DRAGONMASTER

cover of Dragonmaster by Karleen Bradford
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Summary ~ Reviews ~ Excerpt

SUMMARY

The third book in the Taun Series

Return to the magical land of Taun in a thrilling tale from the bestselling author of DRAGONFIRE and WHISPERINGS OF MAGIC.

For three years, Norl has been trying to harness his powers. The Elders promised him he was special, the “Bringer of Light,” destined to vanquish the last dragon from the kingdom of Taun. Now he fears that cannot be—he has no magic after all. Ashamed, he steals away to meet his fate; the dragon may kill him, but at least he won’t die a coward.

But the dragon isn’t all that threatens Taun’s safety—a greater evil is encroaching, choking off the skies and poisoning the rivers. Will Norl find the faith in himself—and in others—to fight back against it? Or will Taun finally be devoured by the sinister force that has returned and is growing stronger day by day?

HarperTrophy Canada ISBN 978-1-55468-072-61

REVIEWS

Manitoba Library Association, University of Manitoba, CM, Volume XV, Number 19

“Once upon a time, there were only two books about the land of Taun by Karleen Bradford: Dragonfire and Whisperings of Magic. Now there are three, and with Dragonmaster, the story comes to its resolution. What is surprising, however, is that, although I had not read the earlier books, I found this third one totally compelling and utterly believable. The necessary background information was fed into the story as required, but without the artificiality that so often accompanies such updating and without turning off the flow of the narrative.

“Norl first encountered the evil dragon Cauldra three years earlier, and at that time, he pledged himself to return to her if only she would spare the ruler and the seer of Taun. Since then, he has been being coached by Catryn, the Seer, in an attempt to develop the magic which she is sure he has within him. Three years of intensive work apparently led to total failure. Finally Norl can bear it no longer and sneaks off to return to Cauldra to fulfill his promise, hoping that she will accept him as a sacrifice for the country and people that he has come to love.

“En route to her den somewhere in the mountains, he picks up a couple of rather odd travelling companions and also a strong intimation of a devastating evil beginning to invade the land, an evil apparently unconnected to his own particular mission. Norl’s encounter with the dragon is not as decisive a moment as he had thought it would be, but it leaves him with more responsibilities that he must develop, powers, magical and personal, to cope with in order, once again, to save the country.

“Karleen Bradford has written a great book, and, for once, the cover art has not betrayed the contents. With any luck, the sinuous flaming dragon pictured there will encourage kids to try the first few pages, and then they will be hooked. Did I need to have read the earlier books to enjoy this one? No. Am I going to go hack and read the earlier books, knowing how the story comes out in the end? You bet!

“Highly Recommended.”

Mary Thomas works in an elementary school library in Winnipeg, MB, and really loves good fantasy writing. Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association.

Canadian Children’s Book News, Summer 2009, Vol. 32 No. 3

“The plot of expert storyteller Karleen Bradford flies straight and true like an arrow, from beginning to triumphant end. Readers will seek out Bradford’s other titles about Taun, a world that is so real it may be whirling somewhere in our own galaxy.”

lian goodall

EXCERPT from DRAGONMASTER

CHAPTER ONE

Norl hesitated on the threshold of Catryn's chamber. The shimmering walls of the caverns that made up the Domain of the Elders of Taun surrounded him. Light filled the space, glistening and refracted in shards of colour from the crystal rocks out of which the cave had been carved. At first he had been overawed by such beauty. Up until now he had never failed to drink in the pulsating, ever-changing hues and pray that they would give him strength.

But not today.

He could struggle no longer. If he failed yet again, that would be the end of it. For three long years he had been trying to learn the ways of a mage, of magic. For three long years he had tasted nothing but failure.

He lifted his chin, squared his shoulders, and forced himself to step forward.

Catryn was waiting for him. She rose from the pillow-strewn seat carved into the cave wall and moved toward him, her fiery mane of hair blazing in the light, hands outstretched in welcome.

"Good morrow, Norl," she said with a smile. "We will work well this day, I'm certain of it."

Norl did not return her smile, he could not. She seemed not to notice, however, merely beckoned him closer.

"Let us begin," she said. She gestured to the fire that burned in the hearth with a flame that produced heat but no smoke. The chamber brightened yet more.

Norl took up his position in front of her. Fastened his eyes onto hers for a brief moment, then shut them and tried with every fibre of his being to block out the chamber, block out the light and the warmth, block out every thought but one. "Stand loose, Norl," Catryn said. "Let your mind be still. You are trying too hard."

Easy for her to say. She was the Seer of Taun, magic came as naturally to her as breathing.

"Focus your mind, Norl," she insisted. "Turn inward. Feel the change begin within you. Feel your bones lighten. Feel the rush of your feathers. Feel it, Norl, and it will be so. You have the power within you. Grasp it. Let it flow through you."

Norl found he was holding his breath. He had a sense that everything had stopped, that the chamber and even the air within it had stilled. Time itself was waiting for what would happen next.

"Today you will succeed," Catryn said. "Believe that." She fell silent for the space of a heartbeat, then whispered, "Now!"

The words, the tone of her voice, were hypnotic. Norl closed his eyes, willed himself to relax. For a moment he almost felt himself become lighter, become other...then it was gone.

He opened his eyes, looked down. Solid. Human. His arms hung lumpen and heavy in the air, fingers outstretched-futile, ridiculous! He could see disappointment writ plain upon Catryn's face. And more than disappointment. Fear.

"You will fly," the Protector had promised Norl, "even as I once did." Norl had believed him. In his mind he had seen himself as an eagle, golden and majestic. He had imagined how it would be to soar through the skies-powerful, invincible. It was what he had lived for.

Catryn had had such faith in him. They all had. Dahl the King, the Elders of Taun and the Protector, a mage himself, although aged now and bent with pain. They had all believed so implicitly that he was the "Bringer of Light". The one whose power would finally rid their world of Caulda, the last of the dragons that once were the scourge of Taun. Had he not healed Catryn's magical flying horse merely by placing his hands on it?

It must have been an accident, a coincidence, he thought now. He had not been able to master even the smallest of magics here. Caulda would surely rise again to rage and destroy the people of Taun, and if he could not stop her, who would?

How well Norl remembered Caulda's attacks. The dark form blotting out the sun, swooping down over village after village to steal the souls of the people. And, after her raids, soulless victims that were no more than slaves to the evil that controlled the dragon and used her for its purpose. Norl's own mother, Mavahn, had been one of those victims until Catryn and Dahl had defeated the dark powers that had sought to conquer Taun. They had restored the souls to Caulda's victims, but Catryn and Dahl had not been able to destroy Caulda. It had been he, Norl, who had appeased her.

"Wait!" he had cried when Dahl and Catryn had been at her mercy. "Spare them. I will come back to you if you spare them!"

The dragon had hesitated, looked deep into Norl's mind. Then she had nodded.

I will call you boy. When it is time. And you will come to me then. Alone. The words had been unspoken, for Norl only, and they were etched into his mind as if with fire. Over the years they had haunted him. He had cried out rashly, without thinking, without even knowing why he had made such a promise, or why he had ever thought that his life would be valuable enough to the dragon to offer it, but over the past years he had been determined to learn enough to face her. To destroy her. He had brought himself to believe the Elders had spoken truly, that he was the "Bringer of Light". That with just a little more effort, just a little more determination, he would succeed in mastering the magic they all believed lived within him.

But with that thought came anger. Why had they expected so much of him? Why had they encouraged him to believe such an impossibility?

"It is no use!" he cried now, finally, irrevocably, giving up. "There is no magic in me! You were wrong, Catryn! You were all wrong!" He pivotted away before Catryn could see the tears which had sprung to his eyes. She made no move to stop him.

So, even Catryn admits it, he thought. It felt as if his heart were being torn from his breast.

He stormed back to his sleeping place and threw himself down on the thick, blanket-strewn pallet, but he slept not at all. During the long dark hours of the night he faced the truth-there was nothing left for him here. He had tried, but he could not learn, and he could not face Catryn again.

When the first rays of sun began to illuminate the niche he occupied in the Domain, he roused himself. Caulda had not yet sent for him to fulfill his vow, but he would not wait for the summons. He would go now. Perhaps all the dragon wanted was to take her revenge for the death of her son, whom Dahl had slain. Perhaps if he gave her that satisfaction she would spare Taun.

It was all that he could do.

He yanked on his tunic and leggings, tied a leather thong around his waist, then bent to lace up sturdy boots. In his fury, he broke one of the laces and swore as he knotted it again. He threw together a bundle of bread, cheese and a flagon of ale, but he would go fasting. He gave one last glance around. He would never see this place again. It was only a small chamber, with naught but a pallet and a stand to hold his washing basin, but it had been home to him for the past three years.

For a moment the memory of the life he had led before he came here flooded into his mind. He had not had a room to himself then, just a mat before the hearth in the hut that he had shared with the woman he had always believed to be his mother. Mavahn's face rose before him. He should go to her before he went to meet Caulda; he had not seen her in all the time he had been with Catryn. But he thrust the thought out of his mind. When he had left to accompany Catryn to the Domain of the Elders, he had boasted that Mavahn would be proud of him. That he would return as a mage. What could he say to her now? That the promises were worthless? That he had failed her as well? She, who had taken him in and raised him with love even though he was not her own? She would look at him with the same disappointment as he had read in Catryn's face. No. It was not to be borne. Let her at least know that he did not die a coward's death. Catryn would do that for him.

It was early yet, it was not likely that anyone would see him leave, nevertheless, he drew his cloak close and looked furtively around before he slipped out. The garden beyond lay bathed in warmth. Flowers bloomed everlastingly. But out here no sound was to be heard. All slept in silence. The Domain of the Elders who guided Taun existed within Taun, but was apart from it. Here all was perfect, unchanging. A silver stream slipped noiselessly by, rippling in the eternal sunlight. Nothing disturbed the peace that wrapped itself around its inhabitants with a web of tranquility. After the terror of the battle with Caulda, Norl had let himself sink into the serenity and security of the Domain, be absorbed by it, bask in it. He had been so certain that he had found his true home here.

How wrong he had been.

He shook the memories out of his head and cast a quick glance around him to ensure that he was not observed, then made his way stealthily to the portal. He knew well where it was, although there was nothing to be seen but a slight shimmer and opaqueness of the air. A subtle displacement of space. Even he could feel the magic drawing him to it. He had entered through that portal but had not passed back through it since.

For a moment he paused, struck by a sudden thought. It had been Catryn who had opened it when he had arrived here-what if it would not open for him? If it did not, he would have to return, but by now they would have missed him-how could he slink back to them after yet another failure? And such a failure-such a total humiliation. He would have proven himself incapable even of running away. Sick fear clutched at his bowels as he reached up to the space before him. He could not return!

Then, as if it had been waiting for him, he could feel it. A thickness in the air. A resistance to his hands...

He worked his fingers into the invisible solidity and began to unlace the space in front of him. An opening appeared. Holding his breath, dizzy with relief, he worked his way down until, with one last, long look back, he stepped through into the world of Taun. The aperture closed behind him with a whisper as of silk.