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When The Ice Bear was published in 1986 to critical acclaim, Betty Levin whetted her fans, appetites for a captivatingly primitive land and a civilization at odds with its future. In this anticipated prequel, young Siri must play a critical role in order to free the exiled people of Starkland. Only a dangerous overseas journey with Uncle Thorvald and the Furfolk to help deliver a prized bear and her cubs to the king will bring about liberation. But who will help Siri with her own dilemmas of choice and ...
When The Ice Bear was published in 1986 to critical acclaim, Betty Levin whetted her fans, appetites for a captivatingly primitive land and a civilization at odds with its future. In this anticipated prequel, young Siri must play a critical role in order to free the exiled people of Starkland. Only a dangerous overseas journey with Uncle Thorvald and the Furfolk to help deliver a prized bear and her cubs to the king will bring about liberation. But who will help Siri with her own dilemmas of choice and conflicting loyalties, and ultimately the meaning of freedom? A gripping page turner from a renowned storyteller.
Siri, her uncle, and the Furfolk make a perilous journey across the sea to deliver an ice bear to the king as ransom for his lifting the banishment which his grandfather had imposed upon the people of Starkland.
Grandmother glanced at Siri and sighed. "Isn't there enough to fill your head just now? We have ice bears and Furfolk at our doorstep, and you wish me to speak of trees?"
Siri gazed up at the bare branch that her great-great-grandparents had brought from their island home across the sea. No matter how sorely her family had needed wood, that branch had never been cut and used. Here in the Land of the White Falcons, where there were no forests, no houses of wood and thatch, no vast, fragrant meadows, it still hung above the door where it had been placed more than seventy years before.
Even though Grandmother was the last person in the Starkland settlement to hold in her mind's eye a true picture of the island from which they had been banished, the branch reminded all of them of their ancestral home. Everyone could almost see the ample island colored by changing seasons: deep green forests in late winter, the bright spring green of fields shot with yellow broom, the purple of heather on summer moorlands, and in fall the golden barley before harvest.
"I've seen the ice bear," Siri told Grandmother. "I've seen the Furfolk." The Starkland settlers were supposed to keep their distance from the bears and the Furfolk. But nothing like them had ever before so stirred the people, at least not within Siri's memory. Not that her memory held much. She would have to wait until she was as old as Grandmother to possess a lifetime of stories and marvelous events.
"Thorvald will return soon, he and the Furfolk man, Grandmother said to Siri. "There is always a crowd to watch the she-bear when they give her a seal. If you run now, you may find a spot whereyou can see.
Siri understood that she was being ordered to leave her grandmother in peace.
By the time her eyes adjusted to the dazzling whiteness outside, people were drifting down to the fjord. Someone must have spotted the skin boat threading its way among the ice floes, returning with meat. The Furfolk man had a magic way with seals and fish that no one in the village, except maybe Uncle Thorvald, could match.
Siri was proud of her uncle even though the respect he was afforded never seemed to include her. Surely respect ought to be cast from a man like his shadow. But however close she stuck to him, any attention paid to her held not one hint of respect. "Move, little gnat," she would be told, "before you get slapped." Or, "There, useless fish scale, be gone lest you be scraped off."
Just the other day Siri had complained about this treatment. "What is the good of Uncle's respect if he won't share it with his family?" she had demanded.
"Respect must be earned," Grandmother had told her.As far as Siri could tell, that meant being obedient andholding her tongue. Siri did well at some things like fishing and tending sheep. But obedience and silence did not come readily to hen. What was the use of an opinion if you didn't air it?
"How did Uncle earn his?" she had asked.
"You know quite well. Not only is he the finest hunter in the settlement, but he is the only one to master the Furfolk language. If he gains freedom for all the men and women and children of Starkland, he will be the hero of our people. But the path to that end is as slippery as the ice that melts at midday and freezes smooth at night. The Furfolk man will not be hurried. Since our Elders grow impatient, we are fortunate that Thorvald understands Funfolk ways as well as their language."
Siri suspected that her uncle made up some of what the Funfolk said, to have his way. But when she said as much to Grandmother, she was sent outside to stand in the snow and think about her insolence. What she thought about, though, was her stupidity in voicing any thought to Grandmother that contained even a whisper of doubt about hen beloved Thorvald.
That was the trouble with speaking your mind. It could land you in the snow when you fancied a place by the fire, close to the bubbling fish stew. Sin couldn't help thinking that a mother or an olden sister would have taught hen how to be clever enough to avoid being kept from the hearth.
It always came down to that. She envied children with mothers on sisters to show them how to pick their way around the vanities and tempers that could flare up at a single careless word. A clever girl would have shared her thoughts about Uncle Thorvald with someone who did not take offense. Next time she would speak only to Bran the dog.
"Siri!" shouted Gudrun, pelting headlong down the steep slope to the fjord. "Hurry, or you'll miss the kill."
Siri shook her head. If there was to be a kill, that meant Thorvald was bringing home a live seal.
"The Furfolk children will be fed, too," Gudrun called out, her long braids flying as she ran. "Don't you want to see them?"
But Siri did not. Something about those children made her stomach swim as it sometimes did when she fished from a boat in choppy water. She had seen them seize strips of raw flesh from their father's knife, had seen them fling themselves aside like dogs gnawing and gulping prey before it could be snatched from them.
Almost everyone in the settlement believed the Furfolk to be part human, part beast. Animals were simply animals. Sin understood them, even the thin she-bear, bound and terrified as she clutched hen tiny cubs. But the Furfolk children were too much like-well, like Siri herself, like Gudrun and the others.
Yet the Furfolk mother was more like the she-bean than any human mother Siri had even seen. Her lumbering body and her bearlike snuffles and grunts made her seem all beast. Bear talk, Siri supposed. That was how the Furfolk man calmed the snarling ice bear. They spoke the same language.
Siri wandered along the path that led uphill from the settlement. She heard a roar that started out sounding like the bear but became the voices of the people swelling with excitement. They were thrilled to have the savage beast in their midst, some because this ice bear might end their banishment, others because the sheer danger of her was so fascinating.
Not only were captive ice bears extremely rare, but kings across the sea regarded them as prized possessions. Long before Siri was born, the old king of Thyme, craving one for his menagerie, had promised to lift the banishment imposed by his father if the people of Starkland delivered a living ice bear to him. The present king, his son, let it be known that he would honor that pledge. Siri didn't turn back until the din settled into the ordinary gabble of many people talking at once. That meant the feeding was oven.
Coming around the side of the stone sheep stable, she caught sight of the Furfolk children racing for the deep snow, where they threw themselves face forward as though diving into water. So that was how they dealt with all the slime that smeared their faces and their hooded tunics. If the Stankland children soiled their garments like that, they would get a swat across the head. Grandmother would make Sin scrub her shift and shirt until her knuckles were raw. But the bloodied Furfolk just rolled in the snowbank like puppies.
Now they rose, dabbing fistfuls of snow at each other's dark, round faces. Each was a mirror for the other. With identical fringes of black hair escaping beneath the fur-edged hoods, it was impossible to tell which was the brother and which the sister.
Siri shuddered. Sometimes Uncle Thorvald lived with these creatures. If he hunted in the distant ice fields, the Furfolk man was his only companion for long, long stretches of time. Afterward he always seemed restless and morose and slow of speech. Then, when Furfolk words came unbidden to his tongue, it was almost as if some wild beast had taken possession of him.