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The Last Knight: The Twilight of the Middle Ages and the Birth of the Modern Era [ Norman F. Cantor] on The top history books of last year picked by Amazon Book Review Editor, Chris Schluep. Related video shorts (0) John of Gaunt and his brother Edward the Black Prince have intrigued me since I first.
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Forbidden k I am NOT proud of my 4 stars rating. Forbidden kind of love, or "liaison", I somehow refuse to believe that keep going at it automatically translates into love. The overdone sex thing aside, the lead characters are likeable and somehow they seem to really have a thing between them. I don't know how Connie Mason did it.

Gotta give her credit. The dialogues, oh my God, do they get any cheesier than this? They don't. I really had to roll my eyes in multiple sections and wince. Is Drake an asshole or an honorable knight? Sometimes he says things so out of character that I want to scream: man I don't know who you are!

But again, I don't know how Mason did it. She made it work. This story could have been really great, with the medieval backdrop done very nicely. All very grand notions. Despite Drake's horrendous behaviors, I still like him better than Raven. Raven as a heroine, did not capture my heart, even though she did not do anything that I despised in females such as throwing fits and holding a grudge for things that cannot be helped.

Honestly it is a really bad book but so bad that it's good. Am I making sense?? I actually enjoyed reading it and with shame I am putting it on my keeper shelf. I won't recommend the book but damn, I liked the book! View all 7 comments. Apr 17, Jenny rated it it was amazing Shelves: favorites , heroine-i-adore , steamy , made-me-swoon. My first Connie Mason and I loved it! I devoured this book. So much angst, a great villain and super hot and steamy love scenes. I loved Drake and Raven. I loved that she was in love with him since forever and that she never stopped loving him.

So romantic and Drake's jealousy and possessiveness towards the end was amazing to read. The epilogue melted my heart. Their son was a cutie and the scene with their twins adorable. View 2 comments. Cute, sweet and cheesy yep, over the top lines in this one read. I think Medieval reads are some of my top favorite reads knights, sigh and drool. View all 3 comments. Dec 15, Elle rated it it was amazing. This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers.

To view it, click here. But when he saw Raven of Chirk, with her long, chestnut tresses and womanly curves, he could barely contain his embro He rode into Chirk Castle on his pure black destrier. It was she who made him vow to trust no woman - to take women only for his pleasure. But she could unleash he passion in his body, the goodness in his soul, and the love in his heart. If all of her books are as good as this one was I think I might have a new fav author!!

This book was fantastic! Even his name is perfect for this book Drake is the illegitimate first born son of the lord of castle Chirk At 17 Drake is in love with Daria, Daria is engaged to Drake's legitimate half brother, Waldo, perfect goofy name for him Raven, and completeing the circle Raven is in love with Drake Daria is fickle and simply uses Drake to try to make Waldo pay more attention to her since he really wants Raven, Drake makes plans to elope with Daria which are sabotaged by Daria on purpose and Drake is banished from castle Chirk, he blames Raven for there plans being ruined, never knowing the Daria herself was the one to actually do it Drake leaves castle Chirk, and years later he has become a knight won a title and an estate that is badly in need of repares, while Drake was off making a success of himself Waldo married Daria and she mysteriously died and Waldo and Daria's brother Duff go off to war the same as Drake with none of the same success, Raven's fiance who we never meet is killed in that war by Waldo but we don't find that out till the end they return from war and Waldo convinces Duff to allow him to marry Raven, because of religious reason's Waldo must jump through numerous hoops to be allowed to marry Raven When Raven and Drake meet there's a spark that wasn't there before I'm guessing it's because she's no longer 12!!

Raven asks Drake to help her escape to her aunts in Scotland, he refuses several times I totally expected Drake to rescue her but he sits back and actually watches the wedding ceremony! At the wedding feast Waldo being the dope that he is gets drunk enough to pass out Drake decides that it is his duty to protect Raven from the danger Waldo presents, seeming as he is the cause of that danger, and he takes Raven to his new estate instead of her aunts.

Waldo is furious of course seeming as his bride knocked him out and ran off with his half brother, he looks for her at her aunts doesn't find her, and realizes that she must be with his half brother and heads there I won't spoil the rest of the book for you but I will say that Raven ends up pregnant right before the king tries to marry Drake off to his wealthy charge Drake and Raven prevail and end up together of course this is a romance and through several very interesting twists Waldo looses everything Drake wins Raven and castle Chirk, he saves his new estate, Drakes would be bride and Raven's brother Duff find happy endings, the story of Drake's legitimacy becomes clear, and it's just such a great book!

The only things i found strange about this book is Raven has brown hair View all 5 comments. Mar 23, Daneesha rated it it was amazing. This book took me 1 day to complete! I'm not usually a fan of medieval romances, but the story was fast paced and exciting! I was riveted from the beginning to the end. All time favorite! Dec 11, JennyG rated it it was ok Shelves: virgin-heroine , nice-hero , medieval , no-cheating , pregnancy , personal-revenge , heroine-mistress. I expected to love this book. I didn't. Too many sex scenes distracted from the story and the story which at first showed promise fizzled out.

Jul 28, Wondra Vanian rated it it was amazing. Quite possibly THE perfect bodice ripper. Apr 15, Mermarie rated it it was ok Shelves: bodice-ripper , kindle-or-ebook , positively-medieval , trope-hop , no-fucks-were-given. I got the impression that I had read this book before, but with newly named characters.

I really wish the historical, 14th century aspect had been focused on more. Just wasn't for me. Jun 27, Sarah Z rated it liked it. I would actually rate the story itself 4 stars, but I can't in all honesty rate it higher than 3 because it was so poorly written. Good lord it was bad! It was like reading an awful script and picturing D-list actors. The writing improved towards the end, but that may have just been me acclimating to her style.

Lots of people commented on the copious amount of sex scenes and there were a lot , but they weren't super detailed so that part didn't bother me. When it comes to the plot, not 3 stars. When it comes to the plot, not much truly bothered me. I enjoyed the book for the most part. I would have never believed The Black Knight of all books would get me out of my HR funk, but it did! Drake definitely had his issues and was sort of a dick at times, but I liked him. And I liked Raven. And I liked them together. As bad as the writing is, CM made it more than just a lot of sex between them. They had great chemistry and their love story was believable.

I would say the majority of books I rate with 3 stars I probably wouldn't read again, but I will definitely keep this one for another time Sep 16, Toviel rated it liked it Shelves: historical-fiction , romance , erotica , fiction , knights-and-damsels. Drake is the bastard son of a knight, hated by all his noble peers, and becomes a hardened jerk after his plans to run off with the local noble hottie go awry.

He returns to the castle over a decade later Heathcliff-style, only to find his first love dead and her sister, the architect of his juvenile downfall, grown into a fine young woman. Drake forgets his hatred of her as soon as he and Raven are alone for ten minutes, but unfortunately, he arrived just in time to witness her wedding. Nonetheless, she also considers consequences of their actions, makes intelligent plans accordingly, and even calls out her stereotypically macho lover when his attitude or protectiveness crosses the line.

Not that it stops him, but at least the topic of consent is broached a time or two. While the story turned out more interesting than expected, the writing quality leaves a lot to be desired. Shelves: hot , romance-historical , own , and-earlier , reviewed , theme-medieval.

This book is set in England, It was a fast paced book, with good quality characters that developed well throughout the story. Sep 25, Elle rated it really liked it. This is another of those situations where the hero is an OTT jerk, and the heroine is waaaay too forgiving. But Mason managed to get me past it and get me rooting for the HEA.

Good story. Jan 09, Doreen rated it really liked it. Ok so This is definitely a guilty pleasure book! Super cheesy, too much sex, and very predictable ending. I love the medieval books and Mason writes them so well. This is definitely a "junk food" book. Only the best ones are!!

I have read this book too many times to count.. It's what I turn to when I have reader or writer's block. Jan 15, T. Duff rated it really liked it. I love the historical setting of knights and castles. Raven was pretty strong for a woman of her time too. I really love the way the author brings the past and characters to life. The story was good even with the romance in it. May 24, Asvhini Seema rated it really liked it. Too draggy.. Oct 07, Vincenza rated it really liked it. Great book. Dec 01, Brenda rated it it was ok Shelves: meh , so-plain.

TOO rushed. I didn't feel the love. May 22, Annette rated it it was amazing. Yes, sometimes weak in dialogue but a really good story line. Lots of sex. Feb 13, Preacox rated it it was ok Recommends it for: fans of historical romance who also like it a bit trashy. Recommended to Preacox by: no one, found it on rebuy.

Shelves: historical-romance , historical-romance-medieval , no-reread-wanted. Well, this one was really trashy, but it kept me entained enough so that I finished it and had a good time at it. Still, I don't think I want to re-read it. The character development was too incomprehensible for my liking. It started out pretty well and interesting. Drake is the mysterious Black Knight, the one who is known for his courage, strength and his many affairs with women. Now he is back at Chirk Castle, the place he had been banned from 12 years ago because of the betrayal of Raven of C Well, this one was really trashy, but it kept me entained enough so that I finished it and had a good time at it.

Now he is back at Chirk Castle, the place he had been banned from 12 years ago because of the betrayal of Raven of Chirk. Of course, the Black Knight is the best of them all. There is not a single gram of fat on his sculpted body. Not one. And Raven, once a scrawny little girl with hair as orange as a carrot, of course, is now a true beauty. Her beauty is in fact so captivating that the Black Knight rather quickly forgets that he despises her deeply due to her betrayal years ago. There is a bit of a rapey scene. The villian, naturally, is a real moustache twirling villian, and everything resolves just too perfectly in the end.

But somehow, despite its trashiness, "The Black Knight" still was a nice reading experience. Things were not playing out according to the neat script in Eversmann's head. His chalk was still a block north of their position. Time played tricks. It would be hard to explain to someone who wasn't there.

Events outside him seemed to be happening at a frantic pace, but his own perceptions had slowed; seconds were like minutes. He had no idea how much time had gone by. Two minutes? It was hard to believe things could have gone so much to hell in such a short time. He knew the Dboys worked fast. He kept checking behind him to see if the ground convoy had moved up. It was too early for that, but he looked anyway, wishing, because that would be a sign that things were wrapping up.

He must have looked a dozen times before he saw the first Humvee round the corner about three blocks down. What a relief! Maybe the D-boys have finished and we can roll out of here. Schmid, the Delta medic, had examined Blackburn more closely, and was alarmed. The kid had a severe head injury at a minimum, and there was a big lump on the back of his neck. It might be a break. He looked up at Eversmann. We need to extract him right now or he's gonna die. Can't you send somebody up the street? Eversmann I relayed this news to the Delta medic. He addressed the more senior of the two, McLaughlin, shouting over the escalating noise of the fight.

They ran stooped. McLaughlin didn't think Blackburn was going to make it. On the litter he was deadweight, still bleeding from the nose and mouth. They were all yelling at him, 'Hang on! Hang on! They had to keep setting down the litter to return fire. They would run a few steps, set Blackburn down, shoot, then pick him up and carry him a few more steps, then put him down again.

He took off running on his own. The command center was a whitewashed two -story structure adjacent to the hangar at Task Force Ranger's airport base. A mortar round had fallen on it at some pointy and the roof was caved in on one side. It bristled with so many antennae and wires that the men called it the Porcupine. On the first floor, off a long corridor, there were three rooms where senior officers sat wearing headphones and watching TV screens. General Garrison sat in the back of the operations room, chewing his cigar and taking it all in. Color images of the fight were coming from cameras in the Orion spy plane and the observation helicopters, and there were five or six radio frequencies buzzing.

Garrison and his staff probably had more instant information about this unfolding battle than any commanders in history, but there wasn't much they could do but watch and listen. So long as things stayed on course, any decisions would be made by the men in the fight. The general's job was to stay on top of the situation and try to think one or two steps ahead.

In the event things went wrong he could call across the city to the UN compound, where troops from the 10th Mountain Division waited, three regular army companies in varying degrees of readiness. So far there was no need. Other than one injured Ranger, the mission was clean. At about the same time they learned of Blackburn's fall, the Dboys inside the target building radioed that they'd found the men they were looking for.

This was going to be a success. It had been risky, going into Aidid's Black Sea neighborhood in daylight. The nearby Bakara Market was the center of the Habr Gidr world. Dropping in next door was a thumb in the warlord's eye. Marines had pulled out in May, wouldn't go near that part of town. It was the one place in the city where Aidid's forces could mount a serious fight on short notice, and Garrison knew the dangers of slugging it out there.

Garrison's task force preferred to work at night. They were expert at flying totally black. With night-vision devices, they could move around on a moonless night like it was midday. The unit's pilots had been involved in almost every U. These pilots were fearless, and could fly helicopters in and out of spaces where it would be hard to insert them with a crane. Darkness made the speed and precision of the D-boys and Rangers that much more deadly. Night afforded still another advantage. Many Somali men, particularly the young men who cruised around Mog on 'technicals,' vehicles with.

Midafternoon was the height of the daily cycle. Most started chewing at about noon, and by late afternoon were wired, jumpy, and raring to go. Late at night it was just the opposite. The khat chewers had crashed. So today's mission called for going to the worst place in Mog at the worst possible time. Still, the chance of bagging two of Aidid's top men at the same time was too good to pass up. They had done three previous missions in daylight without a hitch.

Risk was part of the job. They were daring men; that's why they were here. The Somalis had seen six raids now, so they more or less knew what to expect. The task force had done what it could to keep them guessing. Three times daily, mission or no mission, Garrison would scramble the whole force onto helicopters and send them up over the city. The Rangers loved it at first. You piled into the back end of a Black Hawk and held on for dear life. The hotshot Nightstalkers would swoop down low and fast and bank so hard it would stack your insides into one half of your body.

They'd rocket down streets below the roofline, with walls and people on both sides flashing past in a blur, then climb hundreds of feet and scream back down again. Garrison had also been careful to vary their tactics. They usually came in on helicopters and left by vehicles, but sometimes they came in on vehicles and left by helicopters.

Sometimes they came and left on choppers, or on vehicles. So the template changed. Above all, the troops were good. They were experienced and well trained. They had come close to grabbing Aidid several times, but that wasn't their only goal. Their six previous missions had struck fear into the Habr Gidr ranks, and more recently they'd begun to pick off the warlord's top people.

Garrison felt they had performed superbly so far, despite press accounts that portrayed them as bumblers. When they'd inadvertently arrested a group of UN employees on their first mission - 'the employees' had been nabbed in an off- limits area with piles of black market contraband - the newspapers had dubbed them Keystone Kops. Garrison had the stories copied and posted in the hangar.

That sort of thing just fired the guys up more, but to the public, and to Washington officials keenly concerned about how things played on CNN, the task force was so far a bust. They had been handed what seemed like a simple assignment, capture the tinhorn Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid or, failing that, take down his organization, and for six weeks now they'd had precious little visible success. Patience was wearing thin, and pressure for progress was mounting. Just that morning Garrison had been stewing about it in his office.

It was like trying to hit a curveball blindfolded. Here he had a force of men he could drop on a building - any building - in Mogadishu with just a few minutes' notice. These weren't just any men, they were faster, stronger, smarter, and more experienced than any soldiers in the world. Point out a target building and the D-boys could take it down so fast that the bad guys inside would be hog-tied before the sound of the flashbang grenades and door charges had stopped ringing in their ears.

They could herd the whole mess of them out by truck or helicopter before the neighborhood militia even had a chance to pull on its pants. Garrison's force could do all this and even videotape the whole operation in color for training purposes and to show off a little back at the Pentagon , but they couldn't do any of these things unless their spies on the ground pointed them at the right goddamn house. For three nights running they had geared up to launch at a house where Aidid was either present or about to be so the general's spies told him.

Every time they had failed to nail it down. Garrison knew from day one that intelligence was going to be a problem. The original plan had called for a daring, well-placed lead Somali spy, the head of the CIA's local operation, to present Aidid an elegant hand-carved cane soon after Task Force Ranger arrived. Embedded in the head of the cane was a homing beacon. It seemed like a sure thing until, on Garrison's first day in-country, Lieutenant Colonel Dave McKnight, his chief of staff, informed him that their lead informant had shot himself in the head playing Russian roulette.

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It was the kind of idiotic macho thing guys did when they'd lived too long on the edge. Few people knew this better than Garrison, who was the picture of American military machismo with his gray crew cut, desert camouflage fatigues, and combat boots, a 9 mm pistol strapped to a shoulder holster and that unlit half cigar jammed perpetually in the side of his mouth.

Garrison had been living by the sword now for about three decades. He was one of the least known important army officers in America. One thing all these missions had in common was they required cooperation from the locals. They also demanded a low threshold for bullshit. The general was a bemused cynic. He had seen just about everything, and didn't expect much - except from his men.

His gruff informality suited an officer who had begun his career not as a military academy graduate, but a buck private. He had served two tours in Vietnam, part of it helping to run the infamously brutal Phoenix program, which ferreted out and killed Viet Cong village leaders. That was enough to iron the idealism out of anybody. Garrison had risen to general without exercising the more politic demands of generalship, which called for graceful euphemism and frequent obfuscation. He was a blunt realist who avoided the pomp and pretense of upper- echelon military life.

Soldiering was about fighting. It was about killing people before they killed you. It was about having your way by force and guile in a dangerous world, taking a shit in the woods, living in dirty, difficult conditions, enduring hardships and risks that could - and sometimes did - kill you. It was ugly work. Which is not to say that certain men didn't enjoy it, didn't live for it.

Garrison was one of those men. He embraced its cruelty. He would say, this man needs to die. Just like that. Some people needed to die. It was how the real world worked. Nothing pleased Garrison more than a well-executed hit, and if things went to hell and you had to slug it out, then it was time to summon a dark relish for mayhem.

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Why be a soldier if you couldn't exult in a heart -pounding, balls -out gunfight? Which is what made him so good. He inspired loyalty and affection by not taking himself too seriously. If he told a story - and the general was a hilarious storyteller - the punch line was usually at his own expense. When he arrived at Bragg as a newly leafed colonel in the mid-eighties, his crew cut alone invited scorn and suspicion from the D boys, with their sideburns and facial hair and civilian haircuts down over their ears.

But soon after he started. Garrison saved their ass. Some of America's secret supersoldiers were caught double -dipping expenses, billing both the army and the State Department for their covert international travel. The scandal could have brought down the unit, which was despised by the more traditional brass anyway. The new bullet-headed colonel could have scored points and greased his own promotional path by expressing outrage and cleaning house.

Instead, Garrison placed his career in jeopardy by defending the unit and focusing punishment on only the worst abusers. He'd salvaged a fair number of professional hides in that caper, and the men hadn't forgotten. In time, his insouciant Lone Star style and understated confidence rubbed off on the whole unit. There were guys from suburban New Jersey who after weeks with Delta were wearing pointy boots, dipping tobacco, and drawling like a cowpoke.

Garrison had been living for six weeks now in the JOC, mostly in a small private office off the operations room where he could stretch his long legs and prop his boots up on the desk and shut out all the noise. Noise was one of the biggest problems in a deal like this. You had to separate out signals from the noise.

There was nothing of the general's in this private space, no family photos or memorabilia. It was the way he lived. He could walk out of that building at a moment's notice and leave behind no personal trace. The idea was to finish the job and vanish. Until then, it was an around-the-clock operation. The general had a trailer out back where he retreated at irregular intervals to grab about five hours of sleep, but usually he was camped in this command post, poised, ready to pounce.

Take the previous night, for instance. A local spy had been told this by a servant who worked there. So powerful cameras zoomed in from the Orion, the fat old four-prop navy spy plane that flew circles high over the city almost continually, and Garrison's two little observation birds spun up. The troops pulled on their gear.

The Aden Adere compound was one of their preplanned targets, so the workup time was nil. But they couldn't commit - or at least Garrison refused to commit - without firmer intelligence. The task force had been embarrassed too often already. Before he launched, Garrison wanted two of the Somali spies to enter the compound and actually see Aidid.

Then he wanted them to drop an infrared strobe by the target building. Two informants managed to get in the compound, but then exited without accomplishing either task. There were more guards than usual, they explained, maybe forty. They continued to insist that Aidid was in the compound, so why didn't the Rangers just move? Garrison demanded that one of them return with the strobe, find Yogi the fucking Bear, and mark the damn spot. Only now the informants said they couldn't get back in. It was dark, past 9 P. The guards wanted a password the spies didn't know.

Which was all just bad luck, perhaps. Garrison reluctantly scratched another mission. The pilots and crews shut down their helicopters and the soldiers all stripped back down and went back to their cots. Then came a late bulletin. The same Somali spies said Aidid had now left the compound in a three-vehicle convoy with lights out. One of their number had followed the convoy west, they said, toward the Olympic Hotel, but lost it when the vehicles turned north toward October 21st Road. All of which sounded significant except that the two OH-5 8s were still in place, equipped with night-vision cameras that lit up the view like green-tinted noon, and neither they nor anyone watching the screens back at the command center were seeing any of this!

I do not. Furthermore, when a [local spy ring] team member is reporting something that is totally different than what our helicopters are seeing which we watch here back at the JOC , I naturally weigh the launch decision toward what we actually see versus what is being reported. Events such as last night, with Team 2 stating that Aidid had just left the compound in a three- vehicle convoy, when we know for a fact that no vehicles left the compound Too much time between missions.

In six weeks they'd launched exactly six times. And several of these missions had been less than bang-up successes. After that first raid, when they'd arrested the nine UN employees at the Lig Ligato compound, Washington had been very upset. On September 14, the assault force had stormed what turned out to be the residence of Somali General Ahmen Jilao, a close ally of the UN and the man being groomed to lead the projected Somali police force.

The troops were restless and just wanted to hit something, anything. In this frame of mind, it didn't take much of an excuse to launch. When one of the Rangers thought he'd spotted Aidid in a convoy of cars outside the Italian embassy, the assault force was rallied and a duly startled General Jilao was arrested along with thirty-eight others. Again an apology. All of the 'suspects' were released. In a cable detailing the debacle for officials in Washington the next day, U. Jilao has received apologies from all concerned. Aidid was Gen. It would be hard to confuse him with Aidid.

Jilao is approximately ten inches taller than Aidid. Aidid is very dark. Jilao has a much lighter complexion. Aidid is slim and has sharp, Semitic -like features. Jilao is overweight and round-faced We are very concerned that this episode might find its way into the press. Never mind that every one of these missions was a masterpiece of coordination and execution, difficult and dangerous as hell.

So far none of his men had been seriously hurt. Never mind that their latest outing had netted Osman Atto, Aidid's moneyman and one of his inner circle. Washington was impatient. Congress wanted American soldiers home, and the Clinton administration wanted to remove Aidid as a player in Somalia. August had turned to September had turned to October. One more day was one day too long for the wishes of America and the world to be stymied by this Mogadishu warlord, this man America's UN Ambassador Madeleine K.

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Albright had labeled a 'thug. He knew that his superiors and even some people on his own staff thought he was being too tentative about choosing missions. With such shaky work on the ground, what could you expect?

There are plenty of places we can go and be stupid. Every Sunday morning the Habr Gidr held a rally out by the reviewing stand on Via Lenin, where they hurled insults at the UN and its American enforcers. One of the main speakers that morning was Omar Salad, Aidid's top political adviser. The clan had not caught on yet that the Rangers had targeted the entire top rung of Aidid's gang, so Salad wasn't even trying to hide. Salad was observed entering a house one block north of the Olympic Hotel.

At about 1. Two major targets! Aidid might also be there, but, again, nobody had actually seen him. High above, the Orion zoomed its cameras in on the neighborhood, and the observation choppers took off. They moved up over the Black Sea to watch the same street. The TV screens in the JOC showed many people and cars on the streets, a typical weekend afternoon at the market. To mark the precise location where Salad and Qeybdid were meeting, a Somali informant had been instructed to drive his car, a small silver sedan with red stripes on its doors, to the front of the hotel, get out, lift the hood, and peer into it as if he were having engine trouble.

This would give the helicopter cameras a chance to lock on him. He was then to drive north and stop directly in front of the target house where the clan leaders had convened.

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The informant did as instructed, but performed the check under his hood so quickly that the helicopters failed to fix on him. So he was told to do it again. This time he was to drive directly to the target building, get out, and open the car hood. Garrison and his staff watched this little drama unfold on their screens. The helicopter cameras provided a clear color view of the busy scene as the informant's car entered the picture driving north on Hawlwadig Road. It stopped before a building alongside the hotel. The informant got out and opened the hood.

There was no mistaking the spot. Word passed quietly to the hangar and the Rangers and D-boys started kitting up. The Delta team leaders met and planned out their attack, using instant photo maps relayed from the observation birds to plan exactly how they would storm the building, and where the Ranger blocking positions would be.

Copies of the plan were handed out to all the chalk leaders, and the helicopters were readied. Just as Garrison was preparing to launch, however, everything was placed on hold. The spy had stopped his car short. He was on the right street, but he'd chickened out. Nervous about moving so close to the target house, he'd stopped down the street a ways and opened the hood there. Despite Garrison's finicky precautions, the task force had been minutes away from launching an assault on the wrong house.

The commanders all hustled back into the JOC to regroup. The informant, who wore a small two-way radio strapped to his leg, was instructed to go back around the block and this time stop in front of the right goddamn house. They watched on the screens as the car came back up Hawlwadig Road. This time it went past the Olympic Hotel and stopped one block north, on the other side of the street. This was the same building the observation choppers had observed Salad entering earlier. It was now three o'clock. All aircraft were ordered out of the airspace over the target.

The commanders of the 10th Mountain Division were told to keep one company on standby alert. Intelligence forces began jamming all radios and cellular phones - Mog had no regular working phone system. The general made a last-minute decision to upload rockets on the Little Birds. Lieutenant Jim Lechner, the Ranger company's fire support officer, had been pushing for it. Lechner knew that if things got bad on the ground, he'd love to be able to call in those rockets - the two pods on the AH-6s each carried six missiles. In the quick planning session, Lechner asked again, 'Are we getting rockets today?

He was a student, a tall and slender teenager with prominent cheekbones and a sparse goatee. He studied English and business in the mornings and afternoons manned the store, which was just up from the Olympic Hotel. The front door was across Hawlwadig Road diagonal from the house of Hobdurahman Yusef Galle, where the Rangers seemed to be attacking. Peering out the doorway, Ali saw American soldiers sliding down on ropes to the alley that ran west off Hawlwadig. His shop was on the corner of that street and the gate to his family's home was just down from there.

The Americans were shooting as soon as they hit the ground, shooting at everything. There were also Somalis shooting at them. These soldiers, Ali knew, were different than the ones who had come to feed Somalis. These were Rangers. They were cruel men who wore body armor and strapped their weapons to their chests and when they came at night they painted their faces to look fierce. Further up Hawlwadig, to his left about two blocks over, another group of Rangers were in pitched battle.

He saw two of them drag another who looked dead out of the street. The Rangers across the street entered a courtyard there and were shooting out. Then a helicopter came down low and blasted streams of fire from a gun on its side. The gun just pulverized his side of the street. Ali's youngest brother, Abdulahi Hassan Mohamed, fell dead by the gate to the family's house, bleeding from the head.

Abdulahi was fifteen. Ali saw it happen. Then the Rangers ran out of the courtyard and across Hawlwadig toward the house of Hobdurahman Yusef Galle, where most of the other soldiers were. Ali ran. He stopped to see his brother and saw his head broken open like a melon.

Then he took off as fast as he could. He ran to his left, down the street away from the Rangers and the house they were attacking. At the end of the dirt alley he turned left and ran behind the Olympic Hotel. The streets were crowded with screaming women and children. People were scrambling everywhere, racing around dead people and dead animals.

Some who were running went toward the fight and others ran away from it. Some did not seem to know which way to go. He saw a woman running naked, waving her arms and screaming. Above was the din of the helicopters and all around the crisp popping of gunfire. Out in the streets there were already Aidid militiamen with megaphones shouting, 'Kasoobaxa guryaha oo iska celsa cadowga! There were gunmen, they called them mooryan, who lived for rice and khat and belonged to the private armies of rich men. Ali was just a student and part-time shopkeeper who joined the neighborhood militia to protect its shops from the mooryan.

But these Rangers were invading his home and had just killed his brother. He ran with rage and terror behind the hotel and then, turning left again, back across Hawlwadig Road to the house of his friend Ahmed, where his AK was hidden. Once he had retrieved the gun he met up with several of his friends. They ian back behind the Olympic Hotel, through all the chaos. Ali told them about his brother and led them back to his house and shop, determined to exact revenge. Hiding behind a wall behind the hotel, they fired their first shots at the Rangers on the corner.

Then they moved north, ducking behind cars and buildings. Ali would jump out and spray bullets toward the Rangers, then run for cover. Then one of his friends would do the same. Sometimes they just pushed the barrels of their guns around the corners and sprayed bullets without looking. None of them was an experienced fighter. The Rangers were better shots. Ali's friend Adan Warsawe stepped out to shoot and was hit in the stomach by a Ranger bullet that knocked him flat on his back.

Ali and another friend risked the shooting to drag Adan to cover. The bullet had punched a hole in Adan's gut and made a gaping wound out his back that had sprayed blood on the dirt. When they dragged him it left a smear of blood on the street. Adan looked both alive and dead, as though he were someplace in between.

Ali moved on to the next street, leaving Adan with two friends. He would shoot a Ranger or die trying. Why were they doing this? Who were these Americans who came to his neighborhood spraying bullets and spreading death? They were the last of the assault forces to enter the house. Howe asked Sergeant Mike Foreman if anyone had gone upstairs. So Howe took his four men up to the second floor. It was a big house by Somali standards, whitewashed cinder-block walls and windows with no glass in them. At the top step Howe called for one of his men to toss a flashbang grenade into the first room.

It exploded and the team burst in as they were trained to do, each man covering a different firing lane. They found only a mattress on the floor. As they moved around the room, a volley of machine-gun fire slammed into the ceiling and wall, just missing the head of one of Howe's men. They all dropped down.

The rounds had come through the southeast window, and had clearly come from the Ranger blocking position just below the window. One of the younger soldiers outside had evidently seen someone moving in the window and fired. Obviously some of these guys weren't clear which building was the target. It was what he had feared. Howe was disappointed in the Rangers. These were supposed to be the army's crack infantry? Despite all the hype and Hoo-ah horse-shit, he saw the younger men as poorly trained and potentially dangerous in combat.

Most were fresh out of high school! During training exercises, he had the impression that they were always craning their necks to watch him and his men instead of paying attention to their own very important part of the job. And the job demanded more. It demanded all you had, and more That's why Howe and the rest of these D-boys loved it. It separated them from other men. War was ugly and evil, for sure, but it was still the way things got done on most of the planet. Civilized states had nonviolent ways of resolving disputes, but that depended on the willingness of everyone involved to back down.

Here in the raw Third World, people hadn't learned to back down, at least not until after a lot of blood flowed. Victory was for those willing to fight and die. Intellectuals could theorize until they sucked their thumbs right off their hands, but in the real world, power still flowed from the barrel of a gun. If you winted the starving masses in Somalia to eat, then you had to outmuscle men like this Aidid, for whom starvation worked. You could send in your bleeding-heart do-gooders, you could hold hands and pray and sing hootenanny songs and invoke the great gods CNN and BBC, but the only way to finally open the roads to the big-eyed babies was to show up with more guns.

And in this real world, nobody had more or better guns than America. If the good-hearted ideals of humankind were to prevail, then they needed men who could make it happen. Delta made it happen. They operated strictly in secret. The army would not even speak the word 'Delta.

Secrecy, or at least the show of it, was central to their purpose. It allowed the dreamers and the politicians to have it both ways. They could stay on the high road while the dirty work happened offstage. If some Third World terrorist or Columbian drug lord needed to die, and then suddenly just turned up dead, why, what a happy coincidence! The dark soldiers would melt back into shadow. If you asked them about how they made it happen, they wouldn't tell. They didn't even exist, see? They were noble, silent, and invisible.

They did America's most important work, yet shunned recognition, fame, and fortune. They were modern knights and true. Howe did little to disguise his scorn for lower orders of soldiering, which pretty much included the whole regular U. He and the rest of the operators lived like civilians, and that's what they told you they were if you asked - although spotting them down at Fort Bragg wasn't hard.

You'd meet this guy hanging out at bar around Bragg, deeply tanned, biceps rippling, neck wide as a fireplug, with a giant Casio watch and a plug of chaw under his lip, and he'd tell you he worked as a computer programmer for some army contract agency. They called each other by their nicknames and eschewed salutes and all the other traditional trappings of military life. Officers and noncoms in Delta treated each other as equals. Disdain for normal displays of army status was the unit's signature.

They simply transcended rank. They wore their hair longer than army regs. They needed to pose as civilians on some missions and it was easier to do that if they had normal haircuts, but it was also a point of pride with them, one of their perks. A cartoon drawn by a unit wit showed the typical D-boy dressed for battle with his hip holster stuffed, not with a gun, but a hair dryer. Every year they were obliged to pose for an official army portrait, and for it they had to get Ranger-style haircuts. They hated it.

They'd had to sit for buzzes before this trip to better blend in with the Hoo-ahs, and the haircuts had just made them stick out even more; the sides and backs of their heads were as white as frog bellies. They were allowed a degree of personal freedom and initiative unheard of in the military, particularly in battle. The price they paid for all this, of course, was that they lived with danger and were expected to do what normal soldiers could not. Howe wasn't impressed with a lot of things about the regular army. He and others in his unit had com-plained to Captain Steele, the Ranger commander, about his men's readiness.

They hadn't gotten any-where. Steele had his own way of doing things, and that was the traditional army way. Howe found the spit-and-polish captain, a massive former University of Georgia football lineman, to be an arrogant and incompetent buffoon. Howe had been through Ranger school and earned the tab himself, but had skipped straight over the Rangers when he qualified for Delta. He disdained the Rangers in part because he believed hard, realistic, stair-stepped training made good soldiers, not the bullshit macho attitude epitomized by the whole Hoo-ah esprit.

Out of the men who tried out for Delta in his class these were highly motivated, exceptional soldiers , only 13 had made it through selection and training. Howe had the massive frame of a serious bodybuilder, and a fine, if impatient, analytical mind. Many of the Rangers found him scary. His contempt for their ways colored relationships between the two units in the hangar. Now Howe's misgivings about the younger support troops were confirmed. They were shooting at their own men! Howe and his team left the room with the mattress and then moved out to clear the flat roof over the front of the house.

It was enclosed by a three-foot concrete wall with decorative vertical slats. As the Delta team fanned out into sunlight, they saw the small orange fireball of an AK- 47 erupt from a rooftop one block north. Two of Howe's team returned fire as they ducked behind the low wall for cover. Then another burst of machine-gun rounds erupted. There were inch-wide slits in the perimeter wall. Howe and his men crouched and prayed a round didn't pass through an opening or ricochet back off the outside of the house.

There were several long bursts. They could tell by the sound and impact of the rounds that the shots were being fired by an M60, this time from the northeast Ranger blocking position. The Rangers were under fire, they were overeager and scared, so when they saw men with weapons, they fired. Howe was furious. He radioed Captain Scott Miller, the Delta ground commander down in the courtyard. He told him to get Steele on the radio immediately and tell him to stop his men from shooting at their own people!

Just before boarding the helicopter. Captain Steele had tapped him on the shoulder. I want you to know I'm going to be on the fast rope right after you, so you better keep moving. After roping down, he scrambled so fast from the bottom of the rope that he collided with Chalk One's M gunner, and they both fell down. Stebbins lay there for a moment, waiting for the dust to clear, and then spotted the rest of his team up against a wall to his right.

He was scared, but thrilled. He couldn't shake the feeling that this was all too good to be true. Here he was, an old-timer in the Ranger company at age twenty-eight, having spent the last four years of his life trying to get into combat, to do something interesting or important, and now, somehow, through an incredible chain of pleading, wheedling, and freakish breaks, he was actually in combat - him, stubby Johnny Stebbings, the company's chief coffee maker and training room paper-pusher, at war!

His trip to this Mogadishu back alley had started in a bagel shop at home in Ithaca, New York. Stebbins was a short, stocky kid with pale blue eyes and blond hair and skin so white and freckly it never turned even the faintest shade darker in the sun. Here in Mog it had just burned bright pink. He had gone to Saint Bonaventure University, majoring in communications and hoping to work as a radio journalist, which he had in fact done for minimum wages at a few mom-and-pop stations in upstate New York.

When the bagel shop offered to make him head baker, the hourly wage was enough to chuck his infant broadcasting career. So he made bagels and dreamed of adventure. Stebbins had gone to college on an ROTC scholarship, but the army was so flooded with second lieutenants when he got out that he couldn't get assigned to active duty. When Desert Storm blew up in , as his luck would have it, his National Guard contract was up. He started looking for a way out of the kitchen and into the fire. He put his name on three volunteer lists for Gulf service and never even got a response.

Then he got married, and his wife had a baby, and suddenly the hourly wage at the bagel shop no longer covered expenses. What he needed was a medical plan. That, and some action. The army offered both. So he enlisted as a private. Stebbins told him, 'I want to jump out of airplanes, shoot a lot of ammo, and shop at the PX. Then he had to do RIP the Ranger Indoctrination Program twice because he got injured on one of the jumps toward the end and had to be completely recycled.

When he graduated he figured he'd be out there jumping and training and roping out of helicopters with the younger guys, except somebody higher up noticed that his personnel form listed a college degree and, more importantly, typing ability. He was routed instead to a desk in the Bravo company training room.

Stebbins became the company clerk. They told him it would just be for six months. He got stuck in it for two years. While the other Rangers were out scaling cliffs and jumping out of planes and trying to break their records for forced marches through dense cover, old man Stebby sat behind a desk chain-smoking cigarettes, eating donuts, and practically inhaling coffee. He was the company's most avid coffee drinker.

The other guys would make jokes: 'Oh yeah, Specialist Stebbins, he'll throw hot coffee at the enemy. When the company got tapped for Somalia, no one was surprised when ol' Stebby was one of those left behind at Fort Benning. We have a limited number of spots on the bird and we need you here.

The Last Knight

It was just like Desert Storm all over again. Somebody up there did not want John Stebbins to go to war. He helped his friends pack, and when it was announced the next day that the force had arrived in Mogadishu, he felt even more left out than he had two years before as he watched nightly updates of the Gulf action on CNN. At least he had company. Sergeant Scott Galentine had been left behind, too.

They moped around for a few days. Then came a fax from Somalia. Some Rangers had received minor injuries in a mortar attack and they needed to be replaced. On his way to the airport Stebbins stopped by his house to say a quick good-bye to his wife. It was the tearful scene you'd expect. Then when he got to the airport they told him he could go home, they wouldn't be leaving until the next day. A half hour after their emotional parting, Mr and Mrs Stebbins were reunited.

He spent the night dreading a phone call that would change the order. But it didn't come. A little more than a day later, he and Galentine were standing on the runway in Mogadishu. In honor of their arrival they were ordered to drop for fifty push-ups, a ritual greeting upon entering a combat zone. Stebby was thrilled. He'd made it! There weren't enough Kevlar vests Ranger body armor to go around so he got one of the big bulky black vests the D-boys wore.

When he put it on he felt like a turtle. He was warned not to go outside the fence without his weapon. His buddies briefed him on the setup. They told him not to sweat the mortars. Sammy rarely hit anything. They had been on five missions at that point, and they were all a piece of cake. We go in force, they told him, we move quickly, the choppers basically blow everybody away from the scene, we let the D-boys go in and do their thing. All we do is provide security. They told him to watch out for Somalis who hid behind women and children.

Rocks were a hazard. Stebbins was nervous and excited. Then he got the news. See, they were glad to have him there and all, but he wouldn't actually be going out with the rest of the guys on missions. His job would be to stay back at the hangar and stand guard. Maintain perimeter security.

It was essential. Somebody had to do it. Who else? Stebbins took out his ire on the folks trying to get past the front gate. He took the guard job as seriously as it was possible to be taken. He was a major pain in the ass. Every Somali got searched from head to toe, every time, in and out.

He searched trucks and trunks and carts and climbed up under vehicles and had them open their hoods. It annoyed him that he couldn't figure out a way to search the big tanks on the back of the water trucks. Intel had said the Skinnies were smuggling heavy weapons across the border from Ethiopia. They were told that the Ethiopians checked out all trucks. Stebbins doubted they were checking the water trucks. You could put a lot of RPGs rocket- propelled grenades in the back of one of those things. He finagled his way onto the helicopters for the pro -file flights, fastening the chin strap on his helmet tight as they zoomed low and fast over the city, cheering like kids on a carnival ride.

He figured that was about as close to action as he was going to get Then, this morning, just as the runner from the JOC showed up to shout, 'Get it on! He just came back from the doc's office. You're taking his place. Stebbins ran through the hangar, trading in his bulky tortoise-shell vest for a Kevlar one. He'd stuffed extra ammo in his pouches, and gathered up some frag grenades. Watching the more experienced guys, he discarded his canteen -they would only be out an hour or so - and stuffed its pouch with still more M magazines. He picked up a belt with three hundred rounds of M ammo, and debated trying to stuff more in his butt pack, where he kept the goggles and the gloves he needed for sliding down the rope.

He decided against that. He'd need someplace to put them when he took them off. He was trying to think through everything. Trying to stay calm. But damn! Talk to me, Steb. What you got? What's on your mind? Boorn could see his friend was in a state. He told him to relax. Keep it simple. His job was to secure whatever sector they asked him to point his rifle at, and give ammo to the 60 gunners when they needed it. They probably wouldn't even need it. Just before heading out to the Black Hawk, Stebbins was by the front door of the hangar sucking on a last cigarette, trying to get his nerves under control.

This was finally it, what he'd been aiming for all this time. The guys all knew this was a particularly bad part of town, too. This was likely to be their nastiest mission yet, and it was his first! He had the same feeling in his gut that was there before his first jump at airborne school. I'm gonna live through this, he told himself. I'm not gonna die. One of the D-boys told him, 'Look, for the first ten minutes or so you're gonna be scared shitless. After that you're going to get really mad that they have the balls to shoot at you.

There was no way they'd get in a real shitfight.