The Hag of CalixRod Fisher / Fantasy / History & Fiction
The Hag of Calix
Book One of the Antillian Scrolls
The scrolls of Antillia came to my attention at a summer seminar for linguists held a few years ago at Montreal. The purpose of the seminar was to key the international phonemic alphabet into computer use. The subject bogged down after the first few sessions, so three of my colleagues and myself decided to bypass an exceedingly dry afternoon in the assembly and substitute a wet gathering in a cocktail lounge.
In the subsequent can-you-top-this exchange, based on our individual lines of research, the subject of the Antillean scrolls surfaced. Three of us, myself included, had never heard of the scrolls. The fourth man's information was mostly hearsay.
He told us that a diving team, searching for sunken treasure in the Azores, found the chest containing the scrolls. Their initial discovery was a group of ballast stones from an ancient vessel. They were strewn in an orderly stem-to-stern pattern along a ledge of the sloping sea bottom off Ponta Delgada.
It was not a chance find. They were searching for the remains of San Benito, a treasure galleon of Spain that foundered within sight of shore on a tempestuous day in 1598. Divers of that period searched for the vessel, but the bottom slanted sharply down beyond their range. With the advent of recent undersea techniques, the search resumed, plumbing depths previously impossible.
The divers employed a small submarine specifically developed for bottom exploration. The absence of cannon among the ballast stones should have been a clue that it was the wrong site, but the discovery of a crusted bronze chest induced immediate gold fever.
Of course they were disappointed to find scrolls instead of gold in the chest. The chest was turned over to the authorities. The scrolls ended up in the archives in Lisbon where they were catalogued and filed. It was determined that they were of the 10th century. The language was a curious mixture of Latin and something else. Since the unknown language constituted the bulk of the vocabulary, the scrolls were not readily deciphered. The Portuguese government did not approve an appropriation for further study and the project was tabled indefinitely.
The story of the scrolls fired my imagination. After the seminar I flew to Lisbon and obtained copies adequate for research. I found the alphabet was mainly Roman with a sprinkling of characters that sometimes represented one sound and occasionally an entire word or phrase. Although the familiar alphabet should have been a quick tool for breaking down the language, it did lead me in the wrong direction for a time. I tried, with the help of a learned etymologist, to fit the language into the framework of the Italic group, hoping for a short cut to the method of translation. This failed.
A morphemic approach laid bare the "privilege of occurrence" and subsequently a grammatical breakthrough. The grammar indicated a Tocharian source. Following through in that direction I was able to find the keys to meaning, context, and ultimately individual words.
The content of the scrolls could best be described as a roman fleuve (lit. "river novel"), a long narrative dealing with the cross-currents of Antillian society and giving especial prominence to the adventures of the heroic Felic m'Lans (translated Carver of Men).
The setting is the island sub-continent of Antillia, now identifiable only as some portion of the Atlantic Ridge. This undersea mountain range lies north and south in the Atlantic at roughly the longitude of the Azores. The Azores are all that remain above water, although the peaks of Antillia, even in sunken majesty, are in the 10,000-foot class. It was a land created by volcanic action. But it must have submerged without a whimper. Early European cartographers recorded its existence, but it became more myth than fact as the years lapsed.
The Archbishop of Oporto was alleged to have gone there, circa 1093, accompanied by six bishops and refugees of the Moorish invasion. Legend has it that the expedition founded the seven cities, each a Utopian example under the leadership of the seven clergymen. Subsequent Spanish explorers, including Columbus, wasted time and effort chasing the fable as did the great Chinese treasure fleet of 1421.
The admixture of Latin in the scrolls would indicate that the Archbishop's flock might have settled there. But the religion and priesthood of the Dag-Arnak show no Catholic similarity or influence. It is feasible to assume that the Catholic priests were denied the practice of their own religion and made to perform the work of scribes. This would explain the use of a Roman alphabet. Perhaps their efforts provided the first sophisticated written language for the Antillians.
My countless hours of translation have produced this account of an Antillian legend. --R.G.N.F.