A wild, stormy night . . .
A shipwreck . . .
The sudden appearance of a stranger . . .
That is how it all begins. The stranger is Finn Learson, a young and handsome man who seems to be the only survivor of the wreck. Finn Learson is charming and generous, and the Henderson family gladly give him shelter. Only young Robbie Henderson does not trust Finn Learson and his oddly unsettling secret smile. Robbie is sure that he is hiding something--but what?
The clues Robbie finds are mysterious: Finn Learson's love of dancing; an ancient gold coin that Finn gives to the family; strange omens in the ashes of a fire; and beautiful young Elspeth Henderson's increasingly odd behavior. Then, in one frightening moment, Robbie recalls his grandfather's warning and discovers at last the terrible, incredible truth about Finn Learson. And Robbie knows it's up to him to save his sister . . . before it's too late.Only 12-year-old Robbie knows that the mysterious Finn Learson is the evil Great Selkie, the seal-man of Shetland Islands legend. Phoenix Award winning author Mollie Hunter "has written another suspense story finely laced with folklore; her storytelling is as spontaneous as it is irresistible."—H. ‘Sure to keep readers spellbound.’ —SLJ.
Notable Children’s Books of 1971-1975 (ALA)
1976 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award Honor Book for Fiction
Best Books of 1975 (SLJ)
Outstanding Children's Books of 1975 (NYT)
Children's Books of 1975 (Library of Congress)
Kirkus Choice 1975
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Hailed as Scotland's most gifted storyteller and currently living in Inverness, Mollie Hunter has drawn many award-winning novels from her country's history. They include You Never Knew Her As I Did, a riveting tale about Mary, Queen of Scots, and her Carnegie Medal winner, The Stronghold. A Sound Of Chariots, her autobiographical novel, won the 1991 Phoenix Award from the Children's Literature Association.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
It was a while ago, in the days when they used to tell stones about creatures called the Selkie Folk.
A stranger came ashore to an island at that time--a man who gave his name as Finn Learson--and there was a mystery about him which had to do with these selkie creatures. Or, so some people say, anyway; but to be exact about all this, you must first of all know that the Selkie Folk are the seals that live in the waters around the Shetland Islands. Also, the Shetlands themselves lie in the stormy seas to the north of Britain and it was on night of very fierce storm that it all began.
It so happened, then, that a ship named the Bergen was wrecked on one of the islands in this storm, and the shipwreck was near a place called Black Ness--which was not so much a place, really, as a scatter of houses on hilly ground overlooking the sea. Also, there was a certain Robbie Henderson living in Black Ness at that time--a lad of twelve years old, according to all accounts--and he was the person most concerned in the mystery of this stranger, Finn Learson.
There were four other, members of the Henderson family, however, apart from Robbie himself--his parents, Peter and Janet Henderson, his sister Elspeth, and his grandfather, Old Da Henderson. There was also the family's sheepdog, Tam; and as the storm grew wilder and wilder that night, this dog became very uneasy.
The whole family could hear how the storm was raging, of course, for their house stood close to the head of a long bay cutting into the rocky coast of the island--the kind of bay that Shetlanders call a voe"---and so the thundering noise of the waves was very near. Even so, Old Da Henderson had the feeling that it was not just the storm that bothered Tam, for Old Da was pretty old and his head was simply full of the superstitions of those days. He listened, therefore: he waited, and he watched. And at last he noticed something which seemed to him the true cause of Tam's uneasiness.
"Look there!" said he; suddenly pointing to the fire of peats burning on the hearth.
The fire had been a good one, but now the peats at either side of it were burning down and crumbling into a fine white ash. A moment later there was only one of them left burning--the peat that stood upright at the center of the fire--and pointing again, Old Da went on.
"There! Do you see the way that peat has been left standing all by itself? That "means a stranger win come here tonight!"
Peter Henderson cocked an ear to the noise of the wind howling over the thatch of the roof, and with a doubtful face on him he asked,
"What stranger could come to Black Ness this night?"
Old Da also turned an ear to the sound of the storm. "Well may you wonder about that," he said meaningly; and suddenly they all understood what he was thinking.
"A shipwreck in the voe!" Peter exclaimed, and was about, to reach quickly for his jacket when there was a great thump as if something heavy had fallen against the door of the house. The sound brought the whole family to its feet; and on that very instant the door burst wide open and a man came half staggering, half falling into the room.
Rain and wind swept in with him, raising a whirling cloud of peat ash from the fire. Peter rushed to the door, and threw all his burly weight on it to close it again. Robbie's mother and sister cried out, and clutched at one another. Robbie gripped hold of Tam, to stop him making a lunge at the stranger; and the stranger himself dropped to his knees on the floor, like a man completely exhausted.
As well might be, the whole family realized when the struggle with the door was won and they had a chance to look properly at him. He had come straight out of the sea, it seemed, for he was streaming with water and he wore nothing except a paw of trousers held up by the kind of broad canvas money-belt that sailormen use. Moreover, there were strands of green seaweed plastered wetly to the skin of his bare back, and the hair that hung down from his drooping head was streaked with this same green weed.
"Poor fellow--oh, the poor fellow!" exclaimed Janet Henderson, gazing pitifully down on this, and then rushed to get a blanket to throw over him. Elspeth ran to fetch him a cup of hot tea. Robbie held grimly onto Tam, who was still snarling away at the crouching form; and Peter said in an awed voice,
"Well, you were right, Old Da. There's your stranger!"
"Aye, and you guessed rightly who it would be," Old Da returned, "This fellow is off a wreck. Just look at him--he must be!"
"No doubt of it," Peter agreed. Then, as Old Da moved to put fresh peats on the fire, he bent to touch the stranger's shoulder. "Who are you, lad?" he asked gently. "And where's your ship?"
The man began rising to his feet, looking about him in a dazed sort of way. He was young they saw then, a tall and powerfully built young man. Also, he was very handsome, with large and very dark-brown eyer. His hair was dark too--almost black, in fact; and, for all he was so young, it had streaks of a silvery-gray color across it.
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