The following is an excerpt from “Eclipsed by Shadow”, an award-winning adventure through history — on horseback. Meagan is captive in a medieval village (1240 AD in modern-day Russia) she had tried to warn of impending attack by the Mongolian Horde, who were called ‘Tatars’ by Europeans.
*The odd language is Old English: ‘Bayard’ is medieval slang for horse … Bayard was a bay horse in medieval French poetry, that could magically adjust its size to carry multiple riders.)
Open fields surrounded the town. The horizon blurred into trees and hills, and behind it a dark column of dust rose like black smoke. A troop of knights stood in a loose formation around a band of perhaps twenty Mongolian ponies. Only one nomad sat upright—every other rider lay sideways and motionless across his mount. The Englishman snorted. “Tatar messengers, asking for surrender.” He gave a signal and a call went out. The knights parted ranks to let the single nomad pass. The man galloped away towards the horizon.
“You killed them?” she asked incredulously.
“Oh, ho, yes. For the nones, they die as other men.”
“You can still escape,” Meagan said urgently. “We have to leave now. There might be time to get away.”
“Mayhaps. Or mayhaps I have your rusty bayard carry your body back, what the rats leave.” The Englishman swaggered back to the table. Servants began to rush about, bringing out pitchers and bowls. “I have waited my bread long enough. To gluppen.”
The man was delighted. “A witful act for a wench, such a draught! There be English in you still! Which be you, North or South?”
“I hail from South, therebefore. Long live King Henry the Third, if he lives. Could be Henry the Fourth now or Fifth, being I not seen the shores of England for fifteen years, nigh.”
“Long live King Henry,” Meagan said politely. Shaken and afraid, she still watched the approach of a well-cooked duck with interest. The roast was falling off its bones, held in place by carrots and other boiled vegetables surrounding it. She made an effort not to grab.
The Englishman winked. “Aghast are thee, alien, to think we men might pluck a likerous rose as you be?” His eyes wandered over Meagan but kept snapping up like a leashed hound jerked to attention. “Fear not lewid men. The Lord’s word is counsel here.”
Meagan swallowed, looking at the unsavory collection of people around her bearing limps, pockmarks, warts, and filmed-over eyes. Here she was a goddess of beauty.
“Enough the nonsense of surrender! It was not meant, so we talk of other things.” The man took a handful of meat and chewed it, open-mouthed. “How best to skathe a Tatar be a matter. Tell us this.”
Skathe a Tatar? Meagan looked at the man. He wanted to know how to kill a nomad, but how could she make him understand? The coming army was too numerous, too fast and too seasoned. She could say that nomads struck from all sides, setting fires, wheeling away shooting arrows on the attack and the retreat. She could tell this man his city was doomed, but his eyes said the truth would not be welcome.
Copyright © 2008 John Royce
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.