The Lorelei Signal
Written by Jenna Hanan Moore / Artwork by Marge Simon
Timothy of Lindenwood was about to embark on his first quest. Quests had been a rite of passage for young wizards since the beginning of history. You might think questing would be easier in modern times than it was in days of yore, with the advent of climate-controlled tents, radar navigation systems, and gondolas to climb the steepest mountains. You’d be wrong.
The problem was relics—all the good ones had been claimed years ago. Modern questers had to travel farther and wider than ever before to find relics worthy of a quest. Timothy was dismayed to learn that his quest would take him on a long and perilous journey to the Great Volcano of Vaxon, where rivers of lava were rumored to flow.
To make matters worse, his dragon, Daisy, hurt her paw two days before their departure. His sister, Mikayla, offered the services of her own dragon if Timothy allowed her to join him on his quest.
“Thanks, but it’s too dangerous.”
“I’m not afraid!” Mikayla insisted.
Daisy was having none of that. “For the bloody love of Pete!” she hissed, thumping her tail and aiming her fiery breath away from Timothy and Mikayla. “You’re wizards, are you not? Concoct a potion or use some incantation. If that doesn’t work, call Dr. Long!”
Dr. Long was the veterinarian who cared for all the town’s animals, magical creatures included. She could undoubtedly treat Daisy’s paw, but a non-magical solution hardly befitted a Great Quest.
Timothy and Mikayla tried every potion and incantation they knew, but nothing worked. The problem was Mikayla was only six years old and Timothy was terrible at magic. The next morning, the day before the quest, they brought Daisy to see Dr. Long.
“Two of her toes are badly sprained,” Dr. Long announced after examining Daisy’s paw. “Painful, to be sure, but easily remedied. She’ll need to rest that paw for three days—no galloping, Daisy—and you can apply a compress with a healing balm.”
“What about my quest?” Timothy asked. “We’re supposed to leave tomorrow.”
“Theoretically, she’d be okay. Just stay aloft as much as you can for the first two days and apply the balm twice a day. My bigger concern is what might happen if Daisy’s badly injured hundreds of miles away.”
“What do you mean?”
“Fixing a sprained paw through magic isn’t hard. If you can’t do that, you put her at grave risk by taking her on a quest. Ethically, I can’t allow that. I can’t give her medical clearance. I’m sorry.”
Daisy, once again, wasn’t having it. “There’s a good reason he couldn’t cure my paw. It’s not just a sprain. An evil sorcerer placed an unbreakable curse on my paw. I’ll tell you what happened, and you’ll see Timothy is not to blame for this.”
Timothy looked pleadingly at Dr. Long as Daisy began her tale.
~ * ~
As you know, dragons live for up to 1800 years. A lady never reveals her exact age, but I can tell you that I’m old enough to remember the Golden Era of Questing. I was there for the Greatest Quest of All Time 600 years ago.
Back then, quests were true adventures. There were still uncharted territories, and hosts of evil sorcerers roamed the land. Let me tell you: they were mean sons of bitches.
Yet in many ways, questing then was much like it is now. Wizards went out to collect meaningless pieces of—err, they went to collect relics to sit on the mantle collecting dust.
The Greatest Quest of All Time was different. That was the year Purple Fever ravaged the land. I never understood why they called it that. The splotches on their cheeks when they burned with fever were pink, not purple, but Purple Fever is what they called it. Bloody idiots, the wizards of that era.
Anyway, they tried all sorts of incantations and potions, but nothing worked. Most wizards healed on their own after a few weeks, but some were not so lucky. Many of the youngest children succumbed, and their families mourned.
Dragons mourned, too. Now, wizards treat us dragons as beloved family members—and rightly so—but back then, most wizards didn’t understand our true nature. Dragons were left out of the mourning rituals, so we held our own. Dragons were immune from Purple Fever, but it was a dark time for us too.
Medicine men worked tirelessly to develop a cure, to no avail. After many months, a medicine man named Cassius the Great finally had a breakthrough. The potion he developed wasn’t an instant cure, but it hastened the healing of the wizards who took it. Most importantly, none of the wizards who took the potion died, not even the youngest children. Cassius shared his formula with medicine men in the neighboring kingdoms. That’s why they called him Cassius the Great.
Soon, Purple Fever loosened its grip on Lindenwood and the surrounding kingdoms. But word came from the distant kingdom of Ravenwood that the epidemic still raged. Cassius, knowing he must bring his life-saving potion to Ravenwood, went before King Marvin to propose a quest.
Marvin was a good and caring king, but convincing him to announce a quest to Ravenwood wasn’t easy. Ravenwood was an isolated kingdom high in the mountains beyond the Marshes of Marwood and the Hills of Hollyworth. It still is. It’s cold and bleak, and in those days, it was even colder and bleaker and harder to reach. There were no gondolas. The only way to climb the mountains was on foot. Only the bravest wizards—and only the bravest, most sure-footed dragons—could make the trek.
Marvin was initially reluctant to endanger his wizards to help a kingdom as isolated as Ravenwood. But Cassius refused to give up. He promised Marvin that a quest to deliver medicine to Ravenwood would cement his place in history as one of Lindenwood’s greatest rulers. Marvin relented and announced a quest, to be led by Sir Trevor, the bravest knight in King Marvin’s court.
Trevor was brave and bold, but he was dumb as a post. Luckily, King Marvin’s much smarter daughter, Princess Eleanor, talked her way into joining the quest.
At first, Trevor balked. “A quest is no place for a damsel!”
Damsel, my scaly, flame-resistant foot! Eleanor was a skilled archer and, thanks to me, a champion dragon-rider.
She persisted. “I’m more than capable of handling myself, and I join the quest, you may choose the strongest and fastest dragons from my flock to assist. As I’m sure you’re aware, mine are the finest dragons in Lindenwood.” Trevor relented.
Four other wizards were chosen to join them, including Dennis, Lindenwood’s leading map-maker, and Cassius the Great himself. Six dragons also joined the quest, including me and my impetuous young nephew, Kuiper.
The morning of our departure dawned cold and brisk. We headed west at a steady canter. When the sun rose above the tree line, Dennis urged us to turn in a northwesterly direction. “That will take us into the Forest of Fergus before the storm arrives. The trees will provide shelter.”
“Is that necessary?” groused Trevor. “We are questers, brave and true! A little rain won’t hurt us. Besides, we have rain gear.”
“It’s more than a little rain,” Dennis explained. “My dragon took me aloft to scan the horizon before our departure, and we saw an ominous storm front. We’d do best to take the route that offers us the most shelter. Besides, we may have rain gear, but the dragons don’t.”
“So what?” asked Trevor. “They have scales to protect them.”
A small lick of flame escaped from my nostrils. If Trevor noticed, he didn’t let on.
“It’s a long journey,” Eleanor said. “We should conserve our energy. That includes the dragons.” I bristled with pride as Eleanor patted my neck. “I say we take Dennis’s advice.”
Like I told you before, it was lucky Eleanor insisted on joining the quest. In those days, the group did whatever the leader decided, no matter how stupid. They couldn’t vote on it like they do now. But Eleanor was a princess, and even Trevor wasn’t dumb enough to defy a princess.
We turned northwest towards the Forest of Fergus. To our left, ominous dark clouds were building far across the plains. The winds grew stronger through the morning, and the storm clouds drew nearer. Light rain began to fall minutes before we reached the edge of the forest.
Once we entered the forest, the deluge began. The thick leaves of the canopy kept most of the rain from reaching us, but we could hear it pelting the open plain behind us and lashing the upper reaches of the canopy above us. We slowed to a trot to navigate the thick brush growing on the forest floor.
It was nearly as dark as night when we entered the Forest of Fergus, and soon it was fully as dark as night. We stopped to light the lanterns with our flame-breath.
“Let us stop for lunch,” Trevor announced. “The dragons must be getting hungry.” He didn’t mention his own hunger, but the growling of his stomach could be heard above the din of the rain and the wind.
Dennis turned to face Cassius, the medicine man, who treated both wizards and dragons in his clinic. “We’ll be safer if we can go deeper into the forest. Can they wait an hour longer?”
“Yes,” Cassius replied. “Dragons can store energy for longer than we can.” I could have told them that, but back then, no one thought to ask dragons anything important.
“Very well then,” Trevor said. “Lead us to safety, Dennis.”
We trotted forward another hour. I don’t know which was louder—the howling of the wind or the rumbling of Trevor’s stomach. I was grateful to stop for lunch. It was good to rest my paws and eat my favorite snacks, but it was glorious to be freed from the sound of Trevor’s digestive distress.
When we continued, Dennis turned us towards the west again. We trotted in silence for the remainder of the afternoon.
The storm was abating when we stopped for the night, but it was still raining. The wizards slept in tents; we dragons huddled together for warmth.
We awoke the next morning to the sound of birdsong, a trickle of sunlight filtering through the canopy. Trevor and Dennis had already gone aloft so Dennis could get the lay of the land and plot our course for the day.
Kuiper rose and stretched. “I hope today will be better than yesterday,” he said. “I want to gallop across the plains!”
“I’m afraid we won’t be doing much galloping, Kuiper. It’s a long journey. Galloping wears a dragon out quickly.”
We left the forest later that morning and traveled west across the plains. Soon after we left the forest, Kuiper galloped ahead of us, his terrified rider clinging tightly to his reins.
“I shall fly ahead and find them,” Trevor announced. “The rest of you follow Dennis. He knows the way.”
I wanted to fly ahead after Kuiper. I didn’t trust that idiot Trevor to find my nephew. Eleanor, sensing my unease, whispered in my ear, “Don’t worry, Daisy. His dragon will know how to find them.”
Sure enough, an hour later, we came across an exhausted Kuiper resting in a patch of wildflowers not far off our path, panting.
“You were right, Aunt Daisy,” he admitted between breaths. “I won’t do that again.”
After that, we made good progress crossing the plains, but I’ll skip ahead. Nothing interesting happened until we reached the Misty Marshes of Marwood.
We arrived at the shore of the first marsh at sunset three days after leaving the Forest of Fergus. We couldn’t see through the thick mist that hung over the marsh.
“There’s no telling how far it is across,” Dennis informed the group after scouting along the shore on his dragon. “We may as well stop for the night and plot our course in the morning. Perhaps the fog will lift.”
“Very well then,” Trevor announced. “We shall camp here.”
We awoke the next morning to find the fog had not lifted. Of course not. Why would they call them the Misty Marshes of Marwood if they weren’t perpetually shrouded in mist?!
Dennis went aloft with his dragon to scout a route across the marsh. When they returned, he addressed the group.
“It’s too wide to cross in one day, and the mist is so thick I can’t see whether there’s dry land where the dragons can rest. But I have an idea.” He waved his arms in the air and uttered an incantation. A large raft appeared before us, floating at the edge of the marsh. “They can take turns resting on the raft.”
“We shall use this raft to cross the marshes,” Trevor announced, as if it were his idea.
The wizards loaded their gear and the supplies we were bringing to the children of Ravenswood onto the center of the raft. Two of the dragons sat on the raft, on either side of the supplies, while the rest of us flew above the marsh pulling the raft across with cords that stretched from our harnesses to the four posts rising from the corners of the raft.
“We’ll head northwest,” Dennis announced. “The mist appears lighter in that direction, which could mean there’s an island or the shoreline between marshes.”
We moved slowly across the marsh. It was difficult to see, even with the lanterns. Dennis attempted to navigate the raft around the reeds and tree trunks, but every so often, the dragons had to use their fire-breath to remove an impediment he couldn’t circumvent.
After two hours, Kuiper and I took our turn resting on the raft. Kuiper napped while I helped Dennis watch for obstacles and breathed fire to clear a path when necessary.
Our shift was nearly over when Trevor pointed to the left side of raft and cried out, “What the hell is that?!?!?” I’d have used a stronger word myself, but Trevor was painfully polite. Chivalry and all. Dennis and I looked to the left.
“Harpies!” Dennis gasped. “I’ve heard tales of harpies, but never believed they existed.”
I turned my gaze forward. After all, someone had to watch where we were going. In our path, there was a curtain of reeds and vines, too wide to steer around. I let out the largest breath of fire I could muster and turned my head from side to side as I exhaled. Dennis, alerted to the danger by the hissing of my fire-breath, turned forward and steered the raft through the opening I’d created.
“Will they try to lure us to our deaths with their songs?” asked Trevor.
“It’s sirens that do that, Trevor. These are harpies. But we’d best be careful. If they think we’re unworthy of passage through Marwood, they’ll carry us away to the Lake of Fire.”
It was hard to imagine the harpies, small as they were, carrying full grown wizards to the Lake of Fire, but they had powerful magic, so powerful that a harpy could probably carry even a dragon in her talons. I decided to watch my language, just to be safe.
The harpies kept their distance as we crossed the marsh. They flew above the surface, visible to our left, singing. Their songs were rumored to be beautiful, but I wasn’t impressed by the repetitive droning. Maybe it’s an acquired taste.
When we finally reached an island and stopped for the night, a red-haired harpy was waiting for us, hovering above the beach.
“Who are you and what is your purpose in Marwood?” she demanded.
“Good evening, ma’am. I am Sir Trevor of Lindenwood, and this is Princess Eleanor. We are bringing medicine to the children of Ravenwood, where the Purple Fever epidemic still rages.”
“Your cause is worthy, Sir Trevor. On behalf of all harpies, I grant you safe passage through the Marshes of Marwood.”
When we departed the next morning, a small contingent of harpies flew alongside us for protection. It was a good thing, too. As we got deeper into Marwood, we began encountering trolls. They sneered at us from the shores of the islands and the strips of dry land between marshes, but they stayed away.
It took four days to cross the Marshes of Marwood. The muck and the mist made for slow travel, but our harpy guards knew the territory well, and they guided us through.
When we reached the edge of the last marsh, the red-haired harpy we’d first met on the beach bade us farewell. “The border is just ahead. You’ll be traveling through the Hills of Hollyworth, so beware of sorcerers. They can be quite territorial. Good luck!”
“From here, we shall continue on foot!” Trevor announced this as if there were any other option.
The wizards packed their gear and supplies in our saddle packs, and Dennis uttered an incantation that made the magic raft vanish. We cantered away from the marsh over land that felt delightfully solid beneath our paws. Thirty minutes later, the mist cleared, and the land began to slope uphill. We’d reached the border of Hollyworth!
The eastern part of Hollyworth was covered in gently rolling, grassy hills. Trolls were abundant, and they approached without fear.
“Where are you going?” a fat green troll asked. He stood in our path with a smaller orange troll. “You look weary,” the two trolls taunted in unison. “Perhaps you should rest.”
“I’m Trevor of Lindenwood. We’re bringing medicine to the children of Ravenwood. Be gone, trolls!” As he spoke, he gave his dragon, Tamarind, the signal to use his fire-breath. Tamarind aimed his flames to the side of the path, close enough to scare the trolls without harming them. The trolls skittered away.
We traveled quickly over the lush green, rolling hills, scaring away clusters of trolls who taunted us and tried to lure us away from our path. As the sun dipped toward the horizon on our second afternoon in Hollyworth, the hills grew steeper, the vegetation more sparse, and the trolls less numerous, and there was a distinct chill in the air. We’d reached the foothills of the imposing Mountains of Moriah. The most challenging part of our journey lay just ahead.
The next morning, we pressed ahead, slowly climbing the steep hills. At mid-morning, our path turned sharply to the north. When we rounded the bend, a sorcerer with a long, white beard and a purple robe appeared before us.
“Halt!” he shouted, holding up a wand. “Who are you and why have you entered my realm?”
Trevor gave his standard reply. “I am Trevor of Lindenwood, and we bring medicine to the children of Ravenwood. Allow us to pass, for our cause is just.” I told you he wasn’t too bright.
The sorcerer just laughed. “I shall not let you pass, for I’ve no interest in just causes. Turn around or you shall regret it.”
Trevor remained undaunted. He signaled to Tamarind to use his fire-breath.
Tamarind inhaled a great volume of air, then exhaled, narrowly missing the sorcerer. The sorcerer laughed. Tamarind inhaled again. This time, he aimed directly at the sorcerer. The sorcerer lifted his wand and shouted an incantation in a mysterious language. The flames from Tamarind’s breath dissolved into the air.
Tamarind let out a distraught roar. Without warning, Kuiper bolted from my side and galloped toward the sorcerer. A stream of flame shot forth from Kuiper’s nostrils. The sorcerer whirled around to face Kuiper, lifted his wand, and shouted the same incantation he’d used to stop Tamarind’s fire-breath. The flame vanished into the air.
To my surprise, the sorcerer cried out in pain, grabbing his shoulder. He removed his hand to reveal a small patch of burnt fabric. He waved his wand across his shoulder, and the burn mark disappeared. He then focused his wrath on Kuiper.
“For that, I shall place an unbreakable curse on your paws!” He lifted his wand and began to utter an incantation. I raced toward him, knocking him to the ground before he could point his wand at my nephew. As the wretched sorcerer fell, he touched my paw with his wand.
Pain shot through my paw. I stopped in my tracks, spewing fire. The sorcerer rolled away, out of reach. His wand fell from his hand. He reached for the wand as he attempted to stand, but Cassius approached him from behind and fired an arrow into his arm. The sorcerer fell and stopped moving, but he appeared to be breathing.
“It’s just a sedative,” Cassius explained. “As a medicine man, I’m sworn to do no harm. He’ll sleep deeply for ten hours, enough time to make our escape.”
“How the hell are we going to do that?” I demanded. “I can’t run anywhere on this paw!”
“Can you heal her, Cassius?” Eleanor implored.
“Let me have a look.”
Cassius applied a balm, not unlike the one Dr. Long just gave me. He advised me to fly rather than walk for the rest of the day, and he fashioned a splint to keep the toes from moving when I did have to use the paw.
When we reached the no-man’s land between Hollyworth and Ravenwood, we hid in a cave for three days so I could rest my paw before making the arduous climb to Ravenwood. After that, my paw felt as good as new, although Cassius warned me that the curse would cause recurrences every few years.
The wizards of Ravenwood were grateful when we delivered our supplies of the life-saving potion. They feted us with glorious feasts every night for a week. Then we returned to Lindenwood, taking a longer route to avoid the evil sorcerers of Hollyworth.
~ * ~
“So, you see,” Daisy said when she finished her tale. “It’s not Timothy’s fault. We’ll carry some of that healing balm, and my paw will be fine.”
Dr. Long reluctantly cleared Daisy for travel.
“Did that really happen?” Timothy asked when they got home.
“You know dragons can’t lie.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? I tried so hard to heal your paw!”
Daisy shrugged her shoulders and flicked her tail. “Because it might have been another paw. It was 600 years ago! How am I supposed to remember which paw that weasel-faced cretin cursed?”
“What if you get hurt and I can’t heal you even without a curse? I’m no good at magic.”
Daisy licked Timothy’s face and curled her tail around his shoulders. “Not yet, but you’ll learn. The quest will help. Why do you think your ancestors have been questing for as far back as anyone can remember?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s not for the cheap souvenirs, I can tell you that. No. It gives you a chance to push yourself to become the best wizard you can be.”
“Do you really think I can be a good wizard, Daisy?”
“Of course! Being a good wizard isn’t just about magic. It’s also about being kind and courageous. You’re already good at those things, and you’ll have a whole lifetime to learn to use your magic.”
Timothy hugged Daisy. “Thanks, Daisy. You’re the best dragon ever!”
“I know,” she replied. “But enough of that now. Time for bed. We’ve a long journey ahead, and we’ll need to make an early start.”
Timothy drifted off to sleep. He didn’t know what awaited him on his journey, but he was grateful that whatever he was to face, Daisy would be at his side.
Jenna Hanan Moore is a speculative fiction writer who loves to travel, take pictures, drink coffee, sing along with the radio when no one is listening, and immerse herself in a good story or in nature. She lives with her husband and dog in southern Illinois, but she left her heart in the Pacific Northwest. Her other stories can be found in places like Luna Station Quarterly, Land Beyond the World Magazine, and 365 Tomorrows.