The rebel army is marching to war, bent on destroying Thoheeks Bili, his kinsmen, and the power of Morguhn...
Call to Arms
Bili of Morguhn has been summoned home to claim his inheritance after years of soldiering in the Middle Kingdoms. But the Ehleen nobility and the priests of the Old Religion are planting the seeds of rebellion, swearing to wrest back from Bili and his fellow Horseclansmen the lands and wealth which once were theirs. And the stench of war rises once again over the land…
But what Bili does not know is that both his troops and those of his enemy are pawns in a larger game, a deadly game of bloody intrigue; and the stakes are as big as the survival of the Confederation – and the Horseclans themselves…
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).
5.0 out of 5 stars
I remember discovering this series while I was in the Army, with one of the novels about Milo Morai's budding Empire in the Carolinas after a war had knocked out civilization. Milo was the Immortal Emperor, a man who had lived for longer than even he could remember. I lost touch of the series for many years, then picked up this novel about Billi the Axe, strong young Duke to be coming home to treachery and murder, and his efforts to stop a revolt from happening in his own Duchy. Part of the attraction to the stories were the settings in familiar places with strange names. Milo is in this one as well, running a medieval army with modern concepts.Doug Dandridge
No matter how carefully Sir Bili Morguhn rearranged his hooded cloak, the cold, driving rain continued to find a sure path into his already sodden brigandine. Wearily, he leaned forward as his plodding gelding commenced to ascend yet another hill, and the movement started his nose to dripping again. Bili resignedly employed gauntleted fingers to blow some of the drip from his reddened nostrils, then vainly searched his person for a dry bit of cloth with which to wipe them. Leaning back against the high cantle as the gelding gingerly negotiated the mud-slick downgrade of the Traderoad, he thought that he could feel his every joint creak in harmony with his saddle. A reverie of the broad, sun dappled meadows of his patrimonial estates flitted through his mind.
The wet hide of his stallion’s massive barrel came to rest against his booted leg and the warhorse mindspoke him, “Mahvros, too, thinks of the land loved by Sun and Wind, and he wishes now but a single roll in soft, dry grass. Is it many more days of wet and cold until we be there?”
Bili sighed in sympathy. “It’s considered to be a two-week journey by the traders,” he answered telepathically. “But I hope to make it in ten days...less, if possible, despite this abominable weather. That’s why I bought the geldings and the mule; you’re too good a friend to risk foundering.”
While speaking he reached over and patted the muscle-corded withers, then ran his hand up to the crest and gently kneaded the thick neck. Could the big black have purred, he would have then. As it was, he beamed a wordless reaffirmation of his lifelong love for and devotion to Bili. Between the two minds, human and equine, flowed a depthless stream of mutual respect and trust and friendship.
The gelding raised his drooping head briefly and snorted. In his turn, Mahvros arched his neck and snorted in reply. The gelding, eyes rolling, shied from the stallion’s threat, stumbled in the rock-studded mud, and all but fell. Only Bili’s superb horsemanship kept him in his seat and the gelding on his feet. He was about to chide Mahvros, who knew that the newly acquired animals were terrified of him, when the warhorse again mindspoke.
“Best to sit me, now, Brother. Stallions ahead, and mares and sexless ones and many mules. Their riders fight.” There were eager undertones in the big horse’s mindspeak, for he loved a fight.
A bare week ago, Bili might have been every bit as eager, but now, with his need to speedily complete his journey pressing upon him, he could see only the delay which a skirmish might entail. Nonetheless, he reined the gelding onto the shoulder where the mud was not so deep, then dismounted, tethered the two hacks and the mule, and mounted the monstrous black stallion.
Once in the familiar war kak, he removed the cloak and draped it over the mule’s packsaddle, then unslung his small, heavyweight target and strapped it on his left arm. While Mahvros quivered with joyful anticipation, Bili uncased his huge axe and tightened its thong on his right wrist. Lastly, he slid into place his helm’s nasal and snapped down the cheek pieces.
“All right, Brother,” he mindspoke the stamping stallion. “Let us see what lies ahead...but quietly, mind you! And charge only if I so command.”
For all his bulk, Mahvros was capable of moving silently as a cat. But even a cat would have found creeping difficult on the mud sucking road, so Bili put his mount to the wooded slope which flanked it. At the crest he was glad he had exercised elementary caution, for where the road curved around the hill sat two horsemen with bared blades.
Just below his hilltop position, a hot little fight was in progress round about a stonewalled travelers’ spring and six huge trader wagons. The attackers were obviously brigands rather than troopers, such that had become all too common along the lonelier stretches of the trade roads, since King Gilbuht had stripped away the bulk of the usual patrols to augment his cavalry in the current war.
The defenders, fighting heavy odds, included a few Freefighters—Rahdzburkers, from the look of them—and a few more hastily armed merchants, ebonskinned men garbed in the style of the Kahleefait of Zahrtohgah. That the tiny force were no mean warriors was attested by the dozen or so still or twitching brigands who were scattered about the ground before them. Even as he watched, a helmeted merchant fitted a broadbladed dart to a throwing-stick and sent a hefty robber crashing into the mud, thick fingers clawing at the steel sunk deep in his chest. But in the same time, a Freefighter and two merchants were hacked to earth. The defenders were fighting a lost battle; the odds were just too heavy to allow of aught but defeat and death for the doughty little band. Unless...
Bili’s thoughts raced. Not all the normal patrols were gone from this part of the Kingdom of Harzburk, but they no longer rode on any sort of schedule, for they had too much ground to cover with too few men. Therefore, these bandits were taking a considerable risk to attack a merchant train in broad daylight; that must be the reason for the road guards below the hill.
Grinning with the seed of a chancy plan, he backed Mahvros a little way back into the woods, then lifted to his lips his silver-mounted bullshorn. Filling his lungs, he sounded the familiar call, then again and a third time.
Hefting his axe, he next gave Mahvros the signal to charge, adding, “Make much noise, Brother, as much as a half troop of dragoons!”
Then it was over the crest and out of the woods and barreling down the steep slope toward the raging battle. The stallion’s hooves were a bass thunder through the swirling ground mist.
Raising his heavy axe and whirling it over his head, Bili shouted, “UP, UP HARZBURK! UP HARZBURK! FIRST SQUAD LEFT! FOURTH SQUAD RIGHT! ARCHERS TO THE FLANKS! UP HARZBURK!”
From below came a confused babble of shouts, then one cracked tenor rang above the rest, “…git t’hell outa here! That there’s Sir Hinree’s Troop, I reca’nize his black horse!”
Then Bili found himself among a milling cluster of brigands. A shaggy pony went down, bowled over by Mahvros’ impetus, and the savage warhorse went at the downed animal and man with teeth and hooves. Bili laid about him with the doublebitted axe, parrying swords on its steel shaft and emptying saddle after saddle. All at once, there were no riders before him, only a couple of groaning, dying bandits on the ground.
The opaque mist which had so far been but patches had thickened and coalesced since he had launched his reckless charge. He almost axed an unmounted man who appeared on his right, before he recognized the armor and gear of a Rahdzburker Freefighter. The stranger stopped long enough to dispatch a wounded brigand, then limped smiling up to Bili.
“I never thought I’d be glad to hear the Harzburker warcry, my lord, not after Behreesburk; but by the Sacred Sword, you and your troop could not have been better come! But...” He glanced about him bewilderedly. “...where is your troop, sir?”
Showing every tooth, Bili chuckled, “You’re looking at it, Freefighter. I be no patrol, only a traveler like your employer.”