The Company of Loria¶
Told by Derry O'Darren, a Tryker Chronicler :
For many a year our people prospered in the ancient lands of Trykoth in the force of the peace that our alliance with the Fyros procured.
The original deal was we'd supply Fyros cities in the north with water for their expansion, and they'd provide us with protection against our Matis neighbors who'd been blatantly casting their greedy eyes over our lands. Incidentally, this was about the time that the Matis had dammed the great Munshia river that takes its source in their territory and rolls on to the Fyros wastelands. So as it happened, not only would we be running a route through a sliver of their land but also nudging them out of the water business, hah... Still, I say it served them right for overtaxing their water in the first place. Just like the Matis to spite their own noses, no sense of commerce...
More than ten thousand free homins, Trykers and Fyros alike slogged away four and a half years solid carving a twenty foot wide aqueduct through 500 miles of flat bark along the Matis coastline. Thirty great mills along the way churned the water along feeding it in an endless flow from the Trykoth lakes to the Fyros desert dunes in the north. Settlements sprang up along the way many o' which grew into protection outposts or trade towns, it was the beginning of a whole new way of life.
The North-South water route paved the way for new trade, anything from silverweed sap and moon linen to auberwood resin and prakker grease. Those were the glory days as old pa used to say, bless his soul... Oh, no doubt it weren't all glad-rags `n' lily-paddlin' everyday, I grant you. There were some troubles, in the shape of the Matis mostly, as green as a sap-pickled toad, they were, and biting their fingers for being so greedy! But all in all folk lived a merry enough life; plenty of food `n' drink, dancing and dallying and not to mention bags of work all year round, what with upkeep, repairing and peddling...
Yep, everything was swell as a clam in a shell when the Fyros - never happy with their lot - as per usual went poking their noses where they shouldn't and inadvertently set off a huge fire stretching from Coriolis to Destranon.
Well, to cut a long story short, the new Matis king, Aniro III, took advantage of the Fyros being all caught up in fire and swept through the city of Karavia at midway on the water route killing everything that so much as raised an eyebrow! Everyone dead, gone, all in one night. Horrendous, it was, unthinkabubble... I get a lump just thinking about it...
T'was indeed sad times that befell our fathers. Well, after ploughing his way through water route villages and outposts, razing everything in his path, the dark Duke, Gioni di Tylini sent an ultimatum at our mountain gates for us to lay down our arms or have our wives and children cut to the marrow. Well, true to our life-loving spirit and always quick to adapt to a tricky situation, the Tryker tribal chiefs thought it best to stay with the livin' so as to fight another day!
That notwithstanding, though, many a Tryker took their chances in the hills that backed onto the great impassable wall of the Zorai. But once the Matis closed in on them they were like sitting game for the picking and the Matis made examples out of most of them.
We were herded off like yelks in our thousands, driven to the Matis territories where we were divided up and dispatched over the lands. We were set to hard labor making arms and general skivvying for over fifty days and fifty nights till the answer to our prayers came, not from the sky but from underground : Loria and her company of intrepid Trykers were to change our way of thinking, and bring out our true colors in a way that we would never have dreamed...
Loria was the daughter of a beachcomber, a slight built but hearty maid who knew the underground caverns better than any who ever lived. Legend has it that before beginning the forced march under armed escort out of the lagoon region of Trykoth, one night she slipped out of the stockade, unshackled a burly bunch of beachcombers and led them clean past the Matis watchmen into the hills south. But no sooner had the sun began to rise and dissipate the summer mist than the Matis chief got wind of the escape and sent out a search party twenty strong on mektoub-back, spurred on by the incentive of reward if they brought back every head before nightfall.
Despite the Trykers wading up and across streams whenever possible to avoid leaving tracks and dropping their scent, the Matis were soon on their tails. By late morning, whenever the breeze lifted and shifted inland the unmistakable sounds of steady mektoub canter and Matis tongues came into earshot, meaning the pursuers were but an hour's ride behind! Still Loria pushed her company on keeping true to her initial course south by southeast, though not without having to give the company some reassurance. "Mountain to the left, Zorai wall ahead, Matis behind, to my mind we'd stand more chance heading west!" said Bodley Shaines, a stout fella who Loria knew from childhood.
"No, our only sanctuary lies where the Matis dare not tread," she replied, "where you see the great root springing forth yonder from the belly of Atys. From there we follow the galleries east under the great mountain into Matis land, to free our brethren!"
"We'd be more help to our brethren if we saved our own skins first, I say!"
"No, Bodley," said Bremen Layley, "Loria's right, the west of Trykoth is riddled with Matis gingo handlers hunting down runners." As if to second Bremen's reasoning there came a sickening howling echo from a hunt somewhere afar in the west.
"Well I'm stickin' with Loria," said Ticker O'Flaney.
"So am I," seconded Binney Torly.
"Trust me, Bodley, another hour's march and we're safe!" Loria insisted.
"Oh, well, I s'pose I ain't leaving you now. Besides, someone's gotta look after you, little princess!"
"Good, now let's save our breath for striding!" Without further ado Loria dug in her heels, lengthened her stride and fixed her sights on the high plateau yonder followed by Ticker O'Flaney, Bremen Layley, Binny Torly, Jeffy Payne and last but not least Bodley Shaines keeping up the rear. On they trekked, threading through the dense bushes and shrubs of the lowland forest, over grassy ridges and down slopes in the early summer sunshine that warmed the magnificent irin flowers deliciously enhancing their fragrance. T'wasn't always an easy thing to concentrate on escape and murder and such like in a land blessed with such natural harmony. At one point, Ticker O'Flaney couldn't help a whistle but was then rebuked by Loria when he broke out into song, you can't blame the fella, such is the Tryker love of free living, is it not?! Another time Bodley Shaines got a good scolding for picking scrath berries and general dawdling.
At last they found themselves at the top of the plateau in the middle of which was a deep cleft where the great stalk reached down into the forbidden bowels of Atys. All six Tryker homins stood in wonder at the great root that weaved its way up to the canopy, then they turned in unison to take in the view of the blue lagoons shimmering in the distance like silken spreads `neath the midday sky.
"Look yonder to the sea," observed Bremen Layley, "looks like our salt vessels are on course for Karavia."
"Maybe our folk are fleeing to Fyros lands..." added Binney.
"To join them to wage war against the invaders!"
"Three cheers for freedom!" rejoiced Ticker, but Loria held up a hand.
"Look again," she said solemnly, "the royal flags you see are of no tribe of Trykoth!"
"See the water route, see the droves down there being driven away to slavery..." As Loria pointed out the dark masses representing the thousands of Tryker prisoners, her ears were suddenly alerted of the galloping of mektoubs coming up the trail not nine hundred yards on the other side of the plateau behind them. The Matis knights must have spotted them and had taken the bridle track round to take the Trykers by surprise.
"Quick, to the cavern!" cried Loria.
"The slope's too far, we'll never make it in time!"
"To the edge of the cleft, there's a vine we can climb down!" shouted Loria. The Matis were but three hundred yards away as the Trykers grasped the vine, all swung over the ledge and began to slip down the fifty foot scarp, that is, all except one.
"Come on, Bodley! What are you doing?!" called Loria from over the ledge.
"Keeping the Matis from our backs, you follow the lads now, Loria, you'll be down by the time I've cut this through enough!"
"I trusted you, now it's your turn to trust me! Go on now, I'll be alright long as you get a move on." Bodley continued slicing the vine with his penknife as the Matis closed in.
The first knights wielding their swords were but ten yards from Bodley when he turned and threw a pocketful of prickly scrath galls in their road. The mektoubs reared on the prickles and threw their riders giving the bold Tryker an instant to see that the company had touched the ground and that Loria was already two thirds down the scarp, and then he too slipped over the ledge. A furious knight scrambled after him but on seeing the state of the vine turned to his chief.
"The wretch has cut the vine, it won't hold us, sire,"
The Matis chief advanced to the ledge. "Get back on your mektoubs," he ordered and swiped clean through the remaining strands of vine. "They're heading for the cavern! To the path on the other side!" he bawled before making off in a lightening gallop. Bodley was halfway down when the lifeline was completely severed. But the artful little fella kicked from the scarp wall at the last second to fling himself on a leafy flowering irin branch, so breaking the fall, but which then delivered him to the ground with a thud smack in the middle of a generous pile of dung! He got to his feet, pretty disgusted but none the worse for wear amid some laughter and cheering now that the Matis had been foiled. For the slope running down into the bed of the cleft was some three hundred yards on the far side, whereas the Trykers had just thirty yards separating them from the Prime Root entrance, and they all knew the Matis would never go against the Law and venture in after them. But Loria, the only one without a grin on her face, took the Tryker by his dung stained lapel, and gave his arm a sniff.
"Torbak, and fresh..." she uttered with a dark glance to the cavern of their haven. At the same moment there came from within a horrible roaring yawn that numbed their senses.
The Matis were racing across the plateau to the far slope and Loria knew they would be within the arena outflanking them in less than a minute. Bodley sank to his knees as much through moral exhaustion as despair.
"Get up, homin!!" cried she, "we're not done yet, get up, there's a greater battle awaits us. Now swallow your pride and do as I do, all of you!" She took a large Prime Root leaf, smeared it into the torbak dung and proceeded in rubbing it into her clothing. The others reluctantly did likewise as the Matis mektoubs came thundering down the slope. "Now, brace your hearts, remain calm and don't run, the scent you now wear will cover you." Loria then stepped forward as the Matis came charging over swords outstretched with the captain crying: "Only their heads!"
Unperturbed by Matis cries of slaughter, Loria continued her sure and steady progress towards the dangerous Prime Root haven with her company close behind all in one block. The Matis were but twenty yards from their heads as they came into the shade of the gaping cavern entrance when all at once, there was an appalling roar and a pack of five great torbaks pranced before them. Even one step from the jaws of death Loria did not falter in her stride, and led her company between the formidable creatures without them giving the Trykers so much as a sniff! The galloping mektoubs stopped dead throwing the first astonished riders into the path of the awesome predators who then lunged their saber-horns into the soft Matis bellies to secure each unexpected morsel before going on to the next in a frenetic binge of killing.
Only two Matis out of the whole party made it back to tell they had been trapped by a witch, claiming that not only had she the power to conjure evil creatures and set them on her enemy, but she dared breach the Law and descend into the forbidden caverns of the underworld!
The Company of Loria didn't hang around for the feast but continued on to meet their heroic destiny through the Prime Roots under the great mountain to the greater battle.