“Delightful, compelling and full of insight” Rosie Andersen, The Hare Preservation Trust
“A wonderful book and a story that needs to be heard. I loved it” Gill Lewis, author of Sky Dancers and Run Wild
“Gripping!” Mark Avery, campaigner and former Director of Conservation at RSPB
“Will captivate and thrill all who read it!” Joanna Mcfarlane, Wild Planet Explorers
“A story to enjoy in your favourite armchair in front of a crackling fire” Melvin Burgess, author of Kite and Carnegie Medal Winner
“We often hear that children would benefit from reading more books and this is just the sort of book they should be reading” Ian Carter, Editor of British Birds
“Delivers an important message with a sensitive touch… it is also a celebration of Scotland’s spectacular landscape and the creatures who live in it” Louisa McLennan, Roaring Reads
“A captivating read with important environmental messages that need to be told. I highly recommend this excellent and enthralling book” Holly Gillibrand, aged 14. Ambassador for Scotland: The Big Picture and one of The Big Issue’s top 100 Changemakers for 2020.
“A cross between Watership Down & Jonathan Livingston Seagull…engaging & informative” Ben Sparham, Highland One World
Chapter 1 – High Moor
Snow was awake but not yet ready to open his eyes. A penetrating chill had crept up out of the ground while he had slept and now, despite his dense fur, his paws felt numb, as if they hardly belonged to his body at all.
“What did I miss?” he asked, finally opening one pale golden eye to look across at his sister.
Leap had been keeping watch, her back firmly hunched against the icy gusts blowing down off the mountain behind them. “Not a thing,” she replied, twisting one black-tipped ear in her brother’s direction without turning her head.
“Another busy afternoon, eh?” said Snow, opening his other eye and lifting his nose to test the air blowing over their heads.
“I heard a couple of grouse calling from away down the hill earlier,” offered Leap, “but nothing else.”
Snow snorted and began shuffling his weight from one foot to the next, trying to work some blood back into his frozen toes. “Let me have a look,” he said.
Hopping awkwardly past his sister, Snow peered hopefully through a narrow window in the ring of stunted heather that surrounded their form, but Leap was right: there was nothing out there. Nothing he could see anyway. Where were the fierce yellow-eyed Faols and the splendid bone-crowned Brags? wondered Snow, casting his gaze sadly over the barren sweep of moorland laid out below their hiding place. What had happened to the great shambling Beithirs and the forests they once haunted?
At night, while the stars turned slowly overhead, Snow and Leap had often listened to their mother, Juniper, describing the fearsome monsters and noble beasts that legend held once lived beneath these same dark skies. And occasionally, as the frosty night air brought Juniper’s words to life, animating the tireless Brags and sharp-toothed Faols in the shape-filled plumes of her whispered breath, it had felt possible to believe that her fantastical stories were true.
But each morning, as the sun’s low rays stretched across the bald hillside, the young hares were reminded that the drab moor which they had inherited was nothing like that storied world. The strange and terrible creatures had seemingly long departed, and the trees they had lived amongst—plants so tall that Juniper claimed their leaves once brushed the sky—had vanished with them.
For a cycle of the moon, the growing leverets had looked out over the wide, empty horizons of High Moor, anonymous as stones pressed against the hard-packed earth, motionless while the wind-blasted heather fretted and bobbed around them. More recently they had attempted their first short expeditions away from the collapsed peat hag that sheltered their form, venturing as far as the stream that passed below their hideout. So far however, the surrounding moor had revealed nothing to compare with the drama of their mother’s hair-raising tales.
Leap had quickly concluded that the old stories and the beasts that populated them were no more than myths, but Snow could not help mourning the missing monsters and the excitement they promised. Life seemed so tame without them.
“See?” said Leap, teasing her brother as he stared out over the moor once again. “Not a Brag in sight.”
Snow ignored his sister, keeping his gaze fixed firmly on the middle distance. Whether the improbable-sounding Brags might still exist was something he had not yet decided. But High Moor seemed such a dull place compared to the thrilling beast-filled world Juniper conjured in her stories, that Snow could not help hoping the remarkable creatures might someday, somehow reappear.
“What’s that down there?” asked Snow excitedly, as a flicker of movement caught his eye. He leant forward, staring at the spot intently. Something small and white was moving between the bone-grey stems of windswept heather below their hideout, but it was just another mountain hare; a late-changer still wearing its white winter coat, glowing eerily in the lemony late afternoon light.
The late-changer reminded Snow of Albann, the resourceful hero of many of Juniper’s tales. He had once roamed freely across the length and breadth of a great kingdom, a hare famous across the land for the beauty of his splendid blue coat. But then some unspecified disaster had befallen Albann and his tribe, and he had led a retreat to the mountains. Even there the hares had found themselves surrounded by foes, and that winter Albann and his followers had faced extinction.
Then, when all seemed lost, Albann had come up with his greatest trick. He had changed out of his famous blue coat and become the first hare to turn white, outwitting his enemies and disappearing in the snow. It was a trick the mountain hares still used to hide in plain sight, but not all of the creatures that had vanished from the mountains over the years were merely hiding like the hares. One by one the mighty Brags, the solitary Beithirs and the wandering Faols had melted away for good, leaving the old hills and ancient glens feeling hollowed out and abandoned.
“I can’t see anything,” said Leap, casting a half-curious eye over Snow’s shoulder.
“It was nothing,” admitted Snow, with a weary sigh. “Just Spindrift, or one of the other old bucks, on their way down to the feeding grounds.”
Leap nodded and moved back into the centre of the form’s shallow footprint, but Snow stayed where he was, staring out over the moor, maintaining his hopeful vigil.
“It’s not that much to ask, is it?” he muttered. “A little bit of excitement, or just something slightly out of the ordinary. I mean, doesn’t anything ever happen around here?”
Leap shrugged. Nothing much disturbed the routine of their lives on High Moor, but that was precisely the reason most of the animals who lived there were so content. Surrounded by food and safe from obvious threats, few thought to question the moor’s established rhythms. So long as the moon followed the sun, and the seasons turned on time, fewer still imagined that anything might one day threaten their tranquil, uncomplicated lives.
And yet, listening to their mother’s stories during the frost-cracked nights, the young leverets would still sometimes imagine phantoms lurking in the surrounding dark, their presence felt at the furthest edges of sense, like the stare of an unseen observer, or the lingering impression of a companion missing from their regular place. Then the low moan of the wind would set tingles dancing down their spines and the crouching hares would shiver nervously, picturing a hungry Faol prowling silently just out of sight.
“I need to get out of this place,” said Snow suddenly. He was sick of lying still, staring out over the dreary moor all day. “How about a race?”
“Why not?” said Leap, welcoming the opportunity to warm up. “Maybe today you might even catch me!” She sprang away, bursting out into the open, arrowing off across the sloping hillside without looking back.
Snow leapt after his sister, matching her turn for turn, the two of them joined by an invisible cord as their race became a chase, a breathless helter-skelter charge through the heather that left a trail of grumbling, disapproving older hares in their wake.
“Slow down, you hooligans!”
“Watch where you’re going!”
The twins ignored these protests. Snow could not understand why he had been born with legs to run like the wind if he was only ever meant to sit idly on his backside all day, and Leap did not care about the older hares’ disapproval; she was still ahead of her brother and winning the race.
“You’re so slow!” she laughed, listening to his thumping footfalls trailing behind her.
Snow said nothing, but pursued his sister in dogged silence, cutting another corner to close the gap. Leap had grown larger than her brother and her longer legs gave her the advantage in a straight chase, but there were few straight runs on the moor, and Snow was nimbler through the turns. As Leap blazed a trail through the tangled heather, she was forced to jink around the many rocks and hollows, so that Snow was slowly but surely catching up.
Only then, without warning, she stopped.
Gleefully, Snow pounced onto her back, catapulting himself in a spectacular flip over his sister’s head, but Leap ignored him. She was staring at something, the thrill of their contest suddenly forgotten. Feeling slightly irritated, Snow looked around, wondering what had spoiled their race.
And then, at last, he saw what Leap was looking at, realising with a rush of excitement that his wish had been granted. Something out of the ordinary had finally appeared on the moor. It was not a Faol or a Beithir, restored from the shadows, but neither he nor Leap could say exactly what it was either. It was something new.