Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Rumors Of Ys

In Roma Mater (London, 1989) by Poul and Karen Anderson, when Gratillonius mentions Ys, his father, Marcus, makes the sign of the cross:

"...the Cross of Light that marked the shield of his warrior God." (p. 58)

The famously rich Croesus also makes this Mithraic sign of the cross in a Time Patrol story.

Marcus comments, " 'That's an uncanny place.' " (p. 58)

So Gratillonius asks him what he really knows about Ys which " '...has been left alone so long that...wild stories...have sprung up.' " (p. 58) The Andersons must explain to the readers why this European city was important in the early Christian period but has since been forgotten except in legend. Part of the answer is that it was secluded even at the time.

Between Gratillonius' question and Marcus' answer there is an entire paragraph, a descriptive passage that serves the usual purposes of such passages but that also sets the scene for a description of this uncanny place:

"Wind roared and whistled. Clouds were appearing over the horizon. Their shadows raced across winter-grey hills..." (p. 58)

We expect to hear about something "wild." Marcus is a Mithraist, was married to a Christian and knows that the Roman state has changed its allegiance from the Olympians to Christ but the Ysans worship Someone or Something else - male, female and elemental, as we will learn soon.

Although Marcus had owned a ship, he had never visited the Armorican port of Ys. He had spoken to three or four captains who had each visited it only once. The Ysans want only trade carried out by themselves and minimal contact with Rome. They are a foederate (ally) but have not had a Roman prefect for maybe two hundred years. Their city is " '...wonderful...of the hundred towers...' " but also has an " '...an otherness.' " (p.58)

We expect Ys to be strange, foreign, alien, as if further away in space and time, not just a port across the Channel from Britannia. It had been prominent, " '...the queen of the Northern seas.' " (p. 59) Gratillonius does not believe the rumors that it is a " '...witch-nest...' " (p. 59)

So we have been intriguingly introduced to "...magical Ys..." where Gratillonius will become both prefect and King (p. 60).

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