Chris & Janet Morris
Nine Heroes: 9 Questions
(Exploring Heroic Fantasy’s Nine Heroes.)
While I have deep respect for all the talent possessed by authors in this round of Nine Heroes interviews, I must confess I have reverent awe for these masters. Chris and Janet Morris exude unrivaled passion for heroes in literature, They evoke the spirit of the men and women they write, whether it is in their undeniably brilliant Sacred Band Series, or in novels such as their Sci-Fi masterwork, Outpassage.
The Morris’ go far back in the writing world, and are worth checking out if you take nothing else from these interviews. They have talent often wept for and dreamed over.
So what do they offer Nine Heroes?
The right to call itself an edition scribed by legends.
Never ones to go light, The Morris’ delivered Rhesos. Black Sword is one of the main reasons I loved Nine Heroes. This is legendary stuff, literally. The ease in which this story brings the ancient hero to life is an appalling feat for lesser writers than Chris & Janet Morris.
Here is an excerpt from my review:
Black Sword by Janet Morris/Chris Morris
“Anyone who has read a Ways of the Stygia novel would know I love black steel. Regardless of the gods who forge it, it is a fascination of mine. Anybody who has read my blog would also have a comprehension of my respect for Janet & Chris Morris.
Here, armed with her new hero Rhesos, and he with his black blade, Janet Morris pierces the imagination, delivering a classic hero. The story was engaging. It smacked of brilliance. When I finished all I wanted was more.
Thank the gods there will be a full-length novel soon starring Rhesos, child of gods, red-haired, with a temperament that reminds me a little of Robert E. Howard’s Conan, or El Borak… the troubled adventurer who is more than meets the eye… a hero steeped in myths and substantially viable for the ages.
If you are a Morris fan, do not miss Rhesos’ first story.”
Describe your hero, or heroes.
The hero of The Black Sword is Rhesos of Thrace, in Greek mythology known as the youngest king to arrive at Troy to fight, a nearly forgotten hero today but a truly mythic warrior. Sources say Thracians of this period were often of “heroic” proportions, red-haired and blue eyed, so Rhesos has those traits. He was a horse-breeder as well as the king of Thrace, and wore gold-trimmed armor and bedecked his white horses’ harness with silver and their chariot with silver and gold. In our story, he is described as “more beautiful than daylight.”
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The female protagonist (one cannot truly call her a hero) of the Black Sword is Salmakis, the water nymph or naiad who became famous for her seduction and attempted rape of Hermaphroditos. When we first see Salmakis, she is an ancient crone, but she doesn’t stay old for long. She has bargained secretly with the gods to release Rhesos from his silver-veined cave in Rhodope and send him to her, so she can use him to restore her youth and beauty. When he meets Salmakis, he is a lowly mercenary who has just fought on the Macedonian side in a losing battle. The morning after they tryst, the crone is nowhere to be seen but a lovely young girl gives Rhesos a new panoply of weapons, all made from of black metal “kissed by blood.”
Tell us about your character in 9 heroes.
Homer counted Rhesos among the great heroes in the Iliad. Other classical writers including Euripides and even later writers such as Shakespeare extolled him. In the Iliad, at Athene’s urging, Diomedes and Odysseus murdered Rhesos as he slept on the night he arrived at Troy with “thousands at his back,” for fear of the oracles that said if his horses drank from the Scamander and he fought the next day on Ilion’s battlefield, the Achaeans would lose the war. Upon his death, since Rhesos’ mother was Calliope and his father Strymon, the river god, the Muse Calliope appealed to the other gods to allow her to resurrect him and grant him immortality. She won the right, but the agreement confined him to an underground cave for centuries. A hero-cult grow up around him in that interval, Heros Equitans. In our story, he remembers little of his life before the cave, and begins piecing things together…
What type of setting did you place your story in?
Our story begins in ancient Chaetae in the 4th century BCE, between Mygdonia and Macedon, and soon moves to a Greek settle in Asia Minor, Dicaea, and northward as Rhesos tries to get home to Eion.
What inspired your story?
The stories of Rhesos and his hero-cult and of Salmakis, the only nymph rapist in the Greek mythological canon, were stories we longed to tell. When the opportunity to create a new hero for Nine Heroes presented itself, Rhesos was the obvious choice: a great mythic hero, cut down by treachery early in his prime, then immortalized. Combining a story of Rhesos post-resurrection and Salmakis, who could gift him with weapons made by Hephaestos by calling on a fellow nymph, was too perfect a chance to miss. This story also allows us to interweave other mythic beings and powers, including the Erinys Tisiphone and Athene’s priestess at Troy, Theano, as well as Calliope and Pallas Athene (First to Fight) herself.
Is your story a part of a broader work or series?
In the Sacred Band series, we had been working in the 1st century BCE culture and geography, so an epic set there was a good choice because we were conversant with Greek settlements in Asia Minor. This story may be read as beginning in the Mygdonia of the Sacred Band, but Rhesos does not encounter the Sacred Band of Stepsons in this story. Rhesos has his own fascinating mythos. The Black Sword is a mythic tale, partly historical if you credit recent research that uses an ancient solar eclipse in Homer’s Odyssey to pinpoint April 16, 1178 BCE as the date Odysseus returned to Ithaca. If that much of Homer is true, then we feel comfortable taking as true Homer’s tale of Rhesos’ death at the hands of Odysseus and Diomedes.
Rhesos is a new hero for us with whom we are well pleased. We are currently working on a novel about him that begins with “The Black Sword” story, somewhat expanded, and goes fascinating places thereafter. We may well do more than one novel with Rhesos, but the book with the working title “Rhesos of Thrace: Black Sword” will be a complete adventure of epic scope.
In four lines, tell us about your story.
Fleeing a battle he fought as a mercenary in service to Macedon, fighting deserters and brigands as he goes, Rhesos comes upon a smithy’s hut late at night and asks to buy equipment. The old woman there gives him shelter, food, and agrees to sell him weapons, but she’s disappeared in the morning, replaced by a comely girl who provides Rhesos with a black-iron panoply. Heading north, he comes upon a mercenary band encamped before the hilltop town of Dicaea and asks for work. The mercenary leader challenges him to single-handedly kill a monster threatening travelers in a nearby cave and bring back the monster’s head, giving him a horse and a guide to go with him to make sure he doesn’t abscond with the horse. In the cave, Rhesos confronts an Erinys, Tisiphone the Avenger, who offers him a deal involving a monstrous head….
Which, besides your own is your favorite story?
“The Act of Sleepless Nights” by Walter Rhein and “Just One Mistake” by A.L. Butcher. Although very different, each story is character driven and those characters are memorable.
A Man and His God: A Sacred Band Tale
Publisher: Perseid Press
An immortalized cavalry commander joins forces with the high-priest of the god of war…. Where myth meets legend, two men kiss and Tempus’ world changes forever. Meet and mourn the Slaughter Priest in “A Man and His God.” In this canonical short novel, the Sacred Band begins when Abarsis, Slaughter Priest, brings his Sacred Band to Tempus and dies in his arms. In this pivotal story, the Sacred Band is formed from love and death….
How many of the other authors in Nine Heroes have you read?
We read the entire book, each story in order.
Would you make another anthology with Heroic Fantasy?
We look forward to the opportunity.
A sample of Rhesos from Thrace.
“Rhesos of Thrace”
The Black Sword
(copyright (c) 2013, 2014,
Janet Morris and Chris Morris:
Somewhere an owl hooted. Out of the night a bat came at him, then veered off, drawn by the smell of his blood but not bold enough to tackle anything as big as he and still moving. Not yet. His shoulder muscles ticced, remembering too many vampire bats and too many
teeth tearing at him in his gloomy cave.If the bat came back, he’d need to draw his dull and tacky blade again. He was a good killer of bats; he’d had lots of practice, underground.
But no bat dove at him again until he nearly reached the lighted hut. No cave, this. He’d lived in a cave long enough to know one when he saw one. He was relieved: if not a cave, then not a ruse
to pen him up again in some hoary underground prison. This place looked tumbledown, ramshackle and . . . real enough: a simple hut of wood and stone with one window, a closed door, a darkened shed that smoked from a banked fire within, and a fenced area between.
When the bat swooped once more at him, he instinctively yelled and drew his weapon. Or tried to: his sica’s blade hitched and caught so that he grasped hard with both hands, one on his hilt and one on the scabbard, to tug it loose. By then the bat was gone, but he’d made enough noise that the door to the hut swung open.
A stooped figure stood there, barely clad and backlit: “I’ll not surrender without a fight, mind you.” A woman’svoice, speaking common Attic, reedy and laced with laughter; a small shape, bent forward, withered arms akimbo: “And you’ll be needing what, this time of night, proud warrior?”
Teasing, now, was this ancient crone. He’d cast aside his leather mantle and armor; lost his helmet, quiver and bow,knife, shield, and javelins, whilst he’d fled that battleground of wicked haze and ghosts. So he was no better garbed than she, in only tattered chiton with sica girt. On her threshold, he realized he was shivering.
Two strangers, alike in prospects, with little to lose and little to gain, took each other’s measure silently until Rhesos answered her: “I’m looking for shelter, food, and better weapons.”
“Better weapons in the morning, if you can pay. My husband owns the only smithery you’ll reach afoot within a day’s journey, but you’d know that. And I yet do a bit of leatherwork and weaving. The rest –– food and shelter –– you’ll get if I like the look of you, the sound of your name . . . and your money.”
“Rhesos of Thrace, from north of Thessalia, southwest of Great Scythia.” Only the smallest of lies, close enough to truth for a northern boy raised by fountain nymphs; a youngling king who’d arrived too late to fight at Ilion and lost his men and horses there. He wasn’t about to explain how he’d come here, since he was hardly certain where here was: He’d been born in Eion, but common folk called every place north of Macedon either Thrace or Scythia. He jingled the coins in his purse instead.
“I can pay.”
“Then you’re lucky. You’ll not be my enemy, but my guest. We in Chaetae have no quarrel with Thrace. Come in and eat, and I’ll find you one of my husband’s sheepskins to chase the cold from you.”
So this was Chaetae, some backwater between Mygdon and Macedon.
“Of all I’ve been, I’ve never been lucky. Until now, little mother.” He could still turn a phrase and lift a skirt when the occasion demanded, even a skirt as old and filthy as hers smelled.
“New days come then, Rhesos of Thrace.”
The stringy-haired crone retreated into her hut, beckoning him to follow.
Warmth waited in there, and food with aromas that made his mouth water –– and safety for a single night seemed tantamount to safety forever.
“Where is your husband?”
“He’s away somewhere,” said the crone, piercing-eyed, and smiled a long-toothed smile while she looked him over as if she’d pinch his buttocks next…
In closing, I want to thank Chris and Janet for their patient mentorship and invite you to read their individual interviews found on this blog. This has been a tremendous string of interviews. Don’t be afraid to grab a copy of Nine Heroes, it is a distinctive read.
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