The Black Lion and the Crocodile

The Black Lion and the Crocodile

by H Edward Schmidt

ASIN: B0745F255D

Publisher CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Published in Science Fiction & Fantasy/Fantasy, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Literature & Fiction

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Book Description


The three thousand year old Dynasty is over and Haile Selassie is dead, replaced by ambitious officers who call themselves the Derg.

Civil war breaks out and the royal family of Tekle Melikot that has served Emperors for four generations is in danger.

Caught in the chaos are the Peace Corps Volunteers, among them a dairy farmer from Wisconsin, Wolfgang Steinbach--Ethiopians and Volunteers call him Wolfie. A decorated Korean War veteran, he is determined to steer clear of the civil war but when of his students is killed, he knows he cannot.

Sample Chapter


It was a land called Abyssinia when Mussolini invaded in 1935. Yet it was called Ethiopia at least as far back as the 4th century when the city of Aksum was the center of power on both sides of the Red Sea. Recorded in the Book of Aksum; it was named after Itiopp’is, the son of Cush, the son of Ham who founded Aksum.

Ethiopia early on was touched and shaped by the children of Abraham. When the Assyrian Frumentius converted the Emperor to Christianity in the fourth century, the line of kings and Emperors could already be traced back a thousand years to Menelik, child of King David and Makeda, the Ethiopian queen of Sheba.

There are connections to Islam, as well. When Mohammed was being pursued by his enemies, it was an Emperor Sahana of the Axum Kingdom who gave the grateful prophet sanctuary for his daughter and her husband.

What does all this have to do with the story? What happens in the story is shaped by Ethiopia’s 3000 year history and the Ethiopians views of themselves and how they faced cultural and military challenges. At the core of its culture since the fourth century were the Coptic Church and the Emperors that served with its blessing. Unlike much of the rest of Africa, missionaries after Frumentius who came from Europe and the Middle East had little impact on the Ethiopian culture. They found the bond between the Ethiopian nobility and the Coptic Church as hard to crack as the walls of the rock hewn churches of Lalibela. The Portuguese in the sixteenth century, the British in the nineteenth and the Italians in the twentieth did little to change the shape of the dynasty than began with Menelik.

Since Frumentius baptized the Emperor Ezana almost two thousand years ago, a symbiosis prevailed between Coptic Church and the Emperors and kings, the Church blessing their divine right to rule and the Emperors granting it the rights of the true church of the empire. In Ethiopia, this church and royal nexus lasted until the end of the twentieth century, far longer than in Europe. Feudalism lived and the descendants of Solomon and Makeda reigned. Now the reign of Emperors is over. This is the story of how it ended and the fate of those caught in the maelstrom and their struggle for survival.




Alemayu worshipped his grandfather, Melakot Gebre Berhanu, who told him stories of his ancestors who were great warriors, fighting for the rassen who commanded the armies of Emperors. He would be like them

Miyazya, 1861

With two of his sons at his side, Tekle Melakot surveyed the great valley that lay before them. The sun had risen above the mountains to the east and began to burn away the heavy mist blanketing the valley floor. Alemayu and Yohannes had moved off from their father and were pointing and talking excitedly at the scene below. They could hear the shouts of the soldiers who filled the valley. Thousands of sun bleached tents now glistened by the rising sun, before them men forming in ranks and moving about for some unknown purpose, then dispersing and forming again hours later.

And the animals. Thousands of mules and camels tethered in great lines, one behind the other, and men who were not soldiers busily seeing that they were watered and fed. Some moved quickly among the animals, checking for injuries and checking the hooves of the horses and mules and the padded feet of the camels.

The two boys could not take their eyes off of one section of the corral. Forty great elephants standing solemnly yet majestically in place. Father Tekle told them they had come across the ocean with the soldiers. Two days before, the enormous animals had entered the valley as part of the great army now camped a half day from destination Magdala.

Since the soldiers began their march from the sea three months before, Tekle gathered with other men of the village to hear news of the British soldiers. All the messengers spoke of the wonders of what they saw.

Many had witnessed the armies of the Ethiopian Princes and Emperors that marched through the highlands, awesome in their warrior regalia, many mounted on horseback. The people of the surrounding villages had been awed by the great spectacles of so many men and animals on the move, almost as a single creature yet prayed that these armies would not pass through their villages, for often they stopped to take their young men, to slaughter their cattle and sheep, even to take the young women for their pleasure.

But this army of the great Queen Victoria was different. As they passed through the villages on their path, their leaders bargained with the elders for food and supplies in return for payment with silver Maria Theresa Thalers. All along the path from the coast, Ethiopian messengers were sent ahead to tell the village elders of the British army was coming and promising no harm to the villagers. On the second day that the army had camped in the valley, the morning silence was broken by trumpets and drums and the shouts of men as they formed into ranks, standing rigidly as their commanders moved among then. Shouts from the commanders and the soldiers mounted sharp knives on the ends of their rifles. A second command and the soldiers began to cross the valley floor; a third command and the soldiers thrust their rifles forward, gleaming knives repeatedly stabbing the air, the war cries of the soldiers like a single voice to the three Ethiopians.

The stabbing ritual was repeated several times, until the men suddenly broke on the run to form squares each of hundreds of men, four deep, the weapons held by the soldiers on the perimeter pointing outward. Another command and the men broke from the ranks, form into columns and march briskly about the camp. On command, they would reform into squares again.

With the sun directly overhead, the soldiers are dismissed and drift away and retire to their tents, then forming again to be fed.

Tekle looks at the boys. “Tomorrow they will attack Magdala. Come, my sons, there is work to do.”

I am a rich man, he thought, richer than anyone in my village. Lord Yemesgin has granted me the use of the grazing land in the valley for my many cattle and goats, the use of 50 hectares to grow tef and maize, and I am allowed to keep half of the harvest. God had given me two strong oxen, a mule and three strong sons to share the work. My three daughters and wife see to it that the grain is ground, chickens and goats cared for, and water carried to the fields to water the crops and slake the thirst of the cattle. They also till the small garden, store the grain and sun dry the meat and prepare the food for our table.

But all of his good fortune was in jeopardy, he knew. It would be a great relief for Tekle Melakot to see the foreigners go. Yes, he had been paid for the cattle and sheep they slaughtered. Yet the silver coins did not replace the cattle or the sheep. Nor did they pay for the fields they had trampled. He had been able to hide some of his cattle and sheep but he feared they would be discovered. He thanked Jesus for the empty fields where grain and sorghum stood just a week before. He prayed the soldiers would not demand what was in his storage sheds or find the animals he had hidden in the valley beyond when they returned from Magdala. It had happened before when the armies of the Emperor, then of Gobeze and Kassai had swept into the valley and taken his stores and most of his cattle and sheep.


As his father and Tesfaye left the hill to tend to cattle and sheep, Alemayu Tekle Melakot remained behind, drawn by the awesome power of the army below. Someday he would be part of a great Ethiopian army, like the British one. It will defeat their enemies and rule over all the lands to the Red Sea, to the north and south, east and west. Alemayu worshipped his grandfather, Melakot Gebre Berhanu, who told him stories of his ancestors who were great warriors, fighting for the rassen who commanded the armies of Emperors. He would be like them. Yanked from his revelry by his father’s voice, Alemayu ran quickly to catch up with him.


Tekle watched his son running toward him. Taller than other boys his age, Alemayu had the look of a warrior which he told his father he would be. Tekle worried that his son would leave the valley someday, yet pleased and proud that he was so much like his own father.

September 1868

Sergeant Ronald Harman had been with the Royal Engineers for 10 years, with duty in Egypt and for the last six years in India. Sailing from Bombay, the royal engineers were the first to land at Zula on the Red Sea in September. The job of the engineers: to prepare for a massive landing of British and Indian troops, supplies, and animals including forty elephants and to prepare a road to a fortress called Magdala. The engineers had four months to do the job.

Corporal Robert Sanders looked at his longtime friend. He always thought he was the smart one, even had books in his locker. He shouted over the sounds of hammers, winches, and shouting men. “What’s it all about, Sergeant? I ain’t never seen anything quite like it. Landing in the middle of nowhere and building a port.”

Harman smiled at his friend who had little schooling, could barely read and write, but smart and curious. The sergeant liked being looked upon by his mates as the one who knew everything.-

“Well, corporal, as near as I can find out, Queen Victoria ordered the British Army to rescue a half dozen white people from an Emperor called Theodor, who is holding them hostage and making demands on the Empire.”

“Where is this Emperor?”

Harman turned and pointed west toward the hills that rose beyond the beach.

“All this to rescue some hostages?” Sanders looked at Harman. “Sounds a little farfetched, all this to rescue some hostages from some African poobah.”

“What to believe? Hard to say, Bob. Times like this, the lines of the Alfred Lord Tennyson poem The Charge of the Light Brigade come to mind

Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die,”

“I don’t getcha.” Sometimes the Sergeant seems a little daft, he thought.

Harman stood erect, very pleased with himself. He noticed several of the others had moved in to hear what he had to say. “Well, Bob, the “Theirs” is you and me and the rest of the poem is that we best get to it.”

As the men moved away he thought of what the Leftenant told him. Two 700 foot piers! Twenty miles of railroad track! Four hundred miles of road to clear!

Harman stood for a moment looking up and down the beach. He was among the first to step ashore, empty but for a cluster of huts built at the edge of the sandy shore. Now where the trees and bushes began, there were rows of tents, hundreds of them to house the engineers and the laborers that arrived from India with them.

Steam powered pile drivers were at work sinking the piles into the coral reefs that were just below the sea’s surface. Draft animals were at work moving lumber and other building materials to build warehouses, corrals, and the road bed for the train that would travel twenty miles inland toward a town called Senafe. Tracks, railroad ties, locomotives and cars had accompanied the engineers and Indian laborers from Bombay and work had begun on the preparing a railroad bed. The remaining 380 miles would be traversed by a road, much to be built by Indian workers supervised by the engineers.

Brevet Major Horace Skivington also wondered why. From a military family, he was able to follow the orders from higher command with equanimity if not always enthusiasm. When he thought about what he was being ordered to do on the shore of the Red Sea, he sensed that something did not meet the eye. An army of 13,000 was being formed to attack a remote kingdom in Ethiopia.

He thought of the moment when the convoy of ships turned north and entered the Red Sea through Bab el Mandeb strait from the Gulf of Aden. He thought of the Suez Canal nearing completion to the north and remembered the discussions with naval officers about what it could mean to the British Empire. All the colonial empires bordering the Indian Ocean had an interest in this new sea lane, but none greater than Britain’s.

Perhaps we were building this port with its piers, railroad, and lighthouses on the shore of the Red Sea to save a handful of hostages but he wondered. He would do his duty for the Empire and perhaps would erase the brevet from his rank and be Major Skivington instead.

He looked out over the sea and imagined the far Arabian shore. He thought of the challenges faced by the Royal Engineers in anchoring the 700 foot piers in the coral reef near shore and those in the deeper water beyond them. Although the engineers tried not to flaunt their special place in the military, there was always the self-assurance that they were just a cut above the rest. Once again, they would show the rest just why that was true.

June, 1867

The rains had started two weeks before. Was it two weeks? Henry Stern found it difficult to keep track of time. It had been five years since the Emperor had placed him under arrest. He recalled vividly when it happened, when his Ethiopian companions had been brutally beaten, then thrown from a parapet to their deaths hundreds of feet below. For five years, seemingly at the whims of Tewodros, he and his companions were chained and beaten then for no apparent reason released and allowed to move about under house arrest, then put in chains and beaten again. At first, the missionary wondered what he had done to receive such treatment. Then he discovered it was the book he had written that praised the Emperor and marveled at how he had risen from humble beginnings. He was shocked to find that his mention of humble beginnings made Tewodros furious, for he claimed a royal lineage tracing back to Menelik and the beginning of the Solomon dynasty.

Now free to move about the fortress, Stern watched the sky grow black and lightning seem to rise behind the mountains and move into the valley below. The distant rumble of thunder grew louder until it was overhead. Sheets of rain and ice began to advance from the valley and then the crackling sound of ice and torrential rain pounding the roof above him, the ice collecting on the ground until its crystals formed a silver carpet. Great thunder claps like giant trees snapping and midday as black as night, great bolts of lightning lighting the sky and everything around him, then in an instant return to blackness, repeating itself again and again.

Like all the rains, it appeared suddenly and just a suddenly was gone, the sun bursting through the drained white clouds that hung low over the valley before him. Now only the roaring torrents flowing in the streams below could be heard. He watched and said a prayer that no living thing be drawn into the roaring, awesome flood.

In the quiet aftermath, missionary Stern thought of his family in England, praying that he and the others would be rescued. In the first day as a prisoner, he had been hopeful that Tewodros would allow them to leave, that his native land would not desert him. But each day, release seemed less likely and his refuge became his faith.


Excerpted from "The Black Lion and the Crocodile" by H Edward Schmidt. Copyright © 2017 by H Edward Schmidt. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

H Edward Schmidt

H Edward Schmidt

H. Edward Schmidt spent most of his working life with the Federal Government serving in the Army in Europe, the Peace Corps in Washington and Ethiopia and the Congressional Research Service in Washington. He now lives with his wife Patricia in Maryland. They have seven children, twenty one grandchildren and four grandchildren. It is his Ethiopian experience that occurred at a time when events that inspired the story The Black Lion and the Crocodile were happening.

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