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.


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