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A Woman of the Horseclans

Condemned by her people, she found a new destiny among the folk of the undying high lord, Milo Morai…

She rode into legend…

Shunned by her own folk as a creature of Evil, Bettylou Hanson found an instant welcome among the people of the Horseclans. Young, healthy, intelligent, and gifted with powerful mindspeak potential, she was everything Milo Morai’s people looked for in a clan member.

But even Milo himself couldn’t have foreseen the powerful role Bettylou was to play in the future of the Krooguh clan. For the frightened girl whom Tim Krooguh had rescued from certain death was destined to become a living legend among the Kindred, a fighter whose courage would rouse the clans against a foul and dangerous foe…

Book 12 of the Horseclans series

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Robert Adams

Robert Adams (1932-1990) was a career soldier whose Horseclans series drew on his military background to lend verisimilitude to the exploits of 26th Century of immortal mutant warriors in a balkanized North America. The Coming of the Horseclans (1975) was the first of 18 novels in the sequence, which ended, with The Clan of the Cats (1988), only on account of the author’s death.

His non-Horseclans work included two other series. Castaways in Time (1980) and its five sequels were a mix of alternate history and time travel. The Stairway to Forever and Monsters and Magicians (both 1988) were the only volumes to appear of a projected fantasy series.

He also co-edited several anthologies, among them Barbarians (1985, with Martin H. Greenberg and Charles H. Waugh), four Magic in Ithkar volumes (1985-87, with Andre Norton), Robert Adams' Book of Alternate Worlds (1987, with Pamela Crippen Adams and Martin H. Greenberg) and Robert Adams' Book of Soldiers (1988, same co-editors).

Reviews

5 Stars! Great Series, great individual book

This is a great series, and a great book in particular. Congrats on considering this edition...the newer edition is somewhat abridged. Robert Adams can get sometimes monotonous in his plot elements if you read the entire series, as the corrupt religious dirtmen theme is rather overused, as well as the once again corrupt Ehleenee. I still enjoyed the series rather a lot, though I have only read about the first thirteen. My father had collected them when they were new, and books 14 on were devoured by some mice out in storage before I came along looking for them years later. Dad tells me that they are more military action than the previous books in the series though, and although I enjoyed the battles in the first few books, I do like some plot thrown into my savage sword-hacking battle scenes. I would highly recommend the series, though read it before you hand it over to preteens if you are one of those BIG BROTHER parents. My dad always had a open "I'll explain or discuss anything you don't understand or that bothers you" approach with me on reading, and I think I turned out pretty good. :)

A. Eakle -- Amazon reviews



5 Stars! Great!

The series of books are good and this book was a good representation of the whole series and what a horseclan is all about.

Mike Rhame -- Amazon Reviews
Excerpt

Chapter One

Bettylou Hanson set down the heavy, smelly slop bucket and paused for a moment on the upper porch of the Building of the Son to gaze through the deepening dusk across the neat acres of gardens immediately surrounding the Abode of the Chosen. Beyond the gardens lay the broad ring of rippling grain fields and, beyond them, the fenced and always guarded pastures from whence the herdsmen were even now driving the sleek, lowing cattle. The herd guard dogs—big, prick-eared and long-haired beasts, bred up over many generations from the packs of wild dogs that once had roamed the plains—nipped at the heels of the cattle, easily dodging retaliatory hooves and horn swipes.

The girl strained for a moment to see if her blue eyes could pick out the tall, broad-shouldered form of Harod Norman. Then she shook her shaven head and, sighing, picked up the odoriferous bucket again, reflecting that that part of her life was forever gone, had died on the winter night on which the Elder Claxton, full of the Passion of God, had taken her maidenhead, died when her secret sinfulness had caused God to see to her quickening by the Elder’s seed.

She realized that for her life of any sort could be measured in mere months of time. Immediately the babe she bore was weaned, she would be scourged one last time, then would be driven out beyond the farthest pastures, onto the open prairie itself, to die of hunger or thirst or wild beasts. Through His Holy Servant, the Elder Claxton, God had made clear to all the world her secret and most heinous Sin. And so would her final disposition be that of all the other Sinful since first His Chosen folk had survived God’s fearful Time of the Judgments and banded themselves together in the First Abode under the Holy guidance of the very first Elder.

For as long as she could remember, Bettylou Hanson had heard over and over the story of how, long, long ago, the land had supported a vast multitude of folk, most of them dwelling in huge concentrations called “cities.”

These “cities” were very hotbeds of Sin, Elder Claxton attested, and all of the inhabitants of them spent their entire lives in the worship of Evil in all of its dreadful attributes. Therefore, it was only fitting and proper that these Sinful Ones—who had viciously mocked and savagely persecuted the few, widely scattered Holy Ones since time out of mind—should have been the first to suffer pain and death in the Time of the Judgment.

Some few of these Sinful Ones—the luckier, possibly less sinful, could the real facts ever be known—died quickly of the rain of cleansing fire visited upon them; but the vast majority were not so blessed with a quick, clean death. The Sinful died in their millions over a period of weeks and months of a few new, terrifying diseases, a diversity of older diseases, starvation or simple fear—fear, Elder Claxton had always pointed out, of the just and terrible punishment of God foreordained and earned many times over by their sinfulness and their unremitting persecution of their spiritual betters who had of course been the ancestors of the Claxtons, the Hansons and all the other families of the Chosen People of the Lord God.

But even though the land had been long ago cleansed of those millions of Sinful Ones, Sin itself was not dead. Even among the Chosen People, the seed was sometimes tainted with traces of the ancient wickednesses. And, as Woman had been the very first evil temptress of godly Man (of which great and eternally unforgivable Sin Woman was reminded for the most of her life once each moon by discomfort and shameful, unclean, milk-curdling bloodiness), so too was Woman the carrier of the tainted seed of Sin and Wickedness.

And so, in every succeeding generation of the Chosen since the awful Time of the Divine Judgments and the Cleansing of the Land, had the Holy Seed of the Blessed Elders sought and found and rooted out those women who hid, harbored and were contaminated by the Seed of Sin.

Bettylou, however, was the very first Hanson in whom the foul taint had ever surfaced, so she could feel no true anger at her family’s recent mistreatment of her, for she was the living mark of their disgrace—her shaven head, crimson-dyed scalp and swelling belly ever-present reminders of their now-sullied name, their scandal and dishonor.

Why, she had asked herself over and over again in the last half-year, why her, Bettylou Hanson? Elder Claxton came unto every girl of the Chosen sometime in the first year after her initial moon-blood; so had his father done and his father’s sire and likewise for all the generations back to the gathering of the Chosen and the building of the first Abode of the Righteous. The injection into their maturing bodies of the Elder’s Holy Seed was simply another part of growing up in the Abode; every adult woman had experienced the like from the present Elder or his father, yet not one in a score suffered more than momentarily.

Only in those rare cases where Sin had its foul lair within her flesh did a girl conceive of the Elder. A year and a half ago it had been Sydell Manchester; now, it was Bettylou Hanson.

The last edge of the sun-disk sank below the hazy western horizon, but Bettylou’s labors never ceased. Through the length of the dusk and even into the full dark of the night, the pregnant girl stumbled down the long flight of wooden steps to the ground with full buckets of garbage or sewage, dumped their noisome contents into the long trench wherein the waste would all be fermented into fertilizer for fields and gardens, then rinsed the emptied containers with water from the stock well before trudging her long, weary way back up the twenty cubits or more of steep stairs to the residence levels for another slop bucket.

When the herdsmen had byred their cattle safe from night-prowling predators, had—with the indispensable aid of their dogs—chivied the blatting sheep into the strong-walled, roofed-over fold, dropped the massive bars that secured the livestock from easy access, then fed and kenneled the dogs, they gathered about the well troughs, laughing, splashing at each other and joking while they washed.

Bettylou set down her just-emptied wooden bucket and stood silently in a patch of near-darkness near the foot of the stairs, waiting for the men to finish their evening ablutions before she made use of the water troughs to rinse the bucket of its fecal foulness.

While she stood, she thought. Why had God created her so? With a pretty face and well-formed body? She had not conceived of the Elder the first time he took her, and had she been as ugly and misshapen as flat-chested Lizzie Scriber or a mountain of fat like Gail Collier, that once would have been the only time that Elder Claxton would have come to her.

But, of course, feminine beauty was well known to be a probable symptom of a creature that harbored Sin, and so the Elders always revisited such girls at least once each year following the initial visitation until those so seductively endowed were safely wed. Elder Claxton’s seventh visit to Bettylou had proved her downfall.

“Oh, why, Lord God, did You not see me born without that taint of the ancient Evil?” The girl mourned silently, to herself. She would not have thought of praying for any deliverance from her present travails and her approaching doom, for she believed all that she had been taught and so felt herself to be no less than deserving of all the cruelties that had been and would be heaped upon her Sin-harboring body. Evil must always suffer and then die, and that meant that Evil Bettylou Hanson must suffer and die, for such had always been the course of events in the Abodes of the Holy Ones, the People Chosen of God.

Their washing done, the men trooped past the silent girl, feet squishing in hide brogans, water dripping from beards and hair onto already-soaked shirts. The older men pointedly ignored Bettylou, the younger ones—Short Isaac and Amos and Esau, Fat Gabriel and Caleb and Aaron, boys with whom she had played as toddler and child—carefully avoided her eyes, and one and all fell silent until they were well past her and on the steep stairs.

But not big, tall Harod Norman, he who was to have been the husband of Bettylou Hanson... once. His brown eyes met her hazel eyes, briefly, and she thought she saw pain in their depths. But then the pain—if pain it truly had been—was replaced with an utter and unmistakable disgust and the massive young man just stomped past her, pausing only long enough to spit on her upraised face before setting his big feet to the steps.

Harod, her Harod, her irredeemably lost Harod. Bettylou continued to watch his big-boned form, rising head and thick-muscled shoulders above both older and younger herdsmen, up the full height of the staircase. There at the top waited Sarah Tuttle, with the flames of the just-lit torches glinting on her long, thick black braids. Harod easily lifted Sarah from off her feet, high enough that he might soundly buss both her cheeks and her dark-red lips as well before they two went off arm in arm with several other couples.

Watching, dumbly, from below, in her shorn shame, with the slop bucket stinking at her bare feet, Bettylou’s burning tears mingled with Harod’s scornful spittle on her cheek.

For the half of an hour more, through the deepening dusk, the gravid girl labored up and down the stairs, bearing heavy buckets of garbage down and empty, rinsed buckets up, proceeding now mostly by feel of fingers and bare toes and familiarity, for little of the torchlight from above reached stairs or ground, and torches were not normally burned at ground level.

The last bucketload was of assorted bones, mostly. A handful at the time, she picked them all out and threw them over the high fence into the kennel run, her actions precipitating an immediate noise of snarlings and snappings and growlings from within. Then, stepping gingerly lest her still-tender feet encounter the chance sharp stone, she crossed to the trench and dumped the residue of the bone bucket atop the rest of the waste. It was while she was plodding back toward the water troughs to rinse the bucket that she smelled that first, strange smell.

It was not an unpleasant or noxious smell, but it was most unfamiliar, being compounded as it was of smoke and cured hides, horse sweat and man sweat, with a strong hint of crushed herbs and sour milk, all commingled.

Then, beside the narrow, high-silled door that pierced one of the larger doors of the horse stable, she dimly perceived the shape of what she at first took to be a stripling. The figure beckoned to her, wordlessly, and she set down the bucket and paced over to him, assuming that he had been sent from above to set her to shoveling up and hauling out manure or some such similar task, before she would be allowed to finally wolf her nightly bowl of scraps and seek her hovel near the sheepfold.

But as she neared the figure, it became clear to her wondering eyes that it was no boy, but rather a short, slender, wiry man. He appeared to be no more than one or two fingers taller than was Bettylou herself. Shorter he was than even Short Isaac, a full span—possibly even two spans—under the four cubits which was the average height of adult men of the Chosen. Nor did the short man own the big bones and thick, rolling muscles which were the heritage of men of the Abodes of the Righteous.

But he lacked not for strength, as she found when he reached out and clasped a callused hand about her wrist to draw her insistently toward the barely ajar door.

The girl neither struggled nor screamed, but allowed herself to be drawn to and through the doorway and into the stable. Since God had turned His Holy Face from her, had caused to be quickened the cursed Sinfulness within her body, there was nothing worse that could possibly befall her. The thought passed briefly through her mind that the man might well kill her with the long, broad knife cased at his belt, but she knew that she would be set out on the prairie soon enough to starve or be mauled to death by wild beasts, so she could only consider a quicker death to be a mercy.

Upon the highest of the three tiers of porches, more than thirty-five cubits above the ground, Solomon Claxton, youngest son of the Elder of this Abode, had just seen to the proper placements of the first shift of night guards. Now, in the guardroom, alone save for the snoring second shift, he had just seated himself at the table by the lamp and opened his ancient, well-worn bible when the dogs set up a ferocious clamor from the kennel.

Solomon was reading this night from the Book of Judges, his thick lips shaping out each word painfully as his horny finger drew his eyes to it. But the prematurely gray farmer, had barely commenced when one of the section leaders of the first shift, Ehud Manchester, strode hurriedly into the long, narrow room. They two were about of an age and were friends of long years standing.

“Sol,” said Ehud without preamble, “it’s suthin goldurned funny goin on downstairs. Hear them dogs, don’tcha? Reckon I oughta take fellers with guns down to see ‘bout it?”

The thought flitted through Solomon Claxton’s mind that for all that a man could not have a better man beside him when he chanced to be fighting off godless, heathen nomad raiders or a pack of starveling winter wolves, Patriarch Manchester’s son, Ehud, was at times somewhat slow of wits.

But he smiled and reassured his old friend. “Ehud, as I came upstairs, I saw the Scarlet Woman lugging a bucket of bones down. You know how the dogs always snarl and fight for a while over bones. Besides, you might recall what my father, the Elder, had for to say about sending armed parties down at night.”

Ehud did recollect those words and what had precipitated them, and, if his memory had needed prodding, he had certain personal touchstones to awaken recall. In the dead of the hard winter just past, a guard had claimed to have seen a horde of fur-clad nomad raiders creeping across the snowy fields toward the barns and storehouses. A cranklight had been set up, and when its beam had swept over the nearer fields, several other men had definitely seen something moving.

However, when a hastily assembled and armed party had reached the ground, nothing was visible amid the swirling, drifting snow, whereupon the ninny commanding them had split them into three parties and sent them off into differing directions, hunting they knew not what, well armed, in visibility that ranged from poor to nil.

Two men had been killed—one of them Ehud’s younger brother—and two more wounded—one of these being Ehud himself—before one ill-advised party discovered that they were battling the other two parties in the deep snow of the pitch-black stableyard.

The next day, spoor and droppings of a bear had been found in a sheltered spot close by to where the something had been seen on the tragic preceding night, and Elder Claxton had then ordered that no more parties would set out from the Abode of nights lacking his personal order to do so.

Solomon closed his bible, pushed back from the table and stood up, saying, “But we ain’t none of us up here for to take no chances, Ehud. We’ll git us out a cranklight and do ‘er right, heah?”

The six cranklights were the most ancient things in the Abode, far and away older than the Abode itself. They had been brought, long, long ago, from the First Abode, somewhere far away to the north and east, to be installed for a few generations in the new Abodes built by colonists from the original. Then, when these newer Abodes had prospered and multiplied to the point of overcrowding, more colonists had gone out to build yet newer Abodes and had had shared out to them cranklights and rifles and such other needful items.

All adult men and even a few of the women knew how to set the devices up and properly operate them, but no one now alive knew aught of constructing new ones—a talent which had been lost long ago, along with the skills for making new barrels for the rifles. Repairs were sometimes effected by replacing the worn part with an identical part from the dwindling supply of spares or from one of the ever-increasing number of worn-out cranklights.

Solomon Claxton himself supervised the careful removal of the closest cranklight from out the special closet that housed it. He saw to its setting up in the carved wooden swivel socket in the rail of the porch, personally connected the power box to the light, then set a husky young farmer to cranking the handles on each side of the box.

First, a coal-red spot commenced to glow from somewhere deep beneath the thick, polished glass lens. As the crank man maintained the steady, rhythmic cranking, the spot became red-gold, then yellow-gold, then silver-gold, then silver, silver-white, and soon was become so bright that no man could look directly into it without a degree of pain and a long period of near-blindness.

Taking the handles of the lamp, Solomon swept the far-reaching beam out across gardens and the fields beyond. Expecting to see nothing, he was deeply surprised when the beam picked up a clear movement. His scalp prickled and his mouth took on a touch of dry ness.

“Cat!” Ehud almost shouted in Solomon’s ear. “Long-tooth cat, Sol, a dang big ‘un too, moving th’ough the wheat, yonder. See ‘im?”

Solomon had good eyesight, he saw the beast too, and it surely was a big cat, even for a specimen of its Devil-spawned ilk—a good two cubits at the shoulder, in fine flesh, with a fawn-colored pelt and the white fangs that extended well below the lower jaw. Had it been coming toward the buildings of the Abode, he most certainly would have awakened his father, the Elder, and then led a party out against the huge predator—one of the most dangerous of all the wild beasts that plagued man here on the verge of the vast, grassy wilderness.

But the monstrous feline clearly was not bound for the Abode and presently harbored no designs upon the beasts below or their owners above; rather was it pacing slowly, deliberately across the expanse of the rippling wheat field at a right angle to the buildings. He had done much hunting in his lifetime, had Solomon Claxton, and he knew well that the big beast would not be moving so slowly and calmly were it not carrying a good bellyful of meat.

He let go the handle of the cranklight and turned just in time to see Ehud settle his shoulder firmly against the buttplate of a long swivel-rifle, shake a bit of priming powder into the pan, position the frizzen, then start to draw back the flint.

Moving fast, Solomon threw open the just-primed pan and brushed out more of the fine powder, then slammed down the hinged wooden breech cover over the action of the piece.

“No, Ehud,” he told his friend gently, not in a tone of reprimand. “Not tonight. A gunshot would awaken every soul in the Abode. You’d rob them all of their sleep to no real account, and the Elder would assuredly wax wroth.

“Come sunup, the hunters will track that cat, kill him if he’s denning dangerously near to the Abode. Never fear, you saw him first, so you’ll get the pelt if the Elder doesn’t want it. You know I’ll look out for my oldest friend, don’t you?

“Now, I’ll see to the putting up of the light, and you grab a man to reshroud the rifle.”