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2015 Boys’ Life Reading Contest Winners


With thousands of fantastic entries in the Boys’ Life 2015 “Say Yes to Reading!” contest, choosing the winners was tough. Here are the top three essays from each age group:



First Place: Gary Leschinsky, Mahwah, New Jersey

16043635I absolutely love reading, but it didn’t always come easy to me. The books that helped me the most were the Fly Guy books by author Tedd Arnold. When I started reading them, I couldn’t stop. I wanted to read more and more. I just absolutely loved the funny Fly Guy and his best friend Buzz. They help me learn new things. I especially learned a lot about sharks, space, dinosaurs, firefighters and fire safety.

The best book I read this year is Fly Guy Presents Sharks. Sharks a re amazing creatures. They have super senses. A shark can hear its prey moving underwater. Their hearing is good, too. They can even hear a fish muscle moving as it swims! Sharks are also fast swimmers. They can swim at an incredible speed of 25 miles per hour. To compare, the fastest speed a human swimmer is 5.3 miles per hour. The fact that surprised me the most is that sharks don’t sleep!

Fly Guy Presents Sharks taught me a lot of new and interesting facts about sharks, but it also taught me about friendship and loyalty. This book illustrated very well with lots of cool pictures. It’s written in a way that is easy to read and understand. This book is a great gift for an child. I can highly recommend it. Most importantly, this book helped me discover the joy of reading. Thanks, Fly Guy!




First place: Ethan Davidson, Channahon, Illinois,

15766776Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtlift is a book about friendship and righting a wrong. To do this, Rump goes on an adventure quest.

I love adventures because of the action. The idea of going places that I have never been excites me into wanting to go and do new things, too.

Part of Rump’s quest was to right a wrong. This is where Opal comes into the story. She was trapped in a tower because the king expected her to spin straw into gold. This, however, was not something she could do. It was Rump who could spin the straw into gold. Rump was willing to help Opal by spinning the straw into gold for her. Since the king’s favorite thing is gold, he married Opal. When the king found out the truth about Opal, he imprisoned her and sent soldiers to look for Rump. During this part of the story many funny things take place.

I learned not to let people take the blame or credit for what you can do. Whatever your talent is, it is yours and you should use it. No one else can be you.

Also, I learned friendship is worth more than gold — literally. You cannot buy friendship, you earn it. You do this through kindness, helpfulness, caring and willingness to do things that other may not be willing to do.

This is a great adventure book with much humor. The story is fun and magical with great life lessons.




First Place: Holden Elardi-White, Murphysboro, Illinois

the_giver_1.jpg.CROP.promovar-medium2I choose The Giver by Lois Lory, a 1994 Newbery Medal winner, as my favorite book of the year. It is about Jonas, who lives in a society that had eliminated all pain and strife by transferring everyone’s memories to one person: the Receiver of Memory. Jonas’ community lacks color, memory, climate, love, war, terrain and pain in order to preserve structure and a true sense of equality. Eventually, Jonas is chosen to become the new Receiver of Memory.

The dystopian society that Jonas lives in has its pros and cons. The idea of no war, hate, strife, and trouble makes it sound like the community of sameness is the ideal place to live. But, losing your personal individuality, spouses not choosing one another, family units having to apply for children (only one boy and one girl), and not being able to choose our own future makes the utopia not right.

I would prefer a place in which I make my own decisions, have the opportunity to learn new skills, have fun adventures, explore the natural world, meet challenges with good judgement, succeed and become a leader. I want to be able to create my own dreams and goals, not live in the place of “Sameness” where a “Community of Elders” decide the future, but instead live in the community of “Elsewhere,” where you can make your own choices.

Jonas escapes “Sameness” to save Gabriel, a small child who had trouble sleeping and was going to be “released” from the perfect world. By leaving “Sameness” all of the memories that Jonas holds are transmitted back to the community forcing them to experience feeling and emotions and to remember their past … the real world.



Winners of the Minecraft: Blockopedia Contest


Are you a Minecraft fanatic? Minecraft: Blockopedia by Alex Wiltshire is the most definitive reference for all things Minecraft, providing detailed entries for blocks, plants, ores and everything else you need to know about the game. 41xxsVo+l3L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

The world of Minecraft is made entirely of blocks. Some help you build, some help you stay alive. Every block you discover opens up new possibilities and exciting adventures. The Minecraft: Blockopedia is fully illustrated and packed with essential information about each block and its uses. From basic plants and ores to enchantment tables and End stone, you’ll find every single block in here. Blockopedia contains everything you need to know to make the most of the blocks that make up your world — it’s a comprehensive reference tool for beginners and more experienced players alike. This hexagonal hardback book is presented in a stylish gift box.

Scholastic, $49.99 hardcover. All ages.

Congratulations to winners Charlie and Henry!


Read An Excerpt of Michael P. Spradlin’s ‘Into the Killing Seas’

New York Times best-selling author Michael P. Spradlin is back with epic new adventure novel. Into the Killing Seas is based on the true events of the 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis, tells a harrowing story of World War II.

Here’s the official synopsis:

seas_450x2-300x450In 1945, in the waning days of World War II, two boys stow away aboard the U.S.S. Indianapolis as it sails from Guam to the Philippines. Separated from their parents at the start of the war, the boys hope to reunite with their family. But their hopes are dashed when a Japanese submarine sinks the ship in the middle of ocean.

Patrick and Teddy, with the help of their friend—an injured Marine named Benny—are not too worried at first. They expect to be rescued soon. They can handle the thirst and the dehydration. Even the occasional madness that seems to possess some of the ship’s surviving crew.

But as they float along in the water, they discover that the real danger lies beneath. And it has teeth.



Enjoy an Excerpt from Into the Killing Seas

[dropcap]I[dropcap]’m not sure how long I lay asleep half in and half out of the water. It could have been hours or minutes. When I came to, I was still clinging to the pallet and Teddy was whimpering softly, something he often did in his fitful sleep. The night sky was as dark as it had been when we abandoned ship, but it was growing lighter far off on the horizon. The moon cracked its way through the clouds and I could see Benny floating along, his burned hands twisted in between the wooden slats of our makeshift life raft. He groaned and muttered soft curses under his breath.

The sea had calmed some and the waves were not quite as high as they’d been before. Still, even the smaller ones tossed us about. I wished I could find a way to get some height and have a look around, but I was still so exhausted, my head and shoulders remained planted on the wood.

As I wiped the sleep from my eyes, I realized that we weren’t as alone at sea as I’d thought. Around me, I voices all yelling at once. From the sound of it, a whole bunch of the crew had managed to abandon ship. But from their cries for help it was also clear a great many of them were injured.

“Where’s the doc! I got a wounded man here!” I heard a husky voice call.

The doctor.

Every ship had at least one doctor plus several medical corpsman. If I could find one of them, maybe they could help Benny. As if he knew I was thinking about him, he moaned, lifted his head, and looked around.

“Patrick? You still there, pipsqueak?”

“I’m right here Benny,” I said.

“Good. We being rescued yet?”

“Nah, not yet. The sun will be up soon and I hear a lot of guys yelling for help, but I don’t see them. Or any help for us,” I said.

“Yeah. With these waves, I’ll bet our guys are scattered everywhere. Hard to keep track in the dark—” Benny stopped talking and gave out a groan. It sounded like he was in agony.

“What’s wrong Benny?” I asked.

“Nothing sport. Just a rough start to the mornin’ is all. I don’t suspect this salt water is doing these burns I got any good.”

I didn’t know what to say. If we were in the jungle, I could have found lots of things to help Benny. Fresh water, plants that would help his burns heal, even mud packed on the wounds would stop infection and ease the pain. The Chamorro taught me a lot about survival and living off the land.

In the jungle. Not the middle of the ocean.

But maybe one of Benny’s shipmates could help him. Their voices sounded like they were coming from all directions.

“Where’s the doctor?” the husky voice shouted again.

“I think that’s Colosi from Chicago,” Benny whispered. “He’s a Marine.”
“No one’s seen him,” another sailor, who Benny identified as Herman Wahlquist from Minnesota, answered back. “But I know he made it off the ship! Doc! Doc! You out there?”

I heard another voice answer but it was too far away to understand.

“That’s him! That’s Doc!” Colosi said. “We gotta swim toward him, I gotta wounded man here!”

“Help! Over here!” I shouted.

“Who’s goes there?” A voice came back.

“We’re hurt, there’s an injured Marine here!” I said.

There was no response for a moment.

“Listen up, pipsqueak,” Benny rasped. “I know Colosi. I don’t like him. He’s trouble. I think you oughta stay away from him until sunup. Find somebody else out there, capiche?”

Benny groaned and though it was dark and nearly impossible to see, I had the sense he had passed out again. At any rate, he was silent. I thought about what he said. That he didn’t like Sergeant Stenkevitz back on the ship. And he seemed like a jerk. Now he was telling me to stay away from this guy named Colosi. Maybe I should listen to him. What if they tried to take the pallet away from us? What would we do then?

More men shouted out to each other from somewhere. The noise and size of the waves made it difficult to determine where their voices were coming from. It still wasn’t light enough yet to see much. But I had an idea.


He groaned incoherently.

“Benny!” I shouted.

“What!” he said, I could tell I startled him awake.

“Can you swim? Paddle, I mean? Help me push the pallet through the water?”

“I don’t know, Buddy,” he said. “I’m plumb wore out. If I could rest a while, I might be able to help. Why?”

“Because I just heard more of the crew shouting over there about the doctor. He got off the ship with the rest of the survivors. If we can find him, maybe he can treat your burns.”

“That’s a real good idea, pipsqueak. You’re thinkin’ like a Marine. Makin’ an assessment of your tactical situation. Choosin’ your course of action. But here’s the thing. Your troops is done in, Patty boy. Teddy is too wrung out to help. And as much as it pains Benjamin Franklin Poindexter, Private First Class, United States Marine Corps, to say it, I ain’t fit for duty right now. Besides I’ll bet that doc’s waitin’ room is full up right now. Lotta wounded he’s gotta tend too. Assumin’ it was even him them swabby’s heard. We should just wait here. Someone will be along to rescue us soon,” he said.

Something was different in Benny. Never once could I remember him saying not to do a thing, or that we weren’t going to find a way to accomplish what we set out to do. Benny, he was always upbeat and positive. Except for swabbies and that Sergeant Stenkevitz we’d run into when he was hiding us on the ship. he never had anything bad to say about anything except maybe Hank Greenberg and swabby’s. Now he was making up a reason, an excuse not to try something. I figured it was my turn to get him going.
“You always told me Marines never give up,” I said.

“Hey now! Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.” Benny was almost whispering, his voice was so weak. “Don’t you go spoutin’ off about quittin’. I ain’t sayin’ that. We ain’t given up. Not one bit. But even a squared away Marine has gotta rest and regroup before the next fight. Best thing we can do is hunker down and wait till daylight. By then the rescue ships and planes will be here and we’ll get plucked right out of this giant bathtub like a rubber duck. I think we just need to rest until then, all right Patty boy?”

“I guess,” I said. But I wasn’t convinced Benny was right. I was thinking about the chaos on board the ship when the torpedoes hit. How fast the Indianapolis went down. I remembered some of the crew saying nobody knew for sure if the distress call went out. How the communication system got all blown up with the first hit. Nobody even knew when to abandon ship because the speakers didn’t work. I wasn’t sure Benny was thinking clearly. Maybe nobody was coming for us. At least not for a while.

I rested for a few minutes. The pallet was doing an admirable job of keeping me afloat. I had no idea which direction was which, but there was light starting to break off the horizon to my left, so I knew that must be east. I heard some guys shouting again, not Colosi or Wahlquist, some voices I didn’t recognize coming from behind me, and it reminded me again about the doctor.

If Benny and Teddy couldn’t help, it didn’t matter. I could. I worked around to Teddy’s side of the pallet and started kicking with my legs, pushing it slowly toward the sound of the voices. I wasn’t making much progress. But it was something.

I was getting closer. The voices were getting louder, clearer. And suddenly I could make out what the men were shouting. Dozens of them. They weren’t calling for the doctor anymore. They were screaming for their lives.

“No! Dear God! No!” I heard a single voice cry out. “Help! Someone please help me!” More voices joined in. There was a high-pitched, almost squeaky voice from somebody who sounded young and terrified. A gruff, hoarse cry—probably somebody from New York because he sounded like Benny—oniy with a deeper tone. Then a southern accent shouted out in horror, joining an overwhelming chorus of screams. They sounded as if they were being tortured. Then the youngest sounding voice spelled out the reason for their alarm and I instantly grew terrified myself.

“Sharks!” he yelled. “Everywhere! Look out—” His words died in his throat and he made the most horrifying, anguished sound I’d ever heard. On Guam, when someone was shot, death usually came quickly. A bullet ripped into someone’s chest, and that was it for them. Or sometimes in the jungle we had to leave our wounded behind because when you’re being hunted by the Japs, silence is life and noise is death. And the wounded tend to make noise. I tried not to think about the ones we’d abandoned. The Japs always caught up with them quickly. Usually you’d hear a single gunshot. And then their cries would stop.

Now it was sharks. There were sharks in the water. And from the sound of it, they were all around those men. I stopped paddling and floated there, waiting for someone, anyone to tell me what to do. Benny was too far gone at the moment to realize what was happening.

And then, below the surface of the water, something hard and scaly brushed against my leg.

The sharks had found us.

Check Out the 2015 Newbery Medal Books

pgraphic1-545Looking for a new book to read? Try one of the 2015 Newbery honorees. The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. The association also chooses two finalists.

Here are this year’s honorees:

2015 Medal Winner

020115 ALA MidwinterThe Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Twelve-year-old narrator Josh Bell uses the rhythms of a poetry jam to emulate the “moving & grooving/popping and rocking” of life on the basketball court with his twin brother, J.B. This powerful novel in verse paints an authentic portrait of a closely-knit family on the brink of crisis. Swish! This book is nothing but net!


2015 Honor Books

020115 ALA MidwinterEl Deafo by Cece Bell | Illustrated by Cece Bell
In this insightful and humorous graphic novel memoir, Cece Bell portrays growing up with a giant hearing aid strapped to her chest. Themes of navigating a new school, sleepovers, finding a true friend and a first crush make this book universal in appeal. Bell shows that our differences are gifts that “can be turned into something amazing.”

020115 ALA MidwinterBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical memoir chronicles the incidents and emotions she experienced as an African-American girl growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. Precise language magnifies moments and connects them to the larger historical narrative. Her elegant and evocative standalone poems weave a story about her development from a struggling reader and dreamer into a confident young woman and writer.




Coming Soon: An All New Dr. Seuss Book

what-pet-should-I-get-coverLegendary author Dr. Seuss has an all-new book called What Pet Should I Get?, hitting shelves July 28.

Although Seuss died in 1991 at the age of 87, the manuscript for What Pet Should I Get? was only recently discovered, and features the same characters from the classic One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (1960).

Sure, it may be a bit too “young” for you, but it could be a fun trip down memory lane. After all, I’ll bet that most of you started off reading Dr. Seuss books. I know I did.

Learn more here.

All About Seuss!

Theodor Seuss Geisel (March 2, 1904 – September 24, 1991) was one of the most iconic writers and illustrators of all time. He published 46 bestselling books, including Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, The LoraxFox in SocksHorton Hears a Who! and How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Boys’ Life Fiction: ‘A House Divided’


Fiction by Michael P. Spradlin | Illustrations by Greg Newbold

“What’s your name, boy?” the Union soldier barked, his bayonet just inches from Johnny McLean’s nose.

Johnny gulped, finding it hard to breathe.

It was nearly dark, and he couldn’t imagine how he’d been spotted. He’d made his way carefully through the woods, planning to sneak close to the Union camp to get a glimpse of General Grant.

But the Union lookouts had spied him as he scurried across the road. Now he was in real trouble.

“I said, what’s your name?” the soldier prodded him again, the bayonet inching closer.

“J … Joh … Johnny. Johnny McLean,” he stammered.

“Well, what do you know? Looks like we caught us an actual Johnny Reb,” the soldier smirked. Johnny waited for the Yank to lower the bayonet, but the sharp metal blade never wavered.

“What you doin’ out here, Johnny Reb?” the soldier demanded. “You spyin’?”

“I … spy? Uh, no, sir. I ain’t a spy. I live in Appomattox Court House, the town over yonder.… You can see my house. It —”

“I think you’re lyin’. I think you come out here to see what you can and are gonna run right back and tell General Robert E. Lee, the commanding general of the entire Confederate Army, what it is we’re up to. That’s what I think.”

Johnny cursed his luck. He thought keeping to the trail through the woods would get him close to seeing General Grant.

He’d heard General Ulysses S. Grant was a monster. That he wouldn’t stop until he’d destroyed the Confederate Army to the last man. Some said Grant even had horns growing out of the side of his head like the devil.

Johnny didn’t know about that. All he knew is he wanted to see this man with his own eyes.

He’d snuck away after supper. Johnny didn’t mention his plans to his parents, who would have forbidden it. He was only 11 years old. All around them the two armies were fighting each other, and it was dangerous. As the Union Army had tightened a circle around their town, his parents had grown more anxious.

It was understandable. When the war started they had lived in Manassas, up in northern Virginia, and the very first fight of the war, the Battle of Bull Run, took place practically outside their front door. General P.G.T. Beauregard, who commanded the Confederate forces then, used their home as his headquarters.

At one point, an artillery shell fell down their chimney and landed in their fireplace. Luckily, it was a dud.

Johnny was only 7 then, but he remembered it well. The battle was horrible. Though the Confederate Army won a great victory, Johnny’s father had seen enough. He packed them up and moved them away from Manassas to the town of Appomattox Court House in the center of Virginia. He thought his family would be safer there.

For a while, they were, but now the war had found them again, thanks to the monster General Grant, who had the Confederates on the run. General Lee and his men had once seemed invincible. Now General Grant and the Union Army just kept winning.


Two other soldiers stood behind the man holding the bayonet on Johnny. He looked at them, his eyes pleading. But they apparently had no opinion on his fate.

“Maybe I’ll just run you through and —”

“At ease, sergeant,” a commanding voice cut through the night.

Having been focused on the bayonet, Johnny had failed to notice a small group of men riding up the road on horseback. Their faces were illuminated in the rising moonlight, and Johnny could see from the insignia on their shoulders that they were officers.

The soldier immediately dropped the bayonet and came to attention, as did his two companions.

“General Chamberlain, sir!” the sergeant said, saluting.

“What are you doing here, sergeant?” the general asked.

“I believe I’ve caught a rebel spy, sir!” the sergeant barked in reply.

The general considered Johnny from his horse.

“Really?” the general said. “They seem to be growing them awfully young these days.”

“He was sneaking about, sir, looked suspicious and —”

“What’s your name, son?” General Chamberlain asked Johnny.

“Johnny McLean, sir.” Now Johnny was even more nervous. He wondered if this General Chamberlain was the General Chamberlain, the Union hero of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Johnny had read about him in the papers. He had been a college professor in Maine before the war. As the war dragged on, he’d been promoted all the way to major general.

“Are you a spy, Mr. Johnny McLean?” the general asked.

“No, sir. I was … I just wanted to get a glimpse of General Grant, is all.”

“Let me guess,” General Chamberlain said. “You want to know if he has horns growing out of his head like the devil?”

Johnny didn’t say anything, but the look on his face caused General Chamberlain to laugh.

“We’re all aware of the rumors, son. Well, now. What to do? You were sneaking about. I can’t very well let you go. Not before tomorrow, at least.”

Johnny squirmed. “Excuse me, sir, but what is happening tomorrow?”

The general looked at Johnny. “General Lee has sent a message to General Grant asking for terms. They’re to meet tomorrow. If General Lee accepts, the war is over.”

The pickets reacted with whoops and hollers. Johnny remained quiet, unsure of what he was supposed to do.

“How do you feel about that, Johnny McLean?” the general asked him.

“How … sir? I … guess … I … I’m glad it’s over, sir,” Johnny stammered.

“Really? You’re a Virginian. … Why are you glad?” the general seemed genuinely curious.

Johnny shrugged. “I think it’s like my pa says. There’s been enough killing. On both sides. Maybe it’s time to start talking. Sir.”

The general shifted on his horse.

“I think you might be right, young man. I’m sorry General Grant is so busy. I have a feeling he’d enjoy meeting you. I can also assure you the rumors you have heard about him aren’t true. He’s a good man. Honest and fair. I think you’ll soon see that.” General Chamberlain reined his horse around and shouted. “Lieutenant!”

A young officer in his party spurred his mount forward.

“Yes, sir?” he said.

“Escort Mr. McLean back to his home,” he said. He turned to face the sergeant. “Sergeant, from now on, try to refrain from pointing your bayonet at civilians. That is all.”

General Chamberlain spurred his horse and rode off into the night.


As things worked out, the next day Johnny McLean did get to see General Grant close up. His pa informed him that General Lee would be coming to sign the surrender in their parlor. Right in Johnny’s house!

General Lee arrived long before General Grant and waited patiently for his enemy. He was dressed in an immaculate dress uniform and was courteous and kind to Johnny’s family. He politely replied with a “No, thank you, ma’am,” when Johnny’s mother asked him if he’d like anything to drink.

When General Grant finally showed up, he was wearing an old muddy uniform.


He doesn’t look like a monster, Johnny thought, just a tired man. He strained to listen from the kitchen, but the two men spoke too quietly to hear much. Johnny thought back to the day four years ago when the war started right outside their home in Manassas.

Johnny’s father was always talking about one of President Lincoln’s famous speeches in which he’d said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Lincoln believed the nation couldn’t survive with one side fighting against the other. Now Johnny looked at his own parlor, with General Lee on one side and General Grant on the other.

The house was still divided, but it was coming back together.

After a lengthy discussion, General Grant wrote out the terms of surrender. General Lee agreed and signed the document.

The war was effectively over.


Three days later, the Confederate Army marched into Appomattox Court House to formally surrender.

From the front of his house, Johnny spotted General Chamberlain watching as the defeated army marched by. With a wink at Johnny, he called out an order. His battalion of Union soldiers came to attention and saluted the tired, ragged Confederate soldiers as they stacked their muskets.

As the worn-out men staggered by, Johnny imagined that each step they took was a step toward a new day. Johnny returned General Chamberlain’s salute. The general smiled.

They’re small steps, Johnny thought. But they are steps.




New York Times best-selling author and Eagle Scout Michael P. Spradlin has written many books for young readers, including the international best-selling The Youngest Templar series.

seas_450x2-300x450Click here to win a copy of his upcoming book Into the Killing Seas, based on the true events of the 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis, tells a harrowing story of World War II.

‘Mockingbird’s’ Harper Lee To Publish New Book


Have you read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee? If you haven’t, you probably will soon enough. It’s a staple on countless reading lists across country. And with good reason. To Kill a Mockingbird is among the most popular novels of the 20th century, and an unparalleled American classic.

But it’s also a bit of a mystery. Despite it’s massive success, To Kill a Mockingbird is Pulitzer Prize-winning author Harper Lee’s only book.

Until now. Lee recently announced that her second novel, Go Set a Watchman, will hit shelves July 14. It will act as sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, featuring many of the same classic characters — including a grown up Scout.

Whether you’re a fan of the book or not, this is terrific news for reading enthusiasts everywhere. For more than 50 years, To Kill a Mockingbird has served as a starting point into the world of literature for millions of young readers. Sure, it’s not for everyone, but its significance in developing passionate readers is undeniable. And now, people who first fell in love with books while reading To Kill a Mockingbird, get the unique opportunity to explore the extended adventures of Scout, one of the most heroic, dynamic and interesting characters in the history of literature.

What can you expect from Go Set a Watchman? Here’s a quick synopsis from Lee:

Scout (Jean Louise Finch) has returned to Maycomb from New York to visit her father, Atticus. She is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand her father’s attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood.

Boys’ Life Fiction: ‘The Ballad of Runny Nose’


Written by Mark Henry | Illustrations by AG Ford

Not counting the normal, Oklahoma stuff from his dad’s side of the family, 15-year-old Jimmy Dugan had 11 names. Most of them were pretty weird, but the name his Eskimo grandfather gave him looked as if it might even get him killed.

A gray cloud of ice-fog surrounded his face with every panting breath. Deep, bone-numbing cold seeped through the thick fur of Jimmy’s parka. His feet, layered in heavy wool socks and sealskin mukluks, felt like frozen blocks of meat.

His body was one big ice-cream headache.

Under low clouds and a weak arctic sun, seven huskies shivered in harness, bushy tails curled around their feet. Eyes, rimmed in tiny ice crystals, squinted against the bitter air. The thermometer hanging on the handle of Jimmy’s dogsled read 37 below.

Spit snapped before it hit the ground in such conditions. Trees exploded as sap turned to ice. The dogs’ feet cracked and bled. Jimmy had heard stories of men who’d cut off their own frostbitten fingers just to survive.

He stopped the team on a frozen pond in the middle of an endless white plain. There was no wind, and the moisture from his breath and the panting dogs pooled into a foggy soup at his feet.

Jimmy kicked at the swirling cloud with his mukluk, then slumped against the sled, clenching his teeth in a shiver that shook his entire body. A dozen other figures, some on snow machines, some with dogs, moved like gray dots up and down the river — all searching, just like him.


It was March, the season Yup’ik Eskimo call “When-Seals-Are-Born.” Back in Tulsa, Jimmy’s friends would be mowing their lawns. But in Alaska, on the ice-covered tundra of the Yukon Delta, winter wouldn’t release her frozen grip until May. He wished his dad’s deployment in Iraq would end so his mother would take them back home — back to civilization.

He was only a kid from Oklahoma, no matter what his grandfather said.

In Yup’ik tradition, almost every-one gave him a different name. To his grandmother he was Kakeggluk, translated as “Runny Nose,” because he was allergic to just about every-thing on the planet. Auntie Vera called him “Dear Little Husband,” because when Jimmy was a baby, he’d supposedly looked like his big-eared great uncle, who’d died shortly before he was born.

All the names were dorky, but the one his grandfather gave him caused the most trouble: Nukalpiaq. It sounded like he was clearing his throat when he said it. Nukalpiaq — “Great Hunter.”

What a joke. Jimmy had never hunted anything but a few ducks —and he wasn’t very successful at that.

Then two boys went missing while they were out checking blackfish traps set below the river ice. With most of the men from the village off hunting seals, the boys’ mother had come to beg Nukalpiaq for help.

“Surely,” she’d explained through her tears, “the Great Hunter’s grand-father had seen something special in him. …” Her boys were only 6 and 8 years old. Surely someone with such a name could help her find her little ones before they froze to death.

Jimmy had been up and down the river six times already without finding a single track. He buried his face in his mittens, wracking his brain for what his grandfather would do.

“Tie my teachings in your boot-laces so you don’t lose ’em,” the old man always said when he finished a lesson. He’d passed away in the darkest time of winter — the season Yup’ik call “Worst-of-the-Moon.”

“Grandpa,” Jimmy muttered, standing up with a groan. “I should’ve tied your words on better. Those boys are out here somewhere —maybe dead already. … I’m freezing and I don’t know what to do. What were you thinking? People expect too much from a boy named Great Hunter.”

“If you don’t know which way to go,” Jimmy’s grandfather had taught him, “say a little prayer, then trust your dogs. If they turn, don’t stop ’em. They’ll take you where you need to go. Tie these words in your bootlaces. …”

The huskies tugged at their harnesses, eager to get moving in the cold. Chinook, the lead dog, threw back his great, gray head and gave a mournful howl.

Jimmy’s grandfather once said that long ago, animals and man had lived together and spoken the same language. Then a great divide opened up, separating man from the others. As the canyon grew wider, dog
jumped across at the last possible instant, choosing to stay with his friend, man. Even now, dog’s sorrow-ful howl was his way of talking to his wild brothers across that great divide.

“If you don’t know which way to go,” Jimmy’s grandfather had taught him, “say a little prayer, then trust your dogs. If they turn, don’t stop ’em. They’ll take you where you need to go. Tie these words in your bootlaces. …”

“OK, Chinook,” Jimmy hollered. “You asked for it, boy. Trust, it is. Hike! Hike!” (People called “mush” to their dogs only in the movies.)
The huskies nearly tugged the sled out of Jimmy’s hands. Subzero air seared his lungs as he trotted to jump aboard the runners. There was no sound but the jingle of the dogs’ traces and the hiss of the sled over ice.

“The great Runny Nose,” Jimmy snorted under the huge wolverine ruff of his parka hood. “Off to save the day.”

The dogs suddenly veered right, toward the middle of a smaller river that fed into the mighty Yukon. Chinook stopped in his tracks, looking back over broad shoulders. He sniffed the air. Frosty steam from his panting drifted in the still air.

The sun, lower now, peeked between gray clouds and the frozen expanse of the Bering Sea. In the long shadows ahead of the dogs, Jimmy saw two impressions in the snow. Faint tracks followed the trail of a snowshoe hare, barely visible in the rock-hard ridges of white. Ten yards farther, they vanished at the edge of a gaping hole he’d missed on his earlier searches.

His blood turned to ice. The river was deep here and never froze all the way to the bottom. If the boys had fallen through —

“Chinook! Haw! Haw!” Jimmy cried.

The powerful lead dog obeyed, dragging his teammates and the sled to the left. He stopped dead-even with the treacherous break.

Chinook whined at the jagged hole. Slowly, the dog tugged the sled toward it. The ice hummed and popped like gnashing teeth beneath their combined weight.

“Chinook, no!” Jimmy stomped on the brake. “Stupid dog, you’ll kill us all —”

“Helloooo!” A muffled cry rose from the ice.

Jimmy threw back his heavy fur hood despite the bitter cold. “Hello?”

“M-m-ma-mamaaaa!” a second voice sobbed.

Quickly, Jimmy unsnapped the gang line and anchored the dogs to the ice with the claw brake. Then, flat on his belly in the basket of the empty sled, he inched forward. The long runners distributed his weight, and he moved to the edge of the hole.

Two boys gazed up from the blue-gray shadows three feet below. An early freeze had flash-frozen the river. The water level beneath the ice had dropped before it had frozen solid again, leaving a cave-like tunnel between two sheets of ice. The boys had found a weak spot and fallen through the top layer.

Frozen tears streaked dirty faces, framed by fur parka hoods. Pudgy cheeks almost closed their eyes as they grinned up at Jimmy.

“Runny Nose!” The 6-year-old’s mouth gaped in surprise. “You have come to save us?”

“Your mother’s worried about you.” Jimmy peered down between the wooden slats of his sled. He was suddenly much warmer than before. “You were smart to stay where you broke through.”

“Grandfather says to stay put if we are lost,” the older boy said. “We tied his words in our bootlaces so we wouldn’t forget them.”

Jimmy shot a quick glance at his lead dog, which gave him a wide-mouthed yawn. “We all have some things tied to our bootlaces today. …”

The boys shivered badly as Jimmy hauled them up from beneath the ice. He gave them hot chocolate from his thermos and some oatmeal cookies he had kept under his parka so they wouldn’t freeze solid.

As Jimmy stepped on the sled runners, the younger boy turned from his nest of blankets, his lip covered in a frothy, hot-chocolate mustache. “Can we go home, Runny Nose?”

His older brother gave him a stiff elbow to the ribs. “You call him Nukalpiaq. Runny Nose isn’t polite.”

“Either one.” Jimmy smiled, urging the dogs toward the village. “Either one suits me fine.”

Read An Exclusive Excerpt From ‘Scorpion Mountain’


Are you a Brotherband Chronicles fanatic? You’re in luck. We’ve got an exclusive excerpt from Scorpion Mountain, the fifth book in John Flanagan’s Brotherband Chronicles series.

9780399163562_large_Scorpion_MountainScorpion Mountain follows Hal, his Brotherband crew, and the Ranger Gilan after freeing the twelve Araluens sold into slavery. Returning to Araluen, Gilan is given a new mission by King Duncan: protect his daughter’s life. Princess Cassandra has survived one attempt on her life already, and now whispers of a second attempt have reached the kingdom. A deadly sect known as the Scorpion Cult is thought to be behind the assassination threat.

Not waiting to see if the knife will strike true, the Brotherband again team up with Gilan to track down the would-be killers. In the fifth book in the Brotherband Chronicles series, old friends reemerge to take on new enemies as the worlds of Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband join forces in battle!

Scroll down to read the first two chapters of Scorpion Mountain.

Chapter One


[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hoa there, Tom! Steady on, fellow!”

Tom was a plow horse, well past middle age and resigned, like most of his placid breed, to the constant task of plodding up and down, hauling a plow that carved consecutive furrows in the rich earth of Halder farm. He wasn’t accustomed to being stopped in mid-furrow and he turned his shaggy head to look at his owner, Devon Halder.

Devon, like his horse, was well past middle age. And the smock that he was wearing was liberally daubed with patches of drying mud. Later that night, when he was asked in the local tavern what led him to stop and and turn around, he couldn’t really recall. Perhaps he had heard the slight sounds of creaking leather and rope, or the rustle of a sail in the brisk wind.

The days when Skandians used to raid the coastal and river villages of Araluen were well in the past now. And besides, on sec­ond glance, this was no wolfship.

Whatever it was, it was enough for Devon to halt Tom and turn to face the river behind him. When he did, the sight that met his eyes sent a sudden jolt of panic through him.

Barely forty meters away, gliding smoothly up the river, was a ship.

His first thought was that she was a wolfship, and Devon was old enough to remember when the sight of a Skandian wolfship on the river was a prelude to a sudden, savage attack. He tensed his muscles to run and spread the alarm in the nearby village. But he paused at the last second.

The days when Skandians used to raid the coastal and river villages of Araluen were well in the past now. And besides, on sec­ond glance, this was no wolfship.

She was similar in style and shape, sure enough. She was slim waisted and had a look of speed about her. She didn’t have the broad, capacious lines of a cargo hull. But there was no large square sail such as a wolfship would use. Instead, this ship was rigged with a triangular sail that was mounted fore and aft along the line of the ship, supported by a long, gracefully curving spar that swept up high above the hull.

She was smaller than a wolfship. Also, at her bow post, there was no carved wolf ’s head, with raised hackles and snarling teeth. Instead, there was a carving in the shape of a bird’s head. And there was a motif of a seabird in flight on the sail—a graceful bird with wings spread wide. A heron, Devon realized.

But the four circular wood-and-metal-reinforced shields ar­rayed down the starboard bulwark were unmistakably Skandian in design, although he noticed that a fifth shield, set level with the helmsman’s position, was shaped like a triangle.

The crew, those he could see, were dressed in Skandian fash­ion—with leather and sheepskin vests and leggings held secure by crisscross bindings. Yet he saw none of the horned helmets for which the Skandian sea wolves were well known, the sight of which would strike fear into any honest farmer’s heart. Instead, several of them wore dark woolen watch caps, rolled down to cover their ears against the cold.

Devon returned the wave cautiously— his suspicions were still raised.

As he watched, the figure at the helm raised a hand in greeting. Devon shaded his eyes to look more closely at the helmsman. He appeared to be quite young, and relatively slim for a Skandian. The person beside him was more like a typical sea wolf, Devon thought. He was bulky, with wild gray hair blowing in the wind. As Devon watched, he realized that the second man had a wooden hook in place of his right hand.

Definitely a sea wolf type, he thought. But then the man made a similar gesture of greeting. Devon returned the wave cautiously— his suspicions were still raised. Small as she might be, this was definitely a cruiser, a raiding ship. She was fast, lean hulled and potentially dangerous. And, as the shields arrayed down her bul­wark attested, her crew were fighting men. He watched her closely as she sailed past, gradually pulling out into the center of the river to round the approaching bend. The helmsman and his companion lowered their hands and seemed to lose interest in the elderly farmer and his plow horse.

“That’ll give him something to talk about in the tavern tonight,” Thorn said with a grin. “Probably the most exciting thing that’s happened to him since his plow got stuck on a tree root five days ago.”

Hal raised an eyebrow. “Us? Exciting?”

Thorn nodded, scratching his rump with the blunt end of his wooden hook.

“He was a graybeard. He’d remember the times when the sight of a Skandian ship meant a raid. I’m surprised he didn’t go pelting off to raise the alarm when he saw us.” Thorn had no idea how close the farmer had come to doing just that.

As they rounded the bend and the farmer and his horse disap­peared from sight, Kloof planted her forepaws onto the starboard bulwark and gave out a single bark. Then, content that she had asserted her superiority over all things Araluen, she dropped back to the deck, slid her front feet and flumped down onto the planks. For a few seconds, she watched Hal out of one eye, then she sighed and settled back to sleep.

Hal cast his gaze over the tilled fields and green forests that lined the banks of the river. It was attractive country, he thought.

“Did you ever raid in Araluen, Thorn?” he asked.

The old sea wolf shook his head. “Erak preferred to raid the Iberian coast, and sometimes Gallica or Sonderland. And now that I’ve seen Gilan in action with that bow of his, I’m glad he did. Maybe Erak knew something. Imagine facing half a dozen archers with Gilan’s skill and speed.”

“Facing one would be bad enough,” Hal agreed.

Stig was sitting on a coil of rope several meters away, idly put­ting an edge on his already razor-sharp saxe knife as he listened to their conversation.

“D’you think Gilan will be at Castle Araluen yet?” he asked.

Originally, they had planned to leave Cresthaven Bay at the same time as the Ranger, who was riding overland back to the capital. But they’d had a long, hard voyage south to Socorro and Hal wanted the Heron in tip-top shape for her first appearance at Castle Araluen. There were some sections of running rigging that had frayed and needed splicing and repairing, and there was a large, splintered gash in one of the planks on the waterline, where they had nearly run aground pursuing Tursgud’s renegade ship Nightwolf through the shoals. It took half a day to plane that smooth and repaint the timber so there was no sign of the damage.

In addition, Edvin wanted to replenish their stores and fresh food and suggested that they should do it at Cresthaven, where the village was contracted to supply their needs as part of the duty ship agreement.

“No point spending our money elsewhere when they’ll provide it for nothing here,” Edvin had said, and Hal agreed.

As a result, they sailed out of Cresthaven and headed north to the river mouth some two days after Gilan had ridden off, waving farewell as he topped the rise above the bay where they were moored.

“Do you consider yourself a roughneck?” Thorn asked.

“He should be,” Hal replied to Stig’s question. “It’s a little over a day’s ride and I’m told those Ranger horses cover ground at a prodigious rate.”

“He can have the welcome committee ready for us then,” Thorn added. “Maybe this king of theirs will come down to the jetty to greet us.”

Hal smiled sidelong at his old friend. “From what I’ve heard of kings, they don’t stand around on windy jetties waiting for rough­neck sailors to arrive.”

“Do you consider yourself a roughneck?” Thorn asked. “I’ve always thought of you as quite sophisticated.”

“I may be. But you’re roughneck enough for all of us,” Hal told him and Thorn grinned contentedly.

“Yes. I’m glad to say I am.”

Farther forward, in the waist of the ship and with no responsi­bilities to attend to during this current long reach of the river, the twins were bickering, as they were wont to do. They had been silent for some time, much to the crew’s relief, but that was a situation too good to last.

“You know that brown-eyed girl who was sitting on your lap at the welcome-home feast?” Ulf began.

Wulf eyed him suspiciously, before replying. “Yes. What about her?”

Ulf paused, smiling quietly to himself, preparing to throw out his verbal challenge. “Well, she fancied me,” he said.

Wulf looked at him, eyebrows raised. “She fancied you?”

Ulf nodded emphatically. “So you noticed too?”

Wulf snorted in annoyance. “I wasn’t agreeing,” he said. “I was querying you. That was why I raised my voice at the end of the sentence. It signified that I was saying, What do you mean, she fancied you?

“I mean she found me attractive—actually, very attractive. It was obvious, after all.”

Wulf paused for several seconds. “If it was so obvious that she fancied you—that she found you attractive—why was she sitting on my lap?”

Of course, what made this discussion puzzling for the rest of the crew was that Ulf and Wulf were identical in every respect.

Ulf waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “That’s what makes it so obvious. She wanted to make me jealous, so she played up to you. She was playing hard to get.”

“Well, she played it very well. You certainly didn’t get her,” his brother told him, with some heat in his voice. He had noticed Ulf admiring the girl early in the evening and had swooped, success­fully, before his brother could act.

Lydia, who was leaning on the bulwark several meters away, groaned audibly as the exchange continued.

Ulf laughed. “I could have if I wanted to. She was overwhelmed by my devilish good looks.”

“Devilish good looks? You’re as ugly as a mange-ridden mon­key,” Wulf told him. But his brother was already shaking his head.

“It’s odd that someone as unattractive as yourself would say that,” he replied. “That was why she chose to sit with you when she planned to make me jealous. She chose the most unattractive per­son she could see.”

“Then obviously,” Wulf retorted, “she couldn’t see you.”

Of course, what made this discussion puzzling for the rest of the crew was that Ulf and Wulf were identical in every respect. For one of them to call the other ugly was for him to call himself ugly as well. But they never seemed to grasp that fact.

As they continued speaking, their voices, at first lowered, rose in volume so that the entire crew could listen to their meaningless drivel. Hal decided that enough was enough.

“Ingvar?” he called.

The massively built boy was sitting forward of the mast, lean­ing back against it, his long legs splayed out on the deck before him. He turned and peered back toward the steering position.

“Yes, Hal?”

“Would you say that sailing down a river counts the same as being at sea?”

The rules of the ship were that if the twins carried on one of their idiotic arguments at sea, Ingvar was within his rights to throw one of them overboard. In fact, some of the crew felt, he was obliged to throw one overboard. Usually, a reference to this fact was enough to stop the mindless discussions they enjoyed so much.

Ingvar shrugged. “Eh? Oh, I don’t know. I suppose so.”

His voice was distracted and flat. Lydia, a few meters away, noticed this and turned to look at him, frowning. Hal mirrored the expression. Usually Ingvar was good tempered and cheerful. Now he sounded listless and bored. Hal wondered if something was on the big boy’s mind.

Ulf and Wulf fell instantly silent. These days, they were never quite sure how much rope Hal would give them before he ordered the huge Ingvar to toss one or the other, or even both, overboard. Discretion was the better part of valor in such a case.

Hal noted that they had stopped arguing, and he nodded in Ingvar’s direction. But the young giant wasn’t looking his way any­more. He had resumed his seat against the mast, and Hal heard him give vent to a loud sigh. Hal looked at Stig, who was also watching Ingvar curiously.

“Have you noticed Ingvar’s been acting strangely for the past few days?” Hal asked his first mate.

Stig nodded, a slightly worried look on his features. “Some­thing definitely seems to be on his mind. I’ve been wondering . . .”

Whatever it was that he had been wondering was forgotten as the ship swept past a high bluff. In the near distance, set among tailored and carefully tended parkland, stood the majestic, beauti­ful Castle Araluen, a mass of graceful spires, soaring turrets, flying buttresses and fluttering pennants.

“Gorlog’s earwax!” Jesper said. “Will you take a look at that!”


Chapter Two

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he castle stood on rising ground half a kilometer from the river. It was surrounded by an area of open ground. In the intervening space was a narrow belt of forest—naturally occurring trees of a darker, wilder green, rather than the carefully planted and positioned ones that surrounded the castle.

The castle itself glittered golden in the sunlight. It was huge, but its size did nothing to diminish the grace and beauty of the building. Quite simply, it was like nothing the crew of the Heron had ever seen. They stood transfixed, staring at the castle with something approaching awe.

“It’s amazing,” Stefan said quietly, and the others murmured agreement—all except Ingvar.

“What is it? What are you all talking about?” he asked, the irritation obvious in his tone. Lydia turned to him and placed her hand on his arm in a gesture of apology.

“It’s Castle Araluen,” she explained. “It’s absolutely beautiful. It’s huge, but so graceful, and it gleams in the sun and there are all these colorful flags and pennants and—”

This was so unlike Ingvar—gentle, good-natured, helpful Ingvar.

She stepped back in surprise as Ingvar shook her hand from his arm and scowled out in the direction of the castle. To him, it was nothing but a blur. In fact, he couldn’t even be sure that the blur he was he was looking at was the castle.

“All right. You’ve made your point,” he said brusquely. “It’s beautiful. I suppose I should be mightily impressed.”

For a moment, Lydia was too shocked to reply. This was so unlike Ingvar—gentle, good-natured, helpful Ingvar. She looked around uncertainly, to see if the others in the crew agreed with her. She caught Hal’s eye and the skirl shook his head in a warning gesture. He thought he was beginning to understand the reason for Ingvar’s recent depression.

Lydia looked back at Ingvar, standing scowling out at the coun­tryside. With an effort, she made her voice light and friendly.

“Of course. Forget I spoke,” she said.

Ingvar snorted disdainfully. “If we must,” he said, and moved forward to stand alone by the covered shape of the Mangler.

An awkward silence settled over the small craft, eventually bro­ken by Thorn.

“Personally,” he said, “I don’t find it so impressive. It’s not a patch on Erak’s Great Hall.”

Stig let out a snort of laughter. “Erak’s Great Hall?” he re­peated. “That’s nothing more than a log shanty compared to this!”

And he was right. Erak’s Hall was an impressive building by Hallasholm standards, but compared to this vision of wonder, it was little more than a log cabin.

Thorn refused to give ground. “Look at it!” he said scornfully. “All towers and flags and fancy folderol! Imagine what it takes to heat it in winter! At least the Great Hall only needs one big fire­place.”

“And it’s drafty and smoky with it,” Edvin said.

“But think of the cost of heating that . . . pile of masonry,” Thorn persisted.

Hal smiled quietly to himself. Thorn’s interjection had taken the crew’s minds off the awkward scene between Ingvar and Lydia. It wasn’t the first time the old one-armed warrior had done some­thing like this. The young captain realized that he could learn a lot in man management from his shabby friend.

“I imagine Duncan can afford the heating bills,” Hal said mildly. “He is a king, after all. Kings usually have a pile of money stored away.”

“Hummph!” Thorn sniffed. “Provided by their long-suffering subjects, no doubt.”

“Well, you pay taxes to Erak,” Stig pointed out.

Thorn gave him a withering look. “Not if I can avoid it,” he said in an undertone.

The discussion could have continued indefinitely, but Stefan, standing on the bulwark for’ard of the mast, pointed to the bank.

“There’s a landing stage there, Hal—and a crowd ready to welcome us.”

“Down sail. Stow the boom. Man the oars.”

Hal assessed the position of the substantial wooden jetty, then glanced quickly at the wind telltale on top of the boom. They’d be heading directly into the wind as they steered toward the jetty.

“We’ll go in under oars,” he decided. Then, raising his voice slightly, he called, “Down sail. Stow the boom. Man the oars.”

The crew hurried to obey his orders. Jesper and Edvin cast loose the sheets while the twins brought the mast and sail sliding down to the deck. The four of them quickly bundled the sail up and stowed mast and sail along the line of the ship. Then they hur­ried to their rowing positions, sliding their white oak oars out through the rowlocks.

Stig and the others were already in position, Stefan having slipped down from the rail and dropped onto his rowing bench. Thorn and Lydia stood close by Hal at the steering platform. In­gvar, Hal noticed, remained in the bow, staring moodily across the river. The young captain shrugged. Ingvar usually didn’t take an oar for ordinary maneuvers. His massive strength tended to unbal­ance the thrust on the ship.

“Ready?” called Stig, and the six oars rose slightly in preparation.

“Stroke!” he called and the oars went back, then dipped into the placid surface of the river. As the rowers heaved on their oars, Hal felt the ship drive forward, and the tiller came alive in his hand. He swung the ship toward the jetty on the southern bank of the river.

As Stefan had noted, there was a considerable crowd—perhaps fifty people—on the jetty and the riverbank beside it. A small group of three, presumably the official party, stood apart from the others. Two of them were clad in the now-familiar gray-and-green cloaks of the Ranger Corps. The third was far more lavishly dressed. Jewelry and decorations glittered on his doublet, catching the sunlight in a series of little flashes.

“There’s Gilan,” Lydia said quietly, as one of the cloaked fig­ures stepped forward and raised a hand in greeting. Hal returned the gesture.

“Common sail­ors?” he repeated. “I rather see myself as a sophisticated world traveler.”

“There’s another Ranger with him,” Hal noted. He studied the third figure in the small group. “And someone who’s very fancily dressed.”

As they glided closer to the jetty, Hal could make out the rich accoutrements on the third man’s doublet, and the fur trim on his red velvet-lined cloak.

“Maybe it’s the King,” Thorn joked.

Hal grinned at him and shook his head. “Kings don’t stand out on windy jetties to greet common sailors.”

Thorn raised an eyebrow at the description. “Common sail­ors?” he repeated. “I rather see myself as a sophisticated world traveler.”

Kloof, sensing the interest that they were showing, advanced to the bulwark and reared up on her hind legs, her massive forepaws on the railing.

Kloof! she said. There were several dogs among the group on­shore and they quickly replied, in a chorus that ranged from high-pitched yips to deep-chested baying.

“Looks like she’s found some friends.” Lydia smiled. The big dog remained in her position, her ears pricked. Lydia then indi­cated the wider group on the shore. “Who do you suppose all the others are?”

Hal shrugged. “Rubberneckers,” he replied. “Come to see the savage men from the north.” He allowed himself a sidelong glance at Thorn. “Along with the sophisticated world traveler.”

“Can’t blame them,” Thorn replied expansively. “I’m a fascinat­ing sight for stay-at-homes like these.”

As they had been talking, Hal had automatically been gauging the distance and angle to the jetty. He called now to the oarsmen.

“Easy all! In oars!”

Stig and the others instantly stopped rowing and raised their oars to the vertical. Then, in one movement, they lowered them, dripping with river water, into the ship, stowing them along the line of the hull beneath the rowing benches.

With the last of the way on her, Hal swung the little ship so that she came alongside. Jesper and Stefan took bow and stern lines and scrambled up onto the jetty, making the ship fast and hauling her in against the timber pilings so that the fenders on her side creaked.

There was a momentary silence, then Gilan stepped forward.

“Welcome to Castle Araluen,” he called cheerfully. “Come ashore.”

“Welcome to Araluen, on behalf of King Duncan,” the Cham­berlain said, in a raised voice. “If you need anything to improve your comfort, please let me know.”

Hal and Thorn stepped up onto the jetty, followed by Stig and Lydia, then the other crew members.

Gilan shook hands with Hal. “Good to see you again,” he said. He indicated the richly dressed man standing a few paces back. “This is Lord Anthony, the King’s Chamberlain. Lord Anthony, meet Hal Mikkelson, skipper of this year’s duty ship.”

The Chamberlain was short and stout. As Hal had noted on the approach to the jetty, he was dressed rather flamboyantly, his red velvet doublet decorated with precious stones and chains. Anx­iously, Hal cast a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure Jesper was out of pickpocket reach. Then he shook hands. Lord Anthony’s grip was firm, but the hand was soft, not calloused and hardened like a warrior’s. Hal guessed he was the King’s administrator. He noted, however, that the man’s eyes were intelligent and observant, casting a quick, appraising glance over the assembled crewmen.

“Welcome to Araluen, on behalf of King Duncan,” the Cham­berlain said, in a raised voice. “If you need anything to improve your comfort, please let me know.”

“Thank you . . . Lord Anthony.” Hal stumbled over the title. He wasn’t sure how one addressed someone called “Lord.” But he seemed to have got it right.

Anthony nodded and smiled, then stepped back. “I’ll return to the castle and make sure your rooms are ready for you,” he said.

Hal gave a half nod, half bow, then the Chamberlain turned away, swirling his cloak around him as he did, and strode off the landing jetty to where his horse was tethered.

“Anthony’s a bit stuffy, but he’s a good man,” Gilan told Hal. “Now come and meet Crowley, the Commandant of the Ranger Corps—and my boss,” he added, with a grin.

The other Ranger was a little shorter than Gilan, and as he pushed back the hood of his cloak, Hal could see that his sandy hair and beard were liberally sprinkled with gray. His eyes were blue and had a mischievous light to them. Hal found that he in­stinctively liked the older man.

“You must be Hal,” Crowley said, stepping forward to shake hands. Then those cheerful eyes turned on Thorn. “And you could be nobody else but the redoubtable Thorn.”

Gracefully, he switched hands to shake hands with Thorn in his turn, doing it left-handed.

“Don’t know about redoubtable,” Thorn said. “But I am a so­phisticated world traveler.”

“You certainly have the look of one,” Crowley replied smoothly, then, as Hal introduced Stig, he looked up to meet the young man’s gaze, taking in the broad shoulders and well-muscled physique. “I imagine you’d be a handful in a fight.”

Stig grinned. “I try to be.”

Crowley, however, had already moved on to the slim, beautiful girl beside Stig. “And you, no doubt, are Lydia, the deadly dart thrower. Our Princess Cassandra is keen to meet you.”

Lydia flushed. She’d spent most of her early life alone in the forests hunting and she wasn’t good at social occasions. She shook hands with Crowley and mumbled something inarticulate along the lines of pleased to meet you. Crowley sensed her awkwardness and favored her with a friendly grin.

“Don’t know what you’re doing with this rough crowd,” he said and she smiled in return. Crowley had a natural charm to him and he was expert at putting people at their ease.

“Why do I think you’re not telling the complete truth?”

“I try to keep them in line,” she said and he released her hand, patting it with his free hand first.

Crowley moved on as Hal introduced him to the rest of the crew. Hal was glad to see that Ingvar had joined them and seemed to be over his disconsolate mood. Crowley raised his eyebrows slightly at the size of the young giant but, perhaps wisely, didn’t comment. He raised his eyebrows even farther as they came to the twins.

“And this is Ulf and Wulf,” Hal said.

Crowley looked from one to the other. “Which is which?”

“I’m Ulf,” said Wulf.

“I’m Wulf,” said Ulf.

The Ranger Commandant frowned thoughtfully at them. “Why do I think you’re not telling the complete truth?”

The twins looked crestfallen that he had seen through their ploy so easily. Hal grinned. It wasn’t often that someone got the better of the twins. Perhaps Gilan had warned his Commandant of the twins’ propensity to play practical jokes.

“Doesn’t matter which is which,” he said cheerfully. “They’re both idiots.”

Crowley nodded, then gestured to the stunning castle that stood on the hill behind them, visible above the belt of trees in the near distance. “Let’s get you settled into the castle then. We have horses here if you’d like to ride.”

He didn’t quite succeed in hiding his smile as he said it. Hal glanced quickly at Thorn before replying.

“I think we’ll walk.”



Scorpion Mountain (Brotherband Chronicles Book 5) Scorpion Mountain hits shelves Dec. 2.

FlanaganJohnJohn Flanagan grew up in Sydney, Australia, hoping to be a writer, and after a successful career in advertising and television, he began writing a series of short stories for his son, Michael, to encourage him to read. Those stories would eventually become The Ruins of Gorlan, Book 1 of Ranger’s Apprentice, the international phenomenon that has sold millions of copies and made readers of kids the world over. Mr. Flanagan lives in the suburb of Manly, Australia, with his wife. In addition to their son, they have two grown daughters and four grandsons.

Want to meet the author? He will be touring the country throughout December. Click here to see when John Flanagan will visiting a bookstore near you!