The following excerpt is supplied for publication with permission by the publisher, Micron Press, and the author, John Royce, to HorsesintheSouth.com and AHorseBlog.com
Riding a horse is not a gentle hobby,
to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire.
It is a grand passion.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Mrs. Bridgestone pointed to a portrait of a magnificent horse, head bowed, carrying a haughty rider in white. “That painting shows the stallion Bucephalus, one of the eminent Great Horses of history. When he was first presented to King Philip of Macedonia, no rider could mount him. The king’s own son was a boy about your age, and he called out—”
“I’m almost thirteen,” Meagan interrupted.
“Really, dear? Splendid.” Mrs. Bridgestone smiled at Jennifer. “They grow so quickly, don’t they? It seems my grandniece went from diapers to driving in the space of an afternoon. Well, to continue, when the King’s son saw the wonderful stallion being led away to be banished, he cried out, ‘What an excellent horse they have lost for lack of skill!’ Naturally the king was annoyed with his son’s manners. To teach a lesson the King had the horse brought back for his son to try what the others had failed.
“The boy had noticed the young horse was shying from his riders’ shadows, so he turned the stallion into the sun and mounted easily. He rode Bucephalus for thirty years, and conquered more armies than any man before or since. Do you know that boy?”
Meagan shook her head.
“He was Alexander the Great, dear. The stallion Bucephalus carried his master from Egypt to India, and no one else ever rode him. Not once.”
Meagan moved respectfully to an onyx sculpture beside the painting. The work was of a horse sitting on his haunches with both forelegs stretched in front of him. “Who is this?”
“That was the Great Horse El Morzillo, dear, the mount the Spanish conquistador Cortés rode to conquer Mexico. Cortés was forced to leave his prized stallion behind with natives who knew nothing of horses. They fed him only meat and wine until the poor animal wasted away and died. Frightened of Cortez’s wrath, the natives made an enormous statue of the horse to worship. When missionaries returned, they threw the statue into the lake surrounding his temple. It is said El Morzillo looks up from the bottom of that lake, still waiting for his master’s return.”
Meagan walked to another pedestal. It supported a horse’s head, a fragment of an originally life-sized statue. The visage was warlike: the stone mouth was open as if in rage.
“That is a cast of a Greek original, dear, made in the time of the Roman Emperor Trajan.” Mrs. Bridgestone pronounced the name Tray-jin. “He reigned at the turn of the first century, about nineteen hundred years ago when Rome was at its height. It is a darkly fascinating time, the moment before western civilization began to disintegrate. With the fall of Rome came Europe’s Dark Ages. Remember, dear, that Western Civilization has died once before.”
Behind the pedestal was a large painting of a chariot race, head-on, with the crowd and track rendered in rousing detail. Meagan stood beneath it, staring in awe.
“The actual work hangs in the Manchester Art Gallery. As you can see, the ancient Romans were modern in many ways. One of my favorite old writers was Cornelius Tacitus, who wrote scandalous histories of Rome. Such an insightful mind, writing so bravely as his world sank into madness – that is a horse’s manger, dear.”
Meagan was stopped before a crumbling box mounted on a low pedestal. The object was corroded and gray from age.
“It doesn’t look it, I know, but that is said to be the remains of the manger of the Roman Emperor Caligula’s favorite race horse, Incitatus. Caligula had a stable of marble and gold built for the stallion, complete with furnishings and servants. Though horses are strict vegetarians, Incitatus was fed mice dipped in butter and marinated squid.” Mrs. Bridgestone added more quietly, “Of course, the man was considered dangerously insane.”
Meagan walked on. “How about this painting, Mrs. Bridgestone – who is the old man with a long beard?”
“That is El Cid on his Great Horse, Babieca. El Cid was a Spanish warrior who led armies on his famous white charger. There are stories which claim El Cid was mortally wounded at the siege of Valencia but Babieca was left alive. Before dying, El Cid left clear instructions. The Spaniards marched from their city at midnight with Babieca cantering at the head of the Spanish troops as always, but with his dead master propped in the saddle and tied by his long beard. The attackers thought El Cid had risen from the dead and they fled, ending the siege, and so it is said that El Cid won his last battle after his own death. And no one ever mounted Babieca again.”
“Those are interesting stories, Mrs. Bridgestone,” Jennifer said, meaning it. “Everything here is so lovely – but I’m still very curious. Why have you invited us?”
Meagan turned politely to listen.
“Yes, well.” Mrs. Bridgestone fingered her necklace. “I suppose there is no better way to tell you, except to just say it. To put it simply, circumstances have – oh me. It seems your foal is the next of the Great Horses.”
Eclipsed by Shadow
Published by Micron Press
Copyright © 2008 John Royce
Winner of the
Eric Hoffer Book Award for Young Adult Fiction
Mom’s Choice Award for Young Adult Fantasy
“THRILLING & INTELLIGENT FANTASY – colorfully drawn history lessons perfect for engaging readers, and the writing delivers such elegant turns of phrase as to keep teens and adults intrigued.” ~ US Review of Books
“BELONGS IN MOST LIBRARIES’ ADULT AND YA COLLECTIONS –
Veteran horseman Royce combines history and myth with action and adventure to create a fast-paced, well-informed tale of a flying horse and the young girl who loves her.”
~ Library Journal
“PAGE-TURNING – great plot and character development, wonderful descriptions of equine history, and a tension-ridden cliffhanging ending that will leave you gnawing at the bit for more. ~ Historical Novel Society
The travels in this story are fiction, but the intention is to present historical accuracy. Where license is taken, it is to portray the spirit of the times.
Disclaimer: According to observation and science, horses cannot fly.