Dark Horses and Darker Fates

The Dark Horse by Marcus Sedgwick

When Horn's war party found the girl, she was hidden in the corner of the cave, undressed, and past comforting by the wolves who raised her. They had been slaughtered by the Lawspeaker's band or else run off, howling their rage and loneliness. A foundling, surely, filthy, perhaps seven or eight summers old. Horn, the Lawspeaker, growled that she should not join the Storn tribe. A worthless child... another mouth to feed in starving times.

Yet the others would not let him leave her to a cold doom, though Horn wanted it so. In the end, they had to shame him into it. Olaf, Sigurd's father and one who many said would be the better Lawspeaker, accepted the girl they called Mouse as his daughter. And tall Sigurd promised the little one that he would always be her brother and perhaps much more. The years rolled on as surely as the sea. Her new family loved Mouse, even as her strange power began to emerge.

For the girl could speak with animals, and so she could know, as the gull does and would tell her, where the great schools of fish were hiding in the bay. But the Storn feared her for this gift, foolishly, as it would happen, for far worse would soon befall them. Another gift, this one washed in from the sea, would prophesy the doom of the Storn itself as young Mouse was overcome with visions of riders on Dark Horses who would tear and break the Storn as the ocean rips the rocks.

Kipling's Fantasy Stories by Rudyard Kipling, presented by John Brunner

Rudyard Kipling, an amazingly gifted British writer who was born in India, tells tales of ghosts, gods, reincarnation, and the joys and madness of the human spirit in this collection. Editor John Brunner provides excellent introductions and explains possibly unfamiliar terms to the reader.

Most people are familiar with Rudyard Kipling from his children's books: the Jungle Book tales of Mowgli and his Just So Stories of how the world came to be as it is. He loved writing for children, but his stories for adults and young adults are equally moving if not more so.

In these twelve stories, he brings the reader face-to-face with the more adult problems of regret, constancy, self-sacrifice, and the ludicrousness of the instant and transient fame generated in the media ("The Village That Voted the Earth Was Flat"). Here is a sampling of the stories:

When "The Children of the Zodiac" first lived in this world, thousands of years ago, they did not understand the ways of the mankind. The people treated them as gods and would tell them their stories of wrong and give them their prayers. But the Children did not understand. What was it to the Bull, the Ram, the Twins, Leo, and the Girl if the six Houses sent their death to the mortals? The tears of the bereaved were only water running from the eyes to them, and laughter was only a strange noise. But all that changed when Leo and the Girl fell in love. Then they, too, learned to live in tears and laughter and to fear the House of Cancer.

A day at play, in the sun-drenched, thyme-scented chalk fields of Southdown, make a perfect holiday for an English family in "The Knife and the Naked Chalk." As the kids idle on a glorious day with only an old shepherd and his dog for company, they are quietly joined by two specters from the past. They tell a story of how, long ago, a man lost his good sight, his love, and his family for a chance to protect his people from the ravages of the Beast.

Sometimes ghosts are wanted, desperately wanted, as a solace for a life half-lived. In "They," a beautiful, blind lady is overjoyed to find that the narrator shares her affection for the beloved children who run the halls and play in the gardens of her ancient mansion.

Readers who enjoy Kipling's Fantasy Stories may also wish to try Kipling's Science Fiction, also edited by John Brunner.