King Goshawk (41)

By: Eimar O'Duffy
October 7, 2014


The 1926 satirical sf novel King Goshawk and the Birds, by Irish playwright and novelist Eimar O’Duffy, is set in a future world devastated by progress. When King Goshawk, the supreme ruler among a caste of “king capitalists,” buys up all the wildflowers and songbirds, an aghast Dublin philosopher travels via the astral plane to Tír na nÓg. First the mythical Irish hero Cúchulainn, then his son Cuanduine, travel to Earth in order to combat the king capitalists. Thirty-five years before the hero of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, these well-meaning aliens discover that cultural forms and norms are the most effective barrier to social or economic revolution.

HILOBROW is pleased to serialize King Goshawk and the Birds, which has long been out of print, in its entirety. This is the final installment.




Chapter 14: How Cuanduine settled the Wolfo-Lambian Dispute

During all this time Cuanduine had been too busy to read the newspapers, so that he was unaware of the course of the dispute between Wolfia and Lambia of whose beginnings he had read at his first arrival on this remarkable planet. After the bombardment of Micronetta the Lambians had asked for and obtained a truce, during which an embassy was sent to Wolfopolis offering to pay double the indemnity demanded in return for the withdrawal of Point Six of the Wolfian demands. This Nervolini peremptorily refused, dismissing the delegation with the now historic phrase: “Omnia vincit vis a tergo!” As a last resort the Lambians now appealed to the League of Nations. Nervolini promptly lodged an objection that, as Lambia would shortly be a portion of the Wolfian Empire, the matter was a domestic one for the Wolfian Government, and outside the jurisdiction of the League. The League, however, had already replied to the Lambian appeal that the points at issue were so delicate, complicated, and obscure that it could come to no decision without impairing its reputation for impartiality. It is a curious and noteworthy feature of international politics that the rights of a dispute are invariably more difficult to determine when one of the contestants is considerably more powerful than the other. The Lambian statesmen were well aware of this, and had only lodged their appeal in order to gain time while their citizens were strengthening their fortifications and tightening their belts. Nervolini, however, was not to be stayed by such mean and treacherous devices. As soon as the League of Nations had despatched its judicious reply to the Lambian appeal, the Wolfian navy and air-fleet had been ordered to resume operations. The whole territory of Lambia was at once subjected to the most terrific bombardment ever known in the history of the world. Every town and village was raked with explosives and scoured with poison gas. The homes of the Lambians and the temples and monuments of their ancestors were shattered to fragments; hills were obliterated; fertile plains turned into desolate valleys; men, women, and babies were slaughtered and mutilated by men who a few hours earlier had taken a fond farewell of parents, children, wives, sweethearts, and all they held dear.

Cuanduine read of all this as he sat, gloomy and disappointed, in the Philosopher’s room in Stoneybatter. Then his eye kindled, and, rising to his feet, he said: “I will go to Lambia.”

Meanwhile the Lambians turned in their distress to Heaven, as it is the way of men to remember the Almighty only when all else fails them, and with a certain shamed reluctance the Government ordered public prayers for deliverance from the national peril. Assembling, therefore, in their ruined churches, in squares and market-places, the people of Lambia made what supplication they could amid the thunder of explosives and the fumes of smoke and gases, scarcely hoping, however, that in such a furore their voices would be heard above those of the more influential Wolfians who, in the serenity of their own land, were praying for victory. But even as the whole population of Lambia had its eyes raised to where it conceived the Throne of Justice should stand, out of the northern sky came Cuanduine’s airplane closely pursued by a squadron of the enemy. The foremost of these greatly harassed the hero with a stream of lead from its machine-gun. Cuanduine, having no gun, turned suddenly, and, giving his salmon-leap, landed upon the plane of this one with the lightness of a swallow. Then he took pilot and gunner, one in each hand, wrung their necks, and hurled them earth with with a message written: “Cuanduine to the People of Lambia.” The remaining enemy machines held off aghast at this feat, and Cuanduine landed easily in the market-place of Micropolis.

“I will be your leader,” said Cuanduine, and at that the people raised a great shout about him, and, leading him to their ruined Parliament House, they put all the symbols of power into his hands. Thereafter they offered him a gun; but Cuanduine would have none of it, and asked for a sword. Now there were no swords used in the world at that time; but in one of their museums they found an ancient weapon and brought it to him. Harder it was than any sword forged of mortal men, and it had a golden hilt ornamented with silver. Cuanduine knew it at once for his father’s sword, the Cruadin Cailidcheann, that he had lost on Baile’s Strand the time the druids set him to fight the waves of the sea in atonement for killing his son Conlaoch; and the sea threw it up years afterwards on the coast of Lambia. Now Cuanduine took the sword in his hand, and he shook great circles of light that dazzled even the sailors of the Wolfian fleet and filled them with forebodings of doom. Again he shook the sword, and the people raised another shout that was heard above the clamour of the Wolfian guns. A third time he shook the sword, and the people fell silent, and Cuanduine made this song:

The sword of the soldier
It cleaves to my hand:
The valiant, the strong one,
The weapon of man.

With the passing of steel,
With the coming of lead,
Passed the power of the people,
Came the triumph of wealth.

With sword of his owning
Marched the freeman to battle.
But the gun and its holder
Are numbered like cattle.

The sword in his passion
Drinks blood and makes peace.
But lead in his interests
Beareth false witness,
Crushes and smashes
Strong and weak ruthlessly;
Cowardly in conquest,
Shrieks for security,
Trampling the fallen
Under his feet.

The sword’s in my hand now,
The sword from the sea.
Who is for battle?
Who’s for the steel?

Another shout went up from the men of Lambia, and they clamoured for Cuanduine to
lead them against the foe, fully believing, as men do at such moments, that he was sent from Heaven in answer to their prayer. But Cuanduine said: “Let us first try to make peace.” This suggestion was not so pleasing to the people; who, being rendered somewhat uppish by finding themselves in the special favour of Heaven, now looked forward to meting out some of their own measure to the Wolfians, and even perhaps to erecting a Lambian Empire on the ruins of Nervolini’s. Cuanduine, however, dissuaded them, and, a truce having been made, he flew with three attendants to the Wolfian flagship. On the quarter-deck stood the Wolfian Admiral, impassively awaiting the surrender; to whom Cuanduine addressing himself said: “Sir, I am come to offer you fresh terms.” “Sir,” replied the Admiral, “you might have spared yourself the trouble. My instructions are to accept nothing but unconditional surrender.”

“Nevertheless,” said Cuanduine, “you shall hear me. These are my terms: that you shall choose twenty of the best men of your forces to meet me with twenty of mine, sword in hand, at any suitable spot that you may name. If we prevail, you shall withdraw your fleets and pay for the damage you have done; if you prevail, we shall pay for the repainting of the ship scraped by our lighterman.”

“Have the Lambians chosen a lunatic for their spokesman?” asked the Admiral. “Do you not know that we have you at our mercy, and that it is in our power to blot out your miserable people from the face of the earth? What terms are these to offer to a Wolfian Admiral?”

“Just terms,” said Cuanduine.

At that the Admiral and his staff burst into roars of laughter. “Bundle the fool back into his airplane,” said the Admiral, “and let the cannonade resume.”

“Not so,” said Cuanduine angrily. “Touch me at your peril, dogs, and keep your guns well muzzled until I have spoken with Nervolini. For I swear by the oath of my people that if a hair of any Lambian’s head is injured from this moment, I will take satisfaction a hundredfold from the men of Wolfia.” So saying he shook his sword in their faces; and as he did so the Morrigu appeared above his head in the form of a black eagle, whereat the Admiral and his staff were paralysed with fear, and made no further attempt to stay him.

Then Cuanduine mounted his airplane, and flew swiftly to Wolfopolis, to the Palace; and entering by a window he went straight to the apartments of the Dictator, whom he found reclining on a couch of swansdown being ministered to by female attendants. These were all greatly flustered at sight of Cuanduine as he strode up the long room, dressed in airman’s costume, with the Cruaidin Cailidcheann gleaming in his hand; nor was Nervolini himself much more comfortable, though he knew that there were guards within call, until Cuanduine, saluting, addressed him courteously: “Nervolini.”

“Whence come you?” asked Nervolini. “From Lambia, Signor.” Nervolini’s lip curled; said he: “If you have come to beg easier terms, you may save your breath for your instant return. For I will not abate one jot of them, and above all must Number Six be rigidly complied with.”

“Sir,” said Cuanduine, “only relinquish this, and perhaps we may come to a just agreement.”

“I desire no agreement, just or otherwise,” said Nervolini. “Go, tell the Lambians that they must pay for their defiance in full.”

“Then you must fight me, son of a dog,” said Cuanduine handing him a sword which he took from one of his followers. Nervolini durst not but accept it, though he cast one longing look towards the door beyond which his guards were. “Defend yourself,” cried Cuanduine at that, “for I would not kill you from behind.” Nervolini therefore crossed his blade with the Cruaidin Cailidcheann, but in an instant it was sent flying from his grasp, and he dropped on his knees before Cuanduine. “I give you best in swordsmanship, young sir,” said he, putting as good a face on his predicament as he could muster. “You have fairly won from me what you have asked. We will wipe Number Six from the peace terms.”

“Nay,” said Cuanduine. “The shadow of that clause has lain very heavy upon Lambia. Let us see whether we cannot lighten it.”

Here, laying aside the Cruaidin Cailidcheann, he advanced upon Nervolini, and, taking him by the scruff of the neck, he bent him across his knee and slippered him very soundly, as provided in the Annex. Then indeed Nervolini did yell like a two-year-old, so that all the chamberlains, courtiers, soldiers, servants, and others of the Palace came running in hot haste to see what was the matter. When they arrived they saw Cuanduine sitting in very lordly fashion upon the couch of swansdown, and Nervolini, who was too sore and stiff to bend his hams, standing in posture of abjection before him; whereupon the Dictator, conscious that this was not a picture to impress the proletariat, motioned them away with as imperial a gesture as he could manage in the circumstances. In this his pride conquered his wisdom, to his immediate downfall: for now Cuanduine caught him up by the middle and carried him out, just as he was, to that very balcony on which the final humiliation of the Lambians was designed to have been staged for the delectation of the conquerors. There he gave forth his hero cry, and at the sound of it the citizens of Wolfopolis came flocking from all parts into the square beneath, thinking by its note of triumph that it was a signal from Nervolini to announce their victory over the hated Lambians. By thousands and tens of thousands they came pouring in, and so tight were they packed that you could have driven a motor-car over their heads and have felt not a jolt if it had been well sprung. But what a sight met their eyes when they looked up to the balcony. There stood Cuanduine leaning over the marble balustrade, and balanced upon one hand was their revered and worshipped lord, Nervolini the Fifth, the Great, the Earth-shaker. There he dangled with his breeches down, as red as the setting sun of Wolfia’s glory. For a moment the great people of Wolfia were silent in stupefaction; then they did what a great people could only do in the circumstances: they burst into a roar of laughter that shattered every pane of glass in the windows of Wolfopolis, and reverberated from the encircling hills over the waters of the sea to the Lambian coasts beyond.

After that there was peace between the Wolfians and the Lambians, and the Wolfians rebuilt the cities and villages they had destroyed: which moved the Lambians to cancel the arms they had devised for themselves in commemoration of their deliverance, namely, a pair of breeches descendant under a slipper rampant.

From this episode we learn a lesson of humility and brotherhood which I commend to all tyrants, war-mongers, and money-grabbers, and to all disbelievers in the equality of man: for the best and the worst of us, and the greatest and the smallest of us could be put to the blush in this matter as easily as Nervolini.

Thus far the account of the Wolfo-Lambian war; and here endeth the first part of the ancient epic tale of the deeds of Cuanduine.

Dublin, May 1923.
London, May 1926.



RADIUM AGE SCIENCE FICTION: “Radium Age” is HILOBROW’s name for the 1904–33 era, which saw the discovery of radioactivity, the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. This era also saw the publication of genre-shattering writing by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sax Rohmer, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Jack London, Arthur Conan Doyle, Aldous Huxley, Olaf Stapledon, Karel Čapek, H.P. Lovecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Philip Gordon Wylie, and other pioneers of post-Verne/Wells, pre-Golden Age “science fiction.” More info here.

READ GORGEOUS PAPERBACKS: HiLoBooks has reissued the following 10 obscure but amazing Radium Age science fiction novels in beautiful print editions: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”), Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt, H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook, Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins, William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, J.D. Beresford’s Goslings, E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man, Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage, and Muriel Jaeger’s The Man with Six Senses. For more information, visit the HiLoBooks homepage.

SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable | Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire.”

ORIGINAL FICTION: HILOBROW has serialized three novels: James Parker’s The Ballad of Cocky The Fox (“a proof-of-concept that serialization can work on the Internet” — The Atlantic); Karinne Keithley Syers’s Linda Linda Linda (which includes original music); and Robert Waldron’s roman à clef The School on the Fens. We also publish original stories and comics. These include: Matthew Battles’s stories “Gita Nova“, “Makes the Man,” “Imago,” “Camera Lucida,” “A Simple Message”, “Children of the Volcano”, “The Gnomon”, “Billable Memories”, “For Provisional Description of Superficial Features”, “The Dogs in the Trees”, “The Sovereignties of Invention”, and “Survivor: The Island of Dr. Moreau”; several of these later appeared in the collection The Sovereignties of Invention | Peggy Nelson’s “Mood Indigo“, “Top Kill Fail“, and “Mercerism” | Annalee Newitz’s “The Great Oxygen Race” | Flourish Klink’s Star Trek fanfic “Conference Comms” | Charlie Mitchell’s “A Fantasy Land” | Charlie Mitchell’s “Sentinels” | Joshua Glenn’s “The Lawless One”, and the mashup story “Zarathustra vs. Swamp Thing” | Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s Idoru Jones comics | John Holbo’s “Sugarplum Squeampunk” | “Another Corporate Death” (1) and “Another Corporate Death” (2) by Mike Fleisch | Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Frank Fiorentino’s graphic novel “The Song of Otto” (excerpt) | John Holbo’s graphic novel On Beyond Zarathustra (excerpt) | “Manoj” and “Josh” by Vijay Balakrishnan | “Verge” by Chris Rossi, and his audio novel Low Priority Hero | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD (1.408-415) by Flourish Klink | EPIC WINS: THE KALEVALA (3.1-278) by James Parker | EPIC WINS: THE ARGONAUTICA (2.815-834) by Joshua Glenn | EPIC WINS: THE MYTH OF THE ELK by Matthew Battles | TROUBLED SUPERHUMAN CONTEST: Charles Pappas, “The Law” | CATASTROPHE CONTEST: Timothy Raymond, “Hem and the Flood” | TELEPATHY CONTEST: Rachel Ellis Adams, “Fatima, Can You Hear Me?” | OIL SPILL CONTEST: A.E. Smith, “Sound Thinking | LITTLE NEMO CAPTION CONTEST: Joe Lyons, “Necronomicon” | SPOOKY-KOOKY CONTEST: Tucker Cummings, “Well Marbled” | INVENT-A-HERO CONTEST: TG Gibbon, “The Firefly” | FANFICTION CONTEST: Lyette Mercier’s “Sex and the Single Superhero”