Prologue > Begin at the beginning…

Reflections of Reality

Alryssa Kelly, Amy Bowen, Ann Magill, B. K. Willis, Evan, Daibhid Ceannaideach, Danel, Gordon Dempster, Graham Woodland, Igenlode Wordsmith, Imran Inayat, Joe Wade, Ken Young, Lorrill Buyens, Molly Schlemmer, Paul Andinach, Paul Gadzikowski, Rabia

Redaction and HTML: Igenlode Wordsmith and Paul Andinach

Prologue—“Dusting off the coat tails (so to speak)”

Eloise looked at herself in the full-length double mirror in Sweetheart’s wardrobe room, and felt a little pang of dismay. It’s not that the ball gown did not fit her—it fit perfectly—Sweetheart had done an excellent job creating it for the occasion. It’s just, she told herself, that the idea of a ball gown was not conceived with a troll’s proportions in mind. Still, she had to admit, the fabric was a perfect shade of fuchsia to match her birthday hat, and the purple moiré ribbons shimmered wonderfully.

“Oh!” Florestan, from the other side of the mirror frame, let out another frustrated grunt. “Bow ties used to come so easily to me; I guess I’ve been too long without practice.”

“Here, let me help you with that,” a female voice said, shockingly familiar (even though Eloise had not heard it in nearly a year). She peeked around the edge of the mirror to double-check.

Sure enough, the TARDIS had taken on human form again, looking as though she had stepped out of an illustration of “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” her hunting bow and quiver of diamond-tipped arrows slung across her back.

“Sweetheart!” she exclaimed. “You’re Maid TARDIS again! I would have thought that after last year…” she let her voice trail off.

“Yes, well,” Maid TARDIS said, as she finished straightening Florestan’s tie, “if we’re going to ask the divine guests to let go of their powers for the evening, I thought it best that I put on a face of authority to make sure they comply.”

Eloise chuckled. She had seen that authority first hand, and had no doubts that their more powerful guests would be well behaved this year.

Just then, Ruthie, the little turquoise troll, came rushing up.

“Hello, Ruthie,” she said. “Are you all ready to visit with your grandma?” (the little troll had decided that the quadrille was, after all, too grown-up a party for her).

“Yes, yes, but Eloise,” she said, waving a crumpled piece of paper in one hand, “it’s a letter!”

Her excited grin was infectious, and Eloise’s own smile grew even broader than before as she watched the other troll bouncing with anticipation. Come to think of it, she’d always loved getting mail too…

“Who’s it from?” the avocado troll asked, but Ruthie shook her head.

“I don’t know. It only just came…”

“Well, go on, open it,” Eloise said—she could see Ruthie was absolutely bursting to find out what was inside—and watched as the smaller troll carefully unfolded the crumpled wrapper, smoothing it out like a child trying to make her birthday present last as long as possible.

It was a very odd letter. The envelope had been crumpled so many times that it had lost any signs of crispness it might ever have had and had gone limp and soft and yellow, like a well-worn rag. The stamp—if there had ever been a stamp—had come off so long ago you couldn’t even see a pale patch where it had been amongst all the other assorted stains. The address appeared to have been inscribed by a demented spider paddling in pale brown ink, which had expired messily in the middle of the last line.

In fact, the whole thing looked as if it had spent more than a century in the Dead Letter Office, being taken out only in order to be used for basketball practice by the office juniors every ten years or so. Given that the only legible word remaining in the superscription appeared to be ‘Cul de sac’, Eloise was slightly surprised it had ever made it into her mail-box at all. Particularly since as far as she knew, this particular cul-de-sac hadn’t even existed here fifty years ago, let alone well over a hundred…

At this point, Ruthie, who had finally got the enclosure out of its battered wrapping and was squinting at it down her blue-freckled nose in happy bemusement, gave a squeak of surprise, and Eloise looked over at her a little anxiously. But her deputy’s trollish grin had spread from ear to ear.

“It’s Danik!” she said excitedly. Then her face fell. “Oh, but he says he’s writing to say he’s not coming…”

Eloise stifled a little pang of disappointment, and told herself firmly that she hadn’t really expected a rover like Danny Blue to make the same journey twice. Maybe she’d still see him and Osman again some day if they came up the river to her troll-bridge to pay that call Osman had half-promised to make…

This time the turquoise deputy’s squeak was so loud that Eloise instinctively put her arms around her in concern, looking to see where she was hurt. But Ruthie was wriggling with astonishment, and it was like trying to catch one of the tadpoles in the marsh below her bridge with her twelve long bare troll-toes.

“He says…” Ruthie managed at last, “he says… he says he can’t come because he’s busy getting married!

A little gurgle of surprised laughter escaped Eloise. She’d been thinking of him as a wild rover, and all the while— She blinked, reaching for the letter. “Let me see.”

“His writing’s a bit squiggly,” Ruthie warned her scrupulously, passing the crumpled sheet over, and Eloise nodded, smiling at the little troll.

“Yes, I expect it is,” she explained. “It’s called ‘copperplate’…”

She broke off, squinting down at the paper in front of her with the dark green freckles gathering across the bridge of her long nose exactly the way the blue ones had done on Ruthie’s snub-nose. “It is a bit squiggly, isn’t it?” she said after a while, almost helplessly.

Danik’s handwriting might have been copperplate… once. The unmistakable traits of the insane arachnid sprawled across the page in a frenzy of ink-stained fervour.

She turned the paper over without thinking to see if it was any better on the other side, and discovered it was a printed sheet. The type had blurred and faded with age, but words in French swam up at her like silver minnows from the bottom of a stream, crystal-clear after Danik’s scrawl: “Ernestine” … “only daughter of” … “cathedral of St-Pierre”… “to Danilo Ilitsche von Schelstein” … “celebrate” … “this day” …

“Well!” the avocado troll said out loud, marvelling, and turned the letter back over, tell-tale phrases beginning to come clear now that she had some idea what she was reading about. Danik—wedding—Martinique?! She shook her head in amused incomprehension.

Knowing Danik, there was a rip-snorter of a tale tied up somewhere behind this. As an excuse for not coming to a party, she had to admit, it took the biscuit.

“…these two weeks, the house here at Mireille is in a whirl,” Danik had written. “We barely see each other from dawn to nightfall, so many last arrangements are to be made, as if it were a firing squad that we are to face in two days’ time and not a priest! De Roncourt has shown himself a tower of strength…” Here a large and tropical insect appeared to have found its way into the sealed letter and died, leaving a long-legged smudge in mirror-image above and below the folds, and Eloise could barely make out a word here and there.

“…name, I fear, is Ernestine, but none here call her by it. To the men of the company, from the lowest cellar clerk to the loftiest matelot atop the skysail yard, she is L’Aiglonne, the Young Eagle; and by that name I knew her first, when we two were cast ashore, to trust to our own devices, and to each other…”

Eloise’s own eyebrows had shot up in almost exactly the same way that Danik’s used to, when he was surprised or amused. Definitely quite a story behind it all…

“…would that you could see her,” her correspondent had concluded, in a sputtering scrawl that was visibly starting to disintegrate as he approached the bottom of the page. “You would love her, I know, as all at home soon shall. She is tall and dark, with such a blaze of life in her as a man might warm his heart at and never grow cold. Her pride and courage are the equal of any I have ever known—and yet she is all woman in her grace, in the sweet roundness of her throat and the fire between…”

But here the writer’s enthusiasm, coupled with the decreasing space, had betrayed him into complete illegibility as the lines crossed and recrossed each other, and Eloise simply couldn’t make out the rest; which was possibly, on reflection, just as well.

“Well!” she said again, feeling quite ridiculously pleased at the news—what could be more Joyful than a wedding?—and turned the sheet over to study the printed names again. “‘Ernestine de la Tour’—do you know a LaTour family, Walter?” she called out to Ruthie’s cousin, who had come to collect Ruthie for the trip to their grandmother’s (Walter, by means of troll magic Eloise had not yet come to understand, had ways of travelling without a TARDIS [“But it’s tricky,” he’d explained, “…like doing a ‘call’ in not-quite-reverse”]) The lanky troll frowned. “Louisiana?” he asked.

Eloise shook her head. “Les Antilles, it says—that’s the West Indies…”

The West Indies? she wondered. Oh Danik, whatever have you been up to this time?

Maid TARDIS reached out her hand. “May I see? I might have some information on the family, somewhere in my databases…”

The avocado-green troll handed over the letter, and watched as the TARDIS-woman’s smile deepened. Florestan leaned in to read over her shoulder, and his face, too, relaxed into a broadening smile.

Eloise smiled again, herself. She knew what the buzz of this year’s celebration would be, and wondered, idly, how many minutes it would take for the news to spread through all the guests. Nothing could have gotten the party off to a better start.

The first set

You are driving down the road on a late June evening, only two nights into the summer season, but the first night in weeks that has actually felt like summer—the climate had taken a distinct turn toward dampness and chill in late autumn and had not let up—until tonight. Perhaps it was the sultry air that had called you out, stirring memories of your teen years, and summer vacations with nothing to do until school started again in the fall. Perhaps it was something else. There was certainly the feel of something magic in the air.

You break out of your reverie to find yourself driving into an unfamiliar—and (you realize, as your mind clears) distinctly unusual cul-de-sac. For parked at the curbsides (if “parked” is the right word at all), is the oddest collection of vehicles and …objects… you have ever seen in your life: Old ’60s-style British police boxes, pipe organs, grandfather clocks, vintage cars, free-standing doors, several blank silver cubes, and one or two pyramids, and—could that be ?? — a — submarine on wheels?!

At the center of all this oddity is a small, grey, single-storey house with blue-grey fake shutters—the epitome of suburban blandness, if it weren’t for the strings of brightly shining paper lanterns leading up the drivewav to the front door, and the sign, printed in ornate gold lettering on a dark blue background, that is stuck it the ground beside the mailbox, reading:

Joyful Troll Quadrille: All Welcome!

Part of you wants to shrug this off as “someone else’s party.” But another part of you, perhaps the same part that called you out to take a drive, is itching to join in. And that other part of you wins out. You drive around and add your very ordinary vehicle to the line of strange ones, then get out and make your way to the door, your bravery increasing with each step.

You try the door. It is unlocked. You open the door.

What you see takes your breath away: a grand ballroom, all gilt and marble and mirrors, that would give Louis XVI’s palace a run for its money.

“Ha— wha— huh?” you stammer, but before you can get your tongue to shape the questions exploding in your brain, a strange creature, with skin the color of a birthday balloon, a nose like Pinnochio’s, and dressed in a tuxedo takes you by the hand. “Oh good! You’re not too late!” she (he? it? Is this a troll?) says, as if you, especially, were the guest of honor. “Hurry, the dance is about to start!”

You are ushered into a long line, and are faced with a partner, in the line across from you, that is very much like the one who led you in here, except its skin was like a different colored balloon.

You barely have time to say: “Hello,” when the band of trolls strikes up (playing mostly kazoos and party tooters, it sounds like). A tall man, with long auburn-grey hair pulled back into a pony tail, is doing his best to conduct them. There is a grand flourishing beginning, and then the dance begins… except no one seems to know what do. They try to do-se-so, and change partners, and back, and turn in time with the music, but it soon disintegrates into a mix of: “Oh, pardon me—is that your foot?” and: “Excuse me.” and lots of: “oopsie!”

The conductor on the stage looks just a bit distressed. But then an avocado-green troll (dressed in a fuchsia and purple ball gown, of all things, with a birthday hat of the same color perched atop her head) sings a few, trilling, warm up notes. The dancers quiet down (with much apparent relief), to listen.

While the orchestra plays on, with growing enthusiasm (if not exactly skill), the troll sings:

“Will you click on my thread title?” oh, the nasty flamer cried.
“It is full of strong invective, my wit and all my pride.
You have only got ta click your mouse, to enter the de-bate
You’ll read so many curious things that you will surely hate.

“Will you, will you? click on, Lurker, Dear?
Will you, will you?
Will you, will you? click on, Lurker, Dear?

“Please grant me just this one wish,” was the nasty flam-er’s plea
“to hear your wise opinion, I’ve curiosity.
But if perchance our wits meet, a wager I would lay,
Of ten to one you would not dismiss what I may say.

“Will you, will you? click on, Lurker, Dear?
Will you, will you?
Will you, will you? click on, Lurker, Dear?

For the last time now I ask: will you click on, Lurker, Dear?”

“Unlike you, I do not hate. I will not linger here.”
He closed that thread, but then saw twelve dozen just the same
The Flam-er laugh’d “Ah! Ah! my boy, I’ve caught you in my game!”.

“Will you, can you, Ignore, Lurker, Dear?
Will you, can you?
“Will you, can you, Ignore, Lurker, Dear?

Now Joyful trolls take warning, by this new-bie Lurk-er Dear,
Sharp wit is the flamer’s trap, ’twill catch you in its snare.
And al-thou’ you may think this advice quite a bore,
You’re lost if you stand parleying, outside of hatred’s door.

“Will you, can you, Ignore, Lurker, Dear?
Will you, can you?
“Will you, can you, Ignore, Lurker, Dear?

The orchestra finishes with another grand flourish, and the audience lets loose its applause.

Just then, a little troll nudges you gently at the elbow, proffering a silver tray lined with soft, sugary fruit candies. “Would you like a jelly baby?” it asks.

As you take one, gratefully, you think this could very well turn out to be an interesting evening.

enter the party

Story copyright © 2003 the original authors; this compilation copyright © 2003–2005 Igenlode Wordsmith and Paul Andinach; HTML modified by Imran Inayat.