The Handyman’s Tale

For readers who are unfamiliar with the novel The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood — to which the following allegorical pastiche by JLH pays non-hommage — here’s the Wikipedia entry for the book.

The Handyman’s Tale


Margaret Atwood meets Quentin Tarantino

by JLH

Birth of a Nation

It happened in a place once called California. There was a surprising change of leadership in the national government, which had, until then, pursued a reasonable policy of social benefits for the poor to offset the incredible wealth amassed by the governing class and its consiglieri, and a sensible foreign policy of financial rewards for countries most likely to dislike and attack us. With the unexpected shift in leadership came a fanciful desire to improve an economy that successive bipartisan leaders had shown could not be improved; and a wrong-headed insistence that this country — like any other — should stand up for itself.

The final straws were perverted, “fundamentalist” interpretations of the 1st and 2nd Amendments. A brush-fire revolutionary movement formed, led by a retired power politician named Barbara Wrestler (known to friend and foe alike as “Barbie Bananas”). 10-term Governor Lunagleem was persuaded to declare the Feminist Nation of Westland, with the Golden Teddy Bear as its symbol. Its ready-made rallying cry was the title of the runaway bestseller, Cherchez la femme puissante. A widespread and visceral distaste for “flyover fundamentalism” among the elite of Westland was the impetus for a decree that the official philosophy of the new nation would be based upon principles outlined in the sociological milestone 50 Shades of Pink. The defining motto on the Teddy Bear seal of the new nation would be “allectio privus puellae” — To each her own.

Governor Lunagleem — in recognition of his long and faithful service in government, and his unflagging advocacy of women’s rights — was retired with great honors and offered, by way of exception, a passport that would not expire, should he ever decide to leave Westland and seek the presidency of that other country.


Our tale of life in the Feminist Democratic Republic of Westland is largely contained in the life of Offal. We first encounter him in the exclusively female- staffed public pre-school (there was no private schooling, except for the few daughters of highly placed officials), where he learned that a dispute between boys was decided on the basis of which boy was perceived to be the aggressor, who was then punished by being sent to an isolation corner for a while. A dispute between girls was resolved by a serious talk with an advisor, who would mediate an agreement between them. A dispute between a girl and a boy was regarded as Right versus Wrong or Good versus Evil. The girl was Right and the boy was Wrong. He was required to stand alone, as all the girls circled him and slapped his face — some angrily, some more kindly and softly. If he resisted — which became increasingly rare — he graduated to being Evil. He was made to lean his elbows on the teacher’s desk; and each girl was given a willow switch to strike his buttocks as she passed by. Offal and his classmates learned two lessons from this: 1)Never argue with a girl within view of any authority; 2) Never wear shorts to school — some girls will choose to whip the bare legs.

Bathroom facilities in schools, as in all public institutions, were of two kinds: Female and General. Offal’s introduction to this system was witnessing an outraged 7-year-old classmate complaining to their teacher that there was a girl standing at the urinals, observing and commenting. “Of course, dear,” the teacher told him kindly, “How else will she learn? She aspires to be a urologist.”

After the conditioning of pre-school, Life Entry School offered more substantive knowledge in arithmetic, reading, writing and the History of the Golden Teddy Bear Republic. All classes were issued waterproof helmets for their required, weekly depilatory shower. Boys were observed, to decide when they should be issued facial depilatory. The goal was no visible hair below the eyes. Everyone alike. There would be no returning to the era of “hairy-chested men.”

A companion program in the summer found every boy at “Summer Camp” — a more social than pedagogical training. Instead of a recorded version of Reveille, the day began with a loud call of “Soo-ee, Soo-ee, Pig! Pig! Pig!” Breakfast was sugarless oatmeal served in lengthy wooden trenchers referred to as “troughs” and a thick slice of bread. After eating, each boy carried his trencher past an open spigot, rinsing it off as he passed and stacking it upside down on the large drainboard. Lunch was beans with some salt pork in the same trencher, and bread. Supper was meatballs in tomato sauce, and bread, with a suety chocolate pudding for dessert. Each meal was presided over by watchful female counselors, who roamed between the long tables, noting when a boy seemed not to be eating, and rapping him across the back with a bamboo stick, saying, “Eat, Piggy, Eat!”

Activities during the day were various kinds of manual labor: moving boulders, leveling paths and roadways, gathering firewood from the surrounding woods. The great advantage for both “campers” and “counselors” was that this regimen facilitated an exhausted sleep. Nonetheless, the older boys were pulled — one by one — out of their bunks during the night and taken to one of the counselors’ cabins for what the counselors laughingly called, “Sex 101,” where they learned all the ways in which a woman could be pleased.

Offal never did know what the girls’ Summer Camp was like, but he noticed that with each end-of-summer return to school, the girls seemed to become more distant and contemptuous of the boys.

The final levels of public education — before girls went to one of the plethora of Westland universities, and the boys went to either blue- or white-collar trade schools — were also the closing phases in the treatment of male toxicity. Boys were separated into algorithmically selected groups and pulled from class twice a week to attend “de-masculinizing” clinics, where they were electronically connected to monitoring devices. Conducted by therapists working in pairs, the clinics featured 50-minute videos of young people at various activities. Blood pressure, pulse and skin temperature often spiked with one of three things: dangerous activities like cliff diving or dirt bike racing; warlike confrontations between males; the sight of an unexpected expanse of female skin. Every boy who registered a spike received an instantaneous electric jolt high inside his thighs. By the end of the second year, the attraction of danger, physical conflict and sex had dwindled to such an extent that images that had once caused a spike now barely registered. Many of the boys just closed their eyes or looked away.

Boys’ credits for graduation — aside from the masculine detoxification sessions — included the ability to read a newspaper, math through plane geometry (algebra and beyond were considered too intricate), a comfortable acquaintance with a computer and keyboard, and at least six credits in gardening/farming, tool-handling and crafts.

Thus well-trained in the necessary rules and attitudes of the Feminist Republic of Westland, Offal matured into a shy, comely young fellow. He was appointed to be a Domestic Worker, and was given a multi-year assignment as a handyman for three of the leading Wives in his designated community, doing yard work, animal husbandry and carpentry.

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William the Conquered

The video below features the concluding essay (or short story) from Dark Albion: A Requiem for the English by David Abbott, as read by the author.

It’s about the final grim days of William, son of Charles, the last king of England, in the year 2066. King William is facing the unavoidable transfer of power from the original Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of Britain to their new Muslim overlords. The imminent deal will be sealed by the marriage of King William’s granddaughter to a Muslim.

William’s father revised the royal oath upon his accession to the throne, promising to be the “Defender of Faiths” rather than the “Defender of the Faith”. After William there will be no more oaths, and there will be only the One True Faith — the one that demands submission:

A Dystopian Masterpiece: Jack Vance’s “Wyst: Alastor 1716”

Notes from the Baron:

The following review by Thomas Bertonneau discusses Wyst, one of the finest novels written by the late Jack Vance.

Long-time readers know that my nom de plume is taken from Jack Vance’s work — not from a character in his fiction, but from an imaginary writer, scholar, and commentator named Unspiek, Baron Bodissey, who provided the (sometimes lengthy) disquisitions on history, sociology, and political economy that appeared as footnotes in the novels.

The cover of Wyst shown below is not from the currently available version of the book, but from the original published by DAW Books, the first printing in 1978. I scanned it from my own Vance collection, and then de-yellowed it.

A Dystopian Masterpiece: Jack Vance’s Wyst: Alastor 1716

by Thomas F. Bertonneau

Towards the end of a long life, the American genre writer — and merchant seaman, jazz-man, and master of many trades — Jack Vance (1916-2013) produced an amusing autobiography entitled This is Me, Jack Vance! (2009); the book also carried a parenthetical and apologetic subtitle, Or, More Properly, This is I. In the subtitle Vance takes a jocund swipe at grammatical pedantry, and therefore at pedantry and Puritanism generally speaking, but he also affirms his passion for order, of which grammar is the linguistic species, without which (order, that is) freedom and justice, both of which he held as dear as anything, would be impossible.

There are a number of scholarly anthologies devoted to Vance’s authorship and at least one book-length single-author study of his fiction, Jack Rawlins’ Dissonant Worlds of Jack Vance (1986). It is a pity, however, that no intellectual biography of Vance exists. This is Me gives the essential details of its writer’s curriculum vitae, but it is largely bereft of information concerning Vance’s artistic-philosophical formation. So is Rawlins’ study, although it remains otherwise useful. If only, like Henry Miller, Vance had written his version of The Books in my Life! Concerning Vance’s artistic-philosophical formation, however, one might plausibly infer and arguably surmise a few probabilities. A writer is liable to be a reader, a prolific writer a prolific reader. A merchant seaman, as Vance remarks in his autobiography, finds himself with a good deal of time on his hands. Vance, who had briefly studied English at the University of California Berkeley, spent long stretches at sea during the Second World War, with a good deal of time on his hands. Two plausible guesses in respect of books that would have impressed themselves profoundly on Vance as he passed his time in their company are The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas père and The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler.

The Count of Monte Cristo would have supplied Vance with a plotline, that of righteous and carefully plotted vengeance against arrogant and powerful offenders, which he used in his own brilliant way many times. Two books of Vance’s Alastor trilogy, Trullion (1973) and Marune (1975), are vengeance stories, as are all five volumes of The Demon Princes (1964 — 1981).

As it did for F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, and the science fiction writer James Blish, among innumerable others, The Decline of the West would have deepened Vance’s sense of meaning and large-scale patterning in history; and it would have stimulated his interest in the comparison of cultures. In Spengler’s theory of the Great Cultures, as he called them, each Great Culture has a distinct physiognomy (Spengler’s term) that imprints and flavors its institutional manifestations and pervades the mental outlook of its every individual. A major element of Vance’s fiction is to establish through detailed description the distinct physiognomies — or as he calls it in a coinage of his own, the esmeric — of his fictional worlds and their societies. The Decline would also have honed Vance’s sensitivity to the crisis of European civilization, just as it had for Fitzgerald and Miller. Once again, the breakdown of social structures and the descent of civilization into renewed barbarism interest Vance almost obsessively. Vance’s authorship contains many other signs of Spengler’s background presence, not least in its tendency to insert extended philosophical discussions, sometimes as footnotes, into the unfolding story. In Vance’s later work, commencing with The Demon Princes, references occur to a certain “Baron Bodissey,” who seems to have been the Spengler of the settled cosmos, or the “Gaean Reach,” in the long-colonized solar systems of which, and among immensely old societies, Vance’s stories tend to occur. Spengler saw his Great Cultures as living entities. Vance’s Ecce and Old Earth (1991) quotes Bodissey’s study of “The Morphology of Settled Places,” in which he argues that “towns behave in many respects like living organisms,” a decidedly Spenglerian proposition.

Wyst: Alastor 1716 (1978), the third installment of Vance’s Alastor trilogy, falls somewhat outside the vengeance pattern of its two precursor installments although its denouement entails an act of supremely satisfying justice. Part of Wyst’s interest lies in the fact that it instantiates Vance’s knack for dystopian satire, the object of the satire being in this case the phenomenon of socialism, with its cult of egalitarianism. Before getting into the details, however, of Vance’s Spenglerian critique of the welfare state, a bit of context urges itself. The Alastor trilogy takes its overall title from its cosmic setting — Vance’s “Alastor Cluster.” As Wyst’s prefatory chapter explains, “Alastor Cluster, a node of thirty thousand live stars, uncounted dead hulks and vast quantities of interstellar detritus, clung to the inner rim of the galaxy with the Unfortunate Waste before, the Nonestic Gulf beyond and the Gaean Reach a sparkling haze to the side.” Of the thirty thousand solar systems that constitute the Cluster, three thousand are inhabited. The word alastor, not at all incidentally, stems from an ancient Greek name for an avenging spirit. The protagonists of Trullion and Marune indeed act as agents of retributive desert, but in matters of private offense. In Wyst Vance invokes justice rather than vengeance. In the early chapters of the novel, Vance’s protagonist and point-of-view character Jantiff Ravensroke functions as a perceptive visitor to and observer of the planetary “Egalist” society of Wyst. Readers gain their sense of Wyst’s cultural physiognomy through Ravensroke’s experiences, as he attempts to assimilate himself in a new and in many ways shocking environment. In the later chapters of the novel, while becoming increasingly involved with his new acquaintances, Ravensroke functions as a responsible citizen of the Cluster who feels the moral compulsion, at rising risk to his life, to report to the highest authority about wicked machinations unfolding on Wyst concerning which he has apprised himself. Ravensroke’s visit to Wyst, which he had undertaken for artistic reasons, becomes an ordeal and, pitting himself against a murderous conspiracy, he discovers his capacity for heroic action.

The highest authority in Alastor Cluster resides in the office of the Connatic. In the Connatic, Vance has taken a somewhat preposterous stock figure from pulp-era science fiction — the sovereign of a stellar empire, as in Edmund Hamilton’s Star Kings or Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy — and reinvented it in his own masterful way. The Connatic, who rules the Cluster from a towering architectural complex at archipelagic Lusz on the planet Numenes, incorporates traits from Shakespeare’s Henry IV and from the Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius. Like Henry IV, the Connatic sometimes goes in disguise among his people in order to discover their disposition. Like Marcus Aurelius, the Connatic is a philosopher who is nevertheless prepared to act, having at his command an immense and super-competent diplomatic corps and the “Whelm,” a potent military force. In the opening chapter of Wyst, receiving four representatives of the Egalist society in his tower, and being criticized by one of them for his “position of unnatural privilege,” the Connatic replies: “I am I, who by reason of events beyond my control am Connatic. If I were someone else, I would not be Connatic; this is indisputable.” In that hypothetical case, however, “He, like I, would ponder the singularity of his condition.” The irascible ambassadors know not what to make of it. They take up again their crass demands on behalf of their world. The Connatic, whose name implies the cognitive faculty, knows these petitioners for precisely who they are. Vance bestows on the Connatic an encyclopedic knowledge of the planetary societies that he oversees and a near-instantaneous and deeply penetrating intuition in respect of character-nuance and political implication. He, too, is practiced in the Spenglerian art of physiognomic tact.

That Ravensroke should come to the attention of the Connatic partakes of the inevitable. Vance has endowed on Ravensroke artistic percipience, curiosity, and openness to experience so that, in a novice’s way, he resembles the Connatic in his talents. Ravensroke originates on the many-islanded largely aquatic planet Zeck at a place called Frayness, where custom dictates that those entering on adulthood declare a profession and begin to fashion themselves to live by it. (In other words — the usual way of life!) Ravensroke finds that he cannot declare for any customary profession, although his family would like him to do so, but he knows himself to possess a contextually eccentric talent for landscape and portrait and he would like to cultivate it. One night, in order to escape the tension with his parents and siblings, Ravensroke appropriates the family houseboat and steers it to a remote place. At dusk, while “water moths fluttered among the leaves,” Ravensroke hears from the sea “the sound of quiet voices in measured discussion.” The “sea-voices” elude clear audition: “The meaning… always just evaded intelligibility.” These susurrations haunt Ravensroke, to use Vance’s verb; and his acknowledgment of them indicates both his attunement to the world and his talent for attentive, non-egocentric awareness of his environment.

It is during his solitude that he learns fatefully of Wyst. Someone has left a copy of The Transvoyer, presumably a newspaper, on the table in the houseboat’s kitchen. A front page headline refers to “THE ARRABIN CENTENARY,” Arrabus being the inhabited continent of Wyst, and the story having been filed from Uncibal, “the mighty city beside the sea.” According to the story, which in hindsight appears to be rank Egalist propaganda, the people of Wyst live in a “dynamic society, propelled by novel philosophical energies.” As for the Arrabin goal, the article describes it as “human fulfillment, in a condition of leisure and amplitude,” which the society has achieved “by a drastic revision of traditional priorities.” On the other hand, as readers later learn, Arrabins not only disdain but anathematize anyone who “wants to do something… extraordinary and individualistic.” That would be “non-mutual” and “mutualism” is a major tenet of Egalism. The extravagant ideological claims of the journal article exercise less compulsion on Ravensroke, however, than the article’s reference to “the remarkable light of the sun Dwan,” under the luminosity of which “every surface quivers with its true and just color.” The aesthetic allure wins him over. He resolves to travel to Wyst to refine his skills as a painter and photographer.

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Poor Jordan Peterson

He truly believes in the myth of the soi-disant “moderate” Muslim.

Perhaps our Canadian readers can take up a collection to buy for Dr. Peterson the definitive book on Sharia law:

Reliance of the Traveller: The Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law Umdat Al-Salik

The reason I’m not suggesting the excellent work of, say, Robert Spencer or Bill Warner, is that in order to truly understand a subject – to “stand under” it – one has to begin by reading its own documents. The blurb on “Reliance” states:

This is a classic manual of fiqh rulings based on Shafi”i School of jurisprudence and includes original Arabic texts and translations from classic works of prominent Muslim scholars such as al Ghazali, al Nawawi, al Qurtubi, al Dhahabi and others. It is an indispensable reference for every Muslim or student of Islam who needs to research on Islamic rulings on daily Muslim life.

The Baron will remember when it was that we bought our own copy (I find the past becoming one fluid succession of moments). But I well remember the price since I do all our online ordering. It cost $30.00 back then. Thus, when “Reliance” arrived, I was surprised to see how beautifully bound it was. I wondered then if it were not being subsidized by some Sunni group (not a book for Shi’ites – another distinction Jordan Peterson will have to learn).

At the time, there were fewer than a dozen reader reviews and many of them were written by devout Muslims. The times have certainly changed; current top reviews (i.e., five-star verified purchases) are decidedly against the book whilst still recommending that one buy it.

Today the price stands at $56.00, but still worth it for those who want to be thoroughly informed about what it means to live under Sunni Sharia Law.

Here’s one review [edited]:

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The Shape of Mud

Below is JLH’s latest comment on Hollywood’s contribution to our life and thought. He says: “You might call it “Alfred Hitchcock’s Revenge’.”

The Shape of Mud

by JLH

Once upon a time there was a fairy-tale land, where fairy-tale people lived fairy-tale lives and made up fairy-tale tales to entertain all the people who did not live fairy-tale lives. Among those unfortunate souls who lived drab and ordinary lives — and unlike the paragon of perfection symbolized by the statuette given as the highest fairy-tale land award for story-telling — their ordinary males were encumbered by brazen masculine procreative equipment. Pedestrian persons from outside fairy-tale land paid a significant amount of money to see the tales made in fairy-tale land, so fairy-tale land accumulated vast wealth, and thus felt its responsibility to instruct and guide the patrons of its storytelling.

It came to pass that some of the fairy-tale folk conceived the idea of enticing the benighted souls outside of fairy-tale land to become a little more sensitive by showing them a fairy-tale alternative — the way to a fairy-tale existence almost as exalted as the lives in fairy-tale land. They thought about other fairy tales that had gently and subtly demonstrated human inferiority to other species — a tenet of faith in fairy tale land that applied to all of mankind, with a few exceptions, like the residents of fairy-tale land. There had been a very successful tale of a whole world of blue people (what a wonderful concept!) who only wanted to be left in peace to settle their own differences in their own way. But along came humans astride their superior technology, and wrought havoc. It was left to the one or two truly sensitive humans to try to save this exotic civilization.

The first principle to be derived from this older tale was that the OTHER must be shockingly different, but not repulsive. Even a tail is all right, if it is attractive. A long history of tale-telling in fairy-tale land had established that non-humans who are hostile and evil are usually repulsive in at least one of their manifestations.

Positive alien representatives must also be recognizably like us, but ever so much better, like Rousseau’s noble savage. And if they are to serve the purpose, they must be incapable of doing humankind any real harm.

The answer they found was a touching tale about Mignon, a shy woman with a crippling handicap — severe, incurable progressivism. Unable to hold a job in the white-collar world despite her BA, MA, PhD in intercontinental floral design, she has become a full-time cleaner in a government facility. She is befriended by Kaytee — a kindly, if undereducated, co-cleaner who also lives in one of the many apartments in the large Victorian house where Mignon lives. As befits a film from fairy-tale land, both Mignon and Kaytee are incredibly beautiful women. They are both aware of the toxic masculinity of the male of the species. They have had limited, and largely unpleasant, contacts with boys-to-men.

Day after day, as they clean, they pass by a door that is always locked. Above the door is a sign: Gregor’s Place. They clean so unobtrusively and efficiently and always on schedule, that they are eventually rewarded with extended work time, pay raises and the key to the locked door of Gregor’s Place. They enter with mixed apprehension and excitement. It is a large, rectangular room, one-half of which is a large, glass-walled terrarium filled with tropical plants. Their job is to clean the open half of the room and keep the high glass partition spotless. As they do this, they can identify — among other things — orchids, and something similar to a very large Venus Flytrap. Once, when a small bird flutters down from an opened slot in the ceiling above, it ventures too close to the predatory flower, and disappears in its maw. At intervals, other kinds of nutrition fall from other openings, into the terrarium — often a kind of light-green rain.

Kaytee is fascinated at first, but gradually loses interest and cleans stoically. Mignon, however, studies the various plants and comes to the conclusion that the Gregor in the name over he door refers to Gregor Mendel, and that this is a giant experiment in creating new genotypes. So she always devotes a few minutes to watching the plants and trying to identify their characteristics.

One day, while she watches, leaning slightly forward, with both hands flat on the glass, a plant emerges alone, moving with a curious gliding motion, and approaching the glass. It has an almost sylphic figure and a stamen-like appendage dangling between its two ambulatory limbs. With a shock, she casts her mind back to her studies and identifies the figure before her as a fully human-sized, independent rosette of the Orchis Italica or Naked Man Orchid, with its usually sketchy facial features more finished and its “physique” not only enlarged, but strengthened. The presence of an apparent stamen and no pistil tells her she is looking at a masculine plant.

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The following short story by Tober Mory was published earlier at the author’s website.

Dedicated to Keeping America a Free Country


A Short Story by Tober Mory
February 2018


“Ouch, that hurt!,” Saif Mahaz yelped as he stubbed his toe, rushing to get out of town to give yet another speech at yet another conference. There was no rest these days for the weary General Secretary of the Council of Caliphitic Collaboration. “Where’s my suitcase?” he bellowed to his second wife. “Right where you left it,” she answered, rolling her eyes.

Saif found his suitcase and plopped it on the bed. When he opened it, a young woman, a shimmering rainbow all around her, popped out and stood on the floor next to him. Face to face with the woman now, he was startled to see she wasn’t wearing a hijab. He couldn’t help but be aroused by the sight of so much exposed female flesh. He was ready to submit to his desires, but she broke the spell.

“You don’t know me,” the woman said. “But I know you and your every thought before you even think it.” She told him her story: Her name was Banaz. She divorced her husband from an arranged marriage and found a boyfriend, Rahmat. After the two were seen kissing, she was raped from behind and tortured by her father, uncle, and cousins. They strangled her to death with a plastic cord, dumped her body in a suitcase, and buried her in the backyard. Dozens of Muslims helped cover up the crime, many offering to lie to the police when family members were arrested.

Rahmat later hanged himself. “There have been lots of stories like mine all over the world since the 7th century, untold numbers of honor killings,” Banaz said. “We — the victims — have a little surprise planned for you and your friends at the Council. In the meantime, you’ll remember me every time you open your suitcase. Good luck getting me out of your head now.”

“What surprise?” Saif asked. “You’ll see,” Banaz answered. “It’s about justice.”

“That’s impossible, you don’t exist,” Saif said as the image wafted back into his suitcase and disappeared. “THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS GHOSTS!” he shouted. “Are you crazy? Pipe down!” his fourth wife, who lived in his house with all the others, called from the kitchen.

“You’re not to yell at me, woman, or I’ll…” “Your ride’s here,” she said, submissively.


Saif’s flight was uneventful. “It was Allah’s will,” he muttered as he exited the terminal in search of a cab. A driverless taxi pulled to the curb right in front of him and he hopped in the back.

The vehicle was soon in the flow of traffic. Saif looked at a wreck that had been cleared to the side of the road. When he looked ahead again, his heart leapt out of his chest. A rainbow-edged man was in the driver’s seat. His arms were outstretched as if he were reaching toward a steering wheel, but HE HAD NO HANDS.

“My name is Omar,” the man said. “I want you to bear witness. I stole some stuff from a man’s house, but what happened to me next is why I’m here.”

Omar was taken to a park where a sharia court rendered judgment. “For stealing 10 pairs of pants, 10 shirts, a bag and some other items — total value $90 — the punishment is amputation,” the court pronounced. The court had faithfully quoted the punishment as prescribed in the Quran.

Hundreds of Muslims had gathered to watch. Omar’s hand was held up to the crowd, then laid on a table. The blade came down.


Off came the hand, which was lifted up for all to see.

“I was taken to the hospital,” Omar said. “The pain was excruciating.”

Guards from the sharia court kept him from talking to the media.

“So this is the first chance I’ve had to tell my story. Good thing for driverless cars; I can still find gainful employment, ha ha — no thanks to Islam.”

“How about I chop off YOUR hands, Saif, and reattach them — left for right and right for left? While I’m at it, I’ll chop off your feet and put them on you backwards. You won’t be winning trophies at Wimbledon any time soon.”

With that, Omar was gone. Saif looked at the meter to see what his fare was, but all it said was, “Banaz is waiting for you.”


Arriving at his hotel, Saif got out of the cab and went through the revolving door. As he entered the lobby, a woman ran out of the hotel restaurant and rushed past him, blood pouring down her body.

“In case you’re wondering what that was about, come sit with me and listen to my story,” a man called out, patting an overstuffed chair next to his.

“My name is Michael. I was a doctor on foreign holiday when Elizabeth and I were jihadded. We both left behind children who, thankfully, weren’t with us on this trip.”

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Wolfophobia On Dog Island

Matthew Bracken sends this Boxing Day fable for you to ponder during the lull between Christmas and New Year’s.

Note: Alert readers will observe that our rules concerning decorum have been relaxed slightly in Mr. Bracken’s case. This is true of all the fiction we publish here. However, the posted rules for decorum still apply to commenters.

Wolfophobia On Dog Island

by Matt Bracken

Now you young pups sit down and listen to an old dog who didn’t get to be old by being a dummy. Try to sit still and pay attention, because some folks will tell you otherwise about what happened, but they have their own reasons and I have mine, and mine are right and theirs are wrong. After you hear the true story of what happened with the wolves on Dog Island, you’ll understand why you should never forget it. I was there, and this is what happened. Stop fidgeting and pay attention.

In those days, before the wolves came, there were a lot of show dogs on Dog Island, just like now, but back in those days the Standard Poodles were in charge, because for some reason everybody gave them credit for being the smartest dogs around. And compared to most show dogs, Poodles are geniuses, I’ll give them that.

Supposedly that’s why they were put in charge of dividing up the dog food, keeping the water bowls filled, and things like that. And despite their silly fur, Standard Poodles can grow pretty big, so they are not pushovers. And of course the show dogs loved it that the Poodles were in charge, and gave them dog food even though they didn’t work. If you can believe it, the show dogs had almost everybody convinced that they should get fed just for looking so good and raising everybody’s morale. And the poodles agreed with this nonsense and kept the show dogs fed for doing nothing but looking good.

And a big part of the reason for this crazy state of affairs was the fact that Apollo, the boss of the Poodles, was such a damned good bullshit artist. He could really lay it down thick, so that even some of the working dogs agreed with his ideas, such as feeding the show dogs even though they don’t work.

Of course, then like now, us working dogs did all of the work on Dog Island, but even so, Apollo and the other Poodles ran the show. They said that their breed’s specialty was brain work and consisted of managing things for everybody day-to-day. But that was okay, as long as there was enough dog food, and the water bowls got filled. Even though it griped us that the show dogs got fed for doing nothing.

But one thing we all agreed on, working dogs and show dogs, was that we could not let any wolves onto Dog Island. Wolves and dogs were enemies, and that was that.

We knew all about wolves on Dog Island. We could hear them yipping and yapping and mostly howling at the moon the way they do, on their own island which is farther out on the river and downstream a bit. Occasionally a stray wolf will fall into the river or be driven into exile, and they will show up trying to get onto Dog Island, but we never permit this. That was always a big important rule on Dog Island. No wolves. Period.

But then apparently there were some worse-than-usual problems over on Wolf Island. Their moon howling became extreme, and some wolves tried swimming upstream to Dog Island. Normally we drove them off, but this time some Poodles met a smallish male wolf on the beach, and Apollo proposed that we should not drive him back into the river, as was customary.

When I heard about this, I met up with Duke and we went down to the beach to see what was going on. Duke is the biggest German Shepherd, and all the Shepherds and Dobermans and Rottweilers look up to him.

I’m not as big as Duke, but nobody messes with a male Labrador-Pitbull mix who is bigger than any other Labrador Retriever or Pitbull on the island. I like hanging out with Duke, we get along well, and the working dogs all look up to him. When we are running together, Spike and Duke, nobody messes with us, and most of the working dogs want to follow us. And the show dogs know enough to stay the hell out of our way.

But now Apollo was trying to convince us to let one poor wolf who had been forced to flee his home island stay and live among us on Dog Island. Apollo said that all canines are equal, and we must not show prejudice toward our cousin the wolf. He did not choose to be a wolf, he was born that way, and conditions on Wolf Island have become unbearable.

Apollo explained that our guest was a gray wolf, and they were always fighting with the red wolves on Wolf Island. All the game was wiped out by over-hunting, and the wolves were down to hunting each other, with no quarter given and the losers eaten. The refugee wolf had some old and new wounds and was truly a pathetic sight. And I’ll admit there was some satisfaction in seeing one of our eternal enemies reduced to this wretched state. He would even roll over on his back and show his throat, like a complete sissy lap dog. Yes, I’ll confess that it was enjoyable to see a wolf roll over and be submissive before us dogs.

There was plenty of dog food to go around, so we decided to go along with Apollo, and let this one miserable cringing gray wolf stay on Dog Island. It would be a death sentence for him to be sent back to Wolf Island, Apollo said. And we had no trouble with one wolf on Dog Island, even after he regained his strength by eating lots of our dog food. Apollo promised us that this wolf had given up his former carnivorous habits. This wolf must not be judged as a wolf at all anymore. We must not judge him negatively merely for being a wolf, which he did not choose and he cannot help. To do so would be wolfophobic.

But the next day, there were two more wolves who had come ashore, forlorn and desolate like the first wolf had been. These three wolves then became inseparable, and as they became healthy they would run all around Dog Island and generally be a pain in the ass to everybody.

First of all, they could not control their sexual emotions, and if they saw a female dog they would just mount her, if she was in heat, or not. Naturally this angered the female dogs no end, especially when they were not in heat.

And after a week, a golden retriever puppy went missing, and a day or two later, a year-old cocker spaniel. The wolves claimed to know nothing about them, and the Poodles offered no further information.

When Duke heard about the second missing puppy, he came to find me, and together we went down to where the Poodles hang out, which was now also where the three wolves were hanging out. Probably because it was where the Poodles divided up the dog food for everybody.

Me and Duke trotted right up to Apollo, between all the show dogs in the front of the Poodles. At least twenty or more working dogs were following right behind us, so we weren’t worried. Duke said he wanted to have a word with Apollo about the new wolf policy. One wolf had been okay, but not three. He said this while staring at the three wolves, who were lying on their bellies watching us.

The wolves bared their teeth and growled, but continued lying down, muzzles low. Duke said to Apollo, Two puppies are missing, and we think those wolves right there did it. Apollo acted angry and said Duke must not accuse them of such a terrible thing without proof.

And Duke said the wolves are mounting every female at every chance, and this must stop. Apollo responded that this is part of their wolf culture, and we must respect this cultural difference, and permit a certain amount of it, for the sake of good relations between the wolves and dogs.

Duke said, But we don’t want good relations, we want them gone! They are our eternal enemies, and they will kill and eat any dog they catch any chance they get, no matter what they promise.

Apollo got very angry and barked out that Duke and Spike were the leaders of the wolfophobic bigots, and we should be ashamed of how badly we spoke of our new canine cousins, and all canines are equal. Now that they had arrived on peaceful Dog Island, they would live in peace with us. Believe it or not, most of the show dogs were nodding their agreement at this utter nonsense.

And Apollo wasn’t finished. He said that more wolves were going to be accepted as refugees and immigrants from Wolf Island. The ongoing war between the reds and the grays made conditions just too dangerous for any of them to endure.

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The Red Cliffs of Zerhoun, by Matthew Bracken — A Commentary, Part 2

Below is the second half of Seneca III’s introductory commentary to The Red Cliffs of Zerhoun by Matthew Bracken. Part 1 of this essay is here.

The Red Cliffs of Zerhoun, by Mathew Bracken — A Commentary

by Seneca III

Part II — As it may become

As the rhythms of the seasons change, so also do the rhythms of human affairs. When culturally homogenous societies are destabilised by invasive parasites and predators, those societies swiftly atrophy and inevitably disappear into an encroaching darkness, where dawn remains but a hope beyond an unseen horizon, where the night people are well about and yet to be put to the sword. There is found the formative crucible within which men and women, bound by strength and tradition, gather together and stand firm against the onset of barbarism.

But this response can only happen when free men and women first look around them at their children and their children’s children, contemplate what such a future may hold for them and theirs, and then, lastly, inwardly ask of themselves: “What am I doing? Why is this happening? Where have I gone wrong?” Thus, in the face of this observed reality, the whole rotten-to-the-core 21st-century global elite’s collective power grab may be peeled back layer by layer. Once full understanding and the fear induced by a realisation of impending tyranny or extinction have together overcome the false doctrines endlessly iterated by the deconstructionists, it is then, and only then, that mass counter-movements can arise, reset the course of their lives and determine their own destiny according to their needs and desires.

Indeed, as the comforting smoke and mirrors of affluence and its transient spawn indulgence dissipate, a primeval survival reflex kicks in which in turn forces a huge sea-change in the status quo. History teaches us that over the course of the gestative years preceding such upheavals the final objectives of the deconstructionists that are being implemented by their Executives, Judiciaries and the apocryphal incubi and succubi of Academia gradually become exposed for what they are. When this burgeoning awareness takes root in the minds of a significant percentage of the demographic these once fragmented masses begin to coalesce, organise, cooperate on a broad, often transnational scale and find a central defining ethos and leadership with a common purpose derived from the indigenous peoples, by those peoples and for those peoples.

Furthermore, history teaches us that in addition to mental battles, physical battles must also be fought, often at great cost over extended periods of time. We are now simply in a new phase of a very old war. We would be foolish to ignore what can be learned from earlier battles fought, won and sometimes lost by our ancestors at places such as Covadonga (718), Valencia (1094), Tours (1356), Granada (1492), Rhodes (1522), Mohács (1526), Djerba (1560), Malta (1565), Lepanto (1571) and, in 1683, at the Gates of Vienna.

There, courage, sacrifice and the utmost ruthlessness were the defining characteristics of Western resistance. For our coming battles, as did our forebears, we will need to cultivate not just those personal qualities but also find leadership of the likes of Pelagius of Asturias, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, Charles Martel, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, Phillipe Villiers De L’Isle Adam, Jean Parisot de Valette, Don John of Austria and John III Sobieski. However, we in Europe have left it far too late to fight at our gates; the enemy is among us in significant numbers, well-entrenched, supported and nourished by fifth columnists from within our own ranks. Only Guerre à Outrance on our part can now save us from the ultimate objective of the Globalist Cartel — the reduction of all free peoples to the level of the lowest common denominator by means of the foot soldiers of the Caliphate, followed by our subjugation to the whims and edicts of draconian dictatorship. The EU project, although now stalled in the late stages of embryo, is a prime example of this process, as were the years of the Obama interregnum in the USA.

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“The Red Cliffs of Zerhoun”: Q & A with Matt Bracken

As we mentioned last week, Matt Bracken has just published a new novel, The Red Cliffs of Zerhoun. The following interview with Mr. Bracken about the book was published earlier today at Western Rifle Shooters.

The Red Cliffs of Zerhoun: a historical novel set in the future

Q and A with author Matt Bracken

WRSA: What does the title of your new novel refer to?

Red sandstone cliffs are common to the coastal region of Morocco I’m writing about, and they feature in the story. All the Dan Kilmer novels are going to contain a geographical feature in their titles. So far I’ve used up “Cay” and “Cliffs”, so I don’t anticipate running out soon.

WRSA: I couldn’t find Cape Zerhoun or Port Zerhoun on any maps of Morocco.

It’s a composite of a few different locations, but is largely based on the historical pirate port of Salé from the corsair era but relocated a bit to the south. The name Zerhoun is taken from a holy mountain in Morocco which is a national pilgrimage site. I sprinkled some other non-random names into the novel, for example, anyone who considers secret dungeon complexes to be implausible in the modern era might want to look up Tazmamart, Morocco.

WRSA: “The Red Cliffs of Zerhoun” seems to run deeper than the typical post-SHTF dystopian action novel. There is actual character development, for example, which is rarely seen in the genre.

Thanks for noticing. Actually, the entire novel is an allegory for the defense of Western Civilization and European Christianity in the face of the one-two punch coming from today’s cultural-Marxist ruling elites and the always eager Islamic invaders. Three times in European history the continent was nearly overrun by Muslim armies, and three times the invasion was just barely turned back: at Tours, Lepanto and Vienna. Today, the situation is even more dire, because cultural-Marxist Quisling traitors have managed to switch off Europe’s natural defenses and open the gates to invasion, and have even permitted Islamic jihad beachheads to be established in every European city. I’m not optimistic about the eventual outcome of the coming European civil war, but I’m not ready to give up, which is why I wrote this novel. It’s my best shot in the counter-jihad.

In terms of the allegory, the nearly seventy girls kidnapped from a religious boarding academy in Ireland are a microcosm for the future of Western Civilization and European Christianity. Will what is left of European manhood rise to the challenge and send out a desperate rescue mission to bring the stolen girls home, or just shrug at the hopeless situation, and write them off? When you consider that Egypt, Syria, Turkey and many other nations were once staunchly Christian, I’ll admit the future does not look bright for Europe, given today’s circumstances. But I’m not a defeatist, and that’s why I wrote The Red Cliffs of Zerhoun.

In addition, I wrote it to remind British men of their nearly-forgotten military heritage, which is still kept alive in units like the Special Air Service. British men stood tall and faced down the Nazis when it looked like Britain would have to go it alone, even to fighting on the beaches, in the words of Winston Churchill. I hope some of that martial spirit is left in Britain. If not, eventual defeat and submission to Islam is inevitable.

WRSA: What’s the point of having the British SAS and the Irish Republican Army cooperating on the mission? That seems pretty far-fetched, even for a Matt Bracken novel.

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Matthew Bracken: The Red Cliffs of Zerhoun

Matt Bracken’s long-awaited new novel, The Red Cliffs of Zerhoun, is now available, both in a paperback edition

…and in a Kindle version:

Dymphna bought the Kindle version as soon as it came out, and has already finished reading it. She says the action is fast-paced, the story contains surprising plot twists, and the characters are well-developed. She also appreciated the rich historical detail.

You’ll be hearing more from her about Red Cliffs in due course.

In the meantime, our English correspondent Seneca III has supplied a historical preface for Gates of Vienna readers. As it happens, he worked with Mr. Bracken as a technical consultant on the British parts of the book, so in the essay below he outlines the history of the Moorish slavers in Europe, with special emphasis on the British Isles.

The Red Cliffs of Zerhoun, by Matthew Bracken – A Commentary

by Seneca III

Part I – As it was

During the dark winter months, driven by westerly gales, the deep, grey rollers of the North Atlantic descend upon the western coastlines of Ireland and Britain with a cold, inanimate ferocity. Yet each year, without fail, the seasons progress and winter slowly segues into spring and spring into summer, and with summer comes the sailing season.

And, for now at least, in the calm of these summers, protected by the maritime forces of the Irish Republic and Great Britain, craft of every type, large and small, make their way to and fro on business or for recreation whilst the towns and villages on the surrounding coastlines bustle with holidaymakers and visitors from far and wide, but other times have not always been so pleasant. From the 16th to 19th centuries the sailing season brought a horde of far less welcome visitors: Barbary Corsairs, the bearded, demented Slaves of Allah, who descended like a wolf on the fold to rape, plunder, kill, torture and enslave all in their path with an equally cold ferocity.

They came from the shores of Tripoli and Morocco…

…paralleling the coast of an Iberian Peninsula still recovering from the physical and psychological traumas of the seven-hundred-year Reconquista and the centuries-long depredations of the fratricidal Berber, Almohad, Almoravid and Umayyad Caliphates. Then, leaving astern the westernmost point of Europe, Carbo da Roca, they pressed on past La Coruña to steer either due north across the Bay of Biscay or to meander unopposed along the lee shore of the Atlantic seaboard of a still turbulent France, raiding and ravaging as they went, until their bows breasted the first gentle waves of the Celtic Sea.

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Mika Waltari’s “Dark Angel” (1952) — A Novel for Our Time

Thomas Bertonneau’s latest essay is a review of a book that was published more than sixty years ago and is not available in digital form.

Mika Waltari’s Dark Angel (1952) — A Novel for Our Time

by Thomas F. Bertonneau

Introduction. The name of the Finnish novelist Mika Waltari (1908 — 1979) reached the peak of its currency in the mid-1950s when many of his titles had transcended the isolation of their original language to come into print in English, French, German, Italian, and Swedish. One of these, The Egyptian (1945) had reached the big screen in 1954 in a lavish Hollywood production directed by Michael Curtiz, with a cast that included Edmund Purdom, Victor Mature, and Jean Simmons. Curtiz’s film adhered closely to Waltari’s story, which concerns the attempted religious reforms of the pharaoh Akenaten, which Waltari, the son of a Lutheran minister and a serious student both of theology and philosophy, regarded as an early instance of ideology. Basing his fiction on the best information available at the time, Waltari strove to show how, despite the sincere intention of the reformer, the reforms themselves so contradicted Egyptian tradition that they devastated the society. The novel operates intellectually at a high level. So does Curtiz’s cinematic version, which likely explains its poor box-office on release. The Hollywood connection nevertheless boosted Waltari’s foreign-language sales and meant that his books would remain in print into the 1960s. Today Waltari’s authorship is largely forgotten, along with those of his Scandinavian contemporaries such as Lars Gyllensten, Martin A. Hansen, Pär Lagerkvist, Harry Martinson, Tarje Vesaas, and Sigrid Undset. Anyone who has seen the film Barabbas (1961) with Anthony Quinn in the title role has, however, had contact with Lagerkvist, on whose novel director Richard Fleischer drew.

All of those writers might justly be characterized as Christian Existentialists, heavily influenced by Søren Kierkegaard, who saw their century, the Twentieth, as an era of extreme crisis at its basis spiritual, and who saw the ideologies — the rampant political cults — of their day as heretical false creeds that fomented zealous conflict. It is unsurprising that such a conviction should have taken hold in Scandinavia. Two of the Scandinavian nations, Denmark and Norway, had endured conquest and occupation by Germany in World War II. Sweden avoided that fate, but as Undset wrote in her account of escaping the German invasion of Norway, most Swedes expected disaster to strike at any time from 1940 until the end of hostilities, either from the Germans or from the Russians — or possibly from both, with the nation becoming a battleground. In Finland, which had only won its independence in 1918, first by rejecting Russian rule and then by defeating a Communist insurrection within its own borders, the sense of acute crisis realized itself in the Soviet attack in the winter of 1939-40, during which Waltari worked in Helsinki in the Finnish Government’s Information Bureau, and again in the subsequent Continuation War of 1941 through 1944. These events are the immediate background to Waltari’s composition of The Egyptian, and they are by no means irrelevant to Dark Angel, published seven years later.

I. Dark Angel is somewhat less ambitious philosophically than The Egyptian, but it is perhaps more relevant to the present moment in 2017 than its precursor-novel in Waltari’s oeuvre, concerning as it does the Fall of Constantinople, and with it the remnant of Eastern Christendom, to Sultan Mehmed II’s Ottoman Turkish Jihad in the summer of the year 1453. In Waltari’s novel, incidentally, Mehmed is called Mohammed after the Arabic pattern of his Turkified name. In Dark Angel, as in The Egyptian, Waltari makes use of allegory. The shrunken, dispirited Greek-speaking Christian empire of the East, as it confronts the seemingly inexorable westward encroachment of militant Islam, stands in for the postwar West, as it confronts a militant, expansionist Communist empire stretching from Moscow to Peking and beyond. The enemy without — Islam or Communism — fosters enemies within: Fellow travelers who despise their nation and its ways and pessimists who have given up hope to await the end in moods of hedonism and cynicism. Nevertheless, neither Dark Angel nor The Egyptian can be reduced to allegory. Dark Angel in particular commemorates one of those epochal events in Western history, and particularly in the history of the West’s 1400-year hostile entanglement with militant Islam, that has vanished down the memory hole, and whose re-conjuration political correctness resists.

As in The Egyptian, again in Dark Angel, Waltari heightens the immediacy of his storytelling through the use of the grammatical first person and through the repletion of the background with carefully researched historical detail. The Egyptian presents itself as the memoir, written in old age, of the physician Sinuhe, whose profession brings him into contact with Akenaten, and who therefore witnesses the events of Akenaten’s regime from close at hand. Dark Angel purports to be the diary of the mysterious Jean-Ange, Giovanni Angelo, John Angelos, or Ioannis Angelos, an apparent soldier of fortune of Greek ancestry who shows up in Constantinople a few weeks before the onset of the fateful siege. Like Sinuhe in The Egyptian, Angelos corresponds to the typical protagonist of the mid-Twentieth Century Existentialist novel: He is the deracinated man, part cynic, part skeptic, who has felt the tug of a redemptory Tradition and has resolved to root himself again, to the extent possible, in what he can identify as his ancestral ilk. His actions are by way of paying off a belatedly recognized debt; and they seek to affirm a patrimony as well as a more general cultural and religious kinship. Angelos functions additionally as a living Rorschach image for other characters, who, recognizing him as somehow familiar and rather haunting, project on him their own otherwise hidden thoughts and traits. An angel is a messenger — and in the stranger’s presence people experience the compulsion to deliver up their own messages, as though in confession, whether they mean to or not.

In Angelos, Waltari has conjured a pure fiction, but he draws most of his characters from the historical annals. One might read John Runciman’s classic study of The Fall of Constantinople (1965) alongside Dark Angel and encounter the same tragic personae. In Waltari’s novel, for example, Emperor Constantine XI Palaeologus is a character; so too is the Megadux or Admiral of the Fleet Lukas Notaras, with his daughter, the beautiful Anna, and his two sons. The ex-Keeper-of-the-Seal George Scholarius, now referring to himself as the monk Gennadius, takes a role in the tangled plot. The Genoese strategist Giovanni Longo Giustiniani, who brings his mercenary army to participate in the city’s defense, befriends Angelos, who becomes his lieutenant. On the Muslim side Waltari gives his readers Sultan Mohammed, in whose retinue Angelos has previously served, such that both the Greeks and Latins of Constantinople plausibly mistrust him. A minor character on the Constantinopolitan side, the German engineer John Grant, represents an emergent scientific and technical worldview that sees itself as entirely extra-moral. Waltari knows the layout of the Fifteenth-Century imperial capitol the way he knows the back of his hand. Runciman’s Fall with its maps makes itself useful as a Baedeker to the novel. It helps to know where the Blachernae Palace stands in relation to the Romanos Gate and other topographical details.

Waltari, establishing an atmosphere of tenseness from the beginning, makes it clear that Western — that is to say, Catholic-Orthodox — doctrinal factionalism contributed mightily to making the Byzantine rump-empire vulnerable to Ottoman aggression, despite the city’s formidable walls. So too did the cowardice of key parties among the Greeks and the Latins. The Palaeologus dynasty had in fact seen the writing on the wall since the reign of Manuel II, Constantine’s father. During his emperorship, Manuel undertook a grand tour of Europe as far as the court of Henry IV of England seeking European support for Eastern Christendom. Manuel also sent an ecclesiastical delegation to Ferrara in Italy to negotiate with Rome concerning doctrinal differences; after a few months the so-called Council moved to Florence, but it was disorganized in both places. As Runciman writes, “the detailed story of the Council makes arid reading,” but the conclusion, pressed for by Manuel’s eldest son John (who would reign as John VIII) against his father’s wishes, was a declaration of union that the ordinary constituents of Orthodoxy regarded as a betrayal. Nevertheless, in the hope that it would facilitate direct aid from the Catholic West should a crisis come, Constantine, on succeeding John, publicly upheld the declaration and permitted the filioque of the Latin Mass to be uttered during the liturgy in Hagia Sophia.

Dark Angel begins just as one such liturgy ends. In the characteristic Byzantine manner, participants in the Mass leave the church in strict hierarchical order. Standing outside Hagia Sophia, Angelos sees Constantine and his retinue emerge. He remarks of Notaras that “his glance was keen and scornful, but in his features I read the melancholy common to all members of ancient Greek families.” Angelos knows Notaras to be an opponent of union. He supposes that the Megadux, although obliged to attend the service, was “agitated and wrathful, as if unable to endure the deadly shame that had fallen on his Church and his people.” As the palace guard brings forward the retinue’s horses, Angelos hears shouts from the crowd: “Down with unlawful interpolations” and “down with papal rule.” Breaking away from the emperor, Notaras addresses the crowd. “Better the Turkish turban,” he shouts, “than the Papal miter!” The crowd repeats the slogan. Angelos compares the sentiment to the one voiced by another crowd centuries before: “Release unto us Barabbas!” Later, the crowd shouts after Constantine, “Apostata, Apostata!” Angelos, who attended the discussions in Florence fourteen years earlier, senses the spreading dementia in the city and knows that it spells doom.

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Excerpts From “The Red Cliffs of Zerhoun” by Matt Bracken

Below are extensive excerpts from Chapter 9 of The Red Cliffs of Zerhoun, by Matthew Bracken.

Matt says: “The Kindle version will go live on July 16; the paper books should be at Amazon sometime around the 20th.” For more (including the Amazon link for pre-ordering), see his website.

Chapter 9 of The Red Cliffs of Zerhoun

by Matthew Bracken

We had fair winds and nice weather the first few days out, giving us good daily mileage runs and an easy ride. None of Colonel Rainborow’s embarked team were seasick past the first day or two. Good weather also meant that the men living in the cargo hold could escape its confines and enjoy the fresh air and infinite horizons available on deck.

The galley dinette table was the one place down below where the men could relax in comfortable surroundings, so it was rarely left unoccupied. At any time of day or night men worked on jigsaw puzzles, played chess, read paperbacks, scribbled in journals, and fiddled with gadgets. But during the day, outside of mealtimes, priority was given to mission planning. I passed the dinette dozens of times a day on my way between my cabin and the galley or the pilothouse above. I never intentionally hovered around the team during their briefings and other mission preparations, and they didn’t go silent or cover up their maps and papers when I was near. The team just ignored Hung, with his limited English and apparent social self-isolation.

It was the same plan they’d pitched to me in Ireland. Rainborow believed that military trucks traveling in convoy under cover of darkness would make such an impressive showing of counterfeit Royal Moroccan Army military might that their unexpected appearance would cause any local gangs or militias to stand aside as they roared past. A covered truck might be transporting a squad or more of infantry, armed to the teeth and ready for battle the instant they spilled out of the back like angry hornets from a disturbed nest. Unless a suspicious adversary was ready to attack all three trucks with heavy weapons, simultaneously, he was not likely to pick a fight with what could be a combat-ready infantry platoon. If a late-night checkpoint guard had any remaining doubts, belt-fed machine guns mounted on each truck’s cab would help him decide to let the convoy pass unchallenged.

But instead of carrying Royal Moroccan Army soldiers, Rainborow’s trucks would be empty on their way in and full of rescued schoolgirls on their way out. It was a bold plan, depending upon pure bluff for its success. I thought the SAS motto about daring and winning was a flimsy foundation to build a mission on, but it was Rainborow and his team who were going ashore in Morocco, not me. Even so, I couldn’t help but admire their courage and wish them the best of luck.

Victor met with their two patrol medics at the dinette table to go over their medical gear and compare opinions about combat casualty procedures. He was glad to share his knowledge and experience, and was also interested to hear their ideas on treating combat trauma. An afternoon of seeing the table covered with tourniquets, bandages, hemostats, and the other tools of the combat medical trade reminded me of what I’d be losing when Victor left the boat. Without his past interventions, I would have been dead years before.

The crow’s nest high up the mainmast was occupied continuously from before dawn until after dusk. Sergeant Major Tolbert asked if it was all right if the team used the mast steps for practice, to maintain their climbing strength and keep their hands toughened. Of course I agreed, and it became a familiar sight to see them ascending, chatting with the lookout, and then shinnying down again.

Long ago, I’d mounted a pull-up bar between two lower wire mainmast shrouds where they are only about a meter apart. The bar, cut from a stout piece of aluminum tube, was lashed to the wires high enough above the deck that I have to hop up to grab it. I don’t use it as often as I used to, but it was in frequent use by the team. I hadn’t been formally briefed on the mission, but I knew that the final stage of the rescue meant climbing, and climbing required a particular type of strength that was highly perishable.

The amount of time the team dedicated to physical training indicated to me that they were professionals. They did calisthenics on deck in groups and singly. They did endless sit-ups and push-ups. The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war, as the saying goes. The team did a lot sweating, staying in shape for the cliffs of Cape Zerhoun. They were obviously very serious about the undertaking ahead of them.

Most of the Hajis I’d tangled with back in the day didn’t train at all. Instead, they took the path of trusting Allah to get them through every scrape. This blind trust even extended to Allah guiding the bullets they fired, eliminating the need for them to carefully aim their weapons. Some of the Marines called them skinnies; I think that expression was handed down from grunts who had served in Somalia. While not as thin as Somalis, the Iraqis I’d seen without a shirt or a man-dress on had not been impressive physical specimens.

Our Moroccan surfer, Kamal Abidar, was not cut from that skinny Arab mold. He had a substantial amount of chest and arm muscles on him. You won’t find a genuine longtime surfer without some serious arm and shoulder meat. Mixing it up with big waves on a frequent basis takes strength, stamina, and guts. Sometimes you can be held underwater for long periods after a wipeout, your body being thrashed like a rag doll in the mouth of a terrier. Kam had said that he was half French and half Berber. As far as I knew, he was the very first Berber of any sort I’d ever met.

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