One of the stories in SHIFTY: TALES FROM THE WORLD OF SAGE, features the family in this scene from SAGE. After the end of this excerpt, Brady the shapeshifter led them into the Fiddlewood and a bear chased them out. “After the Bear” takes place some years following that. Here’s how the chase began.
Before the Bear
excerpt from SAGE
by Marian Allen
A woman peered out between the slats of an unglazed window, then came to lean over the top of the divided door. Another man, a gray-haired version of the first, came around the house from the back.
“What can we do for you, son?” he asked. “Holiday up the river, and couldn’t catch your dinner?”
“Yes,” said Brady, with a toothsome smile. He was a bit chagrined at having been willing to tell more-or-less the truth when, with a little thought, he might have produced this very plausible lie on his own.
“There’s a bit left of ours,” the woman said. “I’ll fetch it out to you, shall I?”
“I’ll need more than a bit. I’m a heavy feeder.”
The younger farmer laughed. “You look it. What’ll it take to fill you, then?”
“A couple of loaves, a cheese about so big. Half a dozen apples. – That’ll do me for supper and breakfast, too.”
“I should think it would,” said the woman. She looked to the younger man, who looked to the elder.
“Can you pay?” the older man asked. “We could spare a few scraps, for pity’s sake, but you’re asking for money’s worth.”
“I’m only a journeyman tanner.” Brady roughened and stained his hands under cover of searching his nearly empty pack. “I only have a handful of coppers, but you’re welcome to a fair reckoning of them.”
The gray-haired man nodded and the woman ducked into the house.
Brady spent the next quarter-hour inventing the village he claimed to come from and populating it with caricatures of people he didn’t like.
The woman returned and passed a sack to the younger farmer, who passed it to Brady.
The older farmer named a price – inflated, but not shockingly so.
Brady scooped a few coins from the purse he’d taken from Elsie and began to count them out into the young farmer’s hand.
Two of them were silver.
“Hello!” said Brady, taking them back. “Where did you come from?”
He dipped into the purse again and came up with one copper – the rest were silver.
He had palmed the wrong purse. Meaning to supply himself with plenty of coppers, he had gotten the silver instead.
“What’s an apprentice tanner on vacation doing with coin like that?” the older farmer said, moving in on Brady from the side. “Robbed your master and run away, have you?”
The varier took to his heels. He kept his coloring and homespun but, under cover of movement and distance, dropped bulk and weight from his figure and picked up speed.
“I’ll loose the dog!” he heard the woman shout.
Oh, to be a dog! A greyhound, streaking into the distance. But that would mean exposing his ability and losing the sack of food, not to mention his own things and Devona’s money, and Brady wasn’t yet prepared to make those sacrifices.
He ran on, leaving the farmers behind – but not far behind.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: If you could change your appearance, or turn into an animal at will, what would you change or turn into?