The Boy In The Land Of Shadows

: Canadian Fairy Tales

Two orphan children, a boy and a girl, lived alone near the mountains.

Their parents had long been dead and the children were left to look

after themselves without any kindred upon the earth. The boy hunted

all day long and provided much food, and the girl kept the house in

order and did the cooking. They had a very deep love for each other

and as they grew up they said, "We shall never leave each other. We

shall always stay here together." But one year it happened that in the

early spring-time it was very cold. The snow lingered on the plains

and the ice moved slowly from the rivers and chill winds were always

blowing and grey vapours hovered over all the land. And there was very

little food to be had, for the animals hid in their warm winter dens

and the wild-geese and ducks were still far south. And in this cruel

period of bad weather the little girl sickened and died. Her brother

worked hard to provide her with nourishing food and he gathered all

the medicine roots he thought could bring her relief, but it was all

to no purpose. And despite all his efforts, one evening in the

twilight his sister went away to the West, leaving him alone behind

upon the earth.

The boy was heart-broken because of his sister's death. And when the

late spring came and the days grew warm and food was plentiful again,

he said, "She must be somewhere in the West, for they say that our

people do not really die. I will go and search for her, and perhaps I

can find her and bring her back." So one morning he set out on his

strange quest. He journeyed many days westward towards the Great

Water, killing game for food as he went, and sleeping at night under

the stars. He met many strange people, but he did not tell them the

purpose of his travels. At last he came to the shore of the Great

Water, and he sat looking towards the sunset wondering what next to

do. In the evening an old man came along. "What are you doing here?"

asked the man. "I am looking for my sister," said the boy; "some time

ago she sickened and died and I am lonely without her, and I want to

find her and bring her back." And the man said, "Some time ago she

whom you seek passed this way. If you wish to find her you must

undertake a dangerous journey." The boy answered that he would gladly

risk any dangers to find his sister, and the old man said, "I will

help you. Your sister has gone to the Land of Shadows far away in the

Country of Silence which lies out yonder in the Island of the Blest.

To reach the Island you must sail far into the West, but I warn you

that it is a perilous journey, for the crossing is always rough and

your boat will be tossed by tempests. But you will be well repaid for

your trouble, for in that land nobody is ever hungry or tired; there

is no death and no sorrow; there are no tears, and no one ever grows


Then the old man gave the boy a large pipe and some tobacco and said,

"This will help you in your need." And he brought him to where a small

canoe lay dry upon the beach. It was a wonderful canoe, the most

beautiful the boy had ever seen. It was cut from a single white stone

and it sparkled in the red twilight like a polished jewel. And the old

man said, "This canoe will weather all storms. But see that you handle

it carefully, and when you come back see that you leave it in the cove

where you found it."

Soon afterwards, the boy set out on his journey. The moon was full and

the night was cold with stars. He sailed into the West over a rough

and angry sea, but he was in no danger, for his canoe rode easily on

the waters. All around him he saw in the moonlight many other canoes

going in the same direction and all white and shining like his own.

But no one seemed to be guiding them, and although he looked long at

them not a person could he make out. He wondered if the canoes were

drifting unoccupied, for when he called to them there was no answer.

Sometimes a canoe upset in the tossing sea and the waves rose over it

and it was seen no more, and the boy often thought he heard an

anguished cry. For several days he sailed on to the West, and all the

time other canoes were not far away, and all the time some of them

were dropping from sight beneath the surging waters, but he saw no

people in them.

At last, after a long journey, the sea grew calm and the air was sweet

and warm. There was no trace of the storm, for the waves were quiet

and the sky was as clear as crystal. He saw that he was near the

Island of the Blest of which the old man had spoken, for it was now

plain to his view, as it rose above the ocean, topped with green grass

and trees, and a snow-white beach. Soon he reached the shore and drew

up his canoe. As he turned away he came upon a skeleton lying flat

upon the sand. He stopped to look at it, and as he did so, the

skeleton sat up and said in great surprise, "You should not be here.

Why have you come?" And the boy said, "I seek my sister. In the early

spring-time she sickened and died, and I am going to the Land of

Shadows in the Country of Silence in search of her." "You must go far

inland," said the skeleton, "and the way is hard to find for such as

you." The boy asked for guidance and the skeleton said, "Let me smoke

and I will help you." The boy gave him the pipe and the tobacco he had

received from the old man, and he laughed when he saw his strange

companion with the pipe between his teeth. The skeleton smoked for

some time and at last, as the smoke rose from his pipe, it changed to

a flock of little white birds, which flew about like doves. The boy

looked on in wonder, and the skeleton said, "These birds will guide

you. Follow them." Then he gave back the pipe and stretched out again

flat upon the sand, and the boy could not rouse him from his sleep.

The boy followed the little white birds as he had been told. He went

along through a land of great beauty where flowers were blooming and

countless birds were singing. Not a person did he meet on the way. The

place was deserted except for the song-birds and the flowers. He

passed through the Country of Silence, and came to a mysterious land

where no one dwelt. But although he saw no one he heard many voices

and he could not tell whence they came. They seemed to be all around

him. At last the birds stopped at the entrance to a great garden, and

flew around his head in a circle. They would go no further and they

alighted on a tree close by, all except one, which perched on the

boy's shoulder. The lad knew that here at last was the Land of


When he entered the garden he heard again many low voices. But he saw

no one. He saw only many shadows of people on the grass, but he could

not see from what the shadows came. He wondered greatly at the strange

and unusual sight, for back in his homeland in that time the sunlight

made no shadows. He listened again to the voices and he knew now that

the shadows were speaking. He wandered about for some time marvelling

greatly at the strange place with its weird unearthly beauty. At last

he heard a voice which he knew to be his sister's. It was soft and

sweet, just as he had known it when they were together on the earth,

and it had not changed since she left him. He went to the shadow from

which the voice came, and throwing himself on the grass beside it, he

said, "I have long sought you, my sister. I have come to take you

home. Let me see you as you were when we dwelt together." But his

sister said, "You have done wisely to keep me in your memory, and to

seek to find me. But here we cannot appear to the people of earth

except as shadows. I cannot go back with you, for it is now too late.

I have eaten of the food of this land; if you had come before I had

eaten, perhaps you could have taken me away. Who knows? But my heart

and my voice are unchanged, and I still remember my dear ones, and

with unaltered love I still watch my old home. And although I cannot

go to you, you can some day come to me. First you must finish your

work on earth. Go back to your home in the Earth Country. You will

become a great Chief among your people. Rule wisely and justly and

well, and give freely of your food to the poor among the Indians who

have not as much as you have. And when your work on earth is done you

shall come to me in this Land of Shadows beyond the Country of

Silence, and we shall be together again and our youth and strength and

beauty will never leave us."

And the boy, wondering greatly and in deep sorrow, said, "Let me stay

with you now." But his sister said, "That cannot be." Then she said,

"I will give you a Shadow, which you must keep with you as your

guardian spirit. And while you have it with you, no harm can come to

you, for it will be present only in the Light, and where there is

Light there can be no wickedness. But when it disappears you must be

on your guard against doing evil, for then there will be darkness, and

darkness may lead you to wrong."

So the boy took the Shadow, and said good-bye for a season and set out

on his homeward journey. The little white birds, which had waited for

him in the trees, guided him back to the beach. His canoe was still

there, but the skeleton-man had gone and there was not a trace of him

to be found upon the sand. And the Island of the Blest was silent

except for the songs of the birds and the ripple of the little

streams. The boy embarked in his canoe and sailed towards the east,

and as he pushed off from the beach the little white birds left him

and disappeared in the air. The sea was now calm and there was no

storm, as there had been on his outward journey. Soon he reached the

shore on the other side. He left his canoe in the cove as the old man

had told him, and in a few days he arrived at his home, still bearing

the Shadow from the Country of Silence.

He worked hard for many years but he did no evil, and in the end he

became a great Chief and did much good for his people. He ruled wisely

and justly and well, as his sister had commanded him. Then one day,

when he was old and his work was done, he disappeared, and his people

knew that he had gone to join his sister in the Land of Shadows in the

Country of Silence far away somewhere in the West. But he left behind

him the Shadow his sister had given him; and while there is Light the

Indians still have their Shadow and no harm can come to them, for

where there is Light there can be no evil.

But always in the late autumn the Shadows of the Indian brother and

sister in the Country of Silence are lonely for their former life. And

they think of their living friends and of the places of their youth,

and they wish once more to follow the hunt, for they know that the

hunter's moon is shining. And when their memory dwells with longing on

their earlier days, their spirits are allowed to come back to earth

for a brief season from the Land of Shadows. Then the winds are silent

and the days are very still, and the smoke of their camp fires appears

like haze upon the air. And men call this season Indian Summer, but it

is really but a Shadow of the golden summer that has gone. And it

always is a reminder to the Indians that in the Land of Shadows, far

away in the Country of Silence in the West, there are no dead.