Prince Ombra

 
9780091520007: Prince Ombra

The World has found its new hero.

The problem? Bentley Ellicott is only a kid.

Bentley has secret powers. And he's going to need them. Bentley is a hero - the thousand and first to be exact - in a long line of heroes that has stretched all the way back to antiquity. Heroes like Arthur and Hercules.

And now: Bentley.

That's because there is an evil in the world that never dies. Its name is Prnce Ombra. When Prince Ombra arises a hero is called upon to battle him. One day when Bentley is grown he will be that hero.

What Bentley doesn't know is that his "one day" is today.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1
 
 
IT IS SAID--and it is true--that just before we are born, a cavern angel holds his finger to our mouths and whispers, "Hush! Don't tell what you know."
This is why we have a cleft on our upper lips and remember nothing of where we came from.
Toward the end of the last century--in 1978, to be precise--a smooth-lipped boy appeared in the world.
He grew up in an ominous time. People had lost the power of belief. Plagues of the spirit swept the world; shapeless anxieties spread like fever, self-hatred was rampant, love was bitterly denounced because it wasn't perfect. Evidence of madness glittered everywhere. The workshops of great nations forged weapons that would destroy the societies that used them. Acid rained from the skies. Rivers putrified. In some places the air was unbreathable. Hucksters sold God on television, and religions were made out of economic theories that didn't work. Tyrants brutalized the people in the name of the people. The new prophets of freedom preached doctrines of selfishness. Knowledge raced far ahead of wisdom. Mankind worshipped facts, but facts couldn't explain the misfortunes that counterweight the blessings of human life. There were machines that could think, and people numbed their minds to keep themselves from thinking. In their deepest dreams men stood within stone circles and saw a darkness darker than dark.
Such epochs of desolation had cursed human history a thousand times before. And, each time, a smooth-lipped mortal was born. These men lived strange, obsessed lives. Some of them lie buried in great mausoleums. Others rotted on the hangman's tree. Some will be remembered forever. Others disappeared into dust and oblivion.
When the time of dementia and sorrow came to the late twentieth century, Bentley Ellicott was born with a twisted leg in Stonehaven on the northern coast. Why he was created as a cripple, why he appeared in a peaceful place far from the world's worst torments, will remain mysteries forever. Bentley Ellicott himself was the only person in the world who knew the purpose of his life. It was a secret. He didn't tell anybody until he was eight years old.
Stonehaven lies on a sheltered curve of the northern coast, between islands dense with pine trees and a distant river spanned by a bridge shaped like a humpbacked monster's bones. The weather on this coast can be dramatic. Storms burst from turrets of clouds on the uplands and send volleys of thunder rolling across the wind-lashed sea. In winter Stonehaven is entombed in ice, bitter cold, and silence. The fogs of spring and autumn blur the shapes of the village, the forests, the coast.
In the time of Bentley Ellicott's childhood, Main Street was a potholed, two-lane way that passed the drugstore, the police station, and the bank. The masts of sailboats swayed with the harbor's lazy swell, and sea gulls wheeled and cried above lobster boats and draggers unloading at the town wharf. There were a freezing plant, a boathouse, and a sardine cannery.
The Stonehaven House Hotel stood at the end of Main Street. Years before, when the village shipped granite in waterline schooners to hot cities down the coast, the Stone-haven House Hotel had been fashionable. But the granite quarries had been closed for years by the time Bentley Ellicott was born. The hotel was a white, peeling ruin with broken windows. Tall grass grew all around it. Nobody lived there except Charlie Feavey. He had inherited the hotel from his father. Charlie was a scrawny man with dirty fingernails who was always desperate for money.
Potato fields lay north of the village. Along a wooded strip of shoreline--which everybody called the point--Victorian summer houses overlooked the sea and the seaward islands. After the middle of the last century, young couples like Richard and Dorothy Ellicott winterized the old houses and lived in them all year round. Richard was a mathematics professor at the university sixteen miles inland. Bentley Ellicott was born on the point.
Odd circumstances surrounded his birth.
His beautiful young mother died that night--for no reason the doctors could discover. A jade-eyed stranger named Willybill appeared in Stonehaven as the cold November light was going down. Toward midnight a choppy wind came up out of nowhere and changed directions four times, as if the power behind it were searching for something. McGraw, the Stonehaven police chief, said later that on the night of Bentley's birth he felt as if he and the village were under a glass bell and that a terrible pressure was trying to break through.
Bentley's father retreated into a deep depression after his wife died. Richard Ellicott drove to and from the university every day. But he aged faster than his life proceeded. He slept and read too much. He took long, solitary walks along the shore north of the village. He felt abandoned. He loved Bentley, but, as the boy was growing up, Richard couldn't emerge from his grief and pay attention to him.
So, Stonehaven's Congregationalist minister, the Reverend Homer Tally, became Bentley's substitute father. He was a gentle man of fifty who rarely spoke above a murmur except when he preached. Everybody regarded Mr. Tally as a saint. He had no children of his own, and he adored Bentley. Reverend Tally taught the boy how to ride a bicycle and plant gardens.
Mrs. Tally was not regarded as a saint. Her tart manner, closed mind, and barbed commentaries on the lives of everyone in the village made people tense. As the years progressed she sensed a mystery within Bentley--she was decidedly not stupid--and told everyone the boy was peculiar. He was always wandering off alone in the woods when he was little and search parties had to be organized. That proved his oddity so far as Mrs. Tally was concerned.
In the midmorning of his life, when he was eight, Bentley Ellicott's wiry body could scarcely contain his spirit, which was iridescent as summer light on the water. He was as busy as the foragings of a million bees and as curious as the eternal demand to know the meaning of God's wink.
He was short for his age and had large, dark eyes. His brown hair hung over those eyes until a German graduate student named Helga became Richard Ellicott's housekeeper. Even Helga had a hard time getting Bentley to sit still long enough for an attack on his hair with scissors. Helga was a slender, pretty girl of nineteen. She teased Bentley to make him screech, wrestled his blue jeans and sneakers off of him so she could wash them, and tried to make him stop gobbling his breakfast.
Bentley was irrepressible. He had the energy of a chipmunk, and his face was as changeable as the weather on the northern coast. He bulged out his eyes as he exaggerated his triumphs and failures. He did a terrific imitation of a chimpanzee, bouncing around in circles and scratching his ribs. Other children liked him because he was exuberant and made up interesting games and adventures. In school he fidgeted and shot up his hand and often had the right answers because he loved to learn. He could run in a hopping stumble, but because of his deformed right leg he couldn't run fast enough to play baseball. Baseball was Bentley's favorite thing. He practiced throwing until he was better at it than any kid in Stonehaven. He could knock a tin can off a stump from thirty feet away.
Joe Persis, who was Bentley's best friend, was a year older and a lot bigger. He had a dim mind--which is often the mind that sees the obvious truth everyone else misses. He, too, thought that Bentley was different. Bentley was the leader, but he never made Joe feel dumb.
They were beach and forest prowlers. They dug clams with their bare hands. Joe climbed trees and pulled Bentley up after him. They made a catapult by laying a board across a log, putting rocks on one end, and jumping on the other. They hauled a U.S. Navy ammunition crate out of the water, quarreled about who owned it, and made up.
In his room Bentley had posters depicting birds, fishes, and dinosaurs. He had a toy box half filled with treasures he found along the shore. Sometimes in the evenings he watched television with Helga and her boyfriend. Bentley would pull his sweater up over his eyes when there were scary parts of horror movies. On other evenings he had supper at the Tally's house and rode home on his bicycle. Reverend Tally took him exploring on the uplands of bare meadows, granite outcroppings, forests, and crater lakes that rise behind Stonehaven and the coast. Bentley became a substitute for the son Reverend Tally never had. Mrs. Tally endured him.
McGraw, the Stonehaven police chief, didn't like Bentley. He was the one who'd had to lead all the search parties when Bentley had gotten himself lost. He told the other loungers in the Stonehaven drugstore that the kid was a fool. Willybill, the jade-eyed stranger who had appeared in the village on the night Bentley was born, was still there, still a stranger. He watched the boy.
Bentley Ellicott kept his secret. He tore around the village and the countryside on his bicycle, yelled his head off at schoolyard baseball games, and reveled in his child-hood despite the fact that his mother was dead, his father was unreachable, and he himself was handicapped.
Our fortunes and lives seem chaotic when they are looked at as facts. There is order and meaning only in the great truths believed by everybody in that older, wiser time of the world when things were less known but better understood. That ancient wisdom lived secretly within Bentley Ellicott alongside the rackety personality of an eight-year-old boy. He assumed that the great purpose for which he had been born would not summon him for years and years.
* * *
No sound ever disappears. Every wind rush stays, every rattle of wave-washed gravel remains in the world, hovering above the gray boulders and rock ledges, dripping with the mists of spring in the pine forests. All of Stonehaven's history murmurs and speaks in the second air--the shouts of Vikings sailing down the cold sea, the rigging creaks of the ships that brought the first French settlers, the rifle cracks of hunting and war, the sounds of adze and mallet as neat white houses and the Cutter mansion were built on the slope above the cove. In the second air, people born with the gift of magic can hear the gossip of Stonehaven's early generations, the grumbles of nineteenth-century fishermen casting off for George's Bank, the gnash of iron machines cutting granite, the scrape of shovels in the graveyard.
Sounds of eternal conditions are all around us--night cries of ecstasy, the whispers of the dying, promises being made, and soft, disappointed weeping.
The echoes of Stonehaven's decline are also in the second air--the clink of beer bottles against the pilings of the town wharf, the roaring endeavor of tractors pushing mobile homes into place, hammers nailing sheet metal onto the sides of shacks to protect against the winter wind, the minuscule scuttle and twirl of spiders busy at their webs in the trash-littered hallways of Charlie Feavey's Stonehaven House Hotel. The world's noise outlives all the generations that made it. In this vast and imperishable archive of every sound ever made, from the beginning of time until the present moment, the voices of animals are understood by those mortals endowed with the gift of listening.
Bentley Ellicott could hear the second air. That was the reason he started wandering off into the woods when he was three, exasperating McGraw, the police chief. McGraw was a tall, bulky man with a weather-burned face and gray eyes. He spoke with the reserve common to people on the northern coast. He was sensible--whether he and his two deputies were called to rescue a dog in a culvert or to disarm a deranged man with a gun. People in Stonehaven relied on McGraw. He was as predictably steady as the rising of the sun. His wife was a heavy, tired woman who worked at the sardine cannery.
McGraw never talked about the dark disenchantment that had possessed his heart since he was thirteen years old. It wasn't anybody's business.
He had had a happy childhood. His parents were religious, and McGraw grew up nestled in their faith. He believed no harm could come to him if he was good, because God loved him. He memorized long passages from the Bible and behaved himself. Then, when he was thirteen, his father abruptly left home and moved into the house trailer of a slatternly woman named Grace Wood-house. They had a child. McGraw's mother went mad. She prattled incessantly about the enigma of God's ways and hanged herself in the garage.
McGraw's world blew apart. He never spoke to his father again. He finished his adolescence knowing that faith was a lie. There was no God. The world was chaos and people's lives were haphazard. Everything McGraw had experienced as a policeman confirmed his agnostic view of reality. As others saw him, he was a quiet, strong man. As he saw himself, he had been a gullible boy who had had to retrain himself in skepticism in order to survive as an adult.
Bentley Ellicott reminded the police chief of how he had been when he was eight. There was, to McGraw, a childish arrogance in Bentley's whooping confidence, in his stubborn refusal to be cowed by his handicap, or by the tragedy of his mother's death and his father's withdrawal. The kid acted as if he believed that some benevolence were watching over him. McGraw disliked Bentley with all the power of self-contempt. He yearned for a cataclysm that would shock the boy out of his confidence. The police chief wanted to see Bentley get his comeuppance.
Bentley tried to avoid him. He knew that McGraw was not his friend.
Neither McGraw nor anybody else could have possibly known the truth about Bentley. Nobody would have believed it anyway.
If Bentley had lived in that older, wiser time of the world, people in Stonehaven would have assumed that he could ravel up the pain of childbirth if he wanted to, and could tell which heron standing on the mud flats was a transfigured king. He would have been instructed by old, one-eyed men who had survived many battles. They would have blessed him with handfuls of dust and given him an amulet. Wonder-workers would have clearly seen the darkening of the world in smoke and water. Everybody would have understood what was happening. They would have known what Bentley was.
Bentley Ellicott was a child born with the memory of another, perfect childhood. In his daydreams he remembered as an old traveler remembers a land beyond the mists of the sea where he had known untroubled love and perfect happiness. He remembered a perpetual noon that needed no sun for its shining. He had played then with countless children from ages gone, never wearying, never bored, never reproached. He had danced in a grove with the robed masters of all knowledge. He had spoken in poems, and he had a golden apple.
He hadn't been sad when they had called him away and loaned him the heart that had been borne in the world by a thousand mortals before him. He knew that the heart had returned a thousand times. All souls always came back when their moments of mortal life were done.
Bentley remembered being born. He remembered floating up from the depths of a grotto toward the rose-colored light of future existence. The hovering cavern angel stopped him but laid no finger on Bentley's lips. Instead, he was told about his great and ominous destiny and given a final instruction: Don't tell your secret unless you are offered love sealed in silence, or unless someone recognizes what you really are.
The instant he was born, the imperfection of the mortal condition seized him. His life was flawed now; he was afraid of death.
Bentley also was given powers, ones that no ordinary mortal possessed. The horseshoe crabs, who are th...

From Library Journal:

In the vein of works by Tolkien and Terry Brooks, Prince Ombra is a basic fantasy of good vs. evil. Its twist is that the champion of good is a crippled eight-year-old boy. LJ's reviewer found that the author "combines the measured phrase of legends with the chaos of modern life in fascinating juxtaposition" (LJ 11/15/82).
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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