Illustration by Jane Fancher ~ 2015


A short story by Andre Norton – 1985

There was mist curled about the bottom of the dell where the river was broadest and most shallow--just as if the damp grayness had been poured into the hollow from some giant's bottle. Fanus squatted at the edge of the bushes trying to see through that dull cloud.

 Giant bottle? There were no giants any more. He turned his shaggy head to look over one shoulder. Maybe somewhere up in the mountains there might still be giants, but the last one down here had been seen so long ago it was just a story now. Fanus shivered.

Not because he was cold, the downy hair on his body kept all but the sharpest winter winds from reaching him. And it was not winter now, around was the fresh green of early midsummer.

He was---alone. Things had been slowly slipping away. Away to where?

 Once more he shivered, and pressed his hands over his pointed ears. Yesterday--last sun time--THOSE had come again, Even the dark quiet of the trees, the sharp thorns of the brambles, the roots projecting from the ground to trip a man up--none of those had been enough to keep Them away. And they had brought their sharp axes to cut and kill.

Master Oak they had brought crashing down, and Warrior Pine. They had dragged bushes from the ground, leaving them to shrivel in great horrible death piles. Then They had done the worst of all for they had summoned fire who was the great enemy of the wild. All the flames had feasted on the brush, ringing trees and eating them trunk and crown.

The deer had fled the first, for they were the swiftest, and then the rabbits and the smaller things. The fishers sprang from trees which had been their homes as long as Fanus could remember, the squirrels, brown and red together for once, their own ancient war forgot, and birds who had cried for lost nests and dead nestlings-—all together they were gone.

However, even before They had come so boldly there had been warnings. The nymphs of Wayfare had vanished before last snow time, and with them the elves, and the dwarves angry and helpless, growling or crying with rage.

All gone. Fanus swallowed and stared dumbly into the whirls of the fog, He held his fingers before him so that he could count them one by one. Thumb---that was when the beech dwelling dryads had first told of these newcomers who destroyed and killed and strove to put an end to the forest. Forefinger, that was when the dwarves of the Black Hills had burrowed so far underground that no one ever saw one of their stooped and twisted bodies again. Middle finger---that was the stir of the elfish people and their flitting. Next finger-----

He stared at that one and his whole body quivered, for that marked the going of his own folk. They had laid a warning on him, but he would not listen--would not let himself listen, for was he not the guardian of Frost-Fair the most beautiful thing this or any other forest could shelter.

Now the tears gathered in his eyes and dripped into the soft down which covered his face, to wet the stiffer hair of his body pelt.


Fanus threw himself face down on the ground and cried as he might have done as if he were only a cub—babe. Because Frost—Fair, too, had gone or was lost between one day's morn and the moon's rise. Gone out of the safe place Fanus had guided her to while he went roving to find the most tender of the thick grass in the forest glades and the last of the wild apples for her eating . And this finger and all the others marked the many days he had hunted for her.

At first he thought she had gone roving though he had tried so hard to tell her that was dangerous. Then, for a very black time, he had believed that They had taken her as they took anything which they found which was different and beautiful.

Only her tracks which had been so plain in the forest mold had not led to the west from which the hunters and the tree killers came. He had trailed and sniffed and hunted himself, only to be baffled in the end. For it would seem that Frost-Fair might have mounted into the sky for any trace which remained behind now. Since that he had wandered here and there remembering all her favorite places and finding no trace at all.

Already They had cut and burnt through many of those. Now only the spring, which trickled down hereabout to join the river and now was hidden by the mist, was the last of their happy places.

He listened to all the forest voices about him, even the leaves rustled now, not in answer to wind but out of fear lest those would come tramping to slay and burn, and make an end to the world.

However, the leaves were full of their own fear and so was all the world about him. No one spoke of Frost—Fair. Was he the only one who remembered her now?

Slowly Fanus rose to his hands and knees and then drew himself down to the stream's edge. The thickness of the fog was like a many leafed bush to close about him. He dabbled his hands in the chill water and then made a cup of them so he might drink.

He was very thin for he had spent little time in a harvesting of early berries or hunting for the earth hidden bulbs which were his food. And his head felt queer and dizzy when he moved too quickly.

It must have been the dullness which had crept so upon him during his search, that made him now see that wisp of white flutter and continue to look at it so long before he felt a great surge of hope and dared to believe----- He caught at that strand and raised it quickly to his nose. It was a tuft of white hair right enough and he sniffed the never to be forgotten scent of moonflowers. Frost-Fair!

Fanus wavered up, stamping his mud—streaked hoofs deeper in the sand of the stream bank. He wound the length of hair about his wrist, using finger tips and teeth to make it fast there.

The scent of it was fresh. Frost-Fair might have been here this very day! Where? Fanus turned slowly, his head under the weight of stubby horns high, his nose wider, to catch any scent no matter how faint.

Now he whistled---a call which he had used for so many times in the past that his lips seemed to shape it all of their selves without any willing from him.

"Coooooommmmmeeee!" the sound might be a little shrill but that was what it meant, "Coooommmeee tooo mmeeee!"

Only, when he listened after that call had gone out there was no answer. No quick whinny of welcome, no pounding of small hooves on the forest floor.

Yet Frost-Fair had been here and-----

Fanus' whole body jerked as he heard that other sound. It burst forth from the horn They used to summon their hounds so there be a chase through the forest--a hunting of some frightened creature who ran through what had been its home and was now a place of despair and death.

Frost-Fair! Fanus did not know how he knew that the one which fled was his beauty, his charge, and friend. But that was so he had no doubt at all.

His stump of a tail thumped stiff and hard against his body. His chest arched as he drew in a deep breath. Yes, now he could hear the yapping of the dogs. And the chase was heading toward him! Once before he had beaten those running hunters at their own game. The effort had left him weak for two sun times after. But it had worked. Suppose now he could cut across Frost-Fair's path and get the hounds to follow him instead? It was the only thing he could think of.

He ran at his best pace, not from that horns and hounds but toward them. And all the time he sniffed the air, striving to catch the scent of the white coated beauty-----

Now! His head turned, then he was down on one knee to look upon the rotted leaves under one of the huge trees which grew at the heart of the wood. No! He had been right! Too many times he had seen those delicate prints. And the odor of moonflowers was strong and warm.

He must not call. Better that Frost-Fair went free with him behind, He thrust his hands deep into the hoof—printed mold and stirred it swiftly, setting there—in his own musky odor. For a whole dangerous moment he squatted there, trying to make sure the stronger scent of his own flesh covered that other. Then he, too, began to run, to the right--toward the wood crowned mountains just as Frost-Fair had turned left.

Twice he stopped to listen, and, at last, he caught the excited bay of what must be the lead hound---after him. They had reached the roiling of the trail and were now running feet behind Fanus.

Tricks he knew, those flashed into his head as he ran and dodged, waded through water, swung from one tree held vine to another. At first he had been leaving only a clear trail, however the farther he was hunted the more he began to conceal his passing. There was no reason to be torn by hound's teeth if they were all so teased away to follow him.

His breath came fast and there was a pain beginning beneath his ribs. Twice he stumbled and once would have rolled to the bottom of a gully if he had not caught at some ragged bushes, their thorns digging deeply into his hands and arms.

On and on! The land was rising now; those were first slopes of the mountains. He was far from those parts of the forest he knew best and he could not foresee ahead to where he might find refuge or at least have a chance of throwing the hunt off his trail.

Still surely Frost-Fair was safe for now. He must keep the hunt aware of him as long as he could.

Panting, his hands pressed to his aching side, Fanus leaned against the rough barked trunk of a massive tree. There were no longer any vines or he might have climbed, knowing that the hounds could not follow. Yet they would ring round such a refuge keeping him there until THEY came. There would be the nick of an arrow on string, then----

Fanus shook his head. Drops of sweat fell like the tears he had shed earlier. He raised his hands and, with their horny stubs of nails, scratched down the tree bark. No, without growing wings he had no chance to escape here .

There came a flicker of light to his left. He jumped, putting the tree to his back. Facing out. Then----

NO! Had he not been panting so hard he would have cried that aloud.

Pure as moonlight among the trees she came, picking a way with her small shining hooves as if she had never heard the horn and hounds, as if this were just any day and they were meeting as they always had.

"Nooooooo——-" he wailed. "Ruuunnnn-——oh, runnn-———"

She only bobbed her head so the golden tip of her horn caught a bit of light shifting down among tree branches, to blaze like a star in the frosty night of the cold season. She trotted on, though he waved his hands and arms trying to warn her off. Her large dark eyes were fixed on him as if there were need of a message. Then she was close enough so that horn tip touched him before the sleek white hide on her shoulder rubbed against his own dark brown hair. It was the old invitation she had always given him.

"Mount and Ride" to Fanus it was as clear as if she spoke aloud in his own tongue. "Mount and we shall run with the wind, with the water, we shall hunt----"

Hunt! A horn bellowed and the hounds yapped in answer.

Fanus struck at the arch of Frost-Fair's neck, striving to make her back away--to listen and flee. He must---his whole body shook with fear as he thought of what he must do. He must allow himself to be seen, to stumble along until the hounds dragged him down, that was the only answer now. But this stubborn Frost-Fair might still get away!

There was a flicker of light which was not sun, but which dazzled his eyes for an instant. Frost-Fair neighed and in her deep call he read refusal, doubt, the beginning of anger.

She reached forward her head and her teeth closed on his shoulder, drawing him away from the tree, bringing him with her into the open where a fallen tree had long ago beaten an open space in the woodland.

That flicker of bedazzling light swept down towards them and seemed to hover for an instant over Frost-Fair. As if she had been called, she shook her head vigorously, after loosing her hold on Fanus. She reared on her hind legs and pawed in the direction of the brilliant patch as if she was offering to do battle with it.

The hounds! That last baying had come from very near this time. Fanus snatched for one of the branches of the fallen tree only to have it turn to rotting powder in his hold. He could find no weapon!

At last Frost—Fair was obeying him. Rearing and plunging as if she were fighting some invisible rope, she was going out of the clearing, back toward the mountain slope.

Fanus scrambled to the top of the fallen tree. He could see a hole there, perhaps he could hide--if once Frost-Fair were free. She had indeed vanished behind the standing giants though he thought he could still see a flicker of the light which had stung his eyes with its flashing.

He scrambled along the tree trunk and found the hole, not deep enough to take all of him but perhaps it would give him part shelter. He had his hands on the edge of it when the first of the hounds burst out into the small clearing and leaped, jaws fringed with foam, for him.

Paws scrabbled on the dusty bark. But it could not reach him. Only there was more and more of them. Two hands in number, they ringed him around now taking turns in leaping at him, snapping jaws only a fraction away from his sweating body.

The horn sounded and now came the first of Them. They were elf-like in appearance but much heavier and coarser of face. While their hate for the woodlands and those who dwelt there was like a dark cloak which each of them wore.

"Hallloooooo!" The first of the hunters put his rounded hand to his lips and cried out that summons. He did not have one of those weapons which could and did send a swift shaft through the air to kill. Instead he carried a short spear in one hand and he charged forward with that. Then he pulled his mount in so quickly that the horse reared, and he sat staring at Fanus as if the woods dweller were a dragon hatchling or some such fearsome thing.


The ‘rider shouted that strange word which Fanus did not understand, though he believed that it meant all harm to him.

There was a second rider come into the clearing---then a third. It was he who kicked and beat the dogs away from their attack upon the fallen tree. But it was the second rider who loosed a rope from about his waist and fashioned a noose of one end of it while they spoke loudly one to the other and stared at Fanus.

Here was hate and fear such as the woodsboy had never known. THESE were truly black evil, even as the forest dwellers had guessed. They did not kill him quickly as he had thought they would do---no, it was in their minds to take him captive and that was more of a horror than to die.

He dodged the first throw of that rope. But, because one of the hounds broke from the rest of the pack and headed in the direction Frost—Fair had gone and Fanus had watched him, hunched in upon himself, waiting for the beast to give tongue, that the second cast of the rope caught him, settling about his shoulders. The noose jerked tight with a vicious force which brought him sliding out of the poor half refuge he had taken, down towards the hounds.

The third rider went among the animals, kicking and shouting, until those withdrew into a semi—circle about the tree and it was into the opening among the very heart of his enemies that Fanus was pulled. He landed roughly on the ground, the air forced out of him. And pain of that bruising fall brought with it more fear.

They had him and he could not even be sure that Frost-Fair had escaped. A second sharp pull on the rope dragged him up to his knees, then the slack end of the rope was laid across his shoulders in a lashing blow.

So he stood at last within the circling of the hounds, the three towering horses larger by a third than Frost—Fair, and the three enemies of the woodlands. He who held the rope remounted and twisted the loose end about his saddle horn. He made a gesture with his hand and the hounds were once more on their feet to snarl and snap at the captive.

Thus stumbling and falling, to be dragged, rising again when a hound's teeth grazed his pelt, Fanus was taken. But Frost—Fair's trail had apparently not been picked up and the hunters appeared satisfied with netting only the woodsboy.

He had already been weary when he had met Frost-Fair. To that weariness was now added the burden of fear as he wavered forward with the hounds shuffling and growling around him, plainly kept from attack only by the will of the riders.

These talked loudly among themselves, continuing to look back over their shoulders as if he presented some wonder they could not understand. Though he feared, Fanus determined that these would not know it so he stamped along stiffly on his two hooves, his head as high as he could hold it. That word which had first been shouted at him-- "demon" was repeated again and again until he was sure that it was meant to name him.

He was also certain that the rider who so led him was deliberately jerking on the rope, causing him to fall and be dragged for a painful step or two before he could win to his feet again. And he wondered when this torment of a journey would be over at last.

They came out, as the evening shadows were beginning to thicken, into a large gash in the woodland where the trees had been hacked, to lie dying on the ground, and men continued to score their trunks with axes.

Shouting, those same men came to crowd about the hunting party, pointing and talking loudly as they surveyed Fanus. Then came two more of these, wearing shining metal on their bodies, who cleared a path for a third whose cloak was the brilliant scarlet of new spilled blood. He surveyed Fanus with a look of wonder which became excitement and at his orders the rope end was loosed from the saddle and thrown to one of the metal coated men. Once more Fanus was brought forward at another's bidding and far from gently.

He who wore the scarlet cloak made a quick gesture with his hands and waved the guard who drew the woodsboy forward to an abrupt stop. There came hurrying another of the forest destroyers and he was wrapped in black as dark as the shadows of a moonless night. It was he who ordered them to take another loop around the feet of Fanus and then draw him roughly along to have the ropes fastened to a stake from which he could not loosen himself. There he lay full in the light of a fire which those who would destroy all the green world fed with wood from which the sap still dripped and a thick smoke arose to join the night's shadow.

One of those who wore the metal upon his body settled down not too far away and kept his eyes upon Fanus. Whenever the woodsboy looked at him he made faces as horrible as might a troll and gestured with his sword as if he would move to cut unkempt head from befurred body.

For sometime Fanus merely lay unmoved and then he began to think beyond the fear of his capture. What they would do with him now he did not know but he was sure they meant him no good at all.

The destroyers had finished their slaying for the day and came to the fire over which they hung great pots aboil until the steam arose. Fanus was sickened by that smell for he knew that it came from the bodies of those who dwelt in the green treed forest, some with whom he might even have played and journeyed in days past.

All that he could cling to now was the knowledge that Frost-Fair was gone---along with that brilliant glimmer--and he was certain that shine in the air was no trick of these who worked here. He did not have his fingers free for the counting, but he remembered again how those of the forest had gone---the elves, the giants, the tree and earth spirits, and those of his own blood. He was the last of his kind---just as Frost-Fair had no other kin. Because each was alone they had perhaps clung the closer to each other.

Frost-Fair---Fanus closed his eyes so that he could not see the devouring fire and those about it. Frost-Fair, surely she was safe! If the hunters had brought her down he would have seen her here—-either as a prisoner like himself or limply dead. For that alone he could be thankful.

The night was dark. No moon showed, for clouds gathered thick and heavy, as if drawn by the smoke of the fire's burning. Fanus heard the distant roll of the thunder drums----perhaps giants did still stay in the mountains to sound that beat and hurl their lightning spears at all comers.

A boot caught him in the ribs and he looked up to see the man of the red cloak, and he of the black standing over him.

"Demon----" That was what they called him but the rest of what black robe said was meaningless and when Fanus said nothing in reply he of the cloak kicked him again.

Once more the black robe spoke and then turned and talked with the cloaked one who called to the man in the metal shirt. That one came, reluctantly, Fanus thought, as if, even though he was bound so, he was to be feared, to try the rope knots.

Having made sure he was tightly captive the three of them left him alone again. But he remembered well the look in the black robe's eyes. There was no hope of any goodness here. But how could one expect that from those who destroyed all they touched?

At first he thought it was a star, that point of light showed in the sky over that portion of the forest which still stood beyond the fury of the axes. But then--it was too low and it moved!

He knew of no night hunter that would so show itself. It had the seeming of that light which had guided Frost-Fair to safety. Apparently it did not fear those gathered here, but whirled slowly in dips and glides on towards the place of cut trees and uprooted brush.

 And then----Fanus's throat and mouth were dry---he could not, dared not, scream as he wanted to. That spot of white glimmering as it followed--that must be Frost-Fair! She trotted forward as she always did in her coming to him, paying no attention to those others. Surely any moment now one of the enemy might sight her and raise a cry!

Frost-Fair, an inner portion of him shouted, Frost—Fair get you away while still you can!

Instead she moved the closer. What Fanus feared happened. There was a cry and men about the fire sat up from where they had lain to sleep, some of them with swords and bows ready for use.

That light above her head whirled down and Frost-Fair was no longer herself, rather a glistening ball rolling in toward the fire. At the same time Fanus felt a jerk on the rope which held him prisoner. Then a huge dark shape loomed over him and he was caught up by hands--or were those paws? Straightway he touched what was surely fur and slid down the slickness of that into darkness.

How long he lay in that darkness he never could tell for it was as he had slept and never dreamed. Or, if he did, he forgot his dreams when again he lay in the light and felt the rope about him twitch this way and that.

He was looking up at a creature who loomed as tall as a tree or a giant. But this was neither, rather an animal he had never seen before. Nor had he ever heard tell of such a one. It crouched on its hind legs, balancing with a long tail behind and its huge body was covered with purplish brown fur. 5till there was a green tinge to that as if some of the color of the forest had rubbed off on it.

"Ha, mouseling---"

The creature was talking to him and he could understand!

"I am Fanus," he returned, feeling that now he was caught in a dream.

"Your people left the wood long ago. Were you lazy or thick of wit that you did not go also, mouseling?"

Fanus flushed. He did not want to talk of Frost-Fair so he asked, rubbing his arms where the rope had chafed him, "Who are you? Hound of some giant?"

"I am Ealgon----"

Fanus was very still. All the queer tales which his people had once told flooded into his mind. Ealgon, the greatest of those who fought against the destroyers---who was the savior of all which grew rooted or moving on four feet---she who kept the gates of the safe place which were not open to many others such as himself.

"Great one," he said in a small voice, "why do you trouble yourself with me?"

"Why did you trouble yourself with Frost-Fair?" came a question in reply.

"We---I----“ Somehow he could not find the words he wanted to say. "Frost-Fair!" He looked around but there was no sign of that shining white coat, spiraling, gold tipped horn. "Where is she?" He dared to demand, his hand going out to clutch some of the soft fur on the great leg which partially sheltered him.

"She is in the Twilight Kingdom with Thumm who led her there. But what we shall do with you now? Of that I am not sure. Those who come to destroy will not be stopped and soon the forest will be nothing. Your people have left no trail behind them----where can you live, mouseling?"

He swallowed and then said in a voice which was hardly above a whisper and which trembled, in spite of all his efforts to keep it steady:

"With Frost—Fair----" But the words trailed away as he was sure that that could never be. Where was a home for him now?

Ealgon was watching him closely with her big eyes. Now she reacted forward once more and her paw closed about him so that again he was in darkness. Also he must have slept for he did not remember anything between his first awakening and the second.

Now Ealgon had set him on his two feet and he was looking out into the most wondrous place he had ever seen. To him the forest had been mighty and beautiful but this was not the forest--it was a far different place.

There was light, for from overhead came the shine of what seemed to be stars, much closer and brighter than any he had ever seen, to make a light close to day. Trees grew and between them were plants and vines, and a small stream gurgled to itself as it crossed the space before them.

But he had only moments to see it so, for there was a company as strange as the land itself gathering before Ealgon and Fanus.

Three were winged or seemed to find their way best through the air. One was an eagle, a king among such by his size and his proud held head. Another was a creature Fanus could not put name to, yet there was nothing frightening about its strangeness. The third seemed to be a being of cold fire who dodged and leapt as if to remain still was more than it could endure. Last came one who stepped with the same great pride as the eagle showed. In body he was like unto Frost-Fair but instead of smooth white hide, he was covered with blue feathery growth. And all of these centered their gaze upon Fanus.

"What have you brought us this time, Ealgon?" It was the blue feathered one who spoke.

"The one whom Frost-Fair sought---he who lingered above in the old world because he would not leave her, Indigo."

"He is two legged," the blue feathered one replied. "From most two legs has come the evil which has eaten up the world."

"Let him go to his own kind!" snapped the eagle. While the strange creature lighted near Indigo to nod its head with that heavy bill bobbing up and down in quick agreement.

"His own kind are gone," said Ealgon.

"The more fool he for not going with them---" retorted the eagle.

"Not so---" For the first time Fanus heard that soft voice and knew it for Frost-Fair's. "He drew the hunt from me, let himself be taken when Thumm, came for me. Fanus is friend to all of the forest. If there is no room here for him, then I shall go with him----"

Editors depiction ~ see illustration note # 2


For a moment all that strange company were silent. It was Ealgon who spoke first.

"His kind are also among the hunted in that other place. We cannot send him back to that world."

Indigo pawed the earth with one brilliant blue hoof.

"Ealgon made this place and brought us to it. She carries nothing within her pouch save that which is good for us. And wherein did she carry this one? In that same pouch. Therefore there is a place here for him."

Frost-Fair came on dancing feet and nudged Fanus with her soft nose. He did not realize he was crying until he tasted his own salty tears. But, as he threw his arms around Frost-Fair's neck he knew that this was such a place as all the good driven from the other world would find safety. And to be accepted here was worth all the good things he had ever known. He smiled shyly at them all as he stood by Frost-Fair.

"I——I am with those of a real world," he said slowly, "The Twilight Kingdom," he spoke the name softly--- "Yes, this is the best of all!"

Frost-Fair neighed and Ealgon gave a nod of her massive head. He felt far warmer than he would have under the sun of midsummer-- it was a good warmth and he had Frost-Fair safe forever now.


Short Story by Andre Norton
Copyright ~
Donated by - Victor Horadam

Duplication (in whole or part(s) of this story for profit of any kind NOT permitted.


For a printed version see: The Telling of Tales

See Also: Drawings by Jane Fancher

Illustration notes ~

#1 Fanus & Frost-Fair by Jane Fancher 2015

#2 Black Mountain Unicorn by Sandora ; ©2013-2015 sandara ~~ Modified by Lotsawatts on 02/15/15


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