From the Editorial Page of the Falchester Weekly Review
by Marie Brennan
I was fascinated by Mr. Benjamin Talbot’s brief notice, published in the 28 Seminis issue of your magazine, detailing his acquisition of a preserved specimen from a heretofore undocumented draconic species. As we all know, legends of the cockatrice date back many centuries, but I am unaware of any reputable examples collected before now, either dead or alive. This is a thrilling event for the field of dragon naturalism, and I heartily encourage Mr. Talbot to publish his discovery at greater length, including details such as the manner of its acquisition, the island or archipelago in the Broken Sea where such beasts may be found, and a thorough description of its anatomy. An engraving to accompany this article would not go amiss–though naturally a public presentation of his find would be even more desirable. I may dare hope that Mr. Talbot is even now preparing such an article for publication, whether in your magazine or elsewhere, for I have awaited further information with bated breath, and fear I will soon turn blue for lack of oxygen.
I am, as always, your devoted reader,
MRS. ISABELLA CAMHERST
I will beg your leave to respond to Mrs. Camherst through the medium of your pages, for she has addressed me publicly, and as such deserves a public reply, lest I leave your readers in unnecessary suspense.
I assure Mrs. Camherst that my cockatrice will be made public in due course. I am making arrangements even now for its display, which will begin on 21 Caloris in Murtick Square, with admission quite reasonably priced. I hope that she understands my reticence in saying more about its place of origin; the appetite for such curiosities is insatiable, and were I to make public the name of the island where this specimen was collected, hunters might flock to its shores, and the population would soon be reduced to a fraction of its current number. Mrs. Camherst having expressed tender sentiment for the well-being of dragons on previous occasions, I trust that her feminine heart will understand my concerns, and not begrudge me this measure of caution.
Your obedient servant,
MR. BENJAMIN TALBOT
I thank Mr. Talbot for his solicitous attention to the well-being of both cockatrices and my feminine heart, but I had hoped for rather more specific an answer. To explain my position: as some of your readers may know, I recently returned to Scirland following extensive travels around the world, including a lengthy sojourn in the Broken Sea. I do not claim to have visited every island in that region (a feat I am not certain any human can honestly say he has achieved), but my ship called at multiple ports in both the Melatan and Puian regions, and in all these places I made no secret of my interest in creatures of even faintly draconic nature. I studied everything from sea-serpents to fire lizards to the so-called komodo “dragons” of Singkarbau (which proved not to be dragons at all)–but nowhere in my travels did anyone say anything to me of a creature resembling the legendary cockatrice. Given the distance between here and the Broken Sea, and the unsuitability of any part of the cockatrice for use in ladies’ fashion, I cannot imagine that hunters would make terribly large inroads on the population there; but there may be scholars who would wish to study them in their natural habitat, and for such individuals the name of the island would be tremendously useful. Elsewise they must search throughout the Broken Sea for this creature, crossing off their list only those islands I myself visited, where I am certain no cockatrices are to be found.
Regardless, I look forward to Mr. Talbot’s public presentation of his specimen, which I will be very interested to inspect at the earliest possible opportunity.
Yours in intellectual curiosity,
MRS. ISABELLA CAMHERST
It was with some dismay that I opened the 29 Floris issue of your magazine to find another letter from Mrs. Camherst gracing its pages. Although her enthusiasm is remarkable, I begin to feel that she is using your publication as a forum for some kind of campaign against me, which might better have been carried out in private correspondence.
I am of course aware of the expedition to the Broken Sea last year, led by my esteemed colleague from the Philosophers’ Colloquium, Mr. Thomas Wilker. I do not think, however, that Mrs. Camherst’s role in that expedition qualifies her to offer an authoritative opinion on the full complement of draconic species in the region–a fact she herself admits, though she does not let this hinder her from offering such an opinion, regardless. Indeed, many of the stories we have of her actions during that expedition are anything but scholarly in nature.
In light of this, I can understand Mrs. Camherst’s enthusiasm for pursuing the origins of my cockatrice. Were she able to persuade anyone to fund her travels, she might return to the Broken Sea and see the creatures for herself. But I regret to say there is an unfortunate air of grasping ambition about her persistence on this topic, as if she wishes to claim the position of authority regarding this species for herself. Perhaps Mrs. Camherst is unaware of the courtesies practiced among gentlemen and scholars, which dissuade us from “poaching” one another’s discoveries; if so, then I hope this reply will make them clear, and bring this matter to a long-overdue close.
Your obedient servant,
MR. BENJAMIN TALBOT, F.P.C.
I pray you forgive me the tone of this letter, which, although addressed to you, is in reply to Mr. Talbot, and is crafted for that audience.
I note that Mr. Talbot chose to sign his second reply (printed in the 5 Graminis issue of your magazine) with his credentials as a Fellow of the Philosophers’ Colloquium. Being a lady, I of course have not been admitted to the ranks of that venerable institution–but I like to think that my publications speak for themselves on the question of my scholarly achievements. (I believe the publications that earned Mr. Talbot his fellowship in the Colloquium were on the topic of geology; though of course this does not completely invalidate his observations in the field of dragon naturalism.) As for Mr. Talbot’s comment regarding my actions during the voyage of the Basilisk, I choose to interpret that as a reference to the events in Keonga; for surely a gentleman of Mr. Talbot’s stature would not slander me by alluding to the scurrilous and unfounded rumours which have circulated regarding my private life and interactions with the men around me.
I must, however, correct Mr. Talbot’s misapprehension concerning one of those men. He named Thomas Wilker as the leader of our expedition; you will note my use of the plural pronoun there, which I employ with deliberate precision. The expedition was a joint endeavour between Mr. Wilker and myself, in both its planning and its execution. Any who doubt this matter are invited to submit their doubts to Mr. Wilker himself, who will soon set them straight. (He may even, I dare say, do so politely.)
Furthermore, I should like it to be known that I made several attempts to contact Mr. Talbot by more private means but, having received no reply, found myself with no other option but to address him in the pages of your esteemed publication, in the hopes that I might meet with better luck here. If he wishes to avoid public debate in the future, I suggest he inquire into the reliability of his servants, or perhaps of the Falchester postal service, to discover why it is that my letters have apparently not reached his breakfast table. I am certain there can be no other explanation for why my previous queries went unanswered.
With these matters out of the way, let me speak bluntly.
It seems exceedingly peculiar to me that the cockatrice, which is well-known in Anthiopean legend these past thousand years, should be found on an obscure island in the Broken Sea–quite on the other side of the world. Mr. Talbot has not yet advanced any explanation for how our ancestors of the fifth millennium knew of such a creature, when trade even to the nearer reaches of Eriga or Dajin was uncommon and carried out only with difficulty; nor for why it seems to be unknown in the legends of lands closer to its natural range. Furthermore, while there are branches of the draconic family in which feathers are known–the quetzalcoatl and kukulkan of southern Otholé are of course the most famous, but to them I may add the drakeflies I discovered during my expedition with Mr. Wilker to Bayembe and Mouleen–a cockatrice strikes me as a rather different matter. I know of no true dragon or draconic cousin that exhibits both scales and feathers, and I must say that I find so hybrid a creature unlikely in the extreme.
I do not, of course, accuse Mr. Talbot of deception. Rather let us say that I must, with reluctance, consider the possibility that he himself has been deceived; that the man who provided him with his specimen (a man, I will note, who has not yet been identified to the public) was either a charlatan, or himself the gull of one such. The scholarly community has been subjected to hoaxes before, and no doubt will be again.
That Mr. Talbot should consider my interest in this matter to be tantamount to poaching is not only insulting, but indicative of a dismayingly proprietary attitude toward scientific knowledge. Our wisdom grows not by staking out claims and defending them against all comers, but by sharing information freely, so that we may work together for the betterment of all. I would gladly cede all credit for the discovery and study of the cockatrice to Mr. Talbot, if only I trusted him to proceed with integrity.
Yours in regret,
MRS. ISABELLA CAMHERST
I will keep my reply brief, as Mrs. Camherst’s vendetta against me has already occupied too much of your publication and the patience of your readers. I take the gravest exception to her accusations against me, and were this the previous century and she a gentlemen, I would not hesitate to call her out. As it stands, I can see no productive end to this debate; and to further engage her would only be to validate her pretensions to scientific authority. This will be the last that you or your readers will hear from me on the matter.
MR. BENJAMIN TALBOT, F.P.C.
I was delighted to read last week’s leading article [“A Cock-and-Trice Story,” 30 Caloris–eds.]. I had followed with interest Mrs. Camherst’s debate with Mr. Talbot in previous issues, and so it was gratifying to see the conclusion of that tale featured in your publication. I only regret that the name of the man who sold the specimen to Mr. Talbot is still unknown, as any fellow who can convincingly graft the head of a parrot onto the body of an immature wyvern must be very skilled at taxidermy, and I should like to put such talents to more reputable ends. But I thank Mrs. Camherst for her indefatigable pursuit of the truth, and commend her dedication in disguising herself to attend the opening of Mr. Talbot’s exhibit, despite his very public opposition to her presence. While I am certain that a lady scholar of her stature has no need of financial assistance, I am taking up a collection to reimburse her for the costs incurred by admission to the exhibit and her subsequent arrest, as a measure of public gratitude. Any who wish to contribute may write to me at No. 14 Harwater Street in Falchester.
MR. WILLIAM PENBURGH
About the Author
Marie Brennan is a former anthropologist and folklorist who shamelessly pillages her academic fields for material. She most recently misapplied her professors’ hard work to Turning Darkness Into Light, a sequel to the Hugo Award-nominated Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent. She is the author of the Doppelganger duology of Warrior and Witch, the urban fantasies Lies and Prophecy and Chains and Memory, the Onyx Court historical fantasy series, the Varekai novellas, and nearly sixty short stories, as well as the New Worlds series of worldbuilding guides. Together with fellow author Alyc Helms, she is the author of the upcoming Rook and Rose epic fantasy trilogy, which will be published under the joint name of M.A. Carrick.
About the Narrators
Alasdair Stuart is a professional enthusiast, pop culture analyst, and writer. He is a Hugo Finalist in multiple categories including Best Fan Writer, and a British Fantasy Society Best Non-fiction finalist for his weekly pop culture newsletter The Full Lid.
His nonfiction can be found at numerous genre and pop culture venues, including regular columns at the Hugo Award-winning Ditch Diggers and Fox Spirit Books. His game writing includes ENie-nominated work on the Doctor Who RPG and After The War from Genesis of Legend.
He co-owns Escape Artists and hosts their horror podcast, PseudoPod, along with the Hugo Award nominated science fiction podcast, Escape Pod. He is a frequent guest and presenter on podcasts, with voice acting credits including winning the 2020 Audioverse Award for his work on the The Magnus Archives.
His second collection of expanded essays from PseudoPod, The PseudoPod Tapes Volume 2: Approach with Caution, is available from Fox Spirit Books.
Jeremy has produced audio for the Dunesteef Audio Fiction magazine, Far Fetched Fables, the Journey Into podcast and StarshipSofa in addition to Cast of Wonders. By day, he teaches physics and maths in the beautiful Peak District. He is a husband, father, photographer, cook and very occasional runner.
Katherine Inskip is the editor for Cast of Wonders. She teaches astrophysics for a living and spends her spare time populating the universe with worlds of her own. You can find more of her stories and poems at Motherboard, the Dunesteef, Luna Station Quarterly, Abyss & Apex and Polu Texni.
About the Artist
Alexis is a multiclass disaster-human living with her husband in Cincinnati. When she isn’t prepping art for Cast of Wonders, designing pins for pin-y.com, or yelling about TV into a mic for Bald Move, she dabbles in a revolving menu of hobbies and art projects. To list them all would be sheer madness. Like any good bisexual, she has a lot of jackets. You can find her on Twitter @alexisonpaper.