Zealots, flagellants and other eccentrics

For Sigmar!

If you go digging in the BL blog, you’ll see a few sentences of my short story March of Doom, the first thing I wrote involving Luthor Huss. It’s a merry tale of violence, folly and obsession in the Old World featuring a band of zealots and a whole gaggle of beastmen. I was a lot of fun to write, and gave me quite a few ideas for its bigger brother, Luthor Huss. To credit things properly, the idea for the story came from author/editor extraordinaire Nick Kyme, who also has a short story in the anthology involving those humie-loving Salamanders, and I thought his outline was so good I went away and wrote it up in a few frantic days of activity. Look out for the anthology at this year’s UK Games Day, where I’ll be only to happy to chat about it.

For those interested, the title refers to the zealots who accompany Huss everywhere he goes (more usually called flagellants in the game). They’re the crazies of the Warhammer World, the ones who’ve finally gone off the rails and succumbed to a bizarre kind of violent fundamentalism in order to make sense of the horror around them. They run blindly into battle waving only a wooden spoon and a few hat-pins, frothing at the mouth and muttering half-remembered bits of Sigmarite dogma before getting their heads bashed in by something big and tusked.

In both the short story and novel, I gave a lot of thought to how these guys ought to be portrayed. The obvious route would have been, as in this post, to point out their absurdities. They’re hardly impressive warriors, those zealots, and their, er, unique way of fighting gets them killed in terrifying quantities. Set beside Huss, who’s a massive figure of authority in anyone’s book, they teeter on the brink of looking just a little buffoonish.

They’re mad as hell

I didn’t take that approach. Huss is a dark book – perhaps the darkest I’ve written for BL – and there wasn’t much room for buffoons in it. Instead, I thought long and hard about why anyone would give up a ‘normal’ life to become one of Huss’s disciples. What would have to happen for a man or a woman to traipse across the Empire seeking out combat with enemies far bigger, stronger and more terrifying than them? The answer is not: they’re just crazy. Instead, it must be something involving the strange sense of reassurance in the fundamental. There’s something peculiarly terrifying about the mania of the ultra-Sigmarites, but something rather heroic and interesting, too. Indeed, of all the Empire’s many kinds of soldier, perhaps the humble zealots are actually the most heroic of all – the ones who’ve seen the essential hopelessness of what they’re up against and decide to end it all in the most defiant, ruinous way possible.

In the end, I wrote about two zealots: Mathilde, in the short story, and Rickard, in the novel. I liked both of them a lot, even though their stories were rather sad ones (no surprise there). Neither of them were fools, just ordinary Empire denizens driven to do extraordinary things by a world that turned out to be much more like their nightmares than their dreams. And that strikes me as pretty much the essence of Warhammer, just there.