The Blue Hawk

The Blue Hawk

by Peter Dickinson


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In an ancient kingdom, a boy and his hawk challenge the gods

All his life, Tron has been destined to join the priests who rule his strange desert kingdom. When the old king grows sick, a ritual is called for to restore his health: the sacrifice of a blue hawk, the symbol of the god Gdu. For the first time, Tron is chosen to take part in the ritual. Just before the bird is sacrificed, the young priest notices that its eyes are cloudy. The bird is sick, and to give its soul to the king would be to kill him. And so Tron steals the bird away.

The priests are enraged at his disruption of the ritual. Some call for his head, but others see Tron’s potential. They give him three months to train the wild bird—three months to save its life and rescue the kingdom from the wrath of the gods.

This ebook features an illustrated personal history of Peter Dickinson including rare images from the author’s collection.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504014939
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 06/16/2015
Pages: 222
Sales rank: 859,838
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 12 - 16 Years

About the Author

Peter Dickinson was born in Africa but raised and educated in England. From 1952 to 1969 he was on the editorial staff of Punch, and since then earned his living writing fiction of various kinds for children and adults. His books have been published in several languages throughout the world.
The author of twenty-one crime and mystery novels for adults, Dickinson was the first to win the Gold Dagger Award of the Crime Writers’ Association for two books running: The Glass-Sided Ants Nest (1968) and The Old English Peepshow (1969). Dickinson was shortlisted nine times for the prestigious Carnegie Medal for children’s literature and was the first author to win it twice.
Dickinson served as chairman of the Society of Authors and was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2009 for services to literature. Peter Dickinson died on December 16, 2015, at the age of eighty-eight.

Read an Excerpt

The Blue Hawk

By Peter Dickinson


Copyright © 1976 Peter Dickinson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-0298-1


The House of O and Aa boomed to the deep voices of the priests. The vast stone pillars, and the stone Gods twenty feet high, seemed to quiver to the sound, almost in the way that a boulder in the desert quivers in the heat of noon.

The Hawk Throne had been carried up from storage and set between the gold pillar of O and the black pillar of Aa, and on it sat the King. His face was as brown as a peasant's, his short-clipped beard black but streaked with gray. On his head, instead of the usual plain gold circlet with the Eye of Gdu at its center, he wore a great hawk-shaped headdress encrusted with chips of lapis lazuli. He sat as still as one of the towering stone Gods, but even so he looked angry and impatient.

Gold-robed behind the pillar of O and black-robed behind the pillar of Aa stood the priests of those two Gods, ranked and silent. It was the priests of the Hawk God, Gdu, who caused the building to boom, standing in front of the throne and singing the Great Hymn for the Renewal of the King's Soul. The rest of the House of O and Aa was filled with the priests of the other Minor Gods, all silent. The nobles of the King's court watched from side aisles.

Behind the throne, with his back to it, the Keeper of the Rods stood watching a fine thread of light as it moved across the patterned stonework of the altar. He was waiting for the exact moment of noon, when O would be strongest and Aa weakest, so that he could give the signal for the sacrifice of the Blue Hawk, whose soul would renew the King's. Already the One of Aa had moved forward and was bending over the black stone basin into which the blood of the hawk would drip; his hands moved to and fro as he blessed the basin with the whispered hymns of Aa. His face was hidden by the cowl of his robe, but his hands were as pale as fine sand because sunlight had never touched his flesh since he had been chosen as a child for Aa.

The front rank of the priests of Gdu consisted of the boys who had been chosen for Gdu. Their mouths moved to the wavelike phrases of the Great Hymn, but they were only whispering the words, learning them in the way that all the hymns were learned. Great Hymns were easier than most, because they consisted mainly of stories. This one told how once, long ago, before the days of the Wise even, Gdu had been flying above the river when O in sport had loosed a gold arrow at Him. (The Gods were young then and the desert green, and Aa walked in daylight and was welcome in the houses of men.) O's arrows cannot miss, so, just as He'd intended, He had knocked the jeweled crest-feather from Gdu's head. Gdu, enraged, had soared to attack O in His gold tower, but even Gdu could not fly so high. By the time He came to search for His crest-feather He could not find it, because O had caused a wind to blow it away.

At dusk Saba crept by the river,
Saba, murderer, first of the Kings.
His father's blood crusted his sword.
He hid among reeds.
He heard his brothers ride by, shouting for his death.
Their hooves faded.
Bright between reeds lay the crest-feather of Gdu,
Large as a palm frond.
"Saba, murderer, take me to Gdu."

Fourth from the left in the row of whispering boys was one called Tron. He was little different to look at, from any of the others—slighter and darker than most, perhaps, but there was not much to it. They all had black hair, close-cropped, and wore the coarse blue tunic proper for boys chosen for Gdu. They all kept their eyes fixed straight ahead, so that at one rim of Tron's peripheral vision he could see the hands of the One of Aa floating like pale fish above the blood basin. At the other rim the brilliant headdress of the King flashed in the pillared gloom. Directly in front of Tron, swaying on its perch, was the Blue Hawk, minutes only now from death.

At last year's Renewal Tron had stood in the second rank and farther to the right. Then this had been just another sacrifice, performed so that the King should stay alive through the ninth year of his reign; Tron's whole attention had been given to making sure he whispered the words of the hymn correctly, and he did not now remember what that Blue Hawk had looked like. This year was different.

Tron stared at the bird, seeing it with a bleak intensity. He had come to the House of O and Aa in a state of shivering excitement, sure that the Gods would speak to him. They had sent him such signs of warning—a vision, a feather, the white Goat-Stone. Tron had never been made Goat before, though other boys had found the white stone baked into their breakfast loaf three or four times. He had always promised himself that if the stone came to him he would choose a quiet moment in some ritual and then turn cartwheels all down the center aisle from the altar to the door. But now it had come on the day of Renewal, and he had seen Gdu in the night and found a feather in his bowl of offering. So he tingled and waited for the Gods to speak.

The hawk swayed at the center of his vision. It was not what he had expected. He was familiar with the little brown reed hawks that were used for teaching the boys that part of their art, and he had sometimes seen the larger hawks that the nobles carried on their wrists. So he knew the true look of a hawk's eye, that hard bright amber that seems proud enough to outstare the sun.

This hawk's eye was dull and despairing. Its slate-blue plumage seemed drab, and the sky-blue stripe across its wing lacked the brilliance of living plumage. The blue scales of its legs and the patch of blue bare cartilage around its beak had the same dull tone. Several times the bird swayed so violently that it almost tumbled from its perch. When this happened it didn't try to right itself with a wingbeat, but allowed the One of Gdu, standing beside it, to steady it upright.

Saba, I take the blood from your sword.
See, it is clean bronze.
Your father walks unwounded beside a fresh-dug water channel.
Your brothers are feasting.
Go now, Saba, to the west of the river.
I give you that land
For you and your sons to rule for ever.
You shall not be conquered.
I breathe into you now the Blue Hawk's soul,
The soul of my loved one,
The hawk that consents to sit on no wrist,
That cannot be tamed.

The hawk on the perch was both tamed and conquered.

It is sick, thought Tron. He stopped whispering the words of the Great Hymn and ran through in his mind the little hymn of the sicknesses of hawks. This was the first little hymn that boys chosen for Gdu had to learn, as it linked the God's two arts of hawking and healing, but now it told Tron nothing. All he knew was that the bird was sick, that it had forgotten its heritage of fierceness and wildness, which ought to have showed in an eye clear as a jewel and in plumage every feather of which lay in its place as smooth as plate armor.

They are giving a sick soul to the King, Tron thought.

Almost as if to assure himself that pride and fierceness still lived, he allowed his glance to slip sideways to the King.

The King too had been looking at the hawk. The small movement of the boy's eyeballs must have caught his attention. For an instant they stared at each other, as though their lines of sight had touched, locked together into a single shaft, true as a lance.

In the King's eyes Tron saw anger, and disgust, and a sort of weariness. In Tron's eyes the King saw—what? Suddenly the corners of the royal mouth twitched, and into the royal glance crept a curious light of mockery. If he had not been sitting so still and balancing that towering headdress on the pillar of his neck, the King might almost have shrugged.

"Little priest," his glance said, "well ...?"

And then he looked away.

In the talons of the hawk the King's lance.
In the eye of the hawk the King's judgment.
In the blood of the hawk the King's courage.
In the least feather of the hawk the King's soul.
In a feather the soul of a man.

The gold line of light sidled across the altar. The Keeper of the Rods made an almost invisible gesture. The black-robed priest who was called the Mouth of Silence touched the shoulder of the One of Aa, who picked up a leaf-shaped obsidian knife from beside the basin and stood straight, his face still shadowed by his cowl. The One of Gdu loosened the light thong that tied the hawk's leg to the perch. The rhythm of the Great Hymn changed, as the rhythm of waves changed when they feel the coming shore. Tron stared at the hawk, all his soul focusing into his gaze. And the Gods stared at Tron, narrowing Their mighty spirits down to the single point where he stood. They spoke in his heart.

The tingling stopped. He took the white Goat-Stone from the pouch of his tunic and hung it by its cord round his neck so that it lay in the middle of his chest. Now he was Goat, sacred as a God for one whole day. Whatever he did during that that day he could not be touched or punished. He stepped forward. The One of Gdu glanced down, his mouth already open to hiss a furious command; then he saw the Goat-Stone and glanced away, picking up the beat of the Great Hymn as though he had never left off.

Tron took another pace, lifted the hawk firmly from its perch and settled it on his wrist. For an instant the talons dug in, raising two small drops of blood on the brown, bare skin, but priests are almost as used to small pains as they are to stillness and waiting, so Tron did not wince. He bowed to the One of O and the One of Aa, to the motionless back of the Keeper of the Rods, and last to his own master, the One of Gdu; then he turned and walked with a priest's gliding pace down the main aisle, between the chanting priests of Gdu, and then, rank on rank in their various-colored robes, the priests of the other Minor Gods—Tan of the Great River, mistress of crops, Alaan of the mountains and the underworld, Sodala the herdsman's helper, Gdaal who moves the slow dunes of the desert and guides the hunter home, Sinu lord of war, and all the rest. Last of all stood the white-robed Sons of the Wise.

Not a single pair of eyes flickered toward Tron. They might all have been as blind as the One of Sinu, who stood sightless at the front of the red-robed priests of the War God. Tron glided down the aisle between them to where the glaring rectangle of the Door of O and Aa opened onto the noon-dazzled inner courtyard of the Temple.

Behind him, at some point before he reached the door, the Keeper of the Rods made a sweeping gesture with both arms, the One of Aa mimed the sacrifice of a hawk, and the One of Gdu dipped his forefinger into the basin and drew with invisible blood the symbol of Gdu on the King's forehead. The priests sang on, continuing the ritual of Renewal as though nothing had interrupted and the symbol were plain to see on the brown skin. The nobles muttered in the darkened side aisles. The King stared down the aisle at the bird and child, black and dwindling against the bright doorway. He smiled the thin smile of defeat.

Tron carried the hawk out into the desert noon.


The rays of O beat vertically down on the Inner Courtyard. Apart from a yard-wide strip along the bottom of the south wall, the only shade lay under the arch of the passage into the Great Courtyard. A flight of the white temple doves wheeled across the square of sky, their wings making a quick, whimpering beat. If the hawk saw them it gave no sign. It seemed to cower from the light, and almost fell from Tron's wrist. He steadied it as he walked toward the shade of the gateway.

It was strange to be pacing alone over these flagstones. It was strange to be alone at all. It was strange to be Goat, to choose to step this way rather than that. As the Gods withdrew their spirit from him Tron found himself dazed and frightened by what his own limbs and fingers had done. It was not even pleasant to be able to choose.

"Hey! What you got there, then!" said the guard lounging under the gateway. "Going to join the nobility, are you? Hey! That's the Blue Hawk!"

He lunged forward and barred Tron's way. In theory he could be lashed a thousand times for touching even a boy-priest; but the guards tended to repay their awe of the Major Priests by a careful rudeness with the boys, provided there were no witnesses. Tron sensed that the hawk settled a little in the sudden shade, so he halted and tried to soothe it still further by gentling the ruffled neck feathers.

"What's up? Where you taking it? Lord Sinu!"

"Speak more quietly. It's sick."

"Sick! Drugged, more like!"

"Oh ..." Tron hadn't even considered the possibility.

"Who told you to take it? You just took it? So the King's got to die just because you took a fancy to a pretty blue bird? Lord Sinu! They'll flay you alive!"

The tone of the guard's voice dropped and became more formal, as though he could actually see the dark wing of Aa shadowing the King on his throne and the boy under the archway. Tron's own mind was so taken up with the concrete act of rescuing the hawk that there was still no room in it to consider the consequences of the act.

"I am Goat," he said.

The guard spat.

"Goat! What's Goat for? Goat's chosen to make a piddling little change in the rituals, just so they don't get too stuck in their ways, that's all. You ever seen a Goat do anything like what you've done? No? Well, I have. Thirteen—no, I'm a liar—fourteen floods ago there was this boy who took it into his head to stand up in front of all them priests and sing a hymn to O that he'd made up himself. O he was chosen for, too. They heard him through and they didn't touch him that day. But by the time he passed for priest he was a cripple, so bad they had to carry him up to his village—some potty little place in the hills. What had done that to him? I'll tell you. Punishments! Oh, not for singing his hymn, of course, but day after day for all sorts of other little ..."

The guard stopped, stiffened and moved back to his place. Tron waited, listening to the approaching flap of sandals across the flagstones. All but the Major Priests went barefoot. He shivered in the noon heat. If only the hawk would fly away and be done with. When the sandals began to echo under the arch Tron could no longer pretend not to hear them. He turned and bowed, carefully, so as not to unbalance the hawk.

The Keeper of the Rods, having given the signal for the exact hour of noon, could leave the ritual. He was fat for a priest, brown-faced and black-bearded, dressed in a plain white tunic but carrying on the crook of his left arm a scepter with the gold sphere of O at the top and the silver sphere of Aa at the bottom; between the spheres ran a twisting lattice crusted with lapis lazuli to represent the river. Serving no particular God, the Keeper had less stylized manners and movements than those of the other Major Priests, and was thought by the boys to be friendly and kindly. But now he looked at Tron with no expression at all, then turned to the guard.

"You," he said. "Present yourelf to the Treasurer. Draw your pay. Go to your village. If now or later you say one word about having talked with this boy, Aa will take your children and Sodala blight your cattle. Come with me, boy. Hold that bird so that it cannot be seen from the Courtyard. Walk between me and the wall."

That in itself would seem strange to any guard watching from the Main Gate, or to the group of boys chosen for Tan, who were jerking their limbs to the cry of the dancemaster over in the northwest corner of the Courtyard. Normally Tron would have followed exactly four paces behind a Major Priest, but now they walked side by side along the inner wall to the Door of the Wise. The noon of O hammered on their scalps and shoulders. The hawk again almost fell from Tron's wrist. Then they were suddenly in the cool and dimness of shaded stone.

Though Tron had lived all his remembered life in the Temple, its minute-by-minute ritual had kept him to definite tracks, so he had never before passed through the dark little Door of the Wise with its strange and indecipherable symbols over the archway. Draggingly he followed the Keeper up a worn flight of shallow steps. In his mind's eye he still saw how the face of the guard had paled and broken into sweat when the Keeper had spoken to him. As Goat Tron had nothing to fear, but still he was afraid.

At the top of the steps the Keeper turned left into a long room, big as an eating hall and filling the width of the south wall of the Courtyard. On its right-hand side rose the familiar statues of the Gods; but on the left, instead of more Gods staring back at them, was a plain wall pierced by big windows below which, along the full length of the room, ran a sloping rack of hundreds of colored rods. As Tron entered the room, one of the Sons of the Wise reversed the sandglass he had been watching, rose, crossed to the rack, muttered a line of some hymn and moved a platelike gold object a few inches along the sloping layer of rods. The symbol of O was embossed deep on the gold.

The Keeper picked out a striped black-and-white rod from beside a blue one.

"Amun!" he called.


Excerpted from The Blue Hawk by Peter Dickinson. Copyright © 1976 Peter Dickinson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Blue Hawk 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
With Harry Potter leading the way to a revival of interest in children's fanatasy/magic books, it's time to take a hard look at some of the other titles in the genre. Peter Dickinson's 'The Blue Hawk' is to my mind, by far, the best of many excellent books which include Ursula LeGuin's EarthSea trilogy, the Harry Potter books and of course 'The Hobbit'. What makes Dickinson's book so wonderful is not only the riveting tale of another place and time, but also his wise portrayal of a young boy coming to terms with his own role in a rigid society destined for change. A profound and provokative book.