Spindlefish and Stars


By Christiane M. Andrews

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This spellbinding fantasy about a girl from the shadows and a boy from the sea is perfect for fans of The Girl Who Drank the Moon and The Book of Boy.

Clothilde has lived her whole life in the shadows with her (sometimes) thieving and (always) ailing father. But when he fails to meet her one morning, sending her instead a mysterious ticket of half-paffage, Clo finds herself journeying across the sea to reunite with him. The ticket, however, leaves her on a sunless island inhabited only by creaking fishermen, a rumpled old woman, a piggish cat, and a moon-cheeked boy named Cary.

Clo is quickly locked away and made to spend her days in unnerving chores with the island's extraordinary fish, while the old woman sits nearby weaving an endless gray tapestry. Frustrated and aching with the loss of her father, Clo must unravel the mysteries of the island and all that's hidden in the vast tapestry's threads—secrets both exquisite and terrible. And she must decide how much of herself to give up in order to save those she thought she'd lost forever.

Inspired by Greek mythology, Spindlefish and Stars invites readers to seek connections, to forge their own paths, and to explore the power of storytelling in our interwoven histories. 




ONCE, ON THE FAR END OF THE VILLAGE IN THE LAST OF the crumbling homes, lived a girl. Perhaps a girl, the neighbors said; at any rate, she was not pretty. She kept her dark hair shorn as tight as a lamb’s in spring and wore a boy’s dirty tunic and leggings and boots, and when she was not with her father, which was often, she skulked in the shadows of the buildings or at the corner of her house, where she dug and poked in the dirt around a miserable patch of turnips and straggly weeds. She never smiled or offered a hello or bonjour or guten morgen or ahlan wa sahlan or privet or a greeting in any language, no matter how many times the neighbors showed her their own rows of yellow teeth, and when they tried to stop her to make her speak—to mind her manners—she would scuttle away, bounding out of their grasp, and disappear with a bang behind her own front door.

A shame, one neighbor would sigh.

The child needs a mother, another would add.

How about you? a third would suggest.

This always made them all laugh, great heaving, spittle-laced laughs, for as much as the motherless boyish girl set the neighbors’ tongues to flapping, the thought of anyone marrying that man, the gray and wizened, stooped and shuffling little man who called himself her father, was too much for any of them to bear.

Oh, he has one foot already in the grave! the first would hoot.

Just one foot? the second would sputter. I think there’s a leg and an arm in there as well!

Ah, if he only had a fortune, the last would cry, the first gust of winter would make his widow rich! This thought, of course, silenced them for a while. But no, he could not be rich. Whatever work he did, it was daily—or, rather, nightly: he would depart each evening before the sun sank below the mountains and arrive each morning just as the town began to shape itself out of the darkness. There was no leisure. And night work… whatever it was—emptying the chamber pots or sweeping the stables or loosening the grime that clogged the gutters along the streets—was filthy work. Rank, lowly work. Work that smelled. Work best done in the dark. Work that did not fatten a man’s purse.

But it mattered little how much the neighbors talked, or how often the girl—for she was a girl, shorn hair and short tunic and all—darted into the shadows to escape their eyes, or how often her stooped and aged father trudged past on his way to his dark duties. For there would come a day, there always came a day, when the father would not return, and the girl, after having swept the stoop and plucked the last small turnips and the weeds from the little garden and tied them in a sack, would clamber over the village wall and disappear into the fields and then the forest, never to return. Sometimes, one of the neighbors, up at dawn and yawning at the window, would see the girl perched on the wall, ready to jump, and would ask, Now where… but the neighbor would scarcely form the question before letting herself forget all about the child and the old man. That he was too old and she too boyish was really all there was to talk about, and when they were not there, well, honestly, what was the point in calling them to mind?

So Clo, wall-jumper, turnip-grower, corner-skulker, lived a life in the shadows. But those moments before they left the village, the ones where she perched on the wall and prepared to launch herself off into the wilderness, small bag of turnips and weeds and household things in hand, those were the moments she most treasured. The sun, just rising above the edges of the hills, would be staining the sky a faint pink; the village, just beginning to wake up, would be quiet and still, except, perhaps, for the distant noise of a cart trundling along the cobblestones; and Clo, relishing the silence and the air at the top of the wall that carried the scent of dew and pine and not the steaming, fetid odors of the town, would feel her pulse quicken at the thought of the journey that awaited. Her father would meet her at the edge of the woods, his pockets heavy with breads and pastries and cheeses he had pilfered from the kitchens and his bags strapped to an ass he had pilfered from the barns, and the two would set out, tramping for days upon days through bright fields and dark forests and glimmering mountain heights.

These travels, thought Clo, and not the towns that interrupted them for a scattering of months at a time, made up their real life. For it was only then, walking under the thick shadows of trees or at the edges of windswept moors or even in the gloom of dank and terrible swamps, that the worry and fear that lined her father’s eyes faded, and Clo, sensing his relief, allowed her own face to relax into a smile that—had the villagers seen it—might have caused them to reconsider the word pretty. No, even then, they would not have said pretty, but pleasant, yes. They might have called her smile, at least, pleasant.

And so it was such a smile that Clo should have worn that morning that found her again on the wall, swinging her legs and taking in her first deep breath of non-manure-scented air. Having heard the tower bells chime five and having not seen her father come through the front door—Were they meant to leave today?—she had rushed to wrap up their scant belongings and pluck the garden and sweep the stoop and clamber the wall. But once there, about to push off into the damp morning air, she felt, instead of joy, a small, uncomfortable seed of foreboding. She delayed a moment, frowning, wondering. Her father had not given her any warning. Usually, he offered her some notice that their town days were drawing to a close: Clo, I am nearly finished—a fortnight, perhaps, or Clo, the steward is, I think, suspicious; take care to heed the bells these next weeks. But this time, he had said nothing.

No matter. They had been in this particular village for many months, as many as they had ever stayed at another. Even the grandest manors had only so many moldering baubles for her father to polish: he would certainly be finishing his work. Clo glanced back. There was their crumbling house with its freshly swept stoop, there was a neighbor staring slack-jawed through a window, there were a few faint curls of smoke rising from chimneys about the town. She narrowed her eyes at the goggling neighbor. My father does not, does not, she protested silently, have three entire limbs in the grave. And he does not, she added, glaring, frowning, sweep the night soil from the privies. She turned away, looking toward the open field. She would not miss this dreary hamlet and its gossiping inhabitants.

Tightening her grip around the bag of turnips and things, she pushed off, landing lightly in the muck that laced the wall, and set off at a trot through the fields. She kept her eye on the forest edge; her father would have left the manor under cover of dark, and he would be waiting now—with pastry-laden pockets—for her to arrive. Or he should be. She felt again that uncomfortable seed of foreboding, now a bit larger than before. A seed perhaps splitting and beginning to sprout. She could not see her father’s silhouette or the silhouette of a stolen ass anywhere beneath the trees. She began to run, the sack bouncing against her side. The line of trees rose and fell with her gait, and though she scanned and scanned, she still could see no form of man or donkey.

“Father!” she called when she had drawn close enough to distinguish one tree from another. Perhaps he was in the woods, resting on a bit of moss or leaning against a log. “Father!” Perhaps he had closed his eyes for a moment and fallen asleep after his long night of work. “Father!” She raced along the edge, calling into the shadows. “Father!”

She stopped. Only silence and the gentle sweep of leaves. “Father!” she tried again and strained, listening.

He was not there.

Clo looked back at the town. The village gates, though open, were empty. The wagon tracks leading to them were also empty. No donkey, no man. Her father was not here, and he was not simply delayed.

One last time: “Father!”

Only the shush-shush-shush of the trees answered.

Clo sat, leaning back against the rough bark of a pine. The seed of foreboding that had split and sprouted and taken root now blossomed thick and bitter.

What to do?

What to do?

What to do?

Clo, wall-jumper, turnip-picker, corner-skulker, was not a hand-wringer, but in the many many times and in the many many ways they had fled a village, never had her father failed to meet her. Always, he had made her promise, should the morning bells ring five without his return, she should leave the town. “Do not stay,” he would instruct her. “Do not tempt fate by delaying. You must not stay.” And always, he would promise in kind, he would meet her at the forest edge under the tallest pine. “Always, Clo. Always.”

Never had he told her what to do should she find herself there alone.

Shush-shush-shush, the trees said. Shush-shush-shush.

“Always,” Clo whispered. She folded her hands on her lap. “Always.”



FROM HER PERCH, CLO WATCHED THE SKY FADE FROM PINK to gray and gradually brighten into a pale, washed blue. The town, in the distance, came to life: little figures—men and oxen and sheep and horses—moved in and out of the gates, and the murmurings of the village—shouts and cries and clatterings—came now and again on the wind. With increasing agitation, Clo heard the tower bells chime six.

Then seven.

Then eight.

Then nine.

At ten, the sun had grown too strong, and she backed a little into the forest, settling herself against a mossy stump. Here, she could still see the village and the paths that wove around it, but in the shadows, she felt less desperate. So she would wait. What else was there to do but wait? He would come. Always.

By now, thought Clo, if her father had come home, they would have already breakfasted together. She would have warmed yesterday’s cold crust over the fire, sliced the onions thin. He would have asked her how she slept—Clo, did the rats keep away?—and she would have fibbed and said they had. By now, he would already have fallen into a deep sleep on his pallet on the floor, and she, surely, by now would already be outside picking weeds from their garden. She squinted hard at the little town, imagining herself there scratching in the dirt around the tubers, yanking out rogue shepherd’s purse and goosefoot, scurrying to the well and back for water, tending to her seedlings, going about her morning as it should have happened.

At eleven, the trees stopped saying shush, shush, shush and fell into a quieter, steadier ssssssss.

Not much later, Clo’s stomach began its own rumbling monologue, complaining that, in her mistaken anticipation of pastries from her father’s pockets, she had not eaten. She untied her sack and, looking over her collection of turnips, took the smallest of the little crop. She rubbed it clean on her tunic and ate it like an apple. Afterward, her mouth felt dry and puckered; she smacked her lips and swallowed and wished desperately she had something to drink, but her father was the one who always carried the skins of water. Always.

At two, full of midday heat and the steady hum of insects, a stillness settled over the town: the little figures in the distance were resting. Clo watched an emerald beetle climb steadily up a tree trunk until it disappeared into the leafy canopy.

By five, when the sun was beginning to dip in the sky, Clo’s little plant of foreboding had itself gone to seed. She felt within her a whole garden of dread rooting and sprouting and twisting its vines.

Smoke was now rising from the village cooking fires. Clo thought of the suppers she usually prepared—working quietly around her father’s sleeping form—to share with him before he went to work: a simple, thin soup, a hunk of bread. She imagined herself pulling from the embers the loaf she had shaped, ladling out the steaming broth and its soft scraps of potato and turnip into their bowls, hiding from her father that she was giving him the meatiest pieces. Though she was now too full of anxiety to be hungry, she thought of the comfort of those foods with longing.

By the time the bells tolled six and lights from the village showed against the deepening sky, Clo, who was not a hand-wringer, was, in fact, wringing her hands in earnest. She twisted her fingers and bit her lips and stood and paced and stared at the town. Should she return? Should she remain? Should she go on? What had become of her father?

Her feet padding steadily across the carpet of needles and moss and leaves, she reconsidered his goodbye to her the evening before. Had there been anything amiss? No… not amiss. Not exactly amiss. She had been sewing by the fire while he shuffled about, wrapping his brushes, his rags, his potatoes, his pots, and placing them in his can. She had shown him her poor attempt at patchwork—I’m trying to mend your winter tunic, Father—and he had sighed, looking over her stitches—I’m afraid the cloth is too worn to hold together, lambkin. He had kissed her as he always did on the crown of her head, the pale bristle of his chin scratching her brow. If only I had stronger thread for you, my daughter, that tunic might see another winter. But all the same, you are good to try. Good to try to keep us warm as the days grow shorter. His smile had been small. He had pulled his cloak over his narrow shoulders, fastened its dark button. Good night, my lambkin, my daughter so full of care. Good night, Father, good night.

As she wrung her hands and paced to and fro, a flash of movement on the village wall caught her eye. Clo stopped, squinted. A little figure wobbled atop the stones. The figure swayed, then tumbled, and was lost against the darkness of the structure. Clo stared.

In a moment, she caught sight of the figure moving across the field. It was striding quickly but unevenly, as though struggling under a weight. It did not, Clo thought, have her father’s gait. Though she did not share—fully share—the townsfolk’s opinion of her father as a gray and wizened, stooped and shuffling old man with a leg and an arm and a foot in the grave, she could not help but admit that he moved more… hesitantly than he once had. She frowned, her little garden of dread stirring again. Yes. Hesitantly. Especially in recent months. This figure, moving with long legs and impatient speed, could not be her father. It was, however, moving directly toward her.

Clo stepped back into the shadows of the trees.

The figure continued its quick advancement. It was burdened; as it drew closer, Clo could see a pack slung over its shoulder. And it was a boy. A boy a bit older than herself, perhaps fifteen. He was tall and thin and, thought Clo, when she could finally see his face, mottled with angry pockmarks. His nose was as large and bulbous as a branch of cauliflower.

She stepped behind a thick trunk, hoping he would not see her.

It did not matter that she hid; he came straight to her.

He circled the tree and stopped in front of her. Pushing a shock of bright red hair from his eyes, he stared at Clo, his eyes traveling up and down her person. His lip curled. Just slightly. A slight sneer. She pressed her spine against the tree trunk.

“Are you Clothilde?” he said, though his words, stretched through thick accent and boyish mumbling, sounded more like, “Art tha Clatil?”

Clo, who had not spoken to anyone but her father in many months, said nothing. The boy smelled like a swineherd, and his boots, mud-and muck-covered, suggested the same.

The boy dropped the pack he was carrying.

“If th’art Clatil,” he said, his lip still curling, “thy father said I’d find a lass with all the beauty of th’ stars and sun here beneath th’ tallest pine, but”—he paused and ran his eyes over her again—“th’art but a nipper as spindle-shanked as I’ve ever seen.”

Clo still said nothing, but her hands, at the mention of her father, trembled slightly. She curled her fingers into her palms to hide her agitation. The boy noticed her small fists and laughed.

“If th’art Clatil, thy father has given me a silver coin for a letter and a parcel to deliver. So”—he removed and held aloft a square of paper—“art tha Clatil?”

Clo’s eyes narrowed and settled on the note pinched between the boy’s long, dirt-stained fingers.

“Clatil? Clatil? Art tha Clatil?” The boy waved the letter back and forth above Clo’s head. She grabbed for it. The boy, laughing again, moved it swiftly out of her reach.

“Ah. Th’art Clatil. Hold, and I’ll read it.” The boy moved the paper to the end of his nose and narrowed his eyes at it. He huffed, then squinted, and huffed again, and finally murmured out, “Me-yiy dee-arrrrre-esss-teeeee seee-lllow—”

“Give it here.” Clo jumped and snatched the letter from the boy’s grasp. She scanned the text anxiously. It was in her father’s hand, but scrawled and smudged—not written with his usual care. Inkblots bloomed over and obscured some of the text.

“Canst tha read?” The boy was incredulous.

“Of course I can read.” The text swam in front of her.

He gawped at her. “How did tha come to learn? How did a lass like tha come to learn?”

“My father taught me,” she murmured. Of course he had taught her. He’d held her at the table on his knees while she traced the letters with her small fingers and learned their sounds—C-L-O, yes, lambkin, that’s your name. He’d made sure—when he could—she’d even had books to practice with—Try this sentence now. Yes, of course she knew how to read.

Clo shook the letter as though to loosen the distraction and tried to steady herself enough to focus on the words. My dearest Clo, the letter began.

The boy watched, bemused. “So th’art a spindle-shanked and a clever lass. I’ve not met a lass who could read, and most lasses do li’l more’n scrub pots an’ do stitchin’—”

“Stop talking, will you?” The boy’s garbled chatter muddled her brain. She shook the letter again.

Clo read and reread the letter, cursing the ink smudges and rubbing her thumb at them as if she could erase the splotches and leave the text beneath. Of its sense, she only understood forgive and canvas and travel alone. And save me.

The garden of dread that had been growing all day twisted again, the blossom hot at the back of her throat. She swallowed. ———n—save me. Can save me? Cannot save me? Which was it?

“Where is my father?” She spun to face the boy. “Where is he?”

“Th’ last I saw him, he was crouchin’ in th’ pens, like he was a sow rootin’ in th’ straw. And he grabbed me like this”—here the boy hauled at his own collar—“when I come in, and he said I’m t’ have a silver coin for safe deliverment of this”—he pointed to the letter in Clo’s hands—“and this.” Here the boy, kneeling and untying his sack, lifted a bundle, which he dropped at Clo’s feet.

It was her father’s cloak wrapped and knotted around a heavy parcel.

Kneeling in the leaf litter, Clo worked at the blue woolen knots. The words crouchin’ in th’ pens made her fingers shake so she could not loosen the fabric; the wool, pulled too tight, did not want to give way.

“He said I’m to take from th’ lass some wood’n matter. Hast tha got wood’n matter? It’s for th’ payment. ‘Be sure,’ he says, ‘to take the wood’n matter.’”

Clo, desperately trying to open the parcel, did not look up. The boy was speaking nonsense.

“Wood’n matter. I’m to take it back or—or tha’ll not get this.” The boy wrenched the cloak-wrapped parcel from Clo’s hands.

“I have no wood!” Clo tried to grab the parcel back.

“Woooood”—the boy stretched his mouth grotesquely around the words—“aaaaan maaaaaaattteeer. He says tha’ll be carryin’ it, and I’m t’ have it.” The boy hesitated. “It’s for my payment. Mine.”

“Look.” Clo stretched out her arms. “I have no wood. No-thing wood. I have my clothes. And”—she gestured to her small sack—“some turnips. And… ah.” Understanding came with unease. Why had her father promised this? Didn’t he need it for his work? Clo hastened to the bag of turnips and things. “Here.” Pushing the turnips aside, she lifted the wilted bundles of garden weeds from her sack and handed them reluctantly to the boy. She did not like to give these away; she had grown them for her father.

“Wot’s that, then?”

“Your wooden matter.”

The boy looked skeptically at the shaggy plants. “’S not.”

“I promise you. If my father promised it, this woad and madder is exactly what you are meant to have—it’s worth… several coins if you sell it at the market. Now return that package to me.”

The boy tossed her the cloak-wrapped lump and, relieved of his burden, turned to go. But he took only a few strides in the direction of the town before he stopped.

“Is’t true wot they say on him?”

“Is what true?” Kneeling over the parcel, Clo kept working on the knotted cloak. What village gossip had this muck-boy overheard? That her father scraped the night soil? That he had three entire limbs in the grave?

“Well, th’ cook, he said he knew thy father soon as he saw him arrive at th’ house offerin’ his service. Recognized him right away.”

Clo kept her gaze on the bundle. Her father had been recognized? Still, this was no cause for panic.

“That’s right. Th’ cook, right away, he said, ‘That’s th’ thief did steal from my last master.’ He told the steward, ‘You watch him; he’s a chiseler and a thief.’ An’ wouldn’t tha know, there has been a theft. Just today th’ house is all a-tumble with it. Jewels missing out of th’ lady’s chamber.” The boy, raising an eyebrow at the parcel Clo was still trying to open, paused to gauge her reaction, but if he saw how her lip trembled or how her hands grew still at the word thief, he did not let on.

“My father’s no jewel thief.” Clo chose her words carefully.

“Well, and here’s th’ thing. The lady’s maid, she argued with th’ cook. She said she knew him, too! ‘That’s no thief,’ she said. She knew him when she was a girl, she said. ‘A famous dra’tsman, he is,’ she told th’ cook. ‘Painted all th’ lords n’ ladies. Lived in th’ great house. Painted my mother, too,’ she said, ‘even though she was just a washerwoman, God rest her soul, and he painted a wee one for me, too.’ And she’d had a locket, even, and she showed it to us, and lo if there weren’t a tiny biddy there, lookin’ so red-cheeked and lively she were almost breathin’.”

At this, a loud Ha! burst from Clo. Living in a great house? Painting lords and ladies? “That’s definitely not my father,” she said, her voice firm and certain. She rocked back on her heels to gaze directly at the boy. The swineherd waited a moment, watching, but she shook her head. “Stories. Only stories.”

“Lot o’ stories. In th’ stables, there’s no muck to shovel without th’ pigs to make it.” But shrugging, the boy turned to go.

Kneeling again over the package, Clo tugged violently at the wool; the knots would not come free.

“Wait!” she called after the boy.

He kept walking.

“Wait!” Clo darted after him into the field.

“An’ wot, then?” He stopped, turning. “An’ wot?”

She could not look at the boy. “My father—was he all right? Was he hurt?”

“He was hidin’ in th’ pens. I’d not call that right.”

Clo hesitated. “Do you know… where is he now?”

The boy glanced down at the wilted plants in his hand. “N-no.” He shrugged and looked away uncomfortably. “But I’m sure he’s gone on. I’m sure th’art to go on.” Gesturing to the parcel, he turned again to go.

“Wait—just one more thing.”

“I’ve no time t’ wait.” The boy turned so he was walking backward. “Wot? Wot?”

“What’s a Haros? Do you know what a Haros is? A town? A person? It was in the letter.”

The swineherd shook his head. “I’ve heard of no such things.”

“Well, what’s a harbor, then? Do you know?”

“Tha canst read, but tha hast no idea o’ harbor?” Still walking backward, nearly tripping, the boy doubled over laughing. “And tha thinks me ignorant. All here knows th’ harbor. Th’ harbor? Th’ sea? Th’ water that’s full o’ salt and has no edge?”

Clo shook her head.

The boy frowned and waved at the woods before turning away. “A day’s walk through th’ woods,” he called over his shoulder. “An’ tha’ll smell’t afore sightin’ it.”

Clo watched the swineherd stride across the darkening fields. In all her travels, in all the mountains and valleys and highlands and lowlands she had ever crossed, never, never had she seen a water that was full of salt and had no edge. Clo, wall-jumper, turnip-eater, letter-reader, felt her world shift to include the idea of sea.

It felt as large and deep and dark as the word alone.



FOR A LITTLE WHILE, AFTER THE MUCK-COVERED SWINEHERD had disappeared, Clo continued to sit under the pine. She read and reread the ink-splattered letter and worked despairingly at the woolen knots on her father’s parcel while night thickened around her.

She turned the word sea


  • * "An epic tale of abandonment, travel, secrets, family, and the meaning of art.... Exquisite in detail.... A tapestry, both humble and rich."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
  • * "A lyrical debut exploring the nature of destiny and sacrifice.... The narrative voice...makes this enchanting story feel like an all-new myth built from classic material."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
  • "Expertly written, full of beautiful imagery and elements of Greek mythology.... An engaging and inventive novel."—School Library Journal
  • * "Readers familiar with Greek myth will take special pleasure in the slantwise view Andrews conjures.... The tapestry metaphor also offers a longer, measured view of the unavoidability of pain and the beauty of kindness as well as commentary on the persistence of powerful stories through art."—BCCB, starred review
  • * "Bewitching, beautiful, and bewildering.... Immensely satisfying."—Booklist, starred review
  • "Both mysterious and evocative.... A dreamy, immersive story that raises questions aboutthe power of art and the value of humansuffering."The Horn Book

On Sale
Oct 19, 2021
Page Count
400 pages

Christiane M. Andrews

About the Author

Christiane M. Andrews is the author of the highly acclaimed Wolfish and Spindlefish and Stars. A longtime writing and literature instructor, she lives with her husband and son and a small clutch of animals on an old New Hampshire hilltop farm. She invites you to visit her online at cmandrews.com.

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