The Serpent Gift (Shamer Chronicles)

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9780805086553: The Serpent Gift (Shamer Chronicles)

A watching face in a market crowd, a mist-shrouded figure on the moor, a haunting presence seen only when he wants to be seen― Sezuan, possessor of the Serpent Gift for lie and illusion, is a chilling and ambiguous figure at the best of times.

He is also Dina's father. And when he comes to claim the daughter he has never seen, the Shamer and her family are catapulted into reckless flight and danger. With nowhere else to turn, Dina must learn to see through her father's deceit and use her own powers to her advantage.

"The unique world Kaaberbol has created, her well-developed characters, fast-moving plots, and thoughtful examination of bravery and moral issues put this book, and the series as a whole, in good standing alongside Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia." ―Booklist, starred review

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

LENE KAABERBOL is the author of The Serpent Gift, as well as many popular books that have been published in Denmark. She lives in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1: A Stranger
When I first saw him, I had no idea he would change our lives. There was no tremor from the ground, no icy gust of wind, not even a real shiver down my back. Just a small twinge of unease. I didn't even tell Mama about him. Maybe I should have? I don't know. It wouldn't have changed anything, not really. From the moment he caught sight of me, it was too late in any case.

It was supposed to be a good day. I had been looking forward to it for a long time - the Midsummer Market, when all the clans met to trade, and talk, and entertain each other with races and contests and music from dusk to dawn. Mama and me had worked our fingers to the bone, drying herbs and making ointments and remedies for all sorts of ailments, and Rose, my foster sister and best friend, had carved bowls and spoons and shelf ends, and little dolls and animals for the children. She was clever with her knife, and in her hands a bit of kindling would suddenly turn into a cow or a dog, as if the animal had been there all the time, hiding in the grain of the wood. My older brother Davin had nothing to trade, but he thought he might win a prize in one of the races with Falk, our skittish black gelding.

This would be my first Midsummer Market in the Highlands. The summer before there had been strife and hostility among the clans, and no real Market had been held. Kensie, the clan we lived with, had clashed with Skaya, and it was only at the last moment that we had managed to stop the battle in Skara Vale before they ended up killing each other. It had all been Drakan's fault, of course; Drakan who called himself Dragon Lord and ruled almost all the coastlands, now, after having murdered the old castellan of Dunark. He was a bad enemy to have, was Drakan, both devious and ruthless. Instead of doing battle with the clans himself, he tricked them into warring with each other. And back when he killed Ebnezer Ravens, his daughter-in-law Adela, and her young son Bian, he managed to have the castellan's own son Nicodemus accused of the murders. Nico would have ended up with his head on the block if it hadn't been for Mama. And me, a little bit. On that day, Drakan had become our enemy. And his reach was long.

We still couldn't go anywhere without protection. Callan Kensie had been Mama's bodyguard for two years now. He was big and steady and kind to us, and I liked him. But I still wished we didn't need him.

"Such a crowd," said Mama and had to keep a firm hold of the reins; Falk, who was serving as our carthorse today, was not used to all the push-and-shove and hubbub. "Where do you think we should go?"

I surveyed the crowded scene. At first it looked completely chaotic, with people milling about like ants in an anthill. But there was actually a pattern to the Market - streets and squares and crossroads, just like a real town, even if the Market town was made up of carts and wagons and tents instead of houses.

"There's a free spot," I said, pointing. "There, at the end."

"Right," said Mama, clicking her tongue at Falk. Our black horse snorted but walked on, stiff-gaited and suspicious of the crowd.

"Copper kettles," yelled a peddler woman. "Best copperware at even better prices!"

"Three marks?" said a broad-backed Skaya man, "Bit steep for a pair of socks, if ye ask me!"

"Pork sausage! Smoked venison! Have a taste, Medama. Ye'll not regret it!"

Falk laid back his ears and became even more stiff-legged. The cart was hardly moving at all, now.

"Can't you make him move a little faster?" I asked Mama. "Somebody else will grab our space."

"He doesn't like all the ruckus," said Mama. "Dina, I think you had better lead him."

I climbed off the cart and grabbed Falk's bridle. This made him move a little faster, but not much. And just as we were about to reach the slot I had decided was ours, a cart coming from the other direction swung into it.

"Hey," I yelled. "That's where we were planning to set up!"

"Is that so?" said the carter. "Ye should have made better time, then."

I glared at him. He was a thickset man with curly brown hair and a smith's apron round his heavy middle. And he didn't look in the least bit sorry.

"You saw us! You knew this was where we were heading!"

"Hush, Dina," said Mama. "We'll find another spot."

The carter seemed to notice Mama properly for the first time. Or rather, the Shamer's signet that hung fully visible on her chest. It was no more than a pewter circle enamelled in black and white to look like an eye, but at the mere sight of it, the man blenched and changed his behaviour completely.

"Beg yer pardon," he muttered, one hand releasing the reins to slip behind his back, "I had not seen ... If Medama wants this space, then ... " he hauled back on the reins one-handedly, forcing his tough little Highland horse into a sharp turn.

"No, that's perfectly all right - "

But he was already off, steering his horse and cart through the market crowd as quickly as the bustle permitted.

"Did you see his hand?" said Rose. "Did you see it?"

"He made the witch sign," I said tonelessly. "But at least he did it behind his back. Some people make it right in your face."

Mama sighed. "Yes. It's sad. And it seems to be getting worse." She raised a hand to touch her signet, but she didn't say it out loud - the thing we were all thinking: that it had gone from bad to worse since Drakan had begun to burn Shamers down in the coastlands. "Well. We might as well take the space. Come on, girls. Let's set up shop."

"If anyone will buy anything from the Shamer Witch and her family," I muttered.

Mama smiled, but the smile didn't quite reach her eyes. "Oh, they'll buy. For some reason they seem to think that my herbs work better than other people's."

Mama knew a lot about herbs and the way they worked on the various illnesses people get, but what she did was not magic. Anybody could make the same infusions, and many did. But because Mama was also the Shamer, people assumed that there was witchcraft involved. In reality, there was only one thing Mama could do that others couldn't: she could look people in the eyes and make them confess their ill deeds - and she could make them ashamed of what they had done.

We unhitched Falk and pushed the cart into the neat row of stalls and other carts.

"Will you take Falk back to the camp?" I asked Rose. We had left the men - that is to say,
Callan, Davin, and Davin's friend Black-Arse - setting up the tent in the shelter of some rocks a bit further up the slope, away from the worst of the crowding.

Rose looked a little anxious. "Can't you do it?" she said. "With all those people around he might get a little ... wild." Rose was still not all that comfortable around horses. In Swilltown, the meanest and poorest part of Dunark, where Rose used to live, not many people could afford to ride or keep a horse.

I nodded. "Yes, all right. You have your own stuff to unpack, anyway."

On the slope, the men had finished their task. They stood there, side by side, looking at the tent as if it was a four-storey building they had just managed to erect.

"There," said Davin, rubbing his hands. "Nothing to it when you know what you're doing." He gave me one of those big brother looks that clearly meant that girls were generally good for nothing except being a suitably admiring audience for manly deeds.

I pretended not to notice and hitched Falk to the tethering line so that he could graze with the other three: Callan's sturdy brown gelding, Black-Arse's dun mare, and my own beautiful Silkie that Helena Laclan had given me last summer.

"Any sign of Nico?" I asked.

Callan shook his head. "Not yet. But the lad will be around somewhere."

Originally, Nico had meant to ride with us to the Market. But that morning when we came to fetch him, he and Master Maunus had been in the middle of a full-blown row. We could hear them yelling at each other even as we came down the hill. The voices cut through the morning silence, and Master Maunus was shouting so loudly that Nico's bay mare was all but choking herself, trying to tear loose from the post she was hitched to in the yard outside.

"What will it take to make you understand, boy? It's your damned duty - "

"Like hell it is. Don't preach duty at me. I couldn't - "

"Couldn't care less, yes, I've realised that. You would rather jig and dance and brawl with a mob of drunken peasants. And get drunk. Isn't that what you're planning on - Master Guzzle-Gut?"

"Don't call me that!" Nico's shout was nearly as loud as Master Maunus', now.

"Oh? So truth is an unwelcome visitor?"

"Is it so unthinkable that I just want to have a bit of fun for a change? Must you immediately assume that it's all an excuse to get drunk? You don't trust me."

"Have I reason to?"

The words seemed to hang there for a moment, a bitter accusation that Nico apparently could find no answer to. Then the door was flung open, and they both came out, Nico first, pale as death, and Master Maunus on his heels.

"Where are you going? Damn it, boy, you can't just run away like that!"

"Why not?" said Nico. "You don't listen to a word I say anyway. And why should you? I'm just an irresponsible drunkard. Can't trust guzzlers like me, can you now?"

"Boy ... " Maunus tried to put his hand on Nico's arm. "Nico, wait ... "

But Nico wouldn't wait. He threw one swift look at Rose, Davin, and me, but it was as if he barely saw us. With a quick jerk on the tethering rope, he unhitched the mare from the post, and leaped on to her back without bothering to use the stirrups. The mare, already half-panicked from the noise and the anger she could feel in him, practically took flight. She tore up the hill in a series of wild lunges, and within moments, both of them were lost from sight.

In Maudi's yard, Master Maunus came to a halt, looking oddly helpless. He was a large man, with greying...

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