by J.M. Frey
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This was originally written as a feel-better fic for Angela Della Muerta
After that first convention, after FantaCon28 and being mistaken for a cosplay of himself, after meeting his maker and telling his untold tale, after artist’s alley and the woman who mistook costumes for consent, Forsyth Turn cannot help but me intensely interested in fan culture.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing like this back in the Kingdom of Hain.
Well, maybe there is the Sowing Celebration. But that’s more about inversion, and celebration, and welcoming back the sun and the warm weather than it is about actually pretending to be the Great Constellations pushing Brother Sun back into orbit and tempting Sister Moon into sleeping later and later in the bed of Harvest. No one who dresses the part for the pantomimes does so for any other reason than the performance. Besides, Sowing is more of a Fey holiday than a Human one.
The point is, Forsyth, for all that meeting Elgar Reed left a faintly bitter taste behind his teeth, adores the remainder of his weekend in Toronto. The crowds are overwhelming, true. Outside of the courtly gatherings at Palace Keep – gatherings where Forsyth, as an overlooked country Lordling, was the centre of no one’s attention – Forsyth has never seen so many humans together in one place. He estimates that even the largest Assembly Rooms in Kingskeep could not hold half of the convention’s population.
And he has never felt so observed before in his life. Normally it is Forsyth who is standing in the corner, watching without the Shadow’s Mask, or behind some arras, observing with it.
He finds himself overheated, flustered, and overwhelmed. He needs to retreat to a rest area often to regroup and take refreshment.
But beyond the discomfort of being in such a large crowd, he has… well, he has rather a lot of fun, doesn’t he?
There is the Klingon Karaoke. He knows what a Klingon is, for Pip introduced him to Star Trek quite early. Forsyth is disappointed when it turns out the that people dressed as Klingons don’t sing in the language invented for the species – Forsyth speaks several languages, including Goblinese – as he wants to learn more of Klingon. But watching his eight-months-pregnant wife take the microphone and give an incredibly rousing and humorous rendition of Shake It Off is so entertaining that the Vulcan at the table over points at him and shouts to the waitress, “I’ll have whatever they’re having!”
There is the Cosplay Masquerade. It is extremely entertaining to take in all the skits, thought a disturbingly high number of the participants are dressed as people he knows personally. It is a firmly uncanny experience. When the contestants line up together for photos after, Forsyth cannot help but zone in on the best-in-show winner. Pip has to drag him away eventually, contestants because he insists on monopolizing their attention to learn just how they had made such accurate and impressive armor out of foam.
There is a pub event where the bar serves themed cocktails based on the Guest of Honour’s books. There is the Kintyre (some pale ale-based monstrosity), the Bevel, (a sweet vermouth cocktail that spoke softly but carried a big punch), and the Viceroy, (a mixture of red wine and cola that made it’s drinkers prone to gagging and screwed up faces even as they ordered another.) Forsyth’s favourite is The Foesmiter, a purplish drink made of spiced dark whiskey, sour plum wine, ginger ale, and a muddle of ginger roots and fresh plums. It reminds him of the Debbinshire Special Dragon Whiskey , and he spends the whole evening with a terribly fond grin on his face.
There is the Dealer’s Room. Forsyth Turn has never been at a market larger than the one in Faversquare, on the eastern side of Lysse Chipping, and the Dealer’s Room exceeds its size threefold at least. With Pip’s enormous belly parting the crowd before her like a majestic Elfqueen before an army, they are able to get up close to each table and peruse each hawker’s wares.
Working in the Victoria University Library as he does, Forsyth is well aware that there are fictional worlds like his own in the thousands upon the shelves of this realm. What he didn’t realize was that the Library’s selection of science fiction and fantasy titles is humble. Nearly minuscule compared to the great bounty of selection available from merchants of comic books, films, television programs, novels, and audio dramas.
He is overwhelmed by the sheer number of stories – more, perhaps, than even The Lost Library could hold! – and has to sit down outside in the sunshine to process it while Pip fetches them hot dogs from a food cart in the park opposite the convention center.
That night at the hotel, she shares with him a manga she had bought. She teaches him the trick of reading the novel backwards, of flicking one’s eyes in the opposite direction and turning what feels to be the wrong pages. It is fascinating. There are, of course, no graphic novels in Hain. There were wood-cut-stamp illustrations in the copies of Bevel’s adventure tales, of course, created by some unknown illustrator to decorate the versions copied out by librarians for the nobility who could afford the leather-bound tomes. But that was as close to comics as Hain produced.
Forsyth has only recently begun to read Pip’s trade paperback comics – his favorites are Fables, for he felt a deep kinship with the characters of Fabletown and The Farm, and Hawkeye for he likes reading about the life of a man like himself: average in all ways and yet striving to live up to the legends all around him. But this manga has an entirely different sort of narrative structure, different visual conventions, different ways of portraying emotion and thoughts, and it is wonderful, incredible, fascinating. Forsyth looses most of his night of sleep reading and rereading the book.
And then there is Artists’ Alley.
And, oh, in this one, rare thing, Forsyth and his brother Kintyre are alike. They both hold a deep, abiding respect for artists. Their father had discouraged it, of course. He wanted his sons to be proud, broad, rough-and-tumble men. But of course, the surest way to guarantee a child will do exactly the opposite of what you want them to do is to forbid it. Before Forsyth inherited Turn Hall, there was a woefully small collection of books about art and artists in the family library. He and Kintyre had devoured them all several times over, sneaking about with candles in the dead of night and thrilling at the illicit nature of their artistic education. And they both thought it quite the injustice that only the young girl-children of nobility were given drawing lessons.
Of course, when Algar Turn had discovered the boy’s forbidden reading, he had burnt all the books. Forsyth had been seven, his brother fourteen. After that, Forsyth dared not defy his father, and by the time Algar Turn had done everyone in Lysse Chipping a favor by breaking his own fool neck via a drunken fall down the foyer stairs, Forsyth thought himself too old and too busy to try to learn painting.
He had, however, made a point of becoming patron to several promising young students of the Free School he funded in Turnshire. He had even paid for one lad to go to Kingskeep to study under one of the Grand Masters. The youth had sent him his first painting in gratitude, a beautiful landscape that immortalized the view of Turn Hall from the Field Road, and it hung in Forsyth’s study.
And here, in Artists’ Alley there are hundreds of people, of all genders, and sexualities, and creeds, and ethnicities, and ages, creating art of all kinds. Forsyth near weeps at the glory of it, and he and Pip spend the majority of their final day at the convention lingering over each table’s offerings, exclaiming over the exquisite jewelry and the humorous dolls, the painstakingly rendered chain mail and knitted goods, the gorgeous paintings, and sketches, the sparkling glass and the wrought leather.
And better than the talent the artisans display is the love that went into each creation. Here were people not simply passively consuming the tales that they enjoyed, but using them as inspiration! And more than that, the items were crafted with their very own hands. Not mass-produced merchandise but unique, stamped with the love of their creators, the passion, the joy. Here were fans so passionate, so dedicated, so clever, so willing to build communities and celebrate that which brought them together that they had to find ways to express it through art.
Ah, yes. That’s what it is.
Forsyth Turn feels, for the first time since stepping through into the Overrealm, a tight and intense sense of community that has been lacking in his life. Outside of the little travelling he had to do as the Shadow Hand, or as a lordling into Kingskeep on Chipping business, Forsyth rarely left the countryside in which he was born. His people, his lands, his tenants; his world was so small, so compact, so close-knit and… yes, he can admit here, now, that he has felt isolated. He was used to a world of dozens, and now his world had been contracted, reduced, squeezed to one woman and her parents.
And now, for all that he is at a special event, in a different city, in a different realm, it feels, just enough, like home. Forsyth determines to accept the many invitations he has already received to become a member of several communities online, and vows to seek out other nerd events in Vancouver and Victoria when he and his wife return home.
And for the first time since coming into this world, Forsyth is grateful that here he and Pip were not wealthy, for he could easily have depleted the entirety of their coffers on these incredible, wonderful works of art. But no, that is irresponsible. He is to be a father soon. He must provide.
As it is, he limits himself to just one purchase.
“Good choice, bao bei,” Pip says when he picks it out. When they leave, she helps him pack it very carefully in their one shared suitcase.
And three weeks, two days, fifteen hours of labor, and one hospital over-night stay later, when Forsyth Turn lays Alis Mei Turn Piper down in the crib of her new nursery for the very first time, his daughter falls asleep under a hand-embroidered banner of the symbol of House Turn. It is a key lancing a lock, picked out russet and orange, highlighted in gold, and glowing with all the shades of the leaves in autumn.
It looks exactly like the one his own mother, Alis Sheil Turn, had made and hung above his own cradle, so many years and a literal world away. And like the banner left behind, the love, the passion, the adoration that went into the creation of this replacement can almost, if one closes one’s eyes and opens up all their senses, be detected.
The banner radiates a peaceful, glowing sense of belonging.
This story was written as the response to a prompt on my social media by Angela. Thanks for the inspiration!
Buy “The Untold Tale” at http://www.jmfrey.net/books