Nobody was sitting on the throne, and when Thirrin reached the dais, she quickly walked behind it and ducked her head to enter a low doorway. Beyond it lay a small, cozy room where King Redrought Strong-in-the-Arm Lindenshield, Bear of the North, mighty warrior and wise monarch, was soaking his feet in a wide basin of water. He was leaning back in a chair stuffed with plump cushions and his eyes were closed. But Thirrin knew he was awake because he wasn't snoring and a small, wizened man had just finished his move in a game of chess.
"You're cheating again, Grimswald!" the King's voice snapped.
"Oh, was I? I'm sure I didn't mean to. I must have made a mistake. I'll put the bishop back, shall I?" the little old man answered in a reedy voice.
Redrought opened a bloodshot eye and glared at Grimswald. "Yes, I'll put the bishop back," the little old man concluded. At this point the King noticed his daughter. "Ah, Thirrin! Come in, come in! Just top up the basin, will you? My corns are really bad today." He nodded to a kettle steaming gently on a woodstove, and Thirrin dutifully crossed the room, picked it up, and poured the hot water into the basin.
"Put some cold in first!" Redrought bellowed, snatching his feet from the water and sloshing much of it across the floor.
"Sorry," Thirrin said meekly, and mixed hot and cold water in a large pitcher before pouring it into the foot basin. "Ah, that's better!" Redrought boomed again. In fact, the King only ever seemed to bellow, boom, or shout, no matter what his mood. But nobody seemed to mind too much; at least he never had to repeat himself.
As he settled back into his cushions, Thirrin noticed that his huge red beard-which spread across his chest like a fire in a mountain forest-had started to swing and swirl, and she watched in fascination as a small tabby head appeared and blinked at her.
"Ah, Primplepuss, there you are!" the King cried, seizing the kitten in his huge war-callused hands. "I knew I'd seen you earlier. I must remember to comb out my beard before I go to bed. I don't want to squash you, do I?"
Primplepuss gave a tiny mew in reply, and Redrought watched her fondly as she proceeded to wash a paw.
"Father, I have some important news," Thirrin said when she thought she could drag his attention away from the kitten.
"Well, it must be important, Grimswald," King Redrought said to the old man. "She only ever calls me 'Father' when she's done something wrong or a disaster's at hand."
"I've done nothing wrong, Father."
"Then what's happened?"
"I fought a werewolf in the forest this morning."
"A werewolf, eh? You're not hurt, are you?" he asked, grabbing her arms and looking her over closely. She shook her head and, after a few more minutes of careful scrutiny, he nodded his head and went on. "Well, we can't have the Wolf-folk making themselves at home, now can we? Exactly where did you see it? And did you kill it?"
"Just beyond Peninsula Point, near the Black Peak, and no, I didn't kill it. It was only wounded in its left shoulder and upper arm, and it was pretty kicked around by the horses."
"Nothing to a werewolf. I'll have to send out a patrol."
"Yes!" Thirrin agreed, looking up, her eyes alight. "But first I want to ask you something, Dad." She paused as she gathered her thoughts. "Can...can werewolves feel and think? I mean like people do. And can they...understand that we have...oh, I don't know, thoughts and feelings and lives to live?"
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.
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