The story begins with four children seated around a roaring fireplace. The leftmost is a girl of sweet countenance, her dark tresses piled high on her head and her gown a simple dress of navy blue. She smiles at a lacklustre attempt at humour from one of her friends, trying to hide her chuckles behind an upraised hand. Next to her is a young man, his hair as black as hers. A golden monocle obscures his right eye, and he wears an admiral's uniform of mellow green and brown. He is the originator of the failed joke, and he dabs at his brow in embarrassment. Between these two and the next sits a chintz table, rather on the small side. The woman to the left of the monocled boy reaches for the crystal pitcher upon it and pours herself a drink. She holds the glass to her protuberant lips, smiling as she sips. Her hair is nearly white in blondeness, but kept short. It curls at the edges, just barely brushing her bare neck and shoulders. She wears an incredibly ornate gown in a rich shade of red, its many folds and bows completely unmarred by errant droplets. She pours herself another glass and downs it in one, steadfastly heading off any potential protest with an idle wave. The final member wears a simple set of waistcoat and trousers in a boring brown. His hair is blonde, of a darker shade than his friend. He also, alone of the four of them, wears a mask that would fit in well at a masquerade ball. It is feathered and orange, and it well hides his eyes. The corner of his mouth, almost invisibly, twitches upward at the other boy's distress. Each of the four hover around the age of sixteen, old enough to know they have better things to do than this but young enough to keep from caring.
A fifth chair waits unoccupied across from the four. The girl with the dark hair, whose name is suddenly obviously Jane, waves over at you. Her smile gets larger, and she no longer hides it. “Come, come!” she says, gesturing to the chair, “Sit down. We've been waiting for you!” Surprised that this is going to be that kind of story, you do. Jane hands you a glass from the table and waves for the pitcher from the other girl. Roxy, you somehow know. Roxy raises a finger, finishes her glass and pours herself another, before handing the beverage to Jane.
“Roxy, you're really living up to your reputation,” says Jake, the boy with the black hair. He frowns, his forehead crinkling in disapproval. “Don't want to get all blisteringly blazed, now.”
“Heh. You're just jealous you don't have my skills ,” she chuckles, her voice betraying her level of inebriation, despite her unaffected body language. It sloshes almost like the liquor she's clearly been drinking. Jane rolls her eyes and pours you a drink. You taste it absently. Aah, currant wine , you realize. You're not sure how you feel about currant wine.
“We're glad you could join us,” Jane says, her voice low and conspiratorial. “We've been planning this for a while.” She gives you a little wink. You decide that you like Jane. Beside her, Jake and Roxy continue to debate the benefits of teenage drunkenness. Roxy seems to delight in slipping lewd malapropisms into her speech, which makes Jake sweat even more. This goes on for a while, leaving you a little on the bemused side, until the fourth member speaks up.
“Let's get on with it,” he says, his voice calm and soft. You instantly know him to be Dirk . “This story isn't about us.”
“Too true,” Jake exclaims, seizing on the opportunity to stop his conversation with Roxy. “We're just here to introduce the tale.” He grins at Jane. “I must say, I'm quite excited.”
She smiles back. “It should be fun.” She looks to you once more, the smile still present on her features. She folds her hands in her lap and, when she speaks again, it's in a far more oratory timbre. “This is the story of the Egberts.”
“Of marriage,” Jake chimes, “and of love in a dearth of forms.”
“It takes place in Sweden,” Roxy says, chugging her drink again. The four of you look at her. Jane purses her lips.
“That's pretty tangential, Rox,” Dirk says, the laugh silent but obvious in his tone.
“And that wasn't your line,” Jane whispers.
Roxy hums and shrugs, completely blasé. “Can't be tamed.” As one, they rolls their eyes. You sip your currant wine, and the actual story begins.