We interrupt the regularly scheduled and always late blog post to announce that Heroika: Skirmishers, the heroic anthology from the amazing author, Janet Morris is finally out!
I talked about how I became involved in this project in the cover reveal post, so now I’d like to talk about the book, itself. It is published by The Perseid Press. There are twelve stories, arranged in order from oldest time-frame to most recent. Each is by a different author, each unique in theme and style, but all having to do with the the Heroic Ethos of lightly armed warriors.
Each story starts with a foreword, which I will include here. My story is second, but since this my blog, I’m going to talk about mine first. Blogger’s prerogative, right? After the book has been out a while, I’ll come back to it and discuss some of the fascinating details that inspired my story (with spoiler warnings). I hope you enjoy.
A Handful of Salt by Sean Poage
In 401 BC, Cyrus the Younger added ten thousand Greek mercenaries to his army and marched into battle near current-day Baghdad to challenge his brother for the throne of the Persian Empire. His Greeks were victorious, but he was slain and the Greeks were stranded deep inside the Persian Empire without supplies. To get home, they would have to fight their way north, nearly a thousand miles, through the mountains of eastern Anatolia to the Black Sea.
The adventure was described through the eyes of one of their leaders, Xenophon, in The Anabasis.
It is considered one of the greatest feats of military history and has often been recounted and re-imagined. But never through the eyes of their adversaries, the Persians, or the ancestral tribes of eastern Turkey. One event, in particular, is haunting and tragic. Today we struggle to understand the mind-set of ancient cultures, often making the mistake of seeing their world through the filter of our own values. This story is an attempt to understand a heroic perspective alien to our own.
Habiru by Michael H. Hanson
The Sea People, the largest military force in Mediterranean history, is closing in on Egypt, last bastion of order and culture in the ancient world. A never before-seen alliance of countries and nation-states have united to defend against this rampaging overwhelming horror. On the eve of battle, it is the skirmish lines of the fierce nomadic tribespeople known as the Habiru, who may hold the answer to victory. Civilization itself is at stake in this breathless adventure.
The Naked Daemon by S.E. Lindberg
Witness the Birth of Alchemical Warfare.
The battlefront between intellectualism and brutal ignorance has existed since record-keeping began, and, of course, victors always decide how history is remembered. For millennia, conquerors employed violent armies to extend their reach while passive scholars extended their knowledge in remote safety; the latter submitting to bullies. However, intellectuals cannot avoid the frontline forever since it often spills onto their doorsteps like a bloody tsunami. Then and there, academics must use their knowledge to do battle, or die. They are reluctant heroes, skirmishers of an endless war. Their responses triggered the birth of alchemical warfare which I chronicle in this Heroika series.
In Heroika 1: Dragon Eaters, “Legacy of the Great Dragon” features the Father of Alchemy Thoth (a.k.a. Hermes) entombing his singular source of magic, the Great Dragon. According to Greek and Egyptian myth, Hermes was able to see into the world of the dead and pass his learnings to the living. One of the earliest known hermetic scripts is the Divine Pymander of Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus. Within that, a tale is told of Hermes being confronted with a vision of the otherworldly entity Pymander, who takes the shape of a “Great Dragon” to reveal divine secrets.“Legacy of the Great Dragon” fictionalizes this Hermetic Tradition, presenting the Great Dragon as the sun-eating Apep of Egyptian antiquity. Hermes’s learnings are passed to humanity via an Emerald Tablet.
The actual Emerald Tablet (if it was indeed “real”) is arguable the most popular work of Hermeticism since it reveals the secret of transmuting any material’s base elements into something divine or materially valuable (gold). Many refer to the tablet as being the philosopher’s stone, or the knowledge embodying it. In fact, the tablet no longer physically exists, but translations of it do. Sir Isaac Newton’s translation of the tablet’s inscription remains very popular and undeniably cryptic.
Following the Emerald Tablet from Ancient Egypt into the Hellenistic age, the “The Naked Daemon” pits the mystic Apollonius of Tyana (deceased ~100 CE) against zealots who destroy what endures of the Alexandria Library. In real life, if we can believe history, Apollonius’ principles had been aligned with those of the pacifist gymnosophists (a.k.a. naked philosophers); in this story, hundreds of years past his death, Apollonius finds himself reborn as a daemon empowered with Hermes’s Emerald Tablet. He observes the Roman oppression over pagan scholars and is challenged with an urgent need to defend knowledge. Yet he is unarmed. Shieldless.
Will Apollonius rationalize war by unleashing the power of alchemy to do harm? Will he become an angel or demon? How will alchemy transform The Naked Demon?
Souls of a Lion by Tom Barczak
Two souls in two times.
One lesson repeated so both may learn.
That the places we are brought may not be for us.
But for those having been or still yet to come.
Because time is never a stream.
But a current in the sea.
And eternity is less something that comes.
But the infinity in between.
A Hebrew assassin beneath the weight of Masada.
A Jewish partisan in the ghetto tries to do what’s right.
Roman or German their enemy is the same.
Not the ones who bear the standards but the ones who let them stay.
Because the strength of a lion is not always its might.
But the choice it makes of which enemy it fights.
The loudest one, both foolish and proud.
Or the quiet one that steals its brood in the night.
Nithing by Travis Ludvigson
Reputation was everything to the fierce Norse warriors better known as Vikings. A man’s fame was hard-won; wading through rivers of blood while enduring the chaos and fury of the steel storm. A warrior fought to win each battle and the earthly riches that followed. But he also entered the fray with the knowledge that if he died in battle, he would be taken to Valhöll, the hall of the slain. Therein he would fight all day and drink all night with the Allfather, Odin, and with those brave warriors that had gone before him.
So, what happens when this is all taken away? Grimolf was a warrior of great renown, but now is a man on the run; betrayed by his Jarl, driven from his home, hunted for the bounty on his head. The life he knew is gone, and he is adrift in a sea of danger, depression and uncertainty. He no longer knows who to trust, or what to believe. He has been labeled a Nithing: Old Norse for a coward, an outcast, or a man without honor.
Grimolf and his kind hailed from Scandinavia and traveled extensively, settling throughout many parts of the world. One of the lesser discussed locations was Greenland (initially discovered by Erik the Red), where several smaller settlements were established for a time. Greenland is a remote, rugged, and wild land. Its bleak landscape perfectly mirrors Grimolf’s dark emotional state.
The story incorporates the fearless mentality of the Norse warriors as well as their intriguing mythology. It also features a version of the famous Battle of Stamford Bridge (but now taking place in Greenland rather than England).
Nithing is a tale of betrayal and redemption set in the latter part of the Viking Age. Grimolf joins a Viking crew sailing to Greenland to discover the fate of their settlement. He is hired for his skill with a blade, and Grimolf sees it as a way to escape from the troubles of his past. Yet the journey proves to be much more, and it will force him to look within and decide who and what he truly is.
In the Season of Rust by Charles Gramlich
Three threads run through “In the Season of Rust.” Two are historical, one mythological. The first historical thread is that Sheaugu, the main character, is a hunter and warrior of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which means “People of the Long House.” This is the proper name for what many call the Iroquois Confederacy or the League of Five Nations. The history of the confederacy is not completely known but it’s believed to have been founded between the 12th and 15th centuries by a prophet known as the “Peacemaker,” and Hiawatha. The Confederacy was centered in what is now New York State. They were not a militaristic society but engaged in warfare and were successful at it. Some legends associate the Haudenosaunee with the Mi’kmaq people, who today live in Newfoundland and northeastern Maine.
The second historical thread is more speculative. Sheaugu has inherited some Norse genes and his daughter has blue eyes. In the story, these genes originated with a man named Snorri, who married among the natives, the Skraelings as the Norse called them. Norse settlements in Newfoundland have been identified and dated to around 1000 AD. An historical Snorri who could have been the figure mentioned in the tale was Snorri Thorfinnsson, who appears to have been born around the year 1005 in Vinland (Newfoundland) and is sometimes said to be the first “white” person born in the new world.
The Haudenosaunee Confederacy lay well south of Newfoundland but putative signs of Norse influence have been found in Maine so the migration of Norse genes all the way to the New York State area isn’t inconceivable. Add to this the connection between the Haudenosaunee and the Mi’kmaq and there is a reasonable possibility of such migration.
The third strand in the story is mythological and involves the legend of the “Wild Hunt.” The concept was formally developed by Jacob Grimm in 1835, but he apparently pulled together bits and pieces of much older legends, many dating at least to Medieval times. This period overlaps nicely with the other potential dates in the story. The term “Hunt” is associated with most of these legends. Usually, a single figure leads the Hunt, and at various times gods such as Odin, or even the Devil, are said to be that leader.
Black hounds and the skirl of horns are often associated with the Hunt, which appears only at night. It was usually considered a harbinger of danger or change. The “Hunt,” as described in this story, is influenced primarily by pre-Christian concepts of the legend. This is a European and not Native American legend, but the Norse might have brought such stories to the new world. It is suggested in the story that Sheaugu’s Norse genes connect him to the Hunt.
Black Quill by Cas Peace
Dark Ages Britain, toward the end of the 10th century, was an uncertain place. The old king of Wessex, Edgar, died, leaving two sons: Edward, the son of his former queen; and Æthelred, the son of Ǽlfrida, the queen who survived Edgar. Edward ascended the throne but died three years later – murdered, some whispered, by the machinations of his stepmother Ǽlfrida; who then became regent for her own son, Æthelred. As soon as Æthelred came of age, he rebelled against his mother’s power and reduced her to the position of nursemaid to his children, thus earning him the epithet unræd, meaning “poorly advised.” Clearly a capable and intelligent woman, and ever a champion of monastic reform, Ǽlfrida founded a Benedictine Abbey at Wherwell in Wessex, southern Britain, where she eventually retired.
Harewood Forest, not far from Wherwell, becomes the site of the re-emergence of a terrible, legendary horror . . .
Threatened, dominated and predated by this ancient, semi-immortal evil, Wessex lies defenceless, her people cowed by terror. The king sends his forces against the beast, yet swords and shields prove useless, his warriors powerless against its might. Only Gytha, the cursed girl, the crippled girl, the girl who failed to die, knows how it feels to face the creature and survive. Yet her community shun her as tainted, maybe even bewitched, and her family abandon her. Gytha’s only comfort is the small, still voice in her mind—the voice of her twin sister who was taken by the monster in her stead.
Driven to fulfil its destiny, the beast hungers for souls to re-energize its waning existence. Pure, blameless souls feed the fires of its immortality, yet the beast strikes indiscriminately: at king and commoner, prince and peasant alike. By making its lair far beneath the land and shouldering its sinuous bulk through the sedimentary rock beneath the Wessex Weald, nosing through chalk and water, hydrocarbons and gases, the beast emerges where it wills, using fissures and cracks and faults to hide its passage and facilitate deadly strikes. At the turn of each century, the creature must feed in order to replenish its existence, and Wessex will suffer until its furies abate.
Cast out by her faeder’s new wife, Gytha finds sanctuary in Wherwell Abbey under the charge of its abbess, Ǽlfrida; the former queen consort of England. The crippled girl tries to rebuild her shattered life and find some meaning in her survival. Buoyed by the still, small voice in her mind, Gytha perseveres through her pain and shame, finding purpose by becoming a copier in the abbey’s scriptorium, and comfort in the abbey’s religious offices.
Wherwell Abbey provides a safe haven for Gytha and the nuns who are her companions and remains largely untouched by the horror that stalks the land. Yet the souls that inhabit Wherwell are bright, innocent, and untrammeled, proving too strong a lure for the monster. Horror overwhelms Wherwell, and Gytha’s link with her dead sister guides her toward a shocking conclusion.
Old Gold by A.L. Butcher
When a new religion arises, on the point of a sword the old ways and old gods are pushed aside, but half-remembered. There will be those who find the new ways to be wrong, or those, usually on the margins of society, who are viewed with suspicion as non-believers.
Old Gold is set in a time of changing beliefs, zealousness and a lingering fear that just maybe the Old God had a point, and still retains some power; it is a tale of the wrath of the misplaced, ignored and forgotten, and a tale of the most unlikely person having the courage to find the cure to the plague blighting the land. This is a tale of magic and belief over might and fear.
A Lion in Kamerun by Ken Kiser
Africa. A continent of great beauty and unbridled wonder. A land where unparalleled mysteries call out to the hearts of the adventurous and a place where danger awaits those who answer.
From the early colonization of her vast coastal plains, through the echoes of the Great War, no place on Earth has ever sparked more in the imaginations of explorers than Africa. A seemingly endless land of dark secrets, strange peoples, and ancient relics of unimaginable wonder. A land of myth and mystery that quickened the pulse of the curious.
Countless tales scrawled in the journals of those who have walked the paths to places never before seen spawned stories of adventure, romance, tragedy and even sorrow. Soldiers, hunters, scientists, and treasure seekers told of their exploits in stories such as Tarzan of the Apes, The Heart of Darkness, Beau Geste, The African Queen, and so many tales of King Solomon’s Mines that the legend grew with each new telling.
Even Hemmingway’s later hunting trips brought the word “Safari” into common English usage.
In the years following WWI, radio serial dramas captured this lure of the mysterious continent with adventure stories of Lost Cities brimming with gold and ancient magics. Stories of heroes who braved the jungles to conquer the beasts, claim the treasures… and win the girl.
What follows is one of those tales. A Lion in Kamerun will challenge your understanding of what it means to be a hero in a heartfelt tale of courage, brotherly love, and ultimate sacrifice.
The Patrol by William Hiles
The theme that most interests me as a writer is what Hemingway called “grace under pressure.” Of great importance to me is the ability of ordinary people to confront their deepest fears and overcome them without losing their humanity. Though I have taken pleasure in reading about great heroes, as a writer I have little interest in the prowess and derring-do of these extraordinary characters. They are shaped for combat and similar challenges, by muscle and temperament and skill, and their adventures leave me little room for exploring the physical, emotional and spiritual consequences of conflict. The story you are about to read is one of war and death and survival, where the protagonist faces an implacable enemy alone, naked to the elements, and realizes that survival is no guarantee of life.
La Porte en Arriere by Beth W. Patterson
The continuing story of Thérèse Naquin (aka “Pichou,” or Creole for “wildcat”) is one of the eleven-year-old girl in the heart of rural Cajun Louisiana. Pichou mourns the loss of her mentor Mister Broussard but finds a contemporary in a boy her age who moves into the late man’s vacant house. The two quickly become fast friends, eagerly swapping lore and talents. Their happy camaraderie is soon disturbed by the tiny town’s newest threat, a legendary serial killer. Devoid of guns or blades, they must rely strictly on their wits, their quick young bodies, and a heart-stopping bluff that could cost them their lives.
Durendal by Bruce Durham
This is a tale of two sentient weapons, one good, one evil, crafted from elements lost to space and time. Continuing a struggle through the millennia, these beings cause the rise and fall of empires before and during recorded history. And as the technology of man develops from spears and rocks to stealth jets and nuclear bombs, so do the stakes. When one such weapon falls into the hands of a madman, the world is placed on the precipice of destruction. All that stands in his way are the remnants of a tired Peacekeeping force on the run from overwhelming devastation.
Heroika: Skirmishers is available now from Amazon on Kindle at this link. The print version will be coming soon. I hope the series interests you and I’d love to know what you think. Thanks!