So you want to hear a story about Lug-Nut, eh? Well, have I got a doozy for you.
See, we all know about Lug-Nut these days. First the way he dealt with Noddy Silverhand and his gang put him on the map, and then all that business with his grandfather Baller made him a bit of a legend, but back before all that kicked off he was just another little greasemonkey running around in the bowels of the Before King’s fortress. Those in the know knew that he was the king’s bastard grandson, of course, but it wasn’t something you ever spoke of. They didn’t know then that he was the king’s doom, of course, although Baller knew it well. But Baller couldn’t kill him – kinslaying like that’d be inviting disaster. And he wouldn’t send him away, who knew what’d become of the boy then? But the mortality rate for greasemonkeys was high enough that the whole thing could be taken out of his hands. And those who knew the boy was his grandson just assumed that the king didn’t want the reminder of his daughter’s defiance running around in front of the court, and really, who would blame him? Bad enough to run away, worse to do it for a man, and worst to return with a child, ruining what dreams they assumed he’d had of using her to bind an alliance. Of course, he’d meant to leave her in that tower forever – no grandson to kill him could mean he’d go on forever, and Baller was far enough from human that he could maybe actually manage that.
That the boy was of the king’s blood, though, was on what might be considered a “need to know” basis. As far as the rest of the pirates that crawled over that rock were concerned, he was just another anonymous byblow or slave, good only to crawl inside the machinery of their great ships. Once he grew too large for that, then he could try his luck to see if he could make it as a warrior, but until then, nobody would shed a tear if the great gears consumed him, or the dark sea swallowed him up.
The first sign of the fire that would set Lug-Nut apart came in an unexpected manner. One of the great machines, one that had ran since (as far as the admittedly short-lived pirates could recall) time immemorial, ceased to function. While it ran (no machine of the ancients ever truly having ceased to function), it would no longer respond to the lever-pulling of the court official charged with its control. Bad news for the pirates, as this machine was the one that opened the great gates to the docks within the rock where they lived, and a pirate with his ship trapped in dock is nothing. Worse news for the overseer, charged with the maintenance of that particular machine. So he reacted in a somewhat predictable manner, and sought one to transfer the blame to. Fortunately for him, he did not have far to look – powerless slaves like the greasemonkeys are almost purpose made to receive such blame. But, being so powerless, they were not truly perceived by the pirates to possess any agency of their own, so they would not serve to shield him from their wrath. So he did the only thing he could do – send them into the machine to attempt to resurrect it. It was a slim chance for him – such a machine, so old that none understood it, could have failed for a myriad of reasons, few of them repairable even by the most cunning of the greasemonkeys. And it was almost certain doom for those he choose, crawling among such uncertain machinery suspended above the dark, cold ocean. To mitigate the first, he choose those who he knew to be the most skilled and intelligent of his workforce (which, naturally, included Lug-Nut). And as for the second, well, that he cared nothing for at all.
It is hard to imagine what it could have been like for Lug-Nut, there in that machine. These artifices of the ancient ones, so large that some claim it as proof that they were built by giants, were never meant for human maintainers to crawl within. Giant gears, as tall as a man, grind together with unstoppable force. The wind that tore around that ancient rock, whipping through the works and driving up the freezing salt spray to burn eyes and sting skin. The rising tides, sucking at your heels. It is hard for us to imagine, and as for Lug-Nut, he would never speak of it. All we know is that of the dozen children sent in to attempt to repair the machine, only Lug-Nut would return. Like calls to like, and while no one could truly call another friend in a place like the fort of the Before King, it is certain that only among those who died in the machine could Lug-Nut find those he might consider such.
The machines of the ancients lie beyond human ken, it is told. Yet they can be followed. And maintained, and even repaired should the use we chose to put them to fail. But none of us can truly call to them as the ancients did, we are told. Yet what happened that day could call that into question. For while the overseer stared, sweating, into the depths of the machine, hoping that the sacrifices made without choice on his behalf might suffice to restore the machine and save his miserable hide, it was said that the machine itself reached out and plucked him from the walkway as a man might pluck a flower. Moments later, the tone of the machine changed, from the grinding of its broken state back to a smooth regulated purr, and once more the gates of the docks responded to the levers in the court far above.
And, once Lug-Nut crawled free of the confines of the machine, that was the end of it. None mourned the overseer, least of all those under his charge. As far as the Before King was concerned, a problem had solved itself – the machine once more obeyed his commands, and the one whose oversights had caused his fleets to miss the morning tide had already been punished. Nobody told the king of the way the machine had acted, of course, fearing disbelief and censure. And definitely nobody told him the name of the single surviving greasemonkey, although even if they had the name would have meant nothing to him. But, after that, Lug-Nut became almost a legendary figure to the other greasemonkeys, a good luck talisman. Few were surprised that he was one of those to survive their harsh world and survive to claim the rights of a man.
And as for what happened once he claimed his right to reave forth with the Before-King’s fleet? Well that is another story entirely.