Art by M. D. Jackson.
From the author: The first instalment of the Royal Occultist Compendium...
Welcome to the first instalment of the Royal Occultist Compendium. Today we’re taking a look at our main characters, Charles St. Cyprian and Ebe Gallowglass.
Charles St. Cyprian is a slim man in his early thirties, with a Mediterranean complexion, an Old College Oxford intonation and an inordinate fondness for the sartorial creations of Savile Row. He is also the current holder of the offices of the Royal Occultist of the British Empire and its associated territories.
Prior to assuming the responsibilities of the foremost occult office in the Empire, St. Cyprian was, at best, an uninspiring candidate. A stereotypical example of the ‘idle rich’ with an attention span limited to the retention of cricket scores and the occasional bout of auto-polo, a fresh-from-university St. Cyprian became involved with the ‘Cheyne Walk set’ in the year prior to commencement of hostilities on the Continent.
It was during the so-called Gogmagog Incident of 1914 that St. Cyprian met Thomas Carnacki, and the former aided the latter in exorcising the titanic spectral monstrosities which lurked in the crypts beneath the Guildhall, London. By all accounts, St. Cyprian impressed Carnacki with his quick-thinking as well as his ability to wield a xiphos.
Following this, St. Cyprian joined Arkwright, Dodgson and the others in Carnacki’s clique; in reality, St. Cyprian was the last addition to the roster for consideration of the position of Carnacki’s assistant. Despite the apparent suitability of several of the other candidates, Carnacki chose St. Cyprian on the eve of war.
From 1914 to 1918, St. Cyprian served as Carnacki’s aide-de-camp in England and abroad, learning the ins and outs of the duties of the Royal Occultist with commendable speed. With Carnacki’s death at the Kemmelberg during the Fourth Battle of Ypres in 1918, St. Cyprian was given a battlefield commission to Captain and assumed the duties of the Royal Occultist.
After the War, St. Cyprian returned to England and attempted to re-assume his old life with mixed success, establishing questionable ties to the Runcible and Wooster social sets as well as the Order of the Cosmic Ram. It was also during this period that St. Cyprian first encountered his future assistant, Ebe Gallowglass.
In contrast to her employer, Ebe Gallowglass is a short, slender woman of Egyptian descent in her early twenties, with a propensity for dressing like a cross between a Parisian street-Apache and a newsboy.
Little is known about Gallowglass’ life prior to her involvement in the Shooter’s Hill Incident and her current association with Charles St. Cyprian. But what is known is altogether unpleasant.
She is the daughter of the Irish revolutionary, mercenary and occultist, Donal Gallowglass, and an as-yet unidentified Cairo woman believed to be the high priestess of an outlawed religious sect.
Gallowglass’ childhood was spent within the secretive confines of her mother’s cult; of said cult and its high priestess, little is known save that the experience left Gallowglass with a lifelong abhorrence of cats.
Donal, who, in his sordid and violent career, came into conflict with not one, but two of St. Cyprian’s predecessors, was not present for his daughter’s youth and indeed, seems not to have been aware of her until shortly before he met his death during the Britannic Affair (1916).
The only keepsake she possesses of the late, unlamented Donal is his signature Webley-Fosbery revolver with the Seal of Solomon on the butt, picked out in ivory. The weapon was delivered to her via courier, prior to her departure from Cairo. Why the reportedly unsentimental Donal did so died with him in the boiler room of the Britannic.
Some time in the closing months of 1918, Gallowglass’ mother was murdered by rivals within her sect, leading to Gallowglass’ subsequent pursuit of said individuals across two continents, before tracking the last of them to London in 1919. This led directly to her subsequent apprenticeship to Charles St. Cyprian.
Currently, St. Cyprian performs his duties with commendable diligence, and even enthusiasm, aided by Gallowglass. But dark times are ahead, and they will find themselves sorely tested in the coming days…
I’ve already gone into a bit of detail about how I came to create St. Cyprian and Gallowglass in my previous post. As I mentioned, the pair were initially bit players in a novel that never quite came to fruition, before leaping off the page and demanding more attention. Obviously, I was only too happy to oblige.
As originally conceived St. Cyprian was an older man, in his forties or fifties, more akin to Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence – a contemplative figure, with potent psychic abilities but little interest in throwing punches or car chases. Gallowglass too was quite different – the first version resembled an occult-orientated expy of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher.
These versions gradually evolved into the ones we have now as I wrote those first few stories. You can see traces of the original concepts in stories such as “Krampusnacht” and “Sign of the Salamander”, but by that point I had the characters pretty well fixed in my mind – St. Cyprian turned into Rudolph Valentino by way of Bertie Wooster, while Gallowglass became Louise Brooks by way of an alley-cat.
As I started writing, I knew I wanted to avoid the usual master and apprentice dynamic, and I wanted both characters to be relatively new to the world they found themselves in. From there, I decided that rather than aping the acknowledged masters of the form, like the aforementioned Algernon Blackwood or William Hope Hodgson, I would draw on other material for inspiration…namely, Seabury Quinn and his Jules de Grandin stories.
While the de Grandin stories are of highly variable quality, they all possess a pacey enthusiasm that’s hard to deny. Lots of shooting and running, car chases, crashes, magic, weird science and the like. That was the sort of flavour I wanted to capture for my Royal Occultist stories. They wouldn’t be horror tales, not really – but they’d damn sure be fun.
Next time, we’ll take a look at one of the Royal Occultist’s most stalwart allies, the monster-hunter Baron Palman Vordenburg. For more general updates, be sure to check the Royal Occultist Facebook page.
Jazz Age Britain is rife with the impossible. Fashionable unwrapping parties awaken the dead. Ghouls stalk the Underground. Krampus steals the sinful. Famous magicians are kidnapped by shadows. Only the Royal Occultist can set these right.
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