (Novel) by Anthony Reynolds
- 1a: Prologue
- 1b: Chapter One
- 1c: Chapter Two
- 1d: Chapter Three
- 1e: Chapter Four
- 1f: Chapter Five
- 1g: Chapter Six
- 1h: Chapter Seven
- 1i: Chapter Eight
- 1j: Chapter Nine
- 1k: Chapter Ten
- 1l: Chapter Eleven
- 1m: Chapter Twelve
- 1n: Chapter Thirteen
- 1o: Chapter Fourteen
- 1p: Chapter Fifteen
- 1q: Chapter Sixteen
- 1r: Chapter Seventeen
- 1s: Chapter Eighteen
- 1t: Chapter Nineteen
- 1u: Chapter Twenty
- 1v: Chapter Twenty-One
- 2: Warhammer: Grail Knight (Epilogue)
- 3: Warhammer Armies: Bretonnia (6th Edition)
- 4: Total War: Warhammer II