#61- Leaving Ancient Rome

The following excerpt is from Eclipsed by Shadow, the award-winning 1st Book of “The Legend of the Great Horse” trilogy.
Ancient Roman horse sculpture

Heavily-scented guards pressed around Meagan. No wonder claustrophobia is a Latin word, she thought as they jostled her. This was happening too quickly. “Of course I will visit you, Horace. Do I have to go?”

“We could escape.” The baritone voice was husky as he leaned close. “I have family in Lazio. We could be married. We could…” Horace stopped himself, seeing her head shake slowly.

Meagan was surprised by the matter-of-fact proposal. She had not until that moment fully realized she was of marriageable age. Of course she would be considered mere property in the arrangement, but the offer touched her. “Horace, I can’t. It’s not my choice. I … I don’t belong here. Please understand, I cannot.”

Horace raised his gaze to the sky and recited softly, “Her voice rings through me like a song on a lyre, yet it is only an echo on the wind.” He looked down again, his expression carefully composed. “Does it sound like the great Horatius, even a little? It is mine, for you.”

A tear streaked down Meagan’s face. “Please, Horace …”

“You make me think of the dog of my boyhood, Highest Lady. I always thought my Hercules was very stupid because he chased birds. Now I know why.”

“Horace,” Meagan smiled as she wiped her eyes. “As advice, never tell a girl she reminds you of a dog.”

The expression on his ruined face was soft. “It is to see them fly.”

A tightness grew in Meagan’s chest. “You saved me, Horace. Don’t forget that.”

“It was only my destiny. I will remember you.” Horace stepped forward and kissed her forehead. He bowed as guards pushed her on.

A cleared space followed Meagan like a spotlight as she was escorted through the tight crowd. A beaming Master of Horse called warmly, hurrying closer. “There she is, Excellency! My assistant!” The man’s voice was familiar but his manner was not: he was being nice. “Are you well, sweet child?” the man doted. “I hope you had no trouble with the Blue fans!”

Seated on the high bench was a smiling Emperor. His voice was gentle. “Bring the slave closer, Cornelius.”

Excerpted from Eclipsed by Shadow, the award-winning first volume of “The Legend of the Great Horse” trilogy. (Hrdbk pg. 172)

Book II: The Golden Spark is available! Book III announcements coming soon…

Read the 1st Chapter (free) online!

Copyright © 2008 John Royce

#60- The Chariot Race

Horses streamed into Meagan’s view amid plumes of sand. The two lead chariots ran well ahead of the Emperor’s team, but the trailing field was bottled behind the Imperial horses, reluctant to meet Cerberus. – Eclipsed by Shadow (excerpt)

The chariot teams maneuvered into a line of ornate starting boxes. The cheering dipped as the last chariots pulled inside, and exploded as the gates swung open and twelve chariots surged forward in a ragged line.

Two teams tangled in the opening rush and faltered as the Imperial chariot surged forward. From Meagan’s distance the field was a pack of scrambling color, but the Imperial black horses were easy to spot. She leaned in sympathy as they galloped to the first turn. The driver Braedin cut back and Cerberus dug against the traces—the crowd roared as the Emperor’s chariot tilted and skimmed across the flying sand. Saxon leapt around the turn, gouging up great sprays before heeling to the inside track. The chariots scattered across the curve and disappeared around the turn.

Chariot racing was more like sledding than a race of speed. Horses were never able to reach top speed in the heavy sand, so the teams jostled for position as they galloped from end to end, braking and wheeling around each turn. The center spina obscured the view of the horses galloping on the opposite side of the track, which added to the tension as half the crowd screamed in imagination of the unseen action.

Meagan waited anxiously until the field came back into view. Progress of the horses on the far stretch of track could be followed, for the chariots raised clamor and dust as they passed. Workers darted out of the way of the chariots, while behind them others worked to clear the fallen. Water boys ran up and down the center spine, wetting the track.

Horses streamed into Meagan’s view amid plumes of sand. The two lead chariots ran well ahead of the Emperor’s team, but the trailing field was bottled behind the Imperial horses, reluctant to meet Cerberus. One team tried to pass, making an attempt to come inside. The crowd rioted to see the gains the rivals were making, four horse heads stretching in unison, moving up with each stride. Braedin slashed his opponent with his whip and ducked when his turn came.

When the advancing team was close enough Braedin edged Cerberus to the inside. The stallion lunged, and the surprised rival horses swerved to foul their inside neighbors. Chariots locked wheels, and the collision cleared a section of chariots in a series of crashes that each earned a shocked scream from the crowd. The survivors swept from sight around the curve. A roar greeted the horses on the other side of the stadium.

Excerpted from Eclipsed by Shadow, the award-winning first volume of “The Legend of the Great Horse” trilogy. (Hrdbk pg. 166)

Book II: The Golden Spark will be published soon.

Read the 1st Chapter online!

Copyright © 2008 John Royce

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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#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