The Lector's Rats: A folk tale of Altdorf

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The Lector's Rats

A folk tale of Altdorf

Altdorf is a place of singular importance in the history of our glorious Empire. Sigmar himself was crowned as First Emperor there long ago, and thus it was truly the first city of His Empire. Through the years, Altdorf has risen and fallen in importance, but has always remained, in many ways, the heart of our great nation.

Yet for everything under the sun there is a darker side. This story, believed by many to be, in essence at least, true, shows how even the purity of faith can be corrupted if taken too far. - JWG

In the Reik is a certain island, nearby the mighty city Altdorf. On this island is a tower of white stone, now cracked and worn but once, it is said, a fine palace indeed. Long ago, in the days when our father Sigmar quarrelled with His brother Ulric[1], this tower was the summer home of a Lector in Sigmar's church.

The Lector was a very devout man, more so than any other, and he worked hard and long to do Sigmar's will upon the people. For the city of Altdorf had become a refuge for those fleeing the Wolf-Queen[2]. Day and night, weary refugees arrived from Talabecland and its dominions. Some were Sigmar's true children, fleeing the hot irons of the Wolf-Queen's men. Others were lately the children of Ulric, having turned away their faces at the things done in His name. But many were surely spies and saboteurs, sent by the Wolf-Queen to destroy the city of her enemy.

The question was, how were the good be told from the bad? This problem vexed the Lector greatly, and he fasted and prayed for many days in search of an answer. In time, he decided that a special order of priests should be created, with he himself as leader[3]. These priests would have the authority to question the new arrivals to the city, and thus determine their guilt or innocence.

And indeed, the priests began by simply questioning the refugees. But many refused to answer the priests' questions, or even to speak to them at all, and the Lector grew more and more frustrated. People continued to flood into Altdorf, and everywhere there was faithlessness and vice.

So the Lector gathered together his priests, and also summoned every blacksmith in the city. The smiths were commanded to create instruments of iron: tongs and pliers, probes and spikes and knives and all manner of things that could be heated and applied to the bodies of those who would not speak. The priests were instructed in the use of these instruments, and told by the Lector to put all thought of mercy from their minds, for they acted in the service of the greater good.

By the application of the iron instruments, the priests uncovered many spies among the refugees. At first, the Lector planned to send the traitors back to Talabecland. But then he realised that to do so would only encourage the Wolf-Queen in her quest to wipe Sigmar from the world. Instead, he gave the order for stakes to be set up around the city, each set around with dry wood. So began the executions by fire, and they continued until oily smoke choked the city, and the smell of rendered fat clung to every garment.

The Lector knew that what he was doing was right and needful, but all the same he began to grow fearful. By night, he dreamed of rats: great multitudes of chittering vermin that swarmed upon him and gnawed at his flesh. By day, he started at every flicker of movement at the corner of sight, shuddered at every scratch and scamper that sounded within the walls. Finally, he took to his barge, and crossed to the summer palace that stood upon the island in the Reik. There he took refuge in the highest room of the tower, and felt safe at last.

But as night fell, and he looked from the window upon a city lit by the embers of a thousand pyres, the Lector once more heard the voices of rats. But so many! The sound was like thunder, as though every rat in the world had come together into one place. The Reik itself - wide and black under the smoke-wreathed sky - boiled with the struggling bodies of an army of vermin. The Lector stood at his window, unable to move, as the horde of rats emerged from the river and scrambled towards the tower. As they reached the building, they clambered up the stone walls, often using the bodies of their fellows as ladders. Before long the first rats had entered the Lector's chamber.

Now he saw that their eyes were not those of animals. No, the eyes of the rats were filled with flame, and with images of human faces withering and writhing in those flames. They were the faces of the men, women and children executed at the Lector's word, and they had come seeking revenge.

When dawn came again, the servants of the tower found the Lector's room locked, and the door unresponsive to knocking. When they finally broke open the door, they discovered the Lector's bones upon the carpet, scattered and gnawed and bloody. Of the horde of rats, there was no sign at all. So horrible was this sight that the servants fled without gathering up the Lector's bones, and neither would they return to the tower to do so later. The tower, and the island it stood upon, were left as they were. The tower still stands to this day[4], though fallen into disrepair, and on quiet nights it is said that you can still hear - if you listen hard - the cries of the Lector, and the angry murmur of a thousand dead souls.

[1] A reference to the Sigmarite Heresy - the contention that Sigmar was not a god, as propagated by Ar-Ulric and Countess Otillia of Talabecland in 1360, and continuing for many centuries. During those times, the Cult of Sigmar was suppressed and persecuted in the Empire of Talabecland.

[2] The 'Wolf-Queen' referred to here is the Otillian Empress of Talabecland.

[3] Although one should be careful not to attribute too much truth to a folk tale, it is possible that this story describes the origin of the Order of the Templars of Sigmar, commonly called Witch-Hunters.

[4] It is true that the tower still stands, but the claim that none dare set foot there is spurious. Indeed, the island is a popular haunt for young lovers - especially the students of the university.


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