Seafolk and Wolvern
Recent research has challenged the longstanding narrative around Riversouth’s relationship with seafolk and wolvern. This has been made possible by examining the other side of the story, and re-learning history through the memories and stories of the Peoples themselves. We hope one day to run that exhibition.
The focus of this exhibition is the Meyrick and Riversouth, and all of the sources and exhibits used and displayed are human. This exhibition has started to challenge the traditional historical narrative, and we will continue to explore wider historical perspectives in our work.
The Impact of the Seafolk (begin in The White Palace, Riversouth)
These days even occasional and rare sightings of seafolk in our coastal waters are met with both extreme scepticism an obsessive theorising, so it is hard to imagine a time when seafolk were not only a common sight in Farynshire’s waters, but regularly interacted with humans. They may be elusive, but it is important to remember that they are one of the four Peoples of Farynshire, and they created one quarter of the ancient seal that hangs on the wall in the Council Chambers in Rookpot.
Before the Seal that brought the Peoples together (for a time anyway) there was often conflict between the seafolk and the human coastal communities, including Riversouth. There are numerous stories and tales about seafolk raids on Meyshore Bay. One of the oldest and most fascinating records in the Palace Archive is an eleventh century book listing the loss of sea vessels to seafolk attacks. Some boats disappeared, and the book claims that witnesses on shore observed boats being pulled underwater.
Sephus Moxley, who has spent a lifetime researching, studying and searching for seafolk, has written a book about the history of seafolk in Riversouth for this exhibition, and you can buy How the Seafolk shaped Riversouth in the Rookpot Museum shop and The Lilac Beech. In his hefty tome, Moxley explores the relationship between the seafolk and the growing Riversouth, postulating that the seafolk are the reason Meyshore Bay never became a bustling port like Sylnmouth, despite being a natural and safe harbour. The seafolk raids usually targeted fishing vessels and it is believed that they were defending their foodstocks. In response to these raids Meyrick the True through to Meyrick the Thrift-Purse oversaw the building of defences along the shoreline. There is very little to be seen here now, although some ancient timbers have been excavated that were once part of what looked like extensive fortifications. Stone forts were constructed on top of the Sussen Orchelflilin, and if a seafolken was spotted in the waters below a beacon was lit to warn any boats that were already out in the Bay, and to rally the defenders – though Moxley believes these had little to no effect on the seafolk, certainly none were ever captured or killed.
But what eventually kept the Bay waters seafolk-free was the construction of the underwater defences. Moxley spends a good portion of his book explaining the significant of this remarkable architecture. Most of it was buried for centuries, before Diggers from Rookpot Museum re-discovered it in the 1970s. Since then it has been carefully preserved in its underwater setting using techniques that involve coating the metal and timbers in specially created waterproof lacquer. The defences cover the entire seabed of the Bay, and start below low tide, and so are invisible from shore. Moxley believes that what has been discovered is but a remnant of the original structures. He also suggests that the defences prevented the development of a port in Riversouth. It was always assumed that the Meyrick discouraged the growth of a port because they did not want Riversouth to become like Sylnmouth, and possibly that was a secondary purpose of the underwater defences.
As part of the exhibition you can take a glass-bottomed boat trip out over some of the more stable defences. Your guide and accompanying divers will ensure you get a good view of the marvels beneath the waves.
Before you do that, first visit the art exhibition, Seafolk Encounters, in the magnificent Emerald Hall in the White Palace. This beautiful exhibition has brought together art that features seafolk from around the county. There are vast watercolours from the Vaults of Rookpot Museum, exquisite porcelain figurines from Cowley Maggs, mixed with the vast collections from the Palace Archives. The exhibition is dominated by mermaids, of course, as they are the most frequently sighted of the seafolk, but some older, rarer works depict distant sightings of large males or family groups. It seems like everyone who has ever encountered a seafolken has tried to capture its likeness in paint, pottery, glass, china or wood.
Wild Wolvern Mey (the White Palace, Riversouth, and Rookpot Museum, Rookpot)
Sephus Moxley argues that it was the pressure of the seafolk on Meyshore that led to the Meyricks pushing out beyond wider Riversouth area and eventually into the territories that would become known as Wild Wolvern Mey. In truth, it is likely that this expansion would have happened with or without the seafolk.
There is evidence of Bronze Age trade between the pre-Meyrick communities in Riversouth and early wolvern Clans, such as wolvern jewels in Riversouth graves and human daggers, axes and swords in the mountains. There are also very rare and prized finds of joint endeavours: metalwork created by wolvern and human, human pottery encrusted with wolvern stones.
Sephus Moxley might not be right about why the Meyricks started to expand out beyond Riversouth, but he is right about when. Rather than the pressure of the seafolk raids being the reason, it seems as though the new sea defences gave the Meyrick confidence to turn their attention away from the sea and focus their energy inland. One of the first developments was re-building the route network, repairing and strengthening existing tracks, and building new roads. There is archaeological evidence of old toll stations along these new roads, particularly at the new turnpikes and bridges.
Numerous settlements were built along the new roads, and the villages and towns that are descended from them bear the Mey names to this day. The Meyricks learned from the success of Meyshore and all of the initial settlements were designed by a Riversouth architect, Ogilby Hooke, who created one streetplan that was then applied to every new community, which makes it easy for archaeologists to identify these original settlements, even if they have been subsequently demolished or altered. Hooke’s streetplan is on display in Rookpot Museum.
Hooke also drew up plans for a canal to run through Riversouth, out into the hinterlands to Skrudfenrion Lake, crossing a tributary of the River Spurtle, before joining the Bychan Darkflint River that winds its way from the mountains into the Lake. It was a hugely impressive project, and Hooke did not live to see it finished. But there can be little doubt that the Riversouth Canal (Farynshire’s only canal) accelerated the Meyrick’s expansion projects.
The humans soon attracted the attention of the local wolvern Clans, including the infamous Sperakeden Clan. At first, relations between human and wolvern seem to have been respectful. The wolvern were particularly interested in trading the jewels and precious stones they mined for sheep, wool, and human textiles. Some wolvern even exchanged tracts of land that they considered unusable, which the humans quickly settled in. Living in close proximity it was inevitable that disagreements would occur. Both wolvern and human are territorial, and boundaries were only respected when convenient. Wolvern raided livestock, and humans continued to encroach and build upon wolvern land, constructing forts to deter wolvern attacks. Most disputes were settled by jeldanas, an old method of settling scores whereby an agreed payment is given for a wrong, but resentment on both sides lingered.
The arrival of the railways in the mid nineteenth century changed everything. Meyrick the Third Tall paid for a line of track to run straight into Wild Wolvern Mey, at the same time as the Age of Industry enabled extensive mining in the region. Meyrick the Third Tall’s successor is known as Meyrick the Scarrer, and is the only Meyrick to have an epitaph bestowed upon them by one of the Peoples. Human miners were known as scarrers, and they changed the landscape in Wild Wolvern Mey forever with their dynamite and heavy machinery.
As the scarrers blasted their way further into wolvern territory, the wolvern were pushed deeper into the mountains. The name Wild Wolvern Mey appeared at this time, attached to registered companies and materials that were mined from the area. The industrialisation made the Meyrick and Riversouth very rich, but they did not have it all their own way. The Sperakeden Clan constantly harassed, disrupted and attacked the railway and canal supply routes, and sometimes even the mines.
In the Palace Archives there is correspondence between the White Palace and the owners of the mining companies operating in Wild Wolvern Mey that reveal they all knew that their time in the area was not going to last long. At this time the Peoples attended Council meetings in Rookpot, and the minutes from those meetings show that the wolvern representative petitioned the Council many times on behalf of the Sperakeden and other wolvern Clans.
Because they knew that they had limited time to reap the rich rewards from their mines, the scarrers ruthlessly exploited as much of the area as they could. There are early photographs of the devastation that was inflicted on the area. Forests were burned to the ground, rivers and streams were polluted by the run-off and turned brown and toxic, slag heaps rose up in mockery of the surrounding mountains, the slopes of which were blasted, resulting in landslides and permanent damage. Meyrick the Scarrer’s rule was short, rich, and ruinous for Wolvern Mey.
The Meyrick’s short and sudden advance beyond Riversouth shaped modern Farynshire, and you can follow in the footsteps of the scarrers via two routes. The first is to step aboard a converted barge to make your leisurely way via the Riversouth Canal, or you can take the land train from Riversouth along the old roads to Wild Wolvern Mey. Either route will stop to visit one of Ogilby Hooke’s villages, Norssenmey, a reconstructed settlement using Hooke’s streetmap. From Norssenmey the tour continues over a wide stone bridge, and via a crumbling fort, and on to the modern town of Gorssenmey. The mines still exist, though most are too dangerous to visit, but there is one that has been preserved, and this is where the tour ends.
The Retreat of the Meyrick (Rookpot Museum)
The Meyricks left a lasting legacy on Wild Wolvern Mey, and many people assume they must have been there for centuries, but, in truth, everything that you can still see – the mey names, the roads, infrastructure, railway, mines – all happened within the rule of two Meyricks, or less than fifty years. For most of that time, protests were regularly raised during Rookpot Council meetings.
What expedited the Retreat of the Meyrick was the Leader of the Sperakeden Clan, Conri, who travelled to Rookpot to petition the Council to stop the mining and the occupation and expel the humans. The Council minutes record his speech in full, both in the original Musril that Conri used, and translated into Welsh and English; you can see and read these minutes in the exhibition in Rookpot Museum. Unfortunately nobody thought to make an audio recording, so we can only imagine the oratory power of a wolvern Leader speaking for his Clan, his home and his people. But we know it must have been passionate and compelling because it provoked enough sympathy amongst the Councillors and the Peer Families that they put pressure on Riversouth to stop their activities in Wild Wolvern Mey.
The mining was stopped immediately, and over the following year the Meyrick’s authority fell back to Riversouth. The White Palace never publicly or formally renounced its claim on Wild Wolvern Mey, but from that moment on it essentially acted as though it had never heard of such a place, and paid no attention to anything that happened there.
These were big victories for Conri and the wolvern, but they did not get the full expulsion of humans that they wanted. The villages and towns remain to this day, and the region is still known (amongst humans, at least) as Wild Wolvern Mey. The wolvern, like the seafolk and the foresteens, would eventually break all contact with Rookpot, the Council and humans, but the concessions to Leader Conri delayed this for a few more years.
As well as selected excerpts from the Minutes of the Rookpot Council, this part of the exhibition is a wonderful collection of maps. Ogilby Hooke’s original streetplan for the settlements can be viewed here, as well as modifications future planners made to his design. The Scribe of the White Palace documented in detail the expansion and retreat of the Meyrick in and out of Wild Wolvern Mey, and you can see the growing and shrinking territories on intricate maps. It is an extensive collection, and we are indebted to the Palace Archives for allowing us to make it public.