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 clichés 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...

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