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Fantastic Sword-fighters:
Barry Sadler's Casca

by Andy Beau

Well, I lied! In my first column—about Elak of Atlantis—I said I’d be writing about some lesser-known sword-and-sorcery stories I’d read since the ‘60s. Actually, I’ve read many sword-and-planet books (or planetary romances) and sword-and-history books (or swashbuckling historicals) as well. And this time it’s one of those swashbuckling historical series I'd like to focus on.

In this column I want to tell you about the Casca series by Barry Sadler (1940–1989). In the 1960s Sadler was a Green Beret and fought in Vietnam. His first claim to fame came in 1966 when he composed and recorded the pro-Vietnam War song, “The Ballad Of The Green Berets,” a popular song that year.

Then in 1979 Sadler's first Casca book was published. Some feel that he actually wrote probably the first ten to twelve books in the series himself. The rest up to #22 were then ghostwritten. The last Sadler book in the series, The Mongol, was found on his computer after his death in 1989. The last chapter was then completed by a friend. The last two books, #23 and #24, were written sometime later. I understand these last two are not up to the quality of the preceding ones. In the Fall of 2006, a new Casca #25 was published. This tale occurs during the Mexican War, America's war with Mexico in the 1840s, and is reviewed below.

For additional pictures of Sadler and a more detailed biography, go to http://www.sizemoremusic.com/sadler_history.htm.

Sadler’s Casca Rufio Longinius was the Roman soldier who pierced Christ’s side with a spear during the crucifixion. Christ cursed him; Casca is to remain a soldier until he and Christ meet again, which cannot occur until Christ returns to Earth. In effect, Casca is a non-aging immortal who cannot be killed. He can suffer wounds, but heals and even regenerates body parts. From this point on, he becomes the Eternal Mercenary, the title of the first book, for various armies throughout the world. Throughout his long life he is hoping for some way of losing his “immortality” and being granted the death of a normal man. The series chronicles his exploits during the last two thousand years, but in loose chronological order. However, I would recommend reading the books in the numeric order listed in their titles, as I write below.

I’d like to focus only on the books where swords and other bladed weapons are major weapons in the storyline, which would be in fourteen of the original first twenty-two books, chronologically the last one of which occurs at the end of the 1800s. The other eight books take place during the 1900s and are interspersed within the other fourteen pre-1900s books. The 1900s books find Casca as: a soldier in WWI, WWII, Vietnam; a mercenary in Africa; and in similar roles. Each of the fourteen pre-1900 books has battles and swordfights throughout.

The first six books in the series begin with Casca in the present day, relating his tales to a doctor who attended him when he appeared to be dying of wounds during the Vietnam War, in which Casca was a U. S. soldier. The rest of the books start right off with Casca in the time and place of the historic tale, with the doctor opener dropped.

I’ll go through the series in the order of publication, summarizing the story line and providing an example of the prose.

Casca #1: The Eternal Mercenary: Casca pierces Christ’s side with his spear during the crucifixion and becomes cursed to live and fight until they meet again. Casca later is sentenced to be a slave, then a gladiator, and learns about his virtual immortality.

The following scene takes place when Casca, as a gladiator, must battle Jubala the Numidian in the arena of Nero.

To the stunned surprise of the spectators, Casca took his helmet off…He threw the helmet at Jubala. It hit, bounced, and rang off the black’s shield. Then he threw his shield at the Numidian so hard it almost knocked Jubala to the sand. And finally he took his sword and presented it in a salute to the Roman audience. ‘For you!’ he cried. ‘For you I dedicate this kill with my hands’. And he threw the sword into the stands. The crowd went insane…. Jubala grinned beneath his helmet, and Casca matched it with a grin of his own. The massive Circus Maximus was silent. Even the emperor was leaning over the railing in concentrated study. Never had anything like this happened in the history of the games.

Casca #2: God Of Death: Casca joins a Viking crew as they voyage to the ancient Mexico of the Teotecs (that’s a culture clash, if ever there was one!).

I’m not spoiling the story with the following scene description because it's also described on the teaser page. This scene is one of the best in the series and one that I always remember. Casca is escorted up to the top of the sacrificial pyramid and lays himself out on the altar, preparing himself as a human sacrifice. Then:

(The Teotec priest) raised the shining blade of golden flint… (The) knife struck deep (into Casca’s chest)… (The priest) held the beating heart of Casca in his hand, blood spurting from the severed aorta. The organ emptied itself on the altar… it was throbbing and moving as if trying to get away, twisting in his grip, slippery and bloody. The golden knife dropped from the (priest’s) grasp when another hand covered his. Casca…stood holding the (priest’s) hand…then took his own beating heart out of the priest’s hand...and put it back into his chest…He put his hands on either side of his open chest and pushed the edges together, sealing them. His heart back where it belonged, still beating…

To shorten the above quote, I had to remove a lot of descriptive language about a large storm, lightening, burning phosphorescence, rays of emerald light, etc. that also took place in the scene. The above scene covered over 6 pages of very descriptive language building to the final climax atop the pyramid.

Casca #3: The Warlord: Casca battles warriors in the Mediterranean Sea. He is also pursued by a fanatic Christian cult that believes that by following Casca throughout his long lifetime that they or future members of their sect will eventually be present when Christ returns Earth to again meet Casca, according to the curse. However, they also intend to make Casca suffer excruciatingly during his lifetime for his killing of Christ. They do capture him at one point and chop off his hand, which eventually slowly grows back. Casca later ends up in China, becoming a powerful warlord and heir to the Chinese throne. However, others have different plans.

This scene is from a battle where Casca is commanding the Chinese Emperor’s army against a Mongol barbarian horde. The youthful king has gotten himself trapped in the middle of a large group of enemy.

(Casca was) whipping (his warhorse) Glam’s shaggy carcass, fighting his way to the spot where the king had disappeared into the whirling mass of men, beasts, and dust. Striking left and right, Casca laid about him whacking the hand off a tribesman who grabbed his reins and broke the neck of another with a well-placed kick in the face. The king was down… The surviving guards placed themselves in a circle around their imperial master ready to die rather than leave him…Driving his sword through the eye of a wild-faced barbarian, Casca broke through to the king. Glam rose on his hind legs and struck out with his sharp hooves, crushing the brain case of a wiry tribesman like an eggshell.

Casca #5: The Barbarian: Casca must escape the Romans by fleeing north to Viking country. Amid the battles he fights, he meets and falls in love with Lady Lida. In the series, he marries but has the same problem as the immortal Highlanders from the movies and TV—- he never ages and always outlives his wives.

The following scene finds Casca being condemned to death by a Viking chieftain.

(Casca) was chained to a tidal stake… The tide was coming in and with it would come the flesh-eating crabs with pincers and their hungry, constantly opening-and-closing mouths…He wondered when the crabs would come and how long it would take for them to tear him apart, one tiny nip at a time. Even more important was, would he die if they did dismantle him? How powerful was the curse of life put on him by the crucified Jew?…The water had reached his waist and he felt the small things of the sea slithering and crawling over his feet and legs. The water was reaching his chest and waves were lapping up to touch his chin….Then he felt the first tentative nips at his flesh. The crabs were there. He felt a large one crawl over his bare feet then another using his claws to creep up his thigh to his waist. One sting, then another, and another…He waited for the rest of the crabs to come in, for they would come in dozens and even hundreds to pick his bones clean…the crabs finally did come. Like herds of lice they swarmed over his body…

Casca #6: The Persian: Following his adventures in The Barbarian book, Casca ventures to Persia and becomes commander of the royal army and defeats the Hunnish army. However, the fanatic cult from The Warlord book above is still pursuing him. One of the cult's members is a high-ranking member of the king's advisers and has Casca burned at the stake, down to an ash-covered skeleton. How does an immortal survive that!?

The following scene is from a battle against the Hun army.

(Boguda the Hun) bore down on Casca, trampling bodies beneath the already bloodstained hooves of his warhorse. (Casca), instead of waiting in wide-eyed terror for his death from Boguda’s hand, was throwing himself into the path of his horse. What was the fool doing? The onrushing animal crashed to its knees as Casca’s sword rammed straight through the hide and flesh, piercing its heart. Blood was coming from its mouth and nostrils as it fell, yet it was trying to sink its yellow stained teeth into the face of the man who’d killed it.

Casca #7: The Damned: Leaving Persia after his adventures in the previous book, The Persian, Casca heads back to the site of an earlier book, The Barbarian, in northern Europe. This is the time of the barbarian hordes invading or supporting the crumbling Roman Empire - barbarians such as the Huns, Franks, Goths, Burgundians, Visigoths, Scythians, etc. He then travels south to Gaul, becomes a Roman soldier again, and now faces Attila the Hun.

This is the description of Attila the Hun:

The Master of the Huns exuded raw primal power. Attila wore none of the riches of his officers, no armbands of precious gold. No rare gems set in rings of electrum. He wore only a plain, well-used sheepskin jacket with the hair to the outside to cover his barrel chest. A wide belt of red copper encircled the thick muscles of his waist. In the belt was a long dagger of plain workmanship. It was the face that told the story. Eyes dark, cold, controlled and very intelligent. He wore his hair in a single scalp lock set on the right side of his head to hang over his shoulder…The control Attila was showing was one of the enforced kind and one not to his nature. There was a raw brutal power and violence lying behind the heavy eyelids.

Casca #9: The Sentinel: In 485, Casca now travels to Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern empire after the fall of Rome. He then is sent to Tripoli and Carthage in northern Africa to fight still other barbarians, the Vandals and their allies. The fanatic cult has picked up his trail again and are out to cause him great suffering for killing Christ.

The following is part of the battle between the Vandals and the Byzantines.

Gelimer (the Vandal commander) rose in his saddle. Robes flowing about him, the white of the robes blotched with blood from those he had slain. He pointed his sword straight at the enemy and cried out for all to hear, ‘No quarter, no prisoners. Kill them all!’…The Vandals were totally committed this time. They knew they could break through, and once they did, it would be all over for the Byzantines. The first assault had done no more than whet their appetites. Close behind, running close to the ground, their native allies ran nearly as fast as the horses, not wanting to miss out on any of the slaughter. They hit the first (Byzantine) rank again, this time massing their attack at the three spots Gelimer had indicated. The first rank went down, then the second and the third. The fourth started to break, and some Vandals were actually through and heading to the rear when Belisarius (the Byzantine commander) finally gave the order for his trumpeters to sound their signals.

Casca #10: The Conquistador: Casca invades Aztec Mexico with Cortez, seeking revenge on the priests who continue the human sacrifice that existed when he first journeyed to Mexico with the Vikings in the God Of Death book above.

The following is a picture of the Aztec king-god in his palace.

From the roof of his palace in the great city of Tenochtitlan, the king-god Moctezuma (Mexican version of the name ‘Montezuma’) set aside his robe of rare feathers and removed from his wrists and arms the bands of beaten gold that were set with emeralds. Stroking the thin hairs of his moustache, he watched the sun set, casting pathways of shimmering gold streaming over the dark waters of the sacred lake Texcoco. Torches set in gold brackets cast a red glow over his sun-dark features. His face was troubled; worry lines creased the high, noble brow. There had been portents and signs that disaster would soon walk the lands of the Aztecs.

Casca #13: The Assassin: Casca is forced to join the Assassins, the tenth century group of Arab suicidal fanatics who were able to kill anyone, even a ruler, who did not accede to the leader’s demands.

The following is a sample of some of the battle “humor” that is sprinkled throughout all the books in the series.

Casca had been standing watching the battle, his legs spread a little with one foot on a small rock, when one of the bandit arrows whished between his legs, (narrowly missing) the family jewels. That was too much! It was bad enough having to live for centuries waiting for the Jew (Christ) to return. But to wait castrated…Without the solace of women… Casca was damned if he was going to stand for that. Roaring like a bull… Casca grabbed the jirad of a Mameluke downed beside him and hurled it at the archer who had shot at him. All Casca’s rage was behind the throw, and the weapon smashed through the bandit’s guts as fast as through thin air.

Casca #15: The Pirate: Casca joins forces with Blackbeard the Pirate to rescue a “damsel in distress”. He is also joined by a female pirate (piratess? piratrix?) in the mission. The pirate/seafaring angle is totally different from any other book in the series. Many of the other books deal mainly or totally with land battles; this is the only one with battles among and aboard ships in the open sea.

A funny typo is on the back of the cover, where the story is summarized for potential buyers to read quickly. It mentions that “Casca joins ranks with the infamous BLUEbeard”, instead of BLACKbeard, as written in the actual story. BLUEbeard was a French fictional character who married and then killed successive wives!

The following shows how even though the shipboard battle is different from a land battle, Casca finds a lot of familiarity.

From the deck of Blackbeard’s ship the pirate boarders had leaped onto the other deck howling for blood. But the Spaniards, too, were fighting…it was like any other battle he had ever fought: a confused dream of blood and cries and sharp steel…of men who screamed and cursed and fought, slipping in the blood on the deck, slashing with the blades, killing, dying.

Casca #17: The Warrior: Casca in the South Pacific. He becomes a member of a local tribe of islanders and rises to the top because of his battle expertise. He then leads the tribe against their fierce rivals.

Here’s Casca using a totally different weapon from the ones he’s used up to this time.

(Casca) picked up the great war club and raced up the rest of the slope, heading for the last man in the rear rank. A few yards short, the man heard or sensed him and half turned. Casca let out a great whoop and hurled himself forward, the great club swinging for the thick helmet of black hair. The blow never reached home. Taken by surprise as he was, the Lakuvi warrior just had time to bring up his club and block the blow….Casca wearily brought up the club as his enemy swung for his head. At the last moment…(Casca) pivoted…,swaying out of the way. The momentum of his effort carried the warrior past him, and Casca…brought a crashing blow down on the back of his head. Too late, he thought, as he saw three more enemies rushing toward him.

Casca #18 - The Cursed: Casca’s in 1899 China, which is under European control. He leads some of the Chinese rebels in a bloody battle to oust the foreign devils—blades against rifles and machine guns!

Here’s another unique weapon for Casca, though with a short-lived use.

The whip that had been wound around his neck now lay on the ground beside him. He snatched it up and came to his feet, flailing it about, taking out the swordsman’s eye, and lashing the mounted horses so that they bolted away with their riders struggling to control them. He leaped into the one empty saddle and hammered his heels into the horse’s flanks, racing down the road past two of the riders who were just succeeding in bringing their mounts under control. The flailing whip caught one horse in the throat and it reared and threw the rider. The other he lashed on the rump and it broke into a wild gallop, crashing through the trees that lined the roadside to fall heavily into an open ditch.

Casca #19: The Samurai: In feudal Japan, Casca unites with a famous samurai during Japan's feudal age. In this story, Casca learns to use traditional Japanese weapons, as described below.

The second rider was heading for Casca (on the dike), his sword cutting wheels in the air as he closed on (Casca)...Casca had no trouble in his use of the naginata in locking the horns of the halberd on the blade of the samurai. A quick pull and a twist and the samurai’s sword flew over his head…Then Casca made a quick circular cross-blow that brought his broad blade snapping back to connect at the junction of the jaw and the samurai’s throat rings…opening up the man’s throat so he was well on his way to whatever heaven or hell he believed in.


Casca #22: The Mongol: In Asia, Casca is rescued from Tatar slavery by a young Mongol outcast. He trains the ambitious rebel, who then unites his people and begins to create the largest empire in the world. He is no less then Temujin, later called Genghis Khan!

The following scene describes the skill and determination of the non-human allies of the Mongols…their war-horses!

Casca leaned forward (on his horse), locking his lance under his right armpit, trying to place his body as close to that of his horse as possible to avoid the possibility of a return (arrow) hitting him. He could smell the grass underhoof as his horse tore up the ground. He let himself ride with the animal, adding its speed and strength to his own. The lance was steady; he had picked his man. The Khitan (on his own horse) tried to swerve and move out of his way. But Casca’s war pony knew what was expected of it and shifted to intercept the horse. Even if the rider was not a master horseman, the animal knew its job. Nostrils flared, red-rimmed wild eyes rolling, the war-horse locked in on its target. Nothing save death would stop it.

Casca #25: Halls Of Montezuma: In the U. S. of the late 1840s, Casca befriends a recently arrived Irish immigrant widow and her children. He becomes involved in protecting them from the clutches of a gang who wants to kidnap her girls for forced prostitution. Also, the fanatic Christian cult mentioned in Casca #3 above has found him again, and this time they plan on keeping him a tortured prisoner until Christ's return. After the immigrants are settled in their new home and after several violent encounters with cult members, Casca joins the U.S. Army. There he feels more comfortable being a soldier than as a civilian, and also he is trying to escape the pursuit of the cult that's hot on his trail. Soon afterwards, war between Mexico and the U. S. breaks out, and Casca finds himself fighting in Mexico. During the battle for Mexico City, he encounters a group of U. S. Marines, whom he teams up with to take the last stronghold of the Mexican army, Chapultepec Castle.

Here Casca is pinned down with other soldiers and marines while trying to attack and scale the sheer walls of the Castle.

A bullet whined close by and ricocheted off a stone. (Casca) checked his rifle and found it to be loaded. He must've done that without thinking when the attack began. Still, what the hell could he do with one shot when the defenders must number a couple of hundred? And he'd have to climb that damned wall somehow. Where were the ladders? Any time now he'd be hit and then he'd have some explaining to do if he healed too quickly. He cursed again and wondered how the devil he'd come to be in this place, when he merely tried to get away from one lot of trouble. He'd jumped out of the pan into the fire!

This latest book in the Casca series was released in September 2006 by a U. S. publisher. The author is a Britisher named Tony Roberts, who also runs the www.Casca.net website mentioned below. He has written his first Casca book, which closely resembles the style and the action-packed excitement of the first dozen Casca books, which are believed to have actually been written by Sadler himself. I personally recommend this book to other Casca fans and others who enjoy fast-paced action tales in historic settings, a true swashbuckling historical, as we call them here. I, and I'm sure many other readers, especially of this site, look forward to reading additional Casca tales by Roberts, especially ones that occur in strictly sword-based societies. This trade paperback can be found on Amazon.com.


To read longer samples of additional text, go to http://www.barrysadler.com/books.htm. For detailed book summaries, a timeline of Casca's books and their relationship to actual historical events, plus much more, visit http://www.casca.net/.

The Casca series is made up of rousing historical swashbucklers, a set of books that would appeal to fans of the genre’s tales as written by famous pulp writers such as Harold Lamb, Robert E. Howard, and others. The Casca series may not totally equal the tales by these great storytellers, but they still capture their spirit of adventure.

Used copies of these books each sell for a few bucks or more on Abebooks.com, Amazon.com, and other used book web sites.



To read reviews of more books from decades past, go to
Forgotten Stories of Fantastic Sword-fighters.



About the Author

Andy Beau has lived in San Diego, CA since he was 16. There were no computer degrees in the 1960s, so he graduated with a degree in math and worked in the computer programming field from 1969 until 2003, when he retired early at 57. Prior to these articles all of his writing has been technical—the composition of user manuals—and there wasn't much call for analysis of plot and character development in that. Andy's been a fan of sword and sorcery tales since college in 1966. This has lead him to other fantasy adventure genres: lost race, supernatural thrillers, Lovecraftian horror, and more. He shares his long-term love for and knowledge of sword and sorcery with his readers in these columns. SwordAndSorcery.org is proud to have him.

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