The Lorelei Signal
Witch-Woman and the Tiger-Man
Written by Mike Adamson / Artwork by Sonali Roy
The Uralian War was in its twentieth year when Vator the Hunter found the rider from the cities. Rain fell softly from grey clouds, the world a dim place of shadow and fleeting sunrays. Tiger-Brother rumbled softly in his great throat, sabre-teeth gleaming as Vator knelt by the young woman in the blue cloak of the Orders. Further along the rutted track were bodies, the swarthy, stocky warriors from the east, whose blood her sword had tasted before a slingstone brought her down. Her horse had bolted, and she had dispatched her last foe before succumbing to the wound at her temple.
Vator’s people distrusted city folk, the people of stone and tile, makers of ship and tamers of horse, and the weather-beaten young man wrinkled his nose in displeasure. Part of him would have walked on by, but the greater part saw the scope of her battle, and honoured courage. He warred with his thoughts and at last turned her, cleansed her wound with water from a puddle, and when she stirred he raised a hand in caution.
“I will not harm you,” he murmured. She blinked in the misery of the cool rain, glancing to take in the striped sabre-tooth who waited nearby, sodden and unhappy. “Who are you?”
“They call me Melitass,” she whispered. “Late of lost Rudcairne. I war for our good king.”
“Not my king,” the hunter spat.
The girl sat up with difficulty. “You imagine the Uralians would treat the people of the marshes any differently because you mistrust cities?” She scowled. “We do battle on your behalf, friend, whether you appreciate it or not.”
He was grim-faced for a moment, the rain plastering his long, dark hair to his brow. “Vator,” he said a moment later. “Of the village on the fens.”
She rose wearily, cast around and plucked her sword from the long grass, wiped it and slid it away at her side. “I must return to Clon Bane, I have word for our armies.” She gestured into the dim daylight where emerald trees gored the belly of the clouds. “There are more Uralians out there. Without a horse, it’s a day’s walk.”
“You would brave your foes alone, on foot?” Vator nodded his grudging approval. “They make people hard in those cities.”
“War has made us hard,” she corrected. “I call myself witch, but my magics were little use today.” She shivered, rubbed her arms. “I must go.”
She turned to follow the track but Vator called out. “Wait.... You’ll never make it that way.” He nodded into the dense scatter of islets and lakes where the rain sizzled on the waters. “I know the hidden trails of Marshland like few others.”
“You would guide me…?”
Without a word Vator hefted his spear, adjusted his sodden cloak and a low whistle brought the mighty cat to his side. He lead her through stands of reeds, thickets of willow, and soon they followed grassy ways between rippling tarns and meres. The afternoon grew dimmer and thunder grumbled far away.
Soon Melitass knew she was deep in the fens and upon a firm trail known to few. Stray from it even a little and death lurked in the endless waters, a cold passing of mud and slime, no end for warrior or witch. But she began to feel she could trust the big hunter. “Why?” she asked after a time.
He hesitated, found words with effort. “You are fearless,” was all he would say, and she smiled faintly, for courage was the currency of all honour.
She followed his path, respected the huge cat with the ease of one who communed with animal kind, and knew this route was direct, passing across the marshes. She would see the towers of Clon Bane before sundown, and her information may be fresh enough to be of use.
Yet even here they were stalked. The Uralians embodied the fury of raw, young peoples and the land of Conalore, child of the lost empire, was fighting for its existence. The warriors came on through the gloom with relentless energy, and though some missed the path and paid the price in the bogs, enough ran true to force battle. They came on with yowling warcry and whirling blades, but found only Melitass waiting calmly, under a graceful willow on a low reed islet. They circled warily, all hawkish faces and sodden black furs, and spearmen poised to cast.
Sudden as the gale, fury came among them; red were the torn bodies as Tiger-Brother shattered bone with his great sledge-hammer paws, and Vator emerged from the reeds, his flint blade probing for gut and rib. Melitass exploded into action, her sword weaving a skein of death in the gloaming, and many were the howls as her razor-honed steel kissed flesh. Bodies littered the reeds as life fled, and in one minute it was done. The woman poised in a fighting stance for long moments, then wiped her blade and sheathed it, a small, wry smile for the hunter her thanks.
An hour later, as stormy dusk settled over the lowlands, they made out the murky flare of torches where the towers of the city rose beyond croplands and orchards, and the hunter shook his head at her invitation. “No,” he grumbled, “I am for home. Mayhap my chieftain will scold my choices, but courage is the highest of virtues.”
“I did not say that.” He smiled thinly. “Go back to your city, woman... But tell them, the people of the marshes are no friend to the pirates of the east.”
“I will,” she murmured, before striding on into the foul evening. As she passed from the lakelands she looked back and for a moment the last daylight outlined the hunter and his great familiar, and she raised a fist to them in salute. The misery of war was unending but she could smile, flint-hard, for today, she thought, the hunting had indeed been good.
Mike Adamson holds a Doctoral degree from Flinders University of South Australia. After early aspirations in art and writing, Mike returned to study and secured qualifications in marine biology and archaeology. Mike has been a university educator since 2006, is a passionate photographer, master-level hobbyist and journalist for international magazines.