Talking animals, Wizards, marauding Knights, adventure and magic...
In the aftermath of a battle against The Darkness brought on by the wicked Ice King, Wizards’ High receives a mysterious visitor—a Knight who, after being hit by lightning, cannot remember his name, and neither can his trusty War-horse.
It’s up to Flarman Flowerstalk the Pyromancer, Myrn Manstar Brightglade the Lady Aquamancer, and her husband Douglas Brightglade the younger Master Pyromancer of Wizards’ High, to help the lost Knight.
In their quest to help the Knight, the Wizards travel to the distant land of Sulleńa where they uncover a surprising discovery—the answer to an old, unsolved mystery.
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.
The Reluctant Knight is a charming adventure filled with delightful characters. I really enjoyed all the imaginative touches which the author has woven into this tale, and I really wish Blue Teakettle would come visit me. When her wizards go wandering, searching for clues concerning the identity of a lost knight and his faithful steed, Blue Teakettle sends meals magically from the kitchen at Wizard’s High no matter where they are and no matter how many friends they pick up along the way. She may only be a supporting character, but what a wonderful character she is, helpful and capable, with the occasional flashes of temper, disappointed not to go along on the adventure, but fully capable of keeping Wizard’s High perking along even in the absence of her wizards.
The other characters in the novel, whether major or minor, are equally well defined and most enjoyable. The settings are as unique as the characters themselves and one of my favorite scenes was sailing in a boat across the desert, with waves of sand tossing the boat just as if it were on a watery ocean.
The plot is intricate and riveting. Flarman, along with Myrn, Douglas, the Bronze Owl and an otter named Marbleheart, get caught up in several mysteries at once. The unraveling of them will finally reveal the answers they need. There are twists and turns at every corner, but Flarman will not be unraveled. The story is well-paced, fast and exciting.
This is the sixth novel in the Mancer Series, but it also works just fine as a stand alone. Personally, I would recommend the entire series to fantasy lovers in search of extraordinary magic.Cyclamen -- Long and Short Reviews
In High Places
The twins, eight-year-old Brenda and Brand, scrambled up the last few yards to the flat top of the tor known as Wizards’ High and flung themselves wearily down in a patch of rough rye-grass.
“Oh! Ouch!” cried Brenda. “Thistles!”
“This climb was supposed to toughen us up,” her brother complained. “If we’d flown like I wanted...”
“You’d have landed amid the thistles, either way,” said Marbleheart Sea Otter, already sprawled in what shade the dry grass could offer. A nimble beast, adept at climbing and swimming, he’d arrived at the top several minutes before the Brightglade children.
“When it comes to picking a place to put your tenderer parts,” he said, “eyes have it all over wings.”
Brand made a wry face, then grinned in apology and carefully selected a thistle-free place on which to settle.
Brenda, on the other hand, went to the edge of the High and gazed out over broad, green Valley of Dukedom, hands shading her eyes from the midday sun.
“I can see as far as Middle Ridge!” she called to her companions. “All shivery, however. Why’s that, Marbleheart?”
“Heat!” The Otter yawned. “Hot air rising from the warm Valley bottom, I s’pose. Makes the air all wavy and flitting about, like currents in a river.”
“I’ve seen them,” the boy said. “So those are heat waves, are they?”
“Well, we don’t actually see the heat.” Marbleheart sat up, the better to lecture. “Rather, we see what the heat does to the clear air. Or is it the light passing through the heated air? Have to ask Flarman or your Papa. They’re the experts on heat and light.”
“There’s...who is it? Oh! Must be Grampa Precious, coming up River Road from Trunkety,” called Brenda, pointing to the southwest. “Yes, and Gramma Lilac’s waiting for him at their gate.”
Marbleheart sighed. “So much for scientific lessons! What’s to the north, while you’re looking? You’ve covered east, south and west.”
Brenda turned to look that way and exclaimed in surprise. Her brother rose from the rock and went to stand beside her.
“Oh, I say! Now that’s something you don’t see every day,” he exclaimed.
“What are you two looking at?” the Otter grumbled, for he had at last found a comfortable place to tuck his long, sleek tail.
“Nonsense! Impossible,” Marbleheart sniffed. “Night comes from the east and only in the late evening, most days. It’s barely lunchtime!”
“No, no, old Stoney-head! Look for yourself,” laughed the daughter of the Wizards Brightglade.
The Sea Otter grumbled again but arose and joined his charges on the edge of the steep north-facing drop-off.
“Well, I’ll be pickled!” he snorted. “Pickled and cold-packed!”
“A Knight, as I said,” insisted Brand. “Carries a shield and a lance…”
“I see! I see! On a very tired-looking old grey horse. Must be from Capital. One of Thornwood’s officers? I don’t recognize him.”
“Then why does he come from that direction?” Brand wondered. “Capital is to the northwest!”
Marbleheart watched the slow progress of the distant rider. A Sea Otter’s eyes were very sharp. Man and mount were heavily armored. The rider wore a long broadsword in a scabbard at his side, held a long lance in his left hand and had a round buckler lashed to his saddle.
Atop his helmet was a straggly plume of grey feathers.
“Hot inside all that ironwork,” the Otter grunted. “Well, if he’s coming here...”
“Where else would he be going?” Brenda snorted.
Brand squinted and wished he remembered the Far Sighted Spell his father had been trying to teach him. Far Sight was something of a bother to learn but handy to have, once mastered.
“He’s got a sword,” the boy told the others. “And a dagger in a sheath! Who is he? He’s coming from Parch and nobody lives there. Dry as dust, Bronze Owl says!”
The Otter watched the progress of the figure for a moment.
“At the rate he’s riding it’ll be suppertime before he gets here. Time for us to slip and slide back down, dear pupils! Be careful, now, and watch how I do it. Come along!”
“Going down,” he added by way of encouragement, “is much easier than climbing up.”
“Wish we could tuck and roll all the way down!” Brenda giggled nervously.
“Not the best way to get down in one piece!” her brother observed. “Come along, Brenda. Follow the Otter!”
Myrn Manstar Brightglade, Lady Aquamancer, student of Augurian, the Water Adept of Water, daughter of a Flowring Island pearl fisherman, ran an expert eye over the luncheon spread on the long table in the High’s kitchen and, nodding approval to Blue Teakettle, stepped outside to clang Bell twelve times, announcing the noon meal was ready.
“Come to lunch! Come to lunch! Come to...” sang Bell loud enough to be heard as far away as the river on one side and the hilltop on the other.
Myrn paused to watch the Ladies of the Byre and their gangly new calves swishing their tails in the shade of the brookside willows and to speak to the doves in their cot. Like the chickens and Chanticleer, the High’s rooster, they’d already dined and were muttering sleepily to each other in the midday warmth.
Myrn shaded her eyes from the bright August sun and gazed up the south face of the tall tor from which the cottage took its name, Wizards’ High. After a moment, she spotted her children and their tutor working their wary way slowly down the middle slope.
She projected her voice to her children. “Lunch’s ready.”
She almost added “Be careful!” but decided not to say it.
Myrn hefted the prospector’s hammer with a broken-off handle...once the tool of the Dwarf Prince Bryarmote of Dwelmland, a famous digger and delver...and struck the large bronze dinner bell three more ringing blows.
“Lunch! Lunchtime!” squealed young Woosney Thatchmouse in the thickly thatched roof of Wizards’ High Cottage, just over the kitchen larder. A bit warm in midsummer, Mama Thatchmouse always said, but quite cozy in winter...and so very convenient!
“Wash up, children,” she called. “Something fascinating is about to happen! We don’t want to miss any of it!”
“What? What? What, Mama?” her four mouselings clamored, lining up to splash water on their faces and paws and behind their pink ears from a tin measuring cup Blue had given them for just that purpose.
“No telling,” Papa said calmly. “You should know by now that, first, your Mama’s a terrible tease; and, two, there’s always something exciting happening here at Wizards’ High!”
Mama made a fine show of inspecting their ears and toes, secretly admitting it was a waste of time. Her three daughters and one son were clean and neat as pins.
Most times, anyway.
Pyromancer Flarman Flowerstalk...it’d been years since anybody’d called him ‘Firemaster,’ his old wartime moniker...appeared in the door of the Workshop under the High itself, blinking in the sun and rubbing certain places grown weary from sitting long morning hours on a tall stool at his workbench.
As he left the Workshop, he was trailed by three round puffs of greenish smoke.
“Go back and wait for me in the Workshop,” Flarman ordered them. “Oh, very well! If you wish, come along to the kitchen. I’m sure Blue Teakettle won’t object. Just don’t get in her way!”
He crossed the sun-drenched courtyard followed closely by the three puffs of smoke, which had turned, he noted, a bright pink in their delight at the invitation to lunch.
Black Flame, a male cat, Flarman’s Familiar, met them at the kitchen door, mewing a soft question.
“No, I don’t feel anything...other than just plain hungry,” the Wizard told him. “What should I feel?”
Black Flame shrugged wordlessly and turned away. Flarman paused in the middle of the kitchen to sample the atmosphere more closely.
“But I do smell...what? Barbecued ribs and tart catsup! Cornbread and creamery butter? And a chocolate layer cake with snowdrift frosting. My favorites!”
Blue Teakettle, from atop the wide Range, dipped her spout happily and jiggled her lid at the Dinner Napkins who were just then trooping from their drawer in the linen chest.
“Ribs’ll make you down and dirty, this meal, girls,” she called after them as they passed on their way to table. “Wizards eat barbecued spareribs with their fingers! Messy, but truly scrumptious, they tell me.”
Sugar Caster, everybody’s favorite tableware, escorted plump Sterling Ewer to her place in the center of the vast table. Carrying ice-cold water from the spring house, Ewer was already heavily beaded with sweat. The fresh Napkins giggled when they saw her, but Caster shooed them to their places and soothed Ewer’s pretended hurt feelings.
“Nobody’s more appreciated on a hot day than you, my dear,” he said.
She clinked her ice cubes in polite thanks and took her place, staring haughtily at the serried ranks of Napery, Silverware, Crystal, Cups and Saucers, Plates and heaped-full Serving Platters. The younger members of the table troop, especially the giddy, girlish Napkins, finally settled down, trying hard not to catch the giggles all over again...and mostly failing.
Douglas Brightglade (younger Master Pyromancer of Wizards’ High) arrived in a flurry of dust and a whirl of smoke. He’d been inspecting some of the upper meadows where the hot August sun had reduced the grass to a dangerously dry state.
“The least spark,” Douglas said without preamble, “and whole acres will explode into wild fire!”
It was the continuation of a conversation they’d begun hours before. Flarman nodded, but refused to look worried.
“Burning is not always a bad thing, as you know,” he cautioned. “Have a seat, m’boy. Ribs and cornbread! And lots of root beer from the icebox!”
“Controlled burning, perhaps. We must keep an eye on it, Magister. No, I must wash up, first. It’s been a hot and smoky morning!”
Just as he dumped a second half-bucket of steaming water over his head and shoulders at the curb of the courtyard well, he heard a triple thump! and his Familiar and his children arrived from on High, laughing and calling to him.
“Papa!” cried Brenda, giving her father a hug, ignoring his general dampness. “Papa! Guess what we’ve just seen.”
“Right! Make him guess,” agreed Brand, brushing rye straws from his trousers. “And no fair using Sighting or Spelling to find the answer!”
Douglas tousled his son’s blond hair and shook his own fair head.
“Wash up, first! You impose unfair restrictions! I’m a Wizard and a Wizard should be allowed some magical leeway when it comes to guessing games!”
“No, try it without spellings, first!” the little boy insisted, catching up the old oak bucket and beginning to damp down his face, arms, hands and hair.
Douglas glanced inquiringly at his Familiar, but the Sea Otter put his front paws over his snout and shook his head. “Well, you’ve been atop the High, I know, for I saw you climbing there, a while back.”
“Yes! Yes! And...?”
“Admiring the view, I suppose. Not much else to do up there, except take nice naps in the sun-warm rye.”
“The view!” laughed his equally blonde and sun-tanned daughter. “What’d we see?”
“Ah, in addition to sheep in the meadows and cows in the corn?...Priceless, I suppose, across the river...”
“So far, so good!” agreed Brand solemnly. “But not close, yet!”
Douglas looked properly puzzled and Marbleheart exploded into a chuckle, no longer able to be silent.
They stepped into the kitchen. The young father shook his head slowly.
“No, without Wizardry I can’t imagine or guess what you’ve seen. Unless it’s Thornwood coming for a visit? Or Oval, swimming up Crooked Brook? Augurian would come by some magicking, I suppose, although he’s been known to hike, sometimes.”
“No, not Uncle Augurian!” Brand laughed in delight. “And not anyone we know, I’d think. A stranger!”
Douglas gave his pretty goodwife a kiss and a hug (and a raised eyebrow, asking, in that silent way of fathers and mothers, if she knew the answer to the riddle). Myrn shook her head slightly.
“Well, sit down, everyone!” called Flarman. “Riddles on an empty stomach? Personally, I guess better when I’ve had at least three spicy ribs and a golden slab of hot cornbread.”
“But you must try harder, Papa,” insisted Brenda, sliding into her chair.
“Only if I can have some leeway with magicks!”
“Well, perhaps a smidgen or so,” Brand reluctantly agreed. “But no more!”
To postpone his final attempt, Douglas polled the table, asking if anyone else knew what the twins and Marbleheart had seen.
The Sea Otter, who enjoyed childhood games as much as any ten-year-old, simply shook his handsome head and gestured for Pitcher to fill his mug with cold milk.
“Familiars should have no secrets from their Masters!” Douglas scolded him in mock severity.
“Don’t ask me to spoil the game,” Marbleheart sniffed. “In fact, I venture you’ll never guess in a hundred years!”
Black Flame and his wives, Pert and Party, shook their heads when asked. Blue Teakettle gurgled a watery chuckle. Bronze Owl merely shook his head in a complete circle.
Silverware rattled and clinked and Pots and Pans on the stovetop rolled from side-to-side in glee. They were always on the side of the twins in their games.
“Don’t ask me,” shrugged Myrn. “I’ve no idea, at all!”
“Nor me,” the elder Pyromancer added.
“Well, then, I must attempt a minor Seeing Spell, I s’pose.” Douglas sighed. “Would Aunt Lithold know, if I were to ask her, do you think?”
“I don’t think so,” Marbleheart answered for the twins who were busy nibbling their first ribs too hungrily to answer. “Nor probably Augurian. Maybe Thornwood. Maybe?”
“Oh, Otter!” said Brand in dismay. “That’s too much of a hint!”
“The poor man deserves a chance,” Marbleheart defended himself. “Pass the sliced cucumbers, please, somebody. I’ve said too much, as usual!”
Douglas thoughtfully chewed the meat from a particularly succulent rib.
“Papa’s Spelling in his head! I can tell!” whispered his daughter.
Douglas glanced at his Magister.
“You should take a look at this, too, Flarman. I can’t tell you much but this much I can see. There’s a fully armed man in dented and rusty armor, riding an ancient war-horse down from the northeast. From the direction of Parch. I don’t see any device or insignia. He’s plumed, so I guess he’s a belted Knight.”
“I see him, now,” agreed Flarman, popping a fiery red radish into this mouth as an aid to farseeing. “Nothing on his shield? Looks vaguely familiar. I’ve seen him, or someone very like him, somewhere...”
The family ate or listened silently while the three Wizards (Myrn joining in) considered the approaching stranger.
“We’re wasting our time if he’s indeed headed this way,” said Bronze Owl at last. “We’ve but to wait until he gets here, and ask him about himself.”
“It’s more fun this way,” Flarman objected. “This Knight has an air of...of something. Of mystery? Nobility? Well, as you say, Owl, time soon enough will tell. Give me a few moments after lunch, Douglas, to discuss the burnings. The shepherds consider us the experts on flame, smoke, embers, and ashes.”
“Time lends you the superior experience,” Douglas admitted. “We’ll look at the problem together. Of course, we’ll have to warn Frenstil and the people of Valley. Maybe Thornwood Duke, too. And the field and meadow creatures!”
The remainder of the lunch they discussed the potential wild fires in the dry upper meadows, pro and con.