Read An Excerpt
The wolves of the Long Lake Pack, gorged on a careless mountain sheep, slept as they digested their meal. Only Brokefang, their chieftain, was awake to see the moon rise. He sat on a stone outcrop, thinking—an odd pastime for a wolf. In the last full moon of summer, on the advice of Old White, the wolf god, he had sent his best travelers, Fleetfoot and Russet, in search of a two-legger who once belonged to his pack. Their orders were to bring her to him, to speak to the local humans on his behalf. The sight of that night’s full autumn moon reminded him that winter was coming. What if his messengers couldn’t find Daine? What if something had happened to them?
He did not like “what if” thoughts. Until he’d met Daine two winters before, he had worried about nothing but eating, mating, ruling his pack, and scratching fleas. Now he had complex thoughts all the time, whether he wanted them or not.
Soft chatter overhead made him look up. Two bats had met a stranger. Clinging to a branch over his head, the three traded gossip in the manner of their kind. The newcomer brought word of a two-legger on the other side of the mountains, one who was human outside and Beast-People inside. She carried news from bats in the southwest, and if a Long Lake bat was hurt, she could heal him with her magic. She traveled in odd company: two horses, a pony, an extremely tall human male, a big lizard, and two wolves.
The local bats exclaimed over the news. Their colony should hear this, they decided. Would the visitor come and tell them in their cave-home? Along with their guest, the bats took to the air.
Brokefang stretched. One new thought had been that he could learn much if he listened to the talk of nonwolves. Now he could see it was a good thought, so perhaps the others were good, too. He was interested to hear that Daine also had learned new things since leaving the pack. Before, she could not talk directly with bats. Her healing was done with stinging liquids, needles, thread, and splints, not magic.
He stopped in midstretch as he remembered something. When Fleetfoot and Russet had gone, the pack was laired near the valley’s southern entrance, where a river flowed from the lake. While they eventually could find the new den in the valley’s western mountains, it might take them days to locate the pack.
He would take his wolves south and guide his visitors home.
Two days later, the girl called Daine watched rain fall outside the cave where she and her friends had taken refuge. For someone Brokefang regarded as Pack, she looked quite human. She was five foot five, slim for her fourteen and a half years, with blue-gray eyes the color of the clouds overhead. Her curly brown hair was tightly pinned up, her clothes as practical as her hairstyle: a blue cotton shirt, tan breeches, and soft-soled boots. Around her neck a heavy silver claw hung on a leather thong.
She played with the claw, thinking. She had been born in mountains like these, in a town called Snowsdale over the border in Galla. The first twelve years of her life were spent there, before she lost her family. When she left Galla to serve the king and queen of Tortall, she had hoped that she might never see the mountains again. And here she was, in a place that could be Snowsdale’s twin.
Soon she would be with the wolves that had hunted in her old home. They had left soon after she did: Fleetfoot and Russet, her guides, had told of fleeing human hunters to find their new home by the Long Lake. What would it be like to see them again? To be with them again?
“What are you thinking of?” a light male voice asked from deeper inside the cave. “You look grim.”
Daine turned around. Seated cross-legged by the fire, a traveling desk on his knees, was her teacher, the wizard Numair Salmalín. He wore his springy mass of black hair tied into a horsetail, away from his dark face and out of his brown eyes. His ink brush was dwarfed by the hand that held it, an exceptionally large hand that was graceful in spite of its size.
“I’m just wondering if Onua is managing the Rider horses all right without me. I know the king told her he needed us to come here, but I still feel as if I should be helping her.”
The man raised his eyebrows. “You know very well Onua managed the Rider horses for years before you came to work there. What’s really bothering you?”
She made a face. She never could distract him when he wanted to know something. “I’m scared.”
He put down his brush and gave her his full attention. “What of?”
She looked at her hands. They were chapped from cold, and this was only the third week of September. “Remember what I told you? That I went crazy and hunted with wolves after bandits killed Ma and Grandda and our animals?”
He nodded. “They helped you to avenge the deaths.”
“What if it happens again? When I see them, what if I forget I’m human and start thinking I’m a wolf again? I’m s’posed to have control of my wild magic now, but what if it isn’t enough?” She rubbed her arms, shivering.
“May I remind you that the spell that keeps your human self apart from your magic self is one I created?” he teased, white teeth flashing in a grin. “How can you imply a working performed by your obedient servant”—he bowed, an odd contortion in a sitting man—“might be anything but perfect?” More seriously he added, “Daine, the spell covers all your contacts. You won’t lose control.”
“What if it wasn’t the magic? What if I simply went mad?”
Strong teeth gripped her elbow hard. Daine looked around into the bright eyes of her pony, Cloud. If I have to bite you to stop you feeling sorry for yourself, I will, the mare informed her. You are being silly.
Numair, used to these silent exchanges, asked, “What does she say?”
“She says I’m feeling sorry for myself. I don’t think she understands.”
I understand that you fidget over stupid things. Cloud released Daine’s elbow. The stork-man will tell you.