Two children and a bear cub escape an evil lord and find sanctuary with the true king. Wat and Kaila are two waifs given a home by Gunni, the baker's widow. Kaila came from the frozen north with her father to present a great she-bear and her two cubs to the king. Usurpers hounded and killed the father and two of the bears, leaving Wat and Kaila to find their way back north with the half-grown cub. On the way Wat helps several of the true king's men (the royal falconer, a messenger, entertainers) to confound and disrupt the rogue forces. He is rewarded by a place in the king's household, and a promise to help Kaila find her way home. Not quite fantasy, the setting is an imaginary land which resembles northern Europe during the Middle Ages. The mood is grim; at the conclusion the struggle has only begun; a sequel seems indicated. The children are courageous and resourceful, and Wat learns about loyalty; but the reader is more observer than partisan. A well-written but not quite satisfying book.