Grafugl shielded the infant flame with one gnarled and knobbly hand as he placed the candle in its light box and snapped fast the copper latch. Shadows danced across the hides stitched inexpertly to the coarse canvas walls of his yurt as the old Kalddagmann shuffled back to his stool, leaning heavily on his old staff, gnarled and knobbly as his ancient fingers. With many a creak and pop, Grafugl took his place, placing the light box at his feet.
“Blast this wind. It does bother my old bones so.”
Outside, the wind howled in protest, but the walls of the yurt kept the occupants warm, and more importantly, dry as Grafugl let a contented smile add to the many wrinkles above his thinning beard. For a time he sat with eyes closed, listening to the strange melody of the storm, and the hushed whispers of his audience.
“Ordet Eldre,” the little voice paused, unsure of itself, then continued quickly at the urging of several goading whispers. “You promised us a story?”
One heavy lid lifted beneath an arched grey eyebrow, revealing a single milk white orb. Grafugl was blind, but he had the unsettling habit of meeting your gaze in conversation as though he could see you all the same. Or perhaps, the old wolf saw more with those sight-robbed eyes than any without his gifts could imagine.
“Kanin the Impatient. That is what I shall call you, I think. Utalmodig Kanin.” With a snort, Grafugl the Ordet Eldre, the teller of stories, opened both eyes and let his smile comfort the nervous youths gathered around him. “You will all be named, these coming days. Manhood is upon you. The rites begin at first light, tomorrow. Take heart; your fathers were all named, when they were your age, and you are, each and all, your father’s sons.
“But a story I promised you, and a story you shall hear.
“Long ago, long before even I was born, before, if you can imagine it, the Kalddagmenn existed, our world was but one world amongst an endless tribe of worlds. There were people here then, in that time, long ago, and it is from those people we claim our ancestry. These days, we call them the Stjern Brodrene.”
Amid sharply drawn breaths and mutters of surprise, a familiar timid voice said, “The Star Brothers? That cannot be, Ordet Eldre! They still live. I have seen them myself!”
Grafugl raised his eyebrows and tilted his head to gaze blindly upon the youth named Kanin. “It cannot be? And who tells this story, Impatient Rabbit? You or I?”
Shrinking beneath the attention of the old storyteller, Kanin bit his lip and cursed himself silently.
“I shall continue?” Grafugl sighed and pulled a stray hair from his face as he relaxed and closed his eyes once more.
“The Stjern Brodrene... the Star Brothers... theirs is a race far older than any one of us can imagine. And yes, they live still, as do we, their descendants. Long ago, we were Stjern Brodrene, in the days when the Gudkeiser still walked among men. That we were separated from them was a necessary test. A test of strength, a test of courage, a test of determination, spirit and will to survive. And most of all, it was a test of faith.”
Grafugl let that last word hang in the air. Opening his eyes, the Ordet Eldre looked upon each of the youths in turn.
“Faith has burned in the hearts of Kalddagmenn for hundreds of years. It is faith that allowed us to survive here on our frozen world where any others would have perished. It is faith that allowed us to defend our world when the Morkesjeler came... and came again, and again and again, for the countless centuries that we Kalddagmenn fought them alone. There were no guns then, no steel with which to forge weapons, no armour to save us, save for the armour of faith.”
“We fought the Morkesjeler... unarmed?” Kanin again, already wishing he had not spoken, but the thought of facing the things from the Warp with the traditional stone axes and hide shields of the Kalddagmenn defied belief.
“Believe it. I was there.” Grafugl smiled and offered the outspoken Kanin a gentle gaze. “Such is the strength of faith.
“In time, the Stjern Brodrene found us once more, though we had changed so much in our time apart that barely did they recognise us. That which is different is often dangerous, or so they believed, then as now, and a cleansing of our world was deemed both prudent and necessary. It was the will of the Gudkeiser himself that saved us then, rewarding our faith with his mercy, staying the hand that was sent to end us.”
Grafugl grew silent, and his blind gaze distant as he recalled the day the Red Wolves had come. Whole tribes had perished beneath their cleansing flames before the order to abort was given. He remembered well what had happened next... the battles that had continued for weeks after the ceasefire had been ordered, the apparent glee with which the Space Marines murdered Kalddagmenn in their millions... the excuses... the all but useless inquiries and investigations. The injustice.
He had been little more than a tribal hovedsmann then. Half his village was slain before the attackers finally relented. Half the population of Kalddag died in the space of a month.
Grafugl shook himself out of his memories and raised a calloused palm in apology. “We old men tire easily, young sprats. Let it trouble you not.
“Tomorrow you begin the rites of manhood. Know that the Gudkeiser is with you. Face your foes with all your strength and courage. Face them fearlessly, for faith is your shield! A week from now you will stand once more before me as the new men of your tribe.”
A single tear escaped him then. Some of these youths would not return. But that was the way of Kalddag: cold and merciless, but no more so than the universe around her.
“Be safe, little ones,” he whispered as the manlings filed excitedly from his yurt. “Let your faith guide you....
“...but never trust a Space Marine.”