The story of Ancient Tortalus
(White Dwarf no.256)
The vault reached up beyond sight in the gloom. Slanting shafts of light alive with dancing dust-motes lent it a spectral grandeur which outshone even the darkly clustered pillars and adorned stonework. In the shadows lay mounds of ancient armour, torn banners, corroded weapons and shattered machines, which gave it the air of some forgotten battlefield. Chaplain Cassius knew better, as did the youthful Sergeant Tortalus who dogged his heavily armoured boot prints as they wound their way to the center of the vault. This detritus of war was a collection of the most valued trophies from uncounted campaigns across the galaxy in the service of the Emperor. They gad been laid here in honour of one of the Chapterís most sacred relics. It stood proudly at the center of the vault, bathed in a pool of light. A tall banner, intricate beyond measure with victory scrolls and honorific, The Ultramarines isignia formed of glittering gold on a filed of purest, deepest blue. It hung from an adamantium shaft, which was scored and pitted in many places, as though it had been burned by acids.
Cassius turned and fixed the sergeant with a baleful stare. His tough, leathery skin twisted into a network of scars beneath the half-masked of bionics which replaced his right eye and upper jaw as he spoke.
"See here boy, the Banner of Macragge. Touched by the Emperorís own hand when he presented it to our Primarch Roboute Guilliman at the beginning of the Great crusade. A magical thing is it not? We Ultramarines have preserved it for ten millennia through fire and war and decimation, each generation passing it on to the next as a burning torch of our love for the immortal Emperor who made us. It has languished in dull stasis chambers and flown beneath the suns of a thousand alien worlds. It has flown her on Macragge itself, whenever the whole Chapter is gathered together and it has been carried forth whenever our brethren have fought as one against the direst of foes.
It has said to be made of a stuff known only to the ancients; light as silk bus strong as steel, flame cannot burn it and where it is rent asunder it re-spins itself as perfect as the day it was first made. It is marked with the names of all seventy Chapter masters; beginning with Guilliman and ending with young Calgar, it carries an honorific for each Victorix Maxima of the Chapter which has been declared at the Imperial palace on sacred Terra. I myself have had the honour of being present at nine of those victories at once great and terrible times which I shall carry with me to the end of my days. I was there when we raised I over the ruins of Corinth, I was there when we carried it aboard our ships at the Battle of Macragge"
Tortalus stiffened slightly at the name. No Ultramarine would not have done so. The Battle of Macragge was both the Chapterís greatest victory and its most terrible lost. The Ultramarines home world had been save and the Tyranids defeated but at such a cost that it had taken over two centuries for the Chapter to fully recover. Cassius let sink in for a moment before continuing.
"After Macragge, young Calgar declared that the Banner would not be carried forth again until we had rebuilt our strength, until we were a whole Chapter again. It has taken us two centuries to bring the 1st Company back to full strength after it sacrifices at Macragge. Only now does our Chapter Master believe that we are fit to carry the Banner of Macragge once more"
The old Chaplain turned, went down upon one armoured knee and intoned a brief prayer before reverently touching the pitted banner shaft.
"You know what it is to carry this banner in war. You become the vessel of all of us, the symbol of our unity and strength. You know the vows and oaths, the words of what it is to be the Ancient, the bearer of the battle standard of the Ultramarines. But do you know the reality of it? See here"
Cassius drew out the shaft of the banner from the hole it rested and showed it to the young Space Marine.
"You see these bright gouges, that's where Ancient Galatan had his arm shorn of by an Ork Warlord as he fought the breach at Corinth. He picked up the banner with his other hand ant went onward, taking three more mighty wounds to the fore. He did not, would not die until the battle was won and never took a backward step. These burns are from Macragge, when Young Calgarís barge was boarded by Tyranids and Ancient Helveticus led the counter-assault. He was poisoned and burned to death, but still his grip was so tight that he did not let the banner fall, even in death he did not dishonour his Chapter. Do you understand?"
Sergeant Tortalus eyes were bright with reverence. He nodded once, curtly as if afraid to express himself further. But Cassius had four centuries of experience of reading the hearts of his Brother- Marines, he knew that this Ancient would die defending the banner if necessary, as the others had. He held forward the shaft.
"Bear it with pride Ancient Tortalus, you will take your oaths and carry it before the Chapter at sunset, as the load the ships for war."