This week’s weird fiction is from Lord Dunsany, a writer who I haven’t warmed to yet, but this story made some progress in that direction.
Review: “The Hoard of the Gibbelins”, Lord Dunsany, 1911.
Like most of the Lord Dunsany I’ve read, there is a sardonic edge here. Dunsany seems to be putting his own witty spin on fables that seem like fairy tales and, possibly, mocking the modern world.
The Gibbelins are never described physically, but they like to eat people. Their “evil tower is joined to Terra Cognita” by a bridge. Their castle is stocked with gold and jewels to lure thieves there to be eaten.
Alderic, “a Knight of the Order of the City and the Assault, hereditary Guard of the King’s Peace of Mind” – a subtly mocking title, decides to go for the treasure because, like those more common thieves, he also suffers from avarice. He decides he is not going through the Gibbelins’ castle door but is going to tunnel through its walls, flood the castle by letting a river in it, and then dive for the emeralds in a store room.
He wittily forces a dragon to aid him by going to the dragon and asking
’Hath foul dragon ever slain true knight?’ And well the dragon knew that this had never been, and he hung his head and was silent, for he was glutted with blood.
The dragon agrees to help him fly to the castle.
There’s an amusing bit where Alderic rains his gold down on the crowds beneath him as he sets off. He figures that, if he succeeds in getting the Gibbelin treasure, he won’t need it. If he dies trying, he also won’t need it. There is a brief aside about everyone – almost – excited about the possibility of Alderic getting the Gibbelin treasure and the riches it will bring the kingdom. The moneylenders are less happy about having debts repaid.
However, while Alderic gets into the castle as planned, the Gibbelins are waiting for him. The story concludes:
And, without saying a word, or even smiling, they neatly hanged him on the outer wall—and the tale is one of those that have not a happy ending.