Her sword lay close by and, grabbing it, she leaped to her feet. The creature stopped and drew back its lips over enormous teeth, almost as though it were grinning. Thirrin didn't hesitate; shouting the war cry of the House of Lindenshield, she attacked.
Before it could react, her blade bit deeply into its shoulder and it fell back, surprised by her ferocity. But then her boots slipped on wet leaves, and she crashed to the ground. Immediately the creature pounced and, wrenching her sword away, it sat astride her, its massive weight crushing the breath out of her lungs. Thirrin's fighting spirit still roared within her, though, and as the creature lowered its jaws toward her throat, she punched it hard on the nose. The werewolf shook its head and sneezed, taken completely aback.
"Make it quick, wolfman, and make sure all the wounds are in front. I don't want anyone saying I died running away," she yelled, managing to keep the terror out of her voice.
The creature lowered its head toward her face again, but this time its eyes were filled with an almost human expression of puzzlement. It stayed like that for nearly a minute, seeming to scrutinize her. Then, without warning, it threw back its head and howled, its voice climbing to a high chilling note before falling slowly away to silence. It looked at her again, its eyes so human that Thirrin felt she could almost talk to it. Suddenly it leaped away, leaving her to gasp for breath, its enormous weight gone.
Slowly she struggled to a sitting position and watched as the werewolf picked up her sword and drove it point-first into the thick forest litter. Then it did something that amazed her: The huge creature bowed, folding one of its arms across its torso while the other swept out before it in a delicate gesture, like the most fashionable of courtiers.
Despite everything, Thirrin almost giggled. The werewolf threw back its head again and a rough coughing and growling noise burst from its mouth, as though it were laughing. Then it ran off through the trees, leaving nothing behind but shaking branches.
Thirrin climbed to her feet and collected her sword. She was trembling with shock, but fascinated. Why didn't the werewolf kill her? Could such creatures think and make decisions? And if so, did this one actually decide to let her live?
She was astounded. Everything she'd ever been told and all of her beliefs and ideas about the Wolf-folk were shaken by this. She'd always thought they were mindless killers, as unthinking as any other primitive and evil creature from beyond the Icemark's northern borders, and yet the wolfman had shown...what? Compassion, perhaps?
A crashing and thrashing in the trees interrupted her thoughts, and she leveled her sword, ready for a renewed attack. But it was only her soldier escort. He'd regained control of his bolting horse and had come charging back, ready to die in her defense. Better that than die as a punishment for not carrying out his duty properly.
Thirrin had to endure almost ten minutes of him checking her over for injuries and a long and detailed explanation of how he'd had no chance of controlling his horse when it bolted. But at last she was allowed to mount his horse, and they started the slow journey home. She thought through everything that had happened. Could she really just reject all she'd ever accepted as true about werewolves? As she continued her journey home, her quick mind continued to puzzle through the amazing possibility that the Wolf-folk were thinking, even feeling, creatures.
After a few minutes of Thirrin riding pillion, her own horse reappeared out of the trees, whinnying with relief to see them.
"Some help you were," Thirrin said grumpily. "I should have let the wolfman have you."
From The Cry of The Icemark by Stuart Hill, pages 1-11 of the hardcover edition. Copyright 2005 by Stuart Hill. Fist published in the United Kingdom by The Chicken House. Published in the USA by Scholastic Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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