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Firekeeper only vaguely remembers a time when she didn't live with her "family," a pack of "royal wolves"-bigger, stronger, and smarter than normal wolves. Now her pack leaders are sending her back to live among the humans, as they promised her mother years ago.
Some of the humans think she may be the lost heir to their throne. This could be good-and it could be very, very dangerous. In the months to come, learning to behave like a human will turn out to be more complicated than she'd ever imagined.
But though human ways might be stranger than anything found in the forest, the infighting in the human's pack is nothing Firekeeper hasn't seen before. That, she understands just fine. She's not your standard-issue princess-and this is not your standard-issue fairy tale.
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Jane Lindskold lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is the author of Through Wolf's Eyes and Wolf's Head, Wolf's Heart and several prior fantasy novels, including Changer and Legends Walking. With Roger Zelazny, she wrote Lord Demon and Donnerjack.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Distant, yet carrying, the wolf’s howl broke the late-afternoon stillness. In the depths of the forest, a young woman, as T strong and supple as the sound, rose noiselessly to her feet. With bloodstained fingers, she pushed her short, dark brown hair away from her ears to better hear the call.
It was a sentry howl, relayed from a great distance to the east. The young woman understood its message more easily than she would have understood any form of human speech.
"Strangers! Strangers! Strangers! Strange!"
The last lilt of inflection clarified the previous howls. Whatever was coming from the east was not merely a trespasser—perhaps a young wolf dispersing from his birth pack—but an unknown quantity. But from the relay signal that preceded the call, the strangers were far away.
The young woman felt a momentary flicker of curiosity. Hunger, however, was more pressing. The cold times were not long past and her memories of dark, freezing days, when even the stupid fish were unreachable beneath the ice, were sharp.
She squatted again and continued skinning a still warm rabbit, musing, not for the first time, how much more convenient it would be if she could eat it as her kinfolk did: fur, bone, flesh, and guts all in one luxurious mouthful.
* * *
Derian Carter, the youngest member of Earl Kestrel’s expedition, felt his shoulder jerked nearly out of its socket when the wolf howl pierced the late-afternoon peace. The haunting sound startled the sensitive chestnut mare he was unbridling nearly out of her highly bred stockings.
"Easy, easy, Roanne," he murmured mechanically, all too aware that his own heart was racing. That wolf sounded close!
As Derian eased the mare’s headstall over ears that couldn’t seem to decide whether to prick in alarm or flatten in annoyance, he said in a voice he was pleased to discover remained calm, almost nonchalant:
"That sounds like a big wolf out there, Race."
Race Forester, the guide for Earl Kestrel’s expedition, looked down his long nose at the younger man and chuckled. He was a lean fellow with a strong, steady tread that spoke of long distances traveled afoot and blond hair bleached so white by constant exposure to the sun that he would look much the same at sixty as he did at thirty.
"That it does, Derian." Race stroked his short but full beard as he glanced around their sheltered forest camp, systematically noting the areas that would need to be secured now that big predators were about. "Wolves always sound bigger when you’re on their turf, rather than safe behind a city wall."
Derian swallowed a retort. In the weeks since Earl Kestrel’s expedition had departed the capital of Hawk Haven, Race had rarely missed an opportunity to remind the members (other than the earl himself) that Race himself was the woodsman, while they were mere city folk. Only the fact that Race’s contempt was so generally administered had kept Derian from calling him out and showing him that a city-bred man could know a thing or two.
Only that, Derian admitted honestly (though only to himself), and the fact that Race would probably turn Derian into a smear on the turf. Though Derian Carter was tall enough to need to duck his head going through low doorways, muscular enough to handle the most spirited horse or work from dawn to dusk loading and unloading wagons at his father’s warehouses, there was something about Race Forester’s sinewy form, about the way he carried his slighter build, that made Derian doubt who would be the winner in a hand-to-hand fight.
And, with another surge of honesty, Derian admitted that the woodsman had earned the right to express his contempt. Race was good at what he did—many said the best in both Hawk Haven and their rival kingdom of Bright Bay. What was Derian Carter in comparison? Well trained, but untried.
Derian would never have admitted that before they set out—knowing himself good with a horse or an account book or even with his fists—but a few things had been hammered into his red head since they left the capital, things that hadn’t been all that much fun to learn, and Derian didn’t plan on forgetting them now.
So Derian swallowed his retort and continued removing the tack from the six riding horses. To his right, burly Ox, his road-grown beard incongruously black against pink, round cheeks, was heaving the packs from the four mules. When another long, eerie wolf’s howl caused the nearest mule to kick back at the imagined danger, Ox blocked the kick rather than dodging.
That block neatly summed up why Ox was a member of the expedition. Even-tempered, like most big men who have never been forced to fight, Ox had made his recent living in the Hawk Haven military. During the current lull in hostilities, however, he had left the military to serve as Earl Kestrel’s bodyguard.
Ox’s birth name, Derian had learned to his surprise, was Malvin Hogge.
"But no one’s called me that since long before my hair started receding," he’d told Derian, rubbing ruefully where his curly hairline was making an undignified and premature retreat. "But I prefer the name that my buddies in Kestrel Company gave me long ago and, strangely enough, no one ever calls me ‘Malvin’ twice."
Unlike Derian, Ox felt no inordinate awe toward Race Forester, aware that in his own way he was as valuable as the guide. How many men could shift a battering ram by themselves or do the work of three packers?
"Think that wolf wants us for dinner?" Ox asked Race in his deep-voiced, ponderous way.
"Hardly," the guide retorted scornfully. "We’re too big a group and wolves, savage as they are, are not stupid."
"Well," Ox replied, laughing at-his own joke, "you’d better tell the mules that. I don’t think they understand."
Sir Jared Surcliffe, a lesser member of Earl Kestrel’s own family, but prouder of his recently acquired nickname "Doc" than of any trace of noble blood, crossed to claim the general provisions bundle. Like the earl he had black hair and clear, grey eyes, but his height and build lacked the earl’s seeming delicacy. There was strength in his long-fingered hands—as Derian had learned when Jared stitched a cut in his forearm a couple of weeks back. Derian recalled that Doc had won honors in battle, so he must have other strengths as well.
"Valet has the fire started," Jared said, an upper-class accent giving his simple statement unwonted authority. "I’ll start dinner. Race, shouldn’t you see if there might be a fish or two in yonder brook? Earl Kestrel would enjoy fresh trout with his dinner."
Had anyone but Jared or the earl himself even hinted at giving the guide orders, he might have found himself standing a late-night watch on an anthill. Race Forester, though, for all his pride in his skills, knew when he could—and could not—push his social betters.
"Right," he grunted, and departed, whistling for Queenie, his bird dog. The red-spotted hound reluctantly abandoned the station near the fire from which she’d been watching Earl Kestrel’s man unpack the delicacies kept for the earl’s own consumption.
When the wolf howled again, Derian wondered how much of Queenie’s reluctance was due to leaving the food and how much to the proximity of the big predator.
"They say that the wolves in the mountains are bigger than anything found in settled lands," Derian said, talking to distract himself and feeling
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Book Description Tor Fantasy, 2002. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0812575482
Book Description Tor Fantasy, 2002. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110812575482
Book Description Tor Fantasy. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Condition: New. 0812575482 Please allow 4 - 14 business days for Standard shipping, within the US. Seller Inventory # XM-0812575482