THE MOLLUSC RESEARCHER FRIDDRIV ALIV

APPEARANCE - PERSONALITY - BIOGRAPHY - IMPORTANCE

Friddriv Alav spurned the riches of his family and rejected his noble Avennorian roots to pursue his consuming fascination with shellfish, and all manner of mollusc life. His many writings and illustrations belie a meticulous approach to his research, as well as a reckless disregard for his own health and welfare. It appears that the entirety of his relatively short life (1636-1667 a.S.) was consumed by his love of aquatic gastropods, and his writings on creatures such as the gnacker, the parasitic limpet, and the ugling are key to our understanding thereof. Sadly, his interest in the world did not extend to creatures possessed of more than one foot, and so his brine-spattered journals and an extensive collection of seashells are almost all that is known of Alav. The information in this entry is taken mostly from said writings, as well as from interviews with the few people who claim to have known him. The author hopes the reader will forgive any element of speculation or educated guessing that is required to give a coherent picture from the fragmentary, often bizarre known facts.

Appearance. Due to his almost hermit-like habits, very few people living now can describe with any certainty Friddriv Alav as he was in person. His sister, the now Lady Fjatha Fjorian-Alav, describes him as a “clumsy, round-faced child; it was continually pointed out how childish he looked next to me, though I was two years his junior. But then I always did have an advantage over him in maturity of looks, and they say girls grow up faster than boys, don’t they? They used to say I bore myself like a grand countess, while he walked like a frog, it was so funny to tease him about it – he would puff up quite hilariously! But I did love him, of course I loved him, how dare you say I didn’t! You’re making things up! I will not have purveyors of fiction in this house!” [The interview was here curtailed, as the author was called away by entirely unrelated matters.]

In search of individuals who had known the adult Friddriv, we had to stoop so low as to trawl the seediest taverns of Ciosa, where we met an artist calling himself Terfistan Snorsk, who claims to have known Alav throughout some of his most productive years. The friendship (if one could call it that, for Alav seems not to have been a naturally friendly person) apparently grew from Snorsk’s allowing Alav to pay for his drinks, in return for a sympathetic ear to the young researcher’s theories of “mollusc philosophy”, and Terfistan even claims to have travelled with Alav for some years. As well as providing a handful of ale-splashed sketches, he was able to describe the full-grown Alav; a short, heavy-set man, somewhat flabby and very pale in complexion. With only small external ears, fair hair and skin, he had the looks of typical
Avennorian nobility, at least in theory, but without the strong build or proud bearing of such.

Friddriv is reputed to have been perpetually stooped, from pacing beaches in his work, with bent back and inclined head, so that the back of his neck was often burned bright red by the injera’s heat. Certain sailors and dockworkers of Ciosa recall a crouching figure in grubby shirtsleeves and britches soaked to the hip, who could be seen wandering like a lost taenish along the shores of Ciosa, or muttering to himself in the fish-market. He avowedly talked in a hushed, hurried voice with a strong
Avennorian accent, in the manner of one more accustomed to talking to himself than to others.
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Personality. Again, Alav’s reclusive habits mean that relatively little is known of his personality. His writings, though, reveal a dedicated analytical mind, obsessed with aquatic molluscs and passionate in the espousal of his theories about them. He was clearly a highly intelligent, if very shy young man, uncomfortable in the high society into which he was born, and fascinated by the life he could find on the beaches where he played as a child. This obsession seems to have taken an increasing turn towards madness in the latter years of his life, his eccentricities and hermit-like reclusiveness fuelling a downward spiral that seems ultimately to have caused his death. His landlady, a Madam Hreirek, described how his research projects became ever more elaborate, until the smell of rancid fish, brine and gnacker glue, together with repeated failure to pay his rent, caused her to intervene. On doing so, she was horrified with what she found, as she says:

“By Baveras, I never saw nothing so bad – deplorable, deplorable it was. Papers everywhere, with all sorts spilt on them anyhow, that vile glue he were always making sticking everything together, you could scarce lift your feet from the floor. And buckets of dead fish and kraken and the like, the smell would have felled a baneg bull! Spoiled food and dirty laundry everywhere, and all, and him sprawled in that pit he called a bed, looking like he hadn’t stirred for days. Could be he hadn’t, I’ll warrant, given what I saw when I managed to rouse the boy – scalybugs all over! Well, of course I nipped round a few of the neighbours straight away, we had him out and burnt all that mess, but you could tell he were far gone – the way he screamed, all over a few sheets of paper! Well, he moved away after that, and I’m not surprised he didn’t last long. Never learnt to look after himself. If his old dad hadn’t stopped by to pay his back rent once in a while I’d have been shot of him long ago. Good sort, the old lord Alav, a real shame his son never did him justice.”

-- Madam Hreirek, Avennorian landlady

Indeed, after the catastrophic loss of the vast majority of his research, Alav seems to have become paranoid and delusional to the extent that he would allow no-one into his quarters, and stepped out only to conduct field research and to drink, if he managed to scrape together enough money.

At this point he seemed to have formed an idea of molluscs as a greater intelligence or higher state of being than the so called sentient races had achieved, and it was this unfortunate delusion, supported by visions he saw in his attempts to research the ugling, that led to the fatal mistake of allowing a parasitic limpet to bore into his leg. Though he did remove the mollusc soon after allowing it to bite, his subsequent guilt at having killed the creature prevented him from seeing a healer, and the wound soon became infected, leading to his death by blood poisoning. An unsettling first-hand account of the experience can be found at the close of Alav’s great unfinished work “Philosophie of the Molluske Race”. Return to the top


Biography. Bright Start (1636-). Friddriv Alav is born the first child of Sebrid and Loff Alav, a wealthy glue-merchant family of noble heritage and good repute throughout Ciosa. The infant Friddriv is much admired for his reduced ears, shock of straw-blonde hair and large pale blue eyes.

The Family Expands (1634-9), Friddriv’s sister Fjatha, and two brothers Lieloff and Sjhen, are born. By the time his youngest brother Sjhen is born the shy, awkward nature of the four-year-old Friddriv is beginning to be remarked upon, and sets him apart from his more sociable siblings.

A Childhood Discovery (1647-). The gnacker-harvesters of Ciosa’s shoreline find themselves often accompanied by the eleven-year-old Friddriv, who reputedly loved nothing more than to play on the beaches, searching for monsters under stones, and often has to be fetched back home by servants or his younger brothers.

An Unwilling Apprentice (1650). At the age of fourteen, Loff Alav makes his son Friddriv an official apprentice to his business producing and selling gnacker-glue. There are indications that this early apprenticeship is a last ditch attempt to interest the heir to the family in business, as it has by now become clear that he is socially too awkward and shy to live up to the family’s reputation in other areas. Alav shows initial promise, coming up with some novel ideas for improving the receipt for the Alav glue, but is discouraged when his father declines to change his methods, wary that altering a tried and tested method will unsettle some of his oldest and best buyers.

Disgraced (1651). After only six months as an apprentice, Friddriv leaves in disgrace after an alleged tussle with a clerk, who was taunting him for his shyness in front of girls. According to the records of the Ciosan city guard, he pushed the clerk into a vat of gnacker glue, and ran away, swearing never to return. He is caught by the watch later that day, trying to stow away on a fishing boat, and after a night in the cells is released when his father grudgingly posts bail.

A Humble Living (1651–3). After turning away from his family, Friddriv goes back to the shores of Ciosa to earn his living, after several failed attempts to gain employment on a ship (there are rumours that his father paid captains not to accept him so as to keep his oldest son where he could see him, but more likely he was simply turned away because of his weak constitution and tendency to seasickness). Friddriv becomes a gnacker-picker, making his living harvesting gnackers to sell at market. It is likely he could gain a better price selling them for glue to a merchant such as his father, but his pride prevents that.

A Vocation at Last? (1653) Friddriv’s evenings and wages from gnacker-collecting are regularly spent at the Ragged Net inn, where he meets Terfistan Snorsk, a struggling artist of much the same age, though far more garrulous demeanour, as Friddriv. Snorsk, drawn to Alav’s company largely because the young man is easy to coax a free tankard or two from, becomes the closest Alav will get to a friend, and after hearing countless theories on molluscs and their ways, encourages him to mount an expedition, to carry out some real research.

Visions of Greatness (1654). After saving up for the best part of a year, Alav and Snorsk set out to Marduran, from whence Alav enlists a fishing boat and crew to voyage north west, into the Strait of Kharamm, famed primarily for proximity to the drake-haunted Nightfog Cliffs, but more importantly to Alav, also as one of the best places to encounter strange, hallucination-inducing molluscs known as uglings. Alav’s endeavours to capture and study the creatures are met with continual disappointment, as the fishermen on board think him mad to want close contact with such a creature. However, despite failing to study one at close quarters, Alav is fortunate enough to experience an ugling dream. The dream features a parasitic limpet, which he allows to feed on his own flesh, and acts as a great encouragement to the budding researcher.

The Adventuring Years (1654-63). Alav’s whereabouts become hard to trace in this period, as he seems to have travelled a great deal, in search of rare and unusual molluscs to record. The accounts of Snorsk, who accompanies him on some of his travels (though usually only as far as the last inn, where he stays “to maintain a base camp”) are rather jumbled, but point to Alav visiting areas as far flung as the Icelands coast, where he studies burning sea-slugs, the Noarian caves of Tarannoar, and even a brief excursion to the Scattershand Shoals, purportedly to study the fabled shark-eating razorshell, though it is cut short by a quarrel, in which Snorsk takes off and leaves Alav without enough funds to continue. Alav’s notes – or those which survive – bear testament to an astonishing outburst of productivity, and his studies not only of the rarer molluscs but of everything, both aquatic and terrestrial (as well as, in the case of the Thaelon flying snail, airborne) that caught his interest are among the most profound and perceptive to date.

Return to the Gnacker (1664-5). Penniless after his long travels, and still unused to supporting himself, Alav is forced to return to Ciosa. By this time his father has long resigned himself to Friddriv’s chosen path, and with Lieloff’s resounding success as the new head of the family business, and Fjatha’s highly prominent marriage to another wealthy merchant’s son, he feels no great chagrin at having to pay for Alav’s rent and living expenses. Friddriv’s writings, however, suggest he saw this as a terrible humiliation, and he cuts off relations entirely with the rest of his family, though he remains grudgingly accepting of occasional financial aid from his father. At this point the already shy Friddriv becomes increasingly reclusive, and having severed his tentative friendship with Terfistan Snorsk, Alav seems to have buried himself entirely in his work, which focused mainly on the habits of his first passion, the common gnacker. It is probably towards the end of 1665 that Alav begins his last and arguably greatest work, his “Philosophie of the Molluske Race”.

The Vision Fulfilled (1666-7). Around halfway through writing the Philosophie, Alav becomes reclusive to the point of self-isolation. He incurs an infection of dream-lice, and has to be forcibly removed from his quarters. A large proportion of his notes are burnt in the purge that ousts the lice, and whether it is the trauma of losing so much of his precious work, or the lasting effects of the dreamlice, from then on Alav’s sanity begins to vanish altogether. Nonetheless, his account of the experience, and his further writings, including the entirety of his work on parasitic limpets, carried out in a final burst of productivity in the spring of 1667, are shot through with his characteristic clarity of observation, despite occasional glimpses of the troubled, paranoid mind that produced them. After moving to new lodgings, Alav comes into possession of several larval parasitic limpets, and is able to raise them to full size. No doubt remembering the ugling dream of ten years previously, he allows the creature to attach to his flesh, in order to study the effects upon himself. However, the pain this causes is far greater than anticipated, and he is forced to cut the creature out. Three weeks later, he dies of blood poisoning, leaving the “Philosophie of the Molluske Race” unfinished. The fact of his death is not known until the body is discovered by the compendiumist Seth Ghibta, who had come across his writings and hoped to enlist his help in describing the aquatic creatures of Caelereth. His landlady said that he had not been down from his room for nearly a week, but also that this was quite normal, in as much as the term could be applied to Friddriv.
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Importance. The eminent compendiumist Shabakuk Zeborius Anfang once remarked that “If Santharia only had more researchers of Alav’s commitment and courage, our knowledge of uglings would no doubt long ago have moved beyond the sorry state of fragment and conjecture that we have presented in this report.”

Whilst referring to such an invaluable collection of knowledge as Shabakuk's report on the ugling as being in “a sorry state” is not without its irony, the point stands; Friddriv Alav represented a researcher in the archetypal form, absolutely dedicated to his studies. It is perhaps therefore inevitable that such passion should eventually be overtaken by obsession, but ultimately, given the inestimable worth of his surviving works, it seems we lost a great asset to our understanding of the creatures of the deeps when Friddriv Alav died.

Amongst his many accounts of the habits, appearance and uses of various molluscs and similar creatures, he was the first to record the defense mechanisms of gnackers, a behaviour that indicates far greater intelligence than is usually attributed to these shellfish. His drawings of the mouthparts of parasitic limpets have formed the basis for new kinds of scalpels and saws, of great use among gnomish artificers in need of the most delicate tools. He is purported to have discovered a rare kind of flying snail living in the Thaelon Forest (though the nature of his notes suggests that may have been a liquor-induced hallucination, and further expeditions are required to verify his claims) as well as several subspecies of common freshwater and saltwater mollusc.

Among the piles of notes that were found in his room are accounts of visions caused by uglings and dreamlice, making him one of the few people to have experienced both, and sketches of every manner of seashell imaginable, in meticulous detail. Though his field of study was not one invested with great glamour, romance or significance, Alav’s efforts prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is fascination to be found in every facet of the disk, however apparently mundane.
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 Date of last edit 4th Rising Sun 1671 a.S.

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