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"Dwarfs came, from Kurgan High King of the Dwarfs, whose hall is Karak. A noble messenger, Alaric the Runesmith. From the far Black Mountains. Who braved the Blackfire Pass, where Goblins uncounted, and Black Orcs eager for slaughter, besieged the Dwarf holds. Sigmar hammer-holder shall come and fight beside his friend. Goblins shall not stand between us, Men and Dwarfs. In Blackfire Pass, men fought the foe. Cut a swath through the horde. Met the Dwarfs and embraced them. Brothers in battle. Sigmar Heldenhammer and Kurgan the King. The Hammer of the Goblins. And the Anvil of the Dwarfs."
Legend of Sigmar

The First Battle of Black Fire Pass was a climactic, pivotal battle fought between the alliance of Men and Dwarfs under King Sigmar of the Unberogen and the High King Kurgan Ironbeard of the Dwarfs against the Goblin and Orcish Hordes of Warlord Urgluk Bloodfang. This battle marked the largest confrontation of Man, Dwarf and Greenskin during the first millennium, and saw the formation of the Empire of Man as the mighty Human empire it has since been known today.

Background

In the years leading up to the Battle of Black Fire Pass, orc incursions into the lands that would later become the Empire increased.[2b] Although the warriors of the Dwarf realms were able to hold back the majority of these forces,[1s] the number of greenskins pouring into the lands of men was nevertheless unprecedented. However, the allies of Sigmar, King of the Unberogens, were able to drive the orc menace back from their lands. Soon they had retaken all the territory north of the River Stir, and then they had advanced to the River Aver[2b] At the Battle of Black Road, the orcs were smashed by a combined army of Ostagoths, Taleutens, Cherusens, and Asoborns[1s] This army later linked up with hosts of Unberogens and Dwarfs. Their combined forces broke the greenskin invasion decisively at the Battle of the Aver.[1s][2b]

For a time, the lands of men knew peace. However, this was not to last long, for the orc invasions of the previous years were merely the storm before the hurricane. Envoys from King Ironbeard were the first to bring news of the enormous orc horde advancing on the Black Mountains, intent on destroying the realms of dwarfs and men forever. [1s][2c] In Nuln did Sigmar receive their warning,[2c] and he called together a council of the leaders of men. Known as the Council of Eleven,[1s][2c] this meeting quickly fell into dissension and petty squabbling, as each proud and independent monarch was unwilling to relinquish military control to a single leader. For a time, it seemed as if the realms of men would be crushed because their leaders were unwilling to cooperate. However, the tides shifted when Marbad, King of the Endals, swore allegiance to Sigmar of the Unberogens. Soon, the rest of the kings had followed suit.[1s]

In the spring[2c] of -1 IC,[1t] the army of the humans mustered at Bloodmoss Plain, in the lands of the Merogens. Such a large force had never been seen before in the lands of men, and was termed Sigmar's Hammer.[2c] Drums beat as hundreds of thousands of men and women marched up to Black Fire Pass.[2d] It is said that, on the eve of the battle, Sigmar had a dream in which he stood by Ulric's side and joined him in drinking the blood of his enemies, while howling wolves circled them. He considered it a good omen.[1t]

The Battle

Deployment

Blackfire Pass Deployment

The First Battle of Black Fire Pass forever stands testament to the courage and military genius of Sigmar, who recognised the inherent tactical advantage of setting up his forces at the pass's most narrow corridor, in order to counter the Greenskin's indisputable advantage of numbers.[1u][2d] At this location, the pass is only two miles wide,[1u] and a row of boulders span the width of the pass. Some say that these rocks were placed by the ancient men in honour of their gods, others that the gods themselves put them there,[2d] and still others that it was Sigmar's army that moved them to their current location.[1u] Here, Sigmar deployed his battle line. Warbands of men and dwarfs formed up into shield walls between the boulders, their flanks secured by solid rocks. The boulders protected their flanks, and split the line so that if one war and was broken and made to flee, it was less likely to effect the rest of the line. It also reduced the frontage of Sigmar's army, ensuring the Orcs could not bring their numerical superiority to pay as well as they liked.[1u][2d] The shieldwall was the most important part of the army- if there was even the slightest give, it would be the undoing of men.[1u] Behind the shieldwall, Sigmar deployed his reserve infantry.[2d]

At the flanks of the pass, the ground sloped up and was broken by rocks, trees, and shrubs, unsuitable ground for massed combat. The scree sloped up to sheer cliffs. On the slopes[2d] and at the top of the cliffs, Sigmar deployed his javelin-throwers, stone-slingers, and archers, charging them with raining down death upon the Orcs below.[1u][2d]

In front of the shieldwall were the cavalry: a centrally located hub of strength for the men. Sigmar's own Unberogen heavy cavalry were in the very center, and were flanked by light cavalry on their left, and the Asoborn chariots on their right.[2d] In front of the cavalry were the bizarre and fanatical berserkers, some bearing evocative names such as headthrowers, bladder hurlers, fire breathers, gutters, wailing harpies, and wildkin.[2d] Behind the shieldwall were additional missile troops, including some catapults.[2e] Meanwhile, Sigmar himself, upon advice from his councilors, took up a position in the Eagle's Nest, a ruined watchtower behind the battleline.[2e][2f]

Opening of Battle

The morning of the battle, Sigmar sent his best scouts to report to him the precise size and location of the Orc army. They did not return. However, Sigmar received his information soon enough: the enormous horde of greenskins marched over the horizon. As the first line of orcs came into view, Greenskin Catapults lobbed the scouts towards the men. Some were still alive as they were flung into the air, but others were dismembered or burnt. When the two forces were around a half mile apart, the orcs halted. For a time, the armies stood in formation, staring each other down. However, just when Sigmar was a bout to order a cavalry charge, the berserkers took matters into their own hands.[2f]

Berserker Charge

Warhammer Thuringian Headthrower

A Thuringian Headthrower

The Thuringian Berserkers charged across the field, matching the Orcs' bloodcurdling roars with their own.[1u] Before the battle, the berserkers had been whipped up into a frenzied, drinking their Elixir of War, a potent herbal infusion.[1u][2g] Goblin archers attempted to fell the oncoming charge, but the berserkers had gained the protection of Ulric; not a single shaft hit home.[2g][2h] Meanwhile, the front lines of the orcs saw the berserker charge. They could not resist meeting them on the field, and about a thousand orcs abandoned their battleline and charged towards the 400 frenzied humans.[2g]

The two forces met. King Otwin of the Thuringians was first to wet his axes with the Orcs' black blood. The Thuringians' furious assault reaped a hefty toll of Orc skulls and their assault proved effective enough to cause the Orcs to fall back.[1u][2g] However, it was at this moment that the Orc warboss saw an opportunity. While the berserkers were finishing off the Orcs, he signaled with his axe to the rest of his forces. The Orc spear wall advanced on the berserkers, who were stranded far from friendly lines.[2g] However, Sigmar had anticipated that would throw himself into battle at the earliest sight of the foe, and had thus entrusted Freya, Queen of the Asoborns, to guard the life of the Thuringian king. The berserkers fought magnificently, but like the jaws of some trap, the Orc ranks surrounded and butchered them. The charge of the Asoborn chariots was devastating, and the valour of the warrior-women caused the Orcs to break ranks and flee. A following charge was enacted by the army's cavalry,[2h] and led by Sigmar himself.[2g] This was the end of the first phase of the battle, which saw the Orc vanguard defeated. However, upon seeing the cavalry, chariots, and remaining berserkers quickly retreated by to the shieldwall.[2h] Imperial historians assert, and are supported by several ancient tapestries of the battle, that the charge of the Imperial cavalry marked the first ever use of the couched lance.[1u][2h]

Infantry Grind

Kurgan Ironbeard

King Kurgan battles alongside the warriors of King Sigmar

Now that the Orcs knew the resolve of the tribes, they marched en-masse in lines spanning the width of the pass, roaring and eager to face men so skilled in battle.[1u][2i] This phase of the battle, which saw the two opposing shieldwalls fight in close combat with eachother, was called the grind. Such battle was exhausting and deadly, and in this case it went on for hours. By midday, the battlelines had not moved. Men and orcs fought and died in the midst of the grind, only to be replaced by fresh fighters. Archers and catapults behind the lines rained projectiles upon their enemies. On the flanks, the human skirmishers held back bands of wolf riders attempting to make a flanking move.[2i] In the very center of the battle, the Dwarfen army of King Ironbeard met their ancient foes with the hatred of a thousand generations of anguish and loss at greenskinned hands, slaughtering scores of Orcs without remorse with an almost mechanical efficiency as their mighty Gromril axes and hammers sliced off limbs and crushed bones. King Kurgan and his Ironbreakers slew the mightiest Black Orcs with gleeful abandon, laying about their people's ancestral foe with the full depth of their anger. Yet, the battle was never in doubt. For while Men and Dwarfs overcame the Orcs in courage and skill, they were but a thin line of iron ready to break at any time against the numbers of the Greenskins.[1u]

Meanwhile, on the left flank, Endal slingers and war dogs faced a large advancing group of goblins, in an engagement that may have seemed insignificant, but turned out to have a major impact on the battle. King Marbad, recognizing the threat these goblins posed, sent a runner to Sigmar asking for aid. Straightaway, Sigmar and his bodyguard began heading towards the Endal line.[2i] However, just as they were charging to relieve the swamped Endals, they were lept upon by wolf riders. Only Sigmar held his ground, swinging wildly with Ghal Maraz. When a dastardly goblin threw a handful of dirt into Sigmar's face, he was momentarily blinded and nearly killed. However, King Marbad saw this and hurled himself at Sigmar's assailants, single-handedly saving the Unberogen king. However, just as he bent down to help Sigmar up, an arrow struck him in the back of the neck. Thus passed King Marbad of the Endals.[2j]

Sigmar's Duel

Bloodfang

The fearsome orc warboss

Sigmar Heldenhammer

Sigmar standing victorious at Black Fire Pass.

It was at this moment that Sigmar realized the battle would soon be lost unless action was taken. Fury burning brightly in his heart at the death of his dear friend, Sigmar gave orders to Alfgeir to assemble the other kings and watch the Eagle's Nest.[1u]

In three short bounds, Sigmar climbed one of the boulders dotting the battleline.[2j] All men watched in awe as he leapt from the high rock, his warhammer raised high. All who saw it knew the sight would stay with them forever, as Sigmar fell towards the Orcs with a bestial roar, like a hero of the ancient sagas. The King of the Unberogen slaughtered all about him, each blow delivered with a howl of rage, animal to the core. He killed and killed without thought, seeing before him only the enemies of his race and the desolation of the blasted East encroaching upon the peace and plenty of the West.[1v] Although he disappeared from the sight of the men who watched him, they knew his location by the scream of dying orcs.[2j] Who can say whether this unmatched show of arms was a means of inspiring the army to victory, or whether Sigmar truly intended to defeat the Orcish horde single-handed? All that matters is that here is where the tide turned, as Sigmar utterly destroyed every Orc he beheld. Ghal Maraz filling him with hate, his fury armouring him in thunder, and mighty Ulric pouring lightning into his veins. A hundred Orcs were dead around him, their circle breaking as they scrambled away in utter fear of this blood-crazed human more ferocious than any of them.[1v]

Seeing this great warrior press through the Orc ranks, the vile warlord of this host, Urgluk Bloodfang, tore through his own warriors to test his strength in combat against this strange human king. Descending upon his great Wyvern, the Orc brought his axe to bear against Ghal Maraz, but the Master of the Empire smote his winged beast and forced the brutish warlord to face him as an equal.[1v] The Wyvern landed by Sigmar, who was by then standing atop a mound of dead orcs.[2j] After a long, brutal contest of strength, Sigmar disarmed Bloodfang, and brought the ancestral warhammer of the Dwarf Kings down upon his head, destroying his skull utterly.[1v]

Tired and spent from the battle, Sigmar saw the Orcish warriors stare at him, first with awe at his victory, and then with predatory looks as they gathered around to finish what their master had started. His hammer now slipped from his grasp, and with no other weapon at hand, Sigmar could not defend himself. A white-shafted arrow punched through the visor of one Orc, and then another followed until a flurry of arrows thudded into the Orc ranks, followed by roars of triumph. The rest of the army had broken through, and the warriors of the Empire charged forth to protect their leader. Asoborn warrior women shrieked as they tore the Orcs to pieces alongside Unberogen, Teutogen, Cherusens, Endals, Merogens and Menogoths. Thuringian berserkers rushed headlong into the deteriorating Orc lines and slaughtered like madmen, with Udoses clansmen not far behind. With their warlord dead, the terrible and awesome will binding the fractious Orc tribes together was destroyed, and they could not mount an adequate defense against this onslaught. Old jealousies and rivalries erupted, and the Orcs turned upon each other even as they routed, slaying each other in order speed their personal retreat from the jaws of death. Within moments, the once indomitable Orc army was little more than a panicked, fleeing mob.[1v]

Legacy

With the defeat of the Orcs at Black Fire, the security of the lands of the Twelve Tribes was assured. King Marbad was afforded the funeral rites of the greatest heroes, for such he deserved, and was carried onto his pyre by his fellow kings and his heir. Not only was the race of Men saved, but so was the Dwarfen domain. In heartfelt gratitude, King Kurgan Ironbeard pledged that he would charge Alaric with the creation of twelve, magnificent blades in thanks to the Empire of Man for their shared brotherhood. These blades would later be known as the Twelve Runefangs of the Empire, which continue to be wielded by the Counts of the Empire to this day.[1v]

After the Battle, Sigmar's fame spread wide and far, renowned as a hero. Upon the anvil of war and the fires of battle, at last his dream of a united empire had been realized. For men of all tribes had stood together in the battle-line as brothers, and with the truth of their common enemy now made obvious, the old tribal hatreds had evaporated away, replaced only by iron-hard ties of brotherhood, bathed in blood. With the victory, it is said that the kings, and then their tribesmen, all dropped to a knee within the pass before Sigmar, accepting him as their new lord. Thus, the The Empire of Man was at last created.[1v]

Heroes of the Battle

Canon Conflict

  • In The Empire at War, the orc warlord is known as Bloodstorm rather than Urgluk Bloodfang.[2c]
  • Time of Legends: Heldenhammer gives an alternate account of Marbad's Death. In it, Ghal Maraz is somehow knocked out of Sigmar's hand. Seeing this, Marbad throws his sword Ulfshard to Sigmar. Although Sigmar survives, Marbad is not able to defend himself without his weapon and thus dies.

Source

  • 1: Time of Legend: Heldenhammer (Novel) by Graham McNeill
    • 1s: Chapter 19: "The Swords of Kings"
    • 1t: Chapter 20: "Defenders of the Empire"
    • 1u: Chapter 21: "Black Fire Pass"
    • 1v: Chapter 22: "The Death of Heroes"
  • 2: The Empire at War (Background Book)
    • 2a: pg. 78
    • 2b: pg. 80
    • 2c: pg. 82
    • 2d: pg. 84
    • 2e: pg. 85
    • 2f: pg. 88
    • 2g: pg. 90
    • 2h: pg. 91
    • 2i: pg. 92
    • 2j: pg. 94

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