Clare Dunkle's acclaimed fantasy trilogy― now available in paperback
For thousands of years, young women have been vanishing from Hallow Hill, never to be seen again. Now Kate and Emily have moved there with no idea of the land's dreadful heritage―until Marak decides to tell them himself. Marak is a powerful magician who claims to be the goblin king, and he has very specific plans for the two new girls who have trespassed into his kingdom . . .
So begins the award-winning Hollow Kingdom Trilogy. Now in paperback, these editions welcome a whole new audience to the magical realm that Newbery Award winner Lloyd Alexander calls "as persuasive as it is remarkable."
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Clare B. Dunkle is also the author of By These Ten Bones. A native of north Texas, she and her family currently live in Germany.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Seylin hurried through the maze of hallways in the great underground goblin palace and knocked on Emily's door. They had been close friends since childhood, but Seylin wasn't a child anymore. He was one of the King's Guard now, and his black uniform matched his black hair and eyes. The girl he had played with had grown into a young woman. By human standards, Emily looked quite average, and the elvish Seylin looked quite remarkable, but Seylin was the one who found himself daydreaming about Emily's brown eyes and warm smile. He couldn't even tell if she cared.
There was a scramble, and Emily's door popped open to reveal his friend Brindle's little daughter, her snake eyes gleaming up at him. In her arms she clutched Talah, Emily's monkey, rolled up in a blanket like a doll.
"Where's Em?" he asked, and the little girl pointed wordlessly behind her. He found Emily seated on the terrace, teaching a very small goblin boy to fasten a buckle. Emily was always surrounded by children. They appealed to her high spirits and love of excitement. Goblin babies were more fun than human babies, she said, because human babies never bit large chunks out of the furniture or tried to take off on awkward wings and crashed into the wall.
The handsome Seylin was an embarrassing anomaly in an ugly goblin world. His parents had almost died of shame over their son's striking features. Having grown up with teasing, inaudible whispers, and sympathetic glances, the sensitive young man had always enjoyed the company of Emily's many visiting children because he never felt that they were mocking him or gossiping over his looks. But lately, he had found all the bustle and confusion a little hard to take.
"Can't I ever see you alone?" he asked crossly, sitting down beside her.
"Goodness, I am alone," responded the young woman. "Just Brindle's two before class this morning. This afternoon I'm expecting a dozen. We're going to the kitchens to bake cakes."
Seylin sighed. She was right. This was as alone as she ever was.
"Em, I've been thinking," he began. "We're older now, and I wanted to talk to you. After all, we're not little pages anymore." He paused. "We need to talk."
"I've been wanting to talk to you, too," declared Emily with some force. "Ever since you came back from that trading journey last spring, all you do is stand around and goggle at me. You hardly say five words, and if I look like I'm having any fun, you glower at me just like an old governess."
Seylin was glowering now. He tried to make himself stop. "That's not what I want to talk about," he protested. "What I wanted to say is that I won't always be a guard-"
"Nothing wrong with the Guard," remarked Emily breezily. "Thaydar told me last night he thinks the Guard's never looked better. Sweetie, we'd better run you to the bathroom," she added, standing up with the tiny goblin.
"So Thaydar was here again!" snapped Seylin.
"Not now," called Emily, hurrying off and leaving him free to glower unobserved. Thaydar, the cat-eyed commander of the Guard, was his most serious rival for Emily's affection. Thaydar made no secret of the fact that he wanted the prestige of a non-goblin bride, and he was one of the most important men in the kingdom. To make matters worse, he was Seylin's commanding officer. Seylin had spent many evenings on patrol duty knowing that Thaydar was keeping Emily company back home.
After a few minutes of gloomy contemplation, Seylin wandered back into the apartment to find Emily breaking up a fight between the two children. Each of them had one of Talah's arms and refused to let go.
"No monkey for either of you," said Emily, prying them loose. Talah bounced into Seylin's arms, and he sat down on the couch with her.
"Em, I don't want to be a guard all my life," he continued earnestly. "There's nothing to guard. It's so boring. I don't want to be a lore-master, either, teaching the Unlock Spell over and over to crowds of pages, and I don't want to be a scholar. They just study things. I want to live stories, not read them."
Emily was pouring drinks and barely paying attention. She had heard all of this before. The little boy promptly dumped his cup down his front. She carried him over to the couch and sat down, scrubbing him off with a towel.
rd"Did I tell you that Jacoby was here last night," she said, "and he choked on a piece of caramel? I had to whack him on the back for a long time before it went down. I've learned something, Seylin. Goblins with beaks shouldn't eat chewy candy. They don't have any way to chew it."
"Why do I ever try to talk to you?" cried Seylin. "You never listen to a word I say!"
"I'm listening," she protested. "You don't want to be anything."
"Right," he confirmed, trying to ignore the fact that the little girl was staring at him fixedly with her hypnotic snake eyes. "Right, I won't always be a guard, I promise. I'll be something more. I know I don't have much to offer you right now," he continued as the little girl dragged Talah from his arms. "But I think I will later."
"Thanks, I don't need anything," answered Emily absently. "Did you see Jacoby's new sister? Isn't she adorable with those little pink bird feet?" Seylin gritted his teeth, glaring at his heedless beloved. Here he was, sitting right next to her, and she might as well be a thousand miles away.
"Kitty, kitty," giggled Brindle's daughter, patting his knee.
"Very good! Kitty," said Emily encouragingly. "Seylin, change into a cat for her."
"Em, I am trying to have an important conversation!" shouted Seylin. "I will not change into a cat!"
Brindle's daughter drew back and buried her face in Emily's lap.
"And I suppose it's more important than making a little child happy," said Emily angrily, stroking the girl's hair as she cried.
"Yes! Yes, as a matter of fact, it is," declared Seylin, breathing hard.
"Well, go have it somewhere else then," ordered the righteous young woman. "I don't want to hear it."
"No, you don't, do you?" exclaimed Seylin, beside himself. "But you want to hear Thaydar, don't you? You drink in every word he says!"
This wasn't true. Thaydar spent as much time holding babies and repeating himself as Seylin did. He was just more philosophical about it.
"Thaydar isn't rude," Emily replied tartly.
"Rude? I'm rude? You never even listen to me, but that's not rude."
"I heard every word!" cried Emily. "You want to talk, you won't be a guard, you don't want to be anything, and I don't care. All you ever do is complain. Thaydar never does."
"Well, why don't you just marry Thaydar, since you're so fond of him?" he demanded.
"I certainly wouldn't marry you," declared the wrathful Emily. "Not if you were the last goblin on earth."
Seylin stared at her, his anger evaporating.
"Do you mean that?" he asked incredulously.
Emily was still furious. "Of course I do," she snapped, rising and catching the little boy as he made a dash for the terrace. Seylin stood up and stared after her for a minute, but she didn't turn around to look at him.
"Fine," he said bitterly. "Marry Thaydar, then." And he stormed out of the apartment.
Seylin found the goblin King in his workroom, giving his wife her magic lesson. The young man stopped in the doorway to watch, bending down to give Kate's drowsy dog a pat and exchanging a quiet greeting with the guard on duty in the hall.
The goblin King's Wife had required years of convincing before she had agreed to learn magic. She always felt uneasy about what her father would have said about it. Kate had been raised a perfect English gentlewoman. She had been shocked to learn that her great-great grandmother was an elf. Even though she was technically an elf-human cross, she was so strongly elvish that the goblins called her an elf, too.
Kate no longer noticed that her husband looked alarming. Nevertheless, the first sight of Marak had been enough to startle her into hysterics. The goblin King's body was powerful and bowlegged, with long, wiry arms and big, knotted hands. His magic hand had six fingers. His face was broad and bony, with sunken temples and deep eye sockets, and the eyes that gleamed brightly from under his bushy eyebrows were two different colors, one green and one black. Marak's skin was gray, and his lips and fingernails were a rather gruesome shade of tan. His hair was as coarse and straight as a horse's tail.
Kate still noticed her husband's hair. It fell in an unruly shock to his shoulders and into his eyes, and he had the habit of running his hands through it as he thought. Most of it was light beige, but a black patch grew back in a cowlick above his green eye, sending strands of black hair falling over the pale hair in what looked like long stripes. Kate disapproved of anything so untidy and kept their young son's hair short as a precaution against his developing his father's taste in hairstyles.
For this lesson, Kate was learning how to heat an elvish cooking stone. The nocturnal elves saw perfectly well in the dark but were blind in the dazzling day. Their eyes were even more sensitive than those of the goblins, so they cooked on special stones that gave off no light. The dwarves had made such a stone for Marak, flat and about a foot square. It lay now on the floor at Kate's feet, and a small metal pan full of water sat on it, waiting to be heated.
"You remember what I taught you about heat spells," Marak said, catching sight of Seylin and motioning for him not to disturb Kate. "They're based in Nameshda, the Warrior constellation, and they focus on the Foot Star. Find the constellation first and point to it." Kate, eyes closed, pointed toward the floor by the writing desk. "Reach to the Foot Star with one hand and with the other toward the stone as you say the spell. You should be able to feel the heat move by you on its way into the stone. Don't try to do too much. Less is better than more."
Kate nodded and moved her other hand into position. Marak watched as her lips moved and then looked down to examine the pan of water.
Seylin saw several things happen almost at once. Marak stepped back, throwing out his hand and giving a shout. All the water in the pan rushed up in a cloud of steam and whirled toward the King. When it reached his outstretched hand, the cloud splashed against an invisible wall and became a sheet of ice that fell to the floor and shattered. The metal pan melted with a sigh onto the stone, which was turning an alarming shade of cherry red.
Marak shouted again, but Kate stood oblivious, hands still outstretched. With a zing, the painted golden snake around her neck awoke and looped itself about her arms, jerking them to her sides. Marak bent and touched the stone, instantly chilling it. It cracked into several pieces, and the melted pan solidified into a flattened disk with the handle still extending from its side.
"What happened?" asked Kate curiously, opening her eyes.
i0Marak didn't look up. He was studying the wreckage of the cooking stone and pan, running his hand through his impossible hair. The golden snake twined back up to her shoulders and surveyed the damage too.
"Forty-seven King's Wives have tried to kill the King," it whispered calmly, "but only eight have tried to kill the King with elf magic." Seylin noticed a hint of complacent pride in the snake's sibilant voice.
"Charm, you know perfectly well I didn't try to kill the King!" said Kate in dismay. The snake looped around to study her innocent blue eyes. Then it let out a gentle hiss and collapsed back into painted sleep.
"Oh, yes you did, you bloodthirsty elf," replied Marak. "It's the Nameshda spells. Every time you've attempted a spell centered on the Warrior constellation, you've done some kind of damage. We don't need to wonder what your family did for the elf King, Kate. They were high-ranking military lords who devoted their lives to butchering goblins. When you make contact with the Warrior constellation, your proud elf blood burns, and you want to wrap your hands around the nearest goblin throat you can find."
"That's completely ridiculous!" exclaimed Kate. "Isn't it?" she added uncertainly.
For answer, Marak pried the pan off the shattered stone and held it out to her.
"Do I lie?" he pointed out. "No more Nameshda spells for you. Seylin, you can see why the King has to teach magic to outsiders. They can be very unpredictable and dangerous."
He put the pan on his writing desk and studied his petite, golden-haired wife for a minute. She certainly didn't look dangerous.
"No defense spells of any kind, Kate, they'll only strengthen your warrior tendencies. It's risky when the magic begins teaching itself like that. No more lessons this week, and we'd better calm down your right hand for a few days to prevent accidents. Your magic is excited now, and it will want more blood."
He took Kate's hand in both of his, the two right hands palm to palm, and stood motionless for a minute, frowning in concentration. After a few seconds, Kate tried to pull away.
"Ow!" she said. "Ow! Marak, you're hurting me!"
The goblin ignored her as he finished the magic. Then he looked down at her distressed face with a smile.
"That was your fault," he said. "You didn't want to give that power up, you elf assassin. You fought me to keep it. What killers your people must have been," he added, surveying her with fond pride. "It's lovely goblin revenge against your ancestors that I have you down here with me."
Kate felt her hand, scowling. "My whole arm's gone numb," she complained.
"And a very good thing, too," remarked the King, rubbing it for her. "I can't have you attacking our son the next time he comes running up to you. He's a little young to understand why his mother would try to kill him, and I think his defense magic would catch you by surprise."
"Marak!" exclaimed Kate. "I'd better not learn magic at all then. I don't want to hurt anybody."
"Other than me, you mean?" laughed her husband. "Don't fret. We'll just have to find something else you're good at besides killing people. Seylin, did you need to see me?"
Kate kissed her husband good-bye and walked off down the hallway, still rubbing her arm. The dog stood up, stretching luxuriously from her front feet to her back feet, and trotted off after her mistress.
Marak sat down at his desk and waved the young man to a stool. S...
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