Authors: T. A. Barron
The plunge becomes dangerous. . . .
Tucking back his massive wings, Scree plunged downward. Wind rushed against his face, blowing his streaming hair backward. He narrowed his yellow-rimmed eyes to thin slits, and clutched the staff tight within his talon. Then he screeched the cry of the eaglefolk—a cry that meant only one thing.
The two intruders, who had neared the jagged rim of the crater, froze. Just as his prey always did. Inwardly, Scree smiled.
One of the intruders, the short and pudgy one, yelped in fright and threw himself behind a charred black boulder. A flame vent spouted fire and smoke right beside him, but he just huddled there, cowering.
The other one reacted differently. This one didn’t run and hide, or stand still, paralyzed with fright. No, this person instantly pulled out a bow and nocked an arrow.
Scree didn’t veer aside. This wasn’t the first time he’d faced flamelon archers, who came up here hunting for action—or for eaglefolk meat. Even if the bowman got off a shot before Scree reached him—which was unlikely, given Scree’s speed—he’d never hit the moving target. And never survive to shoot again.
The bowman shot. Just as Scree had predicted, the arrow was easy to dodge.
Scree plunged again. Rage flooded his mind. He screeched louder than before, his cry echoing across the smoky cliffs.
By the time he saw the second arrow speeding toward him, it was too late.
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published in the United States of America as
The Great Tree of Avalon: Child of the Dark Prophecy
by Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2004
The Great Tree of Avalon
by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2011
Patricia Lee Gauch, Editor
Text copyright © Thomas A. Barron, 2004
Illustration copyright © David Elliot, 2004
Map copyright © Thomas A. Barron, 2004
All rights reserved
THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HAS CATALOGED THE PHILOMEL BOOKS EDITION AS FOLLOWS:
Barron, T. A. Child of the dark prophecy / T. A. Barron
p. cm.—(The great tree of Avalon ; bk. 1)
Summary: In accordance with prophecy, Avalon’s existence is threatened in the year that stars stop shining and at the time when both the dark child and Merlin’s heir are to be revealed.
ISBN : 0-399-23763-1 (hc)
[1. Magic—Fiction. 2. Avalon (Legendary place)—Fiction. 3. Fantasy.]
PZ7.B27567 Ch 2004 [Fic]—dc22 2004044427
Puffin Books ISBN 978-0-14-241927-4
Design by Semadar Megged
Text set in ITC Galliard
Printed in the United States of America
Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out , or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
A Word from the Author
Avalon lives. For centuries, it has been celebrated in story and song . . . for its magic, its mist, and most of all, I think, its memory of a time of truth and healing amidst mortal sorrow. It is a story, and a place, that continues to grow—much like the Great Tree of this story, whose roots reach as deep as its branches lift high.
Like all myths that have rooted themselves in our hearts, Avalon continually sprouts new interpretations: new blossoms and boughs. This tale is one of them. The shapes and colors of these new versions may be widely varied, but they are all connected to the same tree, drawing life from the same ancient soil. So while it is fair to say that I have reimagined Avalon in these pages, it is also true that this tale is but a tiny twig on an immense and wondrous tree—a tree that is very much alive.
—T. A. B.
To Mother Earth,
beleaguered yet bountiful
With special thanks to
Denali Barron and Patricia Lee Gauch,
my fellow explorers of realms in between
Born of a Seed That Beats Like a Heart
the celebrated opening lines of the bard Willenia’s history of Avalon
As one world dies, another is born. It is a time both dark and bright, a moment of miracles. In the mist-shrouded land of Fincayra, an isle long forgotten is suddenly found, a small band of children defeats an army of death, and a people disgraced win their wings at last. And in the greatest miracle of all, a young wizard called Merlin earns his true name: Olo Eopia, great man of many worlds, many times. And yet . . . even as Fincayra is saved, it is lost—passing forever into the Otherworld of the Spirits.
But in that very moment, a new world appears. Born of a seed that beats like a heart, a seed won by Merlin on his journey through a magical mirror, this new world is a tree: the Great Tree. It stands as a bridge between Earth and Heaven, between mortal and immortal, between shifting seas and eternal mist.
Its landscape is immense, full of wonders and surprises. Its populace is as far-flung as the stars on high. Its essence is part hope, part tragedy, and part mystery.
Its name is Avalon.
The Dark Prophecy
first revealed by the Lady of the Lake, Year of Avalon 694
A year shall come when stars go dark,
And faith will fail anon—
For born shall be a child who spells
The end of Avalon.
The only hope beneath the stars
To save that world so fair
Will be the Merlin then alive:
The wizard’s own true heir.
What shall become of Avalon,
Our dream, our deepest need?
What glory or despair shall sprout
From Merlin’s magic seed?
Prologue: One Dark Night
A flame vent erupted on the cliffs, blasting the darkness like an angry dragon.
Then another. And another. All across the cliffs, among the highest in Fireroot, tongues of fire shot upward, licked the air, then vanished behind veils of ash and smoke. Rotten as sulfurous eggs, blacker even than the black rocks of this ridge, the heavy smoke swirled under cliffs and poured out of crevasses. Fire plants, shaped like ghoulish hands, flickered strangely as they stretched glowing fingers at anything that moved.
But nothing moved on the cliffs. Nothing but smoke, and ash, and spitting flames. Nothing . . . except two shadowy shapes that crept steadily higher.
It was night, and the two shapes, a pair of burly men, knew well that darkness brought added dangers. Yet this particular night had lasted for months on end, its blackness broken only by the ceaseless fires of the cliffs. For this was the Year of Darkness—a time long dreaded, ever since the Lady of the Lake had made her infamous prophecy that all the stars of Avalon would go dark, and stay dark, for an entire year.
Even so, the fact that night had swallowed all Seven Realms was not the most terrible part of the Dark Prophecy. No, far worse, the Lady had also foretold that in this year of darkness, a child would be born—a child destined to bring the very end of Avalon. The only hope, she had added, would come from someone else, someone she called
the true heir of Merlin
. Yet who that might be, and how he or she could ever defeat the child of the Dark Prophecy, no one knew.
The man’s pained cry echoed over the cliffs. “Damn lava rocks. Burn me feet, they do.”
“Shuddup, ye blasted fool!” spat his companion, crouching nearby. “Afore ye ruin everthin’.”
The first man, still rubbing his feet through the burned-out soles of his boots, started to reply—when he caught sight of something above them, at the very top of the cliffs. “Look thar,” he whispered, staring at a great tangle of branches, half lit by flames, that seemed to claw at the black sky.
“Up thar. A nest! I told ye we’d find—” He coughed, choking on a plume of smoke. “A nest.”
The other man shook his head, sending up a cloud of black ash that had settled on his hair. “We ain’t seekin’ no nest, Obba, ye woodenbrain! We’re seekin’ a child. An’ some sort o’ stick, remember?”
“Sure, but thar’s jest the place to find both, I say. Ossyn, if ye wasn’t me dumb liddle brother, I’d chuck ye right off this cliff. A dead flea’s got more brains!”
Ignoring his brother’s growl, he went on. “Look, ol’ White Hands got us here all right, didn’t he? An’ promised us we’d find the child he wants. The one he calls the true heir o’—”