Skirting the Cultural Chasm: the Interlaced Narratives of Two Revolutionaries
Introduction: A Ramshackle Apologia
DAVIDE LALONDE: Revolution is not a sporting competition, Citizen Vantas. One need not throw about one’s credentials as avidly as one might fling them in a game of boules.
[Amused murmurs of assent.]
KARKAT VANTAS: And how lucky for you that we don’t! Seeing as you possess no credentials to speak of, it would be a tediously short-lived game.
DAVIDE LALONDE: Well then, having concluded that we are not here for the purpose of sport or egotism, would it not be logical to proceed to affairs of state?
KARKAT VANTAS: Certainly, Citizen de Lalonde, if there is still a statesman alive who would rather serve their country than to waste time in tawdry attempts to smear their fellows.
DAVIDE LALONDE: Yourself excepted, I presume.
KARKAT VANTAS: Me? I’m too busy fending off idiotic slurs!
[The crowd laughs outright. Documenting this, I find myself rather fearing for my life.]
- September 1792, National Convention meeting, transcript taken by Tavros Nitram.
Not sure where I’m going with this. Venturing any firm opinion as to the nature and relative moral status of prominent figures in the 1789 French Revolution is an activity apt to send even the most respected of historians, troll or human, plunging down through the dense mists of speculation into the yawning chasm of scholarly discredit. As such, I own that it scarcely seems appropriate terrain for the precocious high school history student to risk life and intellectual limb, particularly with regards to an otherwise benign, academically inconsequential end-of-term research project.
So I hope you’ll excuse the folly.
Earlier, I’d planned to give this project a strong biographical slant, centring the majority of my efforts on the study of the illustrious Viscount de Lalonde – better known by the more prepossessing moniker of “Thiery Frere”, a pseudonym crafted in a short-lived flurry of egalitarianism during the early 1790s. However. Whilst, when one has possession of a famous, quasi-revolutionary French progenitor, it’s practically a prerequisite to flaunt said relation like a smug, egotistical shit at every available opportunity, numerous pressing factors hindered me from fulfilling my ancestral duty. Primarily, it’s the awareness that, amongst the woefully disreputable crew of the radical revolutionary period, Frere is one of the few considered to be in any way salvageable, being mostly removed from the bloodshed of its latter years. Largely because he was dead. Gratifying as it is to know that my dynamic forefather didn’t quite manage to do irreparable damage to the good name of Lalonde – and its various tributaries – I felt this to be something of a deal breaker. What good is a historian, I asked myself, if he can’t do anything to rehabilitate the reputation of the most infamous? And it’s not false modesty which forces me to admit that Frere, for all his faults, scarcely qualifies as such.
No matter. I found that, far from controlling the direction of my own research, the research itself had robbed me of any academic autonomy, stringing up my intentions like a shamefaced marionette on wires. I was, put bluntly, possessed by the matter of my own reading. Its subtle hands steered me away from all discussion of my ancestor, and propelled me inexorably forwards into the darkest months of the Terror. Specifically, it pointed to two figures: secondarily, the radical satirical poet – and, I’ll confess, another distant relation – Davide (de) Lalonde; yet chiefly, Frere’s erstwhile protégé, vilified by all and sundry who care to examine him: quasi-dictator extraordinaire, Karkat Vantas. In this essay, I’d like to posit the admittedly far-flung theory that one cannot consider the one without equal examination of the other. They are as intrinsically linked as human and troll culture itself.
Hence the behemothic proportions of this project. One can’t attempt to vindicate two blisteringly controversial political dissidents, whilst simultaneously demonstrating their profound – and, thus far, undocumented – influence upon each other without getting a tad verbose. That said, I’ve tried to keep this thing as precise as I’m able, including primary sources lifted from family records, mostly featuring Lalonde.
(Not too clear as to how this actually fits into the original project guidelines. Don’t particularly care, to be honest. This shit merits full disclosure, whatever the medium. Just work with it.)
By contrast, reliable sources featuring Vantas continue to elude me. My acrobatic swandive into the chilled waters of the basic historiography led to little other than intellectual frostbite. We’re talking sub-zero levels of understanding here. General consensus seems to be that he was gruff, pontificating, animalistic, argumentative, nigh-supernaturally aloof, drank the blood of newborn babes with sadistic relish, and also he was ugly. Then they call this supercilious bullshit analysis. Mainstream cultural conception has not been kind to Karkat Vantas. Nor have his biographers. I’m hoping to at least dispel the fug of a few blinding inaccuracies.
But context is all. And so, we begin with the curt little lawyer from Arras, recently elected to the Estates General, and seemingly destined to be barely a krill on political reform’s oceanic sweep of accomplishment. Caught in the wake of a slightly bigger fish: Jean Egbert, he of the later Bastille fame, whose rousing speech atop a desk in the Palais Royale would soon induce a rush of workers to try their luck at dismantling the place for good. The two former schoolfriends were about to visit a prominent political salon – which can be, I dunno, a whirlpool perhaps? Just to stretch this tired sea metaphor to its utmost. It’s apt, actually – because the movement they were in the process of creating would indeed engulf them. Or something. So yeah, this is the first documented meeting of Vantas and Lalonde.
Documented, as it happens, by the man himself. The diligence with which Vantas kept his diary bordered on religious, a fact which historians might be more grateful for had he not also instructed his moirail, Kanaya Maryam to burn said documents upon his death. Thus transforming what might otherwise be convenience into outright goddamn uselessness. Luckily, Maryam was not as assiduous in her labours as he in his – perhaps deliberately - hence, more than a few entries have survived. Including the following passage.
June 5th 1789
… As soon as we arrived at the threshold, I knew I would have little reason to thank Egbert for his protracted insistence upon a visit to the Lalonde salon. Quite the contrary; I quickly resolved never to forgive him for subjecting us both to that unmitigated disaster. We found the gathering in media res: already, guests were strewn clumsily across the furniture in various levels of recumbence; conversation had lulled to an amiable patter, and the very room seemed gently wine-suffused. The lamps lay half-extinguished, and those remaining cast dim, flickering shadows about the half-hidden features of the drowsy company. In short, it was exactly the kind of sociable atmosphere upon which the outsider dares intrude only at his peril. Egbert, for his part, seemed not in the least perturbed by this. Our arrival slowed the babble of talk to an inelegant halt - but, blundering forwards with all the courage that a functioning imbecile is capable of mustering, he plunged into an enthusiastic greeting, shattering the silence. For my part, it seemed horrendously gauche, but it appeared nonetheless to suffice; immediately the Duchesse Peixes rose and, nearly tripping over her voluminous skirts, gathered him into a gleeful embrace.
“Jean!” she exclaimed, happily. “How delightful of you to decide to come! Now you can tell us all about what’s happening with the Third Estate. We have been quite out of the loop since last week!” The excitement of the evening seemed to have knocked her stylish coiffure askew; strands of hair had slipped haphazardly out of their schooled position. Combined with the faded state of her purple rouge, she resembled a half-melted doll.
Jean laughed. “Being a non-member myself, I can’t speak with incredible accuracy.” False modesty; he had been writing articles on the representatives’ deliberations for a month now – most of them dripping with condemnation of the piecemeal process. “Hasn’t Vriska been keeping you all adequately informed?”
“She’s been silent as anything, the little minx! And you know what it’s like asking anything of Thiery or Davide…”
And so on. Still talking, she steered him over to the nearest sofa, next to a handsome woman whom I took to be the Marquise Roxane de Lalonde, whose powdered cheeks were tinged with a rosy blush as deep as the contents of her brimming wineglass. Whereupon they all three proceeded to chatter for a full five minutes before recalling the presence of a second visitor. I shot Egbert a glare; he had the grace to look somewhat abashed.
“Ahem, yes. Listen, everyone – this is Karkat Vantas: deputy for the Third Estate, and one of my very dearest friends. He’s the kindest, most agreeable person you’ll ever know, provided you disregard roughly three quarters of everything he says.”
This charming summary elicited a ripple of obsequious laughter from the room’s occupants. Duty apparently accomplished, Egbert turned back to the Duchesse in order to resume their avid discussion of the week’s politics, attracting the sleepy attention of other commentators nearby. From the opposite side of the room, a slender woman whose identity I could not place, draped in a heavy, gold-spangled shawl, gave me a measured smile.
“Nice meet you, Monsieur Vantas. I am Rose de Lalonde. Always a pleasure to flavour our amateur persiflage with the occasional spice of political expertise.”
Now I understood; this was the co-host of our gathering and daughter of the Marquise: a woman well renowned both for her aristocratic wit and keen reformist principles – the latter of which cemented her association with the Duchesse. This in itself is puzzling to me; I have frequently heard the relationship read as moiraillegiance, though the unconventionality of such an affiliation renders such rumours unlikely. The two of them, Rose and Feferi, had established this society as an attempt to rally together some of the greatest democratic minds in Paris – and, as far as I could tell, had succeeded in corralling a handful of titled, tepidly progressive social climbers for their pains. Why Egbert still holds such illogical fondness for the place, I shall never be able to fathom. Yet I was startled to see Vriska Serket present; her bold remarks in previous councils of the Estates General – and in subsequent breakaway meetings of the Third Estate – had guaranteed her no small amount of notoriety amidst our colleagues. Perhaps she too had been motivated by ambition. It would be unsurprising; these days, even Egbert I would not class as wholly selfless.
As for the daughter of the Marquise - I mumbled something by way of response and glanced swiftly away; she continued to converse with her neighbour – a green-clad woman I later identified as Jade Harlais, yet another wealthy political moderate. The entire assembly reeked of monotony. I realised swiftly that these people had no more interest in healing the country’s ailments than I held in the cut of the latest gown, or the finer details of their frivolous court gossip. Those who cared a modicum for the national crisis were too preoccupied in hosting their philosophical gatherings to put theory into practice. It was altogether abysmal. There being no readily available seating nearby, I hovered awkwardly at the edge of Egbert’s circle, catching occasional snatches of conversation for my efforts – and already I lamented the considerable amount of work I was neglecting in order to be here. The place itself seemed vaguely oppressive; the heavily scented air assailed one as strongly as the conflicting surge of talk left one baffled.
The party was grouped roughly into several sections. At its centre sat Egbert, Duchesse Peixes and Marquise Roxane, talking animatedly to one another; on the opposite couch, Harlais and Rose de Lalonde spoke in more subdued tones. Nearby, Serket was talking with a human woman – Cuisinier, I recall? – though her gaze tended towards the middle of the room more often than not, to where Egbert leaned contentedly against the cushions. Hunched over their chairs in the furthest corner sat two trolls whose lavish personal adornments and dark purple cravats denoted them as blood aristocracy of the highest order. The first sported a conspicuous pair of lacelike fins, from which I recognised him as the Marquis d’Ampora, fiancé to Rose de Lalonde. That particular engagement had caused considerable stir when announced – though I suppose, given the rumours one hears about the relative decline of the Lalonde estate, the riches to be gained from such a union far outweigh the drawback of childlessness. (It occurs to me that the human system of inheritance is even more antiquated than its trollish non-counterpart.) The other highblood was lanky and unkempt, yet unrecognisable to me; he wore the stark, slightly crumbled paint of a clown cultist. Unsurprising, given his blood caste, yet it unnerved me for reasons I cannot quite define. The two did not seem particularly inclined converse with any of the others – indeed, it was as though a thin pane of glass kept them separate from the rest of the club. I could not help but wonder why they – clearly supporters, or at any rate benefactors of the current regime - had chosen to be at an explicitly reformist salon in the first place.
There were a few other trolls – uniformly blue-blooded – whom I could not recognise, and a couple of humans too: dressed smartly, if not ostentatiously; enough to present themselves as moneyed albeit not aristocratic. They drifted about the room with an air of purpose, sampling morsels of each conversation as meticulously as they picked at the miniature pastries dotted on china plates about each table. They took no heed of me; nor I them, particularly. The heady, perfumed fug of the air obscured their features; they appeared as anonymous to me as the wizened beggar crouched on the street corner would appear to them.
Yet amidst these social clusters, one man sat solitary. He occupied the entire chaise-longue, sprawled supine across the cushions in an affectation of elegance: the fingers of one hand curled lightly around the stem of his crystal wineglass; the other poised gently at his chin. Though human, he wore his hair unpowdered in trollish style: blond, and slicked to the nape of his neck, just skimming the edge of his claret-coloured jacket. I am, needless to say, no troll of superstition; but regardless, there was something deeply uncanny about this man. Perhaps it was the effect of those green-tinted spectacles he wore, which had the noticeable result of screening his eyes from view. They made his face seem faintly soulless – as though, by effacing the pupils, one could strip an expression of its basic humanity. Whatever it was, it left me apprehensive. He seemed scarcely to notice the others’ presence – indeed, my first rather illogical thought was that he had set himself up as a kind of decorative statue, he appeared so impassive. Wilder still, I was immediately caught up by the impression that, should he take it upon himself to speak, it would be for no minor or inconsequential purpose; rather, it would only occur for the announcement of something momentous.
I was not, as far as the latter part was concerned, entirely incorrect in my surmise.
Beside me, Egbert was still halfway through the process of recounting the week’s exploits. “… By rights, we ought to be the only council heeded – what good is a clergyman when it comes to reducing debt? – but the King might as well be deaf and dumb, and the Queen still clings to the old order with all the assiduity that hopelessness can afford…”
A low chuckle came from the side of the room. It was, of course, the man with the spectacles, who had deigned to straighten a fraction of an inch in order to watch us directly. He allowed a faint pause to elapse before speaking, as though to make certain of our full attention. I think I began to dislike him even then. “Well. Happily, the logical course of action is evident enough,” he said. His voice was the liveliest thing about him. “To wit… a syllogism. One: the nation is in debt. Two: the monarchy is wilfully ignoring this debt.” An expectant pause, marked by a thin smile. “Therefore, three, we dispense with the monarchy, and all debt shall be dealt with.” He clapped his hands, once, as if delighted by this piece of inanity. “There’s your answer, neatly bound up in basic deductive reasoning.”
As the entire room bristled with audible indignation, I almost laughed. I could scarcely maintain my composure at the thought of Rose de Lalonde, all trussed up in lavender, her teetering wig like sculpted snow – lips pursed in fury at the inopportune comment. It was almost a shame. Her meticulously crafted gathering had gone awry at the slightest gesture towards republicanism, and all that effort spent garnering a name for moderation had been for naught. If I were her, I would have been seething at the dandified wretch.
Yet when I looked at her, I could detect no hint of anger. Indeed, she looked unmistakably amused. “My brother thinks he is being frightfully radical and shocking,” she remarked. “Do please humour him and act appalled.”
Her brother! Yes, I could see the resemblance now, as he settled back against the cushions with the air of a man who has contributed all he wishes to say for the foreseeable future. In fact, now that it had been revealed, I wondered how I had failed to realise from the outset; it seemed so very obvious in retrospect. They both shared that same languid, catlike grace; both carried an unmistakeable quality of wryness. Funny, though – I had heard little of the heir to the Lalonde estate, despite the political prominence of his sister.
Perhaps it was the conscious simplicity of his ‘syllogism’ that induced me; perhaps it was simply his damnable smugness. Regardless, I could not stifle the urge to speak. “It’s a fair sentiment,” I said, and was satisfied to observe all eyes anchor upon me. “Fair,” I repeated, “but foolish.”
That, it seemed, was sufficient to snap him out of his stupor! “Oh?” he said. The syllable was quite like a dart, though outwardly deadpan. He sat a little straighter, looking directly at me with those masklike spectacles. Compared to the lingering fug of scent and cigar smoke, they looked very, very clear, like twin disks of onyx.
“You talk as if monarchy were the only weed restricting our country’s growth,” I said, deliciously aware of the room’s undivided attention. “Yet hack it away, and you might as well sever the head of a dandelion. It is insufficient. The roots remain.”
“How charmingly cryptic,” he re-joined.
“Nonsense; you understand me well enough.” [translator’s note: Vantas has switched to the informal tu.] I stepped forward, ignoring Egbert’s wince, and the Duchesse’s glance of concern. “I am speaking of the endemic poverty with which the nation – nay, all of Europe – is strewn. Certainly the King and Queen do nothing to counter it, but the causes are more insidious; they are tied to the structure of the system itself.”
He did not respond immediately. Instead, with an insouciant shrug, he plucked an orange from the neighbouring fruit tureen, and began idly to toss it from hand to hand. Then, with exaggerated reluctance, as though pressed to respond at sword-point, he made his answer. “I’m talking regicide, not gardening, Monsieur Karkat Vantas,” he said. Each sharply enunciated syllable of my name sent a separate wave of chill down my spine. He had not broken off from his intent study of my face all the while.
There was silence. God help me, I scarcely felt capable of breaking it, confronted with that fixed, dispassionate stare. We must have looked like horrendous fools: both rendered mute by the gaze of the other – and yet, no-one else spoke a word. It was utterly, utterly awful.
After stretching the quiet to its utmost, unbearable limit, he all of a sudden clapped his hands once again, and then leaned forwards, elbows perched atop his knees. “Syllogism the second,” he announced, briskly. “One: the King and Queen embody the state. Two: ‘the state’ is a concept roughly synonymous with what you so quaintly and obliquely term ‘the structure of the system itself’. And thus, three: the state ceases to exist as it has hitherto existed once our illustrious monarchs have concurrently – ceased.”
At once, I found my voice. “That’s completely facile.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Admittedly. But it rather neatly encapsulates the central notion.”
He was trying to make an idiot of me. That much was certain. “Enlighten me,” I all but growled.
“It is an arcane truth both profound and esoteric,” he intoned, with mock-gravitas, “that when a man bursts the shackles about his neck and wrists… he is consequentially free. An equally startling truth is that chains are not conducive to liberty.”
There was a murmur of nervous laughter from our audience. I had quite forgotten their presence. I didn’t know why I expected anything more than idle patter and flimsy strings of tautology from this over-privileged, foppish creature – or, indeed, why he had ever fascinated me. Certainly I didn’t care to be mocked.
“Freedom isn’t the abstract thing you love to exult from afar,” I burst out, incensed. “It’s not some kind of – of ideal to be flaunted! What good is liberty of the press to a beggar, starving? Or property rights to a family of paupers? True freedom is autonomy, genuine autonomy; the guarantee of the basic minimum required to live, and the assurance that it will never be taken from you. It is equality before the law – blood equality – and the abolition of all hereditary privilege. No-one in need gives a damn about who’s doing the governing as long as it’s done right. If that means compromising with the crown, so be it. Better than pining on some altar before a meaningless ideal.”
Another dense layer of silence descended. I dimly perceived that I had been speaking at great length and volume for rather a while. Vriska Serket had been watching the proceedings rather as one might observe a particularly entertaining melodrama at a playhouse. Rose de Lalonde sat perfectly still: a discrete, satisfied smile gracing her features. The Marquis d’Ampora looked vaguely revolted.
“Um,” said a voice at my elbow. “I say, Vantas – rather a heavy discussion so late in the evening, don’t you think?” Egbert chuckled. “Personally I can’t handle politics past ten. What say we talk about the arts instead? How about d’Herbois’ latest?”
“If this company can’t tolerate a portion of controversy, they certainly lack the stomach for your godawful taste in theatre,” I told him.
Lalonde stood, ignoring the interjection, and stepped towards me with that veneer of perfect composure I was beginning to learn was habitual to him. He stopped about a foot away, yet I fought the urge to flinch. Sleek and self-possessed as he was, there was something inherently repulsive about the man. “Creation is easier than destruction, Monsieur Vantas,” he said. I could almost make out the fragile outline of his eyes. “And what you want to do is create. That’s cowardly. You want to build atop the teetering edifice of yesterday’s nation. And you’ll carry on lobbing your bricks of practical policy at the overburdened tower until it topples under sheer weight of sanctimony.” He then had the temerity to actually reach out and adjust my cravat - at which point, I swear I could scarcely breathe, I was so furious. “Destruction is a far more difficult task, but necessary. If we wish to move forward, we should eradicate all that holds us back. Then the builders will actually serve a purpose.”
I grabbed at his spidery-slender fingers and shoved them away. “Small consolation for those caught in the crossfire,” I retorted. I could tell he did not believe a word of what he was saying, and nor did anyone else – so what, precisely, did he intend to achieve? I doubt even he knew.
With a final, irritated tug at my cravat, I disengaged myself and, sharply turning on my heel, strode out of the room, through the open door and out onto the balcony.
Reading this, you’d be hard pressed not to see Lalonde and Vantas as that age-old staple of troll philosophy, black partners: two mismatched equals caught between whether to fight or fuck. Still, back then, kismesissitude between a human and a troll of the same gender was basically the ultimate taboo, being about as socially unproductive as it was possible to get. Obviously trolls and humans can’t interbreed, and, of course, the homosexuality factor would have offended the delicate sensibilities of at least the human half of society.
That said, there’s a sizeable mound of evidence saying that Lalonde – who remained unmarried his whole life - wasn’t exactly averse to stretching the borders of sexual normativity. For instance, rumours had circulated about a year previous to the above source concerning Davide and his sister’s fiancé, Marquis Eridan d’Ampora. They were said to have had some form of short-lived caliginous liaison. Not that this amounts to irrefutable evidence, as the Lalonde household was a hyper-wound solenoid for the kind of rumours you really wouldn’t associate with the eighteenth century. Still, the pervasiveness of some pretty sleazy gossip points to a credible surmise: Davide and Rose weren’t exactly known for their prudery. Vantas was basically Lalonde’s antithesis in this respect, as in fact he was in most respects. Dude played his redrom tight to his fuckin’ chest, which was fairly impressive for a guy with the world’s most ineffectual poker face. Once they cropped the culling laws in 1790, concupiscent celibacy became a thing one could feasibly do – and, seemingly, do it he did. Or, rather, didn’t do it, I guess. Unless one is to speculate upon his relationship with Nepeta Leijon, which is probably too much for an essay already garnished with enough bullshit romantic conjecture to choke a titan. All guesswork aside, it’s probably fair to say that Vantas and Lalonde shared an emotional kismesissitude, regardless, or maybe even in spite of whatever physical baggage happened to be attached to that.
With regards to the source itself, we can vouch at least partially for its accuracy, as it’s corroborated by a section from Rose de Lalonde’s diary:
June 5th 1789
D. caused quite a marvellous scene at the salon with his latest manifestation of political posturing. A great deal of words led to a disappointing absence of blows; having traded the requisite venom, he and his latest bosom rival retreated to seek the remedy of steadfast sulking.
Fair summary, I reckon. Admittedly, it would require the kind of breathtaking ingenuousness found only in the most lackadaisical of academic neophytes to try and argue that we can take everything written by Vantas for granted as the actual, precise transcription of events. No-one can remember that much dialogue, even just hours after they gave it voice. Most likely, Vantas has embellished, written selectively and just plain gotten things wrong in his account. But the fact that he took the time to record it in such detail can attest to the event’s significance – though, to be fair, it should be noted that he was ordinarily a man prone to monologue – and give us a feel for the general gist of how things went down. Furthermore, though his account may be strewn with inevitable little inaccuracies, it’s certainly crucial in determining exactly how he, Vantas, felt about the encounter. Note the half-repulsed fascination; the minute fixation on aspects of Lalonde’s appearance; the instinctual shift from ‘vous’ to ‘tu’. Consider the way he shapes his argument in direct opposition to what is being said, despite the fact that he knows, and Lalonde knows he knows Lalonde’s attachment to the principles he espouses to be an outright sham. From the outset, Vantas tries to define himself as what Lalonde is not.
Now’s as good a time as any for me to don my apologist’s hat. A lot of people take Vantas’ acrimony at face value, finding in these entries proof of his inveterate misanthropy. They make a meal out of his dismissal of the Duchesse, and a five course banquet plus cheese, wine and those individually wrapped little after-dinner mints out of the way he describes Egbert. Quite apart from the fact that it’s simplistic enough to judge someone on the basis of remarks locked in the confines of a private journal, this over-reliance on the most meagre sustentative fare shows complete – and, most likely, wilful – misunderstanding of his basic character. For starters, Vantas and Egbert’s friendship is well-documented. The fact that they both loved to tear verbal chunks out of each other does not mean that animosity is what was taking place there. But more generally speaking, most of his more irascible moments can be attributed to the same core anxiety. Vantas vituperates to a purpose, and that purpose is to distance himself from the kind of decadence he hates.
Notice the obsessive focus on decay and corruption in the above passage. Vantas makes continual reference to the reek of the place’s perfume, and the way people sport these small imperfections: the Duchesse’s makeup is half-melted; Makara’s is crumbled; the Marquise’s does an inadequate job of concealing her inebriation. He’s caught up in a world of masks that’s got all the trappings of grandeur, but lacks longevity. In a later passage in the same entry, he meets Thiery Frere on the balcony and they talk: Vantas with a blend of idealism and bluster; Frere with customary sardonicism. Frere offers Vantas a cigar, which he accepts, later remarking: ‘its choked odour, mixed with the overpowering scent of the salon, still cloys even as I write this, hours afterwards, at home.’ Vantas is quite literally haunted by a fuckin’ smell. He talks as though he’s been infected by it. In fact, that’s the crux of the whole thing, he’s scared of being tainted by even the barest residue of aristocratic sanctimony.
Thing is, he’s aware that he’s far closer to them than he’d like to be. As a limeblooded defence aggravattorney, he wasn’t exactly in with high society, particularly seeing as the principle of legal defence was a relatively new and often discredited addition to the French courts. But then, it also set him poles apart from the type of people he wished to represent: the sick, the starved, the poor. Throughout his career, he was hyper-conscious of appearing too privileged, hence, perhaps, his affected ascetic leanings. Vantas could have picked a fight with practically anyone in that salon, and yet he chose to target the man whose stated beliefs most closely echoed his own. Because in Davide de Lalonde, he recognised the person he was in danger of becoming. He saw a man who wore principles like waistcoats, who adorned himself with a vast array of glittering axioms that he draped and discarded at will. He saw someone who’d let middle-class concerns of license eclipse political necessity – and, worst of all, he saw a deadpan parody of his own philosophy paraded onstage before him. He was afraid.
And perhaps Lalonde was afraid of Vantas, too. In that brief altercation, he in turn was confronted by his equal and opposite: a troll who genuinely cared about everything, and crucially, wasn’t scared to show it. A troll immune to the de-inflammatory elements of his satire. Someone willing to risk his life for a cause – but, more importantly, discard his dignity in the process.
Neither really understood the other. And throughout the course of their lives, neither accepted that they might be capable of change or personal development. Both were too wrapped up in what the other meant to them, personally, to see clearly. And both found that, in hating each other, they were perhaps only displacing their latent hatred of themselves.
On the surface, this all appears fairly tragic and futile, but in actuality, it’s what kept them going. Through mutual antipathy, they defined the borders of their own being, and through rivalry they established a competition that would determine the process of virtually all their future actions. A process which I have taken it upon myself to narrate, analyse and map.
Let’s make this thing happen.
 For the most part, since the Alternian Invasion of 1126 in France, where a number of troll tribes set about conquering lands overseas, troll and human culture have managed to integrate their respective prejudices with remarkable ease. By 1789, interspecies relationships of any stripe were considered irregular, but heterosexual union – if, indeed, the pairing of a female human and male troll, or vice versa, can be considered heterosexual – sanctified by marriage was not unheard of, nor entirely disdained. It wasn’t exactly advantageous for eldest sons of a human family who, after all, would be expected to produce heirs. But for second sons, or for daughters, marrying into the wealth of a highblooded troll could multiply power and status. For trolls, the advantages of such a match were a little more concrete. Official marriage with a human exempted them from contributing genetic material to the Imperial Drones. Thus, quadrantless trolls who were of age would often ‘opt out’ of the whole scheme by seeking a human partner. Such marriages could be used for political purposes, too. For instance, in a departure from standard etiquette, the trollish Queen would always take on a human partner – a practice established in the fourteenth century – in order to allow the country to be dual-governed by both species. The current Queen Mairee Antnez had married Louis XVI just short of two decades before 1789. But by and large, it was culturally inadvisable, and only people wealthy enough to get away with it would consider breaking the species taboo.
 I’d quote a few choice sections of the letters exchanged between the two in pre-revolutionary period as evidence, but I legitimately believe they’d get me kicked out of high school. Suffice to say that I value my skin, just as you probably value your ability to still look at rolling pins without cringing.
 No, seriously. Have you ever seen portraits of him? I can substantiate this. Vantas’ face has been crystallised into history in a perpetual state of the pictorially pissed.