Monday, February 11, 2019

A Sojourn Among Antediluvian Archæotheria

This started with nomenclature, as so many things do. I started writing a response to Scrap Princess's post about Dinosaur naming conventions in the fantasy genre. Then I got carried away.

Essentially, I attempted to cunningly misinterpret a Stegosaur, an Azdarchid, a Theropod and a Plesiosaur.

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I have an Instagram now, on which I am recording some of my illustrations. Please follow it. I am engaged  in a project exploring the conventions of representation in mediæval bestiaries and am still (and increasingly so) obsessed with epistemology and delusion and pretending, with Umberto Eco's historical omnivory, with prosody, time, the Anabasis, Heart of Darkness, Eddison, Melville, lists, sentences that go on and on,Classical historiography, evolution, Harryhausen, melancholy, nomenclature-which-I-think-I-mentioned, the sweet futility of existence, the poetics of et cetera, people getting killed by monsters etc.

I cannot remember why I think the bone marrow of giraffes is hallucinogenic but that gets a mention.

Some of the Meropians are named for Archaic Greek potters, whose talent it was to enclose voids in burnt earth made beautiful. I am not sure what this suggests.

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A Sojourn Among Antediluvian Archæotheria

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(What follows are the notes of the transcriber)

And lo! Who has not heard of those half-a-thousand phalangites from the seven city-states of the Omphalian Autarky who, returning burthen'd with spoils from campaign against the Lemurians, did fall afoul of cacodaemoniacal tempests, doubtless vengeful sendings of those initiates of foul dæmonologie who reign over the immemorial swarming verdure of thrice-curséd Lemuria, and, finding themselves most mournfully marooned upon an alien strand beyond Taprobane and Palaisumundus afar, did suffer the depredations of unnamed tribes, and of the untamed elements themselves, that with immoderate vehemence did scourge the waylorn woeful wanderers with agonies innumerable, and with miasmatic airs laid low the mighty, such that in the span of forty days few only survived in confraternity of hardihood to overcome unspeakable perils and return, to what ingratitude and upheaval and what eventual ascendance escapes the bounds of this tale?

Of late, an Archivist of House Mirkinnen, trading favours for secrets that she may assure the betrayal of the unjust that is ever the stock-in-trade of those crepuscular whisperers, made available a fragment attributed to a nameless Meropian Scribe, claimed to be a student of Dropides the Metagnomist, and, asserting its claim as a lost chapter of that tale of phalangitic exile and return, did profit mightily in the exchange, such is the eager appetite for the outlandishness of that history

It was understood then, as it is understood now, that the inhabitants of quinqueremes are but poorly endowed with discernment, else why would they, in contravention of good sense, condemn themselves to bodily and to spiritual peril aboard such inadvisable vessels, to plough the deeps of unknown oceans in search of endless war? Little wonder is it, then, that gathered in those floating enclaves as far from the influence of such wise personages as do universally scorn foolhardy misadventure as they are from the rectilinearity and orderliness of civilised lands, and as far, indeed, from the immutability of land itself, starving and straining among the phantasmagorical changeableness of ocean, little wonder that such misapprehensions arise as to the nature and the order of things.

Thus, it is necessary to take the teratological revelations gleaned from the recovered chapter as being perchance the ravings of those too long in the habit of disgorging confabulatory concoctions as edicts of unfailing veracity. Mayhap the ordeal had temporarily bereft them of their senses, or strange fruit gobbled greedily by starveling sailors had, as does the henbane or the thornapple, bestowed strange fancies in their minds. Mayhap the scribe himself in old Meropis had gorged himself upon the marrow of the cameleopard that plunges the senses into radiant abysms beyond right knowing. Each of these circumstances is more likely than that what is said is true. Nevertheless, having disavowed claims of veracity, and not rendering salient the stark possibility that the fragment was a brilliant forgery, I relate to the reader what was claimed to have transpired upon the interior plateau of that unnamed island.

Fragment 1: The Crenellated Beast

On the third day after the massacre among the bowers the skiapodes gave up their pursuit. We had, by this time, ascended above the scree into a place of thickets and thorns where we could rest. There was, nearby, a stream that ran upon a rocky shelf to a waterfall, and the spindrift and spume thereof, caught by the wind and borne about, filled the place with a misty uncertainty. It was at the edge of this stream and among this mist that, in the extremity of their exhaustion, the men beheld a thing like a great lumbering ox, but that he bear upon his back series of fortifications like those upon the walls of a fortress. In size he was greater than the great olifant who is likewise burdened by masonry when in warlike array he trumpets his challenge and tramples underfoot the massed legions of mankind. Greater and more terrible was this crenellated beast, and most terrible of all his twenty-cubit tail that bore upon its end the likeness of a morgenstern, that bludgeoneth even as it pricketh, so the saying goes, and with a sweep of this tail it smote Agathon, the lover of Teuthras, such a ponderous stroke as to hurl him bodily through spindrift and spume and over the precipice itself. There Teuthras plunged also, in extremity of woe, for had they not, against the designs of fickle fortune, escaped together the captivity of the Androphages and a dozen likelier dooms? Thus was the Plunge of Teuthras that in later days became proverbial. (Transcriber's note: No record of the proverb remains)

Fragment 2: The Haunter of Precipices

Following the theft of the fruit by the feathered jackanapes we ascended the second tier and came into a region of sheer chasms and ridges, a land cleft as by the primordial titans of an elder aeon, who with colossal strokes did split the world irrevocably asunder and thus allow the reign of chaos unending that, of a surety, prevailed still in this place. The necessity of traversing the chasm floor beneath such beetling heights wore heavily upon the men, inured to so many privations but exposed, in this place, to a growing terror of what might espy them from far above and stoop upon them in the barren streambed where they walked. They all remembered the report of lost Hegesistratus: of that great carrion fowl he had seen circling above the carnage following the disastrous battle with the Antichthones, and of other like shapes, greater by far than any mortal bird, incised upon the stones of their holy places.

The second day in the chasms they all saw it, climbing along a narrow spine of stone in a manner reminiscent of the vespertilio that hangeth inverted in shrine or grotto and flitteth forth by dark of night. For it climbed upon its taloned pinions as well as its taloned feet, and those wings were of hide, but greater than the azure sails of the argosy flying before a zephyr, and they sagged in loathsome grey folds as it crept. Of a surety it espied us from those red eyes at the moment we saw it. For all cried aloud at the terror of the thing. But it did not come nearer then but crept over the far edge of its stony tower and out of sight. All saw, though from afar, the horrific delineation of its terrible crimson head, though what mad god devised it none could say.

Though they kept to the narrowest ravines, the fear of the thing ate at the men and, in his anguish, Euphronios ascended alone an escarpment he thought an egress from the region of chasms. While he climbed, weeping, and Glaucon railed at him for a fool, there came a shriek unlike the cries of earthly fowl, and in it was mingled the hissing and bellowing of those serpentine and those bestial denizens of unfriendly Earth whose mischief has been ever the undoing of the world. The clamourous echoes in that stark and labyrinthine place resounded to such a cacophony that the waking nightmare of the thing that came upon cinerous wings and took Euphronios in its talons was not incongruous but fitting, for each perceived the world, in that moment, as does a sleeper in the torments of a night-terror. It bore him aloft, and he cried out in sorrow to Glaucon below. All saw it, plumed and scaled and inexplicably furred, bear him to its eyrie and rend him as the gastrel rendeth the slayworm, and its horrific brood raised their heads to received his proffered flesh.

Fragment 3: The Imperator Fowl

The third belt of verdure had been a more difficult barrier to traverse, in part due to its density and in part due to the chittering fowl that attended us nightly in great abundance and groped at us with curious fingers, snuffing, perchance, some victual and seeking to purloin it as had the treacherous plumed jackanapes a week before.

After the squalls of the previous days the soil of the clearing was soft and muddy and bore the many and varied pawprints of the feathery denizens hereabouts. But they were furtive in the daylight, and the clearing was empty when we crossed it. Near the middle, where there grew a few ferny thickets, Cynaegirus saw the tracks of a far greater creature, alike to those of the pilfering fowl of the forest but huge and deep. "Indeed, among these diminutive subjects this must be an Imperator grown fat upon tribute" - such was the jape. For desperation necessitates a ready mirth,  or hearts would burst asunder at the strain, but likewise  came fear and decision was made to abandon open ground for the sheltering tangle on the far side of the clearing. As we ran there came a shrill warbling from far behind and a response from ahead, a strangely liquid and a harmonious sound to come from so great a creature but such it was.

 It came, trotting gigantic upon its hindlimbs, this Imperator Fowl, like unto a pullet grown titanic, or, even more so, the regulus that is hatched by an aspic from a cock's egg and embodies the very principle of virulence, so loathsome it strikes dead those who behold it. More loathsome still this Imperator Fowl strutting vast, his plumage like a habberjock, his crested head more fell by far than aught bethought  by civilised man. For he had an hundred teeth, long and gleaming sharp, his maw was great and jaws heavy. He bit Mnesikles in half as he ran, and Taxis and Tleson he slew, and Kleitias left  screaming dismembered to put down resistance imposed by Smikros and Sophilos, who sought in vain to spear the beast. He trod them mightily into the sod with his great paws and raked them with talons such that fair Smikros and brave Sophilos were torn to tattered shreds upon that muddy field.

The rest escaped into the tangled woods but saw the great Imperatrix come stalking after her paramour, and they warbled together in the language of their abominable kind, and ate the men they had slain.
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Fragment 4: The Lacustrine Enormity

And there was upon that lake an island, and visible there an edifice of stone, like unto those structures attributed to the ancestors of the ancestors of the barbarous Choromandae, who build nothing now save it be with mud and leaves. Decision was made to seek if there be any dwelling there, for no other structure had we seen upon this plateau and perchance amidst such bewilderness the rites of hospitality prevailed yet. The raft was crude, but the work of Hegesander the shipwright, even in the uttermost reaches of the unknown, was sound, and it bore the dozen of us who yet survived to the island.

The millenial abandonment of the island and of its temple was made apparent by the accumulated dung of the thousands of fowl who made of it a monumental rookery. But its structure was largely intact and we were able to shore up a bivouac and feast on stolen eggs. These fowl, fanged and uncouth like the rest, were nevertheless winged and not of preposterous size, in their raucous company we stayed the night.

In the morning, as we prepared our embarkation, a great head was seen out on the water, borne on a long neck like a serpent. This head was, again, abominably bestial and predacious, with yet more terrible teeth than aught we had yet seen in his place, that its maw was fairly crowded with fangs. It beheld us patiently with dark eyes, and in each man's heart, seeing the great size of this creature revealed and glimpsing the ponderous girth yet submerged, there fell the sense, inevitably, that we would none of us survive the crossing back.

At this Hegesander, the eldest among us and traditionally taciturn, strode out upon the raft and began to declaim in the epic mode;

O, Creature! Than whom none swim
More sinuous in dreadful dank
And dreary depths, and who,
In days afore, in epochs long forgot
Did sate a hunger horrible and huge
On those that built this fane forlorn,
This fallen folly. Beseek thyself!
For in each bestial heart there must abide
A wakeful wit, lest nature in its schemes
And devious devices dupe thee ever,
And appetites immense unsated be.
Nay! Thou knowest what I speak
Though ye be dumb, and doubtless,
Did ye bargain for the bones of bigger beasts
than I. And we, though weak
And weary, with spirits sore beset,
In westering lands unnumbered allies have
Whose hard harpoons and hateful hands and hearts
Shall see thee slain, who rends this raft to ruin
That is not thine. Only this I ask:
Eat only me. My brothers
On this barque, shall bear my bier
Unburdened by my body,
That shall be thine,
In far Meropis, and the sun shall shine.

This said, Hegesander, whose face and voice had been transformed for a time by the nobility of his words, renewed his grimness of countenance and busied himself with casting-off. The rest, uncertain of the outcome of this crossing but transfixed by the purpose of abandoning this island despite the danger, went all aboard the raft. The head went down into the deeps and scarcely a ripple remained. 

We rowed all in silence, aware of the terror that lurked beneath. Young Praximon wept, for Hegesander had saved him in the sea-battle against the reivers of Thule, two years ago but an age now, for in their folly they had abandoned a world where heroisms might perchance prevail for one where impetus of implacable circumstance brooked no opposition. Nonetheless, they rowed across unmolested and, nigh unto the far shore, the thing rose up and took Hegesander in silence, and they saw, with wonderment, the calm visage of the shipwright borne into the depths betwixt those terrible jaws.
(Transcriber's note: Praximon, after he had usurped the throne of the Archon Sostratos, had a mausoleum made for Hegesander, descriptions of the mausoleum reinforce the testimony of the author of the manuscript for the mosaics and statuary within depicted fanciful creatures and scenes resembling those referenced within the narrative.)

4 comments:

  1. Just magnificent. It reads like the love child of Jack Kirby and Homer.

    I'm also reminded of Dougal Dixon's "After Man: A Zoology of the Future."

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    1. Thanks, Zack.

      Dougal Dixon is a master bestiarist.

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  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Scrap. I felt sad after yesterday, as though everything was a sham. I'll keep and treasure your profane exclamation in a little reliquary to banish inevitable future malaises.

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