The Cry of the Icemark

1

Thirrin Freer Strong-in-the-Arm Lindenshield carried her names with ease. She was thirteen years old, tall for her age, and could ride her horse as well as the best of her father’s soldiers. She was also heir to the throne of the Icemark. Her tutor might add that she was attentive when she wanted to be, clever when she bothered to try, and had her father’s temper. Few compared her to her mother, who had died when Thirrin was born. But those who remembered the proud young woman of the fierce Hypolitan people said that Thirrin was her double.

The soldier riding guard over her didn’t care about any of this. They’d been hunting in the forest since dawn and he was cold and tired, but Thirrin showed no signs of wanting to go home. They were following a set of tracks she insisted were werewolf prints, and the soldier was afraid she might be right. He’d already eased the spears in his scabbard and had been riding with his shield on his arm for the past hour.

Werewolves had been banished from the Icemark after the Ghost Wars, in which Thirrin’s father, King Redrought, had defeated the army of the Vampire King and Queen at the Battle of the Wolfrocks. Probably the werewolf she was tracking was just a loner in search of easy hunting in the cattle pastures, but you could never be too careful. With any luck she could capture it, she thought, and take it back to the city as a prize. And perhaps before it was executed it could be made to give useful information about The-Land-of-the-Ghosts.

“Listen!” Thirrin said urgently, waking from a pleasant daydream about winning her father’s respect and gratitude. “Just ahead — I can hear snarling!”

The soldier took her word for it and leveled his spear. “Pull in behind me,” he said, forgetting all formality in the moment of danger.

But before they could move, the thick undergrowth that lined the path burst open and a huge animal leaped out. It was vaguely man-shaped but extremely hairy, and its face was a strange mixture of wolf and human. For a moment it stared at them, its eyes full of hate, then it charged. It easily dodged the soldier’s clumsy thrust and headed straight for Thirrin, but her horse was battle-trained and it leaped forward to meet the attack, lashing out with its steel-shod hooves.

Taken by surprise, the werewolf took the full force of the kick, but it only staggered back for a second before growling with fury and attacking again. By this time, Thirrin had drawn her long cavalry saber and, in one fluid movement, she wheeled her horse around, leaned from the saddle, and hacked deeply into the werewolf’s arm.

The soldier had recovered by now and he charged, knocking the werewolf off its feet. Before it could get up, both horses drew in shoulder to shoulder, snorting fiercely and lashing out with their hooves.

The creature scrambled to its feet and retreated into the thick undergrowth where the horses couldn’t follow. For a moment it licked at its wounds with a long red tongue, then it emerged from the thorny bush and without warning threw itself at Thirrin’s horse, knocking her from the saddle. Her charger blundered away, screaming in terror, and she lay on the path dazed and badly winded. She seemed to be watching a silent and tiny picture of the world from a point high above the action. She was dizzily aware that there was danger of some sort, but what it was exactly she couldn’t quite remember. She watched as a soldier attacked