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A Gift and a Sacrifice

The Fated Sky

by Henrietta Branford

There was a dragon in the sky the night the stranger came to Smolsund farm. A girl named Ran saw it and feared it. She clutched the tiny silver hammer, a talisman for Thor's protection. Amma, her father's mother, had placed it around her neck. She knew that her grandmother was worried for her.

Ran shared her name with a sea goddess because she, too, loved the sea. Her father was away now across the ocean with her brothers, and they might bring back riches when they returned, for that was the way of the Vikings. Ran dreamed of the day her father would return. She was so much like him: his dark hair and his proud features. Ran prayed for his safe homecoming. She prayed he did not feast with that other Ran at the bottom of the ocean.

When the storm blew in at dawn, Ran climbed the slope to the house. She saw her mother, still a beautiful woman, kissing a handsome man who was not her father!

The stranger's name was Vigut, and he brought news of the death of her father and brothers on the faraway waters. He and Ran's mother had loved each other, but she married another because her family wished it.

Ran's mother had never pretended any love for her husband or the light-eyed daughter who so resembled him. They always fought bitterly, and Ran was glad when her father was home to stand between them.

When Vigut came, it was the beginning of winter when the great sacrifice to Odin must be made. This year her father was gone, and it was Vigut who rode beside her mother in the sledge laughing and delighting in his sweetheart's company. Together they would join the feast and the sacrifice at the neighboring farmstead of Sessing. Ran sat behind, alone. She had never been away from her family's farm.

Out in the cold darkness, grief and betrayal await Ran, who must face these challenges alone.

A Brush with Magic by William J. Brooke

When old Farmer Li found Liang as a toddler, the child had only one thing with him: a simple paintbrush. Farmer Li did not even recognize it for what it was. Out in the countryside, one doesn't often see such things.

And when the hungry boy drew marks on the a wall and five minutes later a milk goat stood in the doorway, Li knew he could believe one of two things: either the boy had a magic drawing stick or else the goat wandered in on his own. He chose to believe the latter and tied the goat to a doorpost for safekeeping.

Seven years passed, and Liang became a young man whose magical, realistic pictures were ignored by the villagers, but he was still happy-- until the day a visiting court painter showed him the difference between True Art and simply painting a likeness:

"Your drawing? It has no sense of style, the color is drab, and the pose lacks metaphoric significance."

Liang despaired, believing he could never be an Artist.

The Painter also showed him a picture of a beautiful princess and her handmaiden. Suddenly becoming rich enough to get to the Emperor's court became the most important thing in Liang's life. He must meet the Emperor's daughter!

"You have no gift for Art," the Painter said, "and without money you will never get to Court."

Liang threw away his paint brush and set out to make all the money that he could. But special gifts can not be easily cast aside for worldly ambitions, as Liang discovers in this fantastic story based on an ancient Chinese folktale.