It's the 21st, time for the Teen FIRST
blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 21st, we will
feature an author and his/her latest Teen fiction book's FIRST
and his/her book:
NavPress Publishing Group (July 15, 2008)
Barkley Briggs is an author, father of eight, and prone to twisting his
ankle playing basketball. He grew up reading J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S.
Lewis, Patricia McKillip, Guy Gavriel Kay, Stephen R. Donaldson, Ursila K.
Leguin, Susan Cooper, Madeline L'Engle, Terry Brooks, Andre Norton and
Lloyd Alexander (just to name a few)...and generally thinks most fantasy
fiction pales in comparison. (Yes, he dabbled in sci-fi, too. Most
notably Bradbury, Burroughs and Heinlein).
After losing his
wife of 16 years, Briggs decided to tell a tale his four sons could
relate to in their own journey through loss. Thus was born The Legends of
Karac Tor, a sweeping adventure of four brothers who, while struggling
to adjust to life without mom, become enmeshed in the crisis of another
world. Along the way they must find their courage, face their pain, and
never quit searching for home.
Briggs is remarried to a
lovely woman, who previously lost her husband. Together with her four
children, their hands are full.
Reading level: Young Adult
Publisher: NavPress Publishing Group (July 15, 2008)
Enter the Contest:
AND NOW...THE FIRST
shall open / Doors shall close
Forgotten curse / Blight the
Four names, one blood / Fall or stand
If lost the great one / Fallen low
Rises new / Ancient
Darkest path / River black
Blade which breaks /
If once and future / Lord of war,
Queen la Faye / Mighty sword,
Rises ‘gain / As warrior
Prepare / For day of reckoning
Aion’s breath / For music cursed
Sings making things / Made
Fate shall split / Road in twain
shall lose / One shall gain
If secret lore / Then be
Eight plus one / All unbound
Beast shall come /
Six must go
Doors shall open / Doors shall close
If buried deep / Hidden seen
Ancient tomb / Midst
Nine shall bow / Nine more rise
horns blow / Nine stars shine
If falling flame /
Ten thousand cries / For mercy heard
Then plagues, peril / Horns of dread
End of days / Land be red
When final days / Bring final woes
shall open / Doors shall close
Fate for one / For all
Come the Prince / Slay the beast
the water / Isgurd’s way
White horse / Top the waves
Aion, fierce! / Aion, brave!
Aion rides / To save the
— The Ravna’s Last Riddle
The day was gray and cold, mildly damp.
Perfect for magic. Strange clouds overhead teased the senses with a
fragrance of storm wind and lightning and the faint, clean smell of ozone.
Invisible energy sparkled like morning dew on blades of grass.
Standing alone in an empty field on the back end of their new
acreage, Hadyn Barlow only saw the clouds. By definition, you can't see
what's invisible, and as for smelling magic? Well, let's just say,
unlikely. Hadyn saw what was obvious for late November, rural Missouri:
leafless trees, dead grass, winter coming on strong. Most of all he saw
(and despised) the humongous briar patch in front of him, feeling anew
each and every blister and callous earned hacking through its
Making room for cattle next spring, or so he was told;
this, even though his dad had never owned a cow in his life. He was a
history teacher for crying out loud. A college professor. Hadyn's
shoulders slumped. It didn't matter. Everything was different now. Mr. Barlow
didn't let his boys curse, but low under his breath, Hadyn did,
mildly, just to prove the point. Life stunk. That was the brutal truth.
All true for the most part. Yet standing alone in the
field, bundled in flannel, something else prickled his skin—something
hidden in the rhythm of the day, at its core—and it wasn't just the chill
wind. He couldn't shake it. A sense of something. Out-of-placeness. Faced
with a friendless sophomore year, Hadyn knew that feeling all too
well. It attacked him every morning, right before school.
But this was something more, more than the usual nervousness and
name-calling stuff. His intuition was maddeningly vague. Hadyn sniffed the
air, eyeing the field. A fox scampered in the distance. Bobwhites
whistled softly. This had been his routine for weeks. Go to school, come home,
do chores. Today was no different. Except for the clouds.
He looked upwards, struck again by the strange hues. The colors
were still there; kinda creepy. They had lingered since the bus ride
home. He had seen it happen with his own eyes, though he didn’t think much
of it at the time. Right about the time school let out and the yellow
buses began winding home, the skies had opened and spilled. Low banks
of clouds came tumbling from the horizon like old woolen blankets. Like
that scene from Independence Day, when the alien ships first
appeared. Hues of purple, cobalt and charcoal smeared together. Not sky
blue. Not normal. Riding on the bus, face pressed against the cold
window, he didn’t know what to think. Only that it
looked…otherworldly. Like God had put Van Gogh in charge for the day.
Earlier, the day hadn’t felt weird. If
anything, he had felt relief. Two days until Friday...until Thanksgiving
Break. Only two days. He could make it. Standing by the mailbox with his
three brothers, waiting for the bus—he couldn’t wait to get his own
car—mild winds had stirred from the south, scampering through row after
row of brittle stalks in the neighbor’s cornfield across the road. He
heard them in the leafless oak and elm of his own yard, hissing with a
high, dry laughter. Warm winds, not cold. But about noon, the wind
shifted. Again, no big deal for Missouri, always caught in the middle between
the gulf streams of Mexico and Canada’s bitter cold. Temperamental
weather was normal in these parts.
Yet there it was. From
the winding ride home to this very moment, he couldn’t rid himself of
that dry-mouthed, queasy feeling. It was more than a shift in wind. It was
a shift in energy. Yes, the dark clouds and strange colors reminded
him of the thickening air before a big, cracking Midwestern storm, but
that wasn’t it. This was different.
Hadyn being Hadyn,
more than anything else, wanted to identify the moment. To name it.
Though he didn’t actually verbalize until age three, Hadyn was
born with a question mark wrinkled into his brows. Always searching,
always studying something. He couldn’t speak a word before then—refused
to, his dad always said—yet he knew the letters of the alphabet at a
precocious 12 months. When he finally did decide to talk, words gushed.
Full sentences. Big vocabulary. Not surprisingly, it was clear early on
that Hadyn was one of those types bent toward structure, patterns. He
hated incongruities, hated not knowing how to pinpoint the strange twist
in sky and mood right in the middle of an otherwise typically dreary
day. If it was just nasty weather, name it! What did it feel like?
Wet fish guts? Not quite. A full wet diaper? He remembered
those well enough from when the twins were little, but no. A three
day old slice of cheese?
Yes, that was it. Cold,
Velveeta, actually, he decided,
feeling a small measure of satisfaction. He fumbled for the zipper of his
coat as another icy breeze prickled his skin. Yep, another lousy
Velveeta day in the life of Hadyn Barlow.
of the roaring wood stove back home. Hot cocoa. Little consolation.
Until dusk, the oldest Barlow boy was stuck outside in a field with
hatchet and hedge shears. Stuck in a foul mood, stuck with a knot in his
throat. Just plain stuck. His task, his life, seemed endless and
“Just a little bit every day, however much you can manage
after school,” his father would remind him. “And don’t look so grumpy.
The days are shorter and shorter.”
But not any warmer.
“Grr!” Hadyn grumbled aloud, snapping at the cold in his
thoughts. He had chosen to “clear” the massive beast by carving tunnels
in it, not just hacking mindlessly. Probably not exactly what Dad had
in mind, but, well, to be honest, he didn’t really care. He was the one
stuck out here in the cold. He had already carved several tunnels, and
reentered the biggest one now, loping and clicking his shears at the
endless mess of thorns and branches, alternated by halfhearted swings of
the hatchet. The briar patch sprawled a couple hundred feet in every
direction, comprised of dense, overgrown nettles, blackberry bushes and
cottonweed. Untended for generations, the underbrush was so thick and
tall a person could easily get lost in it, especially toward the center,
where the land formed a shallow ravine that channeled wet weather rains
toward the pond on the lower field. Hadyn guessed the height at the
center point would be a good 12 feet or more. Enormous.
Really, it was a ridiculous task. Dad had to know that.
“Why not just burn the thing?” Hadyn had asked him. Burn it, then
brush-hog it. Throw a hand grenade in and run.
Mr. Barlow never
really answered, just said he wanted him to clear it by hand. After
the first day of grumbling and complaining (which proved none too popular
with his father), Hadyn started carving tunnels. His plan was to craft
a maze out of it, maybe create a place to escape...at least have some
fun before his dad made him level the whole thing
Fun? He caught himself, tasting the word like a spoonful of Nyquil.
Fun is soccer with the guys back home.
paused for a moment to wipe his brow. Home was no longer a city, not for
four months now. It was a cow pasture. Home had been
Independence, the suburb of Kansas City whose chief claim to fame (other than
being the birthplace of Harry S. Truman) was that Jesus would return there,
at least according to one of numerous Mormon splinter groups. For
Hadyn, it was all about skateboards and traffic and rows of houses. Noise.
Friends. Now, all that—everything familiar and good—was exactly three
hours and nineteen minutes straight across I-70 on the opposite end of
the state. Might as well have been on the opposite side of the planet.
Home now: three hundred acres in the middle of nowhere, away from all he
had ever known.
The town was called Newland. The name
seemed like a smack in the face.
New town. New school.
New faces. New troubles to deal with. New disappointments. His dad had
tried to make a big deal of the “new” thing. This would be a new
start for their family, a new chapter, blah, blah, blah. A
change, from sadness to hope, he said. Hadyn hated change.
He didn’t want new. He wanted it how it used to be.
How it used to be was happy. Normal. Right. Fair. How it used to be meant
they were a family of six, not five. Hadyn felt a familiar pang slice
across his chest. He would have traded all the unknown magic in the
world for five more minutes with—
It had been a year since she died. His mental images of her
remained vivid, of a beautiful woman with porcelain smooth skin, naturally
blonde, witty, vivacious. All four Barlow brothers shared her spunky
attitude, as well as an even mix of their parents’ coloring: mom’s
fairness, dad’s darker hair and complexion, the boys somewhere in between.
Hadyn, rapidly entering his adult body, was tall for his age, muscular,
lean, possessed of a sometimes uncomfortably aristocratic air. Some days
his eyes were smoky jade, others, iron gray. But he had Anna’s
His parents had been saving money for several years,
studying the land all around Newland. Hadyn could not fathom why. What
was so special about Podunk, America? But he knew his mom had been
happy to think about life in the country. Once upon a time, that was
enough. But now? Without her, what was the point? Why couldn’t they have
just stayed in Independence? Moving wasn’t going to bring her back. Didn’t
Dad know that?
For the second time that afternoon, a
tidal wave of loneliness nearly drowned him, left him in a goo of
self-pity, the sort of sticky feeling he didn’t want anyone to spoil by
cheering him up. He took one more angry swing. Done or not, he was done for
the day. Work could wait. Dad would just have to deal with it. Already,
he had built a pretty impressive maze, though. Six unconnected tunnels
Like I give a rip about these stupid
tunnels, he thought as he crawled from the center toward the mouth of
the largest, longest shaft. Or this stupid land, or town, or patch
of—his knee jammed against a thorn protruding from the
He clenched his jaw, flashing
through dozens of choice words, using none. Honoring his dad. Pain
streamed as tears down his cheek, and it wasn’t just the thorn in his knee.
It was life. Crawling forty more feet, he emerged to face the slowly
westering sun melting down the sky. The otherworldly colors he had seen
earlier were gone. Only the cold remained. And now, a bleeding, sore
Behind him, he heard heard rustling grass and the high
pitched, lilting notes of his brother’s tin whistle. He wiped his eyes
on his sleeve and grimaced. Ewan, like his mother, was musical. Even
more like her, he was sentimental. He often carried the whistle she had
brought him as a gift from Ireland. It would, no doubt, have seemed
humorous to some, to see him wandering the field, playing a spritely
little tune. It only annoyed Hadyn. Thankfully, as Ewan drew closer, the
song trailed away.
grunted. “What do you want?”
Ewan shrugged, tucking the flute
into his back pocket. He wore blue jeans, and a blue embroidered ball
cap, initialed ‘ECB’.
“Wondered how things were
“Dad sent you to help, didn’t he?”
frowned. “Yep. Got done with my chores sooner than planned.”
“Major bummer,” Ewan emphasized. “Looks
like you’re near the center, though. That’s pretty cool.”
Hadyn didn’t reply. With only two years between them, the two brothers
had always been the closest of friends, the fiercest competitors, the
quickest of combatants. They understood each other’s rhythms like no one
else in the family. Whereas Hadyn was studied, wise and cautious, Ewan
was quick, fearless and comfortable with long odds. No one could make
Ewan laugh—gasping-for-air, fall-on-the-ground-cackling—like Hadyn.
Likewise, Ewan could frustrate Hadyn to no end, or, with the sheer power
of silliness, cheer him up when a sullen moment was about to strike. Not
much wanting to be rescued from his mood at the moment, however, Hadyn
let his silent response wrap around him like a barrier against further
penetration. He didn’t notice that Ewan’s gaze had drifted from the
briar patch to the low sky and paused there.
“What do you
make of that?” he dimly heard his brother say, distracted, curious.
Through the haze of his own thoughts, Hadyn followed Ewan’s line of sight,
his pointing finger, straight into the sunset. At first, he saw
nothing. Then it was obvious. Several large, black birds were swooping low on
the horizon. Even at a distance, it appeared they were headed straight
for the two boys, unveering over the slope of the ground, drawing
swiftly nearer, a hundred yards or so away. From the sound of their raucous
cry, they were like ravens, only larger, throatier, and if possible,
“Cawl-cawl,” they cried.
counted four total, wings outstretched, unflapping, like stealth bombers
in formation. There was something organized and determined about their
flight. It lacked animal randomness.
“Do they look
strange to you?” Ewan asked, cocking his head.
pretended to be uninterested. It didn’t last. “What is that in their claws?
What’re they carrying?”
“Yeah, I see it. Sticks?”
“Too thick. It would be too heavy. Wouldn’t it?”
“Hard to tell at this angle. Are they heading for us?” Ewan held up his
hand to shield his eyes. “Man, they’re fast. What are they?”
“I don’t know, but they’re still—”
“Look out!” Ewan
dove to the side, tripping Hadyn in the process. Both boys hit the
ground on a roll, turning just in time to see the birds swoop suddenly
upward, arcing high into the sky, turn, then turn again. The lead bird,
larger than the others, croaked loudly; the other three responded. Over
and over, the same phrase, like a demand: “Cawl!”
four were pitch black, having none of the deep blue sheen of a crow’s
feathers, or so it seemed in the failing light. They flew as black slashes
in the sky, all wing and beak, not elegant in the air, but fast.
Disappearing completely against the lightless eastern expanse, they
reappeared again as silhouettes skimming the western horizon. At first it seemed
to Hadyn the birds would fly away, as they swept up and out in a wide
arc. But the curve of their path soon came full circle. They were
attempting another pass. Both boys nervously scooted further outside the
angle of the birds’ approach.
“What in the world?” Hadyn
said, hatchet raised and ready. It was clearer now in silhouette form.
Each bird carried the form of a long, thick tube in their talons.
The brothers hunched on the ground, motionless, muscles
tensed, watching as the birds continued their second approach. Hadyn held his
breath. The birds didn’t veer, nor aim again for the boys. Instead,
they formed a precise, single-file line, a black arrow shooting toward
the main tunnel of the thicket. With a final loud croak—“Cawl!”—and not a
single flap of wing, all four swooped straight into the hole, one
after the other. As they did, each released the object clutched in its
talons. The tubes clattered together with a light, tinny sound at the mouth
of the tunnel, literally at the boys’ feet. The birds were already
beyond sight. Their throaty noise echoed for a moment, evaporating into an
obvious silence marked only by the faint breeze of wings passing over
Hadyn and Ewan stared first at the tunnel,
then at the objects. Then at each other. Then back at the tunnel. In
the same instant, each of them leaped toward what the birds had left
behind: four thin, black metallic tubes, trimmed with milky white bands at
top and bottom.
Hadyn slowly stretched out his hand
and picked up a tube. He rolled it between his fingers. It was about the
length of Ewan’s Irish whistle, but thicker, maybe the circumference of
a quarter. Not heavy at all. In the middle of each tube, finely
wrought in scripted gold filigree, the letter ‘A’ appeared.
Ewan lightly shook his tube, listening for clues to its contents. It
“They didn’t even have us sign for
delivery,” he deadpanned. “What do we do with these? They look important.”
“How should I know?” Hadyn said contemptuously, flicking his
eyes cautiously toward the tunnel. “Where’d they even go? I mean,
really. Are they just hiding back there until we leave?”
“Who cares!” Ewan said. His disgust was obvious. Hadyn’s was being an
analyst again. “This isn’t hard, Hadyn. Some big birds dive bombed us. They
dropped these cool tubes. It makes no sense. It’s awesome. Totally,
factor 10 cool.”
Hadyn mulled it over. “Maybe they’re some
sort of carrier pigeon, but...do carrier pigeons even fly anymore?
“Only on Gilligan’s Island. TV Land. Listen to me, you’re
“Have you got a better idea?” Hadyn
Ewan waited, considered. Hadyn knew he hated being
put on the spot like that, in the inferior position. Now it was Ewan’s
turn to think.
“Okay, maybe you’re right. Maybe those
birds really are carriers of some sort?—” Ewan held up a tube,
“—obviously they are. What if they need to carry these things farther still?
What if they’re just resting? What if they are trained to do this when
they need to rest? Drop their packages, find a hole, rest, then grab their
stuff and carry on?”
“So...are you suggesting we flush
them out? Cause there is no way I’m going to crawl back there. They can
get out later on their own.”
Ewan didn’t reply. Instead
he dug into his pocket, pulled out a small flashlight, and scuttled
into the tunnel the birds had entered. “Wait here,” he ordered.
“Hey, watch it back there!” Hadyn cautioned. Secretly, he wanted
him to go, knew how to punch his brother’s buttons to make it happen.
“Those claws looked sharp!”
While he waited for Ewan to
return, Hadyn examined the tubes further. He shook one tube, flicked
it, smelled another; picked up and twirled the third and fourth tubes.
His efforts yielded the same muffled sensation of something barely
shifting inside. Maybe a rolled up piece of paper? If the ravens (or crows,
or whatever they were) were carriers of some sort, a written message did
make the most sense. But who in the world still sent paper
messages...by bird? By raven, no less. Hello, email anyone?
Presently, Ewan reappeared, breathing hard.
“They’re gone,” he
said simply. “Must have flown out one of the other tunnels.”
Hadyn creased his brow. “No way. None of the tunnels connect
“They don’t?” Ewan’s eyes widened as it dawned on him
that he hadn’t seen any other tunnels. “No...they don’t.”
The two boys stared at one another in silence. Evening enfolded them;
soon, darkness. “They must have crawled through the branches,” Hadyn
surmised, but he hardly sounded convinced. “Are you sure you didn’t see
Ewan rolled his eyes. “Hello? Big, black flappy
things. Yes, I’m sure.” He grabbed one of the tubes, shook it again.
“This band looks like ivory, but it’s hard to tell in this light.”
“Reminds me of one of mom’s necklaces.”
grabbed the end and twisted. “Only one way to find out.”
This time Hadyn didn’t argue or analyze. Curiosity had gotten the best of
him. The lid twisted off with surprising ease, followed by a thin hiss
of sealed air. Ewan wrinkled his face. “Smells old. Yuck. Turn on your
flashlight. Mine is getting weak.”
He tapped the open
end against the palm of his left hand. The coiled edge of a piece of
thick, cream-colored parchment slipped out. Hadyn leaned in closer. Ewan
gingerly teased the scroll out. It had a heavy grain of woven cotton,
with rough edges trimmed in gold foil. Both boys let out a long slow
breath. Neither the silver moon hung off the treeline, nor the winking
stars, provided light enough to clearly see. Hadyn turned on his flashlight
as his brother unrolled the parchment. The paper was larger than
normal, rich to the touch. Pinning both ends to the ground, both boys read
at once the simple message beautifully scripted on the inside in golden
ink: “You have been chosen for a life of great purpose. Adventure
awaits you in the Hidden Lands.”
whistled softly. “Looks like something from King Arthur. What in the world
are the Hidden Lands?”
Hadyn, who actually loved the lore
of King Arthur—and Ewan knew it—was already reaching for another tube.
Ewan followed his lead. Within twenty seconds, all four tubes were
opened, and four identical parchments lay spread on the ground in the dark,
illuminated only by flashlights. Golden ink glimmered, subtly shifting
hues. Each bore the exact same message.
been chosen for a life of great purpose. Adventure awaits you in the
Hadyn grabbed the four sheets, quickly
rolled them up, and inserted each back into its thin metal sleeve. “We need
to head home before Dad gets worried,” he said. “You take two and I’ll
take two. Stick them under your shirt and act cool. I have no idea
what these are. But for now, they’re our little secret.”
puffed up for a moment, the older brother. Still out of sorts with the
“And none of your games, either, Ewan. I mean it. I’m
not in the mood.”