Wednesday 15 May 2024

St Erkenwald: Variations on a Theme

The fame of St Erkenwald (or Erconwold, Earkonwald, &c) may not, I grant, have reached very far. He was, variously, a son of King Offa, of the East Angles, Abbot of Chertsey and Bishop of London - the fourth following the Mission of St Augustine. His cult seems to have endured in London right up until the Reformation. 

This is fairly familiar territory for a regional saint. But a brief Middle English poem was written about him - possibly by the Gawain poet, which may make you perk up and take interest. 

The scene is London (once New Troy - Cf. Gawain). Erkenwald is Bishop. Augustine is apparently still in Canterbury, in the process of converting the Saxons. Temples are cleared of idols and refitted as Churches, when workmen come across something:

A sarcophagus curiously carved from Cyclopean stones
All graced in grey marble with gargoyle-like figures.

The canopy of the coffin, covering it on top,
Was finely fashioned of marble finished most smoothly,
And the border was embellished with bright gold letters:
mysterious they stood, in sentences arcane.

(I use Brian Stone's translation).

The mysterious coffin is opened. 

Gleaming and glittering in gold paint was the interior
And on the bottom lay a body of blissful appearance,

Arrayed in noble raiment, in a regal style.
In glistening gold his gown was hemmed,
With many a precious pearl placed upon it;
And a girdle of gold gripped his waist.

The corpse also has a crown and sceptre.

Neither spot nor stain sullied his garments
Which were not moulded or marked or moth-eaten,
But so bright and brilliant in their beautiful colours! - 
Yes, as if but yesterday in the Yard they'd been tailored.

And as fresh were the face and the flesh elsewhere naked - 
The ears and the hands openly showing
With rich ruddiness of the rose, and two red lips - 
As if in sound health he had suddenly slipped into sleep.

No one knows who this might be. Erkenwald is out of town, but swiftly returns. He prays through the night and in the morning says High Mass with the nobility and the Mayor of London. The sacristan describes the uncovering of the coffin. Erkenwald comments on this.

Then he turned to the tomb and talked to the corpse,
Lifting up its eyelids and letting loose these words:
'Now, corpse in this coffin, keep quiet no longer,
Since Jesus has judged that his joy shall be shown today.

'Obey therefore his bequest, I bid you on his behalf!
As he was broken on a beam when his blood was shed - 
And well you are aware of it, and we believe it too - 
Respond to what I say, and conceal nothing from us!

Lo and behold:

'Bishop,' said the body, 'your bidding is precious to me:
I would not be barred from bowing to it for both my eyes.

[...]

'How long I have lain here would be a labour to state;
No mortal mouth could make the date clear.
Almost eight hundred yeas, all but eighteen,
After Brutus in the beginning built this city -

'Three hundred and fifty-four years in fact
Before, by the Christian account, Christ was born, - 
In New Troy I was itinerant judge travelling in oyer....


So, the corpse was a judge - and a good judge too! So incorruptible, so virtuous that the people of New Troy loved him dearly and eventually buried him with the highest honours. Of course....

'No, Bishop,' said the body 'embalmed I never was,
Nor was my clothing kept immaculate by mankind's wisdom,
But by the ruler of reason who recommends justice,
And loyally loves all the laws of truth...'

But a virtuous heathen is still a heathen; ask Dante. The corpse cries out to God:

'I was missing among the many whom your misery redeemed
With the blood of your body on the black cross.
When you harrowed the pit of hell and haled them out,
All lifting you praise from Limbo, you left me there.

The Bishop promptly baptises him.

'Now may you, the high God, and your gracious mother be given praise, 
And blessed be the blissful hour she bore you.
And may you be blessed, Bishop, who banished my grief,
And relieved my soul from the loathsome gloom of her life!

[...]

With that he stopped speaking and said no more.
But suddenly, his sweet face sunk in and vanished,
And all the beauty of his body blackened like mould,
As foetid as fungus that flies up in powder.

The people of London go on their way, praising the All-Highest.

Then loftily Our Lord was praised, with uplifting of hands,
Much mourning and merriment mingled together;
Then they paced forth in procession, the people following,
And all the bells in the city bounds boomed out together.

Image result for figure of eight shield
It's tempting to picture the Corpse as some sort of gaudy Mycenaean,
but the text doesn't exactly back that. 

***

Why have I chosen to post about this? Aside from the joy of sharing a chance discovery, of course.

Well, to begin with, the tale of St Erkenwald and the corpse is, to my mind, oddly pulpy. Not in a strictly two-fisted way, but more generally. Think of the advanced morally ambiguous precursor civilisation, the talking corpse, the buried wealth....

It's devoid of either dungeons or dragons, but I think one can detect a streak of both within it. So my mind began processing variations on a theme.

Erkenwald and the Corpse as a random encounter - coming across the townsfolk discussing what to do while they await the return of the Prelate. Will Our Heroes decide to stick their oar in?

Erkenwald and the Corpse as a quest - unearthing and bringing to salvation the Holy quasi-dead of a precursor civilisation.

...as a character class or background - 'I'm not playing a paladin, I'm playing a Lawful Good Barrow-wight.'

...as a social group - what happens when hundreds of virtuous, noble and dislocated quasi-dead beings wake up and try and enter back into society?

...as a Monster - a risen warrior with enchanted weapons and armour with a burning desire for justice, and an idea several centuries old on what justice actually consists of, who can only be stopped by being Baptised.

Anyway, I hope you can see the interest in some of these scenarios. 

Thursday 25 April 2024

Faufreluches: The Audubonian Breached

As suggested last time, a sketch for a 'scum narrative' in the Faufreluches setting. 

A presumed playable structure might be a point-crawl four deep and three wide, with increasing risk the longer one stays in a region. Additions could be made to the cast list, but a dozen will serve to give an impression. 

+++

The Scene

Brachemond is a prosperous world, both from years of cultivation and from its useful position in the topography of Curtmantle space. It is the home of House Ximenzborg, who permit a variety of enclaves in the proud city of Elsinjoz. 

One such enclave is that of Tortuga-Clyne; one of the more wilfully mysterious of the great Magnate Houses. Orbiting the cold world of Audubon-5 is their home: The Moon; Algranesh - from which they dispatch wonders. Best-known of these are their remarkable timepieces: bioclocks or hyperclocks of remarkable reliability even across the gulfs of the galactic void and the dislocation of Curtmantle space. Second are the thousand strange alloys of The Moon; Algranesh, shaped into a thousand ornaments and tools all catalogued and marketed by Tortuga-Clyne. 

As notorious as their products are their prices: a ritual for any sufficiently high status exchange is that they are never paid in mere specie or anything standard or common, but only in goods, services or rights as specific and obscure as the thing or service they provide. The Mint regards them as something between a challenge, a calculated insult and a curiosity - and it is a rite of passage to sit through a high-end Tortuga-Clyne exchange. 

So an enclave was a necessity for them. Thus, the Audubonian Exchange: a net of secure warehouses, private landing grounds and assessor complexes surrounding the great cube of the Praetorium. It is an affectation of Tortuga-Clyne that they are a 'House without Servants', that their needs are adequately filled by a group of antique 'analogue robots'. That this flirts with the Regency's prohibition on machine-minds has not stopped the members of the family from bringing them up. 

Even if no servant will ever set foot in the Praetorium, that does not mean there is no need for labour in the Exchange. Supplies go into the Praetorium, rubbish comes out. Guests are escorted, directed and pampered. Diplomatic signals are collected, goods packaged, customs officials accommodated, boundaries are patrolled, motorcarriages refuelled and spies identified. 

Throughout it all, the handful of Tortuga-Clyne residents are watching from the dusty halls of the Praetroium. Stooping eccentrics and hypochondriacs, frequently veiled, they are the talk of any visitor to the Audubonian.

 +++

The Overture

But now they are the talk of all Brachemond. Last night, following a conference in the Praetorium, Ximenzborg forces moved rapidly to seize the Audubonian. No whiff of hostility had been detected before this - not so much as one look askance in the Seigneuria. Something has changed very, very quickly. Ximenzborg has acted with absolute certainty: witnesses report not just household armigers but also the Fortunate Companions - the honour guard of Dagmar Ximenzborg, conspicuous in honey-coloured battle-plate and war garlands about their brows. The lantern-jawed face of Dagmar Ximenzborg herself has been seen leading the assault on the Praetorium. 

Come the dawn Secretariat minutemen are picking through the Audubonian, cataloguing everything. There are rumours of Pastorate ministers in the red coifs of witchfinders entering the cracked cube of the Praetorium. The House of Ximenzborg is certain, so certain as to be incautious, bringing the attention of these notoriously neutral organisations to the attention of a Magnates' feud. Certain, that is, or scared. The citizenry of Elsinjoz take their cue from their masters, and make a nervous breakfast. 

But what do you know of this? Last night you had a job, perhaps even a good one. Today you don't. Today, you are tainted by association. Your quarters are on the edge of the Audubonian Exchange. It is time to leave.
  Transport out of Elsinjoz has crawled to a halt, as a cordon tightens its hold. The dress, skills and mannerisms of those even remotely associated with Tortuga-Clyne will give you away. There is one place you might make for. About a hundred and fifty miles outside of Elsinjoz is a district given over to the Stadtholders - a permanent reserve. Ximenzborg reach into this backwater will be slow and tangled in a legal quagmire. Maybe you can go to ground there. 

But the reserve is a long way off, and you have only what is about your person.... 

 +++

The Cast

Of Tortuga-Clyne

You were a....

Cellarer: take a corkscrew, jigger, apron and a decanter of spirits (technically worth quite a lot, were it not for the gilt Tortuga-Clyne symbol on it).

Chambermaid: take a trolley of assorted linens, an iron and a demijohn of caustic cleaning chemicals.

Moneychanger: you have managed to carry with you small sums in six different currencies, only two of which are approved by the Mint and only three of which anyone's ever heard of. 

Shipping Clerk: take an exquisitely minimalist tea service, an off-world carved boxwood ornament, two cans of paraffin, four preserved freshwater fish and a pocket perpetual almanac. Your warehouse had some interesting things in it.

Gardener: take a pair of comfortable kneepads, a trowel, a pruning knife and a handful of exotic blooms.

Bouncer: take a shock-glove. Get close enough and you can render unconscious anyone not wearing powered battleplate. However, you were selected for your brawn and imposing presence. 

Server: take a tray of assorted, rather soiled nibbles, a palette knife, a ThermoPad ("Keeps your Soup Simmering on the Sideboard!") and several old guest lists. 

Perimeter Guard: take a wide-band secure communicator. You'll be able to listen into Domestic Service Corps chatter, at least for a bit. Also take a sidearm and one clip of ammunition, as well as a very smart uniform with lots of well-placed badges.

Schematician Process Avatar: you know exactly how to produce high-quality canvas according to a variety of timetables with almost any workforce and the right motivation. You also have a clipboard.

Glossatrix Aide: your senior was supposed to her have finger to the pulse. You just arrived from off-world. You have a beautiful outfit, a winning smile and a stack of fancy magazines geared to a variety of Brachemondian tastes. 

Secretariat Cypher-clerk: you have trained very carefully to memorise absolute gibberish, so that someone may quote the correct keyphrase to you in order to decode it. You will remember nothing afterwards. (Also, your shorthand is amazing). Take a smart blue tabard and a string of mnemonic beads. 

Praetorium Staffer: take a dusty robe, a Tortuga-Clyne bio-abacus and a mask. You will not remove the mask.

Of Ximenzborg

The Domestic Service Corps of Ximenzborg's armed forces is divided into two commonly encountered groups. 

The Intramurales are local enforcers, usually older troopers rotated out of frontline service. They patrol their own districts, largely focusing on minor issues of civic order. They have the reputation as fiery Chauvinists in the name of Ximenzborg, happy to raise fist or club in defence of their liege-lords - and in protection of their own little sphere of influence. 
    Their matt cream box-backed motorwagons have won them the curious nickname of 'Dairymen'. It is a long-standing joke that the family, spouse, favoured paramour or crony of an Intramurale will run a liquor shop, gaming parlour or other licensed enterprise. 

The Extramurales go where required within a given region, or indeed beyond. They are dedicated long-service professionals, focused on come in several kinds.
    Extramurale Investigators appear doing standard information-gathering and detective work, lightly armed and clad in the distinctive blue-black service tunic with chest ornaments of rose-pink and dove-grey braid.
    Extramurale assault teams are not seen until they want to be. They are heavily armed and practiced in swift, powerful operations against their targets, distinctive in the irregular gaze-warping cross-hatching of their ash-grey body armour.
    Extramurale Informants are not seen. But they're definitely there.

The Fortunate Companions don't care about you. Really, they don't. They're busy going through purity exercises with the Pastorate or on honour guard duties. But if they happen to be nearby when you manage to make your presence known, their wargear lets them break through a house wall, leap over road vehicles and perform improbable judo throws with a charging aurochs.

Also: divers families of yeomen, burghers, freeholders, villeins, metics, guard dogs and mendicants.

 +++

The Places

Nearmost the Audubonian Exchange

Procyon Terrace

A street or so of large, well-built buildings, given over the years to the offices of the Pastorate - administrative offices, the Metropolite's Residence, a Seminary, a carefully inconspicuous barracks for Wardens. 
   Witchfinders walk openly in the dull dawn light; clerks and Ministers emerging from the offices have clearly slept little. No Intramurales can be seen, and it would be odd indeed for them to show their faces here. 

Fabian's Conduit

Even if the Audubonian had it's own generator, most enclaves in Elsinjoz do not. The Conduit is the great sunken channel for power cabling, the provision of water, the removal of waste. It reaches directly out of the quarter to splice into the main arteries of the city. A row of narrow, elegant trees sits over it and ornamented pillars have subtly placed entrances down into it. 
    The Conduit channels are unattended most of the night. Maintenance engineers are only now arriving. In places, the desperate or the tormented make temporary shelter.

The Diplomatic Penumbra

About the Audubonian and the other cluster of embassies and consulates are a series of little specialist shops, set in winding crescents of terraced houses.  Uniform tailors, pastry cooks, discreet little banking houses, high-end vintners, places where you can hire footmen for a banquet or dancers for a party. 
   You know people here. Everyone knows what happened. No-one will help you. None of them are badly off, but most would like a little more and all would suffer from the attention of the Extramurales.

***

Firmly within Elsinjoz

The Campanologist's Tomb

A housing district for the loyal middle-rank, dotted with small shops. Many of the streets have little piles of Tortuga-Clyne goods, carefully smashed and discarded. Young men, possibly cadets in an Ximenzborg military academy lounge in the courtyards.
    A minor house named Laagercruz owns many of the vendors here; their current paterfamilias is a younger man who is flirting with defiance of Ximenzborg. 

Muinadona Fields

Dense housing in a grid of overcast alleys, defined at one end by the low bulk of the Pastorate Hall of St Yoshifusa and at the other by the broad field with the two opposing stages for the scrum-based ball game 'Hounds and Mastiffs'.
    The Intramurales attend here in large patrols, to prevent the possibilities of outflanking in tight alleyways. No-one here really knows or cares about goings-on uptown.

Esquiline Park

Recreation grounds, flower-beds, promenades, tea-houses and vendors of sweet-meats. A gap between wards, tended into green splendour. Statues of Ximenzborg dignitaries, Brachemond grandees and abstract personalities of the Regency's virtues dot the pathway. 
    The barracks for the Ximenzborg Foot-and-Motor Guards are nearby, and it is their custom to spend free-time in the Esquiline, generally clad in their distinctive walking-out dress. The number of them that are armed, alert and active will vary from time to time. 

***

Just beyond Elsinjoz

SW167 Livestock Processing

Where pigs, or things that might as well be called pigs, are sent. An area of vehicle parks, feed ramps and stockyards gives way to slaughterhouses, boiling vats and curing halls. 
    The best-known product of Elsinjoz are the 'void-cured' sausages. Specialised containers are packed with sausages and the assorted flavourings and preservatives and slowly mature to completion in the course of interstellar travel. 
    Occasionally, stowaways try to hide in the void-curing containers. They are generally found having choked to death in a cloud of pulverised herbs and spices. 

The Cinnabar Brakes

A long belt of dense red cane snakes round the North and East of the city, cultivated as a deliberate environmental and defensive measure. Immaculate gullies of jade-sheened concrete water it, where rangers in slow flat punts slowly patrol.
    The brakes are far too dense to move through swiftly, but discourage pursuit very effectively. You would not be the first to note this, and miserable red shacks may be found in various states of repair. The residents will have fled at your presence. 

Tollyard 5

Like a concrete tag hanging from the knot of a major junction. Vehicles are checked, permits are issued, drivers fed, maps checked, bladders emptied. 
    A small Intramurale station may be found here. Screens in the main concourse display pictures from the sacked Audubonian, and speculation about what was happening there is splenetic and rife.

***

Nigh on the Reserve

Glazed gullies

A series of shallow valleys in the landscape. Ximenzborg have found that quickest way to make use of these was to roof them over and turn them into vast greenhouses. The fresh fruit and vegetables from these find their way to maintain the working population of Elsinjoz in relative health.
    Shabby camps for the labour parties exist outside, where the inhabitants shiver when they leave the heat of the gullies. Concealment in the gullies would be difficult, and deeply uncomfortable for those unused to the conditions within.

Danstal Lodge

The Brachemond Mint has a back-country centre here, used (variously) as a retreat, a discreet locale for sensitive exchanges and an examination centre for promising candidates. The grounds are largely kept wild, with only a few trails through the mix of wood and heath being maintained. 
    Danstal Lodge is at present empty, barring a maintenance and security team. The Mint being who they are, the lodge grounds are under intense surveillance with reliable data feeds to Elsinjoz.

Iagkyrkan

A settlement connected to the main rail artery. It largely serves to act as a depot for outlying farms and freeholdings. One fabricator station, one wholesale store, one retail store, one dairy, one hostelry, one gaming parlour, one projectionist's hall, one Pastorate Hall the size of a racquet court, one admin hub and four barbers. 
    Rural Intramurales have far more leeway than their urban counterparts. The Station Chief in Iagkyrkan is intelligent, proactive and bored. 

The Reserve

Shelter? Perhaps. The Reserve is bounded by a trail of sensors, intended to track animal movements - and trespassers. The Stadtholders will be on the alert, but the reserve is a big place. A discreet life might be possible. And there are ways through and out of this province. 
    Of course, life here for any length of time will need tools of some kind; likewise some raw materials. You know where to find those, don't you?

 +++

Other Notes

  • Tortuga-Clyne is the the work of Patrick Stuart, of False Machine. Among other things. He may make the briefing document on them available in time.... [EDIT: He did!]
  • House Tortuga-Clyne's symbol is a tortoise carrying the sun on its back.
  • House Ximenzborg's symbol is a black tower on white surrounded by drops of green-gold chrism. This is all shown within a quatrefoil frame of carmine. (Variations exists, generally replacing the tower with another object or symbol). 
  • The 'scum narrative' layout comes from the sources mentioned in previous posts, though the 'Fall of the Embassy' theme comes from a few sources. The atmosphere of Ice Cold in Alex, an early chapter of Use of Weapons. And, once again, the mix of urban and rural evasion in Rogue Male.
  • Though, of course, given the various parties who might club together to get out of Elsinjoz, Stagecoach might be an interesting comparison.

Tuesday 12 March 2024

Conquistadors of Tartarus

There was a great wind, and darkness on the face of the sea. Then the proud ships vanished.

In 1571, the Holy League was fighting the Ottoman Empire. Their ships met in the Gulf of Patras, atop the Peloponnese. Spaniards, Savoyards, Venetians and Tuscans all fought the forces of Selim II from an assortment of ships. 

And then they didn't. They disappeared, on the cusp of victory. A great enchantment fell upon them, and  they were sent below.

Rumours abound: some say the spell was cast by a Turkish wizard. Others, that it was a disaffected Christian, a Transylvanian woman with a fixed grin. Some set the blame on a wizened Egyptian. One piece of esoteric gossip places the blame on a blank-faced boy North-East of Babylon. One utterly discredited suggestion suggests the culprit was a disgraced German academic. 

What happened to them? Where did that battling knot of warring ships end up?

They went below.

Tantalus, by Hendrick Goltzius

The ships fell. And then they slipped into the Styx. Thousands of confused, bloodthirsty knights and marines and sailors thrust into Hades. They found there sulphur and charcoal, and lead from fetters - and so there was gunpowder and shot. And there were allies among the Shades of the Dead, and the heroes of legend: Alexander and Pompey and Agamemnon.  

Ixion, by Hendrick Goltzius

 

So there are fiefdoms in the underworld, and rivalries - at first good natured, but developing swiftly. And there is struggle, against giants or beasts or furies or demons. 

Some of the Holy Alliance, driven by Renaissance ideals of the Classical World have banded together with the 'Virtuous Pagans' to create a New Rome. Yes, another one. 

Those Turks that were taken down into the Underworld have formed their own enclaves, and follow the old patterns of trade and conflict with the Christians. 

Set against both are the hardliners and restorationists, dedicated to crawling out of the shadowy pit they find themselves in. 

They all find themselves, it must be said,  in a world where Cervantes is allying with the Giants to destroy dark Satanic mills.....

From Matteo Perez D'Aleccio's Engravings of the Siege of Malta.

SO, WHAT IS THIS?

Conquistadors in the Classical Underworld of the Renaissance. Mannerist in style, muscular and elaborate. Ghost-fighting Spanish tercios supported by centaur squadrons and led by Julius Caesar. 

Captain of Infantry, Hendrick Goltzius (Netherlandish, M├╝hlbracht 1558–1617 Haarlem), Engraving
This guy's probably there. He got that sash for cutting one of Cerberus's Heads off. 

Alchemy and diabolism. Penitent brotherhoods in conical fire-proof robes. Jesuits arguing with the shade of Heraclitus. Achilles getting into arm-wrestling contests with landsknechts. Stray Protestants keeping very quiet. 

undefined
Imagine these guys lobbing rocks at descending Furies. 

Inspirational Media:

Dante's Inferno.

I guess some of the guys from The Faerie Queene are there. 

16th Century depictions of Classical Antiquity. 


[This post written after trying to figure out where the River Acheron was said to emerge on the west coastline of Greece, and a hazy memory of Lepanto being in the area.]

Tuesday 5 March 2024

Coffin Nails: "Oh, so you like Feudal Weirdness, Solomon? How about you smoke the Entire Pack."

It should have happened the other way round.

Last Saturday I saw Part Two of Dennis Villeneuve's adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune. I enjoyed myself, and think I shall do so if I rewatch it. Regarding adaptation, it goes deep in some places rather than shallow all over, to its credit. A decent enough picture.

However...

It goes quite hard on the minimalism. That works well for Arrakis, well for the acquisitive mania and pared-down souls of the Harkonnen, but not for everything. The first part had scenes that mystified and captivated more. The arrival of the herald (shown here) had me squinting up at the screen, examining the crowds of courtiers. What are they wearing? Why are they wearing it? What does it convey? Where did they find a carpet that long? Are those helmets functional or symbolic? See also the meme-spawning introduction of the Sarduakar. 

Spoilers of a mild kind - but the Imperial Court, as shown in Part Two, should share twin elements of both those scenes and doesn't quite. It looks a little spa-like. Which is a proper comparison with Arrakis (created by God to test the faithful) but still a little disappointing. Though there would be something interesting in an Imperial Court which wasn't full of Rococo decadence or Feudal display but full of athletic, highly religious, pleasingly-natured types. Everyone in it a superb physical, social and mental specimen, for good or ill. We've not had a really good Shaddam IV yet, in any of the three Dune screen adaptations. Not that it's necessarily a plum role, mind you. 

But before last Saturday, I had read Vladimir Sorokin's Telluria

Telluria by Vladimir Sorokin

This was picked as part of an ongoing reading group I tie into, so I read this in tandem with other people and their thoughts online. 

I will reproduce the back-cover summary of the above edition (New York Review Books). Written 2013, translated 2022.

Telluria is set in the future, when a devastating Holy War between Europe and Islam has succeeded in returning the world to the Middle Ages. Europe, China and Russia have all broken up. The people of the world now live in an array of little nations that are like puzzle pieces, each cultivating its own ideology or identity, a neo-feudal world of fads and feuds, in which no one power dominates. What does, however, is the appetite for the special substance tellurium. A spike of tellurium, driven into the brain by an expert hand, offers a transforming experience of death; incorrectly administered, it means death.

***

Well, what to say of this?

Telluria is deliberately lush. It colours feasts of a reborn Knights Templar, drugged indulgences by starving Bohemian artists, woodland rural scenes, entranced Russian peasants. Tailormade as a counter to Villeneuve's Dune? Not quite, but the contrast is stark. 

There is no main character: barely any ongoing narrative. There are fifty chapters, and perhaps forty-four stories. 

An early thought of mine was to compare it to Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. A book that hit me at just the right age, I think. There's an obvious comparison between the teaming phyles of The Diamond Age (Chinese, Japanese, Anglo-American Victorian, Boer, Zulu, Ashanti, Mormon, Maoist-Gonzoloist....) and the new feudal states of Telluria. Aside from a range of set dressing and interesting technologies bespoke crafted for the new states, a historical or geopolitical interpretation reveals itself: Stephenson writes 'after the end of history': The Diamond Age is a 1995 work, looking to the end of nation-states and the rise of distributed republics. But it sees the surpassing (in symbolic plot terms) of free-wheeling cyberpunk anarchist types and is a thematic (and possibly literal) sequel to Snow Crash. Telluria doesn't see the end of history, but does see the collapse of the great powers. There is the repeat of the Crusades, even as there is the repeat of the Boxer Rebellion. There are long stretches of Telluria discussing the fall of Russia, its post-imperial nature, its rapacity. Travel in The Diamond Age is rapid and frequent; in Telluria, rare, difficult and often reserved for the rich - cue reference to climate change, even if this is unmentioned in the text.  The Diamond Age looks beyond (from the American zenith of the mid-90s) to the collapse of states in a world of slickly manoeuvring corporations to the rebirth of state-like entities. Telluria looks beyond the final collapse of Russia, after the Tsar and after the Soviet Union (in a Russian moment of buttressed decline) to a variety of new polities.

Enough of the ripped-from-the-headlines material. That's not quite adequate for our purposes, anyway. I should also say that neither The Diamond Age nor Telluria are meant to be viewed as Eutopia or Dystopia. But I suspect Sorokin experiences higher highs and lower lows in his vision of Telluria than Stephenson for The Diamond Age. Some bits of Telluria would definitely look preferable to the present day to Chesterton or Tolkien, but by no means all of it. A deified Stalin (among other things) sees to that. 

Telluria is also thoroughly fleshly. I said lush above: there are some moments straight from Jonathan Swift, detailing the various horrors of human bodies and appetites. Orwell's essay on Gulliver's Travels is worth reading for detail and comparison. My mind also goes to Anthony Burgess - see his 'eschatological spy novel' Tremor of Intent or the lurid dystopia The Wanting Seed (that flips fascinatingly on its axis part way through). There are also some moments that seem as if they needs must come from a world that has had a time to saturate in widely available pornography, thanks to the internet. That's not that were Sorokin writing ten years earlier it would have been sexless, or even that I think Telluria too sexy for the Middle Ages! But the tone of variety, explicitness, repetition and niche appeal suggest a particular background influence. Gulliver is also worth mentioning because of the post-human appearances: Lilliputians, ogres, centaurs, cynocephaloi and more: engineered as toys or slaves. There is a thorough-going range of grotesques - all enjoying some of the same appetites and pleasures of baseline humanity. Which is as unmoored and adrift as the various polities of this new age.

Then there's Telluria itself. The shining nails. It's possible, tempting even, to see this as some sort of symbol for the Past's Inspiration (I resist the term nostalgia). Hazardous, intrusive, captivating, capable of inspiring love and courage and great deeds. That seems too simple - it is a way of accessing dreams, of achieving a fresh vision. It may be the fault of the age that so many of its dreams are so terrible. There's some portions that make it look redemptive, mind you, including some Ginsburg pastiche in the penultimate chapter than perhaps reframe earlier portions. Is the coward who 'bangs a nail into his head before battle' really an absolute coward, if his dreams of courage can be manifested? Of course, Telluria itself comes from a post-Russian republic in the Altai mountains. This is led by a remarkable caudillo, a former French soldier - and an 'Alpha Male' two short steps from being tongue-in-cheek (Cf. The Eiger Sanction?). It's difficult on to imagine that his policy with the nails is definitively good or redemptive (contra some interpretations), however red-blooded and life-affirming (a blasted slippery term) his chapter seems.

There is an awful lot of meditation and consideration - by foreigners and natives alike - of dead Russia, the scattered remnants of its culture, the appetites and drives and genius of the Slavic Soul. It doesn't actually conclude much about it, mind you. I'm almost certain missing one element or another of all this, thanks to reading this outside that cultural context. 

That said, Sorokin feels willing to dart around Europe (with some exceptions - the British Isles, Italy, only a sideways look at the Balkans and Scandinavia). There a variety of languages used in such cases to offer the proper tone for that locale. This is something of a polyglot work. There is no common language or culture - even the looser culture of international liberalism. 

Throughout there are smartphone like devices and AI assistants. It's unclear to what degree these are plugged in to something like our internet, but they certainly seem to be capable of an awful lot. Traditional literacy seems to have slipped out the window with their arrival - another link back to the Middle Ages. Or The Diamond Age. At any rate, they appear largely benign - and are unlinked to any one set of norms of cultures, which makes them a trifle more charming that the Alexas of this world. 

In the end, though, a frustrating piece. Theoretically, Telluria should be like walking through a room at the museum: Room 43, Art of The Low Countries, 16-17th C. Some of the paintings are religious scenes, some still-lifes, some group portraits - maybe there's one or two busts or cabinets with painted panels. But it should all be of a kind, share a family resemblance. I'm not sure Telluria really does always. In any case, in a gallery I can keep half an eye on other paintings as I examine one particular pieces, have an awareness of things. No such luck with Telluria: no sooner than you take your eye off it, it vanishes. 

For a contrast, I direct you to Patrick Stewart's review, to be found here.

And to this recent relevant image of his


Thursday 15 February 2024

Early February 2024 Miscellany

A little less highbrow than other iterations, but perhaps of use all the same.

***

Are you in need of a random background table for your next Character? Get out three d1000 and roll them in any order.

Using the United States Department of Labour's Dictionary of Occupational Titles we have a wealth of material! This was published between the 1930s and 1990s, and clearly has roots in that style of mid-century managerialism and compromise between state and corporation. Flipping through entries brings to mind all manner of stereotypes about vast sprawling heartless bureaucracies - but you shouldn't spurn it for this reason. In its precision (or, rather, precise tone) and comprehensive overview, it can suggest a possibilities of focus one never contemplated otherwise. 

Example: You roll:  231 - 503 - 034

There's no exact match, but we have something either side.

230.687-010 ADVERTISING-MATERIAL DISTRIBUTOR (any industry) alternate titles: distributor, advertising material

    Distributes advertising material, such as merchandise samples, handbills, and coupons, from house to house, to business establishments, or to persons on street, following oral instructions, street maps, or address lists. May be designated according to type of advertising material distributed as Handbill Distributor (any industry); Pamphlet Distributor (any industry); Sample Distributor (any industry).

GOE: 07.07.02 STRENGTH: L GED: R1 M1 L1 SVP: 2 DLU: 77

and

235.132-010 CENTRAL-OFFICE-OPERATOR SUPERVISOR (tel. & tel.)

    Supervises and coordinates activities of CENTRAL-OFFICE OPERATORS (tel. & tel.) engaged in operating telephone switchboards: Conducts on-the-job training for inexperienced operators. Assists operators in placing unusual types of calls. May discuss service problems directly with customers. Performs other duties as described under SUPERVISOR (clerical) Master Title.

GOE: 07.04.06 STRENGTH: L GED: R4 M2 L3 SVP: 6 DLU: 77

Round up or down, according to choice. 

Not enough for you? Well, lets get out of the clerical and sales section.

689.387-010 CLOTH GRADER (textile) alternate titles: cloth classer; hand inspector; seconds grader; seconds inspector; table inspector

    Classifies cloth into grades according to number of defects: Examines cloth for defects marked in previous inspection and determines whether corrections can be made to restore cloth to standard quality. Cuts defects from cloth with scissors or routes cloth to mending, dyeing, or refinishing department for reprocessing. Classifies cloth that cannot be restored to first quality according to standards for various grades. Records disposition of cloth rehandled. May inform weaving room of repeated imperfections requiring loom adjustments.

GOE: 06.03.01 STRENGTH: L GED: R3 M1 L2 SVP: 5 DLU: 77

--

550.685-010 BATCH MIXER (soap & rel.)

    Tends mixer that compounds cleaning powder: Opens valves to admit specified quantities of ingredients into mixer or weighs and dumps ingredients into mixer, using scale. Presses button or moves lever to activate mixer that blends ingredients for designated time. Stops machine and opens valve to discharge cleaning powder into storage bins. May draw sample of blended ingredients for laboratory analysis. May keep production log.

GOE: 06.04.19 STRENGTH: M GED: R2 M1 L1 SVP: 3 DLU: 77

--

613.362-018 ROUGHER (steel & rel.) alternate titles: bulldogger

    Operates roughing mill roll stands to reduce steel billets, blooms, and slabs to specified dimensions, using knowledge of rolling practices and steel properties: Reads rolling order to determine setup specifications. Installs rolling equipment, such as roll stands, guides, bar turners, and repeaters on rolling line, using handtools, bars, levers, and sledges. Moves controls to set specified draft between rolls at each stand. Observes color of heated steel to determine rolling temperature and starts roughing stands. Examines product passing through mill for surface defects, such as scratches and cracks. Verifies specified gauge of product after each pass, using calipers. Gives directions to mill crew in readjusting roll draft and realigning guides. May set up and monitor computerized roughing roll stands. May be designated according to type of mill operated as Rougher, Bar Mill (steel & rel.); Rougher, Hot-Strip Mill (steel & rel.); Rougher, Merchant Mill (steel & rel.).

GOE: 06.02.02 STRENGTH: L GED: R3 M3 L3 SVP: 7 DLU: 78

--

737.387-010 DROP TESTER (ordnance)

    Tests cartridge primers for sensitivity to impact by dropping weight onto sample primers from measured heights: Secures primer or primed cartridge case in test fixture and positions firing pin over primer. Raises steel ball in electromagnetic holder to specified height on calibrated column. Presses switch to cut power from electromagnet which drops ball onto firing pin in test fixture to detonate primer. Tests groups of primers from same production sample at several specified drop-heights, and records percentage of fires and misfires at each height. May plot test results on graph to develop primer sensitivity curve, or apply standardized statistical formulas to estimate sensitivity characteristics of entire production lot of primers.

GOE: 06.03.01 STRENGTH: L GED: R3 M3 L2 SVP: 3 DLU: 77

--

[Obligatory snigger.]

825.361-014 VIBRATOR-EQUIPMENT TESTER (machinery mfg.) alternate titles: tester, vibrator equipment; top-lift and automatic-window repairer

    Tests electrical and mechanical vibrator feeders and conveyors for conformance to specifications: Clips cable of test board to electric vibrator equipment. Turns dials and observes meters to operate electric vibrator equipment at specified cycle, voltage, and amperage levels. Holds end of scale against vibrator equipment to pick up vibration. Reads scale mark that shows distinct double image and determines vibrating frequency on conversion chart. Starts motor of mechanical vibrator equipment and verifies vibrating frequency. Advises ASSEMBLER (machinery mfg.) to add or remove vibrator bars from electrical vibrator equipment or weights from drive shaft of mechanical vibrator equipment, to correct vibrating deficiencies. May inspect vibrator equipment for loose bearings and bolts, using stethoscope. Records test data.

GOE: 06.01.05 STRENGTH: L GED: R3 M3 L3 SVP: 6 DLU: 77

-- 

I find some of these quietly fascinating. "Did you know that XYZ was a job? Do you reckon it still is?" (Which presumably says something a little unflattering about a desk worker as myself.) Anyway, one to use for Electric Bastionland?

***

Does Heraldry seem too mainstream for your new campaign? Do you spurn mon that you may ward off the label  'Nipponophile'?  Perhaps you can consider horse-racing colours!

***

Charles Sargeant Jagger: a British sculptor, whose most prominent work is the Royal Artillery Memorial in London. The clearly-lined central howitzer is certainly eye-catching (Wikipedia calls it Phallic). The artillerymen round the edge are fascinating pieces of realism - the gunner's harness full of shells and exposed, bulging forearms are noteworthy.

(Said shells are definitely not ones meant to go in the howitzer - which is a breech-loading 9.2 inch howitzer, firing an eye-watering 290lb shell.)

His work in less specifically historical pieces have an more distinct Art Deco line - as, perhaps, this image of Britannia, or these lions. He died in 1934, but this all looks like it would fit in quite well to something in the 50s - as the Festival of Britain logo

To return to an old punching-bag, it's something Fallout: London might have found of use. Returning to that soon-to-be-completed project, incidentally, there are a few signs of something a trifle less stereotypical - as the use here of 'Protect and Survive' iconography. Still a bit less than focused, though. ('Constable Cruel' indeed!)

***

A recent find: Urgent Copy, a 1968 collection of literary essays and reviews by Anthony Burgess. I have found that I prefer Burgess's non-fiction to his fiction (if you want a flavour of both, try 1985), so was delighted to find this. Burgess is clear in his introduction that this is journalism (hence the title) - but I think it a rung or two above that. A good review, which hasn't been written with too many refereences to that year's fashions or people or debates can help you pin down your own views by acting as a fixed point. 

A certain amount of it, therefore, is given to decades-old literary debates. I have little objection to this; I find Burgess's style fairly readable and have enough assorted background knowledge to skate through pieces on things I've never read. It's not like this is homework, though I suspect the sheer number of authors mean that Urgent Copy could profitably be used in an intense course surveying English literature. 

Further, there is a use in reading over old literary debates - aside from the fact that you may find a faction to your liking. If you know how this stuff has sintered out in the past, there's an extent to which you won't get bent out of shape by it when it crops up again. Cf. These discussions of Milton.

Burgess's subjects include: Milton, Kipling, Dickens, Joyce, Shaw, Saul Bellow, Waugh, Greene, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Bagehot, Marlowe, The Brothers Grimm. The pieces sometimes relate to a new book or a new edition of some work (as the first volume of Waugh's autobiography, or Robert Graves's 1967 translation of The Rubaiyat - inevitable comparison with Fitzgerald). 

There is also a few pieces dealing with censorship and cultural shifts - 'What is Pornography?' is a fascinating essay to look back on. 

More diverting is Burgess's review 'The Democracy of Prejudice' of Fifty Works of English Literature We Could Do Without by Brophy, Levey and Osborne. It steps away from the discussion of an author's work or influence, and instead looks at a contemporary piece of popular criticism. Burgess is in an entertaining and vitriolic mode. It's curiously familiar, modern-feeling both for a 'Digital Era' spiky, combative style and 'Who stays in the canon' content and/or discussion. I know next to nothing about Fifty Works... other than what I have read of it. Here and here are two modern reviews. I note in passing that I have read perhaps half of the Fifty Works mentioned (often without the urging of a schoolmaster, sometimes even on this blog!) before ever hearing of Brigid Brophy, Michael Levey or Jonathan Osborne. 

[If you wish to review the contents for yourself, check the first exterior link.]

You may wish to compare this to Burgess's own Ninety-Nine Novels: The Best in English since 1939 — A Personal Choice (An occasionally eclectic list, Cf. PJS-led discussions of the Hidden Genre Canon). The International Anthony Burgess Foundation has a podcast centred around these - I've not found the few I've listened to terribly interesting so far, but you may differ. 

***

There has been a second series of the radio series Medici, subtitled 'The Inheritors'. The first series was discussed as part of this post, along with much other of Mike Walker's work. The inheritors in question are Alessandro de Medici and Catherine de Medici.

Alessandro I hadn't heard of - granted, he died fairly quickly in an assassination attempt as part of a sexual encounter. Catherine Johnson wrote his episode, which dwells on his reputed Moorish ancestry. I've only made a brief survey of the field, but this appears to be at least somewhat disputed by historians. Certainly, he was nicknamed 'The Moor' and the rumour that his mother was a slave was repeated after his death. His portraits certainly show a man with darker skin and tight curly hair - though obviously in the same costume and context as other wealthy Italian men. 

Johnson writes Alessandro's episode as if his Moorish background was basically true....with some caveats. Firstly, the narrator is Alessandro himself - who feels the sting of these insults, as he might either if they were true or if he felt they indicated some truth about him and how he would never be accepted in Florence (&c, &c.) There are some scenes with his mother, who appears as a beggar - but no-one other than Alessandro seems to speak with her, and he downplays the encounters. Could he be hallucinating? It's an interesting approach, and one that I think can be deployed fairly well on Radio.  

I'd heard of Catherine, of course - as a noteworthy personality of Early Modern France. Her presence as an outsider is emphasised across two episodes (Alessandro gets just the one).  The net of personages - King, Heir, Queen, Mistress, Catholics, Huguenots - is an impressive feature of the two episodes, and I would call it a good primer on the mood of Early Modern Europe before the Thirty Years War. One to contemplate for would-be WFRP games?

No Anton Lesser, sad to say. There may be repercussions...

"Gentlemen - the Medici have spurned us for the last time!"

***

So, apparently principal photography has concluded on the Rogue Trooper movie. Which I rather thought might have withered on the vine. Website here; if you wish to gen up on the Genetic Infantryman in advance of the film and - doubtless - become the envy of your friends and co-workers, you may read an old blog post on it here

Saturday 10 February 2024

Faufreluches: Where are the Inquisitors?

Because I definitely expected the Imperial Inquisition.

To begin: I've spent a month on-off ruminating on and writing for Investigating Censor. One of the things I praised that for is its titular Player Characters.

Players are the titular Censors. It's a wonderfully evocative set of ideas - the mix of legal, customary and religious authority could be quite heady. The very title of 'Censor' throws you into a different set of social expectations and ideas. This is a strength of Dave Greggs, I would say - the Investigating Censor, the detectives of Starling and Shrike. It's reminiscent of 40k's Inquisitors or Rogue Traders, and rather more successful than Mass Effect's Spectres.

Starling and Shrike is a sort of mercenary burgher republic described here in a little more depth (with a discussion of the inspiration in the comments here). This is something I should sort of dislike - the same way 'Adventurers' Guilds' rub me up the wrong way. The notion of a free-roaming highly-trusted professional hero who apparently can dictate the legitimate use of force...it doesn't work most of the time. 

Where is does (as above), it's submerged in maximalist settings - self-proclaimed in the case of Starling and Shrike, self-evident in the case of 40k. The Jedi of Star Wars also sort of work - however toned down the setting details is versus 40k, the operatic characters and emotions of those Space Operas sort of fulfil a comparable function. The Emperor's Questing Knights in Fading Suns likewise, in part because of the all-but explicitly Arthurian angle. 

To speak on where is doesn't necessarily - the Spectre Rank in the Mass Effect games. Although the strong presence of Jennifer Hale's Commander Shepherd rather stopped this from dragging things down,  the rank of Spectre with its self-consciously tough name and roughly sketched presence looked rather like an excuse to get Shepherd out into the Galaxy. 'First Human Spectre' could readily be replaced by 'First Human Alliance Marshal' or 'First Human Investigative Magistrate'. That the iconography of the games settled on the N7 rating code is no surprise.

Likewise, the notion of the 00-Rating in the MI6 of James Bond: sensical (if sensational) when it is merely a Field Agent who can kill in the course of duty, strange and stretched when they turn into Spies and Commandos alike - as in the opening of Goldeneye (a film that leaves me rather cold, even by the standards of the Bond flicks). 

+++

So where are the Inquisitors in The Thousand-Day Regency? (Hereafter Faufreluches to refer to the setting rather than the setting-defining polity). I admit that Faufreluches was written with one eye squarely on its relative position to 40k - so where are the Rogue Traders?

My response is this: everywhere.

Read enough 40k material and it becomes apparent that at a certain level of authority, Adepts and Commanders and so forth possess, are entrusted with or can acquire not only highly-trained personal protection and a bunch of assorted legbreakers and enforcers, but legally-sanctioned, armed (do I repeat myself?) savvy investigators or their own pack of ultra-loyal black-ops hardcases. This includes the administrative, commercial and navigational authorities, and even if the various system governors don't get the cream of the crop, they can still muster all the above.

[Is this crazy? Well, A) 'Only the insane have strength enough to prosper. Only those who prosper may truly judge what is sane.' and B) It's an exaggeration of overlapping spheres of legal authority in the Middle Ages; compare legal pluralism and scorpion men.]

If you have to give any meaningful thought to or act on matters outside your planetary system, you probably have many of the powers of an Inquisitor. Thus, the Magnates in Faufreluches.

But that's not how any of this works, is it? The attraction of the Feudal Future of 40k is both for simpler Faufreluches-style reasons as sketched here and also for Hobbesian complex-web of influence reasons. The adventures of Inquisitor Tewt'nphonheem are the spark to which fuel is brought - the ridiculous grit thrust into the rational oyster to make the pearl of art (which is cast before swine....). We're right back to the question of whether or not GLORIOUS TULLY HEGEMONY is possible.*

+++

Setting that aside, here's a model of how Faufreluches (or something comparable) could string these together. 

There are Champions, Retainers and Scum**.
[The Faufreluches-adjacent Lazarus has the similar Waste, Serfs and Family, but let's draw away from that.]

Champions are setting-defining larger-than-life sorts, who presumably leap tall buildings in a single bound. Individual Characters have a great deal of strength, autonomy and potential (rises are swifter, falls greater). In Faufreluches, see Paladins and the Janissariat, despite their different tones - the one being Arthurian and the other Homeric/Wagnerian.

Retainers are bound into a wider system, giving them an awareness of the world around them, if not the power to change it. This is where the intrigue and politicking happens - firstly because of the number of factions that are involved, secondly because you might actually need to persuade, petition or bully people to get what you need.  In Faufreluches - the Magnates and the Seven Pillars. 

Scum are trying to survive. By law or choice or circumstance, they are in the midst of struggle for survival, against the foe or wild beasts or the elements - without major greater awareness or assistance from on high. Resources are limited, true friends or even reliable business partners are few. Faufreluches has some of these outlined on Zhiv-Moroz, and they likely exist elsewhere.

EXAMPLES. Zelazny's Lord of Light is Champion. The Metabarons is Champion. Emphyrio is ... Scum who get lucky? A Song of Ice and Fire is big enough to have strands of all three. Ancillary Justice is Retainer. The Empire Strikes Back is Champion, Rogue One is Retainer. 

So, for 40k: Abnett's Eisenhorn is Retainer, tending to Champion. Abnett's Ravenor is more purely Retainer. Feheravi's Dark Coil is Scum, occasionally reaching a strange Retainer status for metaphysical-supernatural reasons. Farrer's Enforcer is Retainer. Wraight's Vaults of Terra is Retainer, tending to Scum. Anything focused on a Space Marine is probably Champion. 

Macbeth and other Tragedies are likely Champion. The Henriad and other history plays are likely Retainer. 
The Guns of Navarone is a Scum narrative. Where Eagles Dare is Retainer.
The Maltese Falcon is Retainer, Chinatown is Retainer with a tragic close. 
Robinson Crusoe is an introspective Scum narrative (it's not all battles in the mud). 
Mythago Wood is dreamy Scum. The Well of the Unicorn is Retainer. Fury is embittered Champion. Votan is Retainer frequently out of his depth. Dr Syn is antagonistic Retainer (at least, in that first book).

One shouldn't push this model too far, but that probably helps you calibrate things. 

NOTES. These categories may characterise an episode, or an entire narrative. Something chronicle-like may pass between them. Thus, Dune passes from Retainer-category among the Atreides (Is an heir a sort of Retainer? Close enough for these purposes.) to Champion-category with the Kwasitz Haderach. Gaunt's Ghosts sees the regiment of the Tanith 1st go from Scum to Retainers (if not evenly so: see the Gereon mission).

This doesn't precisely match onto Social Class - but we are talking 'Feudal Future': it is impossible to avoid. Yet a protagonist from the Upper Crust can be thrust into a Scum Narrative - as the nameless hunter of Rogue Male, who is in the midst of a pretty Scummy episode. The aristocratic Gaunt of Gaunt's Ghosts is a useful window to demonstrate the predicament of the regiment when in Scum-category: he can get answers - polite answers, even - just not results. 

Nor is this meant to correspond to a levelling system.

+++
So, if this model is useful, the next step would presumably be to sketch out Champion and Scum narratives, even as Vorontsov at Bay was (roughly?) a Retainer narrative.

And in the meantime, if you need to know who the Inquisitors in Faufreluches are:

Pastorate Witchfinders and Wardens, Mint Auditors, Secretariat Assessors, The Mews Long-Range Security Detachment, Schematician Troubleshooters, Division 5 of the Maioral Guard, Siegneuria Heralds, the Vorontsov Office of Occluded Defence, the Salammboan Green Veil Circle, Stadtholder Circuit-Riders......



*Per Bret Devereux, it's perhaps desirable - see the section titled 'Other Problems'.
**'Footsloggers' would be more dignified and as accurate. The single syllable of Scum has more impact.

Friday 26 January 2024

The Cape of Four Pleasances

As suggested last time, here's some material put together for Investigating Censor. I have tied this to some of my own Rest of All Possible Worlds - I quite liked the idea of newcomers to the region, and this was a way to do it. A deliberate sort-of expansion pack. The two aren't supposed to be drawn too tightly together, so I haven't been too specific about (say) a newcomer being from this bit of Malmery or that bit of Tsymric. Anyway, off to.....

***

The Cape of Four Pleasances is quite a way from High Dreaming Citadel, on the South-Westerly tip of the coastline. Largely flat, but still full of plant life, it hooks round to provide ample shelter for ships from the winds. It was once home to four villa complexes, the sea-side getaways of landowning families from the farming valleys deeper inland; a place to send invalids or troublesome younger sons - or to escape plague. Stables, bathhouses and colonnades welcomed guests; gardens, pavilions and gaming terraces entertained them; wall-hangings, scented breezes and palisades surrounded them. 

Those families have now all been killed, or exiled, or subdued. The Cape of Four Pleasances should be the haunt of pirates, turning well-appointed chambers into sprawling plunder-pits or airy courtyards into open-air debauches. But somehow, it isn't: the estates remain empty, slowly decaying in the absence of gardeners, scullions and builders. 

Any successful strike against the Cult of Protection should be welcome news to an Investigating Censor - or so one would imagine. Then, from traders and travellers comes report of newcomers: strangely dressed, heavily armed and highly inquisitive. They are the ones who have driven the pirates back, and created an orbit of relative peace.

The Hub        Port Houndsfair

Port Houndsfair was named for a regular gathering to sell hunting beasts to bored nobles. It nudged a fishing village into a full-blown port town, accommodating the Four Pleasances. There has been no-one to sell scent-hounds or other luxuries to for quite a while, and so Port Houndsfair was slowly decaying, and gradually earning that unfair nickname - 'Muttstown'. So it went, until a few years ago.

There are three principal areas one could divide Port Houndsfair into.

The Harbourside Narrows of the Old Town

Shacks and wharfs and slipways, and smokehouses, and nets in the sun - until you get close, and see the carefully varnished timbers of the buildings, the rows of pink and gilt tide-charms or pale wooden nereid bells hanging from the balconies, the fold-away street booths and the painted sunscreens of taut canvas. 

Most of the Port's well-off families are elsewhere, but there are a few reasons to keep them coming into town - including an increasingly perfunctory set of civic rituals and the annual regatta.

The South-East Processional

Warehouses face each other along a straight new road, with walled gardens and large houses behind them. The new trade has meant that traders of Houndsfair have re-established themselves, to accommodate new volumes of goods going out to Fort Baculum and to house their increasingly prosperous families and retinues. 

This is the place to find both a dozen cartloads of Musth and those dealers in it flaunting their new finery, and gossiping, and thinking of ways to embarrass one another at the next Cartel Assembly. Every two hundred yards of road was paid for by a different merchant, who attempt to outdo one another with elaborately carved man-high milestones, conspicuous scarlet roadside shines or numerous bright flags. 

There is no formal Centre of Gravity to the merchant class of Houndsfair: the Chair of Cartel Meetings is always a carefully chosen second-stringer. However, many individual merchants might show themselves as Key Personalities.

The armed portions of a Merchant's retinue typically carry Man-catchers, Whips, Throwing Clubs and Dirks. Several of them will carry Cur-pipes: lightly enchanted bone flutes that produce a wince-inducing shriek, designed to make crowds clear the road, slinking and cringing into alleys and gutters. 

At night, perhaps one in four will be given Tether Lamps. The retainer wears a large flat pectoral amulet, which attaches to him and sustains (through his heartbeat) a glowing paper lantern hovering several feet above. (It takes a small act of magical will, generally clutching the amulet in the right hand, to oblige the lantern to lower itself to go through an archway.)

The Blue Light District

Trade of a different kind. Small by the standards of the pirate coast, the Blue Light District is at present dominated by a band of cutthroats who call themselves - with desperate, leaden gaiety - the Elephants who Trample Care

Their boss is generally called Trunk, and is a Centre of Gravity in his own right. He owns a bludgeon made of ivory, terminating in a metal spike tip. This looks very impressive but he only recently acquired it and hasn't yet had to use it in anger.

Acuity: d10
Archery: d4
Fetches and Fetishes: d6
Gambling: d6
Poetry: d4
Prowess: d10

The Old Power        The Temple of Suspended Heads

Set down the cape, between the abandoned Pleasances (which it predates), there is a temple complex. This is dedicated to a figure called the Mother of Cormorants and a collection of sea-spirits called the Parliament of Tides. However, this is fairly far down the list of things people remember about the temple, for one very good reason.

From the broad eaves of the temples in the centre of the complex hang upside-down human heads. These are made of every material imaginable - stone, wood, wickerwork, metal, leather, ivory. These are decorated in as wide a set of styles with paint or chalk or gilding or carving, though the heads are all still recognisably human. These are suspended by a variety of chains, rope and cords.

The influence of the heads makes the Temple precincts within the ritual line of the ceremonial gate a sort of magical blind spot. Confused by the myriad symbols of dislocated and inverted sight, auguries fail, scrying produces an absolute blank and witchsight just gives wizards a headache. 

This has made the Temple very popular over the years with people wanting to escape magical detection - and likewise with those who want to conceal themselves from divine attention as well. 

(Which is to say, the Temple is a resting place between sins rather than a place wonderfully suited for one to commit them. The Three-Precinct Master and the temple brethren drive out the more obvious Blue Light types of vice and would be aghast at cold-blooded murder.
[Hot pursuit is bothersome and unpleasant, but only a minor problem.])

Consequently, The Temple of Suspended Heads wields a great deal of relatively subtle power on the Cape, as well as owning a broad estate in its own right. And it has wielded this a long time: twisting the arms of visiting nobles, sprinkling a dust of ritual propriety and moral rectitude over the grasping merchants and truculent fisherfolk of Houndsfair, and baffling Pirate Warlords into a rough semblance of good manners. 

Young Men from Port Houndsfair volunteer (by custom) as wardens at the Temple of Suspended Heads. They spend several non-consecutive seasons in this role, and are expected to live temperately in this time. They wear Lovat green tunics, brass lozenge-shaped ornaments and dull crimson head wraps; they are armed with long poles with a sharply curved blade on the end. From these they take their name - the Pruning-Hook Serjeants.

They are not usually called upon to do more than break up fights or chase off intruders, but will use deadly force in the event someone fails to back down. A Serjeant who decapitates someone in the course of his duties will dine out on the story for the rest of his life.

Centre of Gravity            The Three-Precinct Master

The Arch-Priest of the Temple of Suspended Heads. A deliberately inscrutable and taciturn man, who allows his subordinates to bear the brunt of daily administration and boring meetings. He concentrates on the cycle of Temple ritual, and on what he terms the 'higher mysteries'. Decades of sermons, spiritual tutelage and formal authority give him an aura of power enhanced by the tricolour chequerboard robes he wears.

He possesses the Twenty Cormorant Rosary, a string of jet beads that allow him to dive and glide like a seabird and breath underwater for a surprisingly long time. In the Master's Chambers he also possesses the sinuous enchanted glaive Immortal's Expectorate. This rests on the wall of his chamber and looks like an unused decorative piece - an impression prompted by several ornate nacre panels. In fact, the Three-Precinct Master practices with it daily. 

Acuity: d12
Fetches and Fetishes: d6
Poetry: d10
Prophecy: d12
Prowess: d10

Key Personality        The Vernal Provost

As the name suggests, the Vernal Provost is appointed every spring. No-one holds the position for consecutive years. He acts as the daily overseer of the business of the Temple, and is usually an elder of the brethren. The Provost exercises control over the central temple buildings, the lodging and feeding of the priests and acolytes and minor infractions between them. The Pruning-Hook Serjeants report to him.

The current Provost has been in the post four times previously, and is secretly rather exasperated by the need to put all his projects into the hands of another priest. He would happily prolong his term of office in the case of a 'state of emergency'. He would also happily become Three-Precinct Master, though is (at heart) aware that the position of Master would thrust him into the sort of context where his concerns as Provost would immediately dwindle or shift.

Key Personality        Head Usher

Overseer of the Visitors' Lodge in the Temple. Harried by his duties, he has slipped into a mental and social rut of repetitive cheerful cliche, which is dropped only and shockingly when he must upbraid an underling. A careful tender of power relations and niceties in the mixed surroundings of the lodge.


The Young Power    The Whetstone Pundit

Thirty years ago, a scholar from an obscure cadet branch of a wealthy family moved into one of the Pleasances. He began to teach, providing an elite education for those that could afford it along the coast. 

Twenty years ago, they began calling him the Whetstone Pundit - though whether this is in honour of his flat, stony features, his rasping voice or his ability to bring a degree of keenness to even the bluntest young minds is open to dispute. 

He has become prosperous beyond the prospects of his birth. He is in his 51st year, and could happily retire now and live on his accumulated wealth and the products of his estate. He will not do so, because he is also highly respected. The Cartel in Houndsfair frequently consult him on all matters not linked to personal profit. Indeed, on almost all matters not related to public religion or wholesale commerce, he has managed to enact his ideals for public policy across the Cape. Further, he has managed to do so while retaining the image of a scholar pottering within the bounds of his own (flourishing!) walled garden.

Naturally, he is not alone. The Whetstone Estate has perhaps a score of young students each with a body servant staying there, as well as a household staff and a village of workers. This was intended as a model of harmonious, mannerly rule, and is a charming blend of parkland and agriculture. However successful this presently is, the extent to which it is all a fa├žade has varied from year to year. 

The Pundit also has a trained band of Guards, who have been trained as loyal, ferocious huscarls but largely find themselves acting as night-watchmen and lodgekeepers. They would need sometime to gear up into near-equals of anyone in Fort Baculum. 

Centre of Gravity           The Whetstone Pundit

Never strictly vigorous, the Pundit has remained active in his maturity - including some of the martial skills necessary for a noble. He does not openly embrace the minor magics of Fetishes and Fetches, but will make use of them.

His library would be immensely valuable to someone in Fort Baculum.

Acuity: d12
Alchemy: d6
Archery: d8
Fetches and Fetishes: d6
Flute: d12
Gambling: d4
Poetry: d12
Prowess: d4

Key Personality        Millrace

Millrace is the Pundit's Bailiff and has been busy with the practical application of his principles for decades. She is a squat, tireless woman in her middle years, typically clad in a set of blue-green robes. A common remark by the Pundit's servants is that she is the Iron Hand that allows him to wear Silk Gloves. She is also one of the main conduits of the Pundit's will to the outside world and really enjoys the occasional moments when she gets to browbeat someone far richer than herself.

Acuity: d12
Gambling: d10
Poetry: d4
Prowess: d6

Key Personality        Head Disciple

The Pundit's head scribe, secretary and sounding board. He actually regards him as wonderful, but distant from the practicalities of instructing aristocratic adolescents. This manifests as grousing, rather than resentment. Changing this way of life at his age would be a costly process, though it would not be so very hard to set up himself up as a tutor or similar riding on the Pundit's reputation.


The New Power    Fort Baculum

Strange visitors from another land live here. They arrived in the face of piratical opposition, but fought it off in spectacular fashion, at what they now call the Battle of Journey's End. Revealing themselves to be traders, they acquired land across from Port Houndsfair where they set up a fortified compound - a secure anchorage for themselves, stores for their goods and a battery to ward off pirate raids. Their new goods have enriched the merchants of Houndsfair, as has their willingness to fight in defence of the Cape. 

The residents of Fort Baculum are from Calliste. They represents an assortment of nations and peoples, gathered into a company of merchant venturers based in Datresse. They have an outlandish religion (or, depending on the individual, an outlandish irreligion) that makes them poor targets for the persuasive arts of an Investigating Censor. They have telescopes, coffee, tobacco and remarkable weapons, called fire-arms.

(Unless you'd rather they didn't, in which case they have highly advanced crossbows. There's precedent for that.)

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Several trade runs have now gone from Fort Baculum back to Datresse. It is showing a profit, and Fort Baculum is slowly gearing up for the long haul. 

The Fort itself is a square, boxy affair - with a small stream fifty yards off for water. It has a battery at the tip of the Cape, a hundred yards off as the crow flies, but far further to walk up the series of switchbacks and curves that allowed the Callistans to haul their cannon up to the top. Someone sufficiently active could scramble up quicker, but probably not in armour.

No-one at Fort Baculum can play the Flute, and their poetry is far too elaborate and fanciful.

The Sailors, Marines and Armed Labourers at the Fort carry Boarding Axes, Marlinspikes and Messers - as well as Muskets. Some officers carry long, slim swords - an oddity on the Cape. Their instinct, if attacked, is to stick to prepared defences - the ramparts, stashes of powder and shot, the ditches, the switchbacks up to the battery.  They can be remarkable effective in these prepared positions. If overwhelmed they go into No-quarter-asked-or-given mode, and become particularly paranoid and dangerous. 

Centre of Gravity    Warrant-Holder

Licensed to deal in strange foreign goods, and defend his ships while doing so. Merchant, mariner, fighter, amateur linguist - and here for the long haul. He has people he owes, as well as interested officials that call on him whenever he steps back into port. The only way to get out of this is to make his packet. Then he can settle down and reminisce about the taste of the local hooch and the bizarre shellfish-based cuisine and the erotic frescos. A stable and steady man - until it pays not to be.

Acuity: d12
Archery: d8
Poetry: d4
Prowess: d12

Key Personality    Wizarding Matross

You can either pay through the nose for Wizard College, or bugger off to the ends of the earth to dodge the debt collectors. Somehow, she did both. The Matross is a key component of the Fort Baculum battery, speeding cannonballs into pirate vessels with uncanny accuracy. The trouble is, there is only one Matross in Fort Baculum. She spends most of her freetime on a rough cot in a shack near by the guns. 

The Matross has no desire to visit the Blue Light District and cut loose, no time to engage with the local culture and no immediate prospect of going home. The Warrant-Holder still feels the Cape is not yet secure against pirate raids. 

Acuity: d12
Alchemy: d6
Archery: d20

Key Personality    Second-Son Scholar

One officer of the Fort nurses a set of ambitions - to apply his scraps of magical knowledge to this new world, starting importing to Calliste fetishes and fetches - or making them himself. This could make money. This could build prestige. This could make a name in the lecture halls and wunderkammern and salons of Calliste.

Except, of course, that for the Warrant-Holder, it is already huge. No need to push the envelope too far when we barely know the language and are making quite enough money already. The Warrant-Holder, naturally, has more shares apportioned to him of the Fort's trade. 

Still, the Second-Son is trying. He probably has less of natural gift for languages than the Warrant-Holder, but he's using his in so many more different new contexts - and gradually building a far better cultural understanding of the region. Apparently. 

Acuity: d10
Archery: d4
Fetches and Fetishes: d4
Poetry: d4
Prowess: d8

The Empty Pleasances

These are now haunts of wild beasts, desperate beggars and bandits. Anything valuable was sold or removed long ago. There is one notable exception, however.

A Pirate Intelligencer has arrived and is making slowly gathering news of the Cape and Fort Baculum. This is generally accomplished through prompt payments of large amounts of hard cash or interesting new drugs, and the Intelligencer needs somewhere to store these. The Intelligencer has chosen a Pleasance to do this*, for their remoteness and ill-repute. Any beasts or itinerants were driven out and the crumbling manse has been rigged with numerous traps. 

In theory, one of the Pleasances would be the first choice as an operating base for a Pirate assault on the Cape, but the Intelligencer has not got anywhere near making this a reality. 



*Possible Variant: Hide the Lady. The Intelligencer is in one of the old Pleasances, but has booby-trapped all three.....