Best of Texas Book Award: The Lost Princess and the Jewel of Periluna by Robert B. Sloan

His main reason for coming—to find his parents and learn who he really was—now seemed like a distant goal.

The Lost Princess and the Jewel of Periluna by Robert B. Sloan has received the Best in Texas Book Award for Middle School Books. The award is presented by the Texas Association of Authors.

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The Story:

This is the second book in the new Hamelin Stoop series, a young adult fantasy. Hamelin’s story began when he was found as a newborn in a tomato crate on the stoop of an orphanage in west Texas. Hamelin’s first adventures with the Great Eagle led him through the mysterious cave and finally, across the footbridge.

He has learned that his quest to find his parents and learn his true identity will not be quickly done or easy to fulfill. The Great Eagle leads him through the dangerous Waters of Death and Life and into the Land of Gloaming, where Hamelin is thrown into the midst of a war already being waged between the evil Chimera and the mysterious Ancient One.

He must help two new friends find a kidnapped princess and recover a stolen jewel, tasks for which they have special gifts that must not be misused; a scarf of sight, shoes of speed, and a sword of death. But these quests are only part of the larger story, a story including Chimera’s plan to use Hamelin — a child of two realms — to seize the kingdoms on both sides of the Atrium of the Worlds.

Robert B. Sloan

Sampler from Chapter 1:

He made it. He was on the other side. But he was more than disappointed. His main reason for coming—to find his parents and learn who he really was—now seemed like a distant goal.

The eagle started moving away from him toward the shaft the great bird called the Tunnel of Times. Hamelin had no time either to enjoy his success at passing the test or to keep his frustrations from simmering. He would have to follow the radiant bird unless he wanted to be left in this spot, with no light and no way back except across the footbridge and over the chasm.

He would follow, but it wasn’t fair. He had just finished completing the hardest task of his life—coming back into this mysterious cave, following the eagle through dark spaces and along narrow ledges, and finally making his way across the footbridge over a massive chasm. He had failed to cross it three and a half years ago, but this time he had done it. And he had done it to find his parents.

The darkness below the footbridge had obviously tried to reject him. It was more than just darkness. It was a nothingness that was something. The burning smell of tar and the hot winds that blew at him as he tried to cross the bridge had nearly succeeded in knocking him off and into the abyss. But the gloves of strength that the eagle had given him had enabled him to hang on, even when one of the ropes of the bridge came undone.

The eagle had done nothing to help him, except of course for giving him the gloves years ago, when he was eight. Now, however, with agonizing effort, he had made it across, but the huge bird was pressing on, giving him no time to rest.

It’s not fair! he thought. I came over here to find my parents, and now the eagle tells me there are other things I’ve got to do, something about fighting in battles and recovering a kingdom. I just want my parents! I just want to know who my family is!

Hamelin answered his own frustrations by remembering that the eagle hadn’t said he couldn’t look for his parents, only that there were other reasons as well to come over here and that the Ancient One would include Hamelin’s reasons in his, whoever this Ancient One was.

Hamelin had been raised in an orphanage in West Texas in the early 1950s, and he knew what it was like to feel lonely. But even the loneliness of not having parents had hardly prepared him for the darkness of this cave. And now the eagle had told him that they were going through the Tunnel of Times and that the times would change, whatever that meant.

He had failed to cross when he was eight years old, but he’d been given another chance. He was now eleven and a half, and he had passed the test, according to the eagle. But what was this “Atrium of the Worlds” the eagle said they were heading toward? Would his parents be there? Probably not. The eagle made it sound like finding them was something a long way off, if it could be done at all.

Hamelin was tired, frustrated, and even angry. He kicked at some loose pebbles on the path in front of him, but he had no choice. The only light he had was moving forward. He had to follow.

They entered the shaft, and almost immediately the terrain began to change. Though they were still inside the caverns, the ground beneath Hamelin’s feet felt a bit softer. There were still rocks in the path and low places overhead to watch out for, but the space was different, more confined. He remembered learning the word claustrophobia in Mr. Waverly’s fifth-grade class, and now he began to feel it.

The light shining from the eagle gave the impression of rounded sides on both his left and right. Hamelin calculated that he could have stretched his arms out full length and there would have been only two to three feet remaining on either side. The ceiling now was eight to ten feet high in most spots, and it felt like the shaft was gradually but steadily descending. This must be the Tunnel of Times. He hoped that it would be only a short time before they emerged from the cave. But he was wrong.

The eagle ran on quickly in front of him, occasionally hopping and even taking short flights of thirty to forty feet. Hamelin found himself jogging at first, then running at nearly half speed to stay up with the great bird. He was in good shape, but he wasn’t sure how long he could keep up the pace.

The air was stale, and now Hamelin felt no breezes whatsoever. He kept smelling a moldy odor and occasionally a faint rotten-egg stench, which he remembered being told at school was like burning sulphur. He had trouble getting a good breath of air. After fifteen minutes, the eagle slowed a bit, but Hamelin found that he still had to run to keep up. He knew from hikes and other activities around the children’s home that he could jog for an hour or more if he had to. Still, these conditions were different. The ground was uneven, the air was not fresh, the path they were on always seemed to be moving downward, and the eagle’s pace was much harder than a jog. The backs of his knees began to ache.

After what seemed like at least forty-five minutes, just when he thought he couldn’t go much farther, the eagle slowed to a walk, and Hamelin caught up.

“We can’t stop yet,” said the great bird, “but we did make up a little bit of our time.” Hamelin panted and nodded.

“Although,” said the eagle, who looked at him for a second before continuing, “we lost three and a half years when you failed to cross the first time, we’re close to being on schedule for our present assignment.”

Hamelin looked down. While he had always had it in the back of his mind, there was something he knew he had to say. “I’m sorry,” he blurted out. He was embarrassed that it sounded so childlike.

The eagle looked at him carefully and then responded, “I am only a guide. There are others you must tell—”

“I . . . I just couldn’t do the footbridge before—”

“I know,” said the eagle. “You were younger then. Perhaps—”

“So why didn’t you just carry me?” said Hamelin with a sudden note of frustration in his voice. “The first time, when I failed, you carried me back to the opening. Why didn’t you just fly me over the bridge?”

The eagle stared at Hamelin. He blinked slowly and finally said softly, “Because you begged to go home.”

“Well . . . why didn’t you help me this last time when the footbridge was coming undone? You just stood there.”

The eagle’s eyes narrowed. “My strength wasn’t in question. Yours was. It was a test. Both times. But you’ve passed. And now you know—and so does the Ancient One—that you can go forward.”

Hamelin looked down. “It’s just . . . I was afraid of—”

“No need to explain,” said the great bird. “You’ve already apologized. That’s a good beginning. The consequences are still with us, but even your failure, in the hands of the Ancient One, may give us other opportunities. But that’s not ours to know ahead of time. There will certainly be other tests. So you must stay alert and never again turn back.”

Hamelin still wasn’t sure who this “Ancient One” was, but he was glad that the great bird seemed to accept his apology.

“May I ask again . . . if you don’t mind . . . where are we going?” he said softly.

“You may, but I’m not sure I can tell you, as there are many points along the way. You’ll have to learn as you go along. That’s part of the plan that will allow you to succeed . . . if you can.”

Hamelin was stung by the eagle’s if. “So what am I supposed to do along the way?”

“Others will tell you more,” said the Great Eagle, “but I can tell you that you’re going into a very dangerous realm. On your way, you’ll meet others who also have their assignments. You must join them. In helping them, you will also discover your mission. The Hospitable Woman will give you more details as to where you’ll go after you meet her and what you’re to do.”

“What’s her name?”

The eagle fluffed his wings slightly and shook his head but said nothing. Hamelin figured he had said something dumb and now was afraid that the great bird would quit talking.

“She sounds like a nice person,” he said, trying to keep the conversation going.

The eagle had a rasping sound in his throat, the scraping wood sound. Hamelin thought maybe it was the way eagles groaned.

“Nice?” the great bird finally said. “I wouldn’t call her nice, but she is kind.”

Suddenly the eagle stopped and turned toward him. He lifted his head and looked at Hamelin for a long moment and then spoke. “I know you want to find your parents, but what you have been summoned here to do is not a task designed to make you feel happy. That may happen, if you succeed, but first of all you must do what is good and true, and perhaps we may join in the Ancient One’s defeat of the rebels.”

The great bird continued to stare at him, and Hamelin dared not look away. He suddenly had many questions, but now was not a good time to interrupt, since the eagle was talking, and he normally didn’t talk much.

“You are entering a war,” the eagle continued. “And as you go forward, you must remember that the fight is not fair.”

“Not fair?” said Hamelin. “Why not?”

“Didn’t I say it was a fight?”

Hamelin’s eyes widened. He was used to short fights, ones that some adult came along and stopped before anything bad happened.

“And of course you are limited by the truth and good of others.”

Hamelin had been taught to tell the truth and to be nice to others, but from what the Great Eagle said, the task ahead sounded a lot bigger and harder than just staying out of trouble or being nice and not telling lies.

The eagle quickly turned again and said, “Come, we must be off. Time grows short.” The pace immediately returned to a steady run for Hamelin, and there was no more time, or breath, for questions. The eagle was apparently making up for the minutes they had spent talking.

As they went on, it struck Hamelin that the insides of the hills were bigger and more expansive than they appeared from the outside. In fact, he had long since lost all orientation with respect to the width and depth of the hill, much less the direction of the opening where he had entered.

As for time, Hamelin likewise had lost his sense of how long he had been gone from the children’s home. He knew it had been several hours, perhaps as much as five or six, he guessed, but he really didn’t know.

The eagle’s pace picked up, and Hamelin had to take his eyes off everything but the radiant bird. The eagle now seemed to be in a low glide, and Hamelin found himself running at top speed. He knew he couldn’t keep it up for long, and just when he thought he’d have to break stride, the Great Eagle’s feet touched ground and everything slowed down. For a brief moment, he had the strange sensation of running in slow motion.

Just then the shaft leveled off and took a sharp swing to their left. The eagle noticeably slowed his pace. The tunnel continued for another hundred yards or so, then suddenly opened into an expansive cavern.

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