The Boy Without Fear

Listen to my song: for I have grown old, but I still remember as keenly as the young. Lend me your time, and I will repay you in kind with a story. It will start like this:

***

In the lands east of the sun and west of the moon, there lived a boy who did not know fear, known by those of his village as Walker-Without-Shadow.

He was the youngest of seven brothers, all born to a seventh daughter, who in their tiny village was called a witch and kept no husband. She taught her sons many ordinary things, such as which plants to heal and which plants to poison, and she taught them how to listen to the voices in the ash-trees and how to follow the directions of the birds, who are terrible gossips, but are clever at finding out the truths of this world, and those above and below. All of her children were strong and beautiful, and she loved them all, but of all her sons she loved the youngest best.

“You are born of dragons and fire,” she would tell him, as he watched wide-eyed and fearless as she taught him other spells, deeper spells, that none of his brothers would ever know. “Within you is a bloodline older than both Moon-King and Sun-Queen, and you must be proud of it. You must be brave.” And she dipped her fingers in the blood of wyverns (which is precious rare, even in a kingdom where magic is natural as the breath of the land) and drew symbols of protection and strength across his face. And he sat still and attentive, for he was clever as he was fearless, and there was nothing in this world, the previous, or the next that held any terror for him.

Then, as always must, there came a time where a young man must strike out to make his fortune. He had watched all of his six older brothers go on before him, each and every finding a bride to present to their mother and find her approval, and the restlessness stirred in his own blood till he went to his mother the witch. And she looked at him, young and strong and his eyes facing the horizon, and she knew that it was time to let even this most-beloved son go.

“Travel lightly and travel well,” she told him. “Remember the blood of your father and the words of your mother, and you shall never want for anything.” And as presents she gave him a flute that could force any to dance upon hearing its music and a vial of the precious wyvern’s blood, without which many of the greatest and most dangerous spells could not be completed. She kissed both his cheeks and wept upon his shoulder, and then she stood in the doorway of their home and watched him walk away. Walker-Without-Shadow looked back only once and saw her as he always had, tall and beautiful, with her dark hair spilling into whiteness at the tips, her robes spilling around her like the waves of the ocean.

He carried that memory with him as he walked, over long rolling plains and tall mountains, past the Sun-Queen’s brilliant gold and bronze palace, past the Moon-King’s castle of silver and pearl. He walked until he reached the crossroads, where every day everything changes and the world exists constantly in flux; he walked until he reached the world west of the sun and east of the moon, where magic has dried to nothing more than a trickle and a thread and even the smallest of his mother’s tricks might be considered a miracle.

The first creature he met was a fox whose leg was caught in a trap. It was thin and sickly, and barely raised its head when he passed. The boy without fear knelt beside it and gave it some of his water and some of his bread, for he knew foxes as messengers and great allies, if their favor was properly courted. The fox licked his fingers and bowed its head.

“You are from a far-distant land,” it said, “and not of this place. What brings you to this place?”

“I have come from east of the sun and west of the moon,” said Walker-Without-Shadow. “I have come to seek my fortune.”

The fox bowed its head. “Then perhaps you have come to the right place,” it said. “This is a forest of kings, where the Emperor and his son ride to hunt every day. I was to be a sacrifice to the prince’s first blood.” It stretched its head and shook its trapped paw. “But I have lived for many years in service of both Sun-Queen and Moon-King, and I am not interested in being a princeling’s toy.” It snapped its jaws to show its disdain.

“Then,” said Walker-Without-Shadow, “you should be free.” And he pulled two blades of grass from the earth and spun them together into a proper key, and this he used to unlock the jaws of the trap. The fox limped up and shook its injured paw, then sat at Walker-Without-Shadow’s feet.

“You have my gratitude then,” it said. “But you should leave this place, for if the prince or his father find you, you’ll surely be killed for trespassing upon their lands.”

And the boy laughed, a glad sound that echoed in the trees. “Should I fear that, then?” he asked. “I am the seventh son of the witch of the cold northern villages, and I fear nothing. I will meet this prince, and should he wish to fight me, I will gladly match my hand with his.”

“Then you must be quite mad,” said the fox, and remained where it was, seated by his feet. “I will stay with you, then, for the madman who set me free deserves a companion on the last watch of his life.”

“It will not be my last,” said Walker-Without-Shadow. “But I will welcome your company.” So he sat upon the soft grass and told the fox stories of his brothers from his youth, and of his mother bold and ageless and beautiful; and the fox told the boy stories of its family, of its many cousins who were famed throughout the land as clever and quick, and together they passed many hours like this.

Eventually, however, came the time when a hunting-horn sounded in the forest and the Sun-Queen’s chariot stood at its peak in the sky overhead. The fox lifted its ears and looked with concern upon the boy, who was now lying upon his back with his arms folded beneath his head. “The prince is coming,” he said. “If you hurry, we might still be able to escape with our lives.”

“I have never run from anything in my life,” said the boy who feared nothing, and he sat up. He took up a fallen branch and broke twigs from its end until it was a branch no more, but a sword that gleamed silver in the dappled sunlight. “I will not run from a prince whose blood is as deserving as my own.” And he got to his feet as horsemen rode into their clearing, with the fox seated by his feet.

One in the number rode forward, and of all the hundred he was dressed most richly, with a golden circlet upon his brow. His eyes were flashing keen gray in a fair face, and he looked upon Walker-Without-Shadow, brown-skinned and plainly dressed, and frowned gravely.

“Who are you,” he said, “that stands between the prince of this land and his lawful prey? That fox belongs to me, and you do not belong in this forest.”

“The fox is a friend of mine,” said Walker-Without-Shadow. “I am a traveler going from one place to another in order to seek my fortune, but I will not leave a friend in need. And a man who must rely upon traps to hold his prey until he can come and slay it while it lies bound is hardly one who might lecture me about proper behavior.” He smiled with all his white teeth and the prince’s horsemen muttered angrily amongst themselves at the insult. The prince, however, merely raised a hand to stay their voices.

“I have no taste for the sport of blood,” he said, “but in order to become Emperor, I must prove myself willing and worthy. The fox is meant to be my test, that I could kill something innocent for the sake of a greater good.”

“That is hardly something worthy of a prince or Emperor,” said the boy. “My mother would laugh and name you coward rather than king.”

Again the prince’s men whispered harshly, but the prince only shook his head. “It is a necessity,” he said. “There is a demon who haunts this land, and we are forced to sacrifice our own citizens to its hunger. Already our kingdom is aging as our youths and maidens are sacrificed. These who ride with me now are all that remain.”

“What, a hundred strong of you?” said the boy. “My eldest brother alone could defeat any demon simply by frowning so terribly that it would beg for his forgiveness. Why can you not simply lead your brave companions to destroy this demon and free your kingdom of its burden?”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” cried one of the horsemen. “Already heroes from across the land have come to defeat the beast. None have returned!”

“The prince is the Emperor’s only son and heir,” cried another. “We cannot risk him lest our kingdom falls without even an heir to remember its name!”

“I would like very much to face the demon,” said the prince, who looked into the eyes of Walker-Without-Shadow and never flinched, “but my father fears my loss more than anything. I would not bring him to grief.”

“Well,” said Walker-Without-Shadow, for he was impressed with what he saw in the prince’s eyes: a kind heart that trembled under the burden of fear, but would never entirely bend. “I am a traveler seeking my fortune, and it would be a good story to bring home to my brothers, if I were to defeat a demon that all the heroes of this land could not.” And he went upon one knee and offered his sword up to the prince. “Will you accept my help?”

The gathered men turned and whispered amongst themselves again, and not a few looked unkindly upon this rough-edged stranger. The prince, however, dismounted from his horse and took the blade from the hands of Walker-Without-Shadow, and he turned it in his hands and was impressed at the balance and beauty of the sword.

“I accept,” he said. “And with gratitude. Will you give me your name?”

And the boy who feared nothing said, “I am Walker-Without-Shadow. I have come from the village by the unending sea, east of the sun and west of the moon. I am the seventh son of the witch that makes that place her home, and by my bloodline of kings, I will see that you are kept safe, my lord.”

The prince smiled and gave the sword back to Walker-Without-Shadow. “I am called the Green Prince,” he said. “I welcome you, Walker-Without-Shadow, as friend and brother: you shall be given food and drink and shelter, and a fine horse upon which to ride with the company.” He turned to his men and clapped, and they grumbled — for they were not pleased with the appearance of this stranger — but did as they were asked, as much for pride as love of the prince, for the horse they produced was bony and weak at the knees, old and tired and gray at the muzzle and the mane. To this the prince looked upon his men with a frown, but Walker-Without-Shadow put his hand upon the beast’s nose and smiled as though he had found an old friend.

“This one will be fine,” he said. “Fleet-foot, son of the wild horses of the far north.”

The horse bowed its head and stood patiently as Walker-Without-Shadow took the fox in one arm and his his pack upon his shoulders, then swung up onto its naked back. And to the amazement of the company, the beast did not simply collapse under the weight, but stood with its head high and its neck arched, proud as a glossy-coated charger in its prime. Upon its back, the boy settled the fox before him and looked to his prince.

“Lead the way,” he said, “and I will follow you wherever you go.”

And so the Green Prince led his liege men, with the one new among their number, to his father’s palace, which was said to be one of the last great strongholds built by magic, in the long-ago times before it had vanished from this land. The fox, who sat before Walker-Without-Shadow in his saddle, lifted its head and scented the air.

“Ah!” it said. “The stones of this place were mortared with the blood of giants, freely given long ago. It will know your name and keep it well.”

“Very well,” said the boy. “Then what is the name of this place, so I may keep it in turn?”

“Men call it the Snow-Dragon, in honor of their Emperor,” said the fox. It turned its head and yawned. “But those like you or I would call it ‘Haven,’ for so its giant-makers called it when they sacrificed their own bones to keep it strong.”

Walker-Without-Shadow nodded, for Haven was a magnificent place indeed: the stones glittered pure white in the late sun, and its wall ran in a long graceful line up the length of the hill, so that someone observing from afar might indeed think it was a snow-dragon resting its great body for a moment before continuing its migration north. The prince made no cry as he approached the great drawbridge, but it lowered for him and his company without a sound, the gears all turning without a sound. Within the streets were swept clean and not a single cobblestone was awkward or out of place, but they were empty of people as well: none came to see the prince ride past, and all the windows remained barred shut, even those buildings were smoke rose in uncurling wisps from the chimney-stacks. The prince noticed his companion looking, and said, “They fear the demon, for though the Snow-Dragon only opens its jaws for those it keeps within its heart, the demon is sometimes clever enough to slip through. You must forgive them.”

“I pity them,” said Walker-Without-Shadow. “For to live in fear seems to put shackles upon someone’s neck, until they are so weighed down that they cannot see life passing them.”

“It is no dishonor to fear death or demon,” said one of the horsemen: the same who had spoken before. His voice was sharp. “All men fear these things.”

“But I do not fear,” said the boy. “For I have my father’s blood and my mother’s words, and there is nothing in this world or the next that frightens me.”

To this the rider laughed, but it was ugly and disbelieving. “Say those brave words to our Emperor!” he said. “When all of his brave and beloved heroes have fallen to this creature’s jaws. What will you be able to do with those skinny arms of yours?”

“Peace,” said the Green Prince. “I will bring him to my father, and we will decide what to do from there.”

And so was Walker-Without-Shadow, seventh son of a seventh daughter and born without knowing fear, was brought before the Emperor of the border countries that straddle the crossroads of worlds, father of the Green Prince and master of Haven, called Snow-Dragon. The Emperor looked upon Walker-Without-Shadow and saw a boy entered in the prime of his life, as the Emperor himself had been once long ago, and felt old memories stir in his breast. He straightened upon his throne and said to the boy: “Who are you, and why has my son brought you before me today?”

Walker-Without-Shadow stood tall but bowed his head, out of respect for the king he saw before him now, and the king he saw who had been in the past. “I am called Walker-Without-Shadow,” he said. “I am the seventh son of the witch of the unending sea, who makes her home east of the sun and west of the moon. I have left my home to make my fortune and met with your son, and he has told me of the demon that plagues your kingdom and takes the young of your country.” He lifted his head and then went onto one knee, with his stick-sword held out in presentation. “My lord, I have pledged myself to your son’s service. Will you accept?”

And the Emperor looked upon the boy with wonder, for he was old enough that he knew the stories of the witch of the unending sea, she who aged with the passing year and was reborn as a maiden with the spring. He shook his gray head and sucked on his teeth and he said, “We are honored that the son of the witch would swear himself to our son. But the demon who hunts this kingdom is a great and terrible beast, older than any in all the records of my father, and his father before him, and his father again before him.”

But Walker-Without-Shadow threw his head back and laughed, a sound so long gone from the hall that even the shadows drew near to listen. “I fear no demon,” he said, “whether old as King Winter or young as Queen Spring, I will face it, and I will cut it down.” And he spoke with such confidence that all in the hall listening found themselves believing in his words.

At his feet the little fox laughed. “Ah,” he said. “This is the power of the witch indeed, to win the hearts of those who hear your voice.”

So the Emperor declared a feast for their new hero, who was bathed and dressed in fine clothes for the occasion, though his skin was still nut-brown and his hair coarse and heavy even tied with a fine silk ribbon. Those who rode alongside the prince whispered again of their disquiet, watching as he sat to the right of the prince and fed pieces of his own food to the fox that sat at his feet. The celebrations remain subdued, however, and soon a bard was summoned — a trembling slip of a girl who would meet no eyes as she came forth — and was instructed to sing the demon’s history, so that Walker-With-Shadow could understand more of his enemy.

And so she sang: that in the dark uncertain times when the Sun-Queen had been kidnapped from her throne, shadows bubbled out of the places where her blood had been spilled and became five separate demons, with acid and fire for their blood, and these five fled the lands east of the sun and west of the moon, leaving half-breed children in their wake. All five were eventually captured and sealed, but not all of their children were accounted for. One in particular was clever enough to hide himself in the shadows of tall mountains until he grew strong enough to walk unchallenged, and in his ravenous hunger descended upon the people of the kingdom he had taken refuge in, and at first he devoured all he found. Eventually, though, he grew sated enough to take his choice of flesh and thus chose the young and strong, threatening to raze the entire kingdom to the ground if he was defied. This was that demon, and none knew his name, but he would most certainly come again very soon, for his appetite was inhuman as the rest of him.

To all of this Walker-Without-Shadow listened to carefully and drank only water rather than the wine offered to him. When the story finished, he looked at the Emperor and at the Green Prince, and he said, “Soon, the demon will demand the heart of the prince himself,” he said. “For royalty is a delicacy to them. When that day comes, I alone will stay with the prince. The rest of you must hide, for once he knows the prince is within his grasp, he will not hesitate to simply kill the rest of you for the sport of it.”

Immediately all of those who attended the prince began to protest, their angry voices rising until the hall rang with the echoes. The prince and his father looked at the boy, who did not bend despite the invective raining down upon him. Instead he looked at the prince unflinching, unafraid, and said, “I will keep you safe, my lord, but you must be able to trust me. No harm will come to you when I am there.”

And the prince looked at the boy and saw nothing but resolution there. Though his own fear lay like poison in his breast, he took comfort from that. To Walker-Without-Shadow, he said, “If you swear this upon the name of your mother and the blood of your father, I will put my faith in you.”

And immediately Walker-Without-Shadow said, “I will swear then, upon the name of my mother who commands the unending sea, and the blood of my father, older than the kings of the world. I will keep you safe, my prince, ”

To this they clasped hands, and under the Emperor’s watchful stare none of the men dared to raise their voices in complaint. At the boy’s feet, the fox yawned and put its head upon its paws.

A fortnight passed. Walker-Without-Shadow remained by the prince’s side, until they became quite inseparable, and always the little fox was there as well, trotting at their heels. Every time the prince rode out from Haven’s open jaws, Walker-Without-Shadow was there by his side, when none had ridden before, and though the men grumbled, none could doubt that the boy was indeed strong and brave: upon his elderly horse, he would face down even pain-maddened boars, driving them into the waiting spears of the gathered hunting party, and though he was swift of arm and keen of eye, he never dishonored his prince by stealing the hunt.

“You are always there, no matter where I turn,” laughed the Green Prince. “I no longer know how I managed without you!”

Walker-Without-Shadow just smiled and played the flute his mother had given him, though without the spells that had been laid into the wood. “I will follow wherever you lead,” he said. “I have sworn this, and I always keep my promises.”

Eventually, though, there came a night when the Moon-King’s glass eye hung low and red in the horizon and an unseasonal chill swept across the country. Black-edged frost touched all the windows, and the crops withered and faded. The people of the country withdrew back into their homes and locked the doors, but the Green Prince and Walker-Without-Shadow went to the great gates that held Haven’s jaws shut and looked out upon the shadow, darker than the night itself, creeping across the land. The prince shivered, for he recognized that cold presence, but Walker-Without-Shadow stood with his back straight and his eyes keen, and watched the creature approach, and did not flinch.

It broke against Haven like an ocean wave and then flowed upwards, black against the white castle walls. Walker-Without-Shadow tipped his head up to watch as it shot into the air and stopped, slowly taking shape. He put an arm before the prince and stepped forward as the demon’s head unfolded from its body. In the red light of the moon the demon was man-shaped, with narrow fine features that were offset by the two long horns that sprouted from the side of its head and then curled towards its back. It dressed as richly as a prince, with long dark robes fluttering around its long thin body. Its arms were long and thin as spindles, and its skin was bone-white.

“Give me the Green Prince,” it said, and its voice was terrible, like the voice of wind through dry grass, like dust and gravestones tumbling together. “He is my lawful prey, and I will have his heart for my supper.”

And Walker-Without-Shadow drew his sword which had once between a branch and held it high. Though the light of the moon was red, the sword glowed silver, and he pointed it at the demon’s body, where a man’s heart would be. “I will not,” he said. “For I have promised to keep the Green Prince safe, and I will not allow you to lay a hand upon him.”

The demon snarled, baring its teeth, which were all long and sharp as daggers. “He is mine,” it said. “I have marked him, and he is for me.”

“He is not,” said Walker-Without-Shadow. He held his sword forth and the demon retreated, recoiling from the shining white light of the blade. “I will not see him laid so low that he must become your food.”

And the demon’s eyes narrowed, glowing red in its thin face. “Then who are you,” it said, “who thinks to challenge me so?”

“I am Walker-Without-Shadow,” said the boy. “I was born seventh of a seventh, and I will fight you for his life.”

The demon threw its head back and laughed, a terrible sound that could curdle a man’s blood in its veins. Again the prince flinched, and again the boy did not falter. With steely eyes he stepped forward, one foot on the edge of the wall that surrounded Haven. He put his other hand to his breast pocket and closed his hand around the vial of wyvern’s blood his mother had given him. He looked to his prince, who stood palefaced and staring.

“Believe in me,” he said, “for I have sworn by my mother’s name and my father’s blood, and I will keep you safe.”

And the prince shook his head. “I believe that I will be safe,” he said. “But my heart grieves that it might lose you, when I have grown accustomed to your presence by my side.”

And Walker-Without-Shadow paused at last. He looked upon his prince’s gray face and smiled.

“Then believe this as well,” he said, “for I would not abandon my prince after saving his life.”

He then ran his finger along the edge of his blade; the blood hissed once and vanished in the white light. “My blood is the blood of kings,” he said. “I was born of dragons and fire and my mother’s love. My blood will protect me.”

The demon laughed again, with its mouthful of terrible fangs. “Your blood is nothing,” it said. “I was born of the line from the Sun-Queen’s rape. I was clever enough to survive when my brothers and sisters were wiped out. You cannot hope to best me in battle.”

“Even so,” said Walker-Without-Shadow, “I will fight.”

He gathered his legs beneath him and leapt. With his shoulder he struck the demon and they tumbled downwards, and it shrieked in anger and pain as they fell, tearing at Walker-Without-Shadow while the boy’s sword flashed, again and again, striking deep and cutting ribbons of inhuman flesh and leaving streamers of blood in the air. Together they fell out of sight as the darkness of the night swallowed them up.

The prince ran after him, crying out his name, and he might have followed the boy if not for the fox, who caught the edge of the prince’s hunting coat in his teeth and pulled, with a strength far beyond its small body.

“Fool,” it said through its clenched teeth. “And a thousand times more a fool! You mustn’t throw away your life when he is fighting for you. Wait until he doesn’t come back before you grieve!”

And the Green Prince looked at the fox in surprise, for until then, he had never heard the creature actually speak. “You!” he said in surprise. “What on earth–”

“I owe the son of the witch of the unending sea a life-debt,” said the fox, and let go of the prince’s coat. It sat and scratched its ear. “To save the life of the one he loves is a fair exchange.”

The Green Prince looked upon the fox and then down below, where Walker-Without-Shadow and the demon had fallen. He covered his face with his hands. “I have done nothing worthy of love,” he said. “All I have done is waste my time and worry over foolish things.”

“One loves as their hearts see to choose,” said the fox. “And if he has chosen you, then do him the honor of belief.” And it stood beside the Green Prince as he stared again where Walker-Without-Shadow had fallen, and it followed when the Green Prince turned away.

But what of Walker-Without-Shadow? The stories that know him best say thus:

Together he fell with the demon, its hands upon his throat and his blade carving into its thin body. Its blood splashed upon his face in ribbons and left the skin red and smoking. The demon laughed in his face. Its breath stank of open graves and rotting bodies, but still the boy held on, refusing to be shaken off until they had struck the ground. And there he lay dazed, blinking his own red blood from his eyes, until the demon came and planted a clawed foot upon his chest, pinning him down.

“Little boy,” laughed the demon, and its mouth gaped, its jaw hanging loose and open, far further than any human might open its mouth. “Little boy, here you have failed. Your sword is broken and your blood is spilled. I have won.” And its tongue appeared, the mottled color of bruised flesh, and swiped across its many rows of serrated teeth. It reached down and placed its hand upon his chest, where he could feel wetness spreading across his skin. “I will rip the heart from this pitiful breast and present it to the prince. His flesh will be sweeter for the grief.”

Walker-With-Shadow closed his eyes. The demon laughed again as its claws tore through flesh and bone till it closed around pumping muscle, and with a shriek it tore the beating heart free from the boy’s chest and devoured this with great relish, then turned its hungry eyes to the top of the castle walls. It licked blood from its palm and smiled with stained teeth before it turned to the wall again. However, when it set its claws upon the smooth white stones again, it began to cough foul-smelling smoke and steam began to rise from its leathery skin. It fell back to claw at its own chest.

Then Walker-Without-Shadow sat up. He took the pieces of his broken sword and laid them together until they were whole.

“You will not have the heart of the Green Prince,” he said, and there was light in his face, and light in his sword. “You will have death instead, for what you have swallowed is a vial of wyvern’s-blood, which is powerful magic with just a drop or two, but becomes deadly even to gods when so concentrated.” And he pulled open the bloodstained rags of his shirt to show that his chest was torn but not ripped apart, for the skin of his breast was unbroken.

And the demon cried out, for it knew from the burning in its skin that Walker-Without-Shadow spoke the truth. Red smoke billowed from its open mouth and filled the air as it tried to speak: for a demon hates to be defeated more than anything else in this world or the next, but when it must, they may speak a death-curse to bring disaster upon the ones who kill them. It pointed a finger at the boy and hatred gleamed in its eyes, for it was an old demon and knew many things.

But the boy was Walker-Without-Shadow, seventh son of the witch of the unending sea that is east of the sun and west of the moon, she who was in turn the seventh daughter to things she would never say. He had been born without fear. Before the demon could do more than belch smoke, he lifted his glowing sword high and brought it swinging down.

First: he cleaved the pointing arm from the demon’s body.

Second: he cut the leering head from the long neck.

Last: he thrust his sword into the creature’s heart and buried it deep into the ground, so that the demon was pinned to the earth. Beside it he knelt and traced signs into the dirt — signs of protection and strength, learned at his mother’s knee since birth, protection spells and binding spells that not even his brothers had been taught. And beneath his feet the earth groaned and opened its great dark mouth, into which it took the demon’s body and his sword, fashioned from a stick and a whim. Each symbol in the wet dirt glowed brightly for a heartbeat’s time, then vanished, and when they were all gone the earth was smooth as it had been before, the demon swallowed up and gone.

So Walker-Without-Shadow watched his enemy disappear, then took the terrible head in one hand and strode to the gates of Haven, which threw themselves open at his approach. And there, coming running from the palace was the Green Prince with the fox by his side.

“My friend!” cried the Green Prince, and his eyes were bright in joy. “My good friend, you have survived, and here you are, returned!”

“It was not very difficult,” said Walker-Without-Shadow, but he smiled to see the prince so happy. “I was born of a witch and of kings, and a demon is not enough to match either.” And he held up the demon’s head high, and was pleased when the prince did not recoil from the terrible visage: for it seemed that the terrible burden of fear upon the prince’s heart had also lightened. “See, here is my proof.”

In gladness the prince praised his actions and embraced him closely and kissed him, once for each cheek and once upon the mouth. Walker-Without-Shadow put his clean hand upon the prince’s back and smiled, for while he had not learned fear he had learned love, and he thought his mother would be more-pleased to hear of that.

And sitting in the shadows by their feet, the little fox laughed to itself: “Ah!” it said. “I had thought magic long gone from this world, fled with the witches and the giants and the other creatures of story. Here it is before me now, however: and I am pleased.”

***

Is this the end of the story of Walker-Without-Shadow, of his noble Green Prince and his loyal fox? Perhaps it is. Perhaps it isn’t. There are other stories: about the cat who stole the Sun-Queen’s jewels and of the spider who wove a dress of starlight for the Moon-King’s bride, and there is a chance that within them are more stories about the seventh son of the witch of the unending sea.

But I grow tired: the hour is late. So here this story ends, and perhaps soon another will begin.

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