In this collection of fantasy short stories all featuring female protagonists, you’ll find diverse, imaginative tales, including:
- A sorceress unravels a spell and gets a result she could never have expected…
- A young girl wins a contest–her prize: to speak with a god…
- A vampire in hiding fears she’ll be blamed for the reckless depredations of another of her kind…
- A minstrel travels with a witch who has a pair of very unusual cart horses…
As a bonus, this anthology includes “The Sow’s Ear”, originally published in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s acclaimed Sword and Sorceress series.
GENRE: Fantasy/Anthology ISBN: 9781921314407
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Table of Contents
The Sow’s Ear
Thief from Thief
Friends in Spite
Just Until Sun-Up
The Sun God’s Reading
The Sow’s Ear
Janell could feel the magic building in power, resisting, tingling up her arms, almost snarling at her as she began the first unraveling of its threads of energy. This curse spell was strong and complex, astonishingly so. She pulled back slightly, not discouraged, but needing to breathe and review the task.
Across the sparsely furnished room, her customer sat sulking. She was a plain, lumpy woman, well into her middle age, but not ugly. When Janell had asked why she wanted to pay so dearly to have her curse removed, the woman had gestured down at her body with contempt. “Look at me!” she had shouted. “I was beautiful, graceful, fertile! I can’t go on living in this hideous, useless body!”
Janell could understand that. She wasn’t beautiful herself, but she chose to appear that way, and she knew the benefits and seductions of beauty. “Why did the mage curse you?” was her next question.
“He wanted my treasure. Now he has it, or most of it.” The woman stared forlornly down at work-roughened hands. “But he’s taken away the only thing I truly valued. I want that back. I want to be what I was before he cursed me.” Then she pulled out a pouch and emptied its contents on the table before Janell. “Here is all I was able to come away with. I give it all to you, to remove this curse and make me beautiful again.”
The pile of jewels glittered at Janell. If this was only a portion, no wonder the mage had been willing to curse her to get the rest! Further, Janell could see that one of the gems, a ruby amulet, was ensorcelled. Unable to resist, she ran her fingers through the stones, then lifted the amulet. There was no obvious clue to what kind of spell was on it.
The woman stared at her anxiously. She was no mage, and Janell began to think she didn’t realize what she had here. She pretended to be bored, asking, “Where did you come by such a treasure?”
Without the least hint of shame, even with pride, the woman said, “My father was a great thief. And a great miser.” Then, “Is it enough?”
The gems represented more than Janell could make with ten such spell-castings, even without the ensorcelled ruby. She couldn’t wait to begin to decipher the amulet’s resident magic. Still, she hadn’t lost all caution. Her own spells, cast on this room, not only told her this was no rival mage seeking to attack her while she concentrated, but also whether or not the woman was telling a lie. When Janell checked, she saw the woman had spoken only the truth.
The decision was easy. Janell made the slight gesture to raise the room’s protective shields, which would prevent any interruption once she began. “It is enough,” she said. “Barely. I will help you.” And she warned the woman not to speak, not to move until the curse was broken.
Now she was deeply into it, following and picking apart the threads of energy as a tailor might pick apart seams. Even for a shapechanging spell it was complex, going off in unexpected directions, strong where it should have been weak and weak where she might have made it strong. But this was what she was best at, and she followed it all the way to its heart. When she had it, the core of light from which the rest had been born, she held it in two magical “hands”, contained it, and then sent her own counterspell into its center like a knife.
The woman threw back her head and began to scream, but Janell wasn’t startled. Shapechanging always involved some pain, and forced shapechanging even more. She kept her attention on the curse, fracturing it and blowing away the pieces, letting them join the energy ambient in the room. It was done.
The woman had fallen forward, hunched over herself in the chair, the scream beginning to change into another sound. Janell was already reaching for the amulet when she realized the sound wasn’t the weeping that usually followed a shapechange. It was a growl, soft, but building abruptly into a roar. The roar filled Janell’s ears, filled the room, until the very air vibrated with the crescendo as if unable to hold it. It wasn’t a roar of pain, but of triumph. Janell flinched back, rising, stumbling backward over her chair.
In seconds, the woman’s plain clothing and sallow skin melted away, and a shape unfolded that was much, much larger, richly black and shining with iridescence, as if it had feasted on colors and kept them trapped in the blackness, allowing them to play along curves as it rose and continued to rise. A long neck unfolded, arched like a swan’s to keep the long reptilian head from grazing the ceiling. The body lengthened, filling the room from right to left, a tail sweeping around until it almost touched Janell. Thick muscular legs tipped with long golden claws crushed the chair beneath it, and black wings spread from the shoulders, opening on a frame of bony elongated fingers, like a bat’s.
The spells! She can’t have lied to me without my knowing! Janell thought in panic, and then she realized. The woman said her true form had been young and beautiful. She never said it had been human.
Her true form was beautiful, but it was a beauty of towering, glittering grace and raw strength, as terrible as thunderclouds rolling to fill the sky with tossed blackness and flashing lightning. Inhumanly perfect curves shuddered, stretched, shook off the last construction of its cursed form, and settled with the inevitability of the first whisper of an avalanche.
It was done. The head swung around to face Janell, the eyes red and flickering. They weren’t human eyes, but Janell could still see the gleeful triumph in them. She tried desperately to cast a spell to protect herself as the mouth opened, showing rows of long teeth. But the dragon didn’t bite her. It said, “Arlahalimin.” …