Here’s an excerpt from “After the Bear”, one of the stories in SHIFTY: TALES FROM THE WORLD OF SAGE. Like the SAGE trilogy, the stories in SHIFTY are traditional fantasy, and yet they are not. People who don’t generally like fantasy often like SAGE and SHIFTY.
excerpt from “After the Bear”
by Marian Allen
Farukh’s tales had always been his favorite feature of the annual market fair, better than the puppet shows, better than the chicken fights, almost better than the sugar crystals on sticks.
“In these very woods,” Farukh said, “years ago, when you were only a child, two people took refuge. They were separated – how, is not important. The man had all the food and most of the money and knew where he was headed and how to get there. The woman had nothing but a few coppers, and only her memory of the man’s directions to guide her. The man was frantic. The woman was in despair.”
As always, Farukh’s voice wove a tapestry that wrapped the boy and came to life. He could see each of the two, each alone, each frightened for self and other. He could feel the man’s clenching anxiety. At the same time, he could feel the woman’s terror and dread. It was real. It was now.
Farukh said, “My brother insists we leave them both to manage as best they can.”
Iden wished he had the courage to “accidentally” scuff some of the forest’s detritus into the brother’s face, but he had no desire to draw the enmity of that obviously ill-natured brute.
Farukh went on, “We’ve compromised on going to the aid of one or the other. So we ask you: which shall it be?”
“Neither,” said the brother, still on the ground.
Which should he choose? As a male, he knew the man was filled with the shame of having someone need him but being powerless.
“Help the man find the woman,” he said.
“No fair,” said the brother, before Iden had quite finished speaking. “One or the other. That’s both.”
The tension crawled from his stomach and into all his muscles. He felt his head lower, his knees lock, and his fists clench. Then he relaxed. It was only a story!
“You’re wonderful!” he said. “I was really trying to decide, as if my decision really mattered!”
“It does,” said Farukh.
“How can it matter, when you said this happened long ago, when I was little? Even if it really happened, it’s long past.”
Baffled by the question, Iden recalled the grown-ups’ refusal to talk about the Fiddlewood – The Haunted Wood, as he’d been told they called it in the neighboring country of Kozabir. He remembered his orders to keep his patrol close to the forest’s boundary, to stay within shouting distance of his everyday reality.
“Which one?” came the harsh voice, nearer his feet than before. “Or neither?”
Iden took no more retreating steps.
“The woman,” he said. “She has no food and doesn’t know her way. Help the one who needs it most.”
The brother hissed. “Why?”
“Because,” he said. “That’s what you do. That’s the Way.”
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Which would your main character choose and why?