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Tales from the Bear and Lion by S. M. White

Free ebook: fantasy short stories
Genre/Category: Fantasy Books
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Tales from the Bear and Lion by S. M. White
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Ebook Synopsis

A Collection of Fantasy Short Stories.

Follow the birth of a monster in "Jar of Hearts."

Listen and watch as a poet pines for a lost daughter of the gods in "The Eyes of Illiat."

Take the journey as Andore sets off to claim the fey woman who stole his heart in "Andore and Illiat."

Learn the horrific lengths one child will take to mend a broken heart in "You Bury Me."

Listen to a soldier's agony as he returns from war and finds the life he left forever changed in "The Last Stand of a Dying Soldier."

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Leaves crackled beneath running feet as terror forced the youth through a darkened autumn wood. Moonlight shifted, and shadows played across the footpath as a chill wind nudged the naked branches overhead. The familiar scent of crushed ferns and new sweat filled the air.

Wide blue eyes stared into the darkness, searching. Uncertain feet snapped twigs, and skittered across the loose pebbles of unseen creek beds as the youth dashed madly forward, his hands extended before him in a vain effort to detect unseen thrusts of the forest.

The commotion of his passing barely registered with him, the pounding of blood in his ears far too thunderous. He crashed through patches of bramble and small stands of stunted saplings, but felt very little over the thumping of his heart in his throat.

He was being followed, pursued by a dreaded legend that the village boys often mocked; one he’d even scoffed at while dancing in a ring with his friends. Now the fairytale, that man forced to drag his twisted right foot as he worked to fulfill an ancient and horrible debt, was out there, trailing through the wisps of autumn fog. And he clutched to his side a large jar with a rotted cork stopper, the contents of which had the fleeing boy stumbling in his effort to escape.

Cutting sharply to his left, hoping it would lead back toward the village, the boy felt his feet slide out from under him as mud turned traction elusive. He toppled to the leafy forest floor, his arms shooting out to break his fall. As he struck the earth, sorry thoughts filled his head, hopes cultivated by the unlikely position in which he found himself. Someone in the village had to be looking for him, had to have heard his clumsy gallivanting and would come rescue him. A distant voice in his head chirped about the futility of such wishful thinking. He should never have ventured out past the common field; never should have stepped slowly, feigning bravery, into the North Wood. Especially not this night, when Old Man Dudden was said to travel the land, filling his jar of hearts.

A shadow rose before the boy’s eyes, a wall that made the dark of night impossibly darker. The sounds of movement, the slow and meticulous soughing of a cripple, drew him up to his knees.

Moonlight broke through the bare branches overhead, tumbling down to land upon a withered face, lighting it in a milky glow. Lines cut vagarious across that leathery skin, and patches of thin wispy hair lay across chin and cheek. The eyes were cold and blue, hateful in that small illumination dripping from overheard. They stared down at the boy, gleaming with ghostly venom.

It was impossible to look away from those eyes, large balls of ice like frozen ponds on a barren land. And the longer the boy stared, the clearer he could see himself there, trapped behind those solid blue-white orbs.

Old Man Dudden stepped forward, his body twisting as he struggled to pull his right leg along with him, the appendage a terrible burden. The contents of the jar clutched to his side shifted as he moved; the watery refuse lining the bottom slurped sickly within the glass confine.

“Another heart,” Old Man Dudden said in a hollow, tired voice. He lifted a clawed hand and reached for the boy, a frigid whisper leaving his throat.

The boy tried to scream, tried to give substance to the fear immobilizing him. Nothing rose from his clenching throat but a faltering breath. The hand fell upon his chest, both icy and hot. The sensation wasn’t painful, but the boy didn’t dare glance down. It was quick, a slight tug that caused the boy’s back to arch. And then, as Old Man Dudden claimed his prize, the forest rose up to claim the boy, a kind and pitiful gesture. It pulled the youth into the loam, into the tangles of roots that scratched through the earth, wrapping him in a stiff embrace.

The cork left the jar with a hint of a pop, and the shaking hand of a man long damned deposited the wet muscle inside. Stopping the jar once more, Old Man Dudden turned to shamble away, his thoughts dark as he counted what he carried. Too many hearts.