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“One of the finest adventure fiction writers of the twentieth century.”
Warriors of the Steppes is the second in a four-volume set that collects, for the first time, the complete Cossack stories of Harold Lamb and presents them in order: every adventure of Khlit the Cossack and those of his friends, allies, and fellow Cossacks, many of which have never before appeared between book covers. Compiled and edited by the Harold Lamb scholar Howard Andrew Jones, each volume features never-before reprinted essays Lamb wrote about his stories, informative introductions by popular authors, and a wealth of rare, exciting, swashbuckling fiction.
This second volume collects all five tales of Khlit’s greatest friend, the valorous Abdul Dost, and Dost’s comrade Sir Ralph Weyand. Life across the Roof of the World is more dangerous than ever as Khlit teams up with Abdul to thwart a gang of kidnappers, stamp out a cult of stranglers, save the dazzling Retha, and reluctantly lead an Afghani rebellion against the forces of the Mogul. Contained herein are the three never-before-collected stories of Khlit the Cossack, including the short novel The Curved Sword.
“One of the finest adventure fiction writers of the twentieth century.”
“They are tales of wild adventure, full of swordplay, plots, treachery, startling surprises, mayhem, and massacre, laid in the most exotic setting that one can imagine and still stay in a known historical period on this planet.”
All right reserved.
Who can lift the veil of the unseen? And who can read the handwriting
Jhilam the Mighty, the stronghold of the hills, had been fief of
the sires of Sattar Singh since the time of Ram. Now Sattar Singh,
Lord of Jhilam, was dead.
And Rani Begum, wearing the white robe of widowhood for
Sattar Singh, brought the keys of Jhilam castle and laid them
before Jahangir, the Mogul, as was the law. But her heart was
"Lord of the World," cried Rani Begum-and her fear was a
great fear at sight of the mask of anger that overspread the face of
the Mogul-"my Lord Sattar Singh swore that the keys of Jhilam
of the Hills should be held by none but our son Rao Singh. Such
is our right."
"Is the oath of a hill chief greater than the word of the Mogul?"
said Jahangir. So it came to pass that Jahangir the Mogul, Lord of
the Punjab, of the Dekkan, of Sind and all Hindustan, gave the
fief of Jhilam to one Shaista Mirza, a Persian. But the allegiance
of the men of Jhilam he could not give.
Allah in his mercy laid the hand of death upon Rani Begum.
It was written that this shouldbe.
Who can look beyond the veil of the future? Yet the thought
came to me in a vision that the treasure of Jhilam should be found.
And in the vision was the dark form of the Angel of Death.
From the tale of Ahmad Rumi
The hour of sunset prayer was past. Ahmad Rumi, teller of legends,
folded his prayer-carpet neatly and placed it within his bundle
and seated himself at the side of the caravan-track. This was
the trail from the Wular lake to the southern border of Kashmir.
And it was the year 1609 of the Christian era.
Carefully the legend-teller adjusted the folds of his white turban
and ate sparingly of dates which he took from his girdle,
leaning on his staff the while. The sun had gone down behind
the willows at his back; the shadows lengthened, dwindled and
formed again under the pale light of a new moon.
Except for the loom of the turban against the underbrush,
touched by the faint fingers of moonlight, the form of Ahmad
Rumi was invisible. He sat very quiet, sensing the change of hour
by the night chill. For Ahmad Rumi was blind.
He lifted his head at a sound from above him on the caravan-track.
Other sounds reached him, blended and confused, but clear
to the blind man. Three horses were approaching.
Three Arabian horses, bearing heavy men perhaps in armor. So
reasoned Ahmad Rumi and drew farther back into the willows.
Years had taught him the different tread of a Turkoman's pony, a
Kirghiz's quick-moving horse and the stolid gait of a Kabul stallion.
He could distinguish between the bell-bearing mules of a
Bokharan caravan and the laden beasts of Chinese merchants.
Slowly the three Arabs passed. They minced along after the
manner of their kind, and their riders spoke Persian. The horsemen
did not perceive Ahmad Rumi.
"Fresh horses, held in check," muttered the legend-teller to
himself, "and going warily. Aye, verily, the tale of the Wular peasants
was true. Insh'allah!"
He leaned slightly forward, facing up the trail expectantly and
stroking the gray beard that fell to his girdle. His wide, brown
eyes were closed, and the moonlight outlined shadows under his
high cheekbones. Then he lifted his head again eagerly.
This time he scrambled to his feet, aided by his staff, and
stepped into the highroad to confront the rider who trotted
swiftly under the willows.
"Back, beggar," cried a high voice, not unkind nor harsh. "I
have no silver-"
"I am blind," responded the teller of legends quickly.
He felt for the bridle of the horse that had been reined in
sharply. His lean hand touched the bridle and the silk shoulder-straps,
halting at the wrought silver ornaments.
"The Wular stallion," he muttered. "Allah is merciful."
A quick indrawing of breath escaped the rider.
"Back, Muslim. I must pass."
"Nay, Rao Singh. Not until you and I have spoken together."
For a space the rider was silent, peering at the fragile form in
his path. He sat his mount easily, a slender figure nervously erect,
in a plain white tunic with silk girdle bearing a light sword and
a small, peaked turban.
"What seek you? How knew you my name?" he demanded
Ahmad Rumi felt for the hand of Rao Singh and pressed it to
"Thrice blessed is this hour!" he exclaimed joyfully. "Aie-should
I not know the name of the son of my lord? It is sweeter
than the wind in the pine-tops in the hills and more fragrant than
the scent of the lotus by the lake.
"Dismount, Rao Singh; dismount! At a distance of a bowshot
wait those who would slay you and scatter your ashes on the wind
of death. By the ford they watch-three, with arms and perhaps
coats of mail."
Rao Singh lifted his dark head and glanced warily about into
the thickets. In that age it was well to keep to horse on the
caravan-routes, even within sight of the camp of the Mogul, as
he then was.
But Ahmad Rumi was alone. Youth and aged man seated themselves
on the bank by the willows.
"How know you this thing?"
Rao Singh spoke with the directness of a boy-which he was,
barely attained to man's figure.
"You could not see them?"
Suspicion was in the last words and Ahmad Rumi smiled
"They spoke Persian, which I know. They will wait at the ford
for the one they seek. I heard the rattle of their weapons. Death
is in the air tonight-for Rao Singh."
"Whence came the three?"
"From the Jhilam path."
"How knew you I should come?"
The teller of legends sighed, stroking his beard.
"Many are the mouths that will utter evil. The master of horse
of the Lord of Jhilam spake to the slaves, the stable slaves, and
they whispered to the cutters of wood, who bore the news to the
forest men. Hence I, who wait at the Wular gate, heard that this
night Rao Singh was to be slain at the ford near the outpost of
the Mogul camp.
"So I came hither with a caravan from Khoten, bound for the
camp. Even as I heard the thing has come to pass."
"Three common retainers from Jhilam," meditated Rao Singh.
"Nay; one was noble, for I caught the scent of musk as they
"Nevertheless I must ride on."
The boy glanced up anxiously at the moon. "May the gods
reward you for your tidings-"
"Aie, say not thus, my lord! For the space of four Winters since
the death of Sattar Singh, who was master of Jhilam, I have lived
but for one thing-to embrace the hand of the son of Sattar Singh,
telling him the while that there are those at Jhilam who have not
forgotten. It was our fate to suffer, and we have endured much,
but we have not forgotten-"
"Peace!" whispered the boy.
Ahmad Rumi's keen ears had caught the sound-the swift clatter
of horse's hoofs down the trail. But this time his memory was
at fault. The gait was not that of Arab or Persian beast, nor yet
that of a steppe pony.
Rao Singh had sprung to his feet, hand on sword. He saw a
black horse sweep by bearing a tall form in sheepskin khalat and
black hat. The rider glanced at him but did not pause.
"A hillman," he whispered to Ahmad Rumi, "perhaps a Kirghiz,
yet I think not. Presently he will be at the ford."
"The trees are thick there, I have heard. It may be written that
this one should be attacked and perish in your place-"
"Then must I mount and warn," cried the boy.
"You are too late, my lord."
The teller of legends raised his hand. From below came the
sound of horses plunging in shallow water, a cry and the sharp
clash of weapons.
"Siva! It is one against three."
Shaking off the protesting beggar, Rao Singh leaped to saddle
and spurred down the track, drawing his sword as he went. Again
the noise of steel striking steel, again a cry of pain, followed this
time by the sound of a heavy body breaking through brush.
In the edge of the stream Rao Singh reined his mount and stared
about him. A riderless horse, trembling with excitement, stood
nearby, its reins tangled in a human body stretched on the grass.
Under the surface of the shallow water where a moonbeam
pierced the curtain of trees he saw a second form that seemed to
move as he watched. Then it was still. Silence held the ford, and
he wondered at the swift change from tumult to quiet.
Not more than two minutes had passed since the first shout,
and two men were dead and two had fled beyond sight and hearing.
Into the silence, however, crept a tap-tap. It came nearer and
Rao Singh's eyes widened as he gripped his weapon.
The tap-tap changed to a rustle, and as Rao Singh was about
to voice a prayer to ward off the evil influence of a rakzhas-a
malignant demon-he saw Ahmad Rumi's lean figure approach
along the way he had come.
Reassured, the boy dismounted and guided the Muslim to the
edge of the stream.
"Heard you the sword-blows, Ahmad Rumi?" he questioned
uneasily. "All was over ere I reached the ford. 'Tis like to demonwork,
for here be two slain as by magic. By Kali and Durga,
protectress of the two worlds, 'twas magic!"
"Nay," returned the beggar calmly, "there is no enchantment
save the will of Allah and the handwriting of fate, lord. I heard
steel strike upon steel. Is the rider who passed us by slain?"
Rao leaned over the body by the horse. It was that of a commoner-a
harsh face stared up at him above a blood-stained
quilted tunic. Satisfied as to this, the boy inspected the form
in the water. Caste prevented him from touching the dead. A
strong smell of musk assailed him.
"The noble who rode with the three," Ahmad Rumi informed
"Aye, he wears a gold chain, and the moonlight shows mother-of-pearl
inlaid upon the scabbard at his girdle."
The blind man had run his delicate hand over the features of
the bearded soldier. He drew in his breath sharply.
"Bairam, master of horse of Shaista Mirza, will breed no more
foals," he muttered. "Just so was his beard ever trimmed and this
is his Damascus steel cap. Little it availed him."
The two were silent a space, pondering what had passed at the
ford. Plainly the rider of the black horse had been set upon by
the three Persians ambushed at this spot. In all probability he
had been mistaken in the deep shadows under the trees for Rao
Singh. Yet he had fought off the three sharply, killing two, and
had passed on his way.
"Truly a swordsman, he," sighed the boy. "Would I had seen
him more closely and that he had joined his blade to mine, for I
have need of such a one."
"You have many foes, lord," mused Ahmad Rumi, seating himself,
for his aged limbs were not strong. "There be jackals aplenty
who would pull down the lion cub of Jhilam. Aye, in the Mogul
camp. After what has passed, is it safe to draw your reins thither?"
Excerpted from Warriors of the Steppes
by Harold Lamb
Copyright © 2006 by University of Nebraska Press .
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
|The Lion Cub||1|
|The Skull of Shirzad Mir||78|
|Said Afzel's Elephant||105|
|Prophecy of the Blind||128|
|Ameer of the Sea||178|
|Law of Fire||300|
|The Bride of Jagannath||360|
|The Masterpiece of Death||420|
|The Curved Sword||488|
|About the Author||631|