Webcomics and Stories
Heroic & Dark Fantasy and Science Fiction Character created by Kevin L. O'Brien
This low fantasy / historical fantasy novelette takes place in the Pacific Northwest of the North American continent, during Medb hErenn's exile from Ireland. As so often happens, she has a fundamental impact on the history of the region.
Medb hErenn knelt to examine the track in the soft earth. Though shaped like the rear paw of a bear, it was at least three times normal size. What struck her as more odd, however, was that, while the line of tracks stretched for several yards along the crest of the ridge, she could not see a single print of a forepaw.
She stood and gazed down the slope of the ridge towards the plain below. The ridge itself was covered with thick, tall grass, patches of ground-hugging herbs, and late-spring flowers, but at the base of the slope the land flattened into a broad, shrub-filled heath that stretched off towards a lake in the far distance. Behind it stood a line of purple, white-capped mountains, still imposing despite their great distance. Closer, a forest filled her view, stretching off into the distance to the edge of the lake and to her right beyond her sight behind the line of the ridge, but it ended at the edge of the expanse of moor to her left. Its coniferous trees were so thick they formed a dark, blue-green mass that looked as solid as the mountains themselves. And as she studied the landscape, she clearly saw the lone figure making its way through the moor towards its center. Even with her keen eyesight she could discern little, except that it was a tall, ursine creature, flabby, with a dirty-ivory coat of fur mottled with patches of tan. And it walked upright on two short, thick legs.
A young warrior walked up abreast of her and followed her gaze. "You were right," he said stoically. By name T'lingit, he was tall, muscular, and very handsome, with copper skin, dark brown eyes, and straight blue-black hair cut shoulder length. He wore a heavy white shirt made from goat wool and cedarbark fiber, which came midway down his shins and was decorated with highly stylized designs in black, yellow, and turquoise, which depicted his clan's animal totems. A thick blanket, made from the same material and decorated with similar designs, was draped over his shoulders and closed over his chest with a whalebone pin. On his head he wore a conical, wide-brimmed, low-crowned hat woven from the roots of spruce trees, and on his feet soft-soled, knee-high boots made of sealskin. He carried with him his weapons of honor: a bow and quiver of arrows for hunting; a whalebone knife; a warclub of redwood with a stone blade, dangling from a harness swung over one shoulder; and a trio of spruce spears sporting blades carved from mussel shells, carefully balanced on his other shoulder.
Without looking at him, Medb replied, "It gives me no pleasure." She was taller than T'lingit, but only by half a head. She was, however, more massive. She had wide shoulders and hips, with thick arms and thighs, and large, firm, well-rounded breasts and buttocks, but also a narrow waste and a hard, flat stomach. Her long, oval face with its sharp features was more handsome than beautiful, but her amber-colored skin was smooth and perfect, and her emerald-green eyes mesmerizing. She wore her gold-tinted, bronze-colored hair long, straight, and loose, except for two braids that hung from either side of her head down her front to her waist. She secured it with a band of silvered bronze around her head just above her brow, and she wore a neckring made of heavy twisted gold, open at her throat, with the ends capped with two large, uncut red gems. Her own armament consisted of a dirk with a thick foot-long blade and a sword with a narrow three-foot blade secured to a belt woven from leather strips; an oblong wooden shield reinforced with a metal rim, spokes, and a large central boss; six four-foot javelins secured in a special harness attached to the backside of the shield behind the arm holds; and two eight-foot spears with large, serrated metal blades. However, except for the cloak she wore from her native Erin, secured at one shoulder with a brooch of bronze, and the fact that she went bareheaded, she had adopted the dress of her native hosts.
"Nonetheless," T'lingit persisted, "you seem to understand the Crusher better than we do." The "we" referred to his tribe, among whom Medb had been living for the past six years.
"I have intimate knowledge of the Otherworld and its inhabitants, and I do not exaggerate. Though your culture is foreign to mine, our myths and legends seem to follow the same path."
The warrior shook his head. "What you say goes beyond my understanding, but that matters little. It is more important that we have found it, and that you know its habits, or at least can accurately guess at them. How do you suggest we proceed?"
"You said there was a hunting lodge nearby?"
"Yes," he confirmed, pointing down the slope to their right, "at the base of the ridge, built into the side of the hill." When he realized her purpose in asking, he added, "Surely you do not mean to spend the night there. Why delay? Let us go after it now, while we can still track it."
Medb looked up at the sky. "No, it is getting late," she objected, and indeed the sky was rapidly darkening. "We could not reach the moor before nightfall, and I have no desire to navigate it in the dark, do you? Besides, we need food and rest, and a plan of attack; we need time to prepare."
"Very well," he conceded, "the lodge is this way," and they walked down the slope. Once at the foot of the ridge they turned right and followed its length until they came to a wooden structure protruding from a particularly steep section of its face. Like the houses of T'lingit's village, it was square-shaped, built from wooden planks supported by a frame of log poles, with a low, gabled roof and no windows. The only entrance was round and slightly shorter than either of them, but covered by a thick, reinforced door. Inside was a single, small room, the floor covered in wood planks except for the central firepit. Around the perimeter was a raised platform, for sitting and sleeping on. Above the firepit was a smoke hole, but the roof continued on into the hillside, along with the wooden walls, and a wooden wall formed the rear of the lodge. Despite the shape, interior design, and construction material, it reminded Medb of the dwellings in her native Erin, and she felt immediately comfortable.
She started a fire while T'lingit went hunting. She considered it an unnecessary risk, what with the Crusher prowling nearby; they had brought food with them, but he wanted fresh game. Medb relented mostly because she believed the creature would spend the night in the moor, waiting to see if they were foolish enough to follow it in after dark. Even so, what with the gloom of approaching dusk, the warrior did not go far, so that he returned with only three rabbits, which he had already gutted and skinned. Nonetheless, Medb was able to turn them into a splendid stew.
With the fire burning well, the small space heated up quickly, so T'lingit stripped down to his loincloth. Medb did the same, except she wore nothing else under her shirt. He was neither disturbed nor aroused by her nakedness, since she had frequently gone nude in the house of his clan in the village. In this she was not alone; though the women seldom did so, the men often went naked when comfort and circumstances permitted. That Medb emulated the men rather than the women was simply one of her many eccentricities that his tribe had learned to accept. That evening though, as they sat after eating and discussed how best to find and kill the beast on its home ground, he found that things were different. Perhaps it was the camaraderie of their mutual pursuit; perhaps it was the closeness brought on by being in this cramped, warm space, or the fact that they were alone for the first time in six years. But now he found himself being attracted to her, as he would if she was his wife. As they talked, sitting close enough to catch each other's scent and feel each other's warmth, he could not resist finally touching and caressing her. Rather than be offended, she responded in kind, and it wasn't long before all thoughts of what they had come to do were banished in favor of other more lustful meditations. They spent the night in each other's arms, and had the Crusher itself come to rip down the lodge they wouldn't have cared.
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Medb had been living with a tribe in the interior plateau region when T'lingit had arrived in the area carrying a hundred pound pack of trade goods. She along with the rest of the tribe saw his smoke signal announcing his presence, and out of curiosity she followed them to a traditional meeting place along the trade trail where he had set up. She liked the look of him and when the others had left she remained behind and tried to seduce him. He rejected her, but he did so with such grace and good humor that she respected and admired him rather than became angry. They spent the night talking, and in the morning when he continued on, he consented to have her accompany him.
She proved a valuable asset: not only did she provide him with company, but she hunted for him and helped him carry his wares. He soon came to appreciate her talents—she was as strong as the moose, as swift as the deer, as sharp as the fox, and as agile as the otter—as well as her courage, especially after she faced down a grizzly bear that had surprised them early one morning. She had stood toe-to-toe with it, nude except for her neckring (which was how she slept), brandishing one of her spears and screaming curses at it in her native tongue while he pelted it with rocks from behind. The poor animal was so consternated at the unexpected resistance that it finally turned tail and ran. After that episode he treated her with awe, respect, and even a small bit of trepidation. Though a great warrior in his own right, with the heads of a dozen enemies to his credit, he hoped he would never have to fight her.
She also helped him with his trading, and in this she was especially valuable, for she had the cunning of coyote. By the time he returned home, he had made a greater profit than in earlier years, earning more wealth for his house and himself and, what was more important, greater honor and glory. In gratitude for all the help she had given him, he invited Medb to come to his village, and he presented her to the chief of his house as an honored guest. She was accepted as such, and the clan feasted her for three days, at the end of which time the chief invited her to stay as long as she liked; he even gave her space for her own sleeping quarters.
In due course, however, it became obvious to her that, guest though she was, the clan expected her to pull her own weight. Despite being a woman, she would not do those chores that were their responsibility: cooking, weaving, basket-making, or child-rearing. Instead she performed those tasks that the men were trained for, such as hunting, fishing, and woodworking. This perplexed the people of the house and the rest of the tribe, yet they quickly grew accustomed to it when she proved herself the equal of any man in the village, and her activities improved the wealth of the house that sheltered her.
Then too there were other things she did that ingratiated herself to the tribe. When the village's chief harpooner was injured in an accident and the yearly whale hunt was put in jeopardy, Medb volunteered to act in his stead. Standing naked, except for the harpooner's hat, in the prow of her house's canoe, she expertly guided the villagers to the kill in rapid time. Then there was the autumn a grizzly bear began raiding the village's food stocks, threatening the tribe with starvation that winter, until she tracked it alone through a blizzard to its lair and slew it. The son of Nootka, a wealthy member of a large and powerful neighboring tribe, tried to rape T'lingit's sister, but Medb pursued and captured him, and then forced his father to pay a crippling ransom for his return. And a little girl became sick with a disease the shaman could not cure, so she cured her with an application of herbal medicine. This earned her an invitation to join the Cannibal Dancers, the strongest of the shaman societies, which she accepted.
Yet the greatest act she performed for the tribe and her house was when the village of Nootka mounted a raid on her village for revenge. Her sleeping compartment was beside the great round door of the house, a position of lowest rank, but still an honor for one not a member of the clan. Thus, when one of the warriors entered the house, though he tried to be stealthy, Medb heard him and awoke, and when she discovered him she killed him without making a sound. Then, as T'lingit led the other men of the house to find and slay the remaining raiders, Medb donned the dead man's armor of wooden slats as a disguise and went looking for their leader, whom she subdued and captured. She was not surprised when she discovered it was Nootka himself. She interrogated him thoroughly, after which she turned him over to the villagers, who tortured him to death. She then devised a plan whereby, under the guise of accepting a ransom for his return, she was able to slip T'lingit and a band of warriors into the other village for a surprise attack. Her plan succeeded brilliantly; she and the warriors slaughtered all the men, looted the village, and burned it to the ground, and the women and children not killed or taken as slaves fled into the wilderness.
As a reward for this service, T'lingit's clan adopted her and gave her a place of honor in their house. The village in turn enrolled her into the Raven moiety so that she might be able to marry if she wished. She did not, yet she respected the tribe's puritanical traditions. In the interior, the tribes she had encountered tolerated her promiscuity even if they did not encourage it, and so she was always able to find a man or sometimes even a woman who was willing to share her bed. Among her adopted people, however, personal and family honor meant more than wealth, and promiscuity brought shame on the transgressor and his or her house. Thus, out of deference to their traditions and loyalty to her new house, she restrained her normal lascivious tendencies. In turn, the tribe recognized her sacrifice and honored her for it.
As time went by, and her personal wealth as well as that of her house grew, so did her prestige and glory. She became the house chief's primary advisor, in status second only to him, and as T'lingit's ad hoc brother, he and his family shared in her glory. She had quickly learned the clan's songs, dances, and legends, its totem animals and special names, and most importantly its territorial privileges—hunting and fishing grounds and trade routes—and though a woman she accepted willingly the duty of teaching these to T'lingit's sons when they came of age, since he had no real brothers to do it for him.
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The Crusher came the sixth night of a potlatch, in the early morning hours when the hosts and guests were sleeping off the previous evening's feast. The house chief was celebrating the marriage of his eldest daughter to the son of a neighboring village, a match that Medb had arranged as much to benefit the whole tribe as her clan. The other village had wealth and power, and while they had always been friends, this marriage would now make them kin, which would strengthen the bond between the two tribes.
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Badb (bahv) witch
Fiacha Catha (FEE-uh-ckuh CAH-huh) battle ravens
Medb hErenn (mayv HAIR-rayn)
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