Hanging Questions -- A Hoedown Interlude
By Ann Magill
Eloise, the little green troll, made her way through the TARDIS corridors, counting her steps and the corners she had turned, trying desperately not to get lost -- again. This ship had been her home, and her companion, for years, after materializing, alone and exhausted, beside her bridge one day. Eloise hadn't known what a TARDIS was, back then, hadn't known of any world outside her own, and especially not of Gallifrey. She didn't know of Timelords, or that TARDISes were supposed to have pilots. So the fact that the mysterious silver cube appeared alone was no stranger than the fact that it appeared at all. But somehow, she had recognized a mind within the machine -- a potential friend. And as time went on, and the mysterious ship regained its strength and memory, she taught Eloise to be her pilot, and accepted the name "Sweetheart" from her.
All of that happened long ago -- or, at, least, it seemed that way, now. Now, through a string of events that still sent an icy shiver down her spine every time she thought about it, Sweetheart's original pilot, the *true* pilot -- Florestan -- was back, and Eloise's telepathic link with the ship was gone. "Sweetheart" now answered to the name "Beloved" from her pilot -- though Eloise didn't feel right calling her that. The TARDIS would always be "Sweetheart" to her.
Eloise caught herself going in circles and doubled back. She sighed -- couldn't help feeling a slight pang every time she made a mistake like that. It's not that she felt unwelcome ... exactly ... In fact, she was more grateful than she could have imagined to have someone to actually *talk* with, to have someone to break bread with at the end of the day. As much as she loved Sweetheart, and High-Five (the poodle she and her friends had rescued from a very dark circus indeed), telepathic links and wagging tails can never replace true conversation. But it still felt *odd*. The TARDIS no longer responded to Eloise's mind, but to Florestan's.
And Florestan's mind was... "eccentric" was far too mild a word. Somber and austere one minute, he was ready to crack a dozen jokes in succession the next. He jumped from subject to subject like a grasshopper on a bed of coals, using non-sequiteurs the way others used nouns and verbs ... until you realized, sometimes hours later, that he'd really been acting like a spider, connecting each idea with long, strong threads until they were all united into one beautifully complex web. That made even a simple chat with him something of an adventure. But since the corridors of the TARDIS were now modeled after the workings of his mind, it also made getting from one room to the next rather bemusing, especially since it made Eloise realize that she'd never actually bothered to learn her way around before, but simply went by feel.
She turned the corner and there was -- the library -- again. Eloise ducked her head and hurried past the doorway as though she were trying to avoid the glance of someone on the street. She'd been avoiding the library ever since they'd returned from her homeworld with The Book. But sometimes she wondered if, even without telepathy, Sweetheart kept moving that room into her path on purpose.
The Book, or, more precisely: *The Chronicles of the Troll Clans of Radoffiwad* was from Walter Duncan, an older troll who had helped with the cooking at her last two Hoedown open houses. It was during the latest Hoedown that Florestan returned, and everything changed.
Florestan and she had only been planning on getting Walter, and Ruthie, Walter's young cousin, home after the party. But then Florestan suggested they stay awhile -- said he wanted to explore a planet without having to negotiate with smugglers, or smile flatteringly while a government official rattled on.
And so, while he explored, Eloise set to work repairing and cleaning her home. In the years she had been away, it had gone from being a cozy nest to something resembling an abandoned muskrat den -- with 'abandoned' being the key word.
One warm dry day, Walter and Ruthie showed up with mops and brushes and buckets of paint to help her put on the finishing touches, and the three of them worked in near silence as they put a fresh coat of whitewash on her bridge, and painted the trim around her windows and door.
But eventually, as it did with swelling buds of trees and spreading ferns, the warmth of the sun teased a long-buried question out of her. "Walter," she asked, slowly stirring a pot of fuschia paint to just the right shade, "you have any idea why a family of Warrior Trolls[+] would, well ... ?"
She saw Walter, out of the corner of her eye, lower his brush and regard her for a moment. "... Adopt a Joyful Troll like you?" he finished for her.
Eloise nodded. "My 'mother'," she said, her mouth tightening around the word, as if she were biting a lemon, "never let me forget that they bothered to raise me, at great sacrifice to themselves, 'for the pride of clan.' But they were never very proud of me. I'd always assumed that she was my real mother, and that I was just a mutant, or something... But then, I met you, and Ruthie, and others, and learned that there were whole families of our kind -- whole clans. But I never thought *I* could be from a such a clan, too."
"Until just now?" Ruthie asked, wide eyed.
"Well..." Eloise almost told them about how Florestan touched her shoulder, that time, to get her attention, and stop her from completing her 'good-bye' speech to him. That's all it was -- a simple touch, with no great meaning to it. But it brought back an impossible memory from her childhood -- or earlier -- impossible because no one in the family she knew ever touched each other, except in anger, and never so lightly. So there must have been a family she didn't know. She *almost* told them this, but didn't. The emotions tied up with that moment were still too strong and too new for her to trust herself with them. "Well," she started again, trying to stay within the truth, "when I thought I had to come back here to live, I was afraid of what might happen if my family tried to look for me, or found me ... and I've been wondering."
"Hmmm." Walter tapped his chin with the handle of his brush, absentmindedly adding yet another spot of color to his face. "I must admit *I've* never heard of such a thing before. But there might be some precedent for it mentioned in *The Chronicles*."
"*The Chronicles of the Troll Clans of Radoffiwad* -- a mix of legend, history, geneology, and ... odds and ends. Most families have a copy, handed down from generation to generation -- most Joyful Troll families, anyway..."
"But if my family had a copy, they wouldn't have trusted me with it," Eloise said.
"Well, you *were* rather young when you ran away. Maybe..."
Eloise shook her head.
"No, I suppose not," Walter consented.
"I know!" Ruthie said, enthusiastically, "Walter has his family's copy! We could look in there, and tell you what we find at the next Hoedown! Maybe *you're* my cousin, too! I hope so!"
Eloise was about to say she couldn't promise that there would *be* a 'next Hoedown' -- now that Florestan was back, that was really his decision -- when she was interupted by the sound of the Timelord's footfall on the bridge.
"Careful of the railing," Walter said quickly, "it might still be wet."
"Noted," Florestan said. "Is there any work left for me to do?"
"We were talking about researching Eloise's family in Walter's copy of *The Chronicles*!" Ruthie said, as if that answered his question, "and letting her know what we find next year!"
Florestan raised an eyebrow. "That sounds intriguing," he said. "Anything I can do to help in that regard, I'd be glad to."
Eloise felt herself blush to the tips of her ears. "You don't have to..."
The Timelord chuckled. "I know I don't *have* to, but I spent years studying to be an
exo-mythologist," he said, " -- a specialist in the myths of alien cultures. I decided to focus on Earth myths early on, and while I came across legends *about* trolls, my studies took me in a different direction; it never occurred to me that the trolls themselves would have histories."
"Oh. All right, then," Eloise said quietly. There was a lot to take in, in the last five minutes. She supposed that was something she ought to get used to, now that Florestan was back.
"Of course I understand," he went on, as if reading her thoughts, "that deciding to take up a line of research can be a big responsibility, and it really is *your* decision." He turned to Walter. "If you don't mind lending your copy, for an hour or two" he said, "Beloved can create a replica, and we -- ahem... -- *Eloise* can start researching whenever she's ready."
And so it was that The Book was now in Sweetheart's library, waiting, like some patient-yet-hovering schoolmaster, for whenever she was ready. The problem was, Eloise wasn't sure she'd ever be ready. Once she opened that great red cover, and started turning those pages, whatever she learned about what might have been, or even, perhaps, *should* have been, could never be unlearned. And so, ever since, she'd been trying to get around the library, and not get lost -- and failing in both things.
Still, she had gotten very good at finding other things that needed her attention, instead. Right now, for example, she was trying to find the music room... There was a fiddle tune she wanted to practice, and then, it would be time to take High-Five for her walk...
She turned the corner ... and found herself just outside Florestan's study. She paused, instinctively, to listen for his presence within -- and heard it. But he was silent -- not talking or humming to himself, and she could tell, by the rustle of his tweed jacket, that he was moving slowly. That meant he was in a somber mood, and feeling the weight of his Timelord-ly existance. Decorum was called for.
"Greetings, Lord Florestan," she said in measured tones, as she walked by the door.
When he acknowledged her by name like that, in his current mood, it meant he wanted her attention. She trotted quietly to his side and waited.
He stood there, quite still, for a long time, the fingertips of both hands resting on the desktop, staring at a half-written letter before him (at least, it looked like a letter -- Eloise couldn't read the language. She assumed it was Old High Gallifreyan).
Since Florestan wouldn't speak, she stared at the letter, too. And the longer she did so, the more certain she was that she had seen it before. Then, she remembered: in those first frantic hours after his regeneration, when Sweetheart's corridors were rearranging themselves, Eloise had gone off in a panicked search for High-Five, certain that her dog had gotten lost -- or worse. It was during that search that she stumbled upon this room, and this desk was here -- and that letter was on this desk, just as it was now.
"Why?" he asked in a hoarse voice, at last, breaking the silence. "Why, Beloved, of all the minutiae of our former life, do you recreate *this*?" And he picked up the paper and shook it for emphasis.
"My lord?" Eloise asked, confused and concerned.
He sighed. "It's a letter I was writing to my old professor at the University of Gallifrey, telling him that my quest for the Myth Engine had been successful, and to prepare for my return. But I was interrupted when Xaos broke through Beloved's shields, and --" Florestan fell silent, staring at some deep inner space only he could see.
"and you had to go fight him," Eloise prompted, that old familiar shiver running down her spine again.
He snapped back to the present, and nodded. "The fight that ended my life -- or would have, if the Myth Engine hadn't been there to absorb me." He drew a long, shuddering breath. "Beloved knows -- she *knows* -- better than anyone, that I cannot deliver this letter. To do so would tear the fabric of space-time beyond healing or repair. So why is it here, whenever I turn around, waiting for me to finish it?"
At first, Eloise thought this was a rhetorical question, but then realized he was staring at her, waiting for an answer. "M-maybe," she said, quietly, "she means you should deliver it to someone else -- someone in the present -- or the future. I-I don't know."
"Perhaps," he said, quietly, regarding her with that gaze he had that seemed to pin her to the floor. Then, he shook himself as if dropping a heavy cloak from his shoulders, and grinned ear to ear. "So -- where were you off to?" he asked.
"I was trying to find the music room," Eloise said. "There's a particularly tricky fiddle tune I want to get down."
"It's this way," he said. "I'll walk with you." And then he asked: "Will you play it at this year's celebration?"
"I -- oh! I don't know... Are you sure you want to hold one?"
"Considering all that your friends accomplished at the last gathering, why wouldn't I?"
Eloise couldn't help grinning now, either, and realized this was one more worry gone from her mind. "So, what kind of celebration shall it be?"
"That's a very good question."
[+] *We* call them "Nasty" trolls, but, naturally, *they* call themselves by a more noble-sounding title.
Genre: "Pro-Fun Hoedown" spin-off. An interlude following on the events of the Third Annual Pro-Fun Troll Hoedown, 'Goodnight, Sweetheart'[formatted into HMTL by Graham Woodland and Imran Inayat, and maintained by Imran Inayat].
Summary: a TARDIS patiently nudges her crew to face some difficult questions.
Copyright notices: Timelords, Gallifrey and TARDIS are the intellectual property of the BBC, this story was written solely for private amusement and no copyright infringement is intended. Florestan is the creation of Igenlode and Ann Magill. Eloise, Ruthie, Walter, High-Five, and "The Chronicles of the Troll Clans of Radoffiwad" are the creation of Ann Magill.
Archived with Ann's permission.