Wednesday, 10 October 2012

In Search of Macsen Fallo (Part 4 - Final)

Part one of the story can be found here, part two is here and part three is here.

Ian Martin

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In Search of Macsen Fallo (Part 4 - Final)

by Elin Mynach
12th of Ash, Rigantona 12


In the end, however, it was in the jagged spires and water cathedrals that nature itself has so elegantly hewn in the East that I was able to establish his presence, and for all the infantrymen's tales of Joyahon's vast and majestic terrain, it was from a sailor that I was finally able to pin Macsen Fallo the soldier down to a particular place and time.

The tavern where I met this sailor was less disreputable than some of the places I had been frequenting, perched neatly on the East Bank of the Afon. A wooden deck protruded outwards over the water, allowing drinkers to sit out on a summer's night and watch the sun go down over the river. For those with a sense of smell inured to the river's excesses, it could be rather pleasant.

Carrying no permanent injuries and seemingly none of the ailments of the mind that appear so unfortunately prevalent among those who experienced the war's horrors firsthand, he appeared to suffer primarily from the melancholy of loneliness. Like many returning soldiers, he had come home from the war a changed man, and now only found companionship among those like him, those who had shared his experiences. So he sought them out, exchanging reminiscences of the triumphs, tragedies, heroics and horrors, reliving the war nightly in the company of the only people he could trust to understand. He was willing to open up to me only warily, for I was not a creature of his world. It was as if he saw me as a child or a foreigner, a semi-ignorant intruder, yet in the end one to be reluctantly indulged.

The sailor, Seaman T____, had been an enlisted man serving on the light cruiser IMS Addanc, which in the month of Alder of the year Lir 42 was at sea in the vicinity of the Ivachan Archipelago. As a result, the Addanc was one of the first ships to respond to distress calls during the Pechen Incident.

For three days after its arrival at Polum, the Addanc changed its position of anchorage, altering its appearance by the construction of phony additional gun turrets and by kindling fires at the base of a false third funnel to mislead Admiral Lupe into believing that he was confronted with a squadron of ships including other, more powerful vessels rather than a lone, lightly armoured patrol ship. Lupe's hesitation and eventual withdrawal made heroes out of the crew of the Addanc just as it led to Lupe's own downfall and suicide. Military historians believe it is this incident that ensured the war with the Lunaeans would catch light in the West rather than the East, and thus it may be seen as the pivot on which the destinies of many thousands of men, women and children turned, the keystone around which our current empire rests. 

This much is the red clay of which legends are moulded, and Seaman T____ took a gruff but nonetheless obvious pleasure in recounting his role. However, nestled in the shadow of the Addanc's famous tale lay a curious series of events that unfolded in the days following the retreat of the unfortunate Admiral Lupe and his squadron.

IMS Addanc at anchor off the port of Polum during the infamous Pechen Incident. Note the counterfeit third funnel held in place with guy-wires at the rear.

As a relief fleet arrived to secure the port of Polum, the Addanc was detailed to patrol the islands for the purposes of scouting out any lingering Lunaean military presence and relieving any Sarffi units still besieged. It was a slow process, picking their way between the archipelago's many reefs and islets, the clear skies and calm seas creating in the men a sense of boredom edged with unease and anxiety that at any moment a hail of gunfire may tear forth from some wooded coastline.

It was during this painstaking duty that the ship took onboard two soldiers of The Duke of Twr Aran's Light Infantry Regiment who claimed to have escaped from the capture of Kovmraz. One of the men gave his name as Macsen and seemed a jovial enough fellow, drinking and joking with the sailors in the mess hall, and yet Seaman T____ believed the pair were concealing something. In his own words:

"They were fierce clear that they'd be lodged in the same cabin," the sailor confided in me, "and they weren't hardly never out of each other's sight. Rumour was that they was a pair of mandrakes, if you know what I mean, but it weren't that. You could see it in their eyes. I know the look of love, and it ain't nothing like that. They looked at each other like card sharps over a game of gwendid, suspicious like."

His unease about the pair was heightened by a mysterious package, wrapped in a cloth bandage, that Macsen, now confirmed by the Addanc's Captain Parry as Lieutenant Fallo, seemed to keep close by. He once caught Fallo alone in his cabin, carefully looking over the item, but Fallo wrapped it up again before the seaman could glimpse it. Seeing the young sailor's curiosity, Fallo had smiled coldly and said:

"This trinket has already cost more than you or I can afford. Forget it if you have any sense."

By this time, the two soldiers' secrecy was making many of the crewmen nervous, and one imagines that their disquiet only grew when the captain suddenly announced that the Addanc would, rather than returning to Polum, instead make directly for the distant naval station of Helalma. No explanation was given, but it was widely suspected that their two new guests were somehow responsible.

Finally, one night, while Seaman T____ was afflicted with a particularly unpleasant bout of an ailment of the stomach, the details of which he pronounced himself too much of a gentleman to recount in front of a lady like me, he retreated to the ship's deck and was surprised to find the aft lookout position unmanned. Initially thinking to report this neglect of duty with all due speed, he was distracted by movement near the rearmost torpedo tubes.

At first all he could see was a single man working clumsily to unfasten one of the smaller life-rafts from where it was nested, but as he moved closer, he realised that a second man stood nearby, holding a gun in one hand and something he couldn't discern in the other. At the direction of the man with the gun, the first figure dragged the heavy raft towards the stern, then fastened it by rope to the Addanc's rail and let it into the black water. He then motioned the first man to climb in, the man protested at first, but eventually obeyed. After this, the armed man concealed his weapon, approached the rail and began to cut away at the rope, at which Seaman T____ made the decision to flee the scene.

The next day, Fallo was nowhere to be seen, while his companion spent most of the day fortified in his cabin. It was officially announced that Lieutenant Fallo had deserted, stealing one of the life-rafts and absconding during the night. When the men asked the previous night's rear lookout if he had seen anything, he insisted angrily that he had been at his post all night and witnessed nothing.

Seaman T____ claims that he had eventually confessed his tale to the captain himself, stating that:

"He just looks at me, like. Eyes on me cold like I'm some cove he ain't never seen before, and says he: 'I must apologise to you,' or some like that, 'but I did not hear a word of what you just said to me. It must be these damned seagulls.' But there weren't no seagulls, and he heard me fine. I didn't say no more to no one after that."

And nor, it appears, did anyone else. The lookout seems to have died in a tavern brawl soon after making landfall, Captain Parry famously went down with the battlecruiser IMS Draig, and of those stationed at Kovmraz who survived the war and the Lunaean prison camps, few could recall much of the confusion that reigned during the incident. As for the identity of Fallo's companion on the Addanc, Seaman T____ was curiously reticent although records and recollections of survivors indicate that Gwydion Brutus, then a Lieutenant Colonel, was head of the battalion stationed in Kovmraz.

Was the other man Brutus? Why had the Addanc changed course so suddenly? What was in the package that Fallo had guarded so jealously? None of these questions I have been able to answer, and indeed, more credible sightings of Fallo himself I have been unable to find.

That he survived being set adrift, and spent much of the war close to the scene of fighting are evidenced at the very least by his writing. Also, it is strongly suggested by the sailor's tale that whatever had happened to Fallo and his companion among the Ivachan islands seemed to have had a shattering effect on him. How his salvation occurred is another mystery, but it was likely either by a chance encounter with an unsung, unknown hero of a fisherman, or by washing back ashore on a tiny beach, lost in the unmapped inlets of the Ivachan Archipelago.

I suspect the latter, although I must confess that my judgment is coloured by the mystery and beauty of those islands, whose bleak, windswept clifftops and ridges, dark forests, jagged peaks and rippling lagoons inhabited by terrifying cryptids and their ancient, inscrutable cults, and whose hardy, plain-spoken people seem to me like a mirror of Fallo himself.

I have travelled the archipelago in search of clues, but found only echoes of his presence. It is possible that a castaway washed ashore and made a nuisance of himself among the strange people of Okte Vrach over a period that appears to coincide with that following Fallo's disappearance, although one must note with sadness that the outbreak of full scale war at around that time led to a glut of stranded sailors of all stripes and creeds.

No, it is at this point that we must take leave of Macsen Fallo the man and immerse ourselves once more in the brash, crass, charming and rash world of his poison pen. As Fallo himself put it in The Cursed Treasure of Yuna Mette:

What use do we have of the past in this place, in the rotten here and now, scratching for answers and explanations for what happened to us, what we did so wrong that we ended up as we are now and not in a country villa with a dirty puzzle of a countess waiting upstairs while we give the green gown to a kitchen maid in the apple orchard? The past is for heroes and widows: give me a stiff drink, another to chase it down, and a purse full of brass and I'll show you a night, be sure of it. I'll show you a night that would make those toff boys weep with envy and their sisters weep with joy.

It was of course only a matter of time before such a writer was declared harmful to the moral and spiritual health of the Sarffi people and his work banned on these shores. For some time afterwards, new works and bound editions of his earlier stories appeared from an obscure Lunaean publishing house, but as the war faded into the past and diplomatic affairs between our two empires became more cordial, it seems that even our enemies became embarrassed by Fallo's often vulgar satires and had him silenced.

There are some who believe that Fallo is now dead, perhaps in the torture room of some Lunaean Religious Police gaol -- certainly no new work under his name has come to light in recent years. Others believe that he retired of his own volition, with political changes on Ynys Sarff rendering his work unnecessary, although critics of this theory can point with some justification to certain discrepancies in the dates.

There are still others who hold more outlandish hypotheses: that Fallo was an alias of the mysterious Glass Marchioness Charlotte Synamon, that he was merely a creation of the Lunaean propaganda ministry, that he has been sighted in Aberafon at a revolutionary meeting, even that he is involved in mythical sects such as the Brotherhood of the Raven. Needless to say, believers in each of these postulations disagree with each other passionately and frequently, with heated discussions in coffee houses of a more radical literary persuasion regularly erupting into violence of one sort or another.

To speak personally once more, I would venture an alternative theory. As an avid reader of Fallo's work for many years now, I have come to recognise certain stylistic idiosyncrasies -- quirks if you will -- to which he is prone. For example, throughout his body of work, Fallo reveals a preference for direct over reported speech, a fondness for military metaphors, and a recurring theme of the facade, the veil, and the masquerade.

Among the pages of a number of periodicals, including this august journal and its sister publication Clyddyf Cultural Review, I have recognised pieces, both fictional and ostensibly factual, by writers under various names, that bear a striking, albeit more restrained, resemblance to Fallo's own writing. While I concede the likelihood that many of these writers are merely admirers of Fallo's work who have appropriated his style, I shall be charitable and say inadvertently, I propose that it is at least possible that they not are all the work of such people.

Yet perhaps this is simply my own manifestation of the insufferable romanticism that Lunaeans call The Sarffi Disease. Perhaps I have fallen for the too-perfect symmetry that -- having been alternately intrigued, horrified, thrilled and seduced by Fallo's exquisitely crafted barbs, cruel moral conundrums, and, yes, even his rakish manipulation of my emotions -- I should find myself sharing these very pages with this most enigmatic of authors. In this way, it is perhaps appropriate that this story ends where it begins: with me, still in thrall to my seducer, reaching to turn back the veil that only my imagination can reach.


Monday, 8 October 2012

In Search of Macsen Fallo (Part 3)

Part one of the story can be found here and part two is here.

Ian Martin

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In Search of Macsen Fallo (Part 3)

by Elin Mynach
12th of Ash, Rigantona 12


After some time, the nurse re-entered the room and declared that our interview would soon have to end, so I asked my final question, regarding Fallo's political views. To be frank, I had asked the question only with some trepidation, lest the old gentleman think me an impertinent young woman, but to my surprise, he responded by unleashing a deathly rattling sound from his throat that I eventually deciphered as a laugh. Cledwyn Fallo, at least, had been no more political than he had been a poet.

While this in itself was perhaps a point of note, the Exegesis was the next piece of the puzzle, and by my continuing good fortune, the old tutor permitted me to bring it back to Caerafon to study at my leisure. Saint Macsen was naturally an important figure in the early Sarffi church, although bulk of his adherents have traditionally been confined to the Eastern Principalities and The Martyrdom of Saint Macsen remains to this day a seldom-read text in the lowlands.

In the popular legend, of course, Saint Macsen was a prince of the East who took arms on behalf of the Goddess against a heathen neighbour, only to be betrayed by his treacherous cousin on the night before the final battle. He is interesting to scholars because he is an unusually early example of what modern religious historians refer to as a Type 3 saint. The Type 1 saints, of course, were primarily sailors, reflecting the Goddess' maritime origins, while the Type 2 saints were largely pilgrims, bringing word of her merciful deeds to the Sarffi hinterland. Type 3 saints were the kings and war leaders who unified Ynys Sarff under one spiritual ruler, if not yet a corporeal one.

The early sections of the story, often known as The Nine Sins of Saint Macsen, deal with the young prince’s rambunctious early life. Among them is the famous tale of how he seduced the beautiful virgin daughter of the Duke of Carreg Aethnen by climbing up the tower in which she had been imprisoned by her jealous father, and escaping his paternal wrath disguised as a chambermaid -- a story that has become a staple of the vulgar musical theatre that flourishes west of the river.

Another popular tale is of the young Macsen's wager with Celyn Quickhand, where he gambled his firstborn child against the famous enchanter's magic box of secrets. Expecting the young prince to select a challenge by strength or skill at arms -- challenges that Celyn, despite his withered frame, always won -- the old wizard was surprised when Macsen instead suggested a game of dice.

Of course, Macsen cheated and won easily, claiming the box and making off before Celyn had time to discover his opponent's trick. Flying into a rage, Celyn summoned an army of phantoms and besieged the prince's castle, where his young bride had just given birth to a baby boy, demanding he be given both box and child lest he tear down the walls stone by stone and rip the child from the mother's dead hands.

After three days and nights with no word from within, the gates finally opened and Macsen emerged leading twenty women, each bringing with them a child of varying ages. The prince then calmly explained that his firstborn could be any of these children, for he had been slipping it to all of these women at one time or another. When Celyn asked in dismay how he could know which was truly the prince's child, Macsen offered to sell Celyn back his box of secrets in exchange for all the enchanter's lands so that he could ask it himself.

At this, Celyn flew into another rage, and cursed the box so that the only secret it would ever reveal to the inquisitive soul who opened it would be the manner of their own death.

Some versions go on to tell that at that very moment, the young princess herself, unknowing of what it was, opened the box and learned that she would die through her husband's selfishness and betrayal, whereupon she threw herself from the window of the castle keep in despair.

Of course the latter part of the story of St. Macsen deals with the more familiar tale of how he was visited by the Goddess, who appeared to him on a mountaintop in her winged form -- as was common in many of the Eastern Principalities' traditional tales -- and made him renounce his degenerate ways. After this, so the tale says, Prince Macsen devoted himself to spreading word of the Goddess within both his own lands and eventually the neighbouring principalities, right up until his eventual betrayal and death.

Despite the obvious attraction that the young Prince Macsen's wanton ways might have had for his now namesake, it was at first glance hard to see what attraction this otherwise fairly conventional tale of the sinner redeemed by the love of the Goddess would have had, and it was with this thought in mind that I turned to the dusty old Exegesis.

As I can attest from my own religious instruction, the traditional reading of St. Macsen's story is as a tale of how the love of the Goddess can overcome the wickedness of men and turn them to a life of good deeds, and I must confess that despite myself, I was perhaps a little disappointed that the roguish Cledwyn Fallo could have been so easily influenced by a tale with such a respectable teaching at its heart. However, Alwyn of Argoed's reading of the story proved rather more intriguing.

It is easy to imagine the kind of monk Alwyn was. Argoed was one of Ynys Sarff's foremost brewery monasteries, and is perhaps best known as the home of the notoriously potent Bragawd Fflam pale ale. Monasteries of this caste were famously idiosyncratic in their pronouncements, with many  a curious or radical notion lost in the avalanche of competing theories, spared the oppressive scrutiny of Lunaean religious scholars, but also denied the acclaim or infamy that often emerged from the passionate, frequently inflammatory scientific and literary debates of the age.

And so it was in the permissive and typically intoxicated atmosphere of Argoed, amid the gushing river of religious theories destined to be published, absorbed, mused over, adopted, abandoned and forgotten, that Alwyn decided that St. Macsen had reached his enlightenment through his dissolute behaviour rather than despite it.

Alwyn's Exegesis focussed in large part on the Nine Sins part of the story, detailing how by his self-absorption, gorging himself on transient pleasures at the expense of other people, Macsen had purged his mind and soul of the compromises and negotiations that comprise the human world, allowing him to accept enlightenment with a clear heart. To Alwyn's mind, it was this purity that made Macsen such a powerful servant to the Goddess, just as it was the dimming of this purity -- in this case Macsen's sentimental devotion to his cousin and former sword brother -- that was his downfall.

In this way, we can see in the Macsen Fallo that left for the army that day a picture of a young man, fresh from a year of travels, buoyed by a new, mystically inclined bent to his individualistic hedonism.

And yet this is still not the Macsen Fallo, burning with a mixture of righteous anger and bawdy pub humour, that we know from his stories, so the question we must now ask is what happened? How can we reconcile the man who wrote with such intensity and detail of the powerful and deeply-rooted bonds shared by men, and sometimes of women, with the self-centred philosophy espoused by Alwyn of Argoed? 

My first instinct was that his family's misfortunes had uncovered in him stronger bonds than he had expected to the ever-tantalising, part-consummated human world, and I determined to seek out what clues I could find of Fallo's military record that might help me learn if and when any such change in his character had occurred.

This proved difficult. The Ministry of War has never been in the habit of releasing the military records of its servicemen to members of the public, least of all reporters, and therefore I was forced to resort to subterfuge. Though it would be immodest to recount precisely how, let it suffice to say that I learned the records of Lieutenant Cledwyn Fallo had been lost -- or more likely destroyed -- many years previously, after having been requested by Gwydion Brutus himself, by then ennobled as Lord Penllew and sitting in the Senedd as Minister of War. Powerful forces indeed had been roused to concern by the affairs of the man who called himself Macsen Fallo.

Having hit this dead end, the next step in my quest was to search places frequented by war veterans and military hospital out-pensioners in the hope of tracing men who might have served with Fallo.

The banks of the Afon are home to numerous drinking establishments of both good and ill repute.

The veterans of the war are a group of men much celebrated in the popular literature and press of our empire, and yet they are paradoxically little seen in the flesh. They have been called the empire's Hidden Heroes by some, although that term itself is guilty of painting its own sordid romantic gloss over the reality of their existence.

Gathering in taverns, doss-houses and black drop dens, there is an underclass of former servicemen haunted and perhaps irreparably damaged by their experiences, whose scars run far deeper than the crippling physical wounds that many still carry -- men who escape their nightmares by retreating into the comforting embrace of the dream pipe or simply annihilate their treacherous minds each night by drowning themselves in gwirod and ale.

While Ynys Sarff and The High City glared at each other across the sound, down the barrels of our great cannons, these men fought through the dust and mud of distant lands, shedding their blood on foreign soil for the glory of the empire. It would be unfair to say that our island itself was untouched by the years of struggle -- too many of us lost family members, and all of us suffered through the fear and want of those straitened times -- but we can perhaps say that as a people we were insulated from the true reality of the war.

To walk among the out-pensioners and veterans is to see the characters of Autumn of Blood in their own later years, shattered and broken by the war, their stories discarded, rewritten into heroic tales by journalists, novelists and historians alike. The reality of their existence is an unwelcome intrusion into the fantasy that we tell ourselves and our children, just as Fallo's stories must have been to the politicians and generals on whose behalf these men prosecuted that bloody conflict.

Among these run down dens in the Caerafon's forgotten underbelly I heard many blood-curdling tales of the war; the men to whom I spoke seemed to take a delight in competing with each other to shock me. One man in particular, an artilleryman who had lost a leg and an eye in Joyahon, spoke with tremendous glee of a certain incident whose details I will spare you but which he claims was single handedly responsible for the introduction of the army's current cannon safety guidelines. Another man, a cavalry officer, told through laughter and sobs of how he had commandeered digs in a native village and woken up to find the tendons in his horse's legs had been cut during the night. The soldiers had lined up and bayonetted every man in the village one by one, and when none confessed, they had started on the women. Three of his comrades had taken their own lives in the months that followed, while others had gone on to commit even greater crimes. He himself had put a bullet through the head of his crippled horse. Even before they had left, the surviving villagers had started stripping its flesh for food.

Through hearing the tales of these former soldiers, one curious feature of Fallo's writing came to my attention. It had troubled me for some time how the religious interests of the young up country man could have so thoroughly disappeared from the work of the writer whose work I knew so well, but as these veterans talked, something seemed to click into place.

While a follower of the Goddess might see them as rather irreligious works, there is perhaps another spiritual presence in Her place. Particularly in Fallo's early works like Autumn of Blood and The Cursed Treasure of Yuna Mette, the ruined temples and monumental statues and structures that litter the Joyahon deserts, jungles and mountains are a constant presence -- ancient eyes watching over the petty, ant-like, scurrying of the human participants. Could it be that what began in Alwyn of Argoed's Exegesis of The Martyrdom of St. Macsen had been transmuted into something else by Fallo's contact with the ancient magic of the West?

To be continued...

Thursday, 4 October 2012

In Search of Macsen Fallo (Part 2)

Part one of the story can be found here.

Ian Martin

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In Search of Macsen Fallo (Part 2)

by Elin Mynach
12th of Ash, Rigantona 12


But who is Macsen Fallo? In many ways he seems like a character more fictional than any of his literary creations: a masked highwayman who robs the undeserving rich at poison pen-point and fades away into the night like a spectre. Yet behind that mask, there is surely a being of flesh and blood, so what can we know of the man himself? 

From his writing, we can draw few firm conclusions, yet we can nonetheless make some suppositions. Firstly, it seems that he has a military background, most likely in the infantry. His descriptions of life on the battlefront, of the interactions between men and officers, of the jokes and songs soldiers share, speak of firsthand experience of army life. However, in contrast with Autumn of Blood, Fallo’s naval tale Married to the Sea rings less true. The brutality of life on the waves is depicted in the same visceral detail, but the characters' dialect occasionally slips into the clich├ęs of more traditional maritime adventure serials. It reads like the work of one familiar with the sea, but not himself a navy man.

Another thing we can surmise from Fallo’s writing is that he was originally a man of the educated classes, more likely a commissioned officer than an enlisted man. His politicians and people of quality are often grotesques, but there is usually a seed of truth in his depictions. Moreover, Fallo is multilingual, with an authorial voice that occasionally reveals a weakness for allusions, not only from Sarffi, but also Lunaean, Ivachan and Joyahon literature. Thus, it would be logical to assume that he received some manner of classical education. 

So the man we are looking for is likely to be a commissioned officer in the infantry, possibly serving under Gwydion Brutus during the early years of the war. Reasonably well educated, and a fluent speaker of several languages, it also seems probable that he is a well-travelled gentleman, with some experience of life at sea, although perhaps not himself a sailor.

Of known facts, however, there are few. There are a number of families named Fallo in and around Caerafon, although none willing to claim Macsen as their own. One tempting possible origin for our mysterious author lay in a family of up country Fallos who were declared bankrupt in Lir 35. The father took his own life shortly after, the mother was soon lost to illness while living on the charity of relatives, while the elder son, Eurig, travelled west to go into business and has not been heard of since. The second son, Cledwyn, is of greater interest to us, since it appears that the family purchased a military commission for him even as the debt collectors closed in around them.

While the name did not match, Cledwyn's age and the time of his entry into the army made me suspicious enough that I took a trip to the former home of the Fallos. The chapel's birth records verified that there was indeed a Cledwyn Fallo born in the parish, who would have been about twenty years old at the time of his commission, and the diviner was able to confirm the fate of the unfortunate Fallo clan. He was unable, however, to provide any further information on the younger son, who it appears was an infrequent visitor to the chapel.

The up country chapel where Cledwyn Fallo's birth is registered.

Talking to people around the village, I was able to discern from those who remembered the family that Cledwyn had been schooled privately at the family home by an elderly tutor of the Fallo patriarch's acquaintance, and that he had been considered something of a dissolute, with a reputation for drunkenness and philandering.

It was at this point that I began worrying that I too was drifting into the world of mystery and adventure serials, for I found myself reasoning, like any number of fictional sleuths, that I may find some clues to Fallo's identity among his former lovers, inwardly quoting Inspector Daukyn's famous line, Find the woman, and I shall find the man. Is it not ever the case?

Of course, among the women of an age to have known Cledwyn Fallo, most were now thoroughly respectable ladies of the community, and not of a mind to recount intimacies of past romances to anyone, least of all a reporter, as the villagers insisted on calling me. However, one lady, a childhood sweetheart of sorts, for the sake of whose modesty I shall refer to as Miss Y____, was able to tell me something of the man.

It appears that Miss Y____ and Cledwyn had courted, perhaps somewhat against the will of their parents. However, while not denying that her former beau had a reputation as something of a rake, the portrait she painted of the man was far from the boorish drunk that other villagers had described. In fact, after some time in conversation, she confided that she had kept in her possession some of his letters and poetry.

Upon hearing this, it may not surprise dear reader to learn that my heart skipped a beat. Far from being part of my work, this was now my quest. I tried not to let my eagerness get ahead of me, and guided Miss Y____ towards her memories of Cledwyn's life outside of their more intimately shared moments. Here, the story was more familiar. He would often take a horse to a nearby town and return only after several days, on some occasions missing items of clothing that he had left with, and on others sporting fresh items he had not had with him upon departure, and at the age of eighteen, he had left Ynys Sarff, announcing with a flourish that he would travel the empire.

Of Cledwyn's travels, Miss Y____ would say little, but it appears that he wrote seldom, and with diminishing frequency as time went by. Her next encounter with him came quite suddenly a year later, when, on a visit to Avonford, she saw him with a group of young men emerging from an ale house, and this again pricked my interest.

It seems that Miss Y____ called his name twice, both times within easy hearing range, but that he did not respond. Then, in a fit of pique, she called after him once more, Mr. Fallo! Upon hearing this, his companions turned to face her one by one, until eventually Cledwyn had looked at Miss Y____, with what she described to me as the coldest of eyes, as if he were a stranger wearing the mask of her beloved. He had flashed a smile, extended a greeting that pirouetted insolently on the border between cordial and flirtatious, then turned and continued on his way.

I must confess that at this time, I was convince that I had found the identity of Macsen Fallo. Clearly on his travels, the young Cledwyn had chosen to invent himself anew, beginning with a new name -- a pretension I gather not unknown amongst the young and foolish, including many of my own acquaintance -- and he had been caught in a clumsy predicament by a paramour from his other life. What made this episode so striking, however, was the alarm in Miss Y____'s voice as she re-lived the moment. Something in the look he had given her had filled her with fear. It was more than just a name, she insisted to me: he really was another person.

In comparison, the letters and poetry were disappointingly inconclusive. Where Macsen Fallo used words like jagged rocks from a slingshot, the young Cledwyn Fallo was at best a poet of mediocre talents, and certainly one unsuited to the composition of romantic verse. Similarly, while his letters occasionally displayed a sharpness of wit when caricaturing mutual acquaintances in the village, they contained none of the controlled, righteous anger of Macsen's satirical grotesques.

I returned to my inn conflicted, and was preparing to make my journey back to Caerafon, when I encountered the most extraordinary piece of luck. A reply to one of my speculative requests for associates of the Fallo clan arrived informing me that Cledwyn's old tutor, who I had assumed to have passed on long ago, was still alive, living in a cottage not far from the village, and would be amenable to a short interview.

I was shown in by a plump, fussy nurse, but upon first meeting the old tutor, I admit that I suspected my contact of exaggerating his claims regarding the old gentleman's continued existence this side of the Grey Sea, for he seemed to me quite dead. Nevertheless, his eyes eventually flickered open, a sharp rattle from his throat began to form itself into words, and a slow, painstaking conversation ensued between us.

Cledwyn appeared to have been a gifted, if somewhat inattentive student, lavishing more care and attention on excuses for work not completed than he ever devoted to his actual studies. Where he did not allow himself to become idle was in his reading. I asked the tutor if he would be able to direct me towards works in which the young Cledwyn had shown a particular interest, and the old man was silent for the longest time.

When I was beginning to suspect once more that he may have passed from this world, he rose from his seat and slowly made his way to the book shelf, returning with an ancient tome, whose title and author had long been lost from the cover to erosion and the elements. Laying it on the table before me, I opened to the title page, and opposite the delicately calligraphied frontispiece were the words An Exegesis of The Martyrdom of Saint Macsen, written by a monk named Alwyn of Argoed.

A saint's exegesis seemed a curious choice for a young man of the sort that Cledwyn Fallo appeared to have been, and yet there at last was the name. Cledwyn and Macsen Fallo were surely the same man, yet as Miss Y____ had seen that day in Avonford to her great discomfort, they were also very different men.

To be continued...

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

In Search of Macsen Fallo (Part 1)

This story is in the form of a piece of fake journalism by a non-existent writer about a fictional person from within a fantasy world. It's written as a single eight or nine thousand word piece but I've broken it up into four pieces for the blog. This time I've kept the illustrations as simple, rough, freehand pencil sketches with all the attendant glaring errors in perspective and light sourcing partly for the atmosphere but mostly because I wanted to get it done quickly.

Ian Martin (the actual writer for real)

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In Search of Macsen Fallo (Part 1)

by Elin Mynach
12th of Ash, Rigantona 12

I first encountered the work of Macsen Fallo as a child, and I am rather ashamed to say that it was the more lurid passages of his prose that initially attracted me. And I use the word "attracted" deliberately, because scornful of sentimentality though he may have been, Fallo was a master of seduction, using his rough words to caress, woo and ultimately manipulate his readers. In the end, it was his very success in this craft that may have proven his downfall.

To many readers of this esteemed journal, it may seem shocking, indeed scandalous, that a girl barely on the cusp of adolescence should have access to such literature -- and as I hope to show, Fallo's work, in addition to its often sensational nature, is literary in more than plainly literal terms -- but you must understand that childhoods like mine are far from the average, albeit still all too common, in this grand, majestic, ever rotting, yet constantly growing hive of a city.

Growing up among the backstreets of the Caerafon slums, I witnessed humanity in its basest, most desperate forms. And yes, I myself was tempted -- I will not be so self-regarding as to say forced -- into certain criminal acts, before I was saved by the merciful grace of our Goddess. It was among these streets that certain pamphlets and serials circulated, telling tales that would scandalise any of our great nation's more refined and civilised households, and it was among these periodicals that the name Macsen Fallo was first spied by my younger self.

It was a story called Autumn of Blood, and it told the story of an infantry troop based in Joyahon during the war. Caught up in a Lunaean offensive, our own Imperial Army's confused attempts at a counter-offensive, and an unexpectedly early onset of the rainy season, the group initially stumbles from disastrous engagement with the enemy to disease and near starvation in the jungle.

Part of what made it such a remarkable story was that the perennial enemy of such war tales, the accursed, fanatical Lunaean, was barely depicted at all. Indeed, the villain of the piece was the troop's lieutenant, a merchant's son named Gwythyr Brynmor, who continually leads his men on the most daring and dangerous of raids, taking them on forced marches over the most uncompromising terrain, all in service of his own ambitions.

That Brynmor's character was a transparent yet tremendously unflattering representation of General Gwydion Brutus, later made Earl ap Penllew in recognition of his military accomplishments, was apparent to all. Indeed, an editorial piece in this very journal, from the year Lir 44 makes reference to this very story. For those whose memories do not stretch back that far, I shall quote from it here:

...and while none at this periodical would be so ungracious as to question the military achievements of General Brutus, or the glory that he has heaped upon our great empire, still it would be most profoundly unpatriotic of us, were we to allow those achievements to make us blind against the immense human sacrifice with which our nation's glory has been bought.
    While we hear grand pronouncements from our generals about The Glorious Fields of Brankadeh, there are those among the less educated orders who are referring to the same battle as General Brutus' Abbatoir. Indeed, one satire, recently emerged from one of the less reputable printing houses west of the river, presents a most critical counterpoint to the official reports and has found not inconsiderable popularity among the uncouth masses.
    This story, called, and I hope my readers will forgive me for recounting the title on these pages, The Autumn of Blood, while undoubtedly a work of treasonous intent, is a clear critick of not only General Brutus' methods, but also his character. While we on the pages of Y Cleddyf deplore such personal attacks on our brave soldiers, it seems to us that the appearance of satires such as these asks questions of the methods by which the military hierarchy is working to achieve victory in this war.

The battlefield at Brankadeh showing the results of repeated bombardments. The structures depicted in the background are likely part of the ancient Sul Temple, miraculously undamaged by the cannon shells and fire.

Firstly, I must declare myself very much surprised upon spying reference to Fallo's story as far back as Lir 44. That he wrote and published such a piece with the war still an ongoing concern demonstrates that Fallo was a man possessed of strong convictions, and yet I think the writer of the above editorial misses something of Fallo's intention.

It is perhaps natural that when we read, we interpret the author's words as though written for us and us alone, and it is my belief that that the Cleddyf editorial falls victim to this error. The writer, an educated man, clearly of good social standing, is shocked by Fallo's words and thus interprets them as an attempt to shock.

Fallo's audience, however, was not primarily composed of members of the educated classes, but of low paid slum dwellers, waifs and strays like myself, where we were lucky enough to be able to read, and members of the rank and file imperial soldiery. This audience was not shocked by the portrayal of Brynmor. On the contrary, we all recognised him, and people like him, as an everyday fixture in our lives: the cruel overseer, the abusive kidsman, the self-serving commanding officer.

At this point, it is perhaps instructive to return to the story of Autumn of Blood and see where Fallo takes it.

Horribly lost after weeks of torments at the hands of the dreaded Lunaean, of disease, and under the ravages of nature, the troop comes upon a hitherto unknown enemy fort. Scouting the enemy's defences, the troop learns that they are less than a day's march from their own front lines, and for the first time in as long as they can remember, the men begin to feel hope. Brynmor, on the other hand, notes that the Lunaean defences are poorly manned and undersupplied, and concocts a plan to take the fort. Of the sixteen or so men remaining, he calculates, perhaps as many as two thirds will survive, and he will be a hero.

The night before the planned attack, one of the men cuts Brynmor's throat with a bayonet. None of the men confesses to the deed, and the story never tells us who was responsible. The Troop Sergeant, a man named Gwilt, leads the men back to Sarffi lines, where chaos reigns.

Their battalion no longer exists in any form that they recognise, having been wiped out and restocked with fresh recruits twice since the troop became lost, and the army itself is a maelstrom of conflicting orders. Gwilt desperately tries to untangle the chain of command, but instead is merely sent from command post to command post, ricocheting from one to the other like a billiard ball. One day, a clerk arrives at the troop's encampment and asks, "Are you Lieutenant Brynmor?" After a moment, Gwilt replies, "Yes."

Uncertain of what to do with this unexpectedly returned troop, and finding itself suddenly embarrassingly overmanned, the new battalion commander gives Gwilt a medal and sends the troop on a new and even more dangerous mission into the jungle, in the hope of losing them once and for all this time. Gwilt, however, has learned from his predecessor's errors, and instead leads the troop on what an educated man of class would no doubt describe as an orgy of looting, pillage and carousing. The story concludes with two soldiers, enlisted men of Gwilt's troop and minor characters throughout, sitting on a ragged hilltop at dusk, alone but for a handful of goats, passing a bottle of wine between them as a battle rages below. The men argue drunkenly over which side is ours and which theirs, and in the end, both turn their backs on the field of war and make their way back to their comrades in a nearby village.

It is understandable that the Cleddyf editorial neglects to mention this latter portion of the story, for the simple reason that it no doubt defied the writer's ability to analyse. To him it might perhaps have seemed a cautionary tale against the depths to which good men will sink when failed by their leadership. However, to the minds of Fallo's true readers, his message is clear. He is advocating mutiny.

What appears as no more than wonton debauchery in the eyes of men of education and breeding, is little different to what Caerafon slum folk might experience on the night of the Festival of the Dead. Fallo employs rough language, and does not flinch from depicting violence and brutality among the soldiers -- I have heard accounts of enough rapes and murders, both on the streets of Caerafon and behind the locked bedroom doors of well-to-do families, to know that such things are a reality of life among all classes -- but it is clear that what he is depicting is in general intended to gratify his audience, not warn them.

As I intimated at the beginning of this piece, it was the more lurid descriptions contained in this story to which I was first attracted. However, let us not be so coy as to deny that we all retain a small weakness for the scandalous, romantic and horrifying. Indeed, the legends of our dear Goddess' Holy Martyrs are rich in events that would have satisfied the most dedicated readers of popular serials of my childhood such as The Dread Pirate Gethin Claw, Adventures of Lightning Cadell, or Diabolical Mysteries of Caer Gwaed. And on this level alone, it must be acknowledged that Macsen Fallo stood out from the above tales as a master of his craft, with an instinctive, almost devilish ability to tap into his readers' basest desires and feelings.

What made him such an intriguing and, in the eyes of the governing classes at least, dangerous writer, is the way that he employed that craft to publicly tear at the edifices of respect and deference that our nation has built around our generals, our politicians, and even our most exalted imperial family.

Some of his works are more subtle, and indeed circumspect in how they disguise the victims of their satire, and there remains to this day some debate in alternative literary circles as to the real target of The Cursed Treasure of Yuna Mette -- in this writer's opinion Fallo's true masterwork. On the other hand, tales such as The Horned Crown are even in these more tolerant times thrilling in their audacity. 

To be continued...