The blood-soaked blade of war.
For seven hundred years, the Undying High Lord Milo has been building his Confederation, leading the Horseclans slowly across the lands once known as the United States, absorbing city-states and nomadic tribes alike, some by peaceful means, some by the sword
But now his enemies have banded together into an army far larger than Milo can muster. Led by an ancient and evil intelligence, this wave of unstoppable destruction is thundering swiftly down upon the Confederation forces.
And Milo has no choice but to call upon all his allies, from the smallest troop of mountain warriors to the notorious pirate ships of the Lord of the Sea Isles, in a final desperate attempt to save the Confederation from seemingly certain doom...
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
Exciting escapism! This book by itself wants you to read more wanting to find out whats going to happen next. Its full of excitement, danger and fun.it allows you to escape to another place. Thank you for bringing them to life again.Retired Fire Guy
5.0 out of 5 stars
This brought back memories! I read the Horseclans books when they were originally published. They were rousing good fun then and still are now. If you enjoy reading escapist adventure, you will enjoy this book. It's a quick read and a great way to spend a quiet rainy couple of hours. I hope the rest of Robert Adams stories are published on Kindle SOON!C. Meola
Briskly, the column of horsemen trotted onto the long, ancient bridge, steel-shod hooves ringing on the worn stones. Behind them, an oncoming dust cloud heralded the advance of their army; before them, across the width of the river, the empty road wound into the dark density of a forest, beyond which rose the mountains that sheltered their foe, King Zenos of Karaleenos.
Leading the column, astride a tall black stallion of the Middle Kingdoms’ breed, was a flashily attired man of uncertain age but of obvious Ehleenoee antecedents. His three-quarter armor was plated with gold, silver, and burnished copper, and his lobster back helmet bore a nodding crest of bright red plumes. The small buckler on his left arm was also gold-plated and bore the Three Rivers sign of his house executed in turquoise. Over his left hip jutted the hilt of his sword—solid gold, pommel and quillons set with rubies, emeralds, and sapphires.
Some few of the men who followed were garbed in a similar manner, but most were not. Only the courtier-officers aped the impractical equipage of Demetrios, Undying High Lord of Kehnooryos Ehlahs. For the real soldiers, who constituted the bulk of the column, it was Pitzburk-plate iron-rimmed bullhide bucklers and steel-and-leather sword hilts wound with brass wire to give a better grip.
The courtiers rode on; silently, behind their perpetually smiling faces, they cursed the dust and the heat, the sweat and discomfort and thirst. But the true soldiers were troubled by other matters. They squirmed uneasily in their sweat-slicked saddles and exchanged worried glances. Those who might have communicated with their fellows by mindspeak kept their mindshields rigidly in place, for Demetrios, too, possessed mindspeak; further, he owned the power of life and death over every officer and man in the army and his temper was notoriously as vicious as his moods were capricious.
Captain Herbuht Mai, commander of a thousand lancers contracted to the service of Kehnooryos Ehlahs, dropped his reins onto his big gelding’s neck and commenced to tighten the points securing his helmet.
He hasn’t changed, he thought. He’s the same arrogant, overconfident ass that he was forty years ago when grandpa served him! By my steel, he has campaigned with Lord Milo, he should know better. Irregulars should, this very minute, be harrying, nibbling at young Zenos’ army, reporting back to us of its strength...and its weaknesses. But that pompous popinjay up there doesn’t even send out flank riders or point riders, and here we are marching through hostile country.
Guhsz Helluh, a stocky, fortyish, graying man, had lifted his heavy target from its carrying hooks and was tightening the armstraps, even while his blue-green eyes attempted to peel back the tangle of forest ahead, that he might see what lay under those trees. Though his thin lips fluttered, his words were as silent as had been Mai’s, for if the High Lord took it into his head to have him executed, all of his twelve hundred Kweebai pikemen would not be enough to save him.
Damn fool, he thought. Good fighter—oh, that I admit, in personal combat. But as a strategist or tactician, he can’t find his hairy arse with both hands! Three—count ‘em—no less than three ambuscades in the last week, and that Undying imbecile still keeps sacrificing security for speed, hurrying good lads to their death for no good reason. He may be immune to steel, but by the Sacred Sword, the rest of us aren’t! And that copulating forest could hide anything—a thousand archers or five hundred lancers, even a battery or two of catapults or spear throwers, and we’d never see them until they were ready.
But both men were wrong in their estimates of the High Lord. Demetrios rode fully aware of the chances he was taking...and he was completely cognizant of the terrible cost should his judgment prove faulty.
Ever since that day, nearly two-score years ago, when he had fought his first single combat with old Aleksandros, goaded the aged strahteegos into giving him the death thrust that unexpectedly proved him to be immortal, then joined forces with Lord Milo and his tribe of barbarians, had he been afforded the treatment of a retarded child. True, he admitted to acting the fool in the first flush of his realization that there were but three others like himself in all Kehnooryos Ehlahs. No sooner had he granted equal status to Lord Milo, proclaimed him co-High Lord, than his—Demetrios’—power began to flow away like water runs through a sieve. Then, Milo and his bitch of a wife chivvied him into marrying that renegade slut, Aldora. Even had he liked women, which he did not, Aldora would have been difficult for him to stomach—born an Ehleeneeas, yet she had become more of a barbarian than any other member in the tribe since her adoption into one of the clans.
I tried, he thought, squinting his eyes against the glare that the morning sun threw from his brilliant armor and shield. Gods, but I tried. Nothing is wrong with me, I have no trouble at all with a clean, beautiful boy, but sex with a filthy, incessantly yapping woman is something that a man of my refined sensibilities just cannot perform. And in thirty-odd years that slimy whore has put more horns on my head than a hundred flocks of goats could sport! She flaunts her lovers before me and, when I slew one of them, what did she do but seduce my favorite lover, ruined the poor boy for life, she did. He’d fathered three or four children on some clans-woman before he died at the intaking of Eeleeoheepolis...and it served the faithless pig right—he should have been tortured to death.
And when my armies took the field against the northern barbarians and the western barbarians, and during the years it took to win back the north half of Karaleenos, they made a mere puppet of me. Oh, yes, a figurehead, that’s all I was! Parading the army before me, calling me captain of commanders, while they gave every meaningful order.
As his mount crossed the midpoint of the bridge, Demetrios smiled and, straightening in the saddle, struck a heroic pose, head high and right fist on armored right thigh. Well, I bided my time, I did; now, I’ve done it. Now I’m in southern Karaleenos, and I will wrest it from Zenos, or every man in this army will die in the attempt! Then they’ll all know that Demetrios is a man to be reckoned with. They’ll...
But there was no more time for quiet thought. A sleet of arrows fell upon the head of the column and Demetrios was hard put to control his screaming, wounded horse. None of the men were injured, for the bone-tipped hunting shafts shattered on armor and would not even pierce leather. But the horses were not so well protected; two were down, hampering the column, and several more were hurt.
Captain Helluh spotted the first stone coming and instinctively raised his shield, but the foot-thick boulder was short, splashing into the river yards from the bridge downstream. The second raised a brown geyser about the same distance upstream.
“Bracketed,” groaned Herbuht Mai. “The next stone will draw blood unless that ninny has the brains to retreat.”
The third stone took out a yard of bridge railing and some of the flying splinters peppered Demetrios’ stallion, at which the tortured horse surged forward, bit in teeth, nearly unseating his rider. Despite many misgivings, the column followed as best they could.
While his companions drew swords or readied lances or uncased darts, Mai unslung his horn and winded the signal upon which he and his lieutenants had agreed. Once, twice, thrice he blew the code, then slung the horn and drew his steel.
Seeing where he was being borne, Demetrios drew his sword—no mean feat at a full, jarring gallop—and waved it first over his head, then pointed it at the forest, meanwhile hoping that his horse would stop before he reached the border of the Witch Kingdom, three hundred miles to the south. But he need not have worried; the commander of the ambush knew well the vulnerability of dismounted archers and catapult men to cavalry attack. Within the forest, drums rolled and, before the runaway had reached the southern end of the bridge, a mixed lot of lancers and irregular cavalry detouched from hidden trails onto the roadway. No sooner were half a hundred of the enemy on the road than they launched a counter-charge.
Captain Helluh smiled grimly. Those posturing courtiers would take the brunt of the attack. It would be most interesting to see how well the amateurs received it.
They received it well enough. Any species will fight if cornered; besides, they feared Demetrios more than the enemy horsemen.
Almost before he knew it, Demetrios was in among Zenos’ cavalry. His pain-maddened stallion completely bowled over the smaller, lighter mount of an irregular axman. Then the well-trained war horse went to work with teeth and hooves, savaging horseflesh or manflesh impartially. Demetrios turned a lance with his shield and throat-thrust its wielder. A dart clanged off his breast-plate, then an unarmored mountain irregular—wild-eyed and bearded—was raining blow after blow with a woodsman’s ax. Demetrios was able to deflect each blow with his battered shield, but found himself unable to use his sword until the stallion sunk big, yellow teeth into his opponent’s unprotected thigh. The ax split the stallion’s skull, but half the length of the sword had already penetrated the axman’s abdomen.
Demetrios was afoot in the midst of a cavalry engagement. There was but one thing to do. Savagely, he sawed loose the armstraps with his bloody sword and dropped the bent and useless shield. A lancer thundered down upon him. Demetrios avoided the point, grasped the shaft, and jerked. Then, while the foeman was still unbalanced, he grabbed the right foot and heaved, than clawed his way up into the empty saddle.
Once on his new horse, the High Lord found he was headed the right way. What was left of his fifty men, now outnumbered ten to one, was slowly withdrawing. Only a single blow fell upon him as he spurred his horse forward. He supposed most of Zenos’ troopers thought him one of their own.
Herbuht Mai was now in the forefront of the brisk little fight, and all the courtiers were dead, having followed their lord into the enemy’s ranks. The powerful captain used his shieldboss to smash a face to red ruin, while his heavy sword sheared off the arm of a lancer. A buffet on his helm set his head to swimming and he almost struck the High Lord before he recognized him.
Inch by hard-fought inch, the little band, now less than half their original number, was forced back across the bridge. Not a horse but was wounded and hardly a man; armor and shields were hacked and shattered, swords nicked and dulled. No darts and few lances remained in use; only sword and dirk were fitted to this kind of combat. Footing for Zenos’ troops was treacherous; the bridgebed was blood-slimy and cobbled with dropped weapons and the trampled corpses of men and horses. The forest archers tried one volley, but somany of their own horsemen suffered for it that another was out of the question.
Demetrios longed for his big, black stallion. The lancer’s roan gelding was not war-trained. He spent as much time fighting to keep the horse in line as he did hacking at the oncoming forces, and only the excellence of his armor had kept biting steel out of his body. He vowed that, if the roan survived the battle, he would have the cursed beast roasted alive! An irregular came at him with a long-bladed hunting spear, but his small mount stumbled on a still-wriggling body and he struggled to retain his seat. Demetrios stood in his stirrups and, swinging his wide sword with both hands, decapitated the spearman. So great was the press that the corpse could not fall from his saddle. He remained erect, arms jerking spasmodically, twin streams of blood gushing from what remained of his thick neck.
A war horse snapped at the roan and, panicked, he backed away through the stone-smashed gap in the railing. The horse struggled to regain the bridge and might have made it, had not a stray sword stroke gashed his tender nose. It was thirty feet tothe river. Horse and rider struck the water together in a mighty splash. Both weighted with armor and equipment, they quickly sank beneath.