It’s a bear! Our picture prompt today is a photograph by Russian artist Kareva Margarita. It is *such* an enchanting scene. Let the magic begin!
I don’t know about you, but I really look forward to the months A Drift of Quills does short stories. They’re so fun to write, and I’m always amazed at the way three different writers manage to somehow overlap things in their tales (besides the obvious fact that we’re all working from the same picture).
First, I’ve got to say that I love this picture. I’ve also discovered that I love most of Kareva’s work. She has such a good imagination, and she’s so talented. I’m guessing she has a magic camera. Or maybe she’s a mage.
Fiction Shots #13: It’s a Bear!
For me, some pictures ask the question “what if?” more clearly than others. This is one. There are so many fun ways a story could go from this simple, beautiful photograph of a woman holding hands with a bear. Let’s see where we end up!
Flash #1: Only One Truth
By Robin Lythgoe
The still air echoed the calm before a storm. Yeysharov Valamyr paused atop a ridge, leaning on his spear while he caught his breath. He’d been at this too long already. Rumor placed the witch in this area, but he’d found no sign.
He gripped the haft of his spear, the other hand going to his protective charms. One touching the skin of his chest, one on either wrist, and five more worked into his thick fur collar. The other men mocked his caution, but they feared him, too. And well they should—they’d seen the results of the witch’s curse. The lives of the firstborn sons for my child forever, and Death will never touch you until you can see, Yeysharov Valamyr.
Weeks after the incident, his older brother had paid the first price. One day he was simply gone. Forever. And Yeysharov’s first boy had disappeared the same way. In the meantime, Yeysharov didn’t age. Not physically.
But the divine hand of Fate had cursed witches, too, the entire blighted lot of them. Magic tied them to the land, preventing them from leaving. Easy prey. Yeysharov himself led the hunts, but they’d only captured one, and the firstborn sons kept being taken.
A motion caught his eye, and he ventured closer. A morveyka twisted in the breeze. Only a witch could braid strands of spider silk, knot in leaves, feathers, and forest detritus, and leave it hanging there. Only a witch knew why.
None of his charms reacted. He felt nothing. Truth be told, he’d felt nothing when the second and third curse had landed on his head. Unless dread counted. The first curse, well… Youthful stupidity had dammed his senses.
The morveyka swung and rattled in a gust of wind. Uneasiness crept up Yeysharov’s spine.
In all his years—and the witch had given him many—he’d never known such a furious storm. The wind carried blades. On its skirts came bitter rain, then ice, making every step treacherous. And the howling! Like wraiths screaming him down, down to his knees. It worked, too. Yeysharov pressed fur-lined mittens tight to his head and screamed back.
Sleet bit his face. Ice rimed his beard. His lashes. His coat.
One foot in front of the other. Colder and colder. For the first time in decades he felt the claws of fear, though not of dying. No, it shook him to the core that he would fail to kill the witch, fail to protect his people.
Down he went again, sliding, tumbling, breaking.
He hollered when he woke and found a bear’s nose against his own. Cold and wet. Fishy breath.
The bear reared up like a mountain, roaring death.
“Patience, Olyani,” a woman said. The bear grumbled, and the woman came closer, hand outstretched, speaking calm. Young. Slender. Dark-haired and fair of face. She wore a long woolen coat of berry and a thick fur hat and scarf.
“Get away, fool woman! Where is my spear?” Yeysharov cried.
It was a question oft repeated in the strange dream that followed. There was a harness of rope. The crunch and hiss of snow. Sweet singing punctuated by low grunts and clacking teeth. Steady sliding and the sense of being cocooned.
In that improbable fashion of dreams, the bear pulled the sled into a cottage. Yeysharov would have gladly slept on, but the two moved him to a pallet on the floor. Pain engulfed him, dragging him into darkness.
“Come, Olyani, he’s waking and you must go. You frighten him.” The woman ruffled the creature’s ears and shooed him out.
“Olyani is my grandson’s name.” His great grandson. How strange the days and how foreign the sound of his own voice.
A strange answer. “He is lost.” Yeysharov sighed. So much sorrow these long years…
“Nonsense.” The woman soothed his outrage with gentle hands and nonsense words, and in time Yeysharov healed. It was a cozy cottage, tidy and filled with the aroma of herbs. The bear came and went, which Yeysharov realized was not a dream.
“Who are you?” he asked one day.
“A pretty name for a pretty girl.” It pleased him to flirt now that he was nearly whole again. Despite the generations between them, he still wore the face and strength of his youth.
“Would you like to sit on the porch today, Grandfather Yeysharov?” she asked.
“How do you know my name? Did I tell you in my fever?”
She smiled, too beautiful and too kind for words. “Everyone in the district knows you, Prince Yeysharov the Ageless.”
“Perhaps. Why are you here in the woods all alone?”
“I am not alone; Olyani is my guardian.”
Something in him shifted. He reached for the charm he wore around his neck, but it was gone. “What have you done with my protections? Where is my spear?” His heartbeat quickened.
Jusana picked up a book and sat in the chair nearby. “Olyani took care of them.”
“Witch,” he breathed.
“I will kill you. Witchcraft is forbidden.”
“Because you made it so.” She nodded, then tipped her head to the side. “Why did you hate Ravistaya so?”
Fury roiled in Yeysharov. “Because she bewitched me into her bed!” He did not have his spear, but that did not keep him from hurling the candlestick from the nightstand.
A flick of her fingers sent it off course. “We know different stories, you and I.” Gentle humor warmed her eyes. Dark as his own. She set the open book on Yeysharov’s lap. “Ravistaya wrote much about you. The love of her life.”
He shoved it aside. “She lied to me. She did not tell me she was a witch.” The sourness of the word curled his lips.
“Was she angry when she learned you were a prince?”
“Who would be?” he asked, astonished.
“Yes, who would be astonished to discover a lie… Tell me, how many truly good princes do you know?” When he did not answer, Jusana went on. “How many truly bad witches?”
“Ravistaya, certainly.” Resentment crept into his voice.
“And yet you loved her once. She would have done anything for you, and you would have done anything for her—until the day someone taught you to hate her.”
“Taught me the truth!” he shouted and gripped the book, knuckles white.
He knew. He did not say. “There is only one.”
“Is that so?” She made a motion. “Read.”
Yeysharov glared at her, then at the book. He did not want to see the words, but they demanded his attention. A handsome man. A glorious summer. The deepest, truest love. The quickening in her womb. Such joy! Nothing in the world had prepared her for his savage censure. His screaming accusations. Spitting at her. Sending her away…
“Is this your final word?” she’d asked, a fragile leaf in the wind of ignorance.
“Get out of my sight, filth.”
“Very well, but this is my final word.” She’d raised her hand—
As if Jusana knew the words he read, she spoke them aloud: “As is my right, I call upon the firstborn sons of your line to serve as shields and guardians for the child that I carry, and for her children through time. Let Fate decide their shapes according to need. For you, beloved Yeysharov Valamyr, Death will not touch you while you are yet blind.”
“That is not how I remember it.” Stubborn on his path, but the way grew slippery.
“Time and fear reshape our memories.” Jusana stood and detached a blackened morveyka from the beam near the bed. She placed it in a jar and sealed it. “Come.”
Behind the cottage, through drifts of snow, they approached a cleft. The bear materialized and followed. Stairs descended into a torch-lit chamber at the center of which lay a small pool. Black and fetid, unseen things moved beneath its surface.
“What is this?” Yeysharov asked. Apprehension twisted his guts. The stink stung his throat.
“The work of men.” Jusana removed the morveyka and held it over the pool. “Your hatred,” she said. With a sweeping motion of one hand, the blackness fell away and into the depths.
Yeysharov scoffed. “You cannot collect all the hatred with your little charms.”
“True. There are other means, but we are hunted. Our numbers dwindle and the darkness multiplies, fed by ignorance and hatred.”
He stepped closer. Felt colder. What was she saying? That men spread filth and witches cleaned it up? “What becomes of it without you?”
Mouth dry, he peered into the pool—and saw himself at various points in his life. His father. Others he knew. Darkness spewed from their mouths, eyes, and hands. Others breathed it in. Yeysharov jerked away. Sweat trickled down his brow. “What do you do with it?”
“Purge it. At great cost.”
“My sons and grandsons?” Human sacrifice for human fault…
“Only according to lies and rumors.”
“And yet they are gone.”
Olyani rose, towering over them. Grumbling. Growling.
“Your grandson is my dearest friend.” Jusana stroked his fur.
Yeysharov turned to her, strained wonder in his expression. “What are you?”
“I am Jusana. Your great-granddaughter. Your shield. Do you see now?”
Olyani dropped to all fours to nudge Yeysharov’s arm. He looked from the bear to the girl to the darkness. For the first time, he felt his years. “Yes… Yes, I see.”
Flash #2: Is it Really You?
Author of the Oathtaker Series
Once upon a time, frightening memories haunted the lovely Gilda Bolt. For some time, she found them too fearful to face, but eventually, she grew weary of spending one restless night after another. And thus she surmised that she must do something. She must admit her past transgressions, offer her apologies, and if possible, make amends. Moreover, she must do so post haste.
On awakening one cold morning, Gilda donned her slippers before heading to her kitchen. Mere coals remained in the range, so … [Read the rest of the story here: Is it Really You?]
Flash #2: Title
Author of The Unseen Chronicles
(We’re waiting with bated breath for Parker’s story…!)
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Want to read more short-short fiction we’ve written? This link will take you there.
We hope you enjoyed this month’s Fiction Shots! Let us know in the comments below, and if you have an idea for a prompt, we’d love to see it!