The Arena

There was everywhere and nowhere to run. People scattered before the galloping horses and their bristling chariots of bronze. Meagan leapt out of the path of an oncoming team. Hooves pounded across her footprints. – Eclipsed by Shadow (excerpt)

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 is trapped with prisoners in the Coliseum…

The peculiar vices of this city, it seems to me, are conceived almost in the mother’s womb … a passion for gladiators and horses.

—Cornelius Tacitus (c. 55 – 120) Roman historian

THE WOODEN DOORS groaned back together behind them. Points of spears filled the narrowing gap as it closed.

Parthenon Horse

New gates opened, tall iron-banded doors that swept outward. The cheering was too loud for any other sound to be heard, but Meagan felt a familiar rumbling. Her stomach chilled to icy jelly as horses thundered from the gates in teamed pairs.

The dazed woman looked up to the sky, thin arms outstretched. Meagan saw a chariot bearing down on her, and she screamed into the crowd’s roar as the woman went under hooves and iron-sheathed wheels.

There was everywhere and nowhere to run. People scattered before the galloping horses and their bristling chariots of bronze. Meagan leapt out of the path of an oncoming team. Hooves pounded across her footprints.

Others tried to climb the smooth mortar walls, but spectators beat them back. A chariot rode along the inside wall, sparks and masonry flying where its spiked wheel made contact. One man climbed high enough to clutch the arm of a spectator—the crowd tossed both over the wall. A woman from the stands threw herself onto the netting, writhing in the passion of bloodlust.

Meagan saw a chariot fishtail, throwing plumes of sand as it straightened towards her. She turned and ran blindly, hearing the thundering gallop grow distinct from the crowd’s noise as the chariot gained.

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.

The Legend of the Great Horse trilogy is an adventure through history … each section is about a different time period. The above excerpt is from “Home,” the 1st section of Eclipsed by Shadow, set in modern-day California.

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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#56- The Emperor’s Quadriga

THERE IS MORE to chariot racing than its appearance of runaway horses, Meagan soon learned. The game was more about survival than speed. Charioteers rode as upon a galloping skateboard, using their weight to change direction. Communication with the horses was limited to slaps and pulls.

Of course, the true horseman’s challenge of chariot racing was in keeping the animals sound. The most popular chariots were teams of four horses, the Quadrigas, which meant sixteen delicate legs exposed to overreaching and missteps, apart from the disaster of collisions. Because of these risks, chariot horses were not raced until five years of age.

As spring took hold the workout track was swamped with spectators hoping for a glimpse of the Emperor’s team. Ajax and Saxon were now sound, with only bare spots to mark their injuries. Trotting out with floating strides, the recovered Saxon was applauded for his beauty. With his large eyes and dished profile, the sleek stallion resembled an Arabian, the oldest pure breed of horse. He had been born in the fiery deserts of Persia, and each year a fleet of mares sailed the fabled stallion’s blood back to his homeland. Indeed Saxon had one of the most beautiful heads Meagan had ever seen, if the horse would only stop tossing it.

Ajax was a special favorite of the guards. The men stiffened in salute whenever the stallion jogged past, as if to a wartime hero. The short-backed, burly horse had been raised in a barracks in Gaul. He was trained to a simple, brutal code, and was eager in the extreme.

The stallion Cerberus was a daily spectacle, scattering grooms into his flocks of admirers. The Emperor’s infamous favorite had been born free in a Greek village’s semi-wild band of horses. In his youth the stallion had been allowed to choose his mares peacefully, but when the new Emperor Trajan’s preference for black horses was made known the stallion had been hauled away to Rome. It was clear from the stallion’s flashing limbs and teeth that Rome was not forgiven.

Excerpted from Eclipsed by Shadow, the award-winning 1st volume of “The Legend of the Great Horse” trilogy. (Hrdbk pg. 145)

Book II: The Golden Spark will be published soon.

Read the 1st Chapter online!

Copyright © 2008 John Royce

#55- Stranded in Ancient Rome

When she was not being reprimanded or ordered about, Meagan was generally considered not to exist. – Eclipsed by Shadow (excerpt)

Lost in the year 100 AD…

When she was not being reprimanded or ordered about, Meagan was generally considered not to exist. The fact of her station was impressed upon her by the Emperor’s driver. Handsome and popular, the young man was a celebrity. Well-dressed businessmen accompanied the star athlete at all times, and groups of admirers waited for him outside the courtyard gates. The first time Meagan saw the gray-eyed driver, she gave him a nervous greeting. The driver strode past her without the slightest acknowledgment.

Someone did notice her, however. The scarred soldier, Horace, came to talk whenever he saw Meagan in the courtyard. Sometimes he would be gone for days and reappear with a new limp or nasty cut. “These scratches?” he would say, joking. “I get them training. Careless of me.”

At first the man’s hulking presence frightened her, and she avoided looking at the dried, shriveled place where his eye should have been. Still, his was the only friendship Meagan could claim, and she learned simply to look at the eye that was looking at her and to avoid the map of scars.

“You take many baths,” the soldier told her one day. (Actually, he pantomimed the splashes Meagan took in the courtyard’s fountain.) “You are so clean. Not like the others.”

She smiled and nodded, her usual response to the language. Classroom Latin had not stressed conversation.

Horace bent down to unlace his sandal and nudged it towards her with a mud-spattered toe. “Like my new sandals? I got them from a Macedonian cobbler. Good, no?” The man flipped the sandal over to show an underside studded with iron nails. “They have hobnails too, for a practical Roman. It saves the soles.”

Meagan nodded blankly.

Horace sighed and picked up his sandal to show her. “Sandalio,” he said in a good-natured baritone, and knelt to lace it. He stood and plucked his garment. “Tun-i-ca.”

“Oh! Your tunic is …” Meagan searched vainly for an adjective.

“Elegans,” Horace prompted her, grinning. Then he held up his thick fingers, counting patiently, “Unus, duo, tres…”

With his eye-patch, Horace was remotely handsome in a mashed sort of way, and Meagan tactfully encouraged him to wear it. Regardless, when Horace made her laugh she found it easy to forget his imperfections. Soon Meagan forgot academic Latin terms such as imperfect and present tense—words that described imperial Rome quite well—and instead rehearsed the names of things explained by Horace.

Excerpted from Eclipsed by Shadow, the award-winning 1st volume of “The Legend of the Great Horse” trilogy. (Hrdbk pg. 129)

Book II: The Golden Spark will be published soon.

Read the 1st Chapter online!

Copyright © 2008 John Royce

#54- The Emperor’s Stables

“Horses helped Meagan through the dark days. The familiar rhythms of their care was an anchor to the world she had always known.” – Eclipsed by Shadow (excerpt)

Charioteer of the Greens (Ancient Rome)In the year 100 A.D.

The Emperor’s chariots belonged to the Green corporation, and it was impossible to forget. Green banners flapped against squat mortar buildings and green ribbons adorned iron-grilled gates. Guards and supervisors wore leek-colored tunics and the horses worked in green-dyed wrappings and pads.

Inside the Emperor’s compound, stern horsemanship was executed with clockwork precision. Daylight hours were filled with the rumbling of chariots and shouts of men. First feeding was sharply at dawn and repeated at regular intervals throughout the day. Fresh water was supplied continuously and the stalls cleaned in rotation.

Horses helped Meagan through the dark days. The familiar rhythms of their care was an anchor to the world she had always known. Stall cleaning was her duty: slaves of better rank carried out feeding and grooming. The horses’ mangers were stuffed with fragrant hay and grains, but every morning a stained cart was wheeled down the rows, from which meat and eggs were distributed to mix with the feed. Romans believed feeding sparrow’s eggs, ground feathers and birds’ blood logically made a horse run faster.

“No, they do not,” Meagan had protested in broken Latin. “Horses are … are…”

“Horses are what?” asked a sneering voice behind her. She turned to see the baleful gaze of the Master of Horse. A waft of pungent perfume seeped from his toga. “Please, tell us. Horses are … what?”

“I-I don’t know,” Meagan said, flustered. She wanted to say “vegetarian” but could not think of the Latin word.

The man blinked up at her and wrinkled his nose. “Better not to offer opinions in the Emperor’s stable, I think. Others might find out we use idiots here.”

Meagan observed the other workers’ downcast eyes and remained silent. Later, she would learn the Master of Horse was called Posthumous, a name commonly given to a son born after his father’s death. Others’ descriptions of his character added colorful phrases to her vocabulary.

Excerpted from Eclipsed by Shadow, the award-winning 1st volume of “The Legend of the Great Horse” trilogy. (Hrdbk pg. 128)

Book II: The Golden Spark will be published soon.

Read the 1st Chapter online!

Copyright © 2008 John Royce