About the Author
Sarah Rees Brennan is the New York Times bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Unspoken and The Demon’s Lexicon trilogy. Her most recent book, In Other Lands, was a Hugo Award finalist. Visit her at SarahReesBrennan.com.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The Demon’s Surrender 1
MAGIC WAS LIKE A SPECIAL GUEST IN SIN’S LIFE. IT APPEARED all too rarely, stayed for a brief interval, and she spent the rest of her time preparing for it to come again.
She had taken the day off school so she and her dancers could set up the lights. She and Chiara had spent an hour singing into Phyllis’s new music boxes, which echoed back their voices transformed into strange, sweet melodies. Then she’d had to rush away and help Carl set up his display of knives with luck stones in the hilts.
The magic had been worth waiting for. The Market at Dover Beach was one of the most beautiful Markets she’d seen this year.
The musicians were high on the white cliffs, streaked with shadows by the twilight, and the Market itself was being held on a platform a few steps up from the shingled beach. The sea lay sparkling and still in the curve of the bay, like water held in the hollow of a pale hand, and fainter than the light of the stars, Sin could see the nighttime lights of the French coast.
There were other Goblin Markets held in other countries. She wanted to dance at them all one day.
For now she was glad to be at this one.
Sin was watching Toby while Mama put the finishing touches on the fortune-telling stall. The lanterns swinging over their heads cast rainbow gleams over the surface of the crystal balls, in the depths of the jewels on Mama’s hands. Sin rocked Toby and Mama sang a Goblin Market song to them both as she laid out the cards. “Hush little baby, don’t say a word. If you have two marks never get a third. Hush little baby, don’t you cry. Mama never falls and demons never lie. Hush little baby, don’t say a thing. Mama’s going to buy you a magic ring. And if your ring won’t give you a wish, We’ll be all right, baby, just like this.”
Sin smiled. “Who are you planning to dance with tonight?”
“The best-looking man who asks me,” Mama replied, and they both laughed.
Mama was in a good mood for the first time in a long time. She had been sick too long after Toby was born and Victor had left with no word since to Mama, the woman he’d said he loved, or to Toby and Lydie, his children.
He wasn’t Sin’s father, and they were better off without him, but money had been tight since he went. What tourists really paid for were answers from demons, and to get those you had to dance. Mama had been too sick to dance, and she never accepted help from anyone. She’d never even let Dad help after he left. They had barely been able to scrape by on what Sin made dancing.
But now Mama was finally ready to dance again, they would be all right. Just like this.
“How about you?” Mama asked.
Sin just smiled, which meant she was holding out for Nick Ryves. He hadn’t been to the Market in a couple of months, so he was due back.
Nick and Sin weren’t exactly friends. It was hard to be friends with Nick.
He was the best dancer she’d ever seen, though, and that made her like him. Sin respected talent, and it was hard to dislike anyone when you loved to watch them move. Besides, you learned a lot about people dancing with them. That was why Sin made sure to dance with every new dancer once.
“Don’t tell me it’s Nick Ryves.” Mama wrinkled her nose. “That boy’s creepy. I’m saying this as someone personally acquainted with fifteen necromancers.”
Sin shrugged. “He’s better than his brother.”
“I don’t see what you have against Alan,” Mama said predictably. “He’s very gifted.”
Alan Ryves was the kind of boy all the parents and grandparents and busybodies of the Market thought everyone should be like: perfect, studious, ever so polite and ever so politely disdainful of the dancers. He got up Sin’s nose more than anyone she had ever met.
“I know. Being so boring and yet so irritating at once, that’s a gift.”
Mama did not respond. Sin glanced up to see that her mother’s eyes had gone wide, pools of brightness reflected from the lanterns, and Sin immediately twisted around to see the threat.
There was no threat. There was just Alan Ryves and his annoying face, and at his shoulder where Nick always stood there was... well, there was Nick.
It wasn’t that Sin did not recognize him. It was unmistakably Nick, all dead-white skin, dead-black hair, and drop-dead stare, but those sullen, too-sharp, and too-strong features of Nick’s had clicked into place: He was almost as tall as his brother now. Muscles that had made him look squat before, like a surly full-grown goblin rather than a kid, fit on his new frame in easy rippling lines as he walked.
He still moved like a dancer, smooth and sure.
This was Nick made new under the burning lanterns, light racing golden along the angular line of his cheekbones, fire kindling in the depths of his black eyes.
Sin smiled absently. It wasn’t that she was not interested by Nick’s sudden ridiculous good looks. She was just distracted by something even more unexpected.
She found herself feeling a little sorry for Nick.
Sin had always been a cute kid. She’d known that ever since she could remember: There was no way not to know, when she and Mama had to use it. She’d been using curls and ribbons and a sweet smile to get people to come to Mama’s stall and have their fortunes told since she was five years old.
She’d been dancing almost as long. First just to amuse the tourists, providing entertainment that was more about her smiles and her pretty costumes than the fact that she could dance, and then for the demons, when it was only talent that really counted. But making it look good never hurt.
She was used to attention and admiration. But it did change when you grew up, new and sometimes unexpectedly painful, like aching muscles.
Last year she had been at the stall of a potion-maker she’d known for years, and he’d given her a present because she looked so pretty that night. He’d spelled out her name in dandelion seeds, shining like stars in the moonlight.
He’d spelled it Sin. She’d always spelled it Cyn before. But now people looked at her and saw something different.
Mama had put her arm around Sin’s shoulders as they left the potion-maker’s stall.
“So make the name yours,” she’d said.
A stage name was the truest name a dancer could have. She’d learned to use what people saw when they looked at her. She’d always been a performer.
Heads were turning as the brothers moved through the crowd, and Nick did not look even slightly fazed. Sin saw him meet a few gazes for an instant and then let his eyes slide deliberately away, his mouth curling. Nick, who never wanted to talk or play or be friends, looked as comfortable as he did in the dancing circle with the demons. As if he had always known he was going to be beautiful.
Nick had never been one for performance. But it looked like he knew how to use this new power he had as a weapon.
She could understand that.
Sin rose from her place by Toby’s crib, and took a moment to let the lights of the Market and the wind from the beach wash over her.
Her mother caught her eye and winked. “Go get your partner.”
“Oh, I will, but Nick can wait,” Sin said. “First I want an audience.”
It was the night of the Goblin Market, a night for seeing someone in a new light.
She thought Nick was human at the time.
Sin spotted her mark right away. He was a guy in a suit who had the air of someone who’d been to the Market a few times before and was trying to give the impression it had been more than a few. He was also handing over a lot more money than the German book of witchcraft he was paying for was worth.
“Welcome to the Market,” Sin said.
When he spun around, she was already positioned so that the fairy lights caught the red glints in her hair and left her face wearing shadows and a slow scarlet smile.
It was a lot like placing her mother’s crystal balls on the stall so they were shown off to their best advantage. Sin wasn’t for sale, but it did no harm to let tourists believe she might be.
The man visibly hesitated, then swallowed. “It’s not my first time.”
“Oh,” said Sin. “I could tell.”
“I guess,” the guy said, his eyes traveling over Sin’s bright clothes and gleaming skin. “You’re one of the attractions?”
“I’m the star attraction,” Sin murmured. “Follow the music when it starts, and you’ll see me dance.”
The man took a step toward her and she felt a flash of triumph. She had him, like a fish on a line.
“What are you doing right now?” he asked.
“She’s busy being underage,” said the most irritating voice in the world.
They both looked around to the book stall, which Alan Ryves was leaning his bad leg against, a book in one hand and his usual expression of righteousness on his face.
“So perhaps what you should do right now is leave,” he continued in his gentle voice, the one he used as he limped around the Market charming every old biddy in the place. Such a nice boy, they all said.
Nice boys were such a pain.
“Er, so I’ll just be,” said the tourist, and then stepped backward and away, into the crowd.
Alan gave her a little smile, as if he expected her to thank him for scaring away her audience. As if he’d done something nice for her, and he was expecting her to be pleased. There were fairy lights over his head, too, making his glasses catch the light and his red hair seem to catch fire. He looked even more ridiculous than usual.
He was wearing a T-shirt that said I GET MY FUN BETWEEN THE COVERS. It had a picture of a book on it.
“Hi, Cynthia,” he said.
“What is wrong with you?” Sin demanded. “Besides the obvious.”
Alan’s smile twisted in on itself, and Sin bit her lip as she realized what he thought she’d meant. She hadn’t been thinking about—well, she had been, it was hard not to notice—but she hadn’t intended for him to assume she was talking about his leg.
She didn’t feel like losing any ground before the ever-so-saintly Ryves brother, though, so she just sneered, turning her face pointedly away to look at the rest of the Market. There were a lot of sights that deserved her attention far more than Alan.
One of them was her little sister Lydie, being carried past in Trish’s arms. Trish made fever wine during the day before the Market, but at night she often volunteered to babysit.
“Lydie,” said Sin, and brushed a kiss at the golden curls at her sister’s temple. Lydie looked past her and reached her arms out for Alan.
“Hi, sweetheart,” said Alan, his voice turning slow and sweet as honey. Lydie’s arms stretched forward, questing and imperious, and Alan leaned his weight against the stall and reached out to hold her.
Sin had to look away as he lurched.
“You’re so irresistible to women, Alan,” she remarked. “Pity your charm only works on those over fifty or under five.”
“Poor me,” Alan said. “I just missed my chance of dazzling you. You’re what, seven by now?”
He gave her the smug look of a boy a bare three years older than she was. Sin rolled her eyes.
“Same age as your brother,” she remarked. “And he’s looking pretty grown-up these days.”
Alan’s stance shifted suddenly, and Sin realized that there was one of the Ryves brothers at least who was not entirely comfortable with Nick’s transformation. Alan’s T-shirt might as well have read MY BROTHER IS JAILBAIT. IT’S MAKING ME ANXIOUS.
Sin smiled with glorious and terrible joy.
“You’ve seen Nick,” Alan said, his voice suddenly wary. “Did you talk to him?”
She raised her eyebrows. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware that he needed a signed permission slip to play with the other children. I have seen him. I had a lot of fun looking.”
“Yes, all right, Cynthia,” said Alan, who apparently felt he needed to use her full name at all times in order to achieve the maximum possible level of condescension. “Look, I’m just—I’m just saying, maybe be a little careful.”
“Careful?” Sin repeated. “You’re telling me to be careful of your own brother.”
Alan colored a deep, unhappy red. Sin did not give a damn.
Market opinion was divided on what Nick thought of Alan, their guesses ranging from “total indifference” to “sullen adoration.” But Alan had always seemed to love Nick, sticking close to him, taking care of him as Nick scowled about it. It was the only thing about Alan that Sin actually approved of.
She reached out and pulled her sister out of his arms, rocking Lydie when she made a noise of extreme dissatisfaction. She pressed Lydie’s cheek to her talisman, the enchanted web of net and crystal against her heart.
“I can’t count the ways you make me sick,” she said conversationally to Alan. “Besides the obvious.”
She wielded the words with vicious, deliberate emphasis like one of her long knives, and saw them cut deep. The color drained out of Alan’s face.
“Stay out of my way,” Sin ordered. “And don’t you dare interfere with any of my audiences ever again.”
“He was a creep,” Alan mumbled. “It’s wrong to objectify women.”
He turned away toward the piles of books, as if retreating to a refuge, and sounded a little awkward when he said that, like he really believed it but knew it sounded stupid. Alan was supposed to be so smart; Sin could not understand why he didn’t see that he was insulting her by implying she hadn’t known exactly what she was doing, and exactly what that guy was.
She gave Lydie to Trish and stepped in close to Alan, whose eyes widened slightly. Sin ignored her own surprise that Alan was so tall and leaned in closer still, almost resting her chin against his shoulder, so close she could feel his body heat. She concentrated her gaze until he followed it, and saw who she was watching.
She gave him a slow, sweet smile.
“Guess what,” she said. “I’m objectifying your brother right now.”
She left without another look at him, sliding through the Market. She smiled, seeing first-time tourists arrive looking wary about the mysterious invitations they’d received from strangers, and then seeing their faces wiped clean of everything but wonder. The stalls were full of glittering marvels like treasure chests newly discovered and just opened for the first time, and even the stars shone bright as new coins under lamplight against the black velvet drape of a stall. Sin remembered being very small, walking through the Market holding her father’s hand, dazzled by everything.
Sin was part of the marvels now.
As she listened to the pipers, the music from above changed, became something intense, with a beat that rang out to the sky. Sin tipped her head back to see white cliffs painted violet and black by the falling night, the pipers at the edge with their instruments gleaming in the moonlight, and above them walls and a castle keep.
Then she lowered her gaze and saw that everyone was looking at her.
She had already positioned herself under a lantern that beamed white light in a pattern like lace: a lantern enchanted to make everything it touched radiant. Sin knew it was making her silvery dress glow like moonlight on steel, that it made the fever blossoms woven through the pale material ...
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