Out of all the legends that survive from the Age of Darkness into Warhammer 40k, Sigismund, first Captain of the Imperial Fists, first Emperor’s Champion, and first Grand Marshall of the Black Templars blazes bright. This guide explains his history, and the strange path that led him to be at once his father’s most trusted and most hated son.
Sigismund was a loyalist hero during the Horus Heresy, and for his deeds was knighted as the first Emperor’s Champion. Something of his spirit still lives on in the Warhammer 40k faction of the Black Templars, for on the eve of a battle, a battle brother may be possessed by the spirit of war, overtaken by visions of the past.
The chapter Chaplains dress the warrior in holy armour and arm him with the sacred Black Blade, and commit his soul to the Emperor – for those who follow in the footsteps of Sigismund are sure to die a glorious death.
Sigismund in the Horus Heresy
Sigismund was a Terran recruit to the Imperial Fists legion, and quickly came renowned for his unparalleled lethality with a blade. The Primarch Sanguinius of the Blood Angels remarked he was “less my brother Dorn’s champion, and more Death’s himself”. Very few swordsmen were spoken of in the same breath as Sigismund – Khârn of the World Eaters, Raldoron of the Blood Angels, Sevatar of the Night Lords.
Sigismund rose through the legion to take command of the first chapter, or Templar Brethren, second only below the Primarch Rogal Dorn. Yet despite his great renown and position of revered trust within the Imperial Fists, fate dealt him a strange hand during the great Heresy War.
When the crippled Death Guard warship The Eisenstein entered the Sol system, Sigismund was part of the honour guard that accompanied Rogal Dorn to board the vessel. They were horrified to learn of Horus Lupercal’s rebellion and the atrocities in the Istvaan system from the report of the surviving Captain, Nathaniel Garro.
Dorn dispatched Sigismund to the Istvaan system to reconnoitre and lend aid if he could. Here he met Euphrati Keeler, a civilian who had been attached to the Sons of Horus fleet to document the Great Crusade, and who had escaped before the Istvaan atrocity. Sigismund witnessed the miraculous powers Keeler manifested through her faith in the Emperor of Mankind, as she drove back the daemons of Chaos.
Isolated from his legion, and tormented by the doubts Horus’ betrayal had brought upon him, Sigsimund was convinced of the Emperor’s divinity and Keeler’s sainthood. He took counsel from her, and her words of warning led him to a momentous decision.
As first Captain, it was natural that Sigismund would be chosen by Dorn to lead the Imperial Fists’ retribution fleet against the traitors – but he refused the honour. Instead, he returned to the Sol system, seeing a vital role in defence of the throne world.
As the full extent of Horus’ rebellion became apparent, Sigismund was riven by guilt, and confessed to his father his true motives for returning to Terra. Rogal Dorn was incensed, furious that his son had heeded the counsel of a mystic and a theist. Though Sigismund surrendered his life to Dorn, his father refused to kill him – but denounced him as no true Imperial Fist. This would be a secret shame for Sigismund to bear, for Dorn refused to sow dissent in his own legion by censuring Sigismund publicly.
Sigismund led raids on Adeptus Mechanicus forges on Mars when the schism with the Traitor Mechanicum broke out. With limited forces, and chaotic scrap code infecting weapon systems across the warfront, this was a brief and near disastrous affair. Mars fell to the traitors, the Fists contenting themselves to do as much damage as they could to enemy production capabilities, and making away with as much Space Marine power armour as possible before the world was lost.
When the traitor fleets at last arrived in the Sol system and commenced the Solar War that would lead to the Siege of Terra, Sigismund was in charge of the outer sphere of defences near the Pluto Mandeville point. Dorn had reinforced the area with audacious defences, going so far as to booby-trap an entire war moon with explosives. Commanding a small Imperial Fists fleet, Sigismund first feinted a breakaway to draw in the traitors, then returned with his ships to savage the enemy while they reeled from Dorn’s devastating trap.
The traitor forces came in inconceivable numbers, and the defenders of Pluto ultimately fell back. Sigismund led running battles against enemy fleets throughout the retreat to Terra. He engaged the traitor warlord Little Horus Aximand in the void, duelling him blade to blade. Surrounded and cut-off, Sigismund prepared to die, for the Saint Keeler had prophesied he would die in the void between stars – but this was not his time, and his Huscarls rescued him.
As the traitors finally reached Terra and began the siege of the Emperor’s palace, Sigismund earned his place as a hero for all Imperial history. He personally threw the feared Emperor’s Children captain Eidolon from the walls. Twice during the siege he faced the World Eaters captain Khârn the Betrayer. When first they met, the traitor, infused with the ruinous power of the blood God Khorne, almost laid Sigismund low, and it was only the intervention of the Primarch Rogal Dorn that saved Sigismund’s life.
Before the siege ended, Dorn chose Sigismund to become the Emperor’s Champion, arming him with the Black Blade. When next he faced Khârn it was Sigismund who was the victor, slaying the traitor – though the fickle powers of the Warp ensured this was not to be Khârn’s true death.
If you’re keen to pick your way through the convoluted strands of Sigismund’s story, we have a guide to the best reading order for the Horus Heresy book series to help you out.
After the Siege of Terra and the Scouring, a war of retribution that saw the traitors driven into the Eye of Terror, Ultramarines Primarch Roboute Guilliman decreed the Second Founding, breaking the loyalist Space Marine legions into smaller formations so that no one person could ever command the terrifying might of the Warmaster. Dorn resisted this decree, relenting only after he realised how little the Imperium could afford another civil war, and so the Imperial Fists were split into several brotherhoods.
Sigismund was granted command of the Black Templars, and gifted the flagship The Eternal Crusader. Dorn must have known Sigismund’s heart well, for the Black Templars have never accepted that there is peace in the galaxy – they continue the spirit of the Great Crusade, relentlessly slaying the alien and bringing new worlds into the Imperium of Man.
Sigismund vs Abaddon
After the Scouring most in the Imperium believed the threat of Horus’ betrayal was ended once and for all, for surely no fleet could ever return from the ruinous hellstorm of the Eye of Terra. Indeed, the famous Astra Militarum fortress world of Cadia would not be fortified for over a millennium. But Sigismund believed differently.
Sigismund kept watch over the Cadian Gate for ten centuries. His suspicion was darkly rewarded, for close to the turn of the 31st millennium, Abaddon the Despoiler led the huge Chaos Space Marine alliance known as the Black Legion out of the Warp, commencing the first Black Crusade. Sigismund awaited him, but his fleet was hopelessly outmatched.
Abaddon boarded Sigismund’s flagship, the Eternal Crusader, and met him in mortal combat. Sigismund had lived over 1,000 years in the material world, while Abaddon was buoyed by the timeless energies of the warp, and wielded the Talon of Horus, a weapon that had killed the Primarch Sanguinius and mortally wounded the Emperor. Yet it was a close fought duel. Sigismund sold his life dearly, knowing he could not win, baiting Abaddon with the offer of a killing blow that he used to drive the Black Sword into Abaddon’s chest.
It was not enough. Sigismund fell and Abaddon, though wounded as he had never been before, lived. In an act of uncharacteristic chivalry, Abaddon returned the body of Sigismund to the Imperium aboard the captured vessel “The Vengeful Vow”. He sent also the Black Sword, upon which was carved the formal declaration of the Long War: “We are returned”.
Sigismund’s last acts are covered in the excellent Warhammer 40k book Black Legion by Aaron Dembski-Bowden – though it is a tale told by the Tzeentch-touched sorcerer Khayon the Black, so whether or not it can be trusted is a different matter.