From an age lost to history, come fly with dragons, discover the power of innocence and love, work magic for the good of the land and marvel at wonders from a time when the magic around us did not always have to hide from man.
Nineteen stories for seekers of the wonder and magic so often lacking from today.
A huge thank you to fantasy artist Carl Critchlow, who provided the original art for the cover of the anthology. All rights to that remain with him.
Covers; from left to right:
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Introduction: A Time for Fables
The Dragon of the Ness
He had lived for ages; reckoned ancient even by his kind, his lair was filled with the accumulated treasure of his days. Recently he had found less pleasure in life than he had done. Days spent soaring under his Mother’s rays, stooping to shatter clouds in his wake just did not fulfil the yearning in his soul. Thus his attention turned to this new race, man, who were spreading across the lands below as they made their way to greatness or destruction. Whatever their fate, they went about it with such élan, such fire. So he joined them, flying down from the northern mountains and taking mortal form as only the great drakes can do.
The Sorceress and the Dancer
Tarif grinned as the little dragon performed a graceful somersault to catch the fish head he threw it. Wonderful creatures, the Hemmenak. They had been around the fishing fleet for years, doing acrobatics, chasing seagulls, and above all scrounging fish. They would eat any part of a fish, with a seeming relish in crunching the bones. He looked up, surveying the dockside. Every ship of the fleet had returned, and judging by the numbers of Hemmenak catching the sunlight as they cavorted, everyone had had a good trip.
The operating theatre fell silent apart from the low squeal of the heart monitor, its constant pitch echoing the single unwavering green line that traversed its screen. Consulting surgeon Michaela Daniels looked up at her team. She nodded: “Call it.”
Senior nurse Stephanie Sykes lifted the watch on her blouse. “Janet Hutchins, died of multiple injuries from a RTA, oh-one fif-“
Her voice stopped as her eyes widened, gazing fixedly behind Michaela. She spun quickly, ready for the onset of a drunk or another care in the community failure. It was neither.
Cherale considered that it was a beautiful day to be anywhere except stuck in the converted stables that the landowner had so grudgingly donated to be the school. Despite many cleaning rounds and the efforts of all the parents, the place was narrow, stuffy and still smelled faintly of manure. But it was colourful now the children had been allowed to draw on the walls with precious coloured chalks donated by a passing tinker. She would happily have taught in a cowshed to see the looks of wonder on the faces of her class as they realised that there was a far bigger world out there than the village elders told of.
A Winter at Court
During the summer, the court at Parthienne was a scintillating place to be: the sunlight through the stained glass windows, the scent of blossoms on the plants and trees throughout the grounds, the swirling capes of the courtiers, the elaborate dresses of the ladies.
But in the winter, the court took upon itself a very different hue: the dull tones of the rain on the windows, the deep browns of the bare earth and the skeletal trees in the grounds.
Geylon and the Green Girl
Geylon stood upon the hill as the fires burned for their second night. Water and fire versus earth he thought, as the dull thud of mallets on wood foretold the demise of another stone beyond the circle of firelight below. Another heathen temple destroyed by the might of Rome. Geylon looked out across the little valley, to the forest beyond. Heathen it may be, but it was a beautiful land, as verdant as it was ancient.
Steve pondered as he regarded the gravel adjacent to him, if he would ever develop the trick of remembering that he could not hold his drink after he had started drinking. His rebellious stomach had reminded him with its usual hour of misery, and he now lay where his friends had left him, face down on the grass verge outside the pub. From within came the sounds of a serious party, which he had again tried to be the heart and soul of and again found himself reduced to sick spectatorship.
The stones seemed to stand uncaring as the reverent and the revelling performed their various solstice rituals. Karen moved among them, looking for the same thing she did every year: her year king, her dark man of the woods. She knew he was here. All she had to do was keep looking. One solstice they would meet, and…
Sally cried as the fire died and shadows shrouded the bottles and cans strewn about the circle. Down in the quarry the last light did not penetrate, and even the wind seemed reluctant to intrude on her vigil. Another ruined meeting, another night smarting over the drunken ridicule heaped on her life. Why did they even bother to come? Why did she bother to bring them? Because she had to. Because sometimes, just sometimes, when they’d had just enough to drink, they actually got into the coven thing and the circle glowed in her sight, and she got fleeting glimpses of movement at the edges of her vision. But the sometimes were getting rarer.
Jamie left the noises of the party behind as he stepped out of the hall into the chill of the night. He took a deep breath to clear his head, then rubbed his face vigorously with his hands before looking about. More snow had fallen, its gentle sweep softening the shapes in the car park, making fantasy art of the playground and forming sparkling swathes in the moonlight that struck through the clearing clouds.
Talan prayed that it would be a bright, clear day as he slipped over the wooded ridgeline in the ghostly twilight before dawn. He moved confidently down to the left toward his vantage point, a weathered outcrop of moss-seamed rock partially obscured by a bramble thicket.
Tunnelling his way to his usual niche, collecting another batch of the tears and scratches that made his mother despair, Talan dared a peep over the rock into the shadowed valley below.
The Fall of Flower Dream
The katana cut the air in a simple cross cut, turned into art by the curve described between blows. Cherry blossoms parted cleanly as the four-man blade cut clean without tearing a petal, the setting sun flashing reflections from the mirror sheen of the unblemished blade and ornately wrought gold and lacquer tsuba.
The wolves of my youth are stalking me again. I used to see them, slinking from shadow to shadow, eyes like pale smoke, never quite there enough to make anyone believe me, but they were real enough. There wasn't a cat within three streets of my parent's house. On nights with no moon, small dogs 'wandered off' and pigeons apparently spontaneously exploded. Something to do with the electricity pylons, they said. So why did I always find feathers at my bedroom door each morning for three days, thirteen times a year?
Kitty and Odelette were fighting again. Even looking out over a city filled with warbands all determined to out-party each other, he could hear them. The midsummer night simmered, only a few degrees cooler than the day. From the tower keep he could see the lights of Tareksburg to the south and knew that tonight it celebrated having a night without warbands carousing through its streets. A soprano scream of indignation cut his musings. Damn, he had better intervene soon.
I never understood that grey was more than just a colour until I got there. Grey people fighting under a grey sky in the ruins of a grey city for assorted grey motives, while grey-skinned old boys sat with the grey-eyed shell-shocked around open fires that gave off wispy grey smoke. The mud was grey-brown and any liquid picked up the dust from the ruins to display grey swirls. Ubiquitous, Skinner called it. Good word: I’ll be buggered if I can remember exactly what it means.
The night was dark and cold with Wulf away. No matter that the high tower was brightly lit with candles and the furs were warm from lying in front of the blazing fire, some nights she just could not sleep without him.
< The lair is warm and dry and the hatchlings are clamouring for a story. >
She smiled. Jarath could always sense her moods.
The Last Druid
Fire in Mind
I could not remember my name as the flames shaped themselves into warriors of amber and gold. I watched as the blazing soldiers stormed the keep on the hill, orange shields held close to their bodies, swords of yellow streaked with red raised and heedless of the fiery moat that seemed to be inescapable. But their cinder-soled boots allowed them to rush straight across the obstacle and lay siege to the umber keep. The horde settled in a ring of little flames on the blackened hill, the ground riven with cracks showing the red-hot earth below. What rage could have started this?
Copyright 1991-2013 Julian M. Miles