Battle of Barnum Stones

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Contents

Overview

Andelphracian Lights and the Altoxian Bulb are probably the two best known examples of a long-standing alchemical procedure used in many parts of Ghyll to produce either light or music by the admixture of two separate viscous fluids. However, until the discovery of the obith of substances, the underlying technomancy was unclear, and not only were both the traditional producers of light (“smilchers”) and of ritual music (“canoralists”) constrained to proceed either on the basis of happenstance, or of trial and error, or of procedures handed down across the ages, but also the underlying unity of the separate phenomena was so far from being even suspected that bloody battles were fought to uphold the superiority of one procedure over another.

The most celebrated of these battles is almost certainly the Battle of Barnum Stones, which took place somewhere between –400 EC and –323 EC in a field some 20 lele south of the present site of Cranee. Since the removal of the Stones to Stindersgrough by Corvin Axehand in –158 EC, and the subsequent iconoclastic Raking, the precise location of the Battle has been contested, yet the story is told in every nursery on Ghyll.

The usual version of events has the Looliers ranged against the Exingians in a bloody contest in which each group sought to establish the superiority of its ritual system over that of the other, though by different means. As the story is traditionally related, the noble Exingians were decimated because rather than fight, they chose to wave their symbolic vorpcaras, which were of course no match for the finely honed weapons of their opponents, who slaughtered them. The vicious and complete retribution that was almost immediately visited on the Looliers is somehow held to re-confirm the pre-established moral order and to vindicate the choice of the Exingians, despite their atrocious demise. Siam Sinch’s lately published chart-topping alliterative glitterthought on the subject is one of the most recent of such popularisations:

the mean and marauding miscreants
metaphorically murdered mirth as they massacred the milder men,
and, once done, are deemed to deserve the doom done back.

Recent controversy

Despite its name, it is clear that the Battle of Barnum Stones was not so much a battle as a squalid massacre; what is less clear is who actually was massacred, and by whom; and some scholars point to controversial indications uncovered in recent archaeological excavations that might seem to point to the possibility that the whole sorry episode may actually have been long planned for the basest of motives, and cynically executed in the bloodiest and most ignoble of manners rather than being the unfortunate result of mischance and greed as related by tradition. However, all scholars (whether traditional or modernist in bent) agree that a number of questions remain unsolved – not least, who did for the Looliers, how, and why?

The facts as we know them

Scholars have long wrangled over who or what could have originally summoned two neighbouring clans, the Exingians and the Looliers, to the Barnum Stones on the pretext of a peaceful contest to decide whose smilch was the most powerful. According to Arariax – who may have been present – the contest was to take place on the winter solstice, Gudersday, (but of what year?) and Casostates, super partes, himself was to judge.

However, when the Exingians and the Looliers arrived at the Barnum Stones a few days before the day appointed for the ritual contest, they found that a U-shaped ditch had been dug around the entire Stoneshelf, and the earth so excavated had been used to raise a barrow. The Stones were thus enclosed on three sides. Worse still, an unknown hand had scattered the remaining open edge with the dried seeds of fefferberries, a pungent fruit with various ritual uses in that area. The Looliers were therefore unable to reach the Stones without either scaling the ditch or (even more unthinkably) crossing the line of seeds.

The Looliers withdrew to some distance in the face of this affront, and the Exingians followed suit; and over the next three days (as tradition required), the leaders of each took counsel with their own, as well as with the leaders of the other. Suspicion ran high in both camps.

At the end of the three-day period of consultation, in his capacity as shaman - chief of the Looliers, Salerny Redthighs formally declared Umbrage. The Exingians diplomatically followed suit, since they were massively outnumbered; and for a day or two calm prevailed. But on Gudersday, the situation precipitated rapidly. Having declared Umbrage, but unable either to reach the Barnum Stones, or to withdraw with honour, the exasperated Salerny vented his fury on a nearby homestead, quite possibly at Saon Dur. Because the homesteaders were unwilling (in some versions) or unable (in others) to replenish his depleted stocks of muirbeer, Salerny put the entire homestead to the sword, and razed the buildings. When news of this reached the Exingian camp, their commander felt she had no choice but to send the Loolian commander the bull’s pizzle, which Salerny first feigned not to see and then explicitly sent back. This was war.

The two forces met early on the day after Guders; the Exingians knew they were massively outnumbered as well as outflanked, yet nevertheless drew themselves up into their ritual square formation, 7 warriors wide and 7 warriors deep, at the centre of the battlefield. A vorpcara was held aloft at the centre of each line of 7; each of these was supported by three pages to the left, and three to the right. The pages to the left held wooden bowls containing spring water, and those to the right, sprigs of white adlorst. These were to symbolise the measurement of time passing.

It was all over in a very short time, and the Looliers struck camp and set out for their own lands. They suffered no losses themselves, and did nothing to honour the fallen Exingians. That night, the group camped in the Vale of Serdoch. Not one would survive the night: during the hours of darkness, a mysterious “affliction” fell upon them, and they were never seen again.

Related background information

History of course is written by the victors, and the Looliers can hardly be described as that. We know little enough of them, beyond what is related here. Only one Loolier manuscript has so far come to light -the long satirical poem Bordingbras his hatt!- and across the centuries the Looliers are yet still so despised that most mainstream scholars disdain to study it. Further, the passing of time has dignified what took place at Barnum with the epithet “Battle”, attributing the noblest of motives to the Exingians, and most often denigrating the Looliers as little better than lascivious lunatics more interested in fornication than washing. The slaughter of the Exingians at the hand of Salerny Redthighs was the spark that ultimately ignited the patrician tribes; they finally united, thus setting in train the events that led inexorably to the Raking, to the total destruction of the Looliers and to the present order.

But recent archaeological evidence may finally and perversely lend strong support to an entirely different reading of events, in which the Looliers are not the makers of massacre but rather, simple victims in the grip of events entirely beyond their comprehension. In this version, the entire Battle was masterminded by a mysterious Third Force. This certainly would accord with the tale offered by Bordingbras his hatt!, the only Loolian manuscript still extant, and held in the Odlucian Library. This is the only document we have which tells the Looliers’ side of any events at all.

This comparatively little-studied poem by an unknown hand is the only document in the Loolian dialect to have survived the rage of the times, and hitherto it has been a lone voice of dissent in the centuries of constant praise for the perceived “noble sacrifice of the Exingians”.

The poem relates the doom-laden, tragic fate of Bordingbras, a lost hero who is a mere bagatelle in the hands of a Fate that is not so much arbitrary as wilfully capricious. The hero (bravebeste Bordinbracche!), destined to be perennially misunderstood and perennially to misunderstand, will ultimately go willingly, sword in hand, to the slaughter just like a beast. This is of course exactly what befell Salerny Redthighs and his Looliers.

that wendyng wyse of woods
when that wierd wolde
lats nat live ne nigiune:
death sholde
(fit 7 lines 1124-1127 in my published transcription of Dunby’s transliteration)
A vicious destiny was encountered among the trees
just as Fate always decrees
and does not allow anyone to survive:
the angel of death reigns supreme.
(my translation in course of publication)

Some hypotheses

I have long posited the existence of a third army (whose forces had simply hidden somewhere in the vale of Serdoch). This seems to me more plausible than Mere Monsters, Hybgoblins, drachens or any of the other supernatural and nursery creatures that populate the various folk versions of the Telling of Barnum Stones. A solid army, with boots and spears, seems more likely- but raises several questions. Whose army? And why were they ready, armed, hidden and waiting?

However, allow me to make several conjectures. This third force was behind the entire episode; it was a piece of tactical strategy unsurpassed for those times. They had summoned both of the other groups to the Stones, and had staged the original affront which provoked Salerny’s Umbrage. Their strategy was simply to bide their time. They knew that neither of the visiting tribes had come victualled for a long stay. And they also bet that the irascible chief of the Looliers, Salerny Redthighs, would be incapable of containing his rage for very long. As long as they remained undetected, they considered it inevitable that he would vent his fury either directly on the Exingians, or on one or more of the isolated homesteads in the area. Since the area was south of Cranee, they knew that like as not the homesteads would have belonged to recent Exingian converts who had chosen not to live in the town as a preliminary measure to adopting the full lifestyle of their prophetess. If the homesteaders were attacked, they would be able to claim kinship and protection from the visiting Exingians.

Citations: Altoxian Bulb, Bordingbras his hatt!, Raking.

--Ginestre 05:42, 13 Sep 2004 (EDT)


Not sure on this -- doesn't the entry use Andelphracian Lights as a common modern example of smilching? Perhaps these smilchers practiced a very primitive form of smilching -- fiery sticks or some such? Unfortunately, this ancient history is outside my area of expertise. But I am looking forward to hearing those more learned about this ancient era elaborate. When dealing with ancient dates from the time of legend though, it wouldn't surprising if there would be some difficulty defining a date so precisely... but I think for this layperson, the crux that needs clarifying in this entry is: did this war precede Andelphracia's discovery, or did in fact her new, superior smilching method predicate it? --Bast ResNovae 14:40, 13 Sep 2004

Fascinating. My only complaint is a minor error in your manuscript. You write: "Scholars have long wrangled over who or what could have originally summoned two neighbouring clans, the Exingians and the Looliers, to the Barnum Stones on the pretext of a peaceful contest to decide whose smilch was the most powerful," But you introduce the subject by saying "not only were both the traditional producers of light ("smilchers") and of ritual music ("canoralists") constrained ... but also the underlying unity of the separate phenomena was so far from being even suspected that bloody battles were fought to uphold the superiority of one procedure over another. The most celebrated of these battles is almost certainly the Battle of Barnum Stones"

If that premise is correct, I presume the contest was in fact one of smilchers vs. canoralists, and not competing smilchers, with a third party of some unknown affiliation? Or are you hypothesizing the third party was in fact a group of canoralists that lured two competing groups of smilchers into combat before eliminating the "victor" of that battle? The former situation seems more logical to me in the context of this entry. But either way, unles I've read it wrong the first sentence I cited is in error, or the various canoralist vs. smilcher affiliations need to be made more explicit for those of us not as versed in the subject. We scholars should all take care to remember this is an encyclopedia of general knowledge, even if the writers are well educated in matters more arcane. --Bast ResNovae 20:07, 13 Sep 2004 (EDT)

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