Myfanwy of Hercynia
This document was compiled for Eleri Bronwen’s Rest, Dredgemaster of Feverwater for the Winter Solstice 381YE by Octavia Stream’s Source, a civil service member of the department of historical research. It was made public shortly after the Spring Equinox of the same year with Eleri's permission. It covers the life and times of the Navarr Myfanwy of Hercynia, a key figure in the creation of the Empire, focusing especially on her relationship with the First Empress.
The document takes the form of a letter written to Eleri, and is somewhat informal in tone.
I wanted to thank you for the opportunity to carry out the research into the life of Myfanwy and her relationship with the First Empress. I am sad to not have had more definitive answers for you - as I hope I’ve made plain in this document, there is so much about the early history of the Empire - especially the First’s reign - that is lost to us, and reason to doubt the precise details of what we do know.
I would imagine you might have further thoughts on the directions of future research; while I think a straightforward scholarly approach will not turn up vast amounts more in this area, it may be that some of my new colleagues in the Department of Historical Research can apply their own particular expertise to the matter. I have some thoughts on possible avenues of inquiry:
- A more protracted investigation could be performed into “Sheber”, the guide-priest of the First Empress, who also appears to have known Myfanwy. As I say, accounts of her life wildly vary, and I am not inclined to trust them; I wonder, perhaps, if anything purporting to be her tomb could be uncovered in the Necropolis?
- Contact is attempted with any of the remainder of those that dwelt in Montane during the Freedom Heresy - one hears rumours that there are some extant still, possibly with these orcs that the Navarri have given license to live in their lands (although I will confess the minutiae of current affairs are not my forte).
- The figure “Regan”, of the Dawnish ballad, could be more carefully investigated, in order to determine who she was and what exactly her relationship to Myfanwy is. It might be that nothing new can be discovered, however.
You may, of course, choose to exercise the powers of your post as you wish - I thought some particular ideas might be helpful!
Oh - I should also say that I have written to Taddea Ginori of “The Pledge”, which I understand to be a journal of record in the League. Taddea along with others visited my study earlier this year - borne, no less, by the power of the Sentinel gate! She and her colleagues are also interested in early Imperial history - although I fear they are rather obsessed with the “Companions of the First Bright Star” and Companionist thinking. They have some very outlandish ideas about the relationship between the Companions and the Empress. Still, I thought I would put you in touch, and accordingly I’ve written to her suggesting that she talks to you, in case you can both inform each other’s interests.
Thank you, once more, for having given me this opportunity,
By Ophis’ light,
On Myfanwy of Hercynia
With special reference to her travels and relationship with the First Empress.
I, Octavia Stream’s Source, set these words to paper as part of my commitment to Historical Research and the Revelation of Truth Within, with Ophis lighting my pen. By the instruction of the Dredgemaster of Feverwater, I write of Myfanwy of Hercynia and her travels and relationships with the First Empress, and of matters pertaining.
This work represents three months of intensive effort on the part of my colleague Majorian and I - the unvirtuous might call it sheer providence that this request came when it did, for we have both always specialised in the subject of the Empire’s origins and of the history of the First Empress; and here we were, homeless, scattered by Druj and in need of work, and we found that the Historical Research department had need of people with precisely our skillset. Majorian - as is his wont - provided editing and commentary as I wrote; fieldwork and the wider view, on the other hand, has always been my specialty.
What you must first understand, reader, is that the first problem with any historical research into the foundation of the Empire and the figures prominent at that time is the utter paucity of sources. This is not a problem in some cases - the treatise in recent years on the Crown of Three Tears borrowed heavily from the oral tradition of the scops in its sourcing of the information about King Alof Bearning, for instance - but in general, other than names and vague attributions to events and accomplishments, most of this early history is difficult to discern. Why is this? First and foremost, one has to assume it is because the early Empire simply was not writing about itself on the collective and organised scale that was seen in later years. There was simply no early unified scholarly tradition. People wrote, of course - look towards Kala the Wise, 200 years previous; the thoughtful and detailed collections of practical observations of the natural world that the Navarr have collected over the centuries, the guarded wisdom of those who have already lost a civilisation; the very particular attitude the Highborn have towards history, as a roiling sea in which virtue can be found with no care or heed for truth except the simple truth of the Virtues; the fantastical and stirring legends of the Dawnish troubadours.
But it is the Urizen who invented historiography in the sense we understand it today, and it is only after the coming to prominence of the Torchbearer movement during Giovanni’s reign that one sees an attempt to engage with history on terms as we think of it, as a record of What Happened, of one thing after another, an attempt tie the world down. Ironically, the historical record does not tell us why the Torchbearers rose, although it is the opinion of this author that it was a nascent Pride in their new place in the Empire that drove this philosophy in the spires; a mirror of that same Pride spread it from camp to camp, village to village, across all the points of light in our Empire.
And then, of course, hanging over all of this is the other reason we know so little: Nicovar. Nicovar, a curse even as the Torchbearers were a blessing, who destroyed so much. Indeed, some accounts - some of the few accounts - indicate that Nicovar might have held particular ire for those libraries known to contain more detailed accounts of the Empire’s early history; while none can know now what madness motivated him to commit the atrocities he did, it seems probable that at the root of it was a fear of the past.
I digress; Myfanwy. What can be said? Well, she definitely existed! This is always a start: when considering the early history of the Empire, one has to be a little suspicious of some figures who seem cut from whole cloth to satisfy some later example; for instance, there is a movement for a long time - we see records stretching all the way to Nicovar - of perennial attempts to have “Sheber” - the apocryphal Vision Priest that guided the First Empress about her vision - declared an Exemplar or Paragon of various virtues; almost every account of Sheber’s life contradicts any other, and she is essentially a blank slate on which generations of Highborn projected their personal piety.
Sheber is sometimes named as one of the “Companions of the First Empress”, along with Myfanwy and many others - there is always seven of them, but the seven is hardly consistent - and this fashion for “Companionism” seems to have been roughly contemporary with Teleri’s reign, when so much of the intricate and apocryphal details of the Way were hammered out. It’s for this reason that we have so many fragmentary details about many early figures - what survives are brief hagiographies of larger accounts on the latest theory as to which Companion matches with which virtue. So Myfanwy is certainly found here in this tangled web of Archivist records; however, she is also found in the safe and decidedly real settlement of Myfanwy’s Rest in Fishguard, and it was here I began my research proper.
I am pleased to say that in the course of this research - which happily involved not being in Zenith, in which my Spire now currently sits abandoned and evacuated - I spent a lot of time based in the Rest. It is a pleasant place; welcoming in the best tradition of a wayhouse with people coming and going on pilgrimage and business from across the Empire. On one wall there is a great painting of its founder - our subject herself, Myfanwy, a dark-haired Navarri with a look of fierce defiance. I got talking to Eirian, one of the current owners of the Rest, about it: they told me that it was painted by somebody who knew Myfanwy in life - Geraint Swallow’s Flight, who fought alongside her when she died in the recapture of Seren.
Ah! Yes! Finally, Octavia, you say, you begin, and I begin as all stories do: at the end. Yes - the story passed down in the carefully kept writings of the Rest is that Myfanwy died some half-decade after the Empress which she served, as so many Navarri bravely did in Seren’s recapture. Regard the source, here: it is clear that Myfanwy is regarded with intense fondness - as an Exemplar, even - by many of the Navarri who are part of the steading she founded; but yes, what they say - and I have seen a fragmentary account written by Geraint at the time which looked real enough - is that Myfanwy died tragically so that Geraint could escape vallornspawn. Geraint also writes of the Myfanwy he knew in life: "Virtues, there was never somebody so idealistic, so optimistic, so dedicated to her cause as you. You brought us all together; you forged the great bonds that now hold us in fastness, and by your word we are loyal to this Empire as it grows. You taught me everything, Myf. What will we do now, now you are gone? I still see you die in front of me every night, screaming at me to go, to save myself. That was everything that you were."
A little cryptic absent its context - much of the journal has been lost to damp and flame - but it tells us something about who she was. Many of the accounts of Myfanwy by Companionists paint her as, often, the Companion of Loyalty; it seems that to the Empire and to the Empress she was a key and early convert. Abel’s First Steps in Virtue - which collects various accounts, inevitably contradictory, of the ways in which the nascent Empire made contact with each of the nations - often has Myfanwy as a key player, and it seems likely that she may have in effect been the chief envoy of the Empress, chosen for her ability to break bread with all. Who else could do this except a Navarri, really, who at the time were the only people of the Bay of Catazar and its surroundings to have seen a little of all the nations?
There is one tantalising illustration of her first meeting with Brigit of Dourfen - a historical figure about which we know frustratingly little, other than that she served as the adviser who brought word of the Empress’s intent to the Marches, and later in life as the founder of the Rod and Shield. In this illustration, Myfanwy is depicted - and it is the same woman in this woodcut as in the painting that hangs in Fishguard! - shaking hands with an older, dour-faced Landskeeper - Brigit - as a treaty lies signed on a nearby table. Was Myfanwy then responsible for bringing Brigit on board and hence, she and the Empress might have hoped, the rest of the Marches? Who can say: but legend and the bloody graves of history tell of what happened next, of the Cousin’s War. In whatever authority Bridgit shook Myfanwy’s hand, it was clearly not enough.
There are a few more stories of this type. On a slightly more fanciful note, Regan and Myfanwy is a Dawnish ballad of two women whose love for each other is as intense as it is adulterous (and hence forbidden); there are enough hints in the way the Myfanwy of the song is described to suggest it is the self-same Brand, and it appears in a couple of old songbooks from around 30YE, which would seem to fit. Regan is described in florid and poetic terms - really, the song is about her and all her good qualities - and Myfanwy is written of in sparser words. Still: "she of the silver tongue and heart of sky that dreamed to fly” - it is not hard to see the woman Geraint describes in this. Who was Regan? Unclear - although interestingly there is some commentary from later scholars - only uncovered in this research! - that suggests that this may be a ciphered reference to the First Empress - the name under which she entered the grand tourney to claim the Crown of Dawn.
This rather brings me onto her relationship with the First Empress herself. I think it is relatively safe to dismiss the Dawnish suggestion that they were lovers, as no account outside of Dawn mentions this aspect - and I do not wish to be insulting, but it is the Dawnish! - but it is certainly true that they were very close. Many Highborn accounts of the First Empress’s life - hagiographies, contradictory - sense the theme! - place Myfanwy alongside the Empress from an early time - yes, obviously Companionists do this, because the whole point of a Companionist narrative is to dance in a little circle having arranged seven people in it and coo about how neat it is, but you see it even in some earlier accounts.
She was clearly a close advisor and confidante of the Empress, alongside such Highborn figures as Naomi, Sheber, and Iridia Swiftlance, from the very beginnings of the alliance of nations that became the Empire - she is mentioned in some of the first stories we have, possibly even knowing the Empress before her true liao vision of a unified humanity. (Incidentally, we know very little about these Highborn figures apart from the fact they are also close and early figures associated with the Empress: Swiftlance is said to have been loyal to the Empress up until the war with Alderai, in which some accounts suggest she defected and others suggest she died in battle - and Naomi and Sheber we know even less of. It might even be that one of these is actually the name of the Empress; but that is an entirely different and controversial topic! Certainly, they both pass out of accounts by the end of the Empress’s reign.)
So little is known of the actual day-to-day life of the Empress that it is hard to place Myfanwy within it, but it must - must - have been true that she was a friend and advisor to the Empress almost without peer, helping run much of the mechanisms of the state as it breathed into life - you can find diplomatic missives with her name on everywhere when you search for them. Only Viola of Tassato - paymaster to the armies and nascent civil service (and, incidentally, mother to Giovanni) - has her name on more ephemeral paperwork: but then she did sign a lot of receipts (and is, it has to be said, otherwise inconsequential: a typical League businesswoman.)
I began at the end, so I will end at the beginning: she was a child of Hercynia. This is not so hard to discover definitively, actually. Geraint Swallow’s Flight, recall. It was not hard to discover at the Rest in Fishguard that at one time the Navarri of Swallow’s Flight had been a sister-Striding, a frequent visitor, family to the Rest. Tracking a Striding backwards in time is hard - but then I had the best part of five thrones and a desire to be as far from Zenith as possible, and so I spent two months trekking around Hercynia. I found that there are records of Navarri from Swallow’s Flight stopping at wayhouses across the territory for many years - thank the Virtues for meticulous Navarri bookkeeping and evenings spent until the dawn poring over old and yellowed pages.
The Striding seems to have found itself in and out of Hercynia many times over the next three centuries, and it is probable that its long history here is the reasons that Myfanwy is sometimes in this territory called Myfanwy Swallow’s Flight - and indeed it may well be the reason she is so consistently known as being “of Hercynia” elsewhere. The Flight kept her memory alive when she could easily - as many have, over the years - fallen out of thought. Unfortunately, the story ends in 325YE, when it appears the vast majority of the Flight left to travel to Montane as followers of Crescencia i Marusa i Riqueza - having fallen under the sway of that cultist of Anarchy as so many did. Perhaps what remains of the rebels now still contains some who knew of the Flight? If they ever held some extra insight into the life of their most famous member, it is lost to blood and folly.
So, there at the beginning we lay our rest. Myfanwy Swallow’s Flight. Born of Hercynia; traveler across nations; confidante to the Empress; defender of ideals; perhaps the very model of what a proud citizen of Navarr should be.
It is in my view - and I appreciate, yes I appreciate that it is my personal academic obsession, but it is true! - that the loss of surety in history - our shared history - is a great crime, a stain. The Highborn are very proud that they founded the Empire, and justifiably so; but it is their obsession with virtue over truth that casts whole peoples and times into the black void of doubt - and, yes, the get of the Spires, cursed Nicovar, bears stain also. We must remember this: the Navarri saw in the ambition of the First Empress a flame that could burn as bright as lost Terunael, and Myfanwy deserves to be remembered as a woman who lived for that dream. Perhaps in her I see, too, the Torch.