The Birth of the Beardling

By C.M. Galdre

In the far north, beyond the grand cities of Torin and Pela, beyond the lands of the Guahadine steppe tribes, beyond the slick black stones of Turin’s wall, in the coldest regions of the wild northland, lies the ancient barbarian land of Thorgithe. Before the Book of Names held even a single page the people of Thorgithe had their rituals: rituals of life, death, birth, and of long forbidden blood magick. The oldest ritual passed down from time immemorial is the rite of Malthorith. When a son or daughter of Thorgithe is born, they are swaddled in the white fur of the dire wolf, bound with catgut and sinew, their faces smeared with lard. They are placed upon a stone bier at the farthest reaches of their village. There, exposed to the elements, they stay one night unobserved, to be retrieved in the morning - living or otherwise. When the sun rises, if the child still lives the seers of the village read its signs to see what destiny holds for the child. A soiled child farms, a wet child fishes, a tearful child sings, a giggling child hunts, a sleeping child casts bones, and a sick child slaves. All those who live in Thorgithe are warriors, but this is not the tale of any child of Thorgithe... this is the tale of the warrior of Thorgithe, Beard the Immortal.

There came a time in the great cold north when the barbarian tribes of Thorgithe were growing weak. Frequent raids instigated by spies from the civilized Southron nations were taking their toll on the hardy Thorgithens and it had been an early frost and the winter had claimed both spring and summer months that cycle as its own. So it was, that in the thirteenth moon of the Great Winter, a child was born to Bergrin son of Borgin son of Bervild son of Kgortel - King before the Rising of the Wall. As was tradition, the child had no name; he was just son of Bergrin as he was placed upon the frozen bier to endure the rite of Malthorith. His mother wept and his father resigned his son to death, for no child since the beginning of the Great Winter had survived the ordeal.

That night the wind howled through the eaves of the Long Hall of Kgortel which had long fallen into disrepair. Forgotten were the ways to set log in log without nail or pitch to form a sturdy hall that could hold out the vicious wind. The moon dare not show its face that night, for it was in the newness of its cycle -- a dark night, a fell night, a night when the spirits of the dead crawl out from the frozen hell of Hunerhime to lull those who lie too far from the fire into the deepest sleep of all. A great snow fell upon those huddled in their blankets, their fires flickering madly in the tempestuous winds like rabid dogs leaping to bite their sleeping masters. The hall was filled with the sound of the raging wind and the fires dancing to its call. Ice formed on the sleeper’s beards and brows, and some had the breath stolen from their lungs, swept up in the cold fury of the wind that night, their dyings gasps torn from their throats by the tempest.

By morning a third of the shrinking tribe was dead. The survivors chipped the dead bodies from the floor and warmed the corpses’ hands with boiled water to loosen their frozen fingers. They hoped to free the dead’s death penance, the coins used to pay the way before the bone gate, and take it for themselves. It was hard times indeed when a man would stoop to stealing the gate fee from his kin, but so it was that the grimmest of times were upon them. When the bodies were done being robbed and stacked, they were covered in pitch and set aflame. Lumber was scarce and precious, no proper funeral pyre could be built for the robbed dead, so they were burned in great black piles at the edge of the villages to scare away the ravening wolves.

As the pitch pyre burned that fateful dawn, Bergrin looked to the stone byre, remembering his son that he’d given up for dead, and saw a strange sight indeed. Upon the byre was a great black wolf, and while wolves were normally seen around the byre after they’d feasted on a child, this wolf lay sleeping. There was no blood on the wolf’s muzzle or upon the stone. Bergrin approached the byre like a shamble corpse, dragging his feet heavily through the snow. Begrin reached out to what must have been his stone-frozen son. He hoped to lift the boy free of the byre to be cast into the corpse-fires. His son would reach the gates of Hunnerheim unmarred by beast or craig crow. The wolf slept without fear. As Bergrin grew close, he saw it was a great she-wolf and in her haunches nestled two pups, both male, one pure white and the other pure black. And lo, between the two lay an unlikely third pup for there lay Bergin’s son who suckled from the she-wolfs tit with his wolf brothers. Bergrin called to his wife, and his wife called her sisters, and her sisters got the elders who called for the caster of bones. The village gathered round the boy with hushed tones and whispers. Some gnashed their teeth, calling it abomination, an omen of dark times in a dark age. Some said the child must be a daemon. One man raised his bladed spade to dash the child’s brains across the frozen snow, but before he could even ready his strike, his arms were torn from his shoulders. None saw what had caused the grievous injury, the huddled masses only noted that the she-wolf’s eyes were now open and keenly set upon the bleeding man.

The caster of bones raised his rattling staff of skulls and spoke in the deep voice that is forgotten by all but the casters and the wild gods of old. The she-wolf nodded and it was known to the caster that she was no ordinary wolf but the great wolf-mother Wuthweirgen, Mother of the Wind, and her pups were Ceolas the Cold and Ierremod the Wild, and the people were much afraid.

Wuthweirgen spoke to the Caster, her voice deep with the sound of the wind that carves mountains and all that heard her fell to their knees and thrust fingers into their ears and pulled down their hats so as not to go mad by the sound. The wolf-mothers speech was long and in the old tongue, deep with meaning. The caster of bones nodded, his eyes narrowing in pain, for though the casters are trained to speak in the old voice the art of listening is nearly impossible to master. The wolf’s words spoken, she left with her pups in a howling gale, and the villagers trembled as the castor relayed her words to them.

“There was a time when I was hungry and Kgortel fed me, there was a time when my pups were mangy and Bervil groomed them, there was a time where I was thirsty and Borgin shared with me the wine from his skin, there was a time when my husband died and Bergrin buried him. I have paid back a single debt this day, three more remain for the son of Bergrin to inherit from his forefathers. A time will come when he is diseased and I will comfort him. A time will come when he is thirsty and I will bring him to water, and a time will come when he will die and I shall bury him. I, Wuthweirgen, have spoken these words and hold them to be true.”

At this, the huddled villagers looked to Bergrin and he was much surprised for he had gone hunting not two springs ago when he came upon a great white wolf whose heart was pierced with cruel iron and pinned to a wheel of wood. He knew this to be the calling card of Isenshrike, killer of gods, and so removed the cold rod and built a mound over the fallen beast, for none that remember the old ways love the god-slayer and each of the villagers spat at the mentioning of its name. So it was that the caster drew up the child into his arms and named him Beard Weirheowdth or “Beard the Wolf-Warmed” and set runes upon his chest for a long life and good health. And so he was the first Thorgithen born to be but a warrior pure, for one who has suckled at the tit of a god should not be set to menial tasks, but only be placed to the highest of callings: the call of thunder, the call of the wind, the call of battle. Such was the birth of the Beardling.

This article is my 4th oldest. It is 1508 words long