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First episode taken from The Wizard No. 1550 - October 29th 1955.

Dazed by the suddeness with which their country has been conquered, the people of Britain are handing in all arms.

They are too bewildered to fight back—yet!


He had seen the grey hoards from the East spread like a flood across Europe, as they had done across America a year before, and now he was coming home. Like a man in a daze, John Maitland trudged over the hill and looked down on the village of Hopebridge, in the Midlands. There he had been the schoolmaster until he had joined the Army on March fifth, 1968. Now it was June, and Britain had been conquered. The last news Maitland had heard was of landings by the Kushantis at Dover, Folkestone and in the Southampton area. On Maitland’s face was a grimy stubble. His left arm was in a sling. His uniform was torn and dirty, his boots cracked and worn right down from constant marching. Not a vehicle moved on that main road. There was hardly a sound, so that when, with a whirr of wings, a cock pheasant flew across the road, Maitland was so confused that he hurled himself down, hands covering his ears as if to shut out the bang of cannon fire. For a week Maitland’s battalion had been scourged by the low-flying planes with the symbol of the yellow sword upon their wings. When he realised that he had taken cover from a pheasant, Maitland pushed himself up and brushed away the grit from his palms. He laughed harshly. This was what war did to a man, turning him into a thing that sought refuge in the gutter. Was he fortunate still to be alive? So far as he knew he was the only survivor of the Warwickshires. Were those who died unconquered, more fortunate than he? In a war in which, for a reason that had never been explained, atomic weapons had not been used in the clash of armies, the Western Powers had been swamped by the grey clad hordes of Kushantis from the East. In myriads, like locusts, the Kushantis came, and by weight of numbers they conquered. Most of the men of the British Army were dead or in barbed-wire prisons on the Continent. The ships of the Royal Navy were sunk or burnt-out hulks. The Royal Air Force had fought until their last aircraft was shot down. Maitland plodded down the hill. To the north a great cloud of smoke smirched the sky. Judging from the direction, he believed that Coventry had been blitzed again. He looked ahead and saw cattle moving towards a byre for milking. The tower of Hopebridge Church rose above the roofs of the village.


The war of 1968 had come close to Hopebridge, but John did not realise it until he rested against the parapet of the railway bridge and looked down at the gutted wreck of a diesel locomotive and trucks that had come off the line like a great, dead snake. Maitland moved on. He was on the last lap. He had been walking for the best part of a week because there was no transport of any kind. He had escaped from the Kushantis after the round-up in France, by rolling into a ditch from the column of prisoners while the attention of the guards had been distracted by a collision between two of their lorries. John had hidden in the ditch for a day and a night before making for the coast. He had got across the Channel in a fishing boat with two Frenchmen and a blind Canadian. What had happened to his companions John did not know, because no sooner had they landed than they had been caught in a tremendous aerial bombardment, the prelude to the invasion of Britain. There was nobody about in the village street, but it was warm and windows were open. John heard a radio voice say—“This is London!” The voice continued—“This is a broadcast from Sub-Capital Three, previously known as London. Your electricity has been restored, as announced by loudspeaker aircraft, for this special transmission. Please stand by!” The speaker corrected himself and said curtly, “Stand By!” Maitland trudged on. He looked through the window of the White Hart Inn. Men, most of whom John recognised, stood as if turned to stone as they faced the wireless set. He was opposite the general store when the announcer came on the air again. “You will now hear a recording of the last message of the late Prime Minister, the last words spoken before his death,” he said. Maitland stopped at the sound of a familiar voice, now heavy with incredible weariness and broken by emotion. “My friends! It is my duty to tell you that at six o’clock this morning, stripped of our defences and in order to save further useless loss of life, the British Government through me, as Prime Minister, signed an act of surrender to the Imperial Kushanti Oligarchy in the Tower of London. I have to say that the act of surrender was made in the presence of His Excellency, Colonel-General Mushti, Commander-in-Chief of the Army of Occupation in Great Britain.” In spite of his utter fatigue, even though he was nearly dropping on his feet, Maitland felt a surge of anger, of defiance flow through his veins. “My friends, this is the last time I shall speak to you. I am grown old, old before my time, and my final words are these,” said the voice of the British leader, now dead. “We must face facts, hard though they may be, and sensibly accept the act of surrender so that fire and ruin will not sweep our land. Duty in defeat will demand more of you than duty in victory, victory denied us by the overwhelming forces of our former enemies. I bid you good-bye.” Maitland dragged himself into movement again. Now that he was near the end of his journey, his strength was rapidly ebbing. He would have fallen if he had not gripped the railings outside a cottage. Through the window he saw George Yates, the carpenter, his wife and boys regarding their wireless set in stunned silence. Startling was the brassy boom of a gong on the radio.


Thrice the gong was struck. By contrast, the voice on the radio that followed was shrill and falsetto in intonation. “Conquered peoples of Britain,” it said. “The following dictates will be obeyed. Persons who disobey these commands will be instantly executed. Persons who comply with the edicts will be permitted to continue their existence as subject peoples of the Imperial Kushanti Oligarchy.” As soon as the spokesman had said these last three words, the great gong again boomed thrice upon the air.

“Dictate One,” said the sing-song voice of another speaker. “Persons will not move from the town or village in which they are now residential.

Dictate Two! The roads will be kept clear for movements by the Army of the Conquerors.

Dictate Three! All persons will resume their work in the towns and villages. The gas and electricity services are to be resumed without delay.

Dictate Four! Until the Censorships can be applied, there will be no employment of the telephone or postal communications.

Dictate Five! All persons will listen to the radio at six o’clock this evening for further dictates.”

Maitland staggered on. He passed by the locked and shuttered school where he had taught, on towards the house where he had lived with his mother, father and younger brother. The wireless was now silent, but some of the villagers heard another voice, a voice that came from the street. Maitland with his head back and a strange glow in his eyes, was singing as he marched. “Rule Britannia,” he sang, “Britannia rules the waves. Britons never, never never shall be slaves!” His voice weakened and faded away. As, with shouts of “John! John’s come home!” his parents and brother rushed out of the house. Maitland staggered and fell sprawling and inert on the garden path.


The Conquerors Arrive


“They’re coming!” The villagers had watched the main road from the south all morning, and it was a flicker of light as a ray of sunshine caught a moving vehicle that started the shout of terror. One of the last dictates to be sent out by the radio was that all inhabitants were to be in the streets to receive the Occupiers. Only invalids were to be excused. After a long sleep, Maitland was more himself, but his wounded arm was painful and his feet sore. The grey suit he had worn as teacher hung loosely on him. He stood near the gate with his father, the former headmaster, his mother, and his brother Eric, who wore the cap of Carbridge Grammar School. Near the war memorial, wearing his best clothes, stood Mr William Moss, Justice of the Peace, the chairman of the Rural District Council. With him were the other members of the Council, including Miss Mabel Titherly, who had her umbrella, and the rector, grey-haired Canon Forbes. “What are they going to do to us, John?” whispered his father hoarsely. “Turn their machine guns on us?” “Eric, stay on this side of the gate,” said his mother, and clutched the young boy’s arm. “Goodness me, look at Noddy,” gasped John’s father as a grotesque but familiar figure appeared. Noddy Jones, who was strong in the body but not too strong in the head, shambled out of his wooden shack. He did odd jobs, and one of them was to act as a bearer when there was a funeral. He was wearing the ancient top hat and seedy tail coat he used when assisting the undertaker, and since his hair was carroty and long, his appearance was extremely odd. The sound of motors grew loud. The head of the column vanished in a dip and then reappeared close to the village. Every vehicle in the seemingly endless column flaunted a black flag with the emblem of the Yellow Sword. The first vehicle was a half-track gun-carrier adapted as a signals truck. The driver, the machine-gunner and the signaler, who stood on a gantry with “bats” painted red and green, wore steel helmets and drab, grey uniforms. Behind them, with a map, sat a flat-featured officer and a radio operator. The officer’s rank was indicated by whorls in yellow braid on his sleeves and a sword belt. The half-track clanked along. Only the officer looked to the left, to the right. The other soldiers gazed straight ahead, taking no notice of the villagers. Behind the signals vehicle lumbered three light tanks and as many armoured cars. These vehicles were followed by lorries packed with grey-clad infantry, whose bayonets preserved a perfect alignment in spite of the movements of the lorries. What appeared to be a staff car, filled with officers with yellow bands round their caps, came along next. Then armoured cars and troop packed lorries alternated. Motor cyclists rode at the sides of the columns. At the far side of the village green, with its small cricket pavilion, were cross-roads.


The road to the left led to Stratford-upon-avon, that to the right to Leamington Spa. The signals vehicle stopped. The “batsman” faced the convoy. He held his bats stiffly downwards and the tanks rumbled straight on towards Coventry and Birmingham. Maitland saw the officer give an order. The signaler raised his bats. A file of armoured cars and lorries changed direction and took the road to Stratford. The officer rapped another command and the position of the bats was changed. The next armoured car led a section away towards Leamington. It was all done with automation-like precision until a petrol bowser lumbered up. So far as Maitland could make out, the driver misunderstood a signal. He turned towards Stratford. The officer gave a piercing blast on a whistle. With a grating of gears the driver reversed the bowser, and there was a metallic clang as it bumped into the following lorry. The two vehicles remained locked together, but the main column continued to rumble past them. An officer with a thin moustache that curved down to his jaws, got down from the lorry. In a sing-song voice, with no sign of anger, the officer uttered a command. A sergeant and six riflemen jumped from the lorry and formed up. The driver of the petrol bowser descended from his cab. He knelt stiffly and inclined his head in front of the officer until it touched the ground. The officer spoke calmly. The driver then raised himself and took off his boots. “He’s going to be shot!” gasped Mr Maitland. “Don’t look, Eric,” rasped Maitland. The driver folded his arms as he stood in his bare feet. The troops, at an order from the sergeant, raised their rifles and the officer drew his sword. The blade flashed as he swept it down and, at the crash of the volley, the rooks rose in a cawing cloud from the trees round the church. The troops picked up the sprawling body of the driver and tied it to the sign-post. Round his neck the sergeant hung a placard. The top of the placard was covered in Oriental symbols, but below them, in English printing, appeared:—  HIS LIFE WAS EXTINGUISHED FOR DISOBEDIENCE TO AN ORDER. The villagers shuddered. The ruthlessness that the Kushantis showed in war was to be carried on in the so-called peace. The other man in the cab drove the bowser away and the column rumbled on. The last two vehicles of all stopped opposite the war memorial. One was an armoured car and the other a lorry in which there were twenty troopers. “They’re going to stay, John,” whispered Mr Maitland. “They’ll be the occupying force for the village,” said Maitland grimly. A hatch in the armoured car opened. An officer with the whorls of a lieutenant on his sleeves got out. The lower half of the officer’s lip was shaved and above it the hair had been permitted to grow. It was the villagers’ first look at Lieutenant Fang. He was followed from the car by a thin, wiry man with a grey complexion, high cheekbones and slit eyes. This second man wore enormous spectacles. His dark blue tunic was buttoned at the throat. He had a pistol holster and a camera case.


This was the villagers’ first look at the Inquirer, Mr Kade. Fang’s expression was cold, inscrutable. He did not raise his voice as he issued an order. The troops, who had been standing like robots, leapt from the lorry. With clicking heels they formed a file. The sergeant, whose name was Lam, produced the flag of Kushanti, black and bearing the emblem of the Yellow Sword. Lieutenant Fang drew his sword and rested it on his shoulder. Followed by the soldiers, he marched with short, slow steps towards the village flagpole. The sergeant lashed the flag to the lanyard. Maitland, gritting his teeth hard together, observed that one of the troopers held a gong. Showing a mouthful of teeth, Mr Kade said something to Fang. The lieutenant turned and then beckoned to Noddy Jones. Noddy shambled up, wearing his empty grin. Mr Kade spoke in slow and precise accents. “Remove your hat,” he ordered. Noddy took off his topper. As the trooper beat thrice upon the gong, the flag was hoisted. Fang saluted with his sword and Noddy, with his mouth drooling open stared up. Mr Kade, camera sight to eye, clicked the shutter and took a picture. Was it that moment that hope was born again in Maitland? The remorseless and inscrutable Conquerors had mistaken Noddy for the most important person in the village. Without trying to, the simpleton had somehow turned the flag hoisting ceremony into a farce. Maitland even saw a slight relaxation of tension in the faces of his father and mother, and young Eric tittered. Perhaps the Conquerors could be deceived again in more vital ways.


The Search Squad


Next morning Maitland looked out of the attic window. He had gone up there to fetch his shotgun. An order had been issued that all weapons were to be surrendered immediately. He looked down the street. Placards were dotted about everywhere. The efficiency of the Conquerors was astonishing. The main purpose of the edicts on the placards was to order the continuation of work. The only act of aggression had been the requisition of Miss Tithlery’s house. Miss Tithlery had been given two minutes in which to leave with her elderly maid, Emily. They had simply moved to the rectory. The “Laurels,” as Miss Tithlery’s house was named, had become the headquarters of Fang and Mr Kade. The first edict promulgated from it, was that curfew was at sundown and that any person disobeying it would be executed. Maitland heard the tramp of feet and he felt anxious. Sergeant Lam and two troopers marched up the garden path. Maitland heard his mother speak to them tremulously. “You have hens?” Lam hissed. “Yes,” whispered Mrs Maitland. “How many eggs did the hens yesterday lay?” demanded Lam. “Ten, I think,” murmured Mrs Maitland. “Yes, it was ten.” “Half of ten is five,” Lam calculated aloud. “I take five.” There was a pause and then the tramp of feet. Lam led the way down the path and one of the soldiers carried a paper bag containing five eggs. Maitland came downstairs and went out with the gun. He walked out with it towards a table placed on the lawn of headquarters. A Kushanti clerk, helmeted, sat at the table. The flag with the Yellow Sword flew on a pole. In a neat row on the ground were lined rook rifles, airguns and shotguns as well as swords, pistols and other weapons. Maitland, at a sign, placed his gun on the table and gave his name. As Maitland walked away, he was intercepted by Mr Kade. The latter pointed at a wood and glass erection at the side of the road. “What is that?” he asked. “It’s the bus shelter,” stated Maitland. Mr Kade regarded him with anger. “Do not answer me with contumely,” he snarled. “An omnibus could not be inserted in the erection.” “We call it a bus shelter because it’s a shelter for omnibus passengers,” said Maitland. Mr Kade had a notebook and a large fountain pen. He made an entry in the book in spidery writing and then pointed to an old, stone structure at the end of the green. “What is that?” he demanded. “It’s the pound,” Maitland answered. Mr Kade again regarded him suspiciously. “A pound is your standard monetary unit,” he said like a parrot. “That structure is also called a pound,” retorted Maitland. “Stray animals are still put in it. Possibly the name comes from impound.”


Mr Kade stuck up a thin finger to show that he understood. He made another note. Maitland realised that while the inquirer and other Kushantis had a wide literal knowledge of English, the double meaning of words eluded them. It was something to remember. Across the green marched Lieutenant Fang and a squad. They were searching for arms, and there was a crash of splintering wood as troopers smashed in the door of the little cricket pavilion with their rifle butts. A soldier shouted shrilly and marched out holding a set of cricket stumps. Fang peered at the metal points. He called to Mr Kade, who gestured to Maitland to follow him. “Look, we have found some javelins that have not been surrendered,” hissed Fang. “No, they are not javelins, they are wickets,” said Maitland. “They are used for the game of cricket.” Mr Kade placed the tips of his fingers against his forehead and consulted his memory. “He does not lie,” he said, quoting as if from a dictionary. “Cricket is an outdoor game played with a bat, a ball and wickets.” Fang gave an order and the soldier marched back into the pavilion with the stumps. From the pavilion the soldiers crossed the green towards the church. In the lych gate stood old James Crumley, the Sexton. “Stand aside,” commanded Fang. “We have to search for arms.” Crumley did not move. “You won’t find any arms in the church,” he protested. Fang stepped to the side. He mouthed an order. There was a ragged volley of shots and the Sexton thudded to the ground. Fang and the troopers marched over him to search the church and later his body was tied to the gate with a placard— HE WAS EXTINGUISHED FOR RESISTING THE CONQUERORS.


John’s Big Decision


The murder of James Crumley revolted the people of Hopebridge and yet no act of bullying or cruelty followed on it. When the rector asked Mr Kade for permission to bury Crumley, the answer he received was, “Follow your customary practice.” At the funeral, attended by everyone except the children, Mr Kade watched what was going on, made notes and took photographs. Maitland was walking away when Sergeant Lam and a patrol came marching down the street. Some children were playing and one of the boys gave a yell. Lam gave a jump. He stalked towards the urchin and ministered a stinging blow across his face. Maitland had previously noticed how the Conquerors disliked noise and he had often felt fear when he saw them coldly regarding the children as if speculating what to do with them. After a curfew that night, John Maitland told his father what he had in mind. “I’m going to reopen the school tomorrow,” he said. Mr Maitland peered at his son in shortsighted astonishment. “It won’t be permitted, John!” he exclaimed. “The Conquerors have put a ban on any sort of meeting.” “I think I shall get away with it,” Maitland replied calmly. “The Invaders—” He never called them Conquerors— “are very insistent that people shall work. Teaching is my work. I shall make my stand on that.” “My word, it’s worth trying,” muttered Mr Maitland. “I’ve been frightened for the children and it would get them off the street. They should have their lessons, too. If this goes on they’ll be illiterates.” “That’s how I feel about it,” Maitland answered. In the morning, shortly before none o’clock, Maitland let himself into the playground. He opened the shutters. He unlocked the door. While he had been in the Army, his father and a schoolmistress from Carbridge, ten miles away, had kept classes going. The village had a school population of about fifty. Maitland walked over to the bottom of the little belfry. He grasped the rope and the bell began to ring. At its clang every activity in the village ceased. People came out of their houses and looked towards the school. The children were held back. Out from the Kushantis’ headquarters doubled a squad of soldiers with fixed bayonets, led by Fang and accompanied by Mr Kade. Through the open door Maitland saw the gleam of the bayonets. He remembered how the Sexton had been shot. He went on ringing the bell.


Fang drew his pistol from its holster and advanced through the porch. “Stop!” he ordered. “Speak! The bell is a signal? What is the signal for?” “I am the schoolteacher,” replied Maitland slowly and deliberately. “To teach the children is my work. You have ordered people to get on with their work. That I am doing.” Fang slowly returned the pistol to the holster. He turned to Mr Kade and they conversed in their own tongue. Finally Fang turned on Maitland. “Come with us,” he hissed. The onlookers shuddered as they saw Maitland walking between the soldiers to the Occupation Headquarters. There, John was taken into what had been Miss Tithlery’s drawing-room. Two soldiers remained on guard. John heard Fang’s muffled voice in the next room and was sure the lieutenant was telephoning. The conversation ended. Fang marched in followed by Mr Kade and sat at the table. A clerk brought in a book, bowed low and placed it in front of the lieutenant. As Fang licked a thumb and turned the pages, Maitland managed to see that each page was headed with the name of a villager. Fang found the page he sought and lifted his gaze on Maitland. “Your name is John Maitland,” he said. “You were a Sergeant in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment?” “Yes,” answered Maitland. “It appears to be true that before the War of Invincible Conquest you were the teacher,” pursued Fang. “I had been teacher for two years,” said Maitland. “No,” hissed Fang and pointed at the page. “It is our information that you were the teacher for two years three months.” “I was speaking roughly,” Maitland replied. “You must be more precise,” Fang said. “How do you know so much about me? How did you get information about humble folk such as we are?” Maitland blurted out. Mr Kade spoke smugly. “We have ways,” he sniggered. Fang conferred with Mr Kade and then rose from his chair and walked out stiffly. Maitland heard him telephoning again. In a while Fang returned. “It had been decided,” he said. “It is permitted for you to open the school tomorrow. Attendance at the school is not to be compulsory.” Immense was the relief of the villagers, when Maitland was seen to come out of the headquarters. His family met him at the garden gate. “School opens tomorrow,” said Maitland with a ring of satisfaction in his tones. “It’s not to be compulsory but you—” He pointed at Eric, “will attend.” “I shan’t be sorry to have something to do,” admitted Eric. So, after a meagre breakfast next day, Maitland and Eric went to the school. Maitland unlocked and opened the door.


Eric nudged him, put a finger to his lips and then pointed down. A small pile of sawdust lay underneath a tiny hole that had been bored in the skirting board. Eric got down on his knees and squinted into the hole. He scrambled up and went to the blackboard. On it he chalked— “There’s a wire! I bet the Kushantis wired the place for sound last night! There will be microphones here so that they can overhear what happens in the school!” Maitland nodded and watched as his brother wiped the message off the blackboard. Then he grasped the rope and rang the bell. From houses and cottages all the way down the street, with parents watching them go, the children came running. With pattering feet, but not shouting, they hurried. Some of the boys engaged in a race to see who could get in to school first. Sentries on patrol watched them pass with impassive faces. In through the porch poured the children, eager and breathless, and as Maitland regarded their fresh faces, he felt hope well up in him, and suddenly knew afresh that he had a good reason for working for the future!

The Yellow Sword 15 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1550 - 1564 (1955)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd

Vic Whittle 2007