The Sacred Band’s newest review

The Sacred Band’s newest review on Amazon review.

5.0 out of 5 stars Well researched, passionate and engrossing, June 26, 2012
This review is from: The Sacred Band (Paperback)

Disclaimer – I have known Janet and Chris Morris for ~20 years, but mostly through their non-fiction work with non-lethal weapons and systems. Their attributes of passion for the subject at hand, thorough research, and the ability to write exceedingly well (often hard to find these days) extends beyond their defense policy work into this excellent book.
Readers new to the Sacred Band may find the going slow, at first. Stay with it – you will be rewarded by a fascinating saga of men, gods and godesses, honor, truth, loyalty and courage. Building on the factual numbers of bodies found under the Lion of Thebes, honoring those killed in the battle of Chaeronea, the story takes off and builds momentum to the end. The reasons for the climactic battle scene will not be spoiled here, but they answer the who, what, and especially the why of the main events.
Read this, and enjoy.

Author Interview with Janet Morris and Chris Morris 12/06/10 on

Christopher Crosby Morris (born 1946) is an American author of fiction and non-fiction, as well as a lyricist, musical composer, and singer-songwriter. He is married to author Janet Morris.[1] He is a defense policy and strategy analyst and a principal in M2 Technologies, Inc. He writes primarily as Chris Morris, a shortened form of his name, but occasionally uses pseudonyms.

Janet Ellen Morris (born May 25, 1946) is an American author of fiction and nonfiction, best known for her fantasy and science fiction and her authorship of a nonlethal weapons concept for the U.S. military.

Janet’s Amazon Page   
Chris’s Amazon Page
Janet’s Wikipedia Page

Chris’s Wikipedia Page

Hello! What are your names?

We are Janet Morris (also known as Janet E. Morris) and Chris Morris (also known as Christopher Crosby Morris).  Jointly we have written a multitude of books, musical compositions, papers, and short pieces and fiction, as well as works under pseudonyms including but not limited to Casey Prescott and Daniel Stryker.  Janet Morris and Chris Morris have been writing and editing fiction, nonfiction, op/eds, policy pieces, since 1976 and music (words and lyrics) since 1966.

What do you write and why?

We always focus on the human condition and its evolution.  When we write fiction it is mythic in nature, allegorical, and lyrical.  When we write nonfiction it is often cautionary, ground-breaking, and/or controversial since for many years we served as research directors and senior fellows at Washington think tanks, specializing in long-term strategic planning for international security.

In fiction we write what we call mythic novels and stories, which often don’t fit into the deconstructed genres of market-driven fiction today because of the breadth and depth of our work.  Our fiction has been variously marketed as “science fantasy,” “military science fiction,” “erotic fantasy,” “high-tech thrillers,” “thrillers,” “suspense novels” “epic fantasy,” “science-fiction,” “fantasy,” “historical,” “historical fantasy,” “heroic fantasy,” “sword and sorcery,” “heroic fiction,” “novels,” and “short stories.”

Do you read the same genre that you write? Why or why not?

When we are writing fiction we read nonfiction, often in areas of ancient history and archaeology, international security, defense policy, military history, cosmology, philosophical problems of space and time, genetics of behavior, or emerging threats and technology.  When we are writing nonfiction we read fiction or early writings from the Ancient Near East, Ancient Greece, and classical BCE sources.  We also will read different translations of note and critics of substance, and like particular translators such as Dryden and Richmond Lattimore and Harold Bloom.  We reread Spenser and Marlowe and Shakespeare and Milton and such poets as Byron as well.

When we write either fiction or nonfiction, we run the risk of stylistic deformation or “print-through” from whatever we’re reading:  echoes of other styles and perceptive devices that can creep into otherwise cohesive work; so we are careful about what we read for pleasure when we are writing.  We also continually research any area in which we are writing while we’re writing, so we read material that explores aspects of concepts involved in the book or paper or story we’re writing.

What is the title you are promoting right now?

We are most excited about our newest mythic novel,The Sacred Band  (and the accompanying releases of “Author’s Cut” editions of classic works in our “Sacred Band of Stepsons” series).  In addition to the new, expanded and enhanced release of classic “Sacred Band Tales,” we have also resurrected our “Heroes in Hell” series with the first 21st century title in this series of shared-world anthologies, Lawyers in Hell,”  soon to be followed by “Rogues in Hell.”  Both series were bestsellers in the 20th century and we are thrilled to introduce them to a new readership.

What is it about?

The Sacred Band,” (Janet Morris and Chris Morris, Paradise Publishing, 2010; Kerlak Publishing, 2011) is an epic historical fantasy.  This is our favorite of all the novels we’ve done and can be enjoyed without having read the earlier books in the series.  In 338 BCE, during the Battle of Chaeronea that should result in the massacre of all the historical Sacred Band of Thebes, the legendary Tempus and his Stepson cavalry rescue forty-six Theban Sacred Banders, paired lovers and friends, to fight on other days.  The thwarted Fates give chase, following our heroes and heroines to the fantasy city of Sanctuary® (from the million-copy bestselling “Thieves’ World”(R) shared universe).  These forty-six Thebans join with the immortalized Tempus and his Sacred Band of Stepsons, consummate ancient cavalry fighters, to make new lives in a faraway land and fight the battle of their dreams where gods walk the earth, ghosts take the field, and the angry Fates demand their due.  Heroism, honor and loyalty and the Sacred Band Ethos itself are sorely tested as the Band and their lovers fight for survival.  This book is about love and war and love in war, about commitment, about the coming of age of a new generation of heroes and the battle of good against evil in a gritty, lyrical context unlike any other.

What makes this book different from others in your genre?

This book is deeper, more ambitious, and more a novel than a genre book.  There’s nothing formulaic about it.  “The Sacred Band” is called on its cover “a novel.”  It is all of that.  Because of its breadth, it bears as much relationship to the “fantasy” of Homer and Shakespeare, of Marlowe and Milton and Spenser, as it does to modern, narrowly-constructed works in any genre.  Most of all, this book is about the Sacred Band Ethos and mankind’s relationship to its cosmos.  Gods help their favorites and the Balance of the cosmos itself shapes the action.  Some have likened Tempus and his Sacred Band, and this book in particular, to the heroic, lyrical, brutal fiction of Robert E. Howard – and in some ways that comparison is justifiable.  In other ways, The Sacred Band bears more resemblance to Umberto Ecco’s “The Name of the Rose” and other modern fantasies grounded in historical events.  However, The Sacred Band is more tempestuous, more metaphysical, and a story of unique proportions:  “an adventure like no other.”  BecauseThe Sacred Band begins with the rescue of forty-six famed warriors from an historical battlefield where the bones of two hundred fifty-four of their companions are buried in a mass grave, The Sacred Band gives one answer to what happened to the forty-six skeletons missing today from the grave at Chaeronea.  Such an historical mystery exists nowhere else and makes this book even more unique as it blends truth and myth and legend and fantasy into something new.

What’s the story behind the story?

When we first started writing about Tempus, our immortal cavalry commander, we introduced the Sacred Band concept to modern fantasy readers because we wanted to write about the doomed Sacred Band of Thebes but couldn’t find a story for them:  their destruction was too horrific for us to write a straight historical culminating predictably with their annihilation.  So we constructed our own Sacred Band, primarily cavalry, not primarily infantry, and primarily pansexual, although the homosexuality of ancient times (where sexuality was a behavior, not an identity) is correctly portrayed in all our Sacred Band tales – and very different from the politicized homosexuality today.  Plato first wrote about the “Sacred Band” concept, suggesting that elite fighting forces be formed of homosexual lovers in age-weighted pairs, to inspire other warriors and provide a corps that wouldn’t desert the field during battle.  From Plato’s concept came the expanded “Sacred Band Ethos” of our fiction, which now has an entry of its own on “” that has accrued over nine thousand hits so far:

Since the greatest Sacred Band in history, the Sacred Band of Thebes, was massacred by Alexander and Philip of Macedon at Chaeronea, bringing Sacred Banders into fantasy was one way of saving their ideals, if not their persons.  For years we wrote one “Sacred Band of Stepsons” story per year, and then wrote more about them in three novels (“Beyond Sanctuary,”  “Beyond the Veil,” and “Beyond Wizardwall”).  Then we wrote three more novels of Tempus and his Sacred Band (“City at the Edge of Time,” “Tempus Unbound,” and “Storm Seed”).  Soon after, we ceased writing fiction for about 20 years to work on the nonlethal weapons concept.  When we came back to fiction in 2009, we realized that we COULD write about the Sacred Band of Thebes in a fantasy context:  tell a tale of survival of the forty-six… and more.  So “The Sacred Band,” daunting to conceive but joyous to write, was born.  And we have followed it with the Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl , a novella in our newest anthology of the same name, which picks up the Sacred Band of Stepsons stories after the battle for the land of dreams is lost and won, and takes the Band into unknown realms for new adventures.  The two Sacred Band Tales anthologies, first Tempus with his right-side companion Niko” , followed by “the Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl,” weave together all the classic 20th century Sacred Band Tales, surrounding them with new material available nowhere else.

What are your goals as authors?

As authors, we explore the human condition, the nature of being, and provide examples of ethos in action and story.  We also write the book we want to read, so our multilayered approach to fiction, with its questions of humanity’s place in the cosmos, is always fresh to us  Our goal is constantly to experience and explore concepts important to our species through the imposition of an artistic temperament and the mechanism of story, which is how the human brain organizes information.  But most of all we hope to inspire the reader, show the glory of life, and help us come to terms with mortality.  We are currently of the opinion that the universe has no boundary conditions, and therefore neither does the human mind, beyond those that we impose on ourselves.  We try to free the reader’s mind by taking it to a world in which what is important can be considered and experienced without concerns of contemporary fads or politics:  find what is eternal about us, and set the reader’s mind free thereby.

Are you working on anything new? Give us a preview of what’s to come!

Next on deck is a story for “Rogues in Hell,” (due out July, 2010 from Perseid) in which we bring this volume of twenty-two stories by different writers to a climax.  After that, comes a new Sacred Band of Stepsons novel, which will deal with what happens AFTER a god or goddess immortalizes a mortal:  many myths deal with the salvation of favorites by gods or goddesses, but none say what happens next:  this adventure underpins the next Sacred Band novel.

Who is your favorite author and what is your favorite book?

One book?  One author?  Impossible to answer.  In fiction?  Homer’s Iliad.  Shakespeare’s Hamlet or MacBeth – a tossup.  Marlowe’s Faustus.  Milton’s Paradise Lost.  In nonfiction:  all of Marcus Aurelius, all of Sun Tzu, all of Herakleitos’ Cosmic Fragments; what remains of Sappho; Harold Bloom’s Book of J.

Where can readers find you and your work?

“The Sacred Band,” as well as the follow-on “the Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl” and “Lawyers in Hell” can be found on Amazon and Barnes and Noble; some editions are available everywhere by order and on iTunes and from various other e-book and physical book vendors, including Kerlak Publishing.  The “Author’s Cut” (revised and expanded) editions of “Beyond Sanctuary,” “Tempus with his right-side companion Niko,” are available on Barnes and Noble and Amazon and through affiliate vendors worldwide.  Wake of the Riddler  and Mage Blood  are available as Kindle e-books only.

We have many additional titles that have not yet been reissued but can be found used, all the way back to High Couch of Silistra .  Most of our 20th century books are available as used books through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and numerous other outlets.

What’s your view on the self-publishing/traditional publishing thing? Ideally, which one would you prefer and why?

Publishing is changing; e-publishing combined with publishing on demand is the future for us all.  We created Perseid Publishing because we wanted to try small publishing, not quite self-publishing, but close when you ARE the publisher and you CAN make the decisions.  We had been with many of the big publishers over a long career and were nearly always disappointed in covers and print size and production values, even though our first series, Silistra, had four million in print before the fourth volume was published and we had award-winning stories and bestselling series among our credits.  We also wanted control of our e-book rights.  When we spoke to our New York agent about retaining e-book rights while selling print rights to a major New York house, at that time it was not possible.  So we didn’t offer “The Sacred Band” to any of our former New York publishers, and we are pleased with the results.  About a year after e-publication of “The Sacred Band,”  Kerlak Publishing came to us, offering to do a hard cover edition – and this is very high quality, with sewn bindings, real linen boards, and archival paper.   So for us, instead of hardcover first, e-book and paperback later, the model has up-ended:  e-book first, then trade paper, then hardcover if we wish to provide one.

There are good and bad aspects of “self-publishing.”  Some such books could only be published by the creator, meet few of the criteria that a publisher would apply to selection – and yet even these may find a constituency among people of like mind.  Many have poor production values:  front matter and book formatting are too often nonstandard in self-published books, which is not good.  But there have always been books for every level of readership:  At Perseid we say we publish “for the experienced reader.”  The books we publish have a certain gravitas, crisp description, a literate style.  We are known for including new authors, emerging authors, even undiscovered authors, in our anthologies, but inclusion is invitational and very few can be chosen:  each must meet our standard.

With so many unprofessional books being published, some think we are entering a new Darker Age.  We  don’t think so.  Self-publishing was once the ONLY publishing available.  Commercial publishing has sliced and diced and deconstructed the novel into so many constituent parts, in order to claim a “bestselling” book in some tiny genre, that trash is once again triumphant (as Henry James said at the end of the 19th century).  Yet literature survived James’ time.  Is our situation so different today?

Our books may challenge readers with small vocabularies unless those readers aspire to become better readers:  reading is a skill to be constantly improved.  The better the reader, the better that reader will like the books we write and publish.  There are many books – some published by New York’s “taste-making” publishers, that blatantly offer “trash triumphant.”  Good for them.  It has always been so.  In the Olympic poetry competition at which Hesiod and Homer contested, Hesiod won for “Works and Days,”beating Homer’s “Iliad.”  How many know of “Works and Days” today?  In its time, it was more politically correct.

Whether or not we are entering a New Darker Age, publishing today is characterized by a lack of any objective standard of “good” or “bad,” as is so much entertainment and commerce.  Fine.  The good books will find their way; the semi-literate will find books to their taste, and everyone can be a part of the growth of literature in the new century.  You can get your neighbor’s book about their travail at the hands of a local hospital for free on Amazon, but you can also get Shakespeare or Dante or Sun Tzu.  Your mind is in your keeping; what you do with it is your choice.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Sorry, don’t have a single one, but have several:

“Nature has a surer plan than mortals can devise.” – Tempus in “The Sacred Band.”

“Love sees all; hate is blind.” – Harmony in “The Sacred Band.”

“Good-night, sweet prince;/ And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” – Horatio in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

“The boundary conditions of the universe are that the universe has no boundary conditions.” – Anonymous.

“Come, Muse, sing to me not of things that are, or shall be, or were of old; but think of another song.” —  Hesiod

There are two hundred quotes Janet Morris quotes on Ranker:

There are one hundred and nine Chris Morris quotes on Ranker:

What is the most important advice you have for aspiring authors?

Write the story you want to read.  Write the story that impels you to write it.  Don’t write until you are ready, until you have characters that demand their story be told.  Know why you are writing what you are writing but tell a story:  As Lewis Carroll said, “go from the beginning to the end, then stop.”

Become increasingly literate.  Bead writers better than you are.  The urge to write a story confers neither the ability to write a story nor the right to be read:  bring your reader with you into a special world, where you want to be, and hopefully where the reader will want to be.  Take no other advice; show your work to one person only, whom you trust; do not waste time with groups of writers no more experienced than you.  Writing is a solitary sport.

Is there anything else you’d like to say before we finish up?

I think we have said quite enough.

Awesome, thanks for allowing me to interview you!

Our pleasure – jem and ccm

Please don’t forget to pay Chris and Janet a visit at the following websites:

Janet’s Amazon Page   Chris’s Amazon Page   Janet’s Wikipedia Page   Chris’s Wikipedia Page

Janet Morris interview on Summer 150 Tour

Here’s the interview with Janet Morris on the Summer 150 Tour:





Author and publisher Janet Morris takes time out for some quality moments with her horse (courtesy photo)

By AK Dale


CAPE COD, Mass. – Well, so there’s this writing thing…

Janet E. Morris had something to say…you know, use her mouth, verbiage, volume, lips moving.

So, she ended up…taking up the pen and keyboard.

“I never meant to become a writer, but I had things I wanted to say, contributions to make to the way my society was evolving,” Morris said. “I wrote my first novel during the 1970s, when women’s roles in society were being questioned. We who had come of age in the 1960s under constant threat of nuclear annihilation were questioning abuses of power.  I sold the first draft of the first novel I ever wrote to Perry Knowlton, the first agent I ever met – High Couch of Silistra, Bantam, 1977 – and with him sold many more books until I left writing and editing for twenty years to institutionalize Non-lethality and the nonlethal weapons program.”

That’s pretty intense stuff for a woman who has grown into roles as an author and even more so as an editor. She notes her editing work in the Heroes in Hell series.

“There I was commissioned and edited two Nebula-nominated and a Hugo Award-winning stories.  With Chris Morris, I have recently created Perseid Publishing, a small publishing house specializing in books ‘for the experienced reader.’”

Janet Morris works as a writer, author, and editor for Perseid.

Despite all the hats she wears, Morris finds time to write and when she does so it is with tremendous verve.

“I only write when a story forces me to write it,” she said. “Because I am analytical by nature, usually I do substantial research on facets of a compelling story both before and as I am writing.  Each story itself is my inspiration.  I listen to classical music or my husband’s fusion instrumentals when I write or I write in a quiet room when possible, but often my best ideas come when I am doing something unrelated, so I carry paper to write down lines of dialogue or narrative that will key a scene for me when I get back to my desk.”

Once she is bound and determined to work on a piece that future piece of artwork becomes her sole focus in the arts and she caresses it with every inch of her mind.

“When I am writing a novel, I am always working on that novel, no matter what else I’m doing,” Morris said. “When I wrote full time, publishing was very different than today, controlled by corporations who determined what books they would push and what books they would merely publish.  Today there are fewer big companies and more independents, Perseidbeing one of those; standards of objective “good” or “bad” are nonexistent, and the biggest obstacle to success is attracting those who will like your work among so many competing titles and deconstructed ‘genres’ that the ‘novel’ itself is imperiled.”

This is a cover of one of the many works by Janet Morris (courtesy art)

The writing process, like any other within the industry, offers its own challenges and burdens.

“The most rewarding aspect of writing, for me, is drafting – disappearing altogether, being absorbed into the story,  going where the story is, and experiencing it for the first time in an organic process that understands its pacing and its purpose in the way that the universe always understands itself,” Morris said. “For me, the joy of writing is in the metaphysical experience of being transported into another realm of hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting, touching other intelligences and being swept away into their knowingness, often wiser than my own. The part of writing I like the least is whenever I’m not actively writing draft. When I write draft, nothing hurts, nothing matters but the story, and I am elsewhere. When I edit, or proof-read, or deal with the day-to-day issues surrounding publishing, this is decidedly non-mystical and non-magical for me.”

There have been enough days in the profession for Morris to have enjoyed the fruits of her labors in many forms.

“Successes have been many, and for that I’m grateful,” Morris said. “From the Silistra series, which had four million in print by the time “The Carnelian Throne” was first published. We have had some extraordinary creative successes. Sometimes our most valued creative successes are not the same as our most commercial successes, but that is also part of the nature of publishing.”

For a long career born out of standing for something, Morris has no plans for that changing anytime in the near future. Her writing is her voice and so shall she be heard.

“We always tackle social issues and always write the book we want to read, always write what we choose, at the length we choose, and with the perspective we choose,” Morris said. “ We chose to write The Sacred Band which may well be that quintessential novel that caps a career,  we’ll see.  We may later write more about nonlethal weapons, but right now we are writing exactly what we want to be writing.”


Amazon “Beyond Sanctuary”

Amazon “The Sacred Band”

Amazon “The Fish the Fighters and the Song-Girl (Sacred Band of Stepsons: Sacred Band Tales)

Amazon “Tempus with his right-side companion”

Amazon “Lawyers in Hell”

WERZOMBIES Press thanks you for taking the time to read this column/article. The Press is an Alan Dale creation and is inspired by his DEAD NATIONS’ ARMY (DNA) book trilogy which launches in July with his first novel, “Code Flesh.” The Press hopes you consider subscribing to the site and look forward to more interviews, news features, columns, and many more in the future. Once again, thank you for joining us here at the Press!

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Wake of the Riddler: An excerpt

Wake of the Riddler can now be yours

Wake of the Riddler, the “Author’s Cut of this iconic Sacred Band of Stepsons Tale, is now available not only as part of “the Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl” anthology, but also as a revised and expanded stand-alone short novel for Kindle.

Here’s the beginning of this classic story, first published in Thieves’ World #10 in the 20th century.


     Tempus was gone from Sanctuary, taking his Stepsons and the Rankan 3rd Commando with him, leaving only outcasts and dross behind.

In the wake of the Riddler’s departure, the town seemed more changed than it should have been because one man (called variously Tempus, the Riddler, the Black, and more scatological appellations) had gathered his private army of less than a hundred and ridden north.  Sanctuary seemed emptied, drained, frightened, and confused.

It cowered like a snow rabbit run to barren ground and surrounded by wolves.  It shivered and sniffed the breeze, as if undecided which way to run.  It hunkered down in des-perate paralysis, seeming to dream of better days while the cold spring wind blew wet promises of life inland from the sea and the wolves skulked closer, red tongues lolling from slavering jaws.

Among fetid streets on this spring evening in question, militias are keeping order, stamping around corners with deliberate tread.  Whores whisper rather than croon in their doorways.  Drunks stumble along whitewashed walls, afraid to stagger boldly in gutters where beggars lurk with ready blades.  And the wind comes in off the uneasy ocean with a chuckle on its breath:  Tempus, his Stepsons, and the 3rd Commando have left the town to its fate, ridden off in disgust to new adventures capable of resolution, wars winnable, and glory attainable.  Sanctuary is not only doomed but shunned by its last best hope, the Riddler and his fighters.

The wind thinks nothing of whipping the town vacant, of chilling its nobles to the bone, of locking the neutered sor-cerers in their Mageguild and the impotent soldiers in their barracks.  The wind is Sanctuary’s own, wind of chaos, gale of gloom.

Spring has never felt so ominous in the Maze as it does this season, where the first rough gusts blow detritus worse than rotting rinds and discarded rags through the streets.  The sea wind rattles against the plate armor of the Rankan army regulars, clustered in fours as they police what can’t be policed.  It flaps the dark cloaks of Jubal the slaver’s beggars, his private corps of cold enforcers who sell protection now at stalls and bars where Stepsons used to trade.  It keens toward uptown and beats on the barred windows of the Mageguild where necromancers fear the unleashing of their dead now that magic has lost its power, more even than they fear the wrath of whores whose youth-and-beauty spells have worn away.

And the wind sneaks uptown, where what is left in Sanctuary that is noble tries to carry on, have its parties amidst the rubble left by warring factions of the various militias, by witches and warlocks, vampires and zombies, ghosts and demons, worshipers and gods.

This wind is of the sort you may remember, coming out of a gray wet sky which makes an end to boundaries and hides horizons.  Sounds seem to come from nowhere, go no-where.  There is no distance and no proximity, no future and no past.  There is no warmth, even from the one beside you.

When you reach out to take a hand for comfort, that hand is clammy as the grave.  On such a day, the stirring of life these gusts portend is only legend, as if the wind itself is here to reconnoiter the very earth and then decide if the world deserves another spring.

Or not.

Excerpt from “The Sacred Band”

Excerpt from “The Sacred Band”

Shock Troops of the Gods (from The Sacred Band, copyright [c]  Janet Morris and Chris Morris, Paradise Publishing, 2010; Kerlak Publishing, 2011.)


     The war in heaven has reached the streets of Sanctuary:  overhead, the sun shines bright; in the distance, clouds form up to attack the daylight.  Right here, right now, Crit needs to keep control of the Sacred Band and of Walegrin’s city guard, both units frustrated by their elusive quarry and angry at this hellhole town.  Maneuvers, carefully planned, painstakingly apportioned among two forces, must be precisely carried out.  Or this sortie won’t work at all, and their sweep will sweep only discipline away, become a rout.  Theory put into practice – not perfect today.  Not smooth enough by half:  Sanctuary city guard and Sacred Band are out of step, not meshing.  At least not so far.

     Through the twisty byways of Downwind, both contingents thunder.  Walegrin’s city guard leads, bent on showing off their local savvy.  Crit knows that mere familiarity won’t win the day…or would have won it by now, on other days.  Behind Walegrin’s men come the fierce shock troops of the Sacred Band, ranks formed up for war and spoiling for a battle where only much less will do.

     Ladies first, all you city guard….

     Too many weapons gleam under heaven in the bright sunlight.  Too many horses’ hooves clatter on cobblestones.  Too many jeers and taunts and war cries resound.  Too many fighters look to redeem themselves in one another’s flinty eyes.  Too many.

     Strife is justice; justice is strife.  Crit can feel the reins of command slipping through his fingers.  Squadrons riding too fast; talking too loudly; sneering at each other:  rage and rivalry out of hand.  Somehow he needs to hold them to the plan, to their orders.  But he’s one man, in putative charge.

     The Riddler isn’t here today.  Their commander’s got too much brewing, with Niko hurt, and Jihan and Randal hunting Shamshi, and some girl or woman (or something else) in the barracks who comes and goes as it pleases, unmindful of walls or gates or doors or locks….  Too much.

     So no ancient intelligence guides this mission, no wiser eye constrains the troops.

     With the Riddler absent, Critias is in charge – trying his damnedest, but just a Stepson.  Even with Strat steady on his right, they’re jostled, bumped and crowded by city guardsmen who think pairbond is a dirty joke.

     Straton can’t help Crit with Walegrin.  He doesn’t offer.  They have more than enough to do, taking care of their own half-integrated Band, under Crit’s leadership for the first time.  Factions make friction:  different cultures, different customs, and disrespect – a recipe for disaster when cavalry and populace come face to face.

     Disputes, unresolved, are breaking loose.  Crit and Walegrin have two conflicting visions of how a sweep through here should be planned and executed, and what the definition of this mission really is.  Crit wants to find Shamshi; Walegrin wants to clean his stopped-up city drains of all their flotsam and jetsam.

     Chaos is one name for what they field today.  Crit has been in full-fledged assaults with less screaming and shouting and cursing and rousting than in this sweep of Downwind.  All to catch one wizard boy?  To grab the reins of discipline in Sanctuary, where things already are spinning out of control?

     They cordon off the Downwind, ranging it round, all the Sacred Band and city guardsmen.  Two chains of command; two voices guiding them; two sets of loyalties that cannot be combined.  House to house, attic to attic:  systematically and without quarter they search, leaving wreckage in their wake.

     The raid heats up.  Things get rough.  Things get rougher.  Walegrin’s teams are far beyond Crit’s control.  And free to choose their own rules of engagement:  this is their turf and they sortie first, with heavy hands where Critias would have come, hands off, weapons sheathed, with a lighter tread.

     Hooves pound; doors fall down; windows break and culprits quake behind their secret panels, in their hidey-holes and root cellars.  The Sacred Band catches everyone who flees, cleaning up in the city guard’s wake:  Crit’s fighters, too, have their orders:  no one escapes; no one slips away unnoticed.

     Except, it seems, Shamshi, the wizard boy.  Where is he today?  Running for his life, trying to find a place to make a stand?  Crit recalls that Lysis and Arton thought they saw Sham on the beach.  Was it really him, in the dark, in the water off Vashanka’s Rip?  Lysis had told Strat that the youth on the beach had dark hair…he thought.  Same fugitive?  None could say.  Was Shamshi a wraith, a figment – long gone?  And all this an unnecessary show of force?

     Jails fill up and holding pens ring with wails and lamentation.  Caravan Square and Farmer’s Market lie deserted; Shambles Cross takes refugees until it can’t hold one more soul.  Nowhere is Shamshi to be found.

     “Somebody’s protecting him,” growls a city guardsman, forcing past Crit and Strat on a wall-eyed red horse, its nose in the air and spattering them with froth.  Ahead, two more guardsmen drag a weeping woman and three screaming brats out of her hovel’s door.  “We’d have him by now, otherwise,” the guardsman tosses back, cantering away.

     “No you wouldn’t, porker.  Not this way,” Strat says in an undertone.  And rolls a smoke amid the turmoil.  There’s nothing to be done about the problem of tactics out of hand:  different command chain; different orders.

     Crit and Strat ride on, and Strat scoffs dourly as they watch Walegrin’s city guard tear another hut apart, shortswords drawn, capturing pigs and dogs and cats and cowards, but no crafty ex-Stepson on the run.

     This next group of four from the city guard is better trained:  they advance upon each house side by side, shields up and nearly touching, clearly knowing urban combat can be most dangerous.  A fence obstructs them; they use their horses to pull it down.  Crossbow bolts from somewhere whisper through the air:  one, two, three, four.  Two men fall.  Five, six.  The same two men die:  one shot through the eye, and dead in an instant; the other, shot through the throat, has little more time to live.

     “Cover,” bawls Strat, calling out a Stepson maneuver code to bring the Band.  And:  “Crit.  Go, go, go:  there!

     Their horses leap forward, toward the buildings where the bolts seemed to come from.  But there are too many obstacles of flesh and blood in their way:  hysterically screeching children; ponderous women; city guard – finally waking up – milling, taking cover.  Two warhorses, riderless, now scream and rear and tear around, biting and kicking at anyone and everyone until two other riders capture them.  Crit and Strat roll off their horses, first running for cover and then on into the street, crossbows ready.  They shoot where they think the bolts came from, then dash for building walls.  A mud-brick corner hides them; flimsy doors push open.  They climb flights and flights of stairs, trying to engage an enemy, a target on a rooftop – and find no one.

     Crit and Strat scuttle back to the dead men and hunker down beside them, looking around:  if a body hasn’t staggered too much in any one direction before falling, you can estimate the source of fire, and return it, based on the angle of the arrow in the corpse and where that arrow might have come from if the corpse were standing.  Take cover again, return fire if you can; if you can’t, give chase; find someone to shoot back at:  do something; counterattack in support of your dead comrades.  But there’s no target, no one who wants to play shoot-me, shoot-you.

     Whoever it was, they’ve gone on their way.  Up on a third- floor landing of the fourth house they search, Strat finds a crossbow, discarded.  They come back down, their skin crawling:  somebody’s awake out here, and picking targets with skill and taste.

     They reclaim their horses about the time Walegrin canters over on a jumpy mount, five men behind him.  The city-guard captain dismounts, takes off his helmet and stands above his two dead fighters – corpses barely bleeding any longer, fallen among fence boards.  Walegrin puts his hands on his hips and turns to Critias and Straton:  “I’m telling my guard to stop, now.  This assault is more than we intended.  Agreed, Critias?”

     Now, you ask me.  Past time, but it’s bad form to quit because you’ve been hit or lost fighters.  It makes the enemy bolder, next time.  He knows just how to stop you.

     Without a helmet, Walegrin’s blond head is a perfect target for someone in these buildings whence the hostile fire might have come.  Crit doesn’t mention it.  He’ll be happy to get out of here before more crossbow quarrels whukka whukka through the air.  Maybe someone will shoot Walegrin and that will wake up the palace.  “Agreed.  We stop.  Got more trouble than we need from this, and less value.”

     Strat adds sourly, “This little cluster won’t win the palace any hearts and minds.  Or find us Shamshi.”

     “Not my problem.  Not my mission,” Walegrin grunts, swinging up on his horse; and rides away, back into the fray, leaving his men to deal with fallen comrades while he makes sure his new orders are understood and followed.

     Crit and Strat form up the Sacred Band, counting heads:  everybody’s here; nobody’s critically wounded.  But nothing will excuse this debacle.  When a situation degenerates to this point, there’s nothing you can say.  Not until the Riddler asks them how they let Shamshi get away, if they don’t find him today.

     By then, they’d better have an answer.

“BEYOND SANCTUARY” Kindle Giveaway spotlighted on the web:

A beautiful review and article about the Sacred Band of Stepsons novel, “Beyond Sanctuary,” is now available on the blog, “The Book Rack.”

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And take advantage of this free offer, May 15-17, to download a Kindle “Author’s Cut” version of this classic novel of heroism and love in a mythical world.


As Leonidas of Sparta said to the Persians at Thermopyle, “Come and get them.”