PROLOGUE

rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRR R!

I jumped back, startled by the sudden noise.

"Thorn, move!" Strider shouted. I ran outside, horrified by what might be inside the cave. Nothing followed me out. Not even Strider.

"Strider?" I asked, uncertain. A low growl came from the cave, and Strider was thrown into the air. He landed hard, and I could see giant claw marks across his chest.

"Strider! No!" I screamed. As I turned back towards the cave, I braced myself for the end.


CHAPTER 1

three days earlier

I took a deep breath as I raised my bow. My target? A big buck, probably worth at least thirty coins at the market. Before I could shoot, I heard another bowstring being pulled behind me. I silently rotated my right foot, then turned around. I couldn't believe it.

"Strider! I was going to shoot that buck!" I hit his arm with my bow. "You knew that was mine!" I shouted as I hit him again. Strider laughed.

"Okay, okay! I'm sorry, all right? You're right. That was your deer."

I couldn't stay mad at him. I smiled.

"Come on. We scared the deer, we'd better head back."

Strider and I had met about a year ago. He was only thirty then. I was twenty-five. I was a little skeptical of him at first, but now he's like my brother. We're both rangers. I wasn't at first, but Strider taught me how to be one.

As we rode back, I noticed a large group of footprints on the ground. I dismounted and followed on foot.

"Thorn?" Strider asked. I didn't answer, but motioned for him to follow.

"What are those?" Strider asked.

"I don't know. They look smaller then ours, except for this trail here," I pointed out. There were at least ten people, maybe more. I followed the tracks to a thick group of bushes. I could hear voices. I cautiously peered over the bush, and I saw thirteen dwarves, a halfling, and Gandalf, a wizard I knew well. Strider knew him, too. I didn't realize how much weight I was putting on the bush and fell into the center of the dwarves. I heard various startled yelps from the dwarves. The halfling just groaned. Gandalf and Strider seemed amused.

"Um... Hi?" I said skeptically. A Dwarf stepped forward.

"What is your name, girl?"

"Thorn."