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Bits and Pieces


Lucius Mattheson
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I am an active amateur writer, not a very good one, but would be very grateful for opinion and criticisms of my Malifaux pieces.

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Architecture is frozen music, according to Eckermann's Conversations with von Goethe. The ruins of the Quarantine Zone, haunted by horrors, can have only been born of some strain alien to human ears, the Industrial Zone beats out a deafening rhythm day and night, enlivened by the occasional intermezzo of rending flesh and bone when another wretched soul finds his Guild contract terminated in a very final way, but the Governor's Mansion is a stately symphony.

The Secretary liked to keep a room quite bare for his recitals – varying the size of the room according to whether his whim chanced on his Amati or his Stradivari. There was seldom an audience. Lucius Mattheson would play alone in his few hours of leisure, and none of the fortunate few who had heard him could tell from his mask whether he gained solace or excitement from the music. He alone could tell, and the Secretary confided in none.

To-day, however, we might catch a note of triumph. Why, we know not – his victories are often won on the dark streets of the Slums or in the seemingly meaningless flow of pleasantry and petty patronage at a Tannery ball, away from the corridors of apparent power. To-day he had risen early, indeed, he seemed hardly to sleep, and passed through his offices like a velvet ghost. The Stradivari was brought to a hastily cleared hall and the Secretary played.

Behind the mask lurked cat-like glee, a sheer aesthetic pleasure and exultation that few would suspect. Beethoven's Violin Concerto, op. 61. The elegant figures passed, each one perfect, until there came a discord.

The swift rise and fall of notes, the elegant passing of the bow and the complicated fingering of the cadenza – an exquisite pleasure, and a rare one in a life of quiet ostentation but ceaseless work -- were disturbed by the faint echo of a scream far below. He noted it with displeasure as an unwanted guest, slipping into his thoughts despite the thick hangings of black velvet and white aether-traffic designed to keep such interlopers from gaining access to the reception rooms.

Something would have to be done – the interrogators were still uncommonly careless when it came to closing the door of the questioning-chamber.

Another scream. The Secretary faltered in his playing and nearly scratched the immaculate lacquer of his violin with one long, perfectly polished and razor-sharp nail. He laid the instrument aside and went out of the hall, silent but filled with rage. He would go down to the dungeons and play another concerto with the bow of a scalpel on the quivering strings of living sinew, and in the howls of agony be revenged on the wretch who had dared to disrupt his music.

 

 

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''Coppelius -- A Malifaux Lullaby''

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Softly, my dears, softly to sleep,

The stars will watch thee lie,

So pale and bright their watching light,

No evil shall come nigh.

Rest, sleepy head, upon your breast,

And let your eyelids fall,

Away I go, but soon return,

With treats, so shiny-round, so sweet,

With bloodwet treats for all.

 

 

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''The Malifaux Hunt'' -- a rare sally into complete invention. Although the Malifaux Hunt is, as far as I know, my own invention, the inspiration for it goes entirely to ''Masquer'' from whose thread on Lucius as a huntsman I drew the idea. It is, of course, a parody of ''D'ye ken John Peel'' and meant to be sung by tramps, fleeing petty Arcanists and other worthless wanderers. Among these ragged drifters it is claimed that the Masters of Hounds sometimes turn the Guild hunt into a gay sport for the great and the good of the Enclave and even the gilded mask of the Secretary has watched many a wretch ripped apart by the Hounds and torn out a bloody brush of hair.

The melody can be had here:

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D'ye ken the Hunt in their coats so gay?

'Ave ye seen 'em slice, 'ave ye seen 'em flay?

'Ave ye seen guts fly, 'ave ye seen blood spray,

When the Hunt's 'ad a kill in the morning?

 

Fear the sound of the horns if the ditch's yer bed,

For the Hounds 'ave yer track and you'll soon be dead,

The game goes on even when ye've bled,

And the Hunt have their sport in the morning!

 


 

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I was reading that last bit to the air of Erin go Bragh for some reason. Also works.

Quite like these pieces. My only criticism would be the last line in the first piece. Definitely put the correct image in my head but I think the amount of metaphor breaks the flow a little bit. Maybe just leaving out the second 'the' would tidy it up a bit, or let either scalpel=bow or sinews=strings be implied.

Really liked the idea of Lucius being so particular as to pair particular rooms with instruments and how it's ambiguous whether he's taking out his displeasure on a random detainee or the careless torturer at the end. 

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High praise from you -- you & many other artists wield the paints, I try my best with the pen. I really am most touched you took the trouble to reply and I am of course over the moon that you liked them.

Yes: the violin-room pairing  idea comes from the fact that in the eighteenth century (Lucius' aesthetic draws heavily on it) Steiner and Amati, whose instruments have a sweeter, milder tone than Stradivarius', were the sought-after luthiers as the style of the day favoured chamber-music. Now as Lucius is the personification of quiet, elegant good taste I associated him with chamber-music's intimacy (and of course endless possibilities for intrigue and scheming) immediately. Yet the sources let us know he possesses a Stradivarius, whose instruments are better suited to concert-halls [hence their rise to prominence in step with with public concert displacing private performance] : it seemed too good to miss as a sign of extreme aesthetic particularity (everything about Lucius is perfect, to the point of being uncannily perfect) as well as a way of showing of his unbounded power in the Governor-General's own Mansion, he can command an entire hall to be cleared, or rooms and suites kept empty, solely for his private pleasure and no-one dares object. I very much doubt the Governor could do the same!

I deliberately used the Italian Stradivari rather than the Latin Stradivarius, and also von Goethe instead of Goethe, alternate forms to the ones we commonly use, as I was trying to fit into the tradition of slight alteration in Wyrd background: the Three Kingdoms [i.e. Sino-Japanese], the Empire [Britain and her possessions]. I am delighted you noticed the ambiguity at the end.

Thank you, it does seem heavy and rather clunky now: my favourite of the substitutions is ''with a scalpel on strings of quivering sinew''.

Yes, it does go rather well to ''Erin go Bragh'' doesn't it? I imagine the whipper-in as a sort of diabolic Mimic perversion of ''Slipper'' (Niall Toibin) in the old BBC series ''The Irish R.M.'', with a few mantraps or dead crows or rats slung about his neck!

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Another experimental vignette, entitled for the present ''Praeludium'', intended to be the first draught of one of eight named after the dances of a Baroque suite.

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Lucius Mattheson stood poised, his legs carefully crossed and arms gracefully by his side. The room was starkly bare and almost devoid of comfort, but the few pictures were mounted in frames of ebony and walnut. The floor was bare but for a faded rug of unimpeachable origin – eighteenth-century Herati – and considerable artistry but the pattern was curiously forgettable. The wash-stand and the armoire were plain but good and the bed hard. The sheet turned over the quilt was slightly dusty and a single half-shuttered window looked down at the gardens and terracing below.

He had, of course, a staff and a suite of rooms, but his outer gentleman merely arranged the appropriate powdered wig upon his masked head in a green-papered chamber off the passage leading to the breakfast-room where he held his less ceremonious levees. He made his toilet and dressed, it seemed, alone save for the elusive Scribe – no-one quite seemed to know his position, or his movements. He would appear at his master’s elbow at call and vanish silently.

Lucius paid him little thought to-day. The Scribe was there, that was enough, as ready with a pitcher of hot water for the wash-stand as with his master’s Solingen epees. He concentrated first on the pointed tips of his boots, then on the fine, elegant hands, and last on his head, carefully examining his posture. It was, as ever, flawless.

On a mahogany table shaped like a jeweller’s bench were six polished heads, one bare, five covered by masks with high cheekbones, smooth, featureless visages and faintly almond-shaped eyes.

The Secretary ran his finger along the smooth edge of a silver mask, allowing the memories of legal triumphs and the savour of condemned men's sweat to flicker gently through his mind, feeling the fine polish and noting as if for the first time the perpetual carved expression of mildly sardonic amusement. Such were the Secretary’s pleasures, little observations, softly spoken orders and significant changes of poise that the dullards surrounding him usually missed.

Sometimes, – only once in some years, perhaps, -- someone would begin to realise, however dimly. Such a keen observer had to be disposed of, a messy and often rather wearisome process, costly in blood and ink, but despite the inconvenience of getting rid of him, Lucius took a keen delight in the rare occasions he crossed paths with that rare someone who might, given the time he could not be allowed, have seen behind the masquerade. It was almost like meeting an equal. A near-equal only, of course, and even then, anyone who dared to think themselves even nearly his equal deserved a particularly inventive demise. His imagination had not yet been seriously tried, but he weighed a few interesting suggestions for a moment and passed on.

To have one’s own way is to possess power, but power without a rival rapidly begins to cloy. Men were so dull, so easily played, they provided but little sport unless they were given a head-start. So, with feline grace and feline cruelty, he allowed his foes to set up their little conspiracies from time to time, toyed with them and then crushed them, exulting in the failed hope and utter despair that is only found in those who believe, however foolishly, that they had ever actually had a chance.

The bright surfaces of the masks afforded a reflection quite unlike that of a mirror: a refining and softening one. Five elegant copies traced the same curve against backdrops of bronze, silver and pewter.  He leaned closer and for three long moments he paused to study his gilded, perfect face. Then he smiled.

 

 

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