The Beating of His Wings (Left Hand of God)

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9780451470768: The Beating of His Wings (Left Hand of God)

Following the bestselling novels The Left Hand of God and The Last Four Things comes the final installment of Paul Hoffman’s stark, epic trilogy. 
Thomas Cale has been running from the truth....
 
Since discovering that his brutal military training has been for one purpose—to destroy God’s greatest mistake, mankind itself—Cale has been hunted by the very man who made him into the Angel of Death: Pope Redeemer Bosco.
 
Cale is a paradox: arrogant and innocent, generous and pitiless. Feared and revered by those who created him, he has already used his breathtaking talent for violence and destruction to bring down the most powerful civilization in the world.
 
But Thomas Cale’s soul is dying. As his body is racked with convulsions, he knows that the final judgment will not wait. As the day of reckoning draws close, Cale’s sense of vengeance leads him back to the heart of darkness—the Sanctuary—and to confront the person he hates most in the world....

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About the Author:

Paul Hoffman studied English at New College, Oxford, before becoming a senior film censor at the British Board of Film Classification. He is the author of The Left Hand of God and The Last Four Things.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

PRAISE FOR THE LEFT HAND OF GOD SERIES

ALSO BY PAUL HOFFMAN

The Beating of His Wings

THE Publishers of The Beating of His Wings are ordered by the International Court of Archaeological Artifacts to print this judgment on the first page of each copy.

Moderator Breffni Waltz

38th of Messidor AD 143.830

SUMMARY of Preliminary Judgment dated Republican Era 143.710 from the International Court of Archaeological Artifacts concerning the Left Hand of God trilogy and administration of the so-called “Rubbish Tips of Paradise.” These “tips,” for the avoidance of doubt, constitute the four square miles centered on the first discovery by Paul Fahrenheit of large amounts of printed paper dating from extreme antiquity. My judgment is preliminary and subject to review in the first instance by the Court of Pleas. However, an immediate decision is required because of the claim by UNAS that irreplaceable documents and artifacts are being lost forever, citing the routine use of the contents of the Rubbish Tips of Paradise as toilet paper by the nomadic tribes that frequently pass through the site.

The facts of this case are not in dispute and are as follows: This litigation has its origins in the first landing on the moon by Captain Victoria Ung Khanan some thirty years ago. That within days Captain Khanan discovered she had been beaten to this greatest of all firsts by some 165,000 years was as great a shock, perhaps, as has ever been delivered to WoMankind. The fragile remnants of what must have been an even more fragile spacecraft revealed that it had its origins in a vanished terrestrial civilization we knew nothing about, a civilization which soon became known as the Flag People, after the starred and striped insignia planted next to the craft. As a result, the Unified Nations Archaeological Survey was founded with the sole purpose of searching for evidence of the Flag People on earth itself.

So far this search has proved fruitless and for one simple reason: ice. UNAS quickly discovered that 164,000 years ago a period of major glaciation, now known as the Snowball, covered nearly the entire planet in ice, often to a depth of several miles. Ice that brings low vast mountain ranges has little problem removing the veneer of even the most complex civilization—clearly only the smallest rump of the population could have survived. Further investigation, however, revealed a later and significant period of warming during the Snowball, which for fifteen thousand years caused the ice to retreat far enough and long enough for new civilizations to emerge, before they in turn were swallowed up by the returning ice.

It is at this point in this frustrating story that Paul Fahrenheit emerged to criticize, to put it at its mildest, his colleagues for their obsession with technological solutions to this great problem. He pointed out that trying to find such whispry traces of the past was like “looking for hay in a haystack” unless they used “some mechanism” to guide the technology. The “mechanism” likely to prove most effective in narrowing down the haystack, he argued, was that of legend and folk story. He claimed that real historical events from the distant past could become embedded in what were apparently entirely imaginary stories of gods and monsters and other fantastical tales. His ideas were dismissed out of hand and the relationship between Fahrenheit and his colleagues and superiors at UNAS became what could only be called vituperative.

As a result, in the Ventose of Republican Era 139, Paul Fahrenheit left UNAS in pursuit of what to his colleagues was the very definition of a wild-goose chase—in search of what the isolated Habiru people called the Rubbish Tips of Paradise. It was here Mr. Fahrenheit thought he might be able to find the first terrestrial evidence if not of the Flag People then of the civilizations that briefly followed.

Four years after Paul Fahrenheit’s disappearance the first volume of a “fantasy” fiction trilogy entitled The Left Hand of God was published. It was widely translated into some twenty-six languages but its reception by both audiences and critics was highly polarized: it was greatly admired by some but much disliked by others for its peculiar tone and odd approach to the art of storytelling. How are these two apparently unrelated events connected? It turns out that Mr. Fahrenheit was behind the publication of The Left Hand of God and a subsequent volume, The Last Four Things. These books were very far from the contemporary works of escapist fantasy they were presented as. As it happens, Fahrenheit’s belief in the potential of the Rubbish Tips of Paradise was entirely on the mark. To cut a long and bitter story short, Fahrenheit took it into his head not to tell his former employer of his discovery, as he was legally bound to do. Instead, he claimed UNAS would, and I quote, “smother the undoubted brilliance of what I have called The Left Hand of God trilogy in a dreary academic translation worked over by an army of self-serving pedants who would bury its vitality under a layer of high-minded dullness, footnotes and incomprehensible and obscurantist analysis.”

Fahrenheit became obsessed with his belief that the modern world should confront these three books in something of the way their original audience might have confronted them. As a result, he took it upon himself to translate them (a considerable intellectual feat recognized even by his detractors) and have them published under his mother’s family name as the above contemporary works of fiction. Who knows how long this curious subterfuge might have worked were it not for Mr. Fahrenheit’s indiscreet pillow talk with a young woman, who, it turned out, was not as trustworthy as he believed and who promptly sold the story to a news tablet, which in turn led to UNAS applying to this court for an injunction putting the Rubbish Tips of Paradise under their legal control.

The Unified Nations Archaeological Survey is granted, as requested, complete but temporary control over the site.

However, its suit to prevent the publication of the final “novel” in the Left Hand of God trilogy, The Beating of His Wings, in a translation by Paul Fahrenheit, is denied. Publication may proceed under the condition that the summary of this judgment is printed at the beginning of The Beating of His Wings. Both UNAS and Paul Fahrenheit are given leave to add an appendix at the conclusion of the work in which they may explain their positions.

PART ONE

I came alone and I go as a stranger. I do not know who I am, or what I have been doing.

Aurangzeb

1

A brief report on Thomas Cale, Lunatic. Three conversations at the Priory on the Island of Cyprus.

(NB This appraisal took place after Mother Superior Allbright’s stroke. The notes she filed have been mislaid along with Cale’s admission details. This report needs to be read in the light of this absence and so I will not be held liable for any of my conclusions.)

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Medium stature, unusually pale. Middle finger of his left hand missing. Depression fracture to the right side of his skull. Severe keloid scar tissue in wound in left shoulder. Patient says he experiences intermittent pain from all injuries.

SYMPTOMS

Severe retching, usually in midafternoon. Exhaustion. Suffers insomnia and bad dreams when able to sleep. Loss of weight.

HISTORY

Thomas Cale suffers no hysterical delusions or uncontrolled behavior beyond that of his sour nature. His midafternoon retching leaves him speechless with exhaustion, after which he sleeps. By late evening he is able to talk, although he is the most sarcastic and wounding of persons. He claims to have been bought for sixpence from parents he does not remember by a priest of the Order of the Hanged Redeemer.

Thomas Cale is droll, not his least irritating affectation, and always tries either to make his interlocutor unsure as to whether he is mocking them or, by unpleasant contrast, to make it abundantly clear that he is. He tells the story of his upbringing in the Sanctuary as if daring me to disbelieve the daily cruelties he endured. Recovering from an injury which caused the dent in his head he claims—again it is not possible to tell with what degree of seriousness—that his already great prowess (he seems boastful in hindsight, but not at the time) was greatly increased as a result of the injury and that since this recovery he is always able to anticipate in advance any opponent’s movements. This sounds unlikely; I declined his offer of a demonstration. The rest of his story is as improbable as the most far-fetched children’s story of derring-do and swashbuckling. He is the worst liar I have ever come across.

His story briefly. His life of deprivation and military training at the Sanctuary came to a dramatic end one night after he accidentally came upon a high-ranking Redeemer in the middle of performing a live dissection upon two young girls, some kind of holy experiment to discover a means to neuter the power of women over mankind. Killing that Redeemer in the ensuing struggle, he escaped from the Sanctuary with the surviving young woman and two of his friends, with more Redeemers in vengeful pursuit. Evading their pursuers, the quartet ended up in Memphis, where, plausibly, Thomas Cale made many enemies and (rather less plausibly) a number of powerful allies, including the notorious IdrisPukke and his half brother, Chancellor Vipond (as he then was). Despite these advantages his violent nature asserted itself in a brutal but unusually nonfatal altercation with (so he says) half a dozen of the youths of Memphis in which (of course) he emerged triumphant but bound for prison. Nevertheless, Lord Vipond again mysteriously intervened on his behalf and he was sent into the countryside with IdrisPukke. The peace of the Materazzi hunting lodge where they were staying was interrupted shortly after he arrived by a woman who attempted to assassinate him, for reasons he was unable to clarify. His murder was prevented not by his own wonderful abilities—he was swimming naked at the time of the attack—but by a mysterious, unseen and insolent stranger who killed his would-be assassin by means of an arrow in the back. His savior then vanished without explanation or trace.

By now the priests of the Sanctuary had discovered his general whereabouts and attempted to flush him out (he claims) by kidnapping Arbell Materazzi, daughter of the Doge of Memphis. When I asked him why the Redeemers would risk a ruinous war with the greatest of all temporal powers for his sake, he laughed in my face and told me he would reveal his magnificent importance to me in due course. The inflated mad, in my experience, take their importance most seriously but it is a feature of Thomas Cale that his demented state only becomes apparent a few hours after a conversation with him comes to an end. While you are in his company even the most implausible stories he tells cause you to suspend disbelief until several hours later, when a most irritating sensation creeps over you, as if you had been tricked by a marketplace quack into parting with ready money for a bottle of universal remedy. I’ve seen this before in a lunatic, though rarely, in that some are so powerfully deluded and in such a strange way that their delusions run away with even the most cautious of anomists.

Of course, Thomas Cale rescues the beautiful princess from the wicked Redeemers but, it must be said, not by means of the fair and noble fight against overwhelming odds but by stabbing most of his opponents in their sleep. This is another unusual feature of his delusion—that each one of his endless triumphs is not generally achieved by heroism and noble audacity but through brutal trickery and conscienceless pragmatism. Usually such madmen present themselves as gallant and chivalrous, but Thomas Cale freely admits to poisoning his enemies’ water with rotting animals and killing his opponents in their sleep. It’s worth recording briefly one of our exchanges in this regard.

ME

Is it a matter of course with you that you always kill unarmed prisoners?

PATIENT

It’s easier than killing armed ones.

ME

So you believe the lives of others are a matter for sarcasm?

PATIENT (NO REPLY)

ME

You never consider showing mercy?

PATIENT

No, I never did.

ME

Why?

PATIENT

They wouldn’t have shown it to me. Besides, what would I do but let them go only to find I’d have to fight them again? Then I might become their prisoner—and be killed myself.

ME

What about women and children?

PATIENT

I never killed them deliberately.

ME

But you’ve killed them?

PATIENT

Yes. I’ve killed them.

 

He claimed to have built a camp to sequester the wives and children of the Folk insurrection and that because of his having been removed elsewhere almost the entire cantonment of five thousand souls died through famine and disease. When I asked him what he felt about this he replied: “What should I feel?”

To return to his story. After his brutal rescue of the beautiful Arbell Materazzi (are there any merely plain princesses in the world of the delusional?) he was promoted, along with his two friends, to guard the young woman toward whom he maintained throughout our three long conversations a deeply held resentment as to her ingratitude and disdain for him. This bitterness seems to hold a great sway over him because of his belief that when Memphis later fell to the Redeemers, it did so because the Materazzi failed to execute his plan to defeat them. (He is, by the way, very insistent that his skill in generalship is greater even than his talent for personal savagery.)

Usually sarcastic and matter-of-fact as he boasts of his great rise to power—again, his droll tone makes it seem not like boasting until one reflects upon his claims in tranquillity—he became most indignant as he recounted the way in which he was caught by the Redeemers after the Battle of Silbury Hill (certainly a disaster for us all whether or not Thomas Cale was involved). It is possible he was caught up in the battle in a minor way; his description of the events there has the note of real experience. Like all skilled romancers he can use his actual events to make the imagined ones truly plausible. For example, he frequently expresses repentance for any noble or generous actions he has performed. He says that he risked his life to save a Materazzi youth who had bullied and tormented him—an act of sanctity which he says he now bitterly regrets. When I asked whether it was always bad to act generously toward others, he said that in his experience it might not be bad but it was always a “bloody catastrophe.” People thought so well of doing good, he said, that in the end they always decided it should be done at the end of a sword. The Redeemers thought so highly of goodness they wanted to kill everyone including themselves and start again. It turns out that this was the reason his former mentor, Redeemer Bosco, wanted him back at any price. Thomas Cale is (of co...

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