Strong, elegant writing lifts Bryan's fantasy debut. Once upon a time, in the kingdom of Lys, the Young God's forces captured and imprisoned the evil Serpent. Now, a thousand years later, the Serpent's forces are rising again, determined to defeat the Young God's paladins, the Knights of the Rose, and return the great deity to power. Duke Urien leads the opposition against Serpent ally Clodovec, the king of Lys. When Clodovec has Urien poisoned, Urien's daughter, Averil, becomes evil's next target. Averil flees with the Knights of the Rose and befriends Gereint, a commoner whose magical talent could be the greatest in generations—if he manages to learn how to control its tremendous power. In order to stand against the Serpent's forces, Averil and Gereint must bargain with ancient forces long held taboo. Such a bargain, once struck, could leave Averil and her people vulnerable to their own allies. In the crowded epic fantasy field, Bryan's series opener stands out with its intriguing characters and a vivid story rich with potential. (Mar.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Serpent and the Rose (War of the Rose Series #1)by Kathleen Bryan
The beautiful Averil is heir to the Duchy of Quitaine, in the Kingdom of Lys. She is a powerful mage, trained by the Ladies of the Isle, but when her father calls her home to take up her duties, she must leave that life behind. In her city of Fontevrai, she meets Gereint, raised as a common villager but greatly gifted in magic, a novice of the magical order of the
The beautiful Averil is heir to the Duchy of Quitaine, in the Kingdom of Lys. She is a powerful mage, trained by the Ladies of the Isle, but when her father calls her home to take up her duties, she must leave that life behind. In her city of Fontevrai, she meets Gereint, raised as a common villager but greatly gifted in magic, a novice of the magical order of the Knights of the Rose.
The Knights and their sister order, the Ladies of the Isle, defend a great secret: the means and location of the Serpent's imprisonment a thousand years ago by the Young God in whose name their order was founded.
Quitaine is under subtle attack by the King of Lys, who has secretly become an adept of the hidden order of the Serpent, and he will let nothing and no one stand in the way of his quest to discover how to free his God. But the Knights of the Rose, and the Ladies of the Isle believe that if the Serpent is freed, the world will be enslaved to chaos: humanity will destroy itself, and all that man has made will be corrupted.
The War of the Rose and Serpent has begun again, after a thousand years.
Read an Excerpt
THE SERPENT AND THE ROSE (Chapter 1)
THE HAYRICK EXPLODED in a swirl of straw and dust and squawking chickens. The yard dogs yelped and fled with their tails between their legs; the bull bellowed in his pen.
Gereint stood in the middle of the whirlwind, eye to eye with a shape as insubstantial as it was powerful. He had an impression of wings and fangs and eyes--a hundred eyes, each different from the next, and all fixed on him. Studying him. Reducing him to absolute insignificance.
God knew, he was used to that. "My apologies," he said as politely as he knew how. "I didn't mean to disturb you."
The whirlwind plucked at his hair with unexpectedly gentle fingers, running them through it, then tugging on the tail of his shirt. It seemed more amused than not. When he bowed, it rippled in what might have been laughter. Then it scattered, dividing into a hundred tiny breezes. They danced through the barnyard and set the remains of the hayrick to spinning before, with a sigh, they fluttered to the ground.
His mother's voice was quiet. That was much more disturbing than a full-throated bellow. He turned slowly, shedding bits of hay. "I was only trying to--"
"Don't say it," she said.
But he had to. Not that she would ever understand, but he never stopped trying. "I was going to feed the cows, and I thought, you know, if the hay could move itself, how much more time I'd have to milk them. I didn't mean to--"
"You never do," said Enid.
A great anger was rising in him. It was years old and miles deep, and he had been throttling it down for as long as he could remember. He dared not let it loose. It was bad enough that he had scattered a month's worth of hay all over creation.
A very small part of it escaped him. Words, that was all they were. Nothing else. "If you would let me learn how to control this thing--if you would just acknowledge that I have it--"
It was no use. Her face had shut down, just as it always did. "Now you have the yard to rake as well as the cows to milk and feed. Salvage what hay you can. It can go for bedding if it's too far gone for anything better."
"Mother," he said. He knew it was futile, but if he did not say it, the top of his head was going to fly off. "Mother, for once in your life, please listen. It's happening more often, and it's getting worse. You can't just keep on ignoring it."
"Rake," she said. "Feed. Milk." Then she was gone, back to hitching up the wagon. It was market day, and she had a stall to tend.
The thing inside Gereint was so strong he could barely see. There was a buzzing in his ears and a drumming in his skull. He prayed he could keep it from bursting loose.
It helped to focus on raking and feeding and milking. If Enid had been there, she would have pointed to that as proof that she was right. He could control the thing inside--the magic.
She refused to say the word. He said it aloud with his cheek pressed to the brown cow's side. "Magic. Magic, magic, magic. I am so full of magic I don't know what to do. And she won't--even--admit that I have it."
The cow lowed in protest. He had milked her dry. He rubbed her forehead in apology, swung the full bucket onto the milk cart and went on to the next.
AFTER THE COWS were milked, there was plowing to do in the lower field. Gereint very deliberately thought of nothing but keeping the mule straight in the furrow and making that furrow as straight and deep as it should be.
He noticed rather distantly that the early morning sun had faded and a chill wind had begun to blow. It was still spring, after all, and the weather could be treacherous. When the first drops of rain fell, they stung, as if the heart of each was sleet.
He had half the field plowed. He pondered another furrow, but the northern horizon was blue-black. The mule's long ears had gone flat. She knew what that meant; she could smell it.
He left the plow in the furrow and unhitched her as fast as his rapidly freezing fingers would move. The rain was heavier now, mixed with spits of snow. He scrambled onto the mule's back and let her have her head.
The last few furlongs were a nightmare of screaming wind and blinding snow. The mule stopped so abruptly that Gereint somersaulted over her head, fetching up against the barn door.
He picked himself up, cursing under his breath, and fumbled at the bolt. The wind ripped the door out of his hands and slammed it against the wall. The mule bolted past him.
He got a grip on the door and threw all his weight against it. The wind hammered at him. He roared at it--flinging all his anger and frustration into its icy teeth.
He could have sworn it was startled. It retreated just long enough for him to get the door shut and bolted before it struck like a battering ram.
The panels were oak, and had stood up to spring storms for a hundred years. They held. He stood in the dim stillness of the barn, in the warm smell of the cows, and scraped himself together as best he could.
The mule was as wet and frozen as he was. He rubbed her down and fed her a handful of barley and an armful of scavenged hay, then threw a blanket over her. When her shivering had stopped, his had barely begun. He nerved himself to face the storm again and cross the few yards between the barn and the house.
HIS MOTHER WAS not yet back from the village. If he was lucky, she would be stormbound until tomorrow. He was not sure he trusted himself with her just now.
He stirred up the fire, stripped off his wet clothes and put on dry ones, and warmed a mug of milk with honey. The wind shrieked in the eaves. There would be thatch to renew, he judged, when this was over; but for now he was dry and warm and out of the storm.
Alone, with no one to see, he let himself play with the fire, running his hands through the flames. They were warm, but not enough to burn; they felt like leaves of grass or quick cat-tongues, curling around his fingers. Idly he began to weave them, shaping them into a glimmering skein.
There was something else he could do, something he could draw out of air, some force or substance that he could shape into--what? He could not grasp it. The fire-weaving unraveled. He pulled back quickly before the flames scorched his hand.
Frustration was rising again. There was so much he did not know, that his mother would not let him know. Every time the magefinders came to test the young ones for their orders, she sent him somewhere out of the way and forbade him to have anything to do with those strange and glittering men and women. "Your life is here," she said. "There's no need for you to look elsewhere. You're born to farm this land, and you will farm it. I won't have you breaking your heart trying to be something you were never meant to be."
But that was just what he was doing. The closer to manhood he came, the more his body grew and changed, the stronger his magic became. He felt like a phoenix in a hen's nest, trying not to burn it to ash.
The fire roared up the chimney. He had a moment's powerful temptation to let it take him--so powerful that he nearly let himself go; nearly fell in.
He pulled back in a kind of panic. The fire retreated to its proper bounds. The wind had abated somewhat.
The world seemed to be holding its breath. When the hammering began, at first Gereint thought it was some new manifestation of his magic. Then he realized it was the door, and someone was knocking on it.
His mother would never knock; she would simply come in. It must be some stranger caught in the storm.
Maybe, he thought, it was a magefinder.
He would not dare to hope. He lifted the latch, keeping a good grip in case the wind came back, and opened the door.
A man stood on the step, wrapped in a cloak, with snow thick on his hood and shoulders. Shadows of others stood behind.
Gereint looked inside himself for the tingle of alarm. There was something, like a trickle of heat down his backbone, but he did not sense any danger.
"Messire," said the man on the doorstep, "of your courtesy, may we beg shelter for ourselves and our horses?"
That was not a local accent, or a lowborn one, either. Gereint swallowed past the lump of excitement and said, "Of course, sir. How many horses?"
"Twelve, messire," said the man, "and six men. If you have room in barn or byre--"
"Of course," said Gereint. He retrieved his winter cloak from its hook and wrapped it around him.
THE HORSES WERE soaked and shivering, and the men were in no better case. The storm was closing in again. Gereint herded them all into the horse barn. There was only the mule in it now, with a pair of goats to keep her company; the cart horse had gone to market with Enid.
Twelve horses were a fair crowd, and half of them were stallions--fine glossy beasts under the wet and cold. The rest were geldings, sturdy pack animals who had no objection to being squeezed in two to a stall. They were all well fed, well shod and caparisoned, and the device on every bridle and saddle made Gereint's heart leap nigh out of his breast.
A blood-red rose, embossed on leather or enameled on silver. It was a small thing, deceptively simple, but it meant the world.
These were Knights of the Rose--more than mages, and more by far than simple fighting men. Great arts and powers belonged to them. They were defenders of the realm and protectors of all that was holy. The Young God himself had founded their order. The Twelve Paladins had been its first Knights.
Ever since Gereint was old enough to remember, he had loved to hear stories about the Knights. Before he outgrew his illusions, he had dreamed of becoming one--before he learned that only noblemen could enter the ranks, and he was as common as the dirt under his feet.
And they were here, in Gereint's mother's barn, rubbing down their horses and feeding them oats and barley from their own stores and hay from the loft. It was almost more than Gereint could bear. For a panicked moment he thought of sending them back out into the storm--not far, just to the next farm, but far enough that he would not have to face them.
That would be cowardice, not to mention murder. He could endure them for a night. Just to remind himself of what dreams were--and of what he could never hope to be.
They seemed human enough, and not averse to work, either. When they professed themselves content to bed down in the loft above the horses, Gereint heard himself say, "Oh, no. There's room in the house, and my mother would box my ears if she thought I'd made guests sleep in the barn."
"By all means, we must not have that," said the oldest of them. He was a lean grey wolf of a man, but the lines around his eyes and mouth spoke more of laughter than of sternness.
One or two of his men might have demurred even so, but his glance brought them to order. "We're safe here," he said, "and the horses are in comfort. I for one will be glad to sleep warm and dry tonight." He bowed to Gereint and smiled. "You have our thanks, messire."
Gereint blushed and tried not to fall over his own feet. He mumbled something, he hardly cared what, and led them all back through the snow to the house.
THE SERPENT AND THE ROSE Copyright © 2007 by Judith Tarr
Meet the Author
Kathleen Bryan is a refugee medievalist and longtime writer. She lives in Arizona with an assortment of dogs, cats, and fat white horses.
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Once again I've found a book by chance that I absolutely love (the last one was King of Attolia). I finished this book in one sitting. I really could not put it down. Amazing plot, well-developed characters, and beautifully written. I cannot wait for the sequel! Here are some of my other favorites. The Thief, Queen of Attolia, King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. Mystic & Rider, The Thirteenth House, Dark Moon Defender, Reader and Raelynx by Sharon Shinn. The Strongbow Saga - Viking Warrior, Dragons from the Sea by Judson Roberts. The Bridei Chronicles - The Dark Mirror, Blade of Fortriu, The Well of Shades by Juliet Marillier. The Last Apprentice - Revenge of the Witch, Curse of the Bane, Night of the Soul Stealer by Joseph Delaney.
A thousand years ago in the Kingdom of Lys, followers of the Young God imprison the malevolent Serpent. Over the ensuing centuries, peace and prosperity flourish. However recently, the forces of the incarcerated Serpent clandestinely led by Lys King Clodovec have begun a coup to destroy the Young God's supporters the Knights of the Rose and Ladies of the Isle so that they can liberate their deity and return the evil one to the power usurped from him. The Duke of Quitaine Urien leads the supporters of the Young God, but is poisoned by Clodovec. The King knows he must also eliminate Urien's daughter, Averil a powerful mage trained by the Ladies of the Isle. She flees with the aid of the Knights of the Rose on her trek to safety she meets commoner Gereint, an untrained powerful magician. Meanwhile as the Serpent¿s minion grow stronger and appear ready to conquer, allies Averil and Gereint turn to the magical taboo by trying to cut a deal with the ancient ones. If they defeat the Serpent¿s horde, it would leave them vulnerable to their new partners. --- This is a terrific opening epic fantasy due to a powerful fully developed cast on both sides of the Godly dispute. The story line obviously sets the stage for the confrontations in the future novels, but also provides a deep plot of insidious betrayal from within leading to a need for the heroine to escape to fight another day. Kathleen Bryan provides a wonderful first tale in the War between Order and Chaos. --- Harriet Klausner