- "It never gets any easier."
- ―Iron Bars
Iron Bars, or just Bars, was the Avowed leader of the Second Blade, Fourth Company of the Crimson Guard serving under Cal-Brinn. He was described as "a burly, scarred fellow" and obvious veteran. He had a seamed, clean-shaven face, cool, blue eyes, and a broad smile with even, white teeth. His shoulder-length hair was the hue of polished iron. As part of the guard, he wore a blood-red surcoat over his armour.
Iron Bars was good friends with fellow Guardsman, Jup Alat. He was said to be nearly as good a fighter as Skinner, but no one could match his sheer will. He fought with a combination of weaponry and bare hands. He was abnormally strong, capable of breaking necks with just a strike from his palms or fingers.
He had a reputation for making bad enemies. Among his soldiers, he was always the first to wake up and make breakfast for the others. He was likely originally from the province of Gris as he claimed to have a great-granddaughter still living there in the D'Avore Valley.
In Midnight Tides
Iron Bars and his squad fought their way out of Assail and became separated from the rest of Cal-Brinn's company. They were stranded for two years on the continent of Lether after their sieve of a ship landed at a Letherii port and began incurring debt. After seven months, Bars and his men were heavily indebted, doing ugly work and living off scraps in Trate. They found work aboard a ship in Letheras through an agent and intended to commandeer it and go home once they got to sea.
Before they left Trate for Letheras, war broke out between the Letherii and the Tiste Edur. Iron Bars met Acquitor Seren Pedac drowning her sorrows in a bar and offered her a place on their ship. He warned that the Letherii were in serious trouble despite their confidence. Seren Pedac turned down his offer, and Iron Bars advised her to leave the city as soon as possible. His words proved prophetic as the Edur soon entered the city. Iron Bars returned once more for Seren only to find she had been raped and robbed. He killed her attackers and escorted her to safety. Along the way, they were stopped by an Edur wearing strange armour. After a clash of swords, Iron Bars broke the man's neck with punch to head without realising he had killed Rhulad Sengar, emperor of the Tiste Edur.
Crimson Guard mage, Corlo, took them from the city by warren. The group found themselves trapped in Kurald Galain surrounded by Shadow wraiths until Seren suggested bargaining with one for aid. The wraith, named Sandalath Drukorlat, showed them the exit in return for delivering her soul to oblivion. Once free, Seren broke down sobbing nearly overcome by the emotions of her attack. Iron Bars respectfully cast the wraith's ring into the sea, then did his best to comfort the Acquitor.
The Acquitor guided the Guardsmen overland towards the capital amid a countryside awash in refugees, looters, and deserters. The Guard commandeered horses from a looted and burning stable whose owners had been slaughtered. Iron Bars and the Guard tracked the raiders to their camp and killed them. He continued to worry about Seren Pedac as she dealt with her feelings of grief, shame, and guilt. He was ever ready to comfort her in his arms and hovered worriedly nearby as Corlo guided her through a Mockra ritual to release her emotions.
The group reached Letheras just ahead of the Edur army and Iron Bars insisted on bringing Seren to her home. He doubted the wisdom of her staying in the house alone while the city fell and promised to return later. By the time Emperor Rhulad's troops entered the city, the Guard had reached the ship of their new employer, Shurq Elalle. Bugg found them there and recruited them to slay The Pack, the D'ivers god of the Jheck. Iron Bars agreed, saying they had crossed paths with Soletaken before.
Bugg took them to the Fulcra temple where the Pack hid and the Errant awaited. Iron Bars greeted the god with a "pleased-to-meet-you-see-you-later" as the his blade stormed the temple. In a short while, the six Lizard cats that formed the Pack were dead along with one of Iron Bars's soldiers. They exited the temple just in time to see an enormous wolf lunge towards the Errant. Bars intervened and caught the beast by its neck and leg, then smashed it into the street to crush its skull. An astonished Errant noted that the wolf had been B'nagga, leader of the Jheck.
Still ready for a fight, Iron Bars accepted Bugg's request to help with another problem at the city's Azath Tower. While the Errant cleared the other Guard's way back to their ship, the Avowed followed Bugg alone. He arrived at the dead Azath House just as the five Seregahl broke free from their barrows. With a smile, Iron Bars attacked saying he had already killed one god that day. Initially, he fought the five gods alone, but soon Corlo arrived to use his magic to help cloud the gods' minds. Iron Bars killed one of the Seregahl before he was joined by the half-Tarthenal, Ublala Pung. But even together they would have fallen but for the arrival of Silchas Ruin. The Tiste Andii slew the remaining Seregahl and told Iron Bars he had done "passably well".
Iron Bars survived the fight with a broken arm. He and the rest of the Guard left the conquered city with Shurq Elalle and her crew.
In Reaper's Gale
Shurq Elalle revealed that she had dropped off Bars and his men on the eastern shore of the continent of Jacuruku, which the Guard planned to cross from one coast to the other before procuring another ship. Although she found the Guardsmen formidable allies during the time they crossed the ocean together seizing merchant vessels, she was left uneasy by Iron Bars' distaste at serving as anyone's subordinate. She was careful to keep their goals aligned and avoid confrontation until they reached the Guards' destination. The last she had seen of Iron Bars and his soldiers was when they were turning inland on Jacuruku's shore to face a dozen massively armoured figures descending the broken slope with the visors of their great-helms lowered. Her first mate Skorgen Kaban thought he heard the sound of blades clashing before the heavy rain obscured their view.
After making port at Second Maiden Fort, Shurq was intrigued to discover a ship of foreigners whose skin tones, language, movements, and gestures reminded her of the soldiers in Bars' squad. She determined to discover who these strangers were.
The slave galley, Ardent, found Bars and ten of his soldiers on a sodden raft on the Southern Rust Ocean. He killed the ship's captain and seven of his guards with his bare hands, taking a crossbow bolt to the chest in the process, before ordering the crew to make for the Cape of Stratem.
However, their ship was becalmed and later boarded by Seguleh. Bars challenged the Seguleh speaker so that their supplies and men would not be taken. He barely defeated this Seguleh, revealed to be a female youth named Leal, earning a place among the Agatii. Bleeding from a severe neck injury, he declined a challenge from another Seguleh, Oru, who was identified as ranking in the top twenty. Oru notified Bars that he was now Bars' Yovenai, a word that roughly translated to patron, commander, and teacher.
When word reached Iron Bars via the Brethren that he had missed the Guard's climactic showdown with the Malazans at the Battle of the Plains, he became listless and withdrawn. All that he had endured since leaving Assail had been for nothing. He also blamed himself for the deaths of the friends he had not been able to fight beside. Before they could reach Stratem however, their vessel was sunk by a Mare ship and they were sold to the Stormguard for service on the Stormwall.
Iron Bars' martial skill and seeming immortality impressed his new masters and he soon rose to the rank of Champion on the Stormwall. But his disillusionment and sense of failure continued. Only fellow imprisoned Guard Corlo's repeated intercessions and Bars' sense of duty to his blade kept him from giving up and ending his own life. He became gaunt and skeletal, and barely recognizable even to those who knew him well.
Things came to a head after Shell, Blues, Fingers, and Lazar came looking for him. At one point, he and Shell were both brought to defend the shoring up of the northern Stormwall and he attacked her, assuming that she was part of Skinner's Disavowed. When Corlo confessed that the rest of their blade had died on the Wall, Bars went mad and attacked him as well. After this, even the Stormguard considered him useless and allowed High Mage Ussü to use him for his bloody scrying experiments.
When the Stormwall began to fall, his bonds were loosened enough to allow him to choke his tormentor Ussü to death. Then Blues and his squad found Bars, Corlo, and Jemain and transported them to safety by warren.
Once free, they sensed Skinner and his Disavowed at the Sky Tower. They raced to meet them only to see their former comrades disappear into a warren with a fragment of the Crippled God. Iron Bars was particularly incensed by the sight of the man who had betrayed the Guard, and Skinner made a special effort to mock him before he retreated. Blues took Bars and the others back to Stratem to inform K'azz D'Avore.
Iron Bars returned to Assail as part of Shimmer's expedition to find Cal-Brinn and the lost Fourth Company. He revealed that his Blade had been separated from Cal-Brinn during a conflict with the Sharr and Sheer mage families at Exile Keep. Cal-Brinn lured the mages away to allow Iron Bars' Blade to escape. On the journey, he began a romantic relationship with Shimmer. As the Guard neared Cal-Brinn on the high peaks of the Salt Mountains, Iron Bars and others began to succumb to the extreme cold of Omtose Phellack. K'azz D'Avore asked Iron Bars to go back with others to safety off the ice. He complied even though he wondered what made him different than K'azz, Shimmer, or Blues.
- Iron Bars: "Skinnerrrrrr!"
- Skinner (laughing): "Bars! Is that you? You look like Hood's own shit! Lost them all, did you, Bars? Always were murder on your people..."
- ―Iron Bars and Skinner[src]
Notes and references
- Assail (novel), Dramatis Personae
- Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 1 Chapter 4, UK PB p.154
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 16, US SFBC p.495-496
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 16, US SFBC p.501
- Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 2 Chapter 1, UK PB p.265
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 25, US SFBC p.738
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 16, US SFBC p.501-502/504
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 19, US SFBC p.583
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 21, US SFBC p.627
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 19, US SFBC p.577
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 16, US SFBC p.495-496/503
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 16, US SFBC p.500-505
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 16, US SFBC p.493-496/500-505
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 16, US SFBC p.508-512/515-516
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 19, US SFBC p.577-578/587-591
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 21, US SFBC p.624-625
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 22, US SFBC p.654/664-666
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 24, US SFBC p.697
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 24, US SFBC p.701-702/707-708
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 24, US SFBC p.708
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 25, US SFBC p.716-718/726-729/737-739
- Midnight Tides, Chapter 25, US SFBC p.728/766
- Reaper's Gale, Chapter 3, US HC p.89-90
- Reaper's Gale, Chapter 10, US HC p.261
- Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 1 Chapter 4, UK PB p.153-156
- Return of the Crimson Guard, Book 2 Chapter 1, UK PB p.260-268
- Return of the Crimson Guard, Epilogue, UK PB p.696-698
- Return of the Crimson Guard, Epilogue, UK PB p.696-698
- Stonewielder, Chapter 1, UK TPB p.75-76
- Stonewielder, Chapter 10, UK TPB p.511
- Stonewielder, Chapter 10, UK TPB p.512
- Stonewielder, Chapter 11, UK TPB p.570
- Stonewielder, Chapter 12, UK TPB p.588-593
- Stonewielder, Chapter 12, UK TPB p.615-619
- Assail (novel), Chapter 4
- Assail (novel), Chapter 14