Dedicated to ShareneM, a guest reviewer I've noticed has really been enjoying this fic, in the spirit of answering some questions and comments real quick.
1. You may have noticed, I'm a rather large Lindal fan. She would pop up more often, if only Manus and Gla-Thon hung around her as they do each other. ;D
2. No, contrary to the previous chapter, I do not ship these two. They are, however, incredibly hilarious when anywhere near each other. XD
3a. Yes, Anna is blonde because I rely heavily on the anime for visual ques. I do this mainly out of spite. It's Emily Rodda and Marc McBride's fault for never actually drawing or even vaguely describing Lief for us. Yeah.
3b. Yes, Lief and Barda's children would obviously get into all their best trouble together. Pop over to the Post-Deltora Stress Syndrome forum and check out the "Next Generation" thread to see some tales we've spun about these potential children.
3c. "Two Little Bears" was a ton of fun for me to write, so I'm glad that you've had a similar blast reading it. :)
4. I can't get over how sassy Gla-Thon is, either. There is enough sass in this tiny creature for all of Deltora, which is a good thing.
5. Don't worry, Charlise has a backstory that I plan to write eventually. In the meantime, she is in this a little bit, so you can get to know her better today.
6. Now read Star's Journey. 8D
So, anyway, here's a New Year's prompt.
The Mirror Ball
It was a fine week to be hailing the new year – all the finer at the palace, where the king and most of his friends had gathered to celebrate. Nearly all of Deltora's greatest heroes had wandered south to Del, mostly complaining of cold and snow and a longing to be together for a time. Even Doom had shown up, insisting all the way that he had merely been in the area and that his arrival was a happy coincidence, though his daughter had shaken her head and said that she knew better.
It was in those last few days of the year that Manus conceived what he thought of as merely his second greatest creation, because his first and most fantastic creation was and always would be his son. Which was funny, he would reflect later, because it began when his son broke a rather fancy-looking mirror while playing at the forge with the twin princes.
All three boys looked perfectly ashamed of themselves and the mess they had made. Manus was faintly annoyed that his son was misbehaving. Jasmine shook her head curtly and shooed the three children out of the way before they cut themselves.
"Never mind," she scoffed, going off to search for a broom. "I never liked that tacky thing to begin with. What am I supposed to do with a mirror, anyway? I already know what I look like."
That aside, she left her sons with a firm but final warning to stay out of her things and stick to destroying their own. Manus was just glad that she wasn't angry, and that she didn't blame his son for the mess.
"Simon, wat have we told you about touching other people's things?" he said to the Ralad child in his gentle way.
"Not to," Simon answered quietly, still looking ashamed of himself and fiddling with something in his hand. "I didn't do it. I mean, I didn't mean to break it. I'm sorry…"
"I'm sure you didn't," Manus agreed, kneeling to look the boy in the eye. "What's that you have there? Show me."
Simon shyly opened his tiny hand and held out a shard of the broken mirror. Manus sighed and shook his head, holding out his own hand to take it, because it wouldn't do to have his young son running around with something so sharp. As the shard passed from the child's hand to his, a flash of light danced across it, winked like a miracle, and vanished.
And in that split second, Manus got an idea.
"Wait here," he told his son. Then he dashed to the back bedroom, where he found Jasmine just finishing with her sweeping.
"Jasmine, can I have the rest of that mirror?" he asked, all delighted smiles, and earning a suspicious glare for it.
"Why?" was the queen's plain response.
"It's for a surprise," he answered. "For the new year."
Now the suspicion fell away from Jasmine's face, and she shrugged faintly. "I'll find you something safe to carry the pieces in, then," she said, striding out with her broom and dustpan to presumably make good on that offer. "If it's a surprise in your capable hands, I'm quite looking forward to it."
"Excellent! Thank you! Now, do you know where I could find other broken mirrors just like it?"
It had taken some searching, but the following afternoon found Manus in the palace' great hall with an enormous wire ball, a bucket of plaster, a crate full of broken glass, and Gla-Thon to keep him company. It was a good start, so far.
"Manus," his friend said tartly, "when you said you were going to coat this thing in plaster and stick broken mirrors all over it, I thought you were losing your mind. Now that it's taking shape, I can finally see what you were talking about, and I rather like it."
"I'll need to find a ladder later, so I can finish the top half of it; but its really coming together," Manus agreed, smoothing a gob of plaster over the ball's mesh frame.
"Where did you even find this thing, anyway?" Gla-Thon asked, raising an eyebrow at the wire sphere.
"Oh, I made it. Just some scrap iron from the ship yard bent into hoops and covered in some old chicken wire. Hardly elaborate. The work of an afternoon, really. It was so simple, my son helped me with it."
Gla-Thon tilted her head to the side, considering this. "You have a way of making the impossible sound alarming simple."
Manus grinned his thanks, then took a gloved handful of mirror shards and began placing them carefully into the wet plaster. It was like a puzzle, in his mind. Some of the shards were large, some were small, and others were tiny. Some of them had neat angles, and others were sharp and pointy. But in spite of all their different shapes and sizes, he found a place for each one. Just like the people of Deltora, he thought. By his expert hand, they were placed so exactly side by side that hardly any of the plaster shown between them.
It was sort of slow going, Manus supposed, but it would be well worth the effort. His creation would be perfect.
"Wait, wait, wait – I've got it," Gla-Thon gasped suddenly, looking pleased with herself. "I know what we'll do. We'll call it a dis-ko ball!"
Manus looked up from his work and squinted at her. "What is…. That?"
"Dis-ko," she answered with a shrug, as if it were obvious. "You know, dis-ko."
"No, I'm afraid I don't know."
"Haven't I told you before? It's a dance of Dread Mountain. You can't have a gnomish celebration of any kind without dis-ko to go along with it. Here, I'll show you."
With no further warning, the gnome burst into what Manus quickly realized was a kind of line dance. The simple steps led her marching forward and back, left and right, and then spun her with a kick to the side to repeat the steps all over again. She ended with a flourish, clicking her heels together and pointing her finger suddenly from the floor to the ceiling.
"You see? Dis-ko. It couldn't be easier," she teased.
"That was very good," Manus agreed, applauding her impressive dancing skills. "But I think I'll stick to the plan and just call it a mirror ball for now."
Gla-Thon crossed her arms and pouted to herself. "Well, I'm calling it a dis-ko ball, because that's what it is," she grumbled.
"But it's not just for that – I mean, I'm sure it can be, too, but my mirror ball is for lots of things," Manus explained patiently as he fitted more shards together. "When its hung from the ceiling and throws its light all over this room, I hope it makes everyone want to dance. I hope it makes you want to dis-ko until the sun rises; but I hope to see our other friends all dancing in their own ways. Perhaps it can even convince some of our shier friends to come out of their shells."
"Like your wife?" Gla-Thon scoffed.
"Charlise is an excellent dancer, thank you very much. And if my mirror ball is as perfect as I expect it will be, I won't have any trouble convincing her to dance with me. We will bolunga long into the night, and never get tired," Manus proclaimed, very proudly, if not also a bit defensively.
To his annoyance, Gla-Thon did a poor job hiding a snort of laughter behind her hand.
"What in heaven and earth is bolunga? A dance of Raladin?"
"And every ounce as fun as your dis-ko, I'll have you know."
"Show me, then. Something with a name that ridiculous must be a treat to watch."
Manus smirked and shook his head. "I can't. It's a complicated dance, and only works with a partner who knows what she's doing – like Charlise, who is one of the best I know. I'm afraid you'll just have to wait until New Year's Eve."
With a dissatisfied huff, Gla-Thon went back to her pouting. "I hate waiting…"
In the days that followed, Manus finally completed his mirror ball; and in the process, nearly everyone in the palace had found a moment to come and stare at it. Manus wasn't sure why people were doing this. The thing was still sitting on the floor of the great hall, not hung from the ceiling like it was supposed to be. Its purpose and true beauty would be totally lost on anyone who saw it this way.
This did not stop the palace staff, guards, or visitors from gawking at his creation as it edged toward completion. All his friends had seen and puzzled over it at least once, at various stages of completeness. Leif and Sharn stuck their heads in the door often to check on him and bring him tea. Jasmine kindly left him his space, though she had stopped once to ask if he could point out a piece of her smashed mirror for her – which he had done happily. Zeean had been charmed by the idea, and had gone off to make Fardeep promise her the first dance in the mirror ball's light. Gers had laughed at it and poked fun at him for making something so silly, if only to try and cover up his childlike delight; and Zerry's eyes had gone wide at the sight of something so large and shiny, which he once would have stolen in a heartbeat.
All of Lindal and Barda's children had seen it. Manus knew, because he had counted them all. Pollux, the older of their twin boys, had taken one look at it and announced that he was going to punch it. Castor, the younger and calmer twin, had tackled him to the floor and stopped him before he had taken two steps. By the time their parents had pried them off each other and hauled them out, muttering embarrassed apologies over their shoulders, each boy had a black eye and was under indefinite punishment.
Happily, Ursa, Sirius, and Europa, the older three of them, were calm and pleasant and had remarked that just looking at the mirror ball mad them want to dance. This was unsurprising, and in fact quite pleasing. Last of all, there was Mintaka – or just Min, as her father loved to call her – who was barely toddling and no trouble at all. Yet.
Doom had wandered in once, asked the ubiquitous, "What is that?" like everyone else had, and stood in his usual silence as the mirror ball was explained yet again. The man had stuffed his hands into his pockets and turned on his heel, striding away without a word. Manus hadn't seen him since then, and wondered what it meant.
And then – obviously – there was Gla-Thon, who had watched the mirror ball grow and change over the days, and was still referring to it as a dis-ko ball whenever she found the chance. Manus hated to say that he was defensive about his creation, since it was just a thing at the end of the day; but his friend's stubbornness was beginning to irritate him just a little.
Yet only two were with him to see as the final mirror shard was placed at the very top of the sphere. While Manus teetered on the top step of a ladder, his wife was holding it steady for him, and his son was making silly faces at himself in the hundreds of tiny mirrors.
"It is quite a thing, my dear," Charlise commented in her quiet voice, smiling over the sight of the competed creation. "Is it everything you had hoped it would be?"
"And more, I think," Manus agreed, standing back a bit to look his work over. "Everyone is so excited about it, and it's done just in time for tonight."
Charlise' face became a bit nervous, and her gaze floated up to the arched ceiling. "Now all that's left is to… Get it up there, somehow… Have you any ideas?"
"Oh, a fair few."
"Are any of them safe?"
"Well, one of them involves a few palace guards with a pulley, and Gers doing most of the heavy lifting; but I don't like it very much, and I'm not sure if anyone would volunteer for it. All I know is that I'm going to need a pulley and a very long rope. We have rope around here, don't we?"
Charlise shrugged. "I don't think we thought to pack any when we left Raladin. I hadn't expected any projects, though by now I should have known better. If there isn't already a list waiting for you, you always find one for yourself."
Simon squeaked suddenly and raised his hand, waving frantically for his parents' attention.
"Yes, son?" Charlise asked.
"The king has a rope," the boy supplied happily. "A whole bunch! It's in the forge! Jarred showed me. And then we kind of made a mess and got it all tangled up… But there's a big long rope in the forge! I know where it is!"
"Well, there's an idea," Manus agreed, scrambling back down the ladder. "It's a place to start, at least. I'll go ask if I can borrow it. You are just full of good ideas, Simon. A chip off the old block, if there ever was one."
Simon jumped up and cheered proudly. "Yay! I am helpful!" he crowed, watching himself strut around in front of the mirror ball – mainly just to entertain himself, but also because he was plainly bursting with pride. Charlise watched him with a hint of worry in her eyes, and shook her head sort of sadly.
"I don't know how I feel about that," she murmured. "Oh, if he is anything at all like you, he will be completely brilliant; and that means he will be in some sort of trouble all the time."
Manus put his arm around her for comfort. "Then he will use his brilliant brain to get out of all that trouble. But we can worry about that another day. For now, there's a task to be finished. I'm going to the forge to borrow that rope, and I'm bringing Simon with me. Would you like to go with us?"
As he had expected, Charlise hummed nervously and looked at the floor. He loved it that she agreed to come with him on his trips to Del, but she had always been cripplingly shy and had a difficult time engaging any of his friends. Let alone the king and queen, no matter how kind and welcoming they were to her, or how long she had known them.
"Come on, it will be fun," he insisted, pulling her closer and partially dragging her along with him. "It's just a short walk to the bottom of the hill, to visit friends and ask for a length of rope. And perhaps a quick cup of hot tea on a day like today. And they'll be so happy to see you again! You know, they still hardly know you at all after all this time."
Charlise blanched at the suggestion of having to sit and have a conversation with people she didn't know. She tried to hide it from her husband and his unshakable enthusiasm; but he noticed it anyway, and quickly changed the discussion.
"Of course, we have a lot of work to do with the mirror ball, and so our visit will be very short. I'll just get the rope from Lief, and we'll hurry right back. I promise."
And, of course, the royal couple had tried their best to make that visit last as long as possible. But Manus had remained true to his word, and had finished his business at the forge in less than fifteen minutes. In all honesty, it had only taken that long because he and Leif had to untangle the rope from the boys' playing. As he and his family had marched back up the hill, he had carried an impressive length of rope coiled over his shoulder, while Simon carried a pulley with an air of importance.
"I'm glad you mentioned it," Leif had said when the task at hand had been explained. "I just so happen to have an old pulley in here somewhere – if my boys haven't destroyed that, too. You can use that, if you'd like."
It had been slightly dented and a little rusty, but in good shape. Several hours later, Manus was also glad that he had said something. The pulley had served its purpose to perfection. The mirror ball was finally hung from the ceiling of the great hall, right between the two great iron chandeliers and all their candles. There was no flicker of candlelight, no faint beam of light anywhere in the room, that wouldn't be caught in the mirror ball.
Already, as it spun gently in the center of the ceiling, flashes of light were dancing on the walls and the floor. It was already glorious to behold. Manus stood back a bit with his family and the guards who had volunteered to help him hang the thing, and sighed with satisfaction.
"Another project finished," he commented, nodding his head and planting his fists on his hips. "What do you think, honey?"
"It is perfect, just like you hoped it would be," Charlise agreed. "Sometimes I wish you would just make nice, normal things like shovels or bricks, because those sorts of things are useful and noble, and would keep you at home and out of danger. But then you make wonders like this, and I feel so foolish for wishing such a thing."
"So, will you dance with me at the celebration tonight?"
Charlise pinned him with a frightened look, and he immediately wished he hadn't brought it up. Then she surprised him by smiling a bit.
"After all the hard work you've done, of course I will. There isn't much I wouldn't do for you."
It had been a brand new year for all of 15 minutes, and it seemed like the celebration might go on as it was for several more days. Music was playing, wine was flowing, and everyone was dancing in the light of the mirror ball, each in his or her own way.
Manus had stopped to rest for a moment, and to look out over the sight of his friends, to appreciate how they all looked at spoke and danced so differently from one another. There were slow waltzes, lively jigs, spirited lines dances, and of course there was Gla-Thon and her dis-ko. On the other end of the hall, Manus could see her trying to teach her own dance to Gers, who was swaying and blinking after her in amazement, doing a poor job of following the steps but enjoying himself all the same.
It felt to him as if he had seen this moment, in that same instant as he had first thought of the mirror ball. It felt as though, when that beam of light had first danced across the mirror shard that had started it all, the idea of the mirror ball had come fully formed into it his mind; and with it had come a vision of all his friends together, dancing in all their varied ways in its light, and very alike in happiness and friendship. He hadn't realized it until now, but it was an idea had been working towards all along.
Now it lay before his eyes, just as he had seen it. Just as he had hoped it would be, in the end. And it really was all he had wanted it to be.
Lost in thought, he was startled by a sudden presence beside him. He looked up in time to catch Gla-Thon punching his shoulder playfully, though a little too hard.
"You and your dis-ko ball," she teased. "You did good."
Manus smiled back and rubbed his arm, not even mad that she still refused to call his creation what it was. "I believe they want to keep it here at the palace, to be put up for other special celebrations. I don't mind that, actually; I have no way of transporting it home safely or easily, and nowhere to put it."
"That's a shame. You worked so hard on it."
"Not really. It was very simple, and honestly took little time or skill. They offered to pay for the thing, but I told them to think of it as a gift, a token of our friendship."
Gla-Thon huffed at him. "That is incredibly generous of you. I don't suppose you'd say the same to me, if I asked you to make one for the Dream Gnomes?"
Manus smirked at her and shook his head. "No, I'm afraid I must charge for commissions. Friendly gifts don't keep my family fed, after all."
"I thought so," Gla-Thon sighed, stuffing her hands in her pockets. When she pulled them back out, she held a money pouch in each hand.
"So, which one?" she asked, holding them out for him to see. "One is bigger, but I think the smaller one has a few gems inside. Garnets? Rubies? Something red, I can't remember."
Manus stood back a bit and looked at her incredulously. "Oh. Now I know what you mean, when you say I make the impossible sound possible. But… If there are red gems in the smaller bag, I suppose I'll take that one."
She handed him the pouch with a grin, clearly excited over her purchase. "When will you have our dis-ko ball finished? How will you get it to Dread Mountain?"
"I haven't thought of any of that just yet," Manus insisted, tipping the pouch open into his hand. "You're the first customer I've ever had. Wait a moment…"
He picked a small, round object out of the coins in his hand and held it up to the mirrored light. It had a brilliant sheen, but was smooth and completely colorless.
"Gla-Thon, these are pearls."
The gnome frowned in puzzlement, then opened her larger money pouch and peered anxiously inside.
"Oh…. The garnets were in this one the whole time. My mistake."
Manus frowned and handed the smaller pouch back.
"Well, I want that one, then."
"No. You already picked the one you wanted," she insisted, back away defensively, prompting her friend to go after her.
"You gave me the wrong one! I can take you before a judge for that, you know."
"You would never."
"I gave you the money! What more do you want from me?"
"Well, I suppose there is one thing more, if you want your precious dis-ko ball."
"Oh? And what might that be?"
"A dancing lesson. Teach me this dis-ko of yours."
A look of delight came over Gla-Thon's face. She barked a laugh and pushed Manus toward the dancing crowd.
"That's fair enough. But now you have to teach me your bolunga at our next gathering."
"Bring garnets to our next gathering, and you've got yourself a deal."
And so the new year began. And if it was already so full of dancing, it was sure to be a good one.
The line dance Gla-Thon demonstrates at the beginning is an actual disco move called the Bus Stop, with the ubiquitous point at the end. I'm sure she was also moonwalking on the dancefloor at some point. :P
Bolunga is a word I made up. I like to think it's similar to tango, because the thought of Ralads tangoing makes me smile.
Also, I apologize for the lack of silliness in the middle. I'm trying to phase into writing Charlise' backstory, because it's awesome, so I thought I'd throw her in here.
Happy New Year, all! Here's to another year of good writing and fun times!