Sun Horse, Moon Horse
First edition cover






Young adult

Historical era

Iron Age


Shirley Felts

Sun Horse, Moon Horse is a novella published in 1977 and illustrated by Shirley Felts. An Iron Age artist designs the White Horse of Uffington in exchange for his conquered clan's liberty.


Lubrin Dhu, the third son of the chieftain of the Iceni of the High Chalk, is born small, dark, and quiet, and at five years old begins to try to draw the shapes of swallows' flights and a running white mare (1). In a fight with his brothers over this eccentricity, he becomes best friends with his polar opposite, Dara (2). At twelve years old, Lubrin and Dara conceive a shared dream of colonising an empty land in Albu, as their clan's founder had done on the Chalk (3).

Lubrin's mother dies, and Dara is chosen as future husband to his sister Teleri, now the Woman of the Clan, and future chief, dashing their dream of migration (4). On Teleri and Dara's wedding day, the great Attribates tribe of the south finally invades Iceni territory, and Lubrin is left behind to defend the chieftain's dun (5). The Attribates destroy the Iceni war host, kiling Lubrin's father and brothers, and take the dun. Their chieftain appoints Lubrin, the only surviving son of the chief, as his representative for the captured Iceni, to Teleri's resentment on behalf of the wounded Dara (6).

Dara supports Lubrin on his recovery, the captives pass the autumn and winter in enlarging the Attribates's new border fort, and Cradoc their chieftain sees Lubrin drawing in the chalk (7). Cradoc proposes to have Lubrin draw a vast chalk horse for a frontier marker, and Lubrin agrees to do it only on condition that his people will be allowed to leave afterward (8). He lays out the lines of the horse with lime, ox hides, and birch logs after surveying the landscape from a tree (9). Frustrated with the imperfections of his design, Lubrin comes to terms with the realisation that he, as the artist and a kind of chief, will have to die to finish the image and ransom his people, by immemorial custom, and acknowledges this fact with Cradoc (10). Lubrin tells the Iceni, who begin to shun him, and they pass the summer cutting out the now-perfected Horse (11). Lubrin finishes the Horse to his satisfaction, and the tiny remnant of the Iceni depart at Lammas, promising to remember him (12). Lubrin goes to his death on the eye of the Horse, killed by Cradoc: "Brother, go free." (13).


Sutcliff's Author's Note explains that "nobody knows for sure how long ago [the White Horse] was made, but probably about a hundred years before Christ." The main events of the story span fourteen years, Lubrin Dhu's life from ages five to nineteen.


  • "five times the life of a man" (1): the Youngest Son of the Iceni queen established the Strong Place on the Downs
  • Summer, Lubrin is 5 (1): Lubrin sees the white mare
  • Autumn (2): Teleri born
  • Beltane, Lubrin is 9 (3): Lubrin and Dara enter the Boys' House
  • Late autumn, 3 years later (3): they hear of empty land in Albu
  • Lubrin is 16 (4): They pass the Man-Making after 7 years in the Boys' House
  • Samhein (4): Saba dies. Lubrin meets Cradoc. Dara's Choosing Feast.
  • Harvest, new moon, 2 years later (5): Dara and Teleri's Marriage Feast. The Attribates attack.
    • Next day (6): The war host fights the Attribates. Tigernann and Brach die.
    • Next day (6): The Attribates take Fortress Hill. Corfil dies.
  • Autumn and winter (7): Iceni labour on the expansion of Fortress Hill
  • Spring (7): Construction finishing. Cradoc sees Lubrin drawing.
    • Spring (8): Cradoc envisions the White Horse and Lubrin makes the bargain
      • Next day (9): Lubrin surveys the landscape
      • 3 days later (9): Lubrin begins to lay out the lines
  • "The Summer of the White Horse" (11): They cut the chalk
  • 4 days before Lammas (11): Lubrin finishes the Horse.
  • Lammas, Lubrin is 19 (12, 13): The Iceni depart for the north. Cradoc sacrifices Lubrin.


  • The Iceni (1), "the Horse People, breeder and breakers of horses, counting their wealth not in gold, but in stallions and rough-coated two-year-olds and foaling mares, and trained chariot teams." (1). The Men's Side are all charioteers. Women dress their hair in embroidered nets (3). "no woman of the clan could go to a husband's hearth before she was turned fourteen." (5). "There were so few of them [going north], less than two hundred to the youngest child." (12). Worship Epona the Mother of Foals.
    • Tigernann (1) the Chieftain, father of Brach and Corfil, Lubrin, and Teleri. Blue-eyed (1). A priest-king. Always drives a red team (5). Killed fighting the Attribates. Has his head affixed to 's chariot (6).
    • Saba (1), Tigernann's wife, mother of Brach and Corfil, Lubrin, and Teleri. Fair and red-haired, with blood of the Dark People (1). The Woman of the Clan, the old Chief's daughter (2). Dying of a wasting illness. "Lubrin's mother was laid in her sleeping place, with her best blue glass necklace around her neck, and the bronze mirror with the silver handle beside her. And Lubrin cried for her going, all through one long rainy autumn night, as, almost seventeen years before, she had cried for him." (4).
    • Brach (1), Corfil's twin, fair (1). "always did what his twin did" 2 years older than Lubrin (2). "They laughed at Lubrin, led by Brach and Corfil who always laughed at anything they did not understand" (3). Killed fighting the Attribates (6).
    • Corfil (1), Brach's twin, fair (1). "He had a wide scornful laugh" 2 years older than Lubrin (2). "They laughed at Lubrin, led by Brach and Corfil who always laughed at anything they did not understand" (3). Brings back word of the Iceni defeat, dies of blood-loss (6).
    • Lubrin Dhu (1), third son of Tigernann and Saba, a throwback to the Dark People. Artistic. Quiet, but brave (1). "little dark silent Lubrin beside [Dara] like his short noonday shadow. But in truth Lubrin Dhu was nobody's shadow." "Lubrin did not mind the hard work, but in the early years he very much minded never being alone." (3). "cool dark" eyes (4). "'For [defense], that may be a harder thing, I am not sure of [Brach and Corfil]. But for this, I can trust you.'" (5). Knocked out in the siege and captured. Appointed spokesman of the Iceni by  "So Lubrin Dhu took the weight of the chieftainship upon his shoulders, since it seemed there was no one else left to take it." Partly ostracised by the Iceni for it (6). "'I draw what I see; but I think that all men do not see as I do.'" (7). "Even while he spoke, he was aware of the silence continuing inside himself; and in hte heart of the silence, something telling him what he had to do." "the loneliness, that had begun for Lubrin on the first night of their captivity, had deepened and did not go away." (8). Lubrin realises he will have to die to quicken the image of the horse to life (10).
    • Teleri (2), youngest child and heiress of the clan (2). "Teleri was only just twelve, and in the usual way of things they would have waited until her fourteen year, and held Choosing Feast and Marriage Feast within a few days of each other. But now that Saba her mother was dead, she was the Woman of the Clan, and no time must be lost in finding who among the young warriors was to be her lord" "[Lubrin] knew so little of her; she had been only four when he went to the Boys' House" (4). Married to Dara (5). "[Lubrin] had always thought her a soft little thing. But she showed her teeth like a young vixen." (6). Treats Lubrin as a collaborator, until he explains his ransom (8). "the fair wisps of hair that were escaping as they had always done, from her thick braids...Her bones, [Lubrin] saw suddenly, were beautiful, and sharp...and her eyes seemed already full of long distances". Promises Lubrin he will be remembered in song (12).
    • Bryn (3), the biggest and strongest boy in Lubrin's year, "who liked to sleep in the sun" (3).
    • Dara (2), son of Drochmail, defends Lubrin against Brach and Corfil and becomes his best friend (2). "big-boned and golden-freckled and rangy as a wolfhound" Born in the same month as Lubrin (3). Lubrin's "more-than-brother", chosen as the future chieftain and Teleri's husband. "hot blue eyes" (4). Takes a head wound in the battle against the Attribates and is captured (6). Supports Lubrin as leader during their captivity (7). "put his arms around Lubrin's shoulders, daring whatever taboo he might be breaking with a courage made reckless by grief." "'Heart-brother...Wait for me in the Land of Apple Trees.'" Leads the Iceni north (12).
    • Drochmail (2), chief among the household warriors, father of Dara (2). Left in command of the dun during the Attribates attack, "old, scarred" (5). Killed in the siege (6).
    • Gault the Bronzesmith (2), "small bright eyes", recognises Lubrin as an artist (2).
    • Ishtoreth of the Oak (3), the priest. Chooses Dara as next chief (4). Killed in battle with the Attribates (6).
    • Kuno (7), was in the Boys' House with Lubrin, a survivor of the conquest
    • Sinnoch (2), the Chieftain's harper, recognises Lubrin as an artist (2). Presumably killed in battle with the Attribates (6).
    • Urien (1), Tigernann's charioteer
  • The Dark People (1), the Old People, previous occupants of the High Chalk. Now live alongside the Iceni and sometimes shelter in the dun (1). Mount the Wolf Guard with the Iceni (4). "after the way of their kind, had melted into the landscape. Fighting among their overlords was no concern of theirs." (6). "the Old People shed the life of a man into the furrows every seven years to quicken the seed-corn to harvest." (10).
  • The Attribates (3), gold-rich tribe from Gaul, migrating north across the Narrow Seas. The Iceni's southern neighbour, visible from the Chalk (4). "The tongues of the Iceni and the Attribates were near enough kin for each to understand what he other said." (7). Worship Lugh the Sun Lord (8).
    • Cradoc (4), "a young man, short but strongly built; with a mane of straight fair hair", blue eyes, "strong crooked teeth" (4). War-chief who captures Fortress Hill (6). Chief of the new Attribates outpost (7). Has the idea for the White Horse. "there could so easily have been friendship between [Lubrin] and the fair-haired man in the High Seat" (8). "for him, too, the thing had been left lying in the dark, until the time came for looking at it." (10). Sacrifices Lubrin (13).
    • Ferradach (8), Cradoc's armour-bearer
    • Anbar (8), "the Chief's foster-brother, and free to jest with him as not even the rest of the hearth companions quite dared to do." (8).
  • The Red Crests (3), driving the Attribates migration, "the heavy-handed people who called their war-hosts Legions, and marched in straight lines following gold and silver figures of their war gods in the shape of eagles, and wore crests of red horsehair on their helmets." (3).


  • The High Chalk (1), the Downs
    • The Fortress Hill, the Strong Place, dun of the Chieftain, a triple-walled turf fortress on the highest point of the chalk, containing a timber hall (1). East of the pass through the Chalk (5).
    • The valley, farms of most of the clan
    • The woods, steadings and hiding places for livestock
    • Other strongpoints, outposts, used as corrals
    • The horse runs to the west of the dun
    • The Boys' House (3), part of the Chieftain's dun
    • "A great wych-elm on the edge of one of the forest clearings" (3), Lubrin's childhood refuge, on the opposite side of the valley north of Fortress Hill
    • The Ridgeway (3), with "the way of the Horse People that shadowed it along the lower slopes" that cross an "ancient" north-south trade road
    • the sacred grove (4), nine apple trees in a sheltered hollow of the Chalk
    • The Dragon Hill (9), a hill below and to the left [east] of Fortress Hill, housing a dragon and a magic spear, above which the White Horse is built
    • The White Horse (9), built on the northward slope of the Chalk below Fortress Hill
  • Iceni homeland (1), plains far to the northeast
  • Eriu (3), where the noblewomen plait their hair with metal apples at the ends
  • Albu (3), "There are too few people between the mountains and the sea. Just sea-lakes and empty moors."
  • The Narrow Seas (3), divide Britain from Gaul

Historical and literary backgroundEdit

From the Author's Note:

"...reading T.C. Lethbridge's book Witches [1968], I came upon his theory that the Iceni, the great Early Iron Age tribe who inhabited East Anglia, were also in the Chilterns and the Down Country north of the Upper Thames Valley, until they were forced out by invaders from the south... Mr. Lethbridge believes that the Iceni who were forced out became the Epidi of Argyll and Kintyre – Epidi and Iceni both mean "Horse People"...
If any of you who read it have already followed the adventures of Marcus and Esca in The Eagle of the Ninth, and think that Lubrin's people are not very much like the Epidi who they found when they went north to rescue the eagle of that lost legion, I can only say that when I wrote that story, I had not read Witches. And if I had, I would have made them a slightly different people. Though, of course, they might have changed quite a lot in more than two hundred years."

Publication historyEdit

In English:

  1. The Bodley Head, London, 1977, 1979.
  2. Dutton, New York, 1977, 1978.
  3. Basingstoke (Macmillan), 1981.
  4. Sevenoaks (Hodder and Stoughton), 1982, 1986.
  5. Arrow (Random House), 1991.
  6. Red Fox (Random House), 1991 (print), 2013 (e-book).

In translation:

  1. Lubrin und das Sonnenpferd, Stuttgart Urachhaus, 1982. German translation by Traute Kiessig.
  2. Keruto no hakuba, Horupushuppan, 2000. Japanese translation by Kari Hajima.