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Other titles in the Graceling series:

Graceling

by

Graceling Cover

ISBN13: 9780547258300
ISBN10: 0547258305
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Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

IN THESE DUNGEONS the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind. One that had so far proven correct, as Olls maps tended to do. Katsa ran her hand along the cold walls and counted doors and passageways as she went. Turning when it was time to turn; stopping finally before an opening that should contain a stairway leading down. She crouched and felt forward with her hands. There was a stone step, damp and slippery with moss, and another one below it. This was Olls staircase, then. She only hoped that when he and Giddon followed her with their torches, they would see the moss slime, tread carefully, and not waken the dead by clattering headlong down the steps.

Katsa slunk down the stairway. One left turn and two right turns. She began to hear voices as she entered a corridor where the darkness flickered orange with the light of a torch set in the wall. Across from the torch was another corridor where, according to Oll, anywhere from two to ten guards should be standing watch before a certain cell at the passageways end.

These guards were Katsas mission. It was for them that she had been sent first.

Katsa crept toward the light and the sound of laughter. She could stop and listen, to get a better sense of how many she would face, but there was no time. She pulled her hood down low and swung around the corner.

She almost tripped over her first four victims, who were sitting on the floor across from each other, their backs against the wall, legs splayed, the air stinking with whatever strong drink theyd brought down here to pass the time of their watch. Katsa kicked and struck at temples and necks, and the four men lay slumped together on the floor before amazement had even registered in their eyes.

There was only one more guard, sitting before the cell bars at the end of the corridor. He scrambled to his feet and slid his sword from its sheath. Katsa walked toward him, certain that the torch at her back hid her face, and particularly her eyes, from his sight. She measured his size, the way he moved, the steadiness of the arm that held the sword toward her.

"Stop there. Its clear enough what you are." His voice was even. He was brave, this one. He cut the air with his sword, in warning. "You dont frighten me."

He lunged toward her. She ducked under his blade and whirled her foot out, clipping his temple. He dropped to the ground.

She stepped over him and ran to the bars, squinting into the darkness of the cell. A shape huddled against the back wall, a person too tired or too cold to care about the fighting going on. Arms wrapped around legs, and head tucked between knees. He was shivering—she could hear his breath. She shifted, and the light glanced over his crouched form. His hair was white and cut close to his head. She saw the glimmer of gold in his ear. Olls maps had served them well, for this man was a Lienid. He was the one they were looking for.

She pulled on the door latch. Locked. Well, that was no surprise, and it wasnt her problem. She whistled once, low, like an owl. She stretched the brave guard flat on his back and dropped one of her pills into his mouth. She ran up the corridor, turned the four unfortunates on their backs beside each other, and dropped a pill into each mouth. Just as she was beginning to wonder if Oll and Giddon had lost themselves in the dungeons, they appeared around the corner and slipped past her.

"A quarter hour, no more," she said.

"A quarter hour, My Lady." Olls voice was a rumble. "Go safely."

Their torchlight splashed the walls as they approached the cell. The Lienid man moaned and drew his arms in closer. Katsa caught a glimpse of his torn, stained clothing. She heard Giddons ring of lock picks clink against itself. She would have liked to have waited to see that they opened the door, but she was needed elsewhere. She tucked her packet of pills into her sleeve and ran.

THE CELL GUARDS reported to the dungeon guard, and the dungeon guard reported to the underguard. The underguard reported to the castle guard. The night guard, the kings guard, the wall guard, and the garden guard also reported to the castle guard. As soon as one guard noticed anothers absence, the alarm would be raised, and if Katsa and her men werent far enough away, all would be lost. They would be pursued, it would come to bloodshed; they would see her eyes, and she would be recognized. So she had to get them all, every guard. Oll had guessed there would be twenty. Prince Raffin had made her thirty pills, just in case.

Most of the guards gave her no trouble. If she could sneak up on them, or if they were crowded in small groups, they never knew what hit them. The castle guard was a bit more complicated, because five guards defended his office. She swirled through the lot of them, kicking and kneeing and hitting, and the castle guard jumped up from his guardhouse desk, burst through the door, and ran into the fray.

"I know a Graceling when I see one." He jabbed with his sword, and she rolled out of the way. "Let me see the colors of your eyes, boy. Ill cut them out. Dont think I wont."

It gave her some pleasure to knock him on the head with the hilt of her knife. She grabbed his hair, dragged him onto his back, and dropped a pill onto his tongue. They would all say, when they woke to their headaches and their shame, that the culprit had been a Graceling boy, Graced with fighting, acting alone. They would assume she was a boy, because in her plain trousers and hood she looked like one, and because when people were attacked it never occurred to anyone that it might have been a girl. And none of them had caught a glimpse of Oll or Giddon: She had seen to that.

No one would think of her. Whatever the Graceling Lady Katsa might be, she was not a criminal who lurked around dark courtyards at midnight, disguised. And besides, she was supposed to be en route east. Her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, had seen her off just that morning, the whole city watching, with Captain Oll and Giddon, Randas underlord, escorting her. Only a day of very hard riding in the wrong direction could have brought her south to King Murgons court.

Katsa ran through the courtyard, past flower beds, fountains, and marble statues of Murgon. It was quite a pleasant courtyard, really, for such an unpleasant king; it smelled of grass and rich soil, and the sweetness of dew-dripped flowers. She raced through Murgons apple orchard, a trail of drugged guards stretching out behind her. Drugged, not dead: an important distinction. Oll and Giddon, and most of the rest of the secret Council, had wanted her to kill them. But at the meeting to plan this mission, shed argued that killing them would gain no time.

"What if they wake?" Giddon had said.

Prince Raffin had been offended. "You doubt my medicine. They wont wake."

"It would be faster to kill them," Giddon had said, his brown eyes insistent. Heads in the dark room had nodded.

"I can do it in the time allotted," Katsa had said, and when Giddon had started to protest, shed held up her hand. "Enough. I wont kill them. If you want them killed, you can send someone else."

Oll had smiled and clapped the young lord on the back. "Just think, Lord Giddon, itll make it more fun for us. The perfect robbery, past all of Murgons guards, and nobody hurt? Its a good game."

The room had erupted with laughter, but Katsa hadnt even cracked a smile. She wouldnt kill, not if she didnt have to. A killing couldnt be undone, and shed killed enough. Mostly for her uncle. King Randa thought her useful. When border ruffians were stirring up trouble, why send an army if you could send a single representative? It was much more economical. But shed killed for the Council, too, when it couldnt be avoided. This time it could be avoided.

At the far end of the orchard she came upon a guard who was old, as old, perhaps, as the Lienid. He stood in a grove of yearling trees, leaning on his sword, his back round and bent. She snuck up behind him and paused. A tremor shook the hands that rested on the hilt of his blade.

She didnt think much of a king who didnt retire his guards in comfort when theyd gotten too old to hold a sword steady.

But if she left him, he would find the others shed felled and raise the alarm. She struck him once, hard, on the back of the head, and he slumped and let out a puff of air. She caught him and lowered him to the ground, as gently as she could, and then dropped a pill into his mouth. She took a moment to run her fingers along the lump forming on his skull. She hoped his head was strong.

She had killed once by accident, a memory she held close to her consciousness. It was how her Grace had announced its nature, a decade ago. Shed been a child, barely eight years old. A man who was some sort of distant cousin had visited the court. She hadnt liked him—his heavy perfume, the way he leered at the girls who served him, the way his leer followed them around the room, the way he touched them when he thought no one was watching. When hed started to pay Katsa some attention, she had grown wary. "Such a pretty little one," hed said. "Graceling eyes can be so very unattractive. But you, lucky girl, look better for it. What is your Grace, my sweetness? Storytelling? Mind reading? I know. Youre a dancer."

Katsa hadnt known what her Grace was. Some Graces took longer than others to surface. But even if she had known, she wouldnt have cared to discuss it with this cousin. Shed scowled at the man and turned away. But then his hand had slid toward her leg, and her hand had flown out and smashed him in the face. So hard and so fast that shed pushed the bones of his nose into his brain.

Ladies in the court had screamed; one had fainted. When theyd lifted him from the pool of blood on the floor and hed turned out to be dead, the court had grown silent, backed away. Frightened eyes—not just those of the ladies now, but those of the soldiers, the sworded underlords—all directed at her. It was fine to eat the meals of the kings chef, who was Graced with cooking, or send their horses to the kings Graced horse doctor. But a girl Graced with killing? This one was not safe.

Copyright © 2008 by Kristin Cashore

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 10 comments:

MS Teacher , August 4, 2012 (view all comments by MS Teacher )
I read this book as a middle school teacher, but also as a lover of the fantasy genre. It was excellent! There was something for everyone, action, adventure, romance, and a little magic thrown in. I would highly recommend this to any lover of YA fantasy.
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(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)
Ultimate_Bookworm, May 13, 2012 (view all comments by Ultimate_Bookworm)
From the minute I opened the cover, I could not put this book down. Kristin Cashore's writing contrasts to regular, YA novels in the fact that hers means something, is true and deep to the very heart of writing. She puts another perspective on fantasy entirely-- a better respective, may I add-- and brings to light prevalent topics of today in a completely different world. This continues to the two other novels Kristin Cashore has written, which get progressively better, if such a thing is possible. Everyone who has read Gracleing will agree that it is creative to the extreme, and deserves to be read, whether or not you are a YA or Fantasy enthusiast. You will ADORE it anyway!
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(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)
nem, September 23, 2011 (view all comments by nem)
I was pleasantly surprised at this wonderful first book in Kristin Cashore's series! The world she creates is so unique and original; I loved every second of it. I definitely recommend this book, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780547258300
Author:
Cashore, Kristin
Publisher:
HMH Books for Young Readers
Subject:
Action & Adventure - General
Subject:
Fantasy & Magic
Subject:
Girls & Women
Subject:
Action & Adventure
Subject:
Imaginary places
Subject:
Fantasy
Subject:
Children s-Adventure Stories
Subject:
Children s-Science Fiction and Fantasy
Subject:
Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Magic
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Series:
Nightshade
Publication Date:
20090907
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
from 9
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
480
Dimensions:
8.25 x 5.50 in
Age Level:
from 14

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Children's » Action and Adventure » Adventure Stories
Children's » General
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Children's » Science Fiction and Fantasy » General
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Young Adult » Featured Titles
Young Adult » General

Graceling Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$9.99 In Stock
Product details 480 pages HMH Books for Young Readers - English 9780547258300 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight — she's a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the kings thug.

When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po's friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace — or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

"Synopsis" by , With elegant, evocative prose and a cast of unforgettable characters, a debut author creates a mesmerizing medieval world, a death-defying adventure, and a heart-racing romance that is sure to captivate readers.
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