Book I: The horse with a demon’s name

ECLIPSED BY SHADOW | 'The Legend of the Great Horse' trilogy book cover (90x135px)

This excerpt is from Eclipsed by Shadow, Book #1 of The Legend of the Great Horse trilogy, an adventure through history―on horseback.

The scene is set in ancient Rome (100 AD): Meagan meets the Emperor’s infamous chariot horse, Cerberus …

“Now that no one buys our votes, the public has cast off its cares; the people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things
—bread and circuses.”

—Juvenal (c. 60-140) Roman satirist

THE CHARIOT DRIVER stood and offered his hand. “Would you like to see Cerberus? I will give you the honor.” His handsome smile was warmth in the cold air. “My name is Braedin.”

The Emperor's chariot team (100 AD) ... from Eclipsed by Shadow, Book #1 of THE LEGEND OF THE GREAT HORSE trilogy: (c) Micron Press. Illustration by Marti Adrian.She took his hand casually, but the heat of his grasp went through her. “Braedin! I like that. My name is Meagan. They rhyme, sort of … Meagan, Braedin.” She bit her tongue to stop talking.

Together they walked out of the compound, past the curved hindquarters of the marble horses protecting the gates. Beyond them, the outline of buildings topped the surrounding hills, a moonlit cityscape framed by stone. Hard-packed road passed between a circle of pens and an adjoining work-shop. Inside could be seen a shadowy row of neatly stowed chariots.

They passed the workshop area and approached the paddocks. Out of the darkness a stallion’s scream pierced the night air. A horse charged the fence. The driver smiled as dirt flew around him and announced, “The warrior Cerberus!”

Meagan watched in disapproval. “Horses do not have to be like this, Braedin. You would be amazed what some carrots and a nice bridle can do.”

The driver watched the angry stallion with admiration. Hooves smacked against the wood fence in front of him. “The greatest son of Pegasus, the Thundering Horse of Jove! If I had three more like Cerberus our team would win without challenge!”

“Actually Braedin, I think you would have four dead horses.”

“You are wrong. Were the others as strong as mighty Cerberus, he would pull with them. Cerberus is a warrior. He only hates weakness.”

Common horse sense told Meagan that the stallion only hated rivals, but she decided against pressing the point. Instead she watched a small shadow dance toward them in the moonlight, approaching with a comical jig. A goat came up to the fence and shoved his wiry neck through the timber poles, hoping for a handout. It is not uncommon for a horse to bond with a smaller animal, and a transformation came over the stallion as he sniffed his tiny companion. Meagan reached to pet the goat and Cerberus laid back his ears. She stepped back. “So, they do not fight because this is a strong warrior goat? I mean, the horse does not hate everything. You can see he has a nice side.”

“We are not interested in the stallion’s nice side,” the driver said sharply. “Cerberus is not the Emperor’s favorite stallion for his nice side.”

This is the Emperor’s favorite?”

“Yes. From the day Cerberus savaged Titus’ Blues and scattered them across the track. A glorious day.”

Meagan made herself stay silent.

“It was the same month the horse became a centenarius!” The charioteer’s voice was a boast. “Emperor Trajan gave orders that Cerberus would always run in his team. Trajan was a general of the legions, and Cerberus is to represent the military strength that now rules Rome!” The boast died. “Of course, that was many months ago. And many horses.”

“I am sorry, what is a ‘centenarius?’”

“A horse that has won a hundred races. I drove Cerberus to half of those victories before he became too fierce.” His voice grew boastful again. “One of my fans is a poet named Martial. He gave me an epitaph for when I am killed.” The driver stood straighter and recited: “Here lies Braedin, the glory of the roaring Circus, the object of Rome’s cheers and her short-lived darling. The Fates, counting not years but victories, judged me an old man.”

Meagan listened appreciatively. “That is very nice, Braedin, for when you are killed.” She watched the goat grazing quietly by the stallion. At least the horse was not insane, she realized, ending doubts. “I think Cerberus wants friends. Horses do, you know.”

Eclipsed by Shadow (Book #1 of the trilogy) won national awards including the Eric Hoffer Award for best Young Adult Fiction, and the Mom’s Choice Award for best family-friendly Young Adult Fantasy.

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gend of the Great Horse trilogy books (2015)

#57- The Chariot Driver

When the driver did not leave, Meagan sat up straighter. Maybe some Romans were friendly, she thought. One shouldn’t judge based on a few. “Have you been a driver very long?” – Eclipsed by Shadow (excerpt)

The Horse Tamer from Marly-le-Roi

A lone shape approached from the shadows of the barracks. “Of an evening!” the dark figure called. “May I join you?”

“Of course!” Meagan called back. Horace usually retired early, but she would be glad of his company.

Instead it was the Emperor’s chariot driver who approached. He knelt, two eyes shining in the moonlight. “Are you planning your place among the stars?”

She swallowed, unable to think of anything sensible to say in English, much less Latin.

“I have seen you here before. You like this little grove. Are you a worshipper of wood nymphs?”

“Oh, I am. They are so clean.” When the driver did not leave, Meagan sat up straighter. Maybe some Romans were friendly, she thought. One shouldn’t judge based on a few. “Have you been a driver very long?”

“All my life. I have driven three seasons for the Emperor. I drove Cerberus to his greatest victories.”

“Did you say ‘Sir-Bearus?’ Is that one of the horses?”

The driver laughed. “I do not mean the demon hound that guards Hades! Of course Cerberus is a horse!”

“Oh,” Meagan said politely. “You named a horse after a demon?”

“Yes, the three-headed dog-beast who devours all who try to escape the Underworld.” The driver spoke with admiration. “Our stallion Cerberus does the same to any who try to pass him.”

“I see,” she answered, trying to sound impressed. Then she asked casually, “have you seen any new black horses lately … say, a really tall mare?”

“We keep no mares in the Emperor’s stables,” the driver said curtly. “We favor stallions.” He lowered his voice. “I wonder, how does it feel to know the time of your death?”

A flash of panic went through her. “Well, I do not know that yet.”

“The Festival of Mars begins in six days. Are you not sad, not miserable?”

“I suppose.” Meagan felt a chill beyond the cold. “Are you trying to be nice?”

The young man’s teeth shone in the moonlight.

Excerpted from Eclipsed by Shadow, the award-winning 1st volume of “The Legend of the Great Horse” trilogy. (Hrdbk pg. 138)

Book II: The Golden Spark will be published soon.

Read the 1st Chapter online!

Copyright © 2008 John Royce

Meagan Roberts, Hero

The heroine of The Legend of the Great Horse trilogy is resourceful, quick-witted and brave … her name is Meagan Roberts.

The trilogy follows the development of horsemanship in human history, and horses have given the world such rugged male icons as cowboys (and indians), knights in shining armor and cavalry charges, not to mention Ben-Hur. Yet my initial main character “Michael” kept dismounting to let Meagan aboard.

The story concerns a modern-day rider, and it is an unfortunate fact that young men in America today do not dedicate themselves to horsemanship in nearly the numbers that young women do … this comes after the majority of human history depicted horsemanship as a strictly male pursuit. Times change and horsemanship changes with it.

Discovering and writing a female hero was natural enough, as my former experience teaching riders meant coaching battalions of young women for every male. My idea for Meagan is the young college student who stays up all night grooming horses in return for a trailer ride to the next day’s competition. Meagan is the excited young girl whose straight-A report card finally convinces a carpool-weary parent to add one more stop at the stables. She is the shy adolescent whose eyes light up with confidence after a good round, the dependable ingénue who quietly keeps herself and her horses glowing, the serious junior who quietly listens and plans her way to success.

Horseback riding has historically been a respected, even hallowed method of youth development, turning out thoughtful, responsible leaders with empathy and depth of character for millennia. Meagan is a compilation of the qualities that horsemanship imparts: she is resourceful, diligent, fair-minded, and brave, and able to lead while engaging in both teamwork and strategic planning. These heroic qualities are all human virtues to be improved in the sandy classroom of our great teacher: the horse.

The First (Great) Horse

“The Legend of the Great Horse” trilogy is a journey through history by a modern horse-rider. The story begins with a foal being born to a family with a horse-crazy youngster, Meagan. This horse carries Meagan on an adventure through history.

“The Legend of the Great Horse” trilogy is a journey through history by a modern horse-rider. The story begins with a foal being born to a family with a horse-crazy youngster, Meagan. This horse carries Meagan on an adventure through history.

The new foal, Promise, is actually a Great Horse of legend with the ability to travel back to its previous lives. A mishap occurs and a frightened Promise bolts with her young rider back into time, galloping far into the distant past and leaving Meagan alone with only her horsemanship skills to help her survive.

The first horse of history that Meagan encounters is a small wild broodmare in a band being hunted by humans circa 20,000 BC. The reader knows this, but Meagan must make her own discovery that she has gone back in time.

Now, the wild broodmare isn’t talking (other than time-travel, the story is realistic and fact-based). The mare connects with Meagan through its natural curiosity, an important if perhaps unexpected trait of the species. Meagan remembers her own grandfather’s opinion that horses were the “nosiest animal in Creation.” He called curiosity a fatal weakness of the species … well, that and a fondness for oats.

The fact that a large prey animal would be so naturally curious is part of the mystery of the equine soul, but it is something we share in common. An interesting note is that the horse Meagan meets is not very different in character from the horses she knows from her own modern experience some twenty thousand years later. Horses are a much older species than humans, and their instincts as prey animals still survive.

The independence of the “wild” spirit of horses meant that mankind was forced to adapt to the horse in order to obtain the animal’s strength and speed. It is our genius as humans that we can “see” things from another’s perspective, and it was this ability that made our close partnership with horses possible. In the case of horses, we have not changed them: they have changed us…

Targa the Mongolian Warpony

Eclipsed by Shadow, is the first volume of the new trilogy adventure, “The Legend of the Great Horse,” which begins a journey that traces the history of horsemanship. In the story, the heroine, Meagan Roberts, is taken back through time by her horse, Promise. Meagan must survive humanity’s brutal past armed only with her knowledge of advanced horsemanship of the 21st century.

One of the interesting things about our relationship with horses is how slowly it developed. For many millennia mankind struggled with “conquering” the horse, when in reality simple humane treatment and empathy was the path to tapping into the equine potential. Today’s sensibly schooled horses could literally canter circles around primitive man’s poorly “broken” and brutalized mounts.

In the story, Meagan is dropped off in various time periods and must fend for herself. One such era is during Europe’s Dark or Middle Ages, when the enlightened horsemanship of Greek antiquity has been forgotten and brutality was again the norm of the day.

"Mongolian Steppe" by David Edwards | National Geographic
“Mongolian Steppe” by David Edwards | National Geographic

It was in this era that Mongolian nomads burst from their ancestral homes on the Asian plains to pillage and ransack from Russia to Poland, throughout India and the Middle East. Meagan lands amidst the united armies of Genghis Khan and is given a Mongolian warhorse mare she names Targa.

The mare is typical of her breed: stocky, short-legged and pony-sized. Meagan succeeds through empathizing with the mare and employing modern riding techniques that provide strong yet humane guidance. Their association grows into a real horse-rider partnership.

Targa illustrates how unchanged the horse’s nature is after many millennia of human “domestication.” Horses are simply too old a species to have become more than superficially adapted to mankind’s demands. Targa responds to Meagan’s enlightened empathy as horses do today; horses of primitive man would have done the same if given the opportunity.

The rampaging Mongolians cherished their horses, and their horses responded. This responsive cooperation with their riders led to wiping out alien societies, but there was no malice in the Mongolian warponies. Despite talk of the military “genius” of Genghis Khan, had Western society remembered their enlightened horsemanship instead of traveling down the path of war and brutality, they likely would not have been overrun by the superior skill of their Asian raiders.

There are many lessons in history, but one of the foremost is how spectacular are the results of empathy and harmony.

The Pegasii

The flying horse Pegasus is one of Western culture’s most popular and durable myths. What may be surprising to many is that the idea of a winged horse is not isolated to Greek mythology, but is a universal notion in ancient religion.

The theme of my new trilogy, The Legend of the Great Horse, is the depth of man’s partnership with horses and the animal’s foundational importance to civilization. When discussing the influence of horses it is almost impossible to throw too wide a net, and the legend of a winged horse is an example.

Pegasii
Pegasii

Early Christianity was combined with the Sun-worshipping belief that the Emperor departed earth upon his death in a chariot pulled by winged immortal horses, and various beliefs herald the Second Coming of Christ upon the winged horse Avatar. Islam records the gift to Adam of the winged horse Mamoun. Hindus honored Vivasvat, the Seven-Headed Sun Horse that symbolized the workings of the Seven Chakras. Buddha was said to have flown across the heavens as a white horse, and both Norse and Celtic religions had a stableful of supernatural mounts.

In modern times, mythology is remembered as a group of fantasy stories involving the gods of Olympus and exotic animals like the Chimera, Basilisk, Hydra, along with soaring Pegasus. But in the time of their practice, the “mythology” of the Greeks was their religion: a complex, inter-woven, often conflicting world enmeshed with the natural. The gods lived upon Mt. Olympus: their home could be seen by Greek villagers carrying on their daily lives.

Today’s popular conception of mythology is a pale summary of the original. We may have learned that Pegasus was a gift from the gods, or that the flying horse was the mount of Zeus with hoofbeats which caused thunder. But it is less remembered that the first gift of a horse was rejected by the people of Athens in favor of Athena’s offering of an olive tree, one of antiquity’s great examples of the wisdom of choosing butter (olive oil) instead of guns (cavalry). It is forgotten in popular imagination that that Pegasus sired a race of immortal winged horses, the Pegasii; or that Pegasus had a brother named Celeris, the mount of one of the Geminii twins (Castor, “The Horseman”) who were honored as a cult by the legions of Rome, and given placement, as was Pegasus, in his own constellation: The Colt.

The immortal Pegasii were of many colors, not only white, and they had varying powers of transport and appearance and purpose. The Pegasii were associated with dreams and inspiration, and all were benefactors of mankind or agents of the natural world.

The “legend” of Eclipsed by Shadow and the rest of The Legend of the Great Horse trilogy concerns the strangely universal idea that horses were gifted to man by the Creator. The “Great Horses” of history are descended from this first horse. Promise, the Great Horse belonging to the book’s main character, Meagan, shares the essential characteristics of the Pegasii.