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Marbleheart

Companion wanted...

Sea Otter preferred.

Marbleheart was a sleek, dark-furred sea otter. He'd rescued maidens, fought witches, even installed a new emperor on the Dragon Throne of Choin. But lately, Marbleheart's been bored.

But all that's about to change...

Book 5 of the Mancer series

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Don Callander

Donald Bruce Callander
March 23, 1930 -- July 25, 2008

Don Callander was the best-selling author of the 'Mancer series and the Dragon Companion series. Don originally worked as a travel writer/photographer and graphic designer before retiring to start his writing.

Don was born in Minneapolis, brought up in Duluth, Minnesota, and graduated from high school there before enlisting in the U. S. Navy in 1947. After serving four years on active duty (including the Korean War) he transferred to the Naval Reserve where he served as a 'weekend warrior' for twenty additional years.

He settled in Washington, D.C., where he married, raised four children, and worked on the Washington Post newspaper and in National Headquarters of the American Automobile Association (40,000,000 members!) until his retirement in 1991.

During his retirement, Don lived in Florida and at the age of 62, began writing his bestselling fantasy books until he passed away in 2008.

Reviews

5 Stars! Book #5 is terrific reading!

Marbleheart's adventure with the young faerie prince is great fun. This is just as delightful as the rest of the 'mancer series. Hopefully, Don Callander will keep the series going.You will enjoy all the characters.The books are fun! If you haven't read any of the 'mancer series, do so.You are missing the humor and fun!

Amazon Reivew


5 Stars! Good, fun book typical of the author

This book is a lot of fun to read, but even more so if you've read Callander's other Mancer novels. He brings back characters from most of those novels and ties up a few loose ends from those books. If you've never read fantasy before or (like me) you're a fan of Callander, then Marbleheart is a great book.

Amazon Review


5 Stars

An interesting addition to this series with new twists makes for fun reading. I look forward to reading the next book.

Richard C. Barbee III -- Amazon Reviews



5 Stars

What’s a body to do when they get bored? For Marbleheart, a sea otter who is the familiar of Douglas Brightglade, a Pyromancer, the answer is to go questing with a fairy prince. Prince Ben Flowerbender has run away from home, because, as he tells Marbleheart, “It’s full time I undertook a Quest to Prove Myself Worthy. Come of Age!” And soon the two of them are off on an adventurous quest.

This is an exciting, fast-paced story filled with myriad challenges for both Marbleheart and Ben. They are shipwrecked and nearly eaten by alligators, before meeting with horrendous hippos. But they both have magical powers and kind hearts which they use to good advantage. Best of all for Marbleheart is that once again his life is filled with puzzles to solve and new lands to explore.

This is the fifth and final novel in the Mancer series, and while many of the characters have appeared in the earlier adventures, this novel also works well as a stand-alone. Don Callander has a strong sense of magic himself and his characters, whether they are human, fairy, animal, or even a blue tea kettle, are amazingly well drawn. I was captured from the very beginning, and I willingly and happily traveled along with Marbleheart and Ben from one adventure to another.

The pacing of the novel is excellent and the pages seem to turn themselves. As other characters and a side-plots work there way in, the reader is skillfully taken from Wizards’ High to far distant lands and back again, and the ride is truly wonderful. The plot takes a number of unexpected turns along the way, and I was kept in suspense right up to the end.

Fantasy readers will not go wrong if they decide to join Marbleheart and Ben on their questing adventure. Magic and fun, danger and thrills, abound.

completedreviews -- Long and Short Reviews
Excerpt

Chapter One

Peaceable Valley

The rushing, springtime-cold waters of Crooked Brook (long ago named, by the people of Faerie, Koro-Khed, which means “Enchanted Stream”) closed over the Sea Otter’s sleek form as he dove, strongly swimming, to the bottom just above Old Plank Bridge, scattering a school of startled troutlings before him.

Marbleheart’s dark-furred body measured just under six feet long, from white-tipped whiskers to powerful tail. He was the largest son of a family of Sea Otters, born on far-distant Briny Deep in the cold, cloudy, windy, snowy northwest.

Once he’d been wild and completely free! Ranged down The Broad, along the desolate, sandy dunes of Old Kingdom’s east coastline, then far south to the low bluffs of Choin, and up to busy Farango Water.

He’d led the exciting, independent life of a young Sea Otter.

Well, it hadn’t been a boring life after he’d met Douglas Brightglade, either, the Otter admitted to himself, twisting and turning in the clear water. He’d lived through a terrific volcanic eruption, enjoyed the excitement of howling gales in mid-Sea, flown magically eastward and westward, north and south. Even burrowed under the vast sheet of Perpetual Ice... and along the way had found his calling.

Douglas Brightglade, the younger Pyromancer of Wizards’ High on the north bank of Crooked Brook, had asked him to be his Familiar!

His life had, for a while, been a matter of dashing off to rescue this fair maiden or assist that embattled Wizard. Fighting nasty witches at Coven. Setting a new Emperor on the Dragon Throne of Choin.

Those were the days!

An exciting life... but not so very exciting recently.

Now the furry Familiar’s time was filled with serious study, with careful reading of ancient, musty, dusty books, of sneezing from fumes of bubbling retorts, peering through murky magnifying glasses, conjuring up columns of acrid smoke, and enduring endless discussions of wizardly Ways and Means.

“All very important and very useful and all that, I admit to you,” Marbleheart said to a largemouth bass who came swimming by on his way to the reed beds below Augurian’s Fountain.

“What’s the matter with you?” snapped the startled bass, watching the Otter warily from a safe distance. “You eat regularly, don’t you? No having to hunt for your supper in ice-cold water!”

Everyone in Crooked Brook knew of the Otter’s appetite for fresh fish.

“Yes... and that’s what’s the matter!” snorted Marbleheart.

He pushed up with his hind feet and broke the surface under loose-planked Old Bridge, which connected Priceless’s apple, peach, and pear orchards on the south bank with the wide, rolling, front lawn of Wizards’ High on the north.

“I’m being quite unfair, of course,” the Otter muttered unhappily to himself.

He dove again to examine the bed of freshwater oysters he’d planted in the cool, shaded water under the rickety bridge. His bivalve colony was doing extremely well. Promised a good feast or three, someday soon. Maybe some of those interesting shiny, pink, convoluted freshwater pearls Myrn had told him about.

He surfaced again, pulled himself up onto the sun-warmed planks of the bridge, and lay there on his tummy, fluffing his thick, dark brown fur. Drying Spells were all very well for emergencies, he considered, but sun was best for grooming his luxurious coat, after all.

“Peaceful!” he said aloud. “Nothing much doing, unless one is a Wizard with spells to cast and puzzles to solve in a dim workshop under a tall hill. I’ll go check on Douglas. Maybe he needs some help. Or maybe not. There’s always lunch!”

He glanced up at the sun in the cloudless sky, confirming the time nicely.

“Yes! Lunchtime!” He chuckled enthusiastically, forgetting his momentary gloom. “Wonder what old Blue Teakettle’s whipped up for us this noontime?”

Blue Teakettle, who ran the Wizards’ kitchen with easy and expert grace, with a pert tilt to her spout and a whistle of scalding steam, when necessary, was burbling crossly at the new Crystal Bowl, a wedding gift to Douglas and Myrn from Prince Bryarmote and his pretty Dwarf-wife, some years before.

“No, no, no!” Blue rumbled. “Blue cheese dressing! That’s what the Masters like best with romaine, curly endive, and new cucumbers! You should remember that for yourself! Do I have to think of everything?

Young Crystal Bowl groaned, rolled from side to side, and made a dull clunking sound to show how sorry she was she’d forgotten the dressing until so late.

“Well, there’s still time to whip it up... just barely,” clucked Blue Teakettle, relenting a bit. “I’ve got too much else to do to worry about dressing, young miss!”

She signaled Sugar Caster to begin setting the huge kitchen table. Toaster, who usually only worked hard at breakfast time, could be trusted to help Caster set things straight and place the polished Silverware correctly, Forks on the left, Knives and Spoons to the right, despite the boisterous antics of the troop of Soup Spoons on such a lovely, early spring day.

“Let me see,” murmured Blue, counting the place settings. “Master Flarman, Mistress Myrn, Master Douglas, and the dear little twins, the Sea Otter, of course... and the cats. That’s all for today, Master Caster! Augurian’s off to his Warm Sea island and Mistress Litholt’s returned to her Serecomba Desert for a month or two. Just the immediate family. Here! Otter!”

She’d caught sight of Marbleheart, who just then poked his nose and his curiosity through the open door from the courtyard between the kitchen and the Wizards’ underhill workshop.

“Be a good sort and call the family to lunch, Sea Otter, my pet, please!” Teakettle bubbled.

Marbleheart was her very greatest personal favorite. Whatever the High’s kitchen cooked, baked, fried, stewed, broiled, boiled, barbecued, sautéed, creamed, toasted, whipped, or otherwise prepared and served, cold or hot, Marbleheart consumed with invariable gusto and gratitude.

“Done!” Marbleheart grinned back at her. “Back in three minutes! Is that country ham with red-eye gravy I smell? Ah! Make that two minutes!”

Blue Teakettle had no sooner turned back to tell Oven to turn out three panfuls of hot, savory corn fritters into the pair of wicker Breadbaskets waiting patiently on the sideboard, when the Wizards’ family and staff began to arrive from the washstand in the courtyard, laughing and licking their lips, and calling for those behind them to hurry or miss the best things to eat.

Lunch at the High was ever a pleasant time for reporting progress and reviewing everyone’s activities and chores, through and in between courses from the spring salad at the beginning to the four-layer chocolate cake for dessert.

“Confusion is what it is, really,” said Marbleheart happily to no one in particular.

“Confused? Not at all!” hooted Bronze Owl, who didn’t eat, being entirely made of cast and highly polished purest bronze. He came to meals to enjoy the conversation. “Very clear! Don’t you agree, my dear? All we birds, other than certain stay-near-home types, fly south to warmer climes in fall, and back north again...”

“Speaking of clear,” interrupted Flarman Flowerstalk around a mouthful of peppery-garlicky sausage. As a Fire Adept, he was particularly fond of hot pastrami.

“Don’t slurp your soup, please, Brand!” Myrn admonished her young son. “Why, what would Grandmama Brightglade say, could she hear it?”

“It’s hot, Mama!” protested the little boy, waving his hand over the bowl, encouraging the steam to form fragrant swirls in the air.

“It’ll cool shortly,” his father told him, trying to sound very stern. “Be patient and don’t play with your food, child!”

Marbleheart chuckled gleefully at the pretty pink-steam cloudlets, which didn’t help parental authority much. Douglas gave his Familiar a reproving frown which insisted on becoming, at once, a fond grin.

“What were you saying about the weather?” Bronze Owl asked the elder Fire Wizard.

“Weather? Nothing that I recall,” sputtered Flarman, finding the soup too hot, even for himself. “Weather?”

“You said...” Owl began to explain.

“Oh, about ‘clear!’”laughed Flarman, recalling the interruption that had been interrupted. “I said... ‘Speaking of clear’!”

He drew from his wide left sleeve a disk of clear, bluish glass... or what seemed to be glass... about three inches across and thicker in the middle than around the edges.

“A lens,” Douglas said with a quick nod. “I’ve seen ‘em in telescopes and such. Was it Litholt who had one? No, Cribblon it was who made a telescope... to see distant things.”

“I use them at times, myself,” agreed the older Pyromancer. “If you focus the sun’s rays, you can start a fire quite handily, even without spelling.”

“I know that!” cried seven-year-old Brenda brightly. “Marbleheart showed us!”

“I hope you’re careful about fire-making, Marblehead, darling,” cautioned Myrn, shaking her right index finger. “The children are a bit young, yet, to handle wild-fires.”

“I am always careful of fire,” Otter insisted.

“He made a campfire with a burning-glass and we cooked some mallmarshows,” Myrn’s daughter crowed. “Hot and brown and very sticky!”

Marshmallows, silly girl!” her twin brother corrected. “Yum!”

Brenda made a face at him, but Brand pretended not to notice.

“Look more carefully,” Flarman was saying to Douglas, ignoring the chatter.

He handed the lens to his young colleague.

Douglas squinted through the blue-tinted lens, moved it forward and backward a few times, bringing a slice of tomato clearly into focus.

Myrn leaned over to look.

“Perfectly ordinary convex lens,” Douglas pronounced. “Useful for other things, too. I was thinking of building a telescope, myself. I’d like to study the stars this summertime on nights good for stargazing.”

“Not my point at all!” snorted the older Wizard, reaching over to point a stubby forefinger at the lens in Douglas’s hand. “Do you notice this?”

“An inscription, I guess,” Douglas agreed. “But what does it say?”

“I was hoping you’d recognize the lettering,” the older Fire Wizard told him. “Or Myrn? I can’t figure them out, to tell you the truth.”

Myrn and Douglas carefully studied the faint letters etched around the edge of the glass.

“Looks like Old Elvin Script,” Myrn said, finally. “You read Elvin better than I do, Douglas.”

“I thought I knew Old Elvin pretty well,” Flarman told them, shaking his head, “but it might as well be Catscratch or Birdswarble or even Low Trollish, for all of me!”

“No, not any of those,” Douglas insisted, handing the lens back to the older Wizard. “I’m sorry, Magister. Can’t help you, off the top of my head. What is it?”

“Ah! At last you think to ask! It was sent to us by Chief Tet. One of his Highlandormers discovered it last year in a trash heap left by Eunicet’s Army inside the Outer Ring of Highlandorm.”

“Goodness! That was years back!” exclaimed Marbleheart.

“Ten years now, yes... but this thing, this lens, lay forgotten until last winter. The soldier brought it to Tet.”

“Ah! Mystery!” cried Marbleheart, hitching forward eagerly. “Love a mystery!”

“There’s more,” Flarman declared. “The soldier tried to use it to start a fire one cold day while he was on duty. His sulfur matches had got wet, it seems. The glass focused the sunlight, as usual, but refused to raise even a single whiff of smoke, let alone start a flame!”

“I would think,” Douglas said thoughtfully, “if the lens magnifies an image, it would also work as a burning-glass. The things go together. Usually!”

“Usually!” Flarman agreed. “But it’s true! Take it out in the courtyard, m’boy. The sunlight focuses well enough, but it never gets hot enough to start a fire. Not a whiff of smoke!”

While the others finished their raspberries and cream, Douglas and Marbleheart went out into the courtyard. The early afternoon sun was bright and hot on the cobbles.

First Douglas and then his Familiar tried to burn a hole in a dried bit of oak leaf, but neither could manage to raise even a single, thin tendril of smoke.

“Something’s not right here,” muttered Marbleheart. “It should work easily! I’ve done this sort of burning-glass thing dozens of times, myself, and seen others do it, hundreds.”

“As have I,” agreed his young Master. “Most strange!”

“Suppose we could read the inscription,” the Sea Otter said, handing the lens back to Douglas. “Might that tell us why it won’t work?”

“Maybe. Give it a try this afternoon, shall we? See if we can figure out what it says.”

“I’ll come along and help,” Otter agreed. “Nothing much else to do. A bit of mystery is always good to sink sharp Otter’s teeth into, I says.”

They went back into the kitchen, where the noontime meal was over and the table was being cleared with a pleasant rattle-and-clink of Serving Dishes, Platters, Plates, Cups, Saucers, Glasses, Cutlery, Bowls, and assorted Pots, Pans, and Skillets, all lining up to get a hot, soapy splash and a thorough scrub in the sink.

Blue Teakettle supervised with a strict eye to good order and sanitation.

“Behind the ears! Behind the ears!” she hissed to the rather thick ceramic Coffee Cups. “Do it properly or do it over, you mugs!”

Myrn, on her way out with her children, stopped to give her husband a quick kiss.

“We’re going up for quiet time.”

“Me, too!” yawned Flarman. “I was up and doing well before dawn!”

“Marbleheart and I’ll look into your mysterious lens,” Douglas told him, shooing his son and daughter after their mother.

“I’ll look in on you later,” Myrn promised as she followed their twins up the curving staircase.

“Me, too!” Flarman yawned again. “Sorry! I spent the whole morning trying to read that dratted inscription. Got nowhere at all.”

“What did you try?” Douglas called after him.

“Fire, ice, hot water, cold water, and hot and cold airs, and was about to try a touchstone, actually. Start there, m’boy. Touchstone might work.”

And he yawned himself right up to his bedroom.

A quiet afternoon at Wizards’ High.

Outside, the earliest of warm summertime breezes escorted fluffy, white clouds gently from the west, bringing with them the odors of fast-sprouting corn and wheat and, as well, the rich smells of moist earth in new-tilled gardens and plowed fields.

Wildflowers in the meadows added their sweet scents. Bees hummed about, busy and happy, gathering spring nectar and distributing grains of pollen everywhere they went.

Across Crooked Brook, Priceless braced a ladder on a gnarled limb of an ancient crabapple, climbed stiffly to the fourth rung, and began sawing carefully at a winter-killed branch.

A family of saucy blue jays watched, coaching his work with considerable chuckling. Priceless ignored them.

On the uplands to the north a shepherd whistled, signaling to his collie. The dog shot off at full tilt to turn a trio of silly yearling ewes away from a steep-sided gully. In their new freedom on the hillsides, the foolish sheep might misstep and plunge into the hidden depression.

The Valley collie, luxurious tan-and-white coat glistening in the sun, flew after the straying ewes, easily and yet gently turning them away from unseen danger. Rolling their eyes in mock terror, the ewes, sleek and clean from having just been shorn of their winter coats, dashed off in the opposite direction into a clump of fuzzy-shooted yew.

“Ewes in the yews,” barked the dog to her master.

She sat on her haunches, lolled her pink tongue, and panted with satisfaction. Another important job perfectly done!

Three small Trunketytown boys had found seats on the grassy north bank of Crooked Brook near Stone Bridge. They dropped baited fishlines, tied to springy sapling poles, into the water, speaking softly so as not to startle the trout just visible under the ripples.

Wily Mama Trout glanced up at the water-distorted images of the fisherboys, chuckled to herself and, flicking to her sprats with her tail, waved them off to quiet, cool safety under the opposite bank.

Master Brand Brightglade lay on his back on his cot, staring at the ceiling, half asleep. Across the room his sister Brenda breathed evenly and quietly. Their mother nodded over a book in a sunny window seat.

A few rooms away Flarman Flowerstalk slept soundly, snoring gently. Party and Pert, the High’s lady cats, lolled at the foot of his great bed. Their consort, Black Flame, was sitting in a rear window, tail curled about his feet, staring down intently into the courtyard below.

Marbleheart Sea Otter, bored and restless again despite an hour of complicated incantations and meticulous experiments, of holding this or that piece of gear for his Master’s investigations, emerged from the Workshop and slumped down in a patch of shade beside the kitchen well.

“I shouldn’t be bored,” he muttered to himself, half crossly. “I’m helping Douglas do fascinating, mysterious, unusual, unexpected, strange, dangerous, vital, wonderful, special, magical tasks!”

He sighed, blew moodily at a red ant wandering across the level slate near the well, making it roll over completely twice and scramble for safety under a loose paving stone.

“... and boring!” Marbleheart admitted wryly. “I’m ashamed of myself!”

An errant breeze stirred a dust devil just beyond his nose. Marbleheart sat up quickly to avoid a face full of fine silt.

The miniature whirlwind paused, coruscated brightly in the sunlight, and began to take on a shape.

“Harrumph!” coughed the Sea Otter in surprise. “What...?”

The glittering column of sparkling dust, brighter than the sun for a moment, suddenly solidified into the shape of a very small boy and settled to the ground.

“It worked!” cried the arrival. “Hello, Marbleheart! I wasn’t sure, but it did work, you see!”

Marbleheart tilted his head to the right for a better glimpse of the tiny youngster. Then he grinned and nodded with pleasure.

“Prince Flowerbender!” he exclaimed. “Welcome to Wizards’ High, Sir Prince!”

“Call me Ben,” requested the son of the beautiful Marget, Queen of Faerie, and her consort Prince Aedh. “I’ve run away from home!”

“Run... ?” choked the Otter, quite startled. “For goodness’s sake! Won’t your folks worry about you, flashing about in a whirlwind? Why... ?”

“No matter! It’s full time I undertook a Quest to Prove Myself Worthy. Come of Age!” said the small Princeling solemnly, seating himself on the old oaken bucket which someone had turned on its top to dry.

He was tall for a fairy, fully twelve inches, toe to topknot, with luxurious brownish-gold hair cut in a neat pageboy bob, and wide-set violet eyes... a handsome youth by anyone’s standards. He was still quite young as fairies go, for that merry folk are Near Immortals and live for centuries and centuries.

“Flarman Flowerstalk’s taking an afternoon nap, young sir,” Marbleheart told him, rather formally, for one met few Faerie royalty face to face in everyday life. “My Master, Douglas Brightglade, is within....” He nodded toward the open Workshop door.

“Well, I’d just as soon leave them be, for the while at least,” Prince Flowerbender... Ben, that is... laughed. “Actually, friend Sea Otter, I came seeking you.”

“Me?” Marbleheart was flattered in spite of himself. “Why me?”

“Something told me you might be... well, that you might welcome... er... that I might persuade you to go Questing with me. I need a companion, you see, and you...”

“Impossible!” cried Otter, pretending shock at the very idea. “I’ve much too much very important work to do! Douglas needs me! Myrn and the twins need me! The Ice King’s enchantments and everything! Why... !”

“Oh, pooh!” sighed the fairy in disappointment, drumming his heels against the side of the wooden bucket. “I hoped that you... and I heard what you just said to yourself. ‘Bored,’ you said. I heard you!”

Marbleheart drew himself up, gathering a suitably firm but polite and tactful refusal. But one that would, in effect, leave the door open for negotiation.

“ Tis bad luck to lie to a fairy! Especially a Prince of Faerie like me,” the tiny Prince warned.

“Well...” the Otter sighed after a further moment’s pause, “I admit to being... sort of... bored and suffering itchy footpads and...”

“Fine! I hereby appoint thee, Sir Marbleheart of Briny Deep, to be my boon companion in adventuring!”

The Prince leapt from the bucket bottom and landed lightly on the slate paving.

“So.. .let’s be off!” he said in a businesslike tone. “You’ll be my courser, too, as well as advisor and councilor and picnicking companion! You love to eat. I imagine you’re a pretty good campfìre cook, too?”

Before Marbleheart could protest or disagree or even twitch a whisker, the young Prince of Faerie bounded onto his back, wrapped legs firmly around his chest, and grasped a handful of the Otter’s glossy fur at the base of his neck.