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The Lorelei Signal


A Map is not the Territory

Written by M.O. Bishop / Artwork by Lee Ann Barlow


“But it is genuine!” the grifter pleaded.


“Then how did you get it?”


“I got it from his floozy. You know what women are like…”


The air froze when he realised he had let his mouth run a little too much.


“Yes. And a witch too.” The mark grinned. “Do you really want to continue to try to ‘sell’ me your map?”


The grifter scooped it from the counter, pushed it down his tunic then snapped “There is a fortune here for the right man, or woman. All you had to do was say yes.”


As she watched him leave Thara shook her head in disbelief. Every third person in Fairport ‘knew’ where some treasure or other was hidden, even if they did not have a map. And too many of them thought merchants were a ripe source of finance for an expedition to find it.


Of course few of them came to her, leastways not those who had been in Fairport long enough to know she was an enchantress, or to use street talk, a witch. It was likely this particular grifter had not been in town long enough to learn this else he would not have bothered her.


Well, he did now.


Taking a piece of paper, the enchantress sketched the map on it. She even added the text from the back. You could not be too careful with copying treasure maps. Any detail could be important.


It was no trouble for her to retain pictures in her head, well for a few turns of a glass. The skill was not magic though; she had never managed to teach it to another enchantress. It seemed to be another sense albeit different to say…sight. How do you teach a blind woman to see?


An exact copy of a map though did not mean an exact copy of a genuine map. No problem. As an enchantress she had a way to cut through the guff to test its veracity.


Shit! Her mentor would have slapped her because ladies do not swear. The expletive seemed appropriate though.


The rune she had drawn was Eallai, that is cattle in the Arcane tongue. Not only was the map genuine, but if she went after the treasure it would be hers.


For the turn of a large glass she studied the map. If the object in one corner was not the Mountain that Burns she would eat her sandals. How it should be oriented was a mystery. However she turned it, some of the numbers on it always ended upside down or at an angle


She needed someone to translate it for her. Lines on paper are not the same as what is in the real world.


The enchantress drew another rune for clues about whom said enlightener might be. 


Coinneal, that is a torch. There was someone who could help her with her quest and they were right here in Fairport.


Pity the rune did not give the name, but that is prophecy for you. Half an answer if you are lucky, a quarter one and cloudy at that if you are not.


For a while she stared at it then decided to see the Story Teller. If he was not the man she was being directed towards then it was odds on he would know they were.


Just in case she had missed anything the enchantress reappraised the reading. It was then she spotted the extra nuance. Strange though it appeared, it had not just been for her. There was a message for the other party. They too would have some knowledge of value revealed to them.


~ * ~


Although he was not the only one of the trade if you mentioned the Story Teller everyone knew who you were talking about. What his real name was no one knew.


Thara found him at his usual pitch. There was a fair-sized crowd listening to him so she waited until he finished telling the tale of the Travels of the Desert Swan. Only when they had dispersed did she approach him.


Kneeling down she opened the map. “What do you make of this?”


“A few lines on paper.”


A few coppers sounded in his bowl. “Try again!”


“It’s a map, but I guess you already know that. Anyway you are talking to the wrong person. I am a man of words not pictures.”


More coppers sounded in his bowl. “Cut to the chase old man.”


“Try Marrus. Sailed with the Pirates of the Dragon Coast and what they don’t know about cartography ain’t worth knowing.”


“And he has knocked around the world?”


“Yes, quite the traveller although not at the moment. I don’t know why but he is trapped here in Fairport and floundering like a fish out of water.” In other words someone whom she could manipulate. “No matter, he still the best man to read your lines.”


A silver coin extracted Marrus’s lodgings. “No point going there just yet. He works dawn to dusk on the docks.”


“Thank you old man and be seeing you again sometime.”


~ * ~


Marrus’s back ached as he walked home. He would like to lay down and sleep for a moon, but fat chance of that. As long as the Golden Leviathan was in port he would be there before dawn queueing for the privilege of unloading her for a handful of coppers.


Still it beat begging on the streets. Doing a job of work left some self-respect.


A shrouded figure stood outside the tenement.


“Are you Marrus, the guy who sailed with the Pirates of the Dragon Coast?”


If they were asking the question they probably knew the answer. No need to aid them.


“Who wants to know?”


“I take that as a yes. Can we go inside and discuss business?”


No reason to say no he ushered them in front of him.


Once in his room he waved the visitor to a stool next to the table then squatted down on the palliasse that substituted for a bed. Hospitality commanded offer them a drink, but he had barely enough for his own needs.


Therefore he did not.


The visitor lowered her hood. “I am going to cut to the chase as to what I am,” she said then cast a handfire.


Frell, Marrus silently cursed. What had he done to attract one of her type?


“What I am looking for is a guide to this place,” she continued at the same time passing a piece of paper to him.


The handfire moved to above his shoulder.


He studied it for awhile in the glow of her infernal light. Whoever had drawn the map had made a number of slips, but not enough he did not know where the place was.


“What’s it worth to you for me to guide you to wherever you want to on this map?”


“Wrong question. What is it worth to you to guide me to where I want to go?”


An unpleasant name flashed through his mind. Naturally she had twisted it round so to avoid giving a share of whatever treasure the map was. Typical forked tongue of her type.


“You get me across the Pale Desert and I will guide you to where your treasure is.” So he had given away a couple of clues about the map. He knew he was going to regret doing so, but he really could not turn down a possibility of escaping Fairport. Some opportunities in life rarely come more than once.


The witch seemed to think for a moment then she replied. “Sounds good to me. You have got yourself a deal.


“Name’s Thara Orthis. As of now you are on my payroll. Free chuck and a mat in my warehouse. That is unless you are attached to this hole and want to continue to labour on the docks.


“No? Good because I do not know your neighbours from squat and we have stuff to discuss. No one spies on me at my place, period. That you can be sure of.”


~ * ~


As he followed Thara and her handfire through the dark streets, Marrus started to regret the deal. Once he thought he could not go lower than ending up on the beach at Fairport.


Now he had. Working for a witch.


Witches do not have special powers. Witches do not tell the future. They just fool saps with the power of suggestion and gift of the gab.


Saps like him.


Still, a deal is deal and one does not break them even with dishonest people.


~ * ~


“So you say this spot at the bottom is the edge of the Pale Desert and from there to the treasure is about one day’s walk?” Thara said tapping it. She could never have guessed the map was a diamond and the Mountain that Burns the top corner.


In her experience map were always rectangles. As this one was not maybe the grifter was a bit smarter than she thought he was.


“Yes mam.” They might be partners, but there was also a mistress/servant relationship between them. “That squiggle is the Summer River and the square in the middle is the Flat Mesa. I guess that menhir shape on it is where your treasure lies.”


“How far is the nearest canal?”


Marrus thought for a moment. He had expected them to cross the Pale Desert by barge to Thunderstone then hire camels. It appeared the witch had other plans.


“Should be around here. The artist has missed off one that curved through it. Maybe half a day’s walk.” Either they did not think it was important or saw it as unnecessary detail.


Whatever. no bargie was going to stop in the middle of nowhere to unload passengers. Too great a possibility of being ambushed by sandfolk. Vicious animals even by the standards of the Pirates of the Dragon Coast.


“Good. I can get us there. We leave in two days time.”


~ * ~


He looked at the craft tied up by the wharf of the inland dock. It would not have lasted a turn of a small glass at the main docks, but it did not need to. You can paddle an open box across the glassy surface of the canals that crisscross the Pale Desert if you were minded to do so.


Thara’s servants placed the baggage on the raft. They put their knuckles to their foreheads in salute to their mistress before leaving.


The lady in question was talking to the senior of her servants. “I will be away about a moon,” she said before going into details of what she expected him to do.


Once her back was turned the old man and Marrus smiled at each other. Their mistress seemed to think people would not do anything without her keeping a close eye on them.


Even good men such as themselves. Hopefully she would ease up once they were away from Fairport.


~ * ~


The raft intrigued Marrus. Obviously they had to tack down to the canal because there was no following wind. And as a craft it would not have lasted a moment on the seas along the Dragon Coast.


Here though it was in its element.


A day out she said, “Take the tiller.”




“Take the tiller. The Story Teller said you were once a pirate. Did you ever get to steer a boat or ship?”


“No mam. I was a swordsman stroke deckhand.”


“First time for everything. There is a junction ahead and we want the port canal.”


His course was not as steady as hers, but he quickly got the feel of the wind and when to turn before hitting the bank.


He was even pleased how he negotiated the junction although the bosuns of his pirate days would have done the turn more smoothly. However they (and he guessed the witch) were experienced mariners, if you could use such a term for sailing some logs lashed together on a desert canal.


From then on they split the steering between them.


~ * ~


On the seventh dawn after leaving Fairport Thara commanded “Watch the horizon. We have a sandstorm coming and I want to weigh anchor before it hits us.”


She could see he was mystified and with good cause. The sky was clear as the days before.


Her initial instinct was to say, “Trust me. We enchantresses can discern things hidden to lesser mortals.” Or if more diplomatic drop the lesser mortals and say others.


Instead, she removed a rune from her bag. “Every dawn I draw a rune and ask the Three what dangers we will face. Up until now I have received an inconsequential answer.


“This morning I drew this one. Roth as we enchantresses say. That is the Wheel. It is upside down and as I was asking about the day’s voyage it potents a delay. A deeper reading shows a sandstorm.”


He knew the look on his face read I will believe it when I see it.


“Trust me on this one,” she said. “How many barges have you heard cross the Pale Desert without a sniff of trouble.”


“Few mam. Very few.” he admitted. It was a rare voyage where a barge was not shot at by sandfolk or hit by other perils.


Some just disappeared.


“Well, I have sailed several times across over the years, but very few know because I keep my mouth about my voyages between Fairport and the Wetlands where I come from. No point drawing to much attention to what I might be up to.”


She obviously spotted a look of disbelief on his face because she added, “You do not think I got this raft from a ‘friend’ do you?”


Put like that he saw no reason to doubt her. That meant she could casually leave it tied up at the wharf. Only an insane street rat was going to touch the property of a witch and he did not know of any like that in Fairport.


“Okay, lets get moving.”


Just after noon the sandstorm appeared over the horizon. After anchoring midstream they covered the stores with a weighed down tarpaulin, then wrapped themselves tightly in their cloaks.


As he crouched there with the sound of the gale in his ears, he had to admit he had been wrong about witches. Well, at least in the case of this one. 


When the wind died down the task of clearing the deck of sand began. Marrus expected the witch to have a smug look on her face or make a smart arse comment about being right.


After all, most everyone else he knew would have.


Instead she acted as she had every time she had used magic in front of him—that her powers were normal.


It appeared some witches do not lie all the time. This one might even be honourable.


~ * ~


“Run it over there,” the witch said to the helmsman. It was ten days from them leaving Fairport.

The moment the raft touched the bank she dropped the mud weight into the canal.


After lowering the sail and mast, Marrus picked up his pack and followed her ashore. It seemed rather unwise to leave the raft just sitting there for anyone to snaffle it. He could only presume one of her stones had told her it was safe to do so.


It still seem to be a bit of a risk.


He was loaded up with canteens of water. The witch might not think it would be very dry out here. He did. Besides, when was all said and done she would be returning to her raft whilst he had half a moon trekking ahead of him to the nearest town.


~ * ~


Thara looked around the flat top of the mesa, mainly bare earth, but a few plants dotted it. The walk had taken more out of her than she had anticipated. Still, they had made it. 


Then she used unladylike language. The map had shown one rock yet she could see at least five.


She had intended to go with the map and not check with a rune. Sometimes you just had to have faith in the world around you. Magic is a tool not a crutch.


Good intentions be damned now!


Beal, that is divine breath and reversed. Trouble with an authority figure and no clues needed for who she or rather they were. The Three were telling her “No clues sweetie. Figure it out yourself.”


Bastards. Well, it looks as she would have to start digging around all of them until she found her treasure. Rather Marrus start digging, it being more his line of work.


Assuming of course he did not dump her. Their deal was for him to guide her to the spot on the map and they were there. No reason therefore why he could not head off leaving her here on her own.


The enchantress looked to see where he had got to. No, he had not done a runner. Instead, he was kneeling by the west side of one of the rocks. After running his hand over the ground he stood up, walking over to another menhir and did the same.


She headed over and watched as he repeated the action at the base of a third one.


As her shadow crossed him he said, “I believe your treasure could be buried here.”




The ground is just sand. That at the other places I looked at was full of stones. If I was going to bury something I would not make it too much like hard work if I had a choice. Also easier to cover my tracks.”


And not something you would put on a map flashed through her mind.


“Let’s see if I am right.”


He took the spade from his pack and started digging. About a foot down the blade hit a solid object. When the hole was expanded a small wooden box was revealed.


When he had cleared enough soil, he lifted it out then placed it at her feet.


“Spot on! Here’s your treasure mam.”


Not his surprise after kneeling down, she dragged it round so he could not see her open it and place the contents in her pack.


So she did not wish her loyal servant to know what the treasure was. Well, he could live with another mystery.


~ * ~


“Don’t bother to fill the hole in. I have no qualms in letting anyone know that someone else got here first.


“Now our business is complete you are free of my service. Just one thing before you go., Well, two things actually.


“First if you are ever in Fairport look me up. There is always a free bed and meals there for you.


“Second.” She handed him a small but heavy bag. No prizes for guessing what it contained.


“Do not say anything. For someone to give someone must receive.”


He put the bag in his pack. “No disrespect mam, but it will be a cold day in Hades for me to return to Fairport. However, if the weather does get chilly I will remember your offer.


“For now may the Three protect you and bless you today and may trouble ignore you each step of the way home.”


“And you,” she replied even though she intended to do as little walking as possible. It was the sentiment though that was important.


As he strolled away a word came to her.




A word from the language of the people of the Land of the Dawn. A strange folk who could say more in a couple of syllables than others in a whole sentence.


Two lives that cross paths in a meaningful way.


With that thought still in her mind she headed for her raft.

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MO Bishop.JPG

M O Bishop lives in England. By day he works in a large life assurance company. By night he reads sci-fi and alternative history, rings church bells, plays board games and writes a range of fiction.

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