The Keeper of History
"In the beginning, life was easy, but cruel.
"We lived in caves of ice, warm ice that never melted. Through that ice we could see other beasts, also in their caves.
“And we could see the gods. They came with the light, sudden brightness in the utter dark, and when they left, the dark returned. No Stars, no Moon.
"The gods brought us food and filled our water bottles, and there was no starvation. But . . ." The wise old rat look out at his audience, and the little ratlings stilled in anticipation. "The Gods took rats whenever they wished, and the few that returned told of unspeakable horrors done to them."
The audience shivered.
"And then the God of Death came. Placing something in every cage, blocking the air, and the other beasts died.
"We formed up to fight him, but we were helpless. Naked and without weapons.
"When he reached our cage, he gazed upon us. Then he opened the cage, and reached in . . . And darkness fell upon us."
“We crouched in terror . . . we know not for how long . . .”
The ratlings all grinned in anticipation.
“Then light flashed and we dropped to rough stone, and stared in amazement. No more walls of ice, and the light, the beautiful light so different than any we’d seen before.”
He dropped his voice theatrically. “And in front of us . . . one of the gods.
“Like all the others, so ugly and naked, with hair only on its head, wrapped in odd substances to cover its bare skin. But this god was smaller, and the hair was as red as a sunset . . . not that we’d seen a sunset, yet . . . and he glowed more than any god we’d ever seen. We backed away in terror, and Alpha actually stuttered as he sent scouts to check for danger behind us. Or a refuge to save us from this red god.
“And so we found our new home, in Stone Keep. Well ventilated, safe from the larger of the wild animals that roam the New Place. A spring of fresh water, and store rooms filled with food. Tools, weapons, and bedding. Although we knew nothing of tools or weapons.
“The red god did not pursue us. But he returned frequently and would sit and talk, and we came to understand his words, and we attuned ourselves to his thoughts, so that he could hear our inner speech. And he explained many things about the New Place, things we needed to do. How to use tools, how to use weapons against the legless that killed and ate us. And how to fend off the other creatures that saw Stone Fort and coveted it.
“The red god taught us how to hunt and gather, how to use fire for heat, how to cook food.
“And life was good.”
“And life was good.” All the ratlings chanted together.
“And then he taught us new things. He showed us how our inner talk could be twisted a bit and become a weapon, or a shield.
“And we came to fear nothing.
“But there were so many of us . . . the keep was crowded, and we had to travel further to get food.
“And the red god saw this and walked away, with his huge strides. We were curious, for he had never done this before. We ran after him, all though the day, traveling away from shadows, and to the right.” He dropped his voice and the ratlings leaned in to listen. “At sunset, he stopped on the crest of a hill. He sat, his long hind legs all twisted up oddly. And he held his forelegs out . . . and the rock moved.”
A happy sigh, all around the crowd.
“And he showed us how it was done. And we helped him create another keep. He reached into the fort, a tight squeeze for his huge arm . . . And where he tapped his fingers, the rock opened up, a deep, deep hole and water came forth, and ran through New Keep.”
The old storyteller nodded. “He curled up in some fluffy bedding he pulled from nowhere, and slept out on the rocks, for what animal would dare attack him? We slept in the new fort, safe from all but the legless.
“In the morning, he pulled food from nowhere, and we all ate the odd stuff he called ‘bread.’ Then he walked away, turning away from the dawn, and he walked until the sun was halfway down the sky, and he stopped on a ledge, halfway up a tall hill. He lay flat on his belly, and stretched out his hand.
“We crept closer, afraid, but he tapped the ground and a small hole opened. We saw that he was again shaping the rock, and we tried to help, making a deep, deep hole. And when we could smell the water down in the bottom of the hole, he showed us the spell to call the water upwards.”
A dramatic pause. “And WE made the water flow.”
The ratlings eyes all gleamed.
“And then WE built Ledge Keep ourselves.”
A sigh of satisfaction.
“The next day, the Red God walked to the shadows, and late in the day we found ourselves walking up to Stone Keep.”
The storyteller sighed. “And the Red God disappeared, as always. And the tribe split into three, and the leaders of each part drew lots.
“Blacky led his third to New Keep, and the Hood took his to Ledge Keep. Alpha remained here. And as our populations grew, we split again and again, and our keeps spread wide.
“We have not seen the Red God since then.
“But we tell all the old stories, so that we always remember. Because someday, the Red God will return.”