Once upon a time, a young star lost his balance while looking
curiously down at Earth and fell sizzling into the unnamed
body of water that would someday be called Lake Erie. Only
the star’s twin sister saw the accident—well, she came closest. She
happened to look down on Lake Erie just after her brother fell in
and saw the ripples on the water’s surface. She did not call for her
mother, Dubhe, or her father, Toliman, because she believed her
brother was simply exploring and would be back by suppertime.
The star was not back by suppertime, was not even back by bed-
time, and by then it was too late. The Sky Veil had shifted, the Earth
had heaved a quarter turn, and the star had been left behind.
In the meantime, the star swam to the shore of Lake Erie and
hauled himself out to sit on its bank, shivering and sniffling in his
human Earth-form. He did not know how to get back through the
Sky Veil, home to Dubhe and Toliman and his sister.
Constellations moved around the universe as it suited them.
Only Polaris, the North Star, was constant and had been in one place
for longer than anyone could remember. It was said she never
moved because she was the pin holding the Sky Veil to the cosmos.
Without her, the barrier between Earth’s blue sky and the rest of the
black universe would fall upon the planet and cover it in darkness
So the young star who had fallen into the eventual Lake Erie
now sat on its bank coming down with a rather nasty cold, which
he had never experienced in his life. He was fairly sure his nose was
dripping, and as he hadn’t had a nose until he’d fallen to Earth a few
moments earlier, he had no idea what to do about it.
The star shivered and sniffled generally feeling sorry for himself.
Until, horribly, he realized he was being watched. He sat very
still, but a large sneeze was brewing in the back of his nose. The e
star tried desperately to hold back the sneeze, but naturally that just
made it more determined to escape. So it pushed its way forward
and tickled the tip of his nose.
Of course the star was so surprised he had to let it go. The sneeze
exploded out of his nose and landed in Lake Erie, becoming what
would someday be called a water skeeter. The e star knew he had
sneezed very loudly while being watched, and he did not know how
the watcher would react. He braced himself for the worst, tingling
in anticipation. He had never experienced the worst before.
To his astonishment, a warty gray hand offered him a hankie. It
was a nice hankie with a blue and white paisley pattern. As the star
took the hankie, he noticed the warty gray hand was attached to a
warty, dry, gray body belonging to a toad.
“Thank you,” said the star. After a moment, he dabbed at his
nose with the hankie and, pleased with the results, continued to do
“It’s no trouble,” said the toad. “You look new to these parts.”
“I am,” said the star, “I didn’t mean to come here at all. I tripped and
fell through the Sky Veil. Do you know how I might get back?
My parents will be worried about me.”
“Hmm,” said the toad, “so you’re a star! I should have guessed;
gravity seems new to you. No, I don’t know how you get back. We
land-creatures keep close to the ground. But I know someone who
might be able to help.
“No, keep it, please””—for here the star tried to offer the toad back
her hankie, having blown his nose all over it so the blue cloth glittered
with stardust—“you need it more than I do,
“I dare say! I’m Anura. What’s your name?”
“Haven’t got one yet,” said the star mournfully. “I’m not old
enough. When I find a constellation I like and join up with it, I’ll
get my name from there. My sister and I are supposed to choose
together. Oh, I simply must get home!”
He would have begun to cry, but Anura hastily said, “There
now, we’ll get this all sorted out quicker than a mayfly on a Mon-
day morning.” (There have always been Monday mornings; they’re
unavoidable.) “Let’s go see my friend Vulpes. He might know what
The young star hesitated. He said to Anura, “How do I know I
can trust you?”
Anura answered as honestly as she could: “Well, you don’t. I’m
a stranger and you’re a stranger and who’s to say I should trust you,
either? But you seem a nice sort of star, and I think I’m a nice sort of
toad, so we’ll just have to risk it, won’t we?”
The star considered. The toad seemed kindly, so at last he said,
“All right, let’s go see Vulpes,” rather more bravely than he felt.
Anura set off at a brisk hop towards the forest behind her—away
from Lake Erie. The star cast a last glance up at the unreachable Sky
Veil and the cosmos beyond, and followed.
The pair passed into the trees. Sticks cracked loudly beneath the
star as he tried to get a feel for the weight of his feet. Anura very
graciously did not comment on her companion’s stumbling, and after a
time he began to walk more steadily.
The star looked up, but it was hard to see the Sky Veil through
the tree branches. He looked around at the strange, unfamiliar
forest and smiled. What a lot there was to see and hear and smell!
He stopped short and stared. Was that a real, live badger? Or . . . a
skunk? With their similar white stripes, it was hard to tell which
was which from a distance. He considered going closer.
“Nearly there,” said Anura, startling the star back into motion.
“It’s harder to find in the dark, but I think we’ve just—aha!” She
hopped to a fallen tree and knocked on a door built into the side of
the wood. “Vulpes,” she called, “are you there?” She knocked again.
“I hope he’s not out getting his supper. Vulpes!”
“Hello, Anura, what a lovely surprise!” said a muffled voice be-
hind them. They turned to see a red fox grinning in welcome, a vole
in his jaws. The fox brushed past them to the fallen tree, unlocked
the door, and gestured them inside.
Chattering happily, Anura hopped in. The star followed, but
Vulpes blocked the way, taking the vole out of his mouth.
“And who are you?” he asked, eyes narrowing.
The young star gulped, beginning to glow a little in his nervous-
ness. “Please, sir,” he said, “I’m just trying to find my way home.”
“He’s a star, Vulpes, and he’s with me. Let him in, do,” said Anura.
“I asked your name,” Vulpes said, unmoving.
“I don’t have one yet,” the star replied. “And,” he added rebel-
liously, “even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you!” He shrank back from
his own boldness, but Anura, comfortably settled before a cozy fire,
flung back her head and laughed.
“That’s what you get for being rude to guests, Vulpie!” she
chortled. “What are you so worried about—that he’ll get starfilm all
over your seat? That’s no more than your mother does with her fur
in shedding season, honestly.” She helped herself to a piece of toast.
To the star’s surprise, Vulpes stepped aside, looking wry. “My
apologies,” he said, “do come in.”
His light dimming in relief, the star settled close to Anura. Vulpes
set his supper aside and began preparing tea. “What brings you
to these parts, Anura?” he asked.
Anura gestured to the star. “He’s looking for a way back home
through the Sky Veil, Vulpie, and as a common land creature, I
don’t know one. I thought you might, since you’re so clever.”
Vulpes frowned. He added three sugar lumps and a splash of
milk to the star’s tea without even needing to ask. “Hmm, through
the Sky Veil . . . that’s a fascinating problem. I’m clever, Nura, but I’ve
no interest in the skies. I’m afraid I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
Despite the sugar and milk, the young star’s tea suddenly tasted
bitter. “What will I do?” he wailed. He put down his teacup so the
tea didn’t get sparkly with tears.
“There now,” said Vulpes, looking alarmed, “we’ll get this sorted
out. I have a bird friend we can ask. I’ll send her a message to come
at once.” He hurried outside and uttered a series of low barks.
“I am sorry,” said Anura, “I did think Vulpes would know.”
“That’s all right,” said the star, dabbing his eyes with the blue
and white paisley hankie, “you did your best. It’s my fault for tripping
in the first place.” “Nonsense!” said Vulpes, returning to the
fire side. “You wanted an adventure and don’t you deny it. We all feel
that way sometimes.”
The star opened his mouth, but could think of nothing to say to
the contrary, and shut it again.
“For whom did you send?” Anura asked.
“My friend, Noctua,” replied Vulpes, looking rather pleased with
himself. “As a creature of the sky, she might know something—if
she can be found tonight. She’s never in one place for long when
“That is brilliant to call a bird, Vulpie! I should have thought of
that,” Anura said admiringly.
“It may be a while until Noctua’s found,” Vulpes cautioned the
star, “so feel free to take a rest. Nura and I will wake you when she
“Thank you,” the young star said with dignity, “but I’m wide
“Suit yourself,” Vulpes said, and fell to talking with Anura about
old times. The star tried valiantly to follow the conversation, but
he really was very tired. His eyelids grew heavier and heavier, until
they closed altogether and he fell asleep. He began dreaming of the
celestial ceremonies he so loved to dance in with his sister: the sun-
beams singing the comets to a crescendo, the difficulties of keeping
a terrestrial tempo when it was called for . . .
It seemed no time at all before the young star was being shaken
awake and Anura was saying, “Come along now, Noctua’s just out-
The young star trundled sleepily after Anura and out of the fallen
tree to where Vulpes stood with Noctua, waiting.
“Oh!” said the star. Noctua was a lovely barred owl with large,
dark eyes. She clicked her beak sharply, glancing at Vulpes.
“So this is the lost star I’ve been hearing about in my sky travels,”
“Your parents are quite worried about you, little one.
The hole in the Sky Veil that you fell through has closed up, or you
could have gone back to the cosmos that way.”
“Can you tell me another way to get home?” the young star
“I can tell you, to be sure.” Noctua nodded. “You must go to
Polaris, the North Star, and ask her to let you through the Sky Veil.
She’s the only one who can do it.”
“Go to Polaris!” the star gasped. “How?”
“It won’t be easy,” Noctua warned, “but I can take you part of
the way on my back. That’ll save you some time.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you!” cried the star. “When will you be
ready to leave?”
Noctua shrugged. “Now, if you are.”
The star hesitated. He wanted to spend more time on Earth, but
he knew he would not get another chance to go home for a long
time, and he missed his family terribly.
Sighing regretfully, the star made up his mind. He ran to Anura
and hugged her tight. “Thank you for your help,” he said. “Are you
sure you don’t want your hankie back?” For his cold had gone away
as he slept.
“I’m sure,” Anura answered. “You must come again and see me
sometime and return it then.”
“I will!” the star said. He held out his hand to Vulpes. “Thank
you, too,” he said solemnly. He leaned closer. “You were right, I
think,” he whispered, “this is shaping up to be a marvelous adventure!”
Vulpes smiled and shook his hand with a gentle paw. “You do
know your name, my friend. It’s painted all over your face.”
With that curious remark, he turned tail and vanished into his
Noctua ruffled her feathers. “Ready?”
The star clambered up her back and settled between her wings.
“Hold tight.” She launched herself into the sky.
The star whooped, waving to Anura, already very small below.
“Goodbye,” he called, waving the hankie like a flag, “goodbye!”
Noctua flew higher, then higher still. She soared north, hooting
greetings to bats and other owls she passed. The star watched the
land fl ash past beneath them and trembled with delight. “This is
freedom!” he breathed.
Noctua hooted joyfully. “This is the birthright of the sky creatures,”
she said, “and your birthright too, little one. It’s called flying.
Why don’t you try?”
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly!” the young star gasped. “I’ll fall, like
“I’ll catch you if you do,” Noctua promised. “Try.”
Quivering with fear and excitement, the star slid off Noctua’s
back and spread his arms out wide. For an instant he plummeted
earthward, trailing a stream of light. But then, wibbling and wob-
bling all the while, he tipped his body up and began to sail beside
the owl. “I’m doing it!” he cried, glowing brightly. “I’m flying!”
The star and Noctua flew on. The night grew darker and the air
became colder. Gray clouds scudded out the stars, and snow began
to swirl around the pair.
“Won’t be long now,” Noctua said, but it still felt like a very long
time to the young star. He was growing tired and climbed onto her
back to sleep, burrowing into her soft feathers for warmth.
Before he’d gotten more than forty winks, Noctua was calling
him to wakefulness. “This is as far as I can take you, little one.”
“Where are we?” the young star asked, sitting up and rubbing
“The Far North,” Noctua replied, “at Polaris’s castle.”
“I can’t take you to her directly, I’m afraid. Stars and birds have
guardians, Pherkad and Kochab. They will decide if you are worthy
to see Polaris herself.”
The star bristled. “Worthy!” he said. “I belong in the cosmos.”
“You left them, though, and did not go back immediately,”
Noctua reminded him.
“I couldn’t get back!”
“Be that as it may, no one’s ever done what you have before.”
The young star slid off Noctua’s back, his glow flickering. “What
if I’m not worthy?”
Noctua nudged him towards the castle door, amber eyes gentle.
“Do you believe that, little one?”
Before he could answer, she flew away. The star smoothed his
filmy cloud-mist tunic and knocked.
“Who goes there?” a deep voice called.
The young star trembled. “Please,” he said, “I’d like to see Polaris.
I’m trying to get home to my mother, Dubhe, and my father,
Toliman, and my sister behind the Sky Veil.”
“So you are the fallen star!” the deep voice said. “We have been
expecting you. Why do you think you are worthy to see the Queen?”
The young star fl inched. “Because . . . ” he said slowly, thinking
it out, “I tripped and fell through the Sky Veil, and on the shores of
a lake I met a toad named Anura who lent me her hankie. She says
I’m to give it back next time I visit, which means I’ve got to go home,
so I can leave again. Otherwise, I haven’t taken it anywhere at all.”
Th ere was a silence. “All right, then,” the voice said grudgingly,
“better come in.” There was a grinding noise as the door unlocked.
It swung open to reveal a large, imposing star in shining armor. “I
am Pherkad,” the star said. “Follow me.”
Hardly believing his luck, the young star followed Pherkad down
a corridor made of ice. Their light reflected radiantly off the walls.
“Am I going to see Polaris now?” the star asked.
“Hmph!” said Pherkad. He held out his hand, shooting the star
a sidelong glance. “Wait here.” He passed through a door, shutting
it behind him.
The young star hopped from one foot to the other. He’d found
he quite liked his feet and would be sorry to give them up. When
stars were behind the Sky Veil, they were only softly glowing
Grown tired of waiting, the star mustered up the courage to
knock on the door.
“Who goes there?” called a new voice, deeper and louder than
“Please, I’m here to see Polaris. I’m trying to get home to my
mother, Dubhe, and my father, Toliman, and my sister behind the
Sky Veil. I was with Pherkad, but I don’t know where he’s gone. Can
you help me?”
“Why do you think the Queen would want to see you?” the voice
“Because . . . ” the star said carefully, “I’ve had an adventure and
learned the birthright of the sky creatures—flying. Since she’s hold-
ing up the Sky Veil, the Queen can’t fl y anywhere. I’ll tell her about
it so she’ll remember what it’s like.”
There was a silence. Then: “You may come in,” the voice said un-
generously. The door slid sideways, revealing an even larger, more
impressive star in shimmering robes. “I am Kochab,” the star said.
“Come this way.”
The young star barely resisted jumping up and down with glee.
He followed Kochab down a corridor made of glass. It was raised
up in the sky, above the clouds and snow, so the young star could
see dimly through the Sky Veil to the gently shining shapes of stars
beyond. He couldn’t make out anyone he knew—he’d never been
different queens, and Polaris is yours. But I’ve brought you to her
this far north before—but his heart ached with happiness to be so
close to the cosmos.
Kochab put up his hand, looking at the star consideringly. “Wait
here.” He passed through another door, closing it behind him.
The young star hopped from one foot to the other. Like Pherkad
before him, Kochab did not come back. Again mustering his courage,
the star knocked on the door.
“Enter!” a light, twinkling voice said.
The star blinked in surprise, then reached out and pushed the
door. It vanished, leaving an empty doorway. He stepped inside and
found himself in a large room. It was open to the sky, and lights of
every color imaginable—and those impossible to imagine—danced
overhead. The stars were brighter through the Sky Veil, and clearer.
The young star reached towards them.
“Why have you come here, child?”
At the end of the room sat a beautiful star on a throne, watching
him. The dancing lights lingered on her as if reluctant to be
anywhere else; when she smiled, a whole new spectrum of colors
exploded into existence.
“Come here, child.” The beautiful star beckoned.
The young star walked towards her in awe. “Are you Polaris?”
Her nose crinkled when she smiled. “I am. What do you wish
The star opened his mouth to beg her to send him straight home,
but he paused. The star could see the kindness and intelligence in
the Queen’s expression, as well as the dark shadows ringing her eyes
and the ashen color of her cheeks. So instead he said, “Your Majesty,
I’ve come to tell you a story. I’ve had such a wonderful adventure!”
He told her about falling through the Sky Veil and swimming in
what would someday be called Lake Erie. He told her about Anura
and showed her the blue and white paisley hankie glittering with
stardust. He told her about Vulpes and the tea, and finally he told
her about Noctua and learning to fly. As he spoke, such a look of joy
and longing spread over the Queen’s face that he burst out, “Please,
Your Majesty, come flying with me!”
The Queen smiled, but her eyes were sad. “Oh child, I wish I
could. But I must hold up the Sky Veil to keep Earth from darkness.
Still, your tale has made me remember when I was young and could
fly about as I liked, and for that I thank you.”
“I’ll hold up the Sky Veil for a while,” the star said brashly. “Go
on!” He was too young and little for the job, and both he and the
Queen knew it. But his offer meant no less for all that.
The Queen shook her head. She did not move her shoulders,
where the Sky Veil hung like a cloak. The black folds streamed away
from her and out across the universe. “You came here to ask me to
let you through to go home, child, and so I shall. I will release the
Veil for a moment so you may pass through and return to your family.
Only tell me this before you go: what is your name?”
The young star began to protest he didn’t know, but then he realized
that was no longer true. He twisted Anura’s blue and white
paisley hankie in his hands and searched inside himself.
“My name is Vagus,” he said at last. “I am the Wanderer.”
“And why do you wander, Vagus?” the Queen asked.
“So that I may know the universe and all my ways home.”
Polaris bent her head and heaved her shoulders. The cloak of the
Sky Veil slipped from her body and dropped onto Earth, darkening
the northernmost part of the planet. The Queen, uncertain, looked
at Vagus and stood taller without the weight upon her.
The star took a slow step forward. “I will take some time to cross
into the cosmos,” he said slyly. “Fly, Your Majesty, fly!”
Polaris gave a great cry of delight and flung herself into the sky,
lighting it with dancing colors.
Vagus crossed without hurrying. Once he was back in the cosmos,
Polaris returned to her throne and drew the Sky Veil about
her shoulders. For her, only a few minutes had passed, but in the
north countries of Earth where this total darkness had never before
been experienced, it had been about three months. There was great
rejoicing when the Sky Veil was lift ed and the sun rose to light the
“I will be back next year to see my friends on Earth,” Vagus said.
The Queen smiled brilliantly. “I will await your return.”
And so the star traveled home and was reunited with his family.
There was much celebration, and a ceremony with jubilan celestial
dancing. His twin sister found her name to be Merak, and joined
her mother in the Bear constellation. She was happy to hear her
brother’s adventures, but very content to have no part in them—she
didn’t like the idea of having feet.
Vagus himself wandered the universe far and wide, swirling
through a solar storm, making friends with the daughter of Polaris,
Cassiopeia, and learning constellation lore from the stars in the belt
of Orion, an ancient and honored warrior.
At the end of the year, he returned to Polaris’s castle to tell her
all he had seen. In return, she dropped the Sky Veil, soaring free
while Vagus passed through to Earth to spend the next year with
his friends. All of northern Earth was dark for three months as he
crossed over. When the year was up, Vagus went back to Polaris’s
castle to return to the cosmos, and so the cycle continues to this