The story that I'm telling you is true. It's as true as the two moons in the sky, as true as the great hunter who runs in the stars hunting the boar, as fish that swim up the river. It happened a long, long time ago, but it's true, and even if you don't believe that you should listen, because it's got a monster in it, and a brave hunter, and even if only one of them is real, he can still come to your den after sunrise and eat you.
This is the story of Ice-Eye and the Silvery Stag. Ice-Eye was a hunter – a great wolfrider hunter, maybe the best there ever was. He was my grandsire's own father, on Mother's side, or maybe his father, or maybe he just lived during his time, it doesn't matter. I'm the one who knows his story.
This is the story of Ice-Eye's last winter, when he met the Stag, the greatest white-cold season the holt ever had. There was ice everywhere and there wasn't anything else. Not deer, not trees, not even ground squirrels. The den trees were frozen and all the dens too, and outside it was too cold to make a fire. And the hunger was even worse.
Ice-Eye wasn't so old then, he didn't even have his face-fur, but he was the best hunter of them all. When the forest was warm and full of living things he'd go out every day and get eights of rabbits and birds for his belt, he'd string them up and bring them to the holt, and sometimes a whole clickdeer or tuskhog too. So when he saw his tribe starving, Ice-Eye knew what to do.
Ice-Eye was fast and strong. He strung his bow, and took his spear, and he climbed outside over the snow-covered Den trees and ran like swift wind all over the ice that covered everything. But he couldn't find any rabbits, or birds, or clickdeer, or tuskhogs, not even fisher cats or bears or even mice and squirrels. He looked, and he looked, and after a day and a night of looking, he was so tired that he had to sit down, frozen and hungry and desperate, on the ice. And that was when he saw the thing across the river.
It was a stag, a big, pretty, healthy stag, and its pelt was like clouds in summer, light and soft and bright, and silvery silver. It came near Ice-Eye and licked him, it wasn't afraid of him at all. Ice-Eye lifted a stone from the ground and bashed it on the stag's head, but his fingers were so weak he couldn't really injure it. He gave up and closed his eyes, and when he did, he felt the stag sending to him.
**You're cold and you're hungry, elf,** the stag sent.
**I didn't hit you because I'm hungry,** answered Ice-Eye, who was by now so cold he didn't really mind the idea of a sending stag. **I just have to feed my tribe.**
**Your tribe?** The Silvery Stag sounded interested. **If it's for a tribe, I forgive you, elf. I'll even do more. I will find food for your tribe – all they can eat and more. But to do that, I'll need you to give me your eyes.**
Ice-Eye was very cold, and tired and hungry, and you might've guessed that by now he was very frightened of the stag, even though he was the bravest hunter of them all. But the remembered his tribemates who were hungry and cold, so he took his eyes in his hands and he gave them to the Stag, and it raised its head and it ran away into the snow.
It took poor Ice-Eye a long time to get back to the den trees without his eyes, but in the end he did, he just had to follow the scents. And there were so many scents, honey and sweetcakes and roots and smoked meat, and his ears were full of the sounds of chewing. He very grateful to the Stag, though no one believed him when he told about it.
Days later, after Ice-Eye already learned to get around pretty well without his eyes, there was a terrible frost. The hunger was a happy memory now with the cold wind making cubs and elders and strong hunters all sick. Fire and furs and huddling didn't help them, so they went to Ice-Eye. Even blind, he was the best scout and tracker; he went out of the holt to search for a better shelter.
On the way, suddenly, he heard the sound of hooves on snow. Ice-Eye sniffed the air, and realized that he was standing before the silvery Stag. It licked his face.
**What now, elf?** it asked.
**My tribemates are cold,** answered Ice-Eye
**I can help,** replied the stag. **I'll run after the wind and smash it with my antlers, but only if you'll give me your ears.**
Ice-Eye wasn't too happy about that, because he badly needed his ears now instead of his eyes. But he knew all his tribemates were waiting, so he took his ears, and he gave them to the Stag, which dashed away in the wind.
Without his eyes and ears both, Ice-Eye took nearly a day to get back to the holt, but when he returned the den trees were warm and lit and safe and all the sick elves had gotten better. There was no cold wind coming between the branches anymore.
Now this happened again, and again, and again. Once the hunters all got frostbitten in the night, and Ice-Eye gave the Stag his nose to sniff out healing herbs. Another time, he had to give the Stag his pelt so it could drive away a big white bear. He gave the Stag his hands and feet and after a while, the tribe couldn't stand to look at him, with him not looking much like an elf anymore. Ice-Eye had to leave the Den trees and live in a den alone. It was the longest winter season ever.
"Then, after maybe five births of the moons, the Stag came to Ice-Eye in his own den.
**Your tribe suffers again, elf,** the stag said, **but I know a way to make sure they'll never suffer anything anymore. For that, though, you'll have to give me your teeth.**
Ice-Eye thought his teeth, which were clattering and hadn't chewed nothing for days, couldn't be such a big thing to give. So he gave the stag his sharp teeth and waited.
The stag left Ice-Eye in his den and went into a hole in the snow. It took off its hide and hoofs and eyes and ears, and put on Ice-Eye's eyes and ears and pelt, his hands and feet and nose instead. Then it put Ice- Eye's teeth in its mouth. It went straight to the den trees and climbed up.
The tribe was so happy to see Ice-Eye healed, they didn't even ask how. They welcomed him in and decided to hold a great big celebration, with food and dancing, and dreamberry wine. A lot of dreamberry wine.
Then, when it was dawn, the Stag saw all the elves were lying drunk-asleep on their furs and it smiled. Thanks to it, the cubs were healthy and nice, they were big and well-fed and fat, and the stag bared the teeth it took from Ice-Eye, and it prepared to feast on them.
The cubs woke up and started sending for help! But the tribe was all asleep with too much wine and too much singing and too much bad Stag-food, and the only one who heard them was Ice-Eye in his lonely den.
Ice-Eye ran out of his den. Without eyes, ears or nose, he found the Stag's snow hole. He found the stag's pelt and its eyes and ears and hoofs, and he wore them, and he ran to the cubs' aid. He found the Stag chasing them, and they fought there. Ice-Eye killed the Stag with its own hard hoofs. Its blood spilled on the snow, and the snow melted, and the hissing woke up the tribe's adults.
What they saw was Ice-Eye lying dead and a stag standing over him. They didn't know that Ice-Eye gave all the parts he was missing to the Silvery Stag, they just knew he was dead, and a silvery stag killed him. So they lifted their spears, and they killed it.
All the tribe mourned Ice-Eye. He was the best, bravest hunter they had, and they were all terribly sad that the loneliness and snow drove him so mad that he attacked the cubs. In his honor, they decided to make a big fine meal out of the stag that had killed him. It sounded fair to them.
But I think, after they took off its pelt… I think they gave up on that idea.