One Small Scene: “To the death, Tybalt”
‘To the death, Tybalt,’ he said. He put his bolter in Marr’s mouth, and
pulled the trigger.
Scrambling in the dark, the underground ambush of an elite force drilling into the Saturnine wall and intending to deliver a decapitation strike to the Imperial defenders, Tybalt Marr finds his entire company shredded by a counter ambush. The favoured Sons of Horus Capitan is the first POV character to see the newly repainted armour of the Capitan his Legion betrayed and thought executed in an earlier massacre. Beginning his intended rampage of revenge, wearing their old livery, Garviel Loken brings the brutality of his culture and warrior caste to this leader first, intending to kill for the living and kill for the dead, as they once said before the Horus Heresy.
What I find really interesting, at least my personal interpretation of the scene is that Marr the Traitor wanted to see Loken in the moments near death. It’s a moment of the pre-mortis one liner, a means for the audience to feel energised as Loken is getting to grips with the captains and giving the enemy a taste of the shock and death they gave so many others. But “to the death” is a two sided thing; and Dan Abnett does not write it so cleanly as a villain being given a condemnation.
We hear the oath ‘to the death’ several times. A scrawled bit of graffiti, that Loken writes down and takes into the final battle. A thing given solemnity, admired by the stoic templar Sigismund, and now spoken to an enemy. The culmination of the arc words’ intent: to be used and thrown in the face of his former brothers just as they spat on their loyalties and murdered thousands of their own who would not turn. To the end; his end or theirs.
In a medley of forces finding unity, trying to empathise, to sacrifice and honour each other with remembrance, with curtesy, and most often by giving their lives Garviel is one of billions who sees his brothers at the greatest battle as those beside him. Where his Legion is one, drawing their force to find a chink in exposed wall, the defence of Terra is simply what they have in a patchwork united by desperation and reverence for the Emperor of Mankind alone.
‘He saw a Luna Wolf standing over him. A death dream […]The last thing he would see. The thing he wanted to see.’
The thing he ‘wanted’ to see. That’s fascinating. Hardly a challenge, a wish to fight yet another thought dead in paint he removed. I instinctively think of Horus Rising, another book centred around Sons of Horus and the Luna Wolves they were, and their leader’s reaction. Rising from a grassy field after his apparent death; the first thing Horus thinks is that this is the afterlife.
The assumption is the afterlife, that after so much death there is comfortable acceptance. So; with several reminders that Marr is pride of his Legion, a true ‘son’, a true Cthonian of their homeworld, would he not think as his father?
Would he not think dying that he sees the afterlife, and he wished to see a dead captain he admired and respected in such a muddied and chaotic war?
Garviel is what Tybalt calls him in his last moments. His first name, not last. Not an insult. Abnett writes a lot of final stands and last moments in Saturnine (including the greatest I’ve read in a fiction story) but in-keeping with juggling a large cast and many different cultures and moods, this initial moment of the climax possesses both the raised tempo of the first Loyalist victory, but the bittersweet sting of sadness and a new zeal being put into the harrowed defenders finding faith and stubborn defiance as the Siege narrative changes from this last Loyalist victory story and the incoming decimation of Mortis and Warhawk, the desperation presented within Echoes of Eternity, and the as of yet catastrophic climax contained within the as of yet unpublished The End and The Death.
The term ‘saturnine’ itself, in addition to being an evolution of Horus and Luna Wolves/Sons of Horus related imagery (with Abnett using the chapter title and concept of ‘the dreadful sagittary’ a.k.a a science fiction term for Sagittarius the star constellation, and The Emperor possessing a love of astrological imagery as early as Horus Rising) can refer to something being:
– Melancholy or sullen.
– Having or marked by a tendency to be bitter or sardonic.
This connects not only Abnett’s latest books to those made at the start of the series, but also alludes to the temperament of the protagonist Loken. He has transitioned from the betrayed, to melancholic, and in the battle displays certain bitterness fighting his former brothers. Interestingly, none of his actions or emotions alter his nature as the ‘phlegmatic’ quarter of the Mornival council, calculating and cool but in this situation taken to ruthlessly executing and battling his fellows sardonically. Saturnine is a name in the book, a pivotal part of the strategy. But it is also something the author takes literally in his plot when depicting his first Heresy protagonist experiencing and delivering a saturnine attitude in this novel’s climax.
It’s a mirror coin, to invoke an item precious to the Legion. Two sided, a trophy and a reflection of ruthless warriors. The Loyalist, alone, betrayed and using old livery and gang style executions to avenge the dead. Executing the Traitor, executioner, a proud captain rising high from the new order and looking not with hate and death but bemusement and hope.
There are less than a dozen lines ending the scene, and only five words of dialogue. But Loken’s declaration to Tybalt before defeating him speaks volumes attesting to a dream lost and a galaxy of war eternal.
Horus Rising. Abnett, D. Black Library, Nottingham. 2006.
False Gods. McNeill, G. Black Library, Nottingham. 2006.
The Siege of Terra: Saturnine. Abnett, D. Black Library, Nottingham. 2020.
All Black Library and Warhammer material is the intellectual property of Games Workshop. I do not own the rights or have any association to the property and literature, and only make this article and recommendation as an individual consumer.