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rank 2808
word count 123029
date submitted 02.01.2010
date updated 05.01.2010
genres: Fiction, Thriller, Historical Ficti...
classification: universal

Lion At Bay

Harvey Ardman

Africa, 1935. Mussolini's army attacks the barefoot Ethiopians. Can Emperor Haile Selassie thwart Il Duce? Can FDR's agent, David Nathan, save the African leader?


Africa, 1935. Every square inch of the Dark Continent is a European colony—except for the legendary kingdom of Ethiopia, ruled by its tiny, fearless and highly civilized Emperor, Haile Selassie. But he won’t rule it for much longer, if the Italian megalomaniac Benito Mussolini has his way. Mussolini has sent his modern, mechanized army over the Mediterranean to conquer the land of King Solomon’s Mine and the Queen of Sheba, and revive Roman’s ancient glories.

Selassie mobilizes more than 300,000 gallant, barefoot, spear-carrying warriors to repell the Italians. They’re led by a group of ambitious Feudal lords, all of whom—but for their skin color—could have sat at Arthur’s Round Table. But these warriors are no match for Italy’s tanks, bombers and poison gas.

As Mussolini’s forces roll over Ethiopia, Haile Selassie becomes a worldwide symbol of resistance. Fearing he might not survive, and that his death would embolden Hitler, FDR dispatches to Africa his private agent, the young NYC police detective David Nathan. “Save Selassie, if you can,” FDR orders. What follows is a harrowing flight through exotic terrain, complete with improbable assassins, unlikely heroes, dazzling women and startling plot twists.

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1930s, adventure, africa, assassins, combat, ethiopia, faciism, fasciism, fdr, franklin roosevelt, haile selassie, historical fiction, interwar era, i...

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Chapter Six






    Five a.m., March 31, 1936.

    Sitting on a flat stone near the summit of a modest peak overlooking a wooded, hilly valley was a lone, uniformed figure. He was holding a pair of worn and dented field glasses, looking into the dim first light of dawn, studying the Italian military formations on Maichew, the mountain across the valley less than two miles away,

    He was Col. Theodore Eugenovich Konovaloff, valedictorian of the class of 1906 of the Mikhailovskaya Artillery Academy in St. Petersburg, head of the Czar’s military mission to Great Britain, decorated veteran of the Battles of Gumbinen, Tannenberg, Bolimov and Lutsk, aide-de-camp to Gen. Alexie Brusilov, briefly, adjutant to the white Russian General Lavr Kornilov, and now chief European military advisor to the Emperor of Ethiopia.

    Konovaloff was not a happy man. He’d played out the coming battle again and again in his mind’s eye, and the outcome was never good. It wasn’t a matter of numbers—if anything, the Ethiopians held the edge. And it wasn’t the amount of artillery arrayed against them. The Italians hadn’t yet been able to get their big guns through Amba Alagi Pass. Even the Regia Aeronautica wasn’t a decisive Italian advantage—yes, the bombers were terrifying, yes the gas was horrible, but the Ethiopian warriors had learned to find cover, so the casualties had been relatively few.

    Konovaloff put the field glasses down, fished a pack of Galoises papier mais out of his soiled khaki uniform jacket pocket—only two packs left, out of the 50 he’d brought to Ethiopia, he calculated grimly—and lit up, taking a deep and highly satisfying drag. Then, for the fourth or fifth time, he ran through his analysis of the situation, though he knew his conclusion would be the same.

There were three barriers to an Ethiopian victory at Maichew all of them insurmountable, he reminded himself. The least worrisome was the Ethiopians comparative lack of modern military equipment—especially artillery and anti-aircraft weapons--despite his personal intervention. 

When it became clear that Mussolini would be satisfied with nothing less than war, Konovaloff prevailed on his old friends among the European artillery manufacturers to sell arms to Haile Selassie. Their effort had yielded a pathetic handful of old cannons, plus a few new Oerlikons. 

They were, however, able to accumulate 200 machine guns, tens of thousands of rifles, some practically pre-historic but most still in working order, as well as plenty of ammunition. But, Konovaloff repeated to himself, this wouldn’t be enough to prevail—especially when you factored in the other two problems.

He took another drag on his cigarette and contemplated problem number two. Problem number two was the troops, the fierce and courageous warriors of Abyssinia. And they were fierce and courageous, he couldn’t argue that. They were also fatally impatient. If they did not achieve instant success, they retreated. They retreated even when they won, failing to hold the ground they’d taken, mistaking plunder for victory. 

The Ethiopian soldiers knew nothing of western warfare, military tactics or discipline. They were boastful, thoughtless and careless, incapable of doing anything by stealth. And at this point in the war, their morale was low. They’d seen too much death. They were frightened and they were homesick. Some soldiers. Some warriors. If only he’d had two or three years to train them…He he wrenched his mind away from that thought. “If only” thinking led to paralysis.

Problem three, he concluded—again—was the worst. There was no solution to it, at least none that the Emperor would accept.. Problem three was the military leadership. The crying shame was that it didn’t have to be this way. If the Emperor had only put him and the other European military advisors in command of the troops—people who understood war—it would have made all the difference.

He’d shared this conclusion with Selassie many times, speaking as diplomatically as possible. The Emperor nonetheless instead insisted on giving complete control of the vast Ethiopian armed forces to the politically powerful Rases.

“They are the governors of our provinces,” He’d told Konovaloff. “They raised the armies in their own lands and they command their loyalty. They are all mature and serious men, not to mention extremely wealthy. I need their support, so I cannot, by fiat, put Europeans over them.”

As a result he, Col. Reul of Belgium and Gen. Eric Virgin and Capt. Viking Tamm of Sweden were relegated to the status of non-combatants and advisors, and it was only as a result of Konovaloff’s obnoxious persistence that the Emperor had granted him leave to come to the front and observe the fighting.

Lesser men, Konovaloff assured himself, might have been irked, even insulted. He left that kind of narcissism to others. He wasn’t here for praise or money.  He honestly believed in this little man who called himself Emperor and he wanted to help him however he could. 

Konovaloff took another drag on his cigarette. The truth was, Haile Selassie was not an easy man to help. One had to be tactful. And diplomatic. Last week, for example, when he, Kassa and Seyum arrived at the Emperor’s camp, Selassie had found a moment to talk to him privately, and the conversation had required the Russian to exercise great subtlety.

They’d talked about Ras Kassa and the battles in the Tembien. Had Kassa really been defeated, the Emperor wanted to know.  Had he been forced to retreat? Did his officers tell him his position was untenable, that it would be best to withdraw? Konovaloff hesitated before answering. How could he tell the Emperor the truth without condemning Kassa, whom he liked?

The facts, as he saw them, were that Kassa had decided to quit the battle, without thought or analysis, without consulting him or any of his chiefs or officers. He’d decided to quit after the Italians had encircled him—though he’d had a dozen opportunities to disrupt the Italian maneuver and could have broken free even at the end.

Kassa simply hadn’t known what to do—he had no military experience or knowledge—and he was too overwhelmed to ask for instructions. Like the other Ethiopian Rases, Kassa was completely out of his element, a stranger to everything taught at Sandhurst or Saint Cyr. He was inept, disorganized and defeated even before the battle began. So, as soon as the fighting started, most of the Ethiopian soldiers abandoned their positions, ran for their lives, hid in distant caves or crevices, and the army simply dissolved.

    Konovalov had told the Emperor that the Italians had secretly contrived to surround Kassa’s forces, that even he, with all of his Great War experience at Tannenberg and Bolimov, etc., etc., etc. had been fooled, that Kassa had consistently acted with great honor, if not great skill.

The Emperor had listened to him attentively, nodding slightly. Perhaps he understood, perhaps not. But Konovaloff knew brutal honesty would not help the Emperor’s spirits or improve his chances.

    5:15. The sky was brightening. Konovaloff looked downhill from his position. He could see the Ethiopian forces spread out below him, the thousands of warriors—few of them in uniform, few wearing military insignia. Intermingled among them were the pack animals, mules and donkeys, the women at their cookfires, the children cleaning the rifles, the servants and slaves. This was supposed to be an army, but it was more like a large, temporary village, and at the moment, it was getting ready to roll downhill.

    The terrain they were preparing to enter was covered with vegetation, a grassy valley decorated with eucalyptus and juniper trees, and low, cactus-like euphorbia trees, their candelabra arms reaching toward the sky.  Even the mountains were covered by green, except at their rocky peaks.

    Soon, the advance would begin, with the Ethiopians crossing no man’s land, the gap between the two forces, and engaging their enemies. Of course, the Italians knew they were coming. Their planes had spent yesterday afternoon drenching no-man’s land with poison, knowing that Selassie’s barefoot warriors would have to cross it.

    The Emperor had realized the danger. He warned his men to change direction if they caught scent of the poison, to wear footwear, if they could find any, and if the poison touched their skin, to wash immediately, over and over again. How they could pause in the middle of a battle to bathe themselves, Konovaloff could not imagine.

    Across the way, the Russian officer could see the Italians preparing for the coming battle, perhaps two or three thousand in plain view, digging trenches, building light wooden breastworks or low stone walls, loading their weapons, stacking ammunition. 

What was about to take place, he knew, was the decisive battle. If the Ethiopians lost, the Italians would utterly destroy the only Imperial army still in the field. His sole role was to witness it all. Out of habit, he field stripped his cigarette, reached for another, then changed his mind. If he didn’t ration himself, he’d soon be facing the agony of smokeless days.

    Up the mountain a few dozen feet, the Emperor climbed out of the trench Konovaloff had dug for him and came down to stand next to his Russian advisor. Unlike Konovaloff, the nervous smoker, whose uniform was a record of the rough road they had traveled, the Emperor was both immaculate, and totally composed, He looked at the battlefield to be, silent and motionless, his mind clearly hard at work. Konovaloff resisted the urge to ask what he was thinking. He’d speak when he was ready to speak.

    The previous night, the Emperor summoned the Rases, the Dejazs, and all his ranking officers and chiefs to the mountaintop and pointed out to each one of them where and how they were to attack Italian positions. This was something new, as far as Konovaloff was concerned. Never before in his experience with the Ethiopian army had the commanders been given such specific direction—or any direction at all.

Now it was time to see if the commanders could—or would—follow directions. This was Selassie’s last throw of the dice and both of them knew it.  Everyone knew it. Couldn’t something unexpected happen? Couldn’t the Italians make some kind of fatal mistake—after all, this was not the Prussian army. Couldn’t the Ethiopians—out of determination or sheer luck—find some unexpected weakness in their enemies’ formations? 

    Konovaloff considered himself a man of great intellect, even genius, but he knew that even he was capable of error, sometimes quite distressing error. He’d sat there, for instance, on August 20, 1914, perched on a folding camp stool in General Samsonov’s rain-soaked brown canvas tent, side-by-side with the rest of the general staff, and, like the rest of them, vociferously argued that German General Pittwitz was about to withdraw the German Eighth Army to the Vistula River. Then he’d blithely seconded Samsonov’s order to pursue and destroy the retreating Germans.

    No one on the Russian side knew then that von Moltke had sacked the timid Pittwitz and replaced him with the far more aggressive von Hindenburg. No one knew that von Hindenburg had cancelled Pittwitz’s withdrawal orders and had commanded the Germans to move forward, in a full-scale attack. No one, including himself, knew that in the next few days, 95,000 of Samsonov’s original 150,000-man army would be captured and 30,000 of his crack troops killed. No one knew that it would take a German search team 48 hours of tramping through the deep woods of eastern Prussia to find Samsonov’s body, after he’d shot his brains out.

    So yes, Konovaloff admitted to himself, he’d been wrong, stunningly and tragically wrong. And not just at Tannenberg, the greatest defeat ever suffered by the Russian Army. He’d made other foolish errors as well, not all of them so public, not all of them so deadly. Now, perhaps he was wrong again, despite his genius. He’d know soon enough. Perhaps he’d misjudged the Ethiopians—or the Italians, yes that was possible, perhaps the Italians were terrified and incompetent. Perhaps they would crumble or run.

    Five-twenty a.m. Konovaloff heard a woosh from behind, somewhere, and two bright red flares arched into the breaking dawn and over the valley. Suddenly, the mountains came to life, first the Ethiopian side and, an instant later, the Italian side, more than 50,000 men on the move. The rustling breeze and the first tentative twitters of the birds were immediately drowned out by the clatter of Ethiopian machine guns and the whomp of artillery from the Emperor’s 75 mm guns, supporting the advance. Curtain going up.

    The Emperor exchanged glances with Konovaloff and offered a slight shrug, as if to say, “what will be, will be,” then left the Russian’s side and briskly walked back to the euphorbia-covered mountain to take command of the reserves. “If any of you need help,” he’d told Kassa, Getachew and Seyum the night before, “send a messenger to me and I’ll rush reinforcements.”

    Konovaloff gazed at the Italian lines, across the valley and nearly a thousand feet below him. Little blue lights—bullets striking rocks and trees—flashed all across the Italian center, sparkling like an infestation of fireflies. This was the work of the diversionary troops, which were doing their best to convince the Italians they were the vanguard of the main Ethiopian attack.

    As dawn turned into day, the little blue lights disappeared in the sunlight, and Italian machine gunners returned fire. But the Ethiopians had crossed no man’s land and had succeeded pushing back the Italians by two or three hundred yards—real gains, although modest.

    Konovaloff slowly swept his field glasses across the field of battle, toward the far left. There, Ras Getachew, the silly, short, plump man with a prinz-nez, was leading a column of about three thousand warriors, who were quietly running through the undergrowth and the trees between the euphorbia-covered hill and the cone-shaped mountain on the east, crouching to avoid detection. Ras Kassa and Ras Seyum were following close behind, each at the head of another five thousand eager warriors or so. So far, so good.

    Konovaloff patted his jacket pocket, found the somewhat crumpled pack of Galoises and lit up another one, his eyes never leaving the battlefield. For awhile, the three Rases made genuine progress, and it looked as though they’d achieve their goal—flanking Italian lines. Seyum’s men, launching spears, swinging their swords with one hand and firing their rifles with the other, drove units of the Eritrean askaris out of their forward positions, back up the mountain.

Kassa’s men advanced more slowly, against heavier opposition. Konovaloff found himself wincing as Italian shots hit their mark and Ethiopians fell out of the charge. But the rest bravely pushed forward, penetrating Italian lines and resolutely heading toward a small grouping of tukuls, an abandoned village. On reaching it, they lit torches and flung them onto the huts’ straw roofs, which instantly blazed into fire.

What was the purpose of this? Konovaloff asked himself. Then he understood and he reacted the way any European army officer would react--he was disgusted. The Ethiopian soldiers were seeking plunder—jewelry, clothing, money, even pots and pans. If they’d been Russian soldiers, they’d be shot on the spot. He’d be happy to give the order.

As for Ras Getachew’s column, Konvaloff was gratified to see it circling around the back of the Italians’ right flank, into areas that had not been well- fortified. Once more, the Italians pulled back to escape the withering fire of the Ethiopians. Maybe Getachew wasn’t quite as silly as he’d thought.

    Konovaloff knew counter-measures were coming, however. And the Italian answer came soon—thunderous volleys from massed artillery. By his well-informed estimate, some 200 guns opened up with a continual bombardment of the Ethiopian columns, guns he’d expected wouldn’t make it through Amba Alagi pass for at least two more days. The Ethiopian advance faltered and stopped.

    Now, the Russian artillery officer heard aeroplanes approaching and turned his attention to the skies. A pair of Italian bombers. He could see that they had plenty of human targets, but they paid no attention to them. Instead, the planes bombed and once again gassed no-man’s land, the gap between the three advancing Ethiopian columns and the mountain where the Emperor waited with the Imperial Guard. Konovaloff understood the strategy—the Italians were trying to cut off the Ethiopian columns from their reinforcements. It was a clever idea, but it failed to take into account the Ethiopians’ inbred courage.

    Meanwhile, in the center of the battlefield, the Ethiopians had broken through the first ranks of the Italian front lines, braving machine guns and point-blank artillery fire, recklessly flinging themselves into battle. Some were sawn in half by machine gun fire, others dismembered by artillery, and still they advanced.

This was familiar territory, Col. Konovaloff thought with distaste, act one of what would surely be a terrible tragedy—the initial slaughter, in which thousands of otherwise sane men set their minds on killing as many other living, breathing human beings as they could, punishing them for the unforgivable sin of wearing the wrong uniform or coveting a plot of land which, though otherwise worthless, was equally coveted by the other side. Having see it happen a dozen times during the Great War, he recognized it for what it was, the collapse of reason.

 And with act one came the noise, the grim, chaotic cacophony of the battlefield, a wildly dissonant symphony of death scored mainly for the percussion section—hundreds of thundering artillery pieces; bombs falling out of the sky like linked sausages and exploding in no recognizable rhythm, the inhuman and mechanical whine of the aeroplanes—who said fire-breathing dragons were extinct?—the massed jack hammers of the machine guns, hundreds of them on both sides of the line; and, occasionally the contrapuntal crackle of rifle volleys or single shots.

Ugly as it was, this nerve-shattering roar of war, Konovaloff was thankful that it at least prevented him from hearing the inevitable vocal accompaniment—the hideous shrieks of the wounded—man and beast; the uncontrolled outcries that go together with the intolerable pain of legs being severed at their roots; or shrapnel ripping open chests and abdomens. Nothing was more dispiriting than this.

Then there were the sights, too far away from his mountaintop perch to discern distinctly, Konovaloff thought thankfully, a distant diorama splashed with blood, bodies and body parts, blurred by the acrid smoke of gunpowder. The scene was so compelling—and so horrendous—that he was unable to look away.  He found himself smoking again, with no memory of lighting up. 

As he watched, all three Ethiopian columns approached the rear of the Italian formation, standing tall, running swiftly, brandishing their weapons with malevolent fury. They smashed against the Italian fortifications like huge ocean waves roaring up from the sea, and like ocean waves, their energy dissipated at their farthest reach—the stone walls—they soon slipped back, the warriors finding crevices or holes to crawl into.  Still, they kept shooting, with rage and determination, but also with wild inaccuracy, bent on continuing the attack until their ammunition was exhausted, whether or not they hit anyone.

Then, when their cartridge belts were empty, the Ethiopians pulled back en masse, as Konovaloff had anticipated. He couldn’t make out what the officers were shouting, but he knew they must be imploring their men to stay put, to hold the territory they’d taken. Unfortunately, that was not part of the Ethiopian fighting repertoire. If he were commanding a Russian army against them, he’d let them advance until they were sure they’d won, then order the cavalry to trample them into the mud.

To Konovaloff’s admiring surprise, however, one group of Ethiopians—some of Kassa’s men, or perhaps Seyum’s, he wasn’t sure which—not only resisted flight, but pushed forward, in a show of determination and courage. They hit the stone walls running at full tilt, and in several places, broke through them.

The Italians frantically countered, askaris lugging a dozen additional machine guns to the front, which the white soldiers immediately put to work cutting down row after row of Ethiopian attackers, creating a grisly pile of dead bodies and body parts.  Even the most courageous Ethiopians retreated. And as they pulled back, the Italians flooded into the areas their enemies had abandoned, counter-attacking with a sadistic fury all their own. Hundreds of Ethiopians were slaughtered—shot from behind—before they could get back to safety.

Konovaloff realized that Haile Selassie was standing beside him once again, looking down the mountain at the battlefield. His expression, as usual, was unreadable. “They are really quite brave,” the Emperor observed.

That’s true,” Konovaloff agreed, “There’s no denying that.”

Selassie allowed himself a little smile. “Yes. But I meant the Italians.”

A sudden roar erupted directly in front of them—a huge, white, three-motored Italian bomber, dived out of the sky and headed right for them, simultaneously dropping bombs and strafing, the bullets kicking up puffs of dirt along the mountainside, in neat little rows. 

The aeroplane flew over the mountain top and out of view, and then, a few minutes later, circled back for another attack. Whether or not the pilot knew that he had the Emperor in his sights Konovaloff had no idea, but an unpleasant surprise was waiting for the Italian bomber: half a dozen Ethiopian machine guns pointed into the sky, directly at the aeroplane.

As the aeroplane approached the mountainside again, the entire group of Ethiopian machine guns simultaneously opened up, spitting vicious torrents of bullets at the intruder. The bomber suddenly seemed to stumble, and one wing dipped precipitously. For one terrifying moment, Konovaloff was sure he and the Emperor would be chopped to shreds by the aeroplane’s propellers. Then it veered off, trailing yellowish-brown smoke, wobbled erratically, fell out of the sky just on the other side of the mountain and exploded, to the joyous cheers of all the Ethiopians—even those in the midst of combat.

For Konovaloff, the downed aeroplane was one of many small and insignificant Ethiopian victories that morning, all of which—even taken together—were trumped by the Ethiopian pullback along the entire front, a pullback that left Haile Selassie’s warriors and their Italian enemies in almost exactly the same place they were at 5:15 that morning. Act one was over. The Emperor’s plan had failed.


Now came one of those odd moments so common to great battles, and yet, Konovaloff thought, so perplexing: an intermission. The boom of the great cannons gradually faded away, the machine guns went on vacation and the aeroplanes took a leave of absence. All of the battlefield noise ceased, except for random rifle shots, and the moaning and occasional shrieking of the wounded. He’d seen lulls like these at all the great battles he’d witnessed and still he didn’t understand them. If this were theater, the audience would be standing curbside,  smoking, critiquing what they’d just seen.

During the lull, Konovaloff watched thick, dirty clouds drift over the battlefield from the north, low enough to cover it with a gloomy grey mist. The clouds brought a light but persistent rain. He carefully stubbed out his half-smoked cigarette and slipped it back into the pack to protect it. Eventually, he knew, the intermission would be over. Rain or no rain, the war would  re-ignite itself and the killing would resume. But to what end?

Konovaloff soon noticed some activity in the foothills below him, and he focused his field glasses on the scene. Of all people, it was the chubby Ras Getachew, and his officers who were busily reassembling their forces and dragooning men from Kassa’s and Seyum’s columns, preparing for another rush at Italian fortifications. Evidently, act two in this all-too-familiar drama was about to begin.

Konovaloff looked across the gap, at the Italians. They’d finished reoccupying the lines from which they had been driven that morning, and had settled down to wait for the Ethiopians to hurl themselves once more against their artillery and machine guns, no doubt confident the result would mirror the morning’s skirmishes.

Now, he heard a sharp whistle, and 15,000 Ethiopian warriors sprang into action, running headlong at the Italian formations, a ferocious mob determined to kill, forcing Italian and askari troops to once again retreat from their forward positions.  

When the Ethiopians hit the second line of defense—the low stone walls—hundreds leaped up and over them, fiercely engaging the Italian defenders, the Ethiopians concentrating, as their officers had so often pleaded with them to do, on enemy officers—and God be praised, hitting quite a few of them, leaving entire enemy units leaderless and confused.

At this moment, anyhow, Konovaloff decided, the Ethiopians were a genuine military force, doing serious damage to the enemy, a force bent not on plunder, for a change, or on even taking territory, but on simple butchery, quick and efficient.

The Italians, however, were not passively receiving this reckless attack. They’d brought up still more machine guns from the rear and lined them up in a solid phalanx, from one end of the battleline to the other. They seem to have a never-ending supply of these things, Konovaloff reflected.

As the Ethiopian warriors approached, leaping into the fray, massacre in their minds, hundreds of Italian machine guns let loose a curtain of leaden death, with a continuous, ear-shattering ratatatat roar..

After 15 minutes of carnage, the Ethiopians pulled back out of the killing grounds, back over the stone walls, back over the forward positions they had conquered, bullets following them as they ran, many hitting their mark. Noticeably fewer than before, the warriors reassembled on the other side of the gap. 

That was the trouble with act two, Konovaloff told himself. It was fairly palatable if kept short. But when it was protracted—like now—it was an almost unbearable, no matter which side you were on.

Down below. Ras Getachew somehow rallied his men again and gathered them for another assault on the Italian redoubts—the low walls, the trenches, the machine gun bunkers. And they were off, running, screaming, waving swords over their heads with terrifying ferocity.

Ah, Konovaloff observed, the dramatist had come up with an unexpected wrinkle here. Thanks to the previous charges and the dead Ethiopians that now littered the battlefield, the attackers this time found themselves with a macabre cover from the machine gun fire. The dead also served.

After three successive charges, three impossibly courageous attempts to break through the Italians and drive them off the mountain and back through the pass, bodies were everywhere. From what Konovaloff could see, most of the dead were Ethiopian, but the Italians and their Eritrean askaris had also sustained heavy casualties. Several of their smaller units were no longer effective fighting forces and others were hanging on by their fingernails.

This was the moment, Konovaloff knew his military school instructors would have pointed out, to throw the reserves into battle—while the Italians were confused and reeling and while the Ethiopians still had the strength for another attack. He had to tell the Emperor as soon as possible and hope the man would listen. What happened in the next 15 minutes might tell the tale.

He stood, looked back toward the euphorbia-covered mountain, and was relieved to see that the reserve forces were already heading down toward the battlefield, led by the Emperor himself. He was clearly intent on joining Ras Getachew’s dwindling army for the next charge. Haile Selassie hadn’t needed any advice from a once-upon-a-time Czarist artillery expert.

Konovaloff resumed his seat on the rock, now cold and wet, extracted the half-smoked Galois from the pack, and after three attempts, managed to light it, despite the rain and wind. Down below, on the Ethiopian side of the gap between defender and invader, someone had set up a machine gun on a small rise and the Emperor had taken his place behind it.

With the Emperor’s reinforcements, Konovaloff estimated, Getchew, now joined by Kassa and Seyum, commanded a force of over 20,000 impatient fighting men, ready to launch themselves against the Italians lines again despite the devastating outcome of the previous charges.

It was 4 p.m. by now. The showers had turned into a driving rain. Konovaloff gave up on his cigarette. Despite the downpour, the Rases and the Emperor had organized their men into attacking formations, held them briefly, like horses at the starting gate, then let them loose, full force. Act three had begun.

Once more, Konovaloff was surprised. It should have been hard to convince these men to attack again and their hesitancy should have been obvious on the battlefield. These men seemed eager, however. They were not afraid, but enraged, determined to obliterate the invaders and to take bloody revenge for their fallen friends.

    The Ethiopians crashed into the Italian lines, aiming to break through two weak spots—the junction of two big Eritrean divisions and the far right edge of the line, where white Alpini soldiers held the flank. To Konovaloff’s delight, they succeeded in forcing a gap between the two Eritrean divisions and they appeared to be rolling back the right flank. It looked to him like the Alipini were running out of ammunition.

    What happened next was, Konovaloff sardonically told himself, a significant deviation from the standard script. Some three or four thousand mounted warriors suddenly appeared on the battle line’s left flank and thundered into the fray, wild-eyed, like stampeding cattle.

    The Galla, Konovaloff told himself. The Galla have arrived at the most critical moment of the day, as the entire battle teeters in the balance. They’ve arrived to reinforce what could be the final charge of the Ethiopian army and perhaps the last defense by the Italian invaders. Zobat, the Galla headman could not have chosen a better time to add his shifta forces to the Ethiopian attack.

    For a few moments, it looked as though the play would not conclude as Konovaloff had anticipated, with the total destruction of the Ethiopian forces, but with an unexpected deus ex machina twist, rarely seen in real life and therefore worthy of note. It was almost—as they say—too good to be true.

It took Konovaloff a few moments to see that the old cliché was true again. The Galla weren’t joining the Ethiopians in order to attack the Italians. They were assaulting the Emperor’s men, and from their rear, brutally setting on them with metal-tipped spears and shiny new rifles, and sniping at them from the hillsides.

    No, he observed grimly, this wasn’t the deus ex machina twist. It was the more common Judas Iscariot maneuver. The Ethiopian warriors were now pinned between two hostile forces, throwing them into confusion and sapping their courage. They held their ground briefly, then retreated back toward the gap. The Galla parted, to let them pass, and as they passed, shot at them point blank. As the sun fell, the retreat became a route.

    Back they ran, the Ethiopian warriors, through the rain, through the mud, shedding weapons, shedding reason, seeking respite, their commanders screaming at them in utter futility, trying to rally them, trying to create order out of chaos. Now this, he knew, this was how such plays must end. In catastrophe.

    Konovaloff got up and picked his way down the mountain, seeking to offer the Emperor what help he could, What he found was even worse than he’d expected—many fewer men, at least half of them wounded, their weapons gone, their clothing in tatters, totally exhausted. It was the faces that bothered him most—downcast, dead-eyed, devoid of expression. There were no soldiers here, just men who had learned, in the deepest places in their souls, the meaning of defeat.

    That night, Haile Selassie implored his commanders to reassemble their forces, to prepare for a new attack. Konovaloff realized that the Rases and Dejazes wanted to say yes, absolutely, let’s do it, but they simply could not rise to the occasion. Instead they told the Emperor that they no longer had enough soldiers to mount an attack, that they lacked ammunition, that the men are simply too weary to charge again.

    After all this, the Emperor—who still wanted to attack again the next morning—came to Konovaloff and asked his opinion. The Russian praised the Ethiopian warriors, especially their courage, but told Selassie that conditions were no longer right for an attack. “There is nothing to be done, Janhoy, except to retire from the battlefield,” Konovaloff said. He suggested that they reassemble at their former base, a few miles south, at Korem. The Emperor, with the greatest possible reluctance, agreed.

    The next morning, they began the march south in fairly good order. Most of the nobles—the Rases and the Dejazes—were mounted, the Emperor on his big white horse, wearing a pith helmet and a pristine uniform. Konovaloff rode behind them, on a brown bay.

    The rain had stopped and the sky was clearing, and, Konovaloff reminded himself, it could have been worse. The Italians could have followed up the retreat with an attack of their own. The Ethiopians had neither the means nor the spirit to resist. It would have been a massacre.

    Instead, the Ethiopians were being saved by the timid and probably incompetent Italian officer corps. Just before the Ethiopians had broken camp, he’d taken one last look at the battlefront. The Italians had spent a nervous night, anxiously repairing their defenses and bringing up ammunition.  They evidently expected another attack. Ah, if only that were possible. God, what  Brusilov’s army would have done to these Italian idiots.

    The Ethiopian column was only half a mile out of last night’s bivouac, and Konovaloff was beginning to feel relieved when a large white aeroplane overflew the marchers, took the measure of them, and flew off without doing any damage. Within the hour, to no one’s surprise, the Regia Aeronautica was back, in wave after wave after wave—as many as 150 planes, Konovaloff estimated-- unleashing almost continuous raids on the retreating army.

    From this moment on, the skies were filled with falling bombs, misty sheets of mustard gas and machine gun bullets—all aimed at the helpless Ethiopian column, which could do nothing except to keep marching, leaving a trail of bleeding corpses, some dismembered. That was something civilians didn’t really imagine about modern warfare, Konovaloff reflected. The dismemberment. Perhaps wars might be fewer or at least shorter if ordinary people could see this for themselves.

    The aeroplanes would have been bad enough all by themselves, but they weren’t the only threat to the retreating Ethiopians. The mounted Galla shifta were back on the job again, riding swiftly, harrying both sides of the retreating column, sniping at the army’s flanks, and biting at Ras Getachew’s rear guard like the savage animals they were.

    Of all the slaughters in this merciless war, Konovaloff thought, of all of the heartless violence, this was the most terrible, the most inhumane. No one and nothing in the retreating column was immune—men and women, pack animals, horses alike were ripped apart by bombs dropped anonymously, from on high.

Those lucky enough to survive the bombs had to contend with the deadly mist the aeroplanes were spraying over the retreating column, as though it consisted of bugs that required extermination. The yperite was so thick in the air that the Ethiopians’ thin cotton shammas reeked of it.  Even his own uniform was soaked with the stuff.  

    And this is the way things went, as the Ethiopians retreated across Golgola Plain, toward Korem and the highlands. This is the way it went for almost two full days, until the Ethiopians at last arrived at Korem, out of the range of the Galla, and, in the mountain caves, somewhat protected from the Caproni bombers, far from the Italian artillery and machine guns.

    As night fell, and Ethiopians settled back in, commanders took stock of their forces. More than 40% of the original 31,000 fighting men were gone, half of them dead on the battlefield or too grievously wounded to join the retreating column, the other half having drifted away during the march south, going home to protect their families or simply unilaterally withdrawing from further combat. No one had tried to stop them. As for the serious weapons of war—the cannons, the Oerlikons, the machine guns—most had been abandoned at Maichew.

    So there they were, The Emperor, the Rases, the Dejazes and some 20,000 men, along with thousands more camp followers, relatively safe for the moment, but in deep despair. A big question hung over them all, and no one seemed to have a good answer to it: what do we do now? 

The Emperor desperately wanted to attack again. The Rases—and Konovaloff—said that was impossible and suggested that they either move out into the countryside and conduct a guerilla war against the Italians, or fall back to the capital and prepare a last ditch defense.  They spent half the night discussing every possible alternative—except one: surrender.






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Lj Trafford wrote 1558 days ago

This is really accomplished. I was drawn straight in from the first chapter. The second dealing with Nathan's interview with the president was extremely well done. There are a lot of complicated political matters in that dialogue but not once did I feel confused, drowning in information or like I was being given a lecture. You handled this material brillantly and what a good plot. Nathan must rescue Haile Salaisse. I expected to be taken straight back to Nathan but you threw me a left hook and took me to the Emperor's Palace in Abyssinia.
I don't know what else I can offer apart from a well done. This has the makings of an enthralling read.

T Mackenzie wrote 1571 days ago

Sheepers! This was a slice of history of which I was unaware, which you handily remedied in a most entertaining, enlightening way! Who knew how fascinating, and iconoclastic figure, this Selassie was?? As for the rest of the characters - improbable, unlikely, dazzling. . .indeed! I hope this David Nathan fellow is the basis for a whole gut load of books to follow. . .he's perfect for the part. I smell a sequel. . .many sequels, by the 'look' of your profile!
BACKED. I will comment again when I finish the book.

harveya wrote 1571 days ago

The pitch lured me in...I'm so very delighted it did.

This is a powerful--fast paced--and highly visual reading experience. I want to read all of it. I have BACKED this with great pleasure.

If gut instinct is anything to go by...this is heading for the editors desk....FAST.

Wonderful writing. BRAVO.

Suzannah Burke
Dudes Down Under

Thanks for the generous comments, Suzannah. I'm going to take a look at Dudes Down Under very shortly. I have a feeling we're on the same wavelength.

Jared wrote 1571 days ago

Harvey, I backed this book already on the strength of the pitches and the opening two chapters. I've now read eight chapters and would have read more but for time constraints. This is a remarkable book, I'd buy this book. You understand the specific demands of a thriller, your research is prodigious and this is a remarkable story very well told. I loved the settings and the opportunity to experience your version of life in this tumultuous era.
Backed with admiration. This will do very well here.

Andrea Taylor wrote 447 days ago

You take us right into the story on the first line; brilliant! This is well written, tense and believable. Its hard to say so much without actually telling us, but you have succeeded admirably. This is mature writing and an excellent story.
The de Amerley Affair

Baobab wrote 505 days ago

I have been to Ethiopia several times and studied its history. But, your book brings to life more on this period of iEthiopia's history than any non-fiction account I have read about Italy's invasion of Ethiopia. This is indeed a great accomplishment and in my opinion your book should be highly rated and already published. I love your writing style and I hope you benefit us with more books like this one.

D K Willis wrote 1271 days ago

I wanted to tell you that I find your synopsis for Lion At Bay very intriguing and my hope and expectation is to read your material very soon. With a limited amount of shelf space and the implementation of the new guidelines, you've no doubt discovered, as I have, that each decision to back a book is more challenging than ever. I do hope your work gets all the attention it deserves. Good luck and best wishes.

Su Dan wrote 1272 days ago

written well. this is very interesting about a fascinating figure,= on my watchlist...
read SEASONS...

philip john wrote 1284 days ago

An interesting yarn, well constructed with first rate dialogue. I could quibble over some of the detail, including one or two points in the pitch. But I shall not bother. The whole story is too good for minor criticism. ( I do , incidentally, agree with your comments on the way some people are exploiting the Authonomy site. A pity that it is being used in this way.)

Best wishes Philip John

CarolinaAl wrote 1308 days ago

This is a captivating historical thriller. Vital message. Pleasingly visual. Crisp dialogue. Vivid characters. Realistic emotional frisction. Riveting pacing. Tension mounts relentlessly. Well thought out, intriguing storyline. Spellbinding writing. A highly enjoyable read. Backed.

Azam Gill wrote 1313 days ago

Lion at Bay.

The writing is as attractive as the cover and title: the strength of the narration ducks and weaves in response to the unraveling of the enviable plot and multi-faceted characters who reveal their depth without clashing with the other components of this polished work.

Literary conventions have been maintained to high standards of craftsmanship without compromising contemporary expectations.

The recent BBC series on Ethiopia presented by Joanna Lumley should reopen interest in Ethiopia, making Lion at Bay timely, further enhanced by the presence of Roosevelt, his secret agent and the geo-political situation of Ethiopia spanning the Second World War.

From ‘Prester John’ to the famine and secession, humanity’s debt to Ethiopa as a repository of tradition, myth and legend has been obscured under layers of received ideas.

It is my belief that while enthralling readers, this work will contribute significantly to reducing ignorance on this subject.

In the final reading, some typos like “behind attended to” will no doubt ask you for a good dusting – as usual, I suppose, thoughts outracing fingers, the telephone, the doorbell …!

Backed with salutations.

Azam Gill

CamilleS wrote 1352 days ago

Excellent! Top notch and ready to print! Backing!

Curse of the Golden Fly

eurodan49 wrote 1370 days ago

Demanding topic you’ve picked.
You’ve got a good narrator’s voice and I enjoyed it (though at time a little lengthy).
Your dialogue’s crisp, easy to follow and advances the story.
Maybe you could spread out some of the backstory, it would help pick up the pace, get the reader more involved and build up your characters. Just my 0.02 worth.
You’ve got my vote.
Maybe you could take a look at TO KILL A DEAD MAN. Backing and comments will be appreciated.

Vanessa Darnleigh wrote 1404 days ago

Very readable and fascinating content...I do agree about the speech impediment whish seriously detracts from the accomplishment of your dialogue...otherwise backed 100%

Pollux wrote 1418 days ago

FDR has been written about at length, and I believe you do him justice in your narrative. I also think you do well with his dialog, where he does not allow himself to be rushed into revealing the reason for the meeting. The historical background, however, I think gets in the way of the story. I should preface the comment by saying that this may well be an entirely subjective opinion, due to the fact that I am familiar with events of that era. Nonetheless, I like the premise and your style of writing, and I will read the rest of your story with great interest (I just finished reading the diary of Galeazzo Ciano, and his references to the African adventures of Mussolini are interesting in a self-serving way).

A couple of typos: Last para, Prologue, behind should be being. “It’s actually makes sense,” chapter 1, should be “It actually makes sense.” Chapter 2A, millions of Lira, should be Lire.

All the best,


pwinkle wrote 1441 days ago

nice opening paragraph, made me want to read on. I'm always leery about prologues for anything but fantasy but this was a good one.

I think you made the villain credible in the prologue, he has reason for his hatred, and not necessarily the right target, but he also has his own behaviours to deal with.

Nathan comes across credibly too.


A Knight wrote 1444 days ago

You have balanced the facets of writing with incredible accuracy to produce a believable, detailed and engaging historical fiction. Nathan makes for a fantastic character, and you describe an area of the world with which I am unfamiliar in such detail that I feel as if I'm walking in your protagonist's footsteps.

Fabulous, there is nothing more I can say. Not only is this entertaining. It's educational and eye-opening.

Backed with pleasure.
Abi xxx

Burgio wrote 1481 days ago

This is a good story. I know so little about Africa's history I didn't know Mussolini ever invaded Ethiopia (my bad). So reading this was not only enjoying a good story but was like a history lesson for me. You've obviously done a lot of research to be able to write this and it shows through.You have good characters. Good descriptions. I'm adding this to my shelf. Burgio (Grain of Salt).

johnjoch wrote 1486 days ago

I like the story a lot as I have had a close relsationship with the Lion of Judah. As a photo journalist I spent ten days with Haile Selassie when he was here on a Royal Visit for the Foreign Office. One of my favourite pics is Selassie with Churchill at No. 10. Funny how ones past suddenley catches up.
I am backing the story and hope you will look at mine, Three Stayed Home a WW2 adventure and love story which I hope you will like. Reagrds JohnJ

carlashmore wrote 1488 days ago

Hi Harvey. I have a rule that I only read three chapters of each book that I back or don't back. This is partly because I'm either at work or trying to look after my baby daughter. However, I have just finished your sixth chapter (and my daughter is crying.ha). I found this enthralling and thoroughly engaging. It is beautifully written and I have no nits to pick. Congratulations, I hope you can see that I've thoroughly enjoyed this. Good luck. carl. The Time hUnters.

Eight Rooks wrote 1494 days ago

Can't offer any comment on historical accuracy, but this strikes me as pretty good in all other respects. I'm surprised it's not higher up the lists. I've only read the first two chapters at this time but the writing comes across as snappy, succinct, engaging and entertaining - as far as I'm concerned you have a very strong grasp of the whole Boys' Own Adventure meets period piece thing (which clumsy description is hopefully something close to what you were actually aiming for). The only possible significant criticisms I could give from a first impression would be occasionally your metaphors and such get a little too florid, and when you break up long passages of dialogue it can seem a tad clumsy. There are two places in the first two chapters where you end up repeating '...(so-and-so) said' unneccessarily because of this (once with Nathan, once with FDR).

Regardless, a lot of fun. I'll definitely give more of this a read. Backed.

WendyB wrote 1494 days ago

Hull's speech impediment has got to go.

But Selassie's relationship with his wife Menem is charming. Firmly establishes him as a sympathetic character.

Wendy Bertsch

WendyB wrote 1494 days ago

I'm always attracted to good historical fiction, and this is an area I've read little about, so I was intrigued.
A lot of significant historical detail is imparted clearly and smoothly, much in believable dialogue.

The homey President stuff was well done. it makes the reader comfortable with the time period, and is a realistic depiction of a politician being folksy...often a calculated ploy to disarm potential presidential wishes.

Nathan is a likable protagonist, and I'm eager to learn more about this conflict which had such an impact on WWII.

However, I have to say that Hull's speech impediment is distracting. The Tennessee accent...fine. But a distinction that could be overlooked in verbal speech is intrusive on paper. He starts to 'sound' like Elmer Fudd after a bit...and it doesn't enhance the mood of the moment.

Wendy Bertsch
(Once More...From The Beginning)

MarkRTrost wrote 1506 days ago

I think this stands with the best prose on this site.

I’m sorry to say that I don’t think it’s commercial. I don’t think mainstream society has the attention span for it. And I’m saddened by that.

Years ago the Modern Library produced a list of the 100 greatest novels of the 20th century and I perused the list and realized that I had overlooked or had been oblivious to almost half of them. And so I went to the local university (the public library didn’t stock most of the novels) and I read the ones I’d missed. They were stunning achievements. Each novel was exquisite. The majority of my friends are literate, educated, and voracious readers. I recommended some of the obscure books - and no one was interested. “Dance To The Music of Time” is an astonishing achievement. Lawrence Durell’s "Alexandria Quartet" should not be missed. Go look at the NYT bestsellers list. It’s heartbreaking.

I think you’ve written something amazing and praiseworthy. I hope you find an audience. You’ve earned one. You’ve added me. I’ll sit and listen to your stories.

Good luck.
“Mark R. Trost”
“Post Marked.”

Valley Woman wrote 1517 days ago

This is powerful writing that takes me on a journey back to 1936 and the events of that time. Your writing is rich with detail, but not hindered by them. This flows well, with plenty of intrigue to keep me reading. It's also brings up events not known to me previously in regard to Facism and Ethiopia.

With writing this good, I honestly don't know why this novel is not sitting on the Top 5 at this time. It deserves the number one spot. Hopefully other authors and readers will read my comments and realize this.


zan wrote 1521 days ago

Lion At Bay
Harvey Ardman


I backed this some weeks ago based on your interesting storyline gathered from your pitches. It has been on my WL for a while and I only had time today to read some of it. I haven't seen that many books here on Authonomy with an African setting and this was one of the things which appealed to me. The short pitch in particular I liked - "Africa, 1935. Mussolini's army attacks the barefoot Ethiopians. Can Emperor Haile Selassie thwart Il Duce? Can FDR's agent, David Nathan, save the African leader?" The reference to Haile Selassie to me was quite meaningful because in my part of the world in the Caribbean the Rastafarians worship him as God, starting as you might know several years ago with the Jamaicans when he visited that country and was surprised to find people thinking of him as a God, going so far as to worship him, so naturally the historical details to your story piqued my curiosity, and also because I wanted to know more about the Emperor himself, and of course what happens following Mussolini's attack.
After reading your first chapter upload here I thought you had skillfully hooked the reader to keep turning the pages. I found this exciting, well written, good dialogue, with believable characters. From the poiltical and historical viewpoint, I think your storyline provides much food for thought - to me it's not only good fiction, but an education in itself. I look forward to reading more and truly wish that Authonomy was designed in a way which enabled one to read more books at length. I hope this is published so that one can comfortably read it without having to squint at an electronic screen, which does little justice to books like yours.
I feel this will be picked up - it has to be.
Best wishes,

Phyllis Burton wrote 1528 days ago

Hello harveya, I really like this. Nothing ever changes - self important pushy people are still around. Your descriptive prose is perfect. Good first chapter with a fantastic hook at the end. The reader is forced to go on. The history behind the difficult years before WWII was complicated in the extreme and your writing brings it to life. This has all the ingredients for an exciting, enticing read with strong characters and dialogue.
One little niggle however: I did find Hull's dialogue a little tiresome - all the 'w's instead of 'r's, but what is one little niggle in such well written prose. Would make a fantastic TV drama or film. Well done and SHELVED with great pleasure.

A Passing Storm

Beval wrote 1537 days ago

This is an amazing book about something of which I had only the most passing knowledge. Italian ambitions are part of any history of the 1930s, all the names are so familiar I thought I knew what happened, but its not until I read this that I realise the depth of me ignorance.
You have me hooked, I've read the first five chapters and I've cherry picked others, but now I must go and do some background reading. This is a fantastic book, obviously well researched and highly readable and I know that I will get even more out of it when I have done a tiny bit of the research you've done.
I very much admire the way you captured the real people in this. The only one whose normal voice I know is FDR, but I could hear him speaking in your dialogue, but the tone of the others seemed perfect for their newsreel images.
Great book.

lionel25 wrote 1538 days ago

Harvey, your prologue and first chapter read well. One thing I noticed is that you switched POVs between the immigrant and Nathan in the prologue This works fine with me but might not work for someone who is a stickler for the POV rules. Then again, there are no hard and fast rules in writing.

Happy to back this book.

Joffrey (The Silver Spoon Effect)

yasmin esack wrote 1542 days ago

Great story telling. But shouldn't the immigrant have a name. Dialogue?


Sheila Belshaw wrote 1542 days ago



This is historical fiction at its thriller best. Not my normal genre but the prologue mesmerised me into reading more. The writing is so immediate, so close to something happening right next to you that you can't escape being part of it. Sucked in so that you hold your breath and can't wait for the next adrenaline rush.

A bit of a switch of P.O.V. at the beginning of Chapter 1. But apart from that I found the writing to be just right for the genre, immediate and crisp and flowing.

Backed, with my best wishes for its success.

Sheila (Pinpoint)

Sly80 wrote 1543 days ago

Effective scene setting: the park, the crowds, the immigrant and his hunger, David Nathan and who he is. Then the arrival of the president-elect and a mounting tension as we realise what is about to happen. Nathan makes sure it doesn't and we share his and FDR's relief. On the train we get lots more pointers to the mood and concerns of that period in American history, plus further insights into Nathan's character. In the oval office, you exemplify description with the vivid account of the furnishings ... this is exactly the type of situation that demands such detail. The president's mother provides one of the moments of humour that vary the pace. Then, 'We want you to go to Abyssinia...' could have knocked me over with a feather too.

Your writing is supremely professional, Harvey, and has some memorable phrases: 'Huckleberry Fin in uniform', 'He could have been a mortician', 'Nathan felt harpooned'. The research / historical knowledge strike me as extremely detailed and accurate, and I suspect Roosevelt would not object to your portrayal of him. David Nathan is more of an enigma, a quiet but dangerous man who is about to be stretched to his limits by the job handed him. Anyone with this book in their hands would be obliged to keep reading, as would I while continue to try in vain to distinguish fact from fiction ... backed.

(Possible nits: '"Pa" Watson greeted Nathan cordially' the word Pa baffles me here. 'threw back his head ... threw up his hands'. '"Plus travel," Hull said' twavel, and then thwee, and a bit later he says Mr. President.)

Jah-Jim wrote 1544 days ago

Very nice writing and a fascinating melange of fiction and fact. As a historian, photographer and archivist, I have a number of questions, comments and minor corrections for you. Please email me directly and I'll be glad to share the typos with you that way.

I'm curious where you got the idea that Foreign Minister Herouy didn't want Emperor Haile Selassie I to go to Europe to ask for help from Britain and the League of Nations. You say the vote of the advisory council was 21-3 in favor of going to Europe, so was Herouy one of the three?

I've read a lot about the May 2-May 5th, 1936 period in Addis Ababa (and even had one of the rare and valuable silver medals awarded to the 150 Indian Sikh soldiers who defended the British Legation and 1700 other foreigners who took refuge there), and this is the first time I've read that Gallas invaded Addis. You mention that all of the legations were safe, but the fact is that many from other legations took refuge with the British and even then, some were injured.

May I assume that the bombing of the Ethiopian Embassy at 17 Princess Gate, London was purely fiction?

Herouy said to Selassie while in England: "Retire here in peace?" I need to know more about that or if that's writer's prerogative. Heroy's grandson is a good friend of mine, and I'd like to know of any reference sources on him that I don't already have or know about.

Did Colson attend Geneva with the Emperor? Any good references to mention for this chapter in their lives? I've always wondered if this American adviser Colson was related to Nixon's adviser Colson. Do you know?

I can't imagine anyone (including Herouy) saying "You can't say that" to the Emperor.

My favorite line is "A half hour later, they were standing in the dark, heavily draped lobby of the Carlton Park Hotel, checking in, to the disbelief, if not the horror of (here's my favorite part) a dozen overfed, cigar smoking European bankers, each of them a different artist's caricature of Alfred Hitchcock."

Well done. Jah bless.

Jah-Jim wrote 1544 days ago

Very nice writing and a fascinating melange of fiction and fact. As a historian, photographer and archivist, I have a number of questions, comments and minor corrections for you. Please email me directly and I'll be glad to share the typos with you that way.

I'm curious where you got the idea that Foreign Minister Herouy didn't want Emperor Haile Selassie I to go to Europe to ask for help from Britain and the League of Nations. You say the vote of the advisory council was 21-3 in favor of going to Europe, so was Herouy one of the three?

I've read a lot about the May 2-May 5th, 1936 period in Addis Ababa (and even had one of the rare and valuable silver medals awarded to the 150 Indian Sikh soldiers who defended the British Legation and 1700 other foreigners who took refuge there), and this is the first time I've read that Gallas invaded Addis. You mention that all of the legations were safe, but the fact is that many from other legations took refuge with the British and even then, some were injured.

May I assume that the bombing of the Ethiopian Embassy at 17 Princess Gate, London was purely fiction?

Herouy said to Selassie while in England: "Retire here in peace?" I need to know more about that or if that's writer's prerogative. Heroy's grandson is a good friend of mine, and I'd like to know of any reference sources on him that I don't already have or know about.

Did Colson attend Geneva with the Emperor? Any good references to mention for this chapter in their lives? I've always wondered if this American adviser Colson was related to Nixon's adviser Colson. Do you know?

I can't imagine anyone (including Herouy) saying "You can't say that" to the Emperor.

My favorite line is "A half hour later, they were standing in the dark, heavily draped lobby of the Carlton Park Hotel, checking in, to the disbelief, if not the horror of (here's my favorite part) a dozen overfed, cigar smoking European bankers, each of them a different artist's caricature of Alfred Hitchcock."

Well done. Jah bless.

Bob Steele wrote 1545 days ago

Lion at Bay is a fascinating story set in a turbulent but little known period of Ethiopian history. Your pitch is first class and drew me in. Your opening chapters live up to the promise - you have a clean and economical writing style that I enjoyed, which is something that I aspire to but for me needs lots of editing to weed out surplus words - if you've hit it first time, you've got exceptional talent! The prologue is gripping, your characters are vivid and I can easily buy into your story of trying to rescue Haile Selassi - this seems well researched and hits the right buttons for your chosen genres. I'll be happy to back this.

B. J. Winters wrote 1545 days ago

I read several chapters of your book because I've always found this period in history fascinating (from a sociological point of view). Overall the writing is accomplished, and this was a polished. The dialogue was clear and moved things forward - take your chapter 13 (uploaded as chapter 15) for example. You have them in conversation (rather than telling me too much), and the lines of dialogue are well labled with tone (e.g. he said it with certainty, but even he didn't konw exactly what he felt) with touches of body language (e.g. she put on a pout) that paint a complete picture for the reader. Nice work.

Betty K wrote 1547 days ago

There is much to like here; your research is impeccable and I love the narrative style. And it's a very good premise. However, I did find your prologue confusing with jumping between the two points of view. Sometimes that works but to me is was confusing. It totally slowed me down for awhile as I couldn't figure out how the NYPD guy would be so poor. Didn't realize you were now in the POV of the immigrant. Maybe you could do scenes breaks although not sure how.

Nevertheless, I thought your writing was excellent and this has been on my shelf over my vacation period away.

Are you interested in my book? I've dropped down quite a lot because of being out-of-town for two weeks.
Need help.

Betty K "Destiny's Weave"

klouholmes wrote 1548 days ago

Hi Harvey, You make history into compelling story material, finding the scenes and conjuring the conversation. Nathan's assignment, while it seemed incredible to him, was well portrayed as being a natural consequence of his saving FDR from the assassin. The conversation at lunch showed the way a President might feel out a personality and prepare him for his opinions and command. I really enjoyed the scenes with Haile and the Empress and it was so well interwoven with his hearing the foul news. This historical account can gather you many readers! A pleasure to shelve. Katherine (The Swan Bonnet)

Pia wrote 1549 days ago

Hi Harvey,

Lion At Bay - engaging, well paced, informative and enlightening.
Much enjoyed the read.

Best success, Pia (Course of Mirrors)

AlanMarling wrote 1549 days ago

Dear Harvey Ardman,

Thank you for sharing your story with us. You have an amazing premise; you’ve found a slice of history where I want the underdogs to win against impossible odds. Comparing Selassie warriors to King Arthur’s knights is a great way to depict their noble character and prowess within their limited technology. I can see how this would be important because victory against Africans would give credence to Hitler’s theories of white supremacy. I skipped to chapter five to cover less-traveled ground and was rewarded by a ride in a blimp, which I guess is like riding in a boat in terms of peacefulness but in the air. Next he has to ride in a real ship, a rust bucket. You do an excellent job thwarting Nathan’s desires and creating tension by placing doubt on the seaworthiness of the ship, or that it’ll be too slow. Ah, I see there’s even more tension because he fears he may be discovered and perhaps assassinated. Love the phrase “stability of a #2 pencil”. An extra quotation mark slipped in before “Perhaps a passenger ship”. I am rooting for Nathan to build a relationship with Guinivieve, but you’re right on not making it easy for him. Gretel sounds like an interesting character, and I hope she won’t assassinate him.

Bravo! Backed.

Best wishes,
Alan Marling

harveya wrote 1550 days ago


I get very little from comments about my own book, nowadays. Some people like it, some don't. Some people are too frightened to leave genuine feedback, while others seek to enforce their own style upon me. I want to get to the Ed's Desk to get professional comment. I would rather spend 30 quid than do all this reading and backing. I have got everything I want out of Authonomy community already. So I am backing your book so that you can reach the Ed's desk and get professional feedback, instead of the platitudes and devious backings that account for 80% of backing you receive. Only 20% of comments are genuine, and will add value to your work.

Now, who am I not to back you? I am not godlike. Your work might be flatly written, unoriginal or even down right bad. It could be wonderful. But in my experience, only you can be honest with yourself about your writing... and that is what matters.

So, I am backing you so you can reach the Ed's desk.

There you are.

Hope you reciprocate.

Now that is the most sensible comment I've had on Authonomy and one with which I fully agree. As it happens, my book is pretty damn good and it deserves backing, but it's my judgment about it that really counts. I read the other comments, most of which are of the copy editing variety, and I say "oops, missed that," or "I've now heard your opinion," or "you didn't understand what I was doing, did you," and I realize that no author can write otherwise than with his or her own instincts. Writing according to somebody else's instincts is a waste of time, not to mention impossible.

When I comment on a book, I leave the criticism for a message, not the comment section. And if I don't like something, I won't comment, back or even read--which includes very much that appears here. The main reason that there is so much unworthy stuff is that the people who've written it are poor judges of their own work. This is a particularly devastating flaw for a writer, who, after all, must be a superb judge of the effect on the reader of each of his words. Anyhow, your honesty and insight gets my vote and your book gets my backing. I'll even take a look at it. Best, Harvey Ardman

Jupiter Echoes wrote 1550 days ago


I get very little from comments about my own book, nowadays. Some people like it, some don't. Some people are too frightened to leave genuine feedback, while others seek to enforce their own style upon me. I want to get to the Ed's Desk to get professional comment. I would rather spend 30 quid than do all this reading and backing. I have got everything I want out of Authonomy community already. So I am backing your book so that you can reach the Ed's desk and get professional feedback, instead of the platitudes and devious backings that account for 80% of backing you receive. Only 20% of comments are genuine, and will add value to your work.

Now, who am I not to back you? I am not godlike. Your work might be flatly written, unoriginal or even down right bad. It could be wonderful. But in my experience, only you can be honest with yourself about your writing... and that is what matters.

So, I am backing you so you can reach the Ed's desk.

There you are.

Hope you reciprocate.

R T Ray wrote 1551 days ago

Hi Harvey,
Had a few moments to spare and I played with chapter five of your prologue. Here is what I came up with.

I was a bit confused here about who he is (He was nobody now -----) are you referring to the high school lad or the immigrant? Also I’m told any number up to 999 should be spelled out.

Great Man - capitalized or italicized, or both? I’m not sure.

Maybe a way out would be -

All in all, about one hundred and fifty had assembled to glimpse the Great Man, the last to arrive was the grim-faced immigrant. He slipped unobtrusively into the third row, tucked in behind two fat ladies, their heads jammed close together like fishwives reveling in the latest bit of gossip. From here he had a clear view of the stage and its hastily assembled podium. He was a nobody now, but in a few moments the world would know his name.


Bradley Wind wrote 1552 days ago

Wow, this is nice.
I'll start with a few nits that you can probably avoid:
Might take a look at the overuse of the word "here" in those first couple of paragraphs.
and slightly wish there were some dialog to add variation/texture to this opening chapter.
Oh and I see you use a Prologue...hope I didn't offend with my response to you.
I do think your prologue is slightly long and although broken into multiple smaller paragraphs it felt a bit dense.
Do you need the in red explanation of where the quote is from? Takes me out of the story a bit...especially as I don't know who he is.
Smedley Bulter Business...was this the guy who shot at the Pres in the Prologue? I'm a bit lost here as to the timeframe.
I'm thinking this is taking place after he saved FDR in the prologue could be that that happened after he met FDR for visit and was asked to go to Miami to watch out for him.
"alright but it will take me at least week" = I think you need an "a" in that sentence?
Charming conversation = FDR and his mother.
I hate to say it but you may be hitting us over the head a bit much with all the time period references.
I do respect the amount of research that must've went into it to be able to responsibly use them.
I think it a great fun premise to have a "commoner" working as one of the President's men.
Get knocking on those editors doors with this, Harvey.
Best of luck!

lynn clayton wrote 1553 days ago

Harvey, the history is extremely interesting and lends itself to fiction. You've certainly done it proud. It seemed to me well-informed, though I know nothing about it, but you convinced me you do,which is the important thing.There's not a single dull sentence in the chapters I read. On the contrary, it's a gripping book.No need to mention character, dialogue etc.- you're such a good writer,we'll take them as read. Shelved. Lynn

Michael Croucher wrote 1555 days ago

Hello Harvey, I'm a sucker for historical fiction; espescially when its written with authority and style. This engaged from the start and set the hooks often and well.
Michael Croucher (Bravo's Veil)

Freeman wrote 1555 days ago

In chapter one you change POV from Nathan to the conductor and back to Nathan quite quickly. I have been advised to not to do this. The background to Nathan and his lunch with the President where he is given his assignment are well constructed with good description. I like the narratives and especially the lisp. Jumping straight to Ethiopia in the next chapter keeps the story moving at a good pace. This is an interesting plot and is moves at a good pace. I am happy to back you book.

Life Bringer

Raydad wrote 1555 days ago

Hi Harvey. I found this professionally written, polished work and an enjoyable read. The opener with Nathan thwarting the assassin of FDR establishes the groundwork. Then in chapter two Nathan is given an opportunity to rescue Selassie. The interaction between FDR and Nathan was dynamic and realistic. I could see FDR sitting there wearing his green tie and eating that trout. I had the feeling that the oval office was a very busy place and FDR a very busy man. I liked the way the casual conversation interwined with the serious discussion about the mission. Hull and his speech patterns provided some spice to the scene. You've visualized this scene well and the pacing was perfect. This is an excellent work, one which I would certainly purchase. Good luck. Shelved.

Buttermilk Moon

alias miss ferkit wrote 1555 days ago

One of the strange pleasures of authonomy, for me, is being out of my genre - pretty much all the time. So here I sit before an historical thriller - and I may not be well enough versed in either the Italo-Abyssinian war or the conventions of the thriller to make really astute comments. What I can say, as a tourist in your genre, is that your book looks like a fine place to spend some quality time! Your writing is strong, inobtrusive, speaks honestly, allows your characters - and your readers - to see and feel. A clean, well-lighted place. Your characterization of Selassie (and his marriage) has both power and charm; and this lends David's mission great urgency on a human (as well as historical) level.

I do have a couple of questions about PoV in chapter one, and see that JD Revene has beaten me to this. I found the cut from David to the shooter slightly jarring; I also see it as perhaps necessary. How can you finesse the segue? A similar thing happens (on a much smaller scale) in chapter two - the conductor on the train. Were it not for the more extended PoV shift in ch 1, I might not have noticed it - but again I felt manually 'shifted', if only slightly. I agree with JD on the issue of David's clear focus on the immigrant - his ability to fully size up an objective in the blink of an eye - while 'barely noticing' him. What happened on a cognitive level: something alerted David that this man was important; his seeming ubiquity as a type led David to discount him. So -something seemed fishy: what was it?

That said - fine work! Shelved,

Andrea Levin
(Last Days of the Transitional Objects Institute)

R T Ray wrote 1556 days ago

Hi Harvey,

First thank you for your backing my book. I truly appreciate it.

Now onto your novel.

Fifth paragraph. ------ fat lady in a blue flowered dress and a bespectacled high school boy who held a canvas book bag on his lap.

I was a bit confused here about who he is (He was nobody now -----) the high school lad or the immigrant? Maybe a way out would be - He took a seat to the rear of two fat ladies, one in a flowered dress. Unless the HS Lad and the canvas book bag is to play a part later I would drop him.

Paragraph six ----- The immigrant is complaining about “the old Jew charging $8 for a pistol (a fair price) then drops $200 at the track with seemly no problem. I would lessen the amount loss at the track to $15-20 and what’s left in his pocket to three, maybe four dollars. A bit more realistic in my view.

Paragraph seven ---- since he was six years old, when his father had forced him to leave school and go to work. I know times were tough but I don’t think his father took him out of school at age six (first grade) and put him to work. You might want to reword that. I assume he was ill at 6 and it only got worse later when he quit school (maybe at 15 or so).

Thanks again,

KW wrote 1557 days ago

I almost read this when it first appeared since I've been interested about the charisma of Haile Selassie, but for some reason got distracted. David Nathan is rather unlikely hero, but that is what helps make your book very appealing. Not only do you have Selassie, but a short hero, a President obsessed with small talk, a Secretary of State with a twang, and great descriptive powers. In short, you have everything necessary for an exciting read. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that your blending of historical elements into your realistic dialogue sets the time frame and carries the story along very well. I will be back to read more when I get a little time.

JD Revene wrote 1557 days ago


I'm returning your read of Appetites. Thank you again for your support of my work.

Starting with the pitch. This is good, with the key elements all present. I have a couple of observations you might like to take into acount:

--the line with FDR's dialogue I would give its own paragraph, breaking up a long paragraph and gives the words import.

--then the sentence following, for me a lot of this is the sort of value judgement I'd leave to the reader, perhaps you can focus it on the question of whether or not David will succeed.

Into the work proper. The prologue is a good scene, however, I had a few thoughts you might consider:

--in the opening paragraph David provides a lot of detail of someone he's barely notices . . . I think you might need some reason for David to take notice of him.

--the switch of PoV, from David to the nameless assassin, is effective in playing out the drama and extending the time, but also gives the game away and deprives us of insight to David.

--finally, we're told that the shooter is in the third row, some 25 feet from the bandstand; that's a hell of a leap . . .

Into chapter one, and a brief observation passage from the conductor's PoV makes it's apparent that you're using an omniscient PoV.

By the way, you have a note in red-text in this chapter, that I suspect was a reminder to yourself that you never got round to acting on . . .

Reading on I'm finding little to comment on, but there is reference to 'a plot against the US Government by a retired general' that is obscure to me. (Unless it relates to the assassination.)

Otherwise this is already a cracking thriller. Not the Ludlum type, with a gun fight on every page, more in the style of say Robert Harris where historical fiction is intelligently mixed with thriller conventions.

With chapter three the opening exposition feels, to me a little forced, but once news arrives the askari have entered Ethiopa the pace picks up.

This is one of those works that educates at the same time it entertains. Your Haile Selassie is an engaging character, and that's obviously key to this work.

Happy to give this a spin on my shelf.

Francis Albert McGrath wrote 1557 days ago

Don't need to read much to see we are in the hands of a professional. I have no doubt you will write further novels, as good as, and better than, this masterpiece. Fantastic.

William Holt wrote 1557 days ago

Excellent historical fiction. For me this is one of those semi-modern times that is largely slipping away from the national consciousness and needs continual revival by any and all means.

Dialogue and action carry the story along nicely, without the excessive exposition that is a sure mark of the person who has not yet made the leap from writing essays and memos to fiction.

Backed with pleasure.