Chapter 1: Introduction: A Ramshackle Apologia
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.
Chapter 2: On Doubt and Dichotomy
Chapter One: On Doubt and Dichotomy
Revolution is the same as any other business arrangement, albeit one whose participants are thoroughly drunk on their own fancy. The key motivation is and always will be profit. Rulers change; the world very much doesn’t. I’d advise you this: keep your purse-strings well guarded, and your principles – flexible.
- Thiery Frere, 1790
Frere is a man who would not allow himself to be bought; merely paid.
- Rose de Lalonde, 1790
You ask me how many? I’ll tell you! We’ll need to rid the nation of two hundred and forty three heads AT LEAST before France is ever to feel the dawning rays of liberty!
- Terezi Pyrope, 1791
Though the next couple years were seminal for our protagonists, I’m not about to batter my readership with the full expository landslide. Anyone with more than an ounce of historical nous can dredge up the proceedings of the Racket-Based Two Player Sport Court Oath, the destruction of the Bastille and the beginnings of the Great Rampant Agricultural Bloodbutchery. I mean, hell, we spent a whole term studying this shit. It’s best understood as backdrop. Though it’s probably relevant to note that half of all trolls with blue blood or higher had hopped on a one-way ferry to England by the end of the year in a spate of understandable self-preservation, bringing the titled human nobility with ‘em. A fair slice of the guests at last chapter’s Lalonde gathering would have made it overseas by 1790, though the Marquise herself stayed, along with d’Ampora. And obviously you couldn’t have dragged Rose and the Duchesse Peixes away from all these unfolding revolutionary hijinks if you paid them, primarily because they could have bought you out in a flutter of fancy petticoats before you ever got round to trying.
What they failed to appreciate was that, as representatives of a declining aristocracy, their shit was ultimately fucked. All signs pointed to France being simultaneously a massive keg of powder and a simmering cauldron of discontent, meaning that, given time and the appropriate incendiaries, an entire populace would soon be drenched in the pulverised bouillabaisse of unprecedented class strife. Rural rustbloods put aside the plough, picked up a pitchfork and set about sticking it quite literally to their feudal foes, reaping a dense trail of freshly harvested devastation in their wake. The Parisian underclass emerged from every alley and aperture of a city in meltdown in order to throng the streets. Workers troll and human alike donned the gray rosette, a symbol of blood equality, whereas others displayed the sign of the Sufferer, a political theorist of the 1750s whose works had been burnt and banned. Locked out of conference with representatives of the nobility, church and the Cult of the Mirthful Messiahs, the Third Estate had redubbed itself the National Assembly, swearing an oath never to disband till laws were put in place establishing them as more than constitutional nonentities.
These days, Karkat and Davide were no longer quite the public mediocrities they’d been in June. In the weeks leading up to the almighty trashing of the Bastille, Vantas had kicked practical politics up several notches. One could say it was almost as if his boot was His Honourable Tyranny’s Gavel of Greater Justice and those notches were the individual skulls of a particularly rambunctious courtblock. The pedantic little aggravattorney from Arras had managed to ignite his own spark amidst the revolution’s spreading inferno by leading a group of lowpowered psiionics on strike, encouraging them to uproot a few of the city’s infamously loose-set paving stones to form a barricade on the Rue de Chanvrerie. It lasted about a week, but the lack of ramifications was goddamn miraculous: Vantas managed to get all of them out alive and at liberty. Returning bruised, sweat spattered and dusted with a triumphant layer of gunpowder, he was henceforth to be marked as one of 1789’s minor celebrities. Meanwhile, Davide had established the printing of his journal, initially titled Le Désespoir d'Apollon – or ‘Apollo’s Despair’ – a popular publication containing a blend of current affairs and satirical poetry. The political tincture of choice amongst other budding proto-decadents – and, conversely, the bane of many a Vantasian Hellenist in the years to come.
The few months’ aftermath of Bastille Day, as many a text book has so maladroitly informed us, heralded both the dawning of a new era, and the death of a king. Radical political journalist and one-time legislacerator Terezi Pyrope led a crowd of human women on a march all the way to the royal dwelling in Versailles, demanding reasonable wages and bread for the starving. Held aloft by a dozen demonstrators, she shrieked fierce demands up at the palace windows, all of which remained unanswered. But Pyrope had further pockets of resourcefulness to draw upon, most of which extended above and beyond the haranguing of empty citadels. Undeterred, she actually climbed up the balustrades and hoisted herself in through an unsecured window, whilst her supporters flooded round the back and stormed the gates. After hacking her way past a slew of imperial drones, she found that the Queen had already fled – but managed to catch her husband mid-egress.
This is basically the most fantastically implausible happenstance the Revolution ever deigned to produce. It renders all my caliginously focalised abstraction practically pedestrian in terms of its likelihood. But Pyrope actually unsheathed a weapon concealed in the hollow of her cane, and proceeded to actually duel with the human head of state. And by duel, I mean she fuckin’ slaughtered the guy. It was a full fifty minutes before their erstwhile monarch was sawn off at the neck and skewered onto a pike. Said trophy was summarily strung onto the imperial flagpole in an act of hysterical relish. The news reached Paris with the return of the marchers, and was met with equal parts jubilation and terror. Pyrope retreated underground.
The resultant legal shitstorm bordered on the unbelievable. Despite its nominally progressive slant, a fair chunk of the National Assembly favoured a tempered constitutional monarchy to grease the pathway to full representative democracy. At this stage, regicide wasn’t exactly a policy endorsed by many. The majority still had the understandable foresight to fear the Queen; she wasn’t exactly about to acquiesce to execution. They wanted to bargain; she was open to bargain, and so largely, bargaining is what began to take place. Mairee Antnez, faced with the prospect of national disintegration, agreed to relinquish her autocratic authority, leaving the National Assembly the primary legislative body in the country. The actual negotiations were considerably more fraught than this abridgement suggests, but in short, it was agreed that the monarch retained veto over any major laws. Vantas never got the chance to speak at the debates, and if he ever prepared a statement, it has since been lost or destroyed. Kind of a shame. It’d be fairly interesting to see what he had to say at this juncture.
Davide was comparatively more outspoken. Actually, he was outspoken by pretty much any conceivable quantifier. One wonders whether his protracted insistence upon the obliteration of the monarchy owed more to principle or satire – and, naturally, wondering is the entire point, given the dense aura of inscrutability he liked to cultivate. Either way, his voice was scarcely audible above the general din of controversy. This was a case where everyone involved was opinionated, but incoherent, and any sense of logic was flushed out by an overriding wave of muddled nationalism and righteous indignation. Pyrope was to be tried for treason if they found her, but finding her wasn’t the world’s most viable option. She was not, after all, a total moron. In the time-honoured tradition many a Parisian fugitive, she turned tail and took to the sewers.
For the next few years, up till the point where she was issued a somewhat belated government pardon after the Queen’s execution, Pyrope stayed in hiding. Obviously not always in the same place. The monotony of the dark, mouldering chambers of the sewers was occasionally alleviated by short residency in the dark, mouldering chambers of a cellar or shack. Sometimes she stayed with whichever friend could afford to temporarily house her. But, overall she spent unprecedented amount of time in the city’s squalid, subterranean depths. Unsurprisingly, she contracted a disease from all that sewer-spelunking – the neglect of which would result in eventual blindness. And yet, amidst agonising physical debilitation, she kept abreast of current affairs and continued to write. Had to, really. No use in dodging the political radar; it was what kept her continually on the move, kept her going. And so, taking purpose, she published. Published anonymously under the pseudonym ‘Redglare’, as a regular column in Le Désespoir d'Apollon - which, incidentally, is where our ever-spiralling narrative comes full circle back to Davide.
No-one’s entirely sure how the two came into contact, at least not from the outset. We know they swapped letters – probably one of the most entertaining correspondences of the entire revolution – but the original impetus is one of those unfathomable historical blind spots. Regardless, Davide was to find in Pyrope a mentor of sorts – though whether she, in turn, considered him her student is debatable – and for all her occasional bellicosity, it seemed that her madcap approach to politics was contagious. Below is a letter from Davide to Pyrope which I reckon exemplifies their dynamic as best as anything can:
30th January 1790
Ma chère maniaque,
Many thanks for the postage of your latest oeuvre, ‘Seeds of Corruption in the Constituent Assembly’. Good god, the insinuations of the title alone are ample material to have me very much, if not entirely disowned by all the reasonable, moderate people with whom I used to surround myself. For that, if nothing else, I thank you. I’d wager Citizen Redglare’s contributions to my paper shall someday see me drawn and quartered – and, what’s more, I doubt you’d particularly care. Come to that, I’m not sure if I do. Care, that is. You are fortuitous in your choice of editor.
As to your letter – I’m half inclined to disregard it, for it came perilously close to dispensing advice. I am, as always, entirely willing to take heed of observations, but advice is the tool of a hypocrite, and I won’t allow it. Not unless you want me to sermonise in return, which I assure you, you don’t. Nonetheless, I’ll own that you were right about one thing. Journalism does indeed awaken one to a sense of the ridiculous. The mere act of putting a few prattling words in print does more to expose speciousness than the most dedicated of rebuttals ever could. I sometimes fear that the likes of Nitram and Vantas will put me out of job; I need only repeat their speeches verbatim, and the paper will have comedy enough. They render the satirist obsolete.
Does it ever grow tedious, watching fools stumble over the snare of their own contradictions? I actually doubt it.
Clearly (I hear you, and the rest of the world, say) this man is an egotist. A damnable self-publicist. An arrogant, supercilious, second-rate wag. Well, in his conceit, the defendant pleads guilty on all counts. Doubtless some epiphany shall strike him with all the force of a moral hurricane in time to slam his politics into working order, but for now, he revels in aimlessness. I may yet weep before a wizened beggar, or let the plight of some skinny grisette breathe a little life into my deficient heart. Cynicism is, alas, as transient as human life itself. I do not pretend to possess the tenacity to sustain it. I may give up the ghost yet, and, in tones a-hush and quivering, croak a solemn prayer to the merciless sky-tyrant of whose existence we are so incessantly and obnoxiously assured.
For now, I walk amidst the rubble of the Bastille – and laugh. You did well to sever one of the threads tying this New France to the Old. Would that you had finished the job.
I shall savour the limited days of sin allotted to me, and – godless or no - remain forever yours,
(Poor name; it looks naked and bare without the intermediary ‘de’. I am, however, assured that I must dispense with all the trappings of aristocracy – or at least put on an outward show of it – and frankly I’d just as rather be cut loose than tied to a title.)
In this letter to Pyrope, Davide’s defences are hiked up to the max: locked tight, bolted close and vacuum-sealed with the kind of empty nihilism that leaves him more vulnerable than ever. His showy parade of carelessness – ‘come to think of it, I’m not sure if I do’ – is offset by an unwavering, overt theatricality. He can’t settle on one tone and stick to it. The frequent italicised emphases (underlined in the original text) allow for a hurried, breathless feel: an atmosphere so well-cultivated I’d bet it took him hours to perfect. In the years to come, Davide would not abandon his pretence at apathy, but he’d temper it with a few solid principles. For now, he’s as aimless as he’d like to believe, but it leaves him lost, not free. Thoughts of Karkat, and of those like him who stand by their ideology without hesitation, are laced through the text like a subtle black thread – despite the fact that that’s not even the kind of thing he wants. Davide is continually shadowed by what he tries so badly not to be. It would be sort of sad if it wasn’t so crucial to his character.
I’m roughly certain Pyrope saw through him. Actually, she, Rose and Karkat might’ve been the only ones to do so. Certainly she doesn’t suffer any shit from him, as shown in another letter:
5th March 1790
Petit, stop whining, it’s unattractive,
Don’t think I didn’t notice how you managed to turn a conversation about my latest daring escape from the authorities into a rambling treatise on your garbled philosophy! It was incredibly easy to notice. I’m not the fool you seem to think me.
As always, you resist my aims to educate you. That is entirely expected! No matter, I’ll get through to you someday. Preferably before I am eaten alive by the vermin of the streets – by which I mean rats, dear, finicky boy. No human or troll ought to suffer a night outdoors if they can help it. Unfortunately for the country, there are so many who cannot, despite the rarefied wrangling of our hopeless Constituent Assembly. The people deserve justice, Davide; indeed, they crave it – but who shall step forwards to execute their judgement? Not the bickering milksops in government, I’d wager!
Nor you, from the sounds of things. You’d like to think you float above us all, like driftwood surfacing after a storm. Well, the driftwood depends on the water to carry it, but the water does not depend upon human shrapnel! We’re all part of this revolution – weak, half-finished thing that it is – and to escape, one must defect like the émigrés.
In all seriousness, you are in an enviable position. Not simply because you are lounging comfortably in the antique splendour of your family home, whilst I fester amongst the wreckage of a dying city – no, I don’t begrudge you that, much. You are lucky, not merely because of your wealth, because you have a voice. I am in hiding. Your sister has all the influence a lone human woman can hope to glean – for which I admire her! – but it does not amount to much, in practical terms. But you. You have your journal. You have no inconsiderable amount of popularity. You could help set the tone of the constitution itself, if you weren’t too busy being scathing about those who draft it. You could rally the people if you truly wanted to!
You don’t believe me, do you? That, or you simply don’t care. Which is it, Davide? I’d be curious to know.
Enough of this. I enclose my latest article, ‘Letter to the Olive-Bloods in the Civil Service’. It’s time we drew attention to the blood divide once more. After all, we can’t let the Assembly gloss over the issue again.
I remain your devoted, if somewhat exasperated friend,
PS If you are able, would you take some time out of your labour-heavy schedule to call on A.M. for me?  Tell her I’m flea-bitten but fine. Flushed till the last. Try not to forget, Davide.
Pyrope was convinced she could sculpt her reluctant protégé into something more than just a satirist. But to call Davide ‘just’ a satirist – or to use that phrase at all – is to miss the point by a score of miles. Satire isn’t the same as flippancy, or even sarcasm. To satirise is to tease apart the soft tissue of society with a sharp-edged scalpel of contempt. To slice along the dotted lines of popular misconception. And beneath the severed chunks of communal flesh, in the spreading pool of blood and lymph, one can just discern the blurred reflection of a greater identity. To dismember the world is to create it anew – or at least to trigger the process of creation, which is even more important. Whoever it was who said we murder to dissect had his head jammed too far up his own ass to look at the world around him.
I’m fairly sure it was Walt Whitman?
But whatever Davide was doing at the time in 1790, it sure as hell wasn’t genuine satire. It was mockery at best – biting, yes, but not driven. That changes later on. We’ll take a look at the actual content of Le Désespoir d'Apollon in subsequent chapters. In the meantime, Pyrope was good for him. Davide often called her out on her more bloodthirsty moments; she, on his squeamishness – and, overall, it was a healthy, if chronically morbid alliance.
There are two halves to the story of the King’s assassination, and, as usual, we find Davide one the one, and Karkat on the other. In this context, Davide is best described as a footnote to the Terezi Pyrope narrative, whilst, conversely, Karkat is something of a palimpsest to the story of her followers. Though Pyrope was never formally tried, the ringleaders of the women who marched on Versailles were soon apprehended and charged with about sixty counts of treason apiece. Formally charged by the very institution they were trying to support, no less. But the National Assembly had their collective hands tied, to the point where said limbs were practically cinched in a tourniquet made of Her Royal Majesty’s floor-length locks. Nonetheless, as per a ruling made about a decade prior to these events, they were able to get an aggravattorney to defend them in court. One who agreed to take on the case pro bono.
Yeah, no, it wasn’t Karkat Vantas. But Karkat did act as something of an unofficial legal consultant and junior partner for Sollux Captor, the legislacerator who had agreed to defend them. Over the white-hot flames of legal wrangling and institutional corruption, an iron-clad friendship was forged. Captor would continue to be a significant political ally for Vantas in the future, and Vantas would earn a measure of Captor’s hard-won respect.
Now, Sollux Captor wasn’t what you’d traditionally classify as prime legislacerator material. Truth be told, he kinda sucked at it. Bearing in mind of course that, in this context, sucking at it connoted an abiding reluctance towards sending harmless strangers to agonising deaths. The traditional trollish legal system was only just toeing the precipice of amalgamation with human practice, hence the courts were fairly freakin’ brutal. France, 1789, was an uneasy compromise between two opposing cultures. Troll vied with human in an almighty societal clusterfuck. Moreover, however interlaced these separate strands had become, there was no denying that the trolls dominated. Despite this, the fragile human element of the judiciary system had surfaced by this point – and Captor was far better suited to defence than prosecution. In fact, he’d never prosecuted, just passed at the Cruellest Bar and summarily took up politics.
What he lacked in experience, he made up for in intellect, and also in his associate. Team Captor-Vantas recognised that the de facto inclusion of legal defence in the courts did not, de jure, have to mean jack shit. No-one had ever been acquitted of a crime in recent history. They had no reason to believe this one would miraculously resolve itself into an innocent verdict. Karkat says as much in a letter to Captor:
August 5th, 1789
Captor, we need to discuss tactics,
Public perception of your adoption of this case points to the conclusion that you are either insane or suicidal. Objectively speaking, one feels inclined to side with the public. The only instance in which His Honourable Tyranny will clear these humans of treason is if it is extracted from him forcibly; the trial itself is a formality. Now, I wouldn’t be so confoundedly gullible as to believe you intend to sway his opinion through sheer force of rhetoric alone. So I feel I have the right to know: what kind of weapon are you concealing? How do you expect to walk out of that courtroom with reputation undamaged and life intact? Consider this: I am far more likely to help than hinder if taken into your confidence. Consider also that I am not known for my predilection towards blind faith.
Contact me, preferably as swiftly as the mail allows. Moreover, I’d like you to send me a copy of your initial defence speech, for the purposes of editing. If I can be of no assistance in our main assault, we might as well polish the rhetoric till it shines.
I know you are no fool. I am, however, always prepared to revise my impressions.
Yours in friendship,
Despite his insistence on being told exactly what the fuck was going down chez Captor, there’s no evidence to suggest that Karkat ever knew about the details. Actually, based on his later reactions, and on what we already know of his character, there’s a considerable heap of evidence to show he was oblivious. Regardless, most likely without the knowledge of Vantas, Captor called in a favour with his most influential contact: the ubiquitous Thiery Frere. Those two went way back, had known each other for at least ten years – and presumably Captor’s words held weight, because Frere was eager to oblige. Though the massive net of ulterior motives probably factored, too.
If one were to summarise Thiery Frere’s entire political philosophy in one word – excluding perhaps ‘unrestricted pursuit of profit’ – it would be this: balance. Above all, Frere recognised that polarities were to be preserved, and opposing factions to be held in equilibrium. For this reason, he was neither republican nor monarchist. In the upcoming trial, he saw an opportunity to restore harmony to the political landscape, rather than a chance to further any particular ideology. And so, unbeknownst to anyone save perhaps Captor, he contacted the Queen. As probably the most well-respected deputy of the National Assembly, and also member of one of France’s oldest families, Frere was in the ideal position to bargain with royalty. And bargain he did. He offered up his full services as spy and confidante to the Mairee Antnez.
Following his death in ’92, Karkat Vantas and his ilk would be quick to style Frere as a traitor to the revolutionary project. This was more propagandistic than strictly accurate. Truth is, his allegiances lay everywhere. In working as the Queen’s agent, he intended to temper change with tradition, making sure that neither radical nor reactionary gained the upper ideological hand. Dude was a prototypical pluralist. And, like all politicians with pretensions to objectivity, he was also about as corrupt as they came.
So Captor went to Frere; Frere went to the Queen. As her newfound advisor, his first recommendation was for her to rig the trial in favour of the defendants, probably on the grounds that doing otherwise would only provoke unnecessary public hostility. This was a comparatively easy task, given that practically no-one wanted to see them convicted in the first place. All she had to do was tug at a few of the numerous strings still at her disposal to ensure the appointment of a sympathetic prosecutor. Then do the same with the human jury. Case was sewn up tight as a tear in Her Majesty’s ballgown before Sollux Captor ever set foot in that courtblock.
But hold that thought, and put yourself in the fastidious, brass-buckled boots of Karkat Vantas for a minute. He’s nervous. He’s only ever tackled small-town cases in Arras. He’s acutely aware of what’s at stake.
He slaps together one fuckin’ doozy of a defence speech.
It’s one of those legitimately heart-warming pockets of history in which, for once, things align in an approximation of harmony. Where there’s a right, and there’s a wrong, and there’s even an ostensible hero – and that hero kicks major ass. One of those rare, uncomplicated moments of victory in which Karkat Vantas – troll, not tyrant – composes what is possibly the best revolutionary manifesto of the year. He put persuasive gold in Captor’s mouth, when all they had needed was some passable tin. And, in doing so, he caught the attention of Thiery Frere.
Frere recognised talent when it was parroted back to him from the other end of the court hall. When all the defendants were acquitted, that moment made revolutionary history. When Frere heard Sollux Captor read out Karkat’s speech, it merited a separate heading each of the three’s personal histories, if not half a chapter in this essay.
Following the discovery of Frere’s double dealing with the monarchy, Karkat appears to have destroyed the majority of his (lengthy) correspondence with the guy. However, one particular missive survives, perhaps as a belated kind of memento:
Be at the Comedie Francaise. Immediately. Bring Captor.
Exactly what transpired at that first meeting is open to speculation. We know that Karkat had encountered Frere before, but rarely with such deliberateness, and never as a respected equal. From then on, however, Frere became to Karkat Vantas a rough equivalent of what Pyrope was to Davide Lalonde. Which is to say, there was an ill-defined, nebulous sort of friendliness – half mentorship, half moiraillegiance. In Karkat’s case, his semi-conciliatory dynamic with both Frere and Captor would soon be eclipsed by a paler, more durable connection with Kanaya Maryam. Frere was no doubt a shaky, deprecatory sort of tutor. Karkat would habitually send him meandering letters like this:
November 16th, 1789
Writing to you is a damned nuisance sometimes. As soon as I propose an idea, you immediately dismantle it – and then discard the tortured remnants like unwanted playthings. Still, scathing as you were about my theory that politics are analogous to our quadrants, I stand by it. If you would just hear me out, you’d see sense!
Let me explain. You see, principally, the people function as moirail to their government: they temper its wilder, more brutal predilections with instinctual wisdom. Like pale partners, they are utterly dependent upon each other for balance. The people select and control their government; government protects the people. Meanwhile, individual statesmen operate in a similar fashion to kismesissitude through various factional rivalries. They clash with each other over policies, yet, like the best of black partners, they simply work towards a common end through opposite means. The voting public, however, may act as auspistice for these low-level rivalries by choosing to elect different officials. Yet, first and foremost in the heart of all citizens is the flushed quadrant equivalent: love of patria, their country and homeland. It is the foundation upon which society is built. And through this unique tissue of allegiances, we achieve political harmony. I call it fitting, and psychologically apt.
You’re laughing at me, aren’t you? Egotist. I just want to make sense of the world. You, on the other hand, deliberately darken it. For fun, I suppose?
Well, have fun disembowelling my latest impressions. I wish you joy of it! Are we dining together next week? You can mock me properly there, with food, audience and drinks.
Till then, I suppose.
Whether Frere’s replies were as terse as his initial summons is anyone’s guess. Still, if I were to go down the historically perilous route of surmise, I’d wager they meant more to him than that. Case in point: Frere kept all the letters. Like, all of them. Bundled up neatly in his escritoire. A fair chunk of them survive to this day. You can easily imagine Frere’s wry condescension, and his smartass replies. He’d get a kick out the ingenuous way Karkat insists ‘I just want to make sense of the world’ – when anyone with an ounce of critical reasoning could tell that he’d prefer to change it instead. It’s less theatrical than Davide’s painted nihilism, but there’s still equal amount of self-deception.
Frere, as Davide’s cousin, was an unlikely ally for Karkat in the ongoing Vantas-Lalonde feud. After all, his cousin was infinitely more of his mould. All things considered, the side he chose was pretty illogical. In fact, Davide sort of resented it. From his sister’s diary, we’re given this particular gem:
November 12th, 1789
T.F will not, as it turns out, be taking tea with us today. Turncoat that he is, he has defected for a stroll in the Jardin de Luxemburg with the inimitable K. Vantas. D. putting on a brave face, but is, doubtless, inconsolable. One can tell by the preternatural immobility of today’s mask.
From this, we can extrapolate several things. One: Davide was pretty pissed about Frere ignoring him in favour of Karkat. That, or maybe he was just all-purpose pissed about Karkat being a factor in his life, in general – but that seems unlikely. If it were just Karkat, he’d be more inclined to laugh it off. So no, he’s genuinely hurt because his cousin’s ignoring him. Two: Frere was – perhaps deliberately – neglecting arrangements with his family in favour of hanging out with his new political pal. Moreover, Rose’s tone of amused resignation seems to indicate this isn’t the first time. Three: Karkat is already a recurring character on the Lalonde show, as evidenced by the familiarity with which Rose refers to him.
What follows is strictly inference, and probably doesn’t have a place in serious academic discourse. But then, if you can’t air out your batshit historical theories in a hubristic high school essay, where the hell else can you? So, here it is: I reckon Frere was deliberately exacerbating the dispute. I’m pretty sure he would have done all this anyway – I mean, who can resist the lively blend of precociousness, petulance and indignation that is the young Karkat Vantas? – but, handily, it slotted into a secondary purpose. Namely, balance. What if, in Karkat and Davide, Frere recognised two conflicting strands of thought that would come to dominate the revolution? Davide was – or would be – liberty’s champion: hedonist, satirist, and, chiefly, individualist. Karkat was equality’s knight errant: enforcer of fraternity; architect of the government that actually does something; collectivist. Laissez faire versus interventionism. Feigned apathy versus feigned humourlessness. What if Frere thought that conflict could bring out the best in them, wringing positivity out of both their ideologies?
If so, he wasn’t wrong. Though, as the next chapter might attest, he wasn’t completely right, either.
So far, this chapter has ushered firsthand interactions between Karkat and Davide backstage, swinging the spotlight around to focus on something peripheral, but still pertinent. The fundamentals. The outlying bricks in the bridge of their careers, of which their conflicts are the keystone. It’s been recognised obliquely throughout that neither Karkat nor Davide believed in God. It hardly needs stating that this was exceptionally radical for their time. Still, in light of the longstanding corruption inherent in churches both human and troll, it was a growing trend. Basically, neither of our protagonists had an easy faith to fall back on. Instead, they, like others, propped themselves up with their hopes for humanity and trollkind. Terezi Pyrope, Thiery Frere, Sollux Captor, Rose de Lalonde – and later Kanaya Maryam and Nepeta Leijon – were their foundational supports. And whilst half the time they seemed hellbent on destroying each other, they were never flung back with too much force for the foundations to handle. Maybe there was more to Karkat’s politics-as-quadrants theory than its initial non-sequiter might suggest.
Next, we’ll focus on press wars, the Constituent Assembly of 1791, and Le Désespoir d'Apollon. Here, Karkat and Davide attempt to outdo each other in print, the government of France continues to shift and be shifted, and Karkat receives an interesting letter from a political admirer. This couldn’t sound more like a shitty period drama if it tried. Whatever, I’m off to hit the research.
 Not that d’Ampora remained in Paris for too long. There’s a fascinating story attached to his escape in ’93 – one which I might even have time to go into, should the meandering flow of this essay wind its laborious way towards the banks of digression. If not, go do the research yourself; this is prime stuff. Just Google “the Captor case”.
 Redglare being a political zealot of the late seventeenth century, one of the Sufferer’s circle. A particular idol of Pyrope’s, and also, according to her belief, her ancestor.
 As it were. Wow, would you look at that, just two chapters in and I’m already doling out the blind jokes like it ain’t no thing. Classy, huh?
 Presumably a coded reference to her longstanding matesprit, Aradia Megido. Don’t know why she bothered with the initials, frankly. If the letter as discovered, it wouldn’t take a genius to realise who wrote it. I’m guessing that, much like the code name, this is yet another example of Pyrope deliberately screwing with Davide’s head.
 At the time, legislacerating was a troll-only thing. Juries, however, were composed entirely of humans. This was another haphazard attempt at balance, later overhauled in 1793. Along with the entire court system.