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Illustration by Mervyn Peake
|First appearance||Titus Groan|
|Created by||Mervyn Peake|
Flay is a character in the Gormenghast novels by Mervyn Peake. He is the personal assistant of Lord Sepulchrave, Earl of the castle. His sense of loyalty is huge and he rarely talks. When he does his words come out in broken sentences and very simple language. Near the end of the first book, his banishment is caused by Steerpike, who taunts Flay until the man becomes so angry that he throws one of the Countess' pet cats at him. The countess happens to see this and banishes Flay from the castle. Before he leaves the castle though, he battles with the chef Swelter, killing him, and witnesses the Earl's death by owls. After this he flees the castle in the middle of the night.
In the second book, we discover that Flay has become a solitary hermit in the woods around the castle, and moreover has adapted to the life rather well. Although banished, his loyalty to the castle persists. He is especially driven by his distrust of Steerpike's intentions and his desire to protect Fuchsia and the young Titus.
Titus encounters Flay, who was banished before Titus's second birthday, while wandering the woods. Although Flay is critical of the young earl's non-traditional behaviour, and Titus seems rather frightened of the old man, the two develop a sort of friendship. The meeting also helps each character gain a new perspective of Steerpike's nature.
Flay begins to sneak back into the castle under cover of darkness, the better to spy on Steerpike. Eventually he awakes Titus in the middle of the night and gets him, together with Doctor Prunesquallor, to come with him as he tracks Steerpike to an abandoned part of the castle. They discover Steerpike strutting in a slightly insane fashion over the corpses of the Twins. On discovery, Steerpike kills Flay with a thrown knife and escapes to begin his final rampage.
Flay is posthumously unbanished and buried with the highest honours due a servant.
Flay is described vividly as tall, gaunt, and stiff. He has a pronounced tendency to stoop in a vulturish fashion and his walk resembles a slow-march, complete with a slight pause in each step before the final descent of the foot. In the first book, his knees make sharp cracking sounds with every step, and when he stalks Swelter through the darkened hallways he has to muffle these sounds with knotted rags. In the second book outdoor living has mitigated this condition.
Flay's age at the point when the story begins is difficult to ascertain. His memories of early life are touched on, but seem ominously vague. He has one good memory of his childhood (involving being given an apple by a stranger while walking with his (unspecified) guardian), but the rest is an impression of constant toil. It does seem certain that he has served Lord Sepulchrave (and specifically Sepulchrave, not a previous Lord of Groan) for most of his life. Since Lord Sepulchrave is elderly, but not senescent, it does not appear that Flay can be much more than 60 and is possibly younger. If he appears older, this may be a result of his harsh living conditions. He appears to have no quarters, instead sleeping on the stones outside Sepulchrave's door. He likewise appears to take no regular meals, and although he is seen to snack from the side-dishes on Sepulchrave's table at odd moments this does not inspire confidence in his diet.