We held a darkfriend social in Arlington, VA, near the Two Rivers district of Washington DC (the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers). Only six of us Friends attended, but I believe a good time was had by all. Following are some memorable parts of the evening. There's a Big Surprise in there -- oops, I'm letting my excitement burst through already -- but I'll try to keep my calm and get to it in time. (The surprise involves a request I made to pnh concerning the social.)
As the organizer, I arrived at the restaurant approximately 20 minutes early. I told the serving girl I was expecting a large party of people, but that none of us knew each other yet. Her quizzical look darkened when I mentioned that we'd prefer a dim corner of the dining room far away from other customers and a waitron who knew when to keep quiet. But I knew I could trust her; yes, I could tell from her pale skin, vapid expression, and blank cast of her eyes that we both serve the same master, although some more freely than others.
[gotta mention it now say it now tell them now don't hold it in!!]
While I was speaking with the hostess, one seedy-looking fellow had been edging close to me. With out thinking about it, I let my hand wander under my cloak toward the wolfshead handle protruding from a sheath nestled under my shoulder. "Are you Bill?" he asked.
My right hand tightened impulsively on the carved wood and slid the hidden serpentine blade almost an inch out of its protective reservoir. The rose agate eyes felt cold and smooth against the moist palm of my hand; their feel was mirrored in my own eyes of cold steel blue.
"Are you Bill?" he repeated. "I'm Mike; Sir MPS."
I smiled as I released my grip on the dagger. With a cordial greeting I swept my right hand out from my cloak and shook Mike's warmly. I furtively but calmly readjusted the dagger as we walked toward the bar. The evening's event had begun, for better or for worse, but I would stay ready. That was one thing I was always told in the Boy Scouts: Be Prepared. And so I would be, even though I forsook my old vows for new several years ago.
[tell them tell it to them say it now sing it to them!!]
The others filed in gradually over the next 15 minutes. Most walked straight past myself and Mike, only to be turned back to us by the hostess with the blank eyes. "You looking for 10 people you've never met before?" she asked them. "They're at the bar."
"I didn't recognize you since your cloak doesn't switch colors," said one who looked sort of like a Trolloc in disguise as a person. I chuckled and mumbled a comment about exchanging my old oaths for new. He sullenly took a seat as I scribble a Dragon's Fang on a cocktail napkin and slid it over next to him. (I found the very same in my pants pocket Monday evening. I'd like to find the darkfriend who put it there and figure out how s/he did it.)
We declared a quorum with 6 people. In attendance were myself (Bill Garrett), Mike Macchione, and three men and one woman who all went by the name "Bors". Some of the people named Bors recognized each other and used secondary codenames like "Joe Shaw" and "Judy Ghirardelli".
[say it now sing it now don't hold back let it out!!]
The dinner phase was fairly uneventful. We made smalltalk about this and that, much of it concerning past and future threads on rasfw. Joe Morris joked about Disney opening a RandLand theme park and what sorts of attractions it might have. Someone suggested lots of parades with Trollocs in them, except some of the Trollocs were real and some were just people in disguise. And you could tell which was which based on whether or not they attacked you. I suggested a Trollercoaster, a ride in which you get crammed doubled-over in a Trolloc cookpot that travels around on a rail.
And did someone suggest a television show named "Faintasy Island" or is that just me getting carried away with my imagination?
[gotta tell them gotta tell them gotta tell them!!]
As our plates were being cleared away, the hostess reappeared with a strange man in tow behind her. "I have another guest for your party. He says you're not expecting him, but you probably know him." I could barely contain my enthusiasm; I was in on this, you see.
He looked vaguely familiar, like a person whose childhood pictures you've seen dozens of times and whom you are now meeting for the first time as an adult. He turned to hang his jacket on the hook and then raised his chin to face us. I can only speak for the others by the look I saw in their eyes; and I can only presume that the look of recognition in mine was the same as in theirs. Four years of staring at odd line drawings in the back of books suddenly came together in our minds. I almost didn't believe it myself, even though I was behind it.
I was hoping he'd introduce himself with a joke like, "Patrick sent me," but instead he spoiled what I was hoping to keep secret. In our moment of silence he filled in the story. He had been in the area visiting the Manassas Battlefield (he is a Civil War buff, after all) and had been told about our gathering by some of the people at Tor. (There was some prior involvement on my part, but I had hoped to keep this secret)
But he had come! The man we all know as Robert Jordan (though he introduced himself with his real name, James Rigney) had come!!
[he came!! he came!! he came!! he came!! he came!! he came!! he came!!]
Our moment of silence came to a quick end as questions sprang to our lips. Mike quickly ducked out to the parking lot to get the complete set of his WoT books which he had brought with him from Delaware. We had made fun of him for this, but now the joke was on us.
Anyway, we blurted out questions. "Is Verin Black?" "Who killed Asmodean?" "What happened to Moiraine and Lanfear?" He chuckled and sketched us a few vague answers. Judy told him about her dream in which she had asked him the question about Verin being Black. James laughed and said, "I told you *what* in your dream?" But here's approximately what he said about those questions (and maybe Chad can help me on this):
"...one of the points I'm trying to make with the books is the overall seductiveness of the Shadow. We see all kinds of people at what you've dubbed the 'Darkfriend Social' in TGH... even those closest to Rand are subject to the lure of the Dark One."
Judy took this as evidence that Egwene has been turned to the Shadow, but James just smiled and winked when she asked him. He told us not to ask him any more about Verin, Asmodean, and Lanfear, but stressed that we should look for the things that are less than obvious. He briefly mentioned a few of the chapter titles like "What Lies Hidden" and made a vague reference to a book called "The Westing Game." I think I got his drift, but that's a story for later...
James was keenly interested in hearing about Internet and about people who so ardently followed his writing. It turned out he's heard a fair bit about Usenet, and has even read our FAQ and samples from the ongoing conversations. Not that he actually follows the group, though, and he said Patrick didn't give this stuff to him, but he has heard about it through other friends and through a number of fan letters.
JR was fascinated by what we told him of the Internet. He knew a bit about it, but he didn't really understand until Sunday night just how serious his Internet following was. We gave him a brief but probably incomprehensible explanation of what rec.arts.sf.written is. We told him about how many of us there are, how much traffic we generate concerning his books, and we highlighted a number of the threads the group has seen in the past year. He was amused by the anti-Jordan flamewars, once we paused to explain our net.vernacular. (He was initially alarmed to hear phrases like "kill Jordan" and "flame somebody".) As we finished up with the rasfw controversy, he said that we should probably get our own newsgroup.
(On reflection, he probably knew all of this, based on what's he has seen or already been told about rasfw. If it wasn't new to him, he was polite enough seem genuinely interested.)
About this time Mike came back with his stack of books. As JR got busy with a pen, Mike told his story of how he was dubbed "Sir MPS". He explained the plot submission contest last September, and how he got the idea to submit a plot centering on Mad Passionate Sex (tm), and how he subsequently accepted the title of Sir MPS when two other people with names similar to his started posting to the group. Mike, of course, insisted that he didn't really deserve the reputation. I suppse I agree with him; he didn't hit on any of the waitresses that evening.
JR accepted all of this with a dubious smile. I'm not sure whether it scared him or amused him; maybe both. While we were discussing the subject of MPS, we told him about Roy and how Roy seems to have disappeared since Lanfear's possible demise in TFoH. JR seemed concerned and said that he'd like to meet Roy. He said he might even add a character like Roy into the next book.
The more I think about it, the more I think that this whole conundrum with us adopting personalities based on his books worried him. He did seem rather surprised at how much time we were all devoting to it. He asked us if we had jobs, or families, or friends, or even lives, and magnanimously suggested that his books weren't _that_ good.
But, other than that, we filled JR in on a number of the things about rasfw. He didn't really understand the Piglet jokes, but he thought the lightbulb and telephone jokes were a hoot.
After enlightening (befuddling) him about how we had all come to meet each other, we started asking some of those Important Questions. Mike had his books in hand again, so he asked about the dreaded cover illustrations. JR seemed to like them; he said something like, "I'm glad to have Darrel Sweet doing the covers."
We mentioned some other ideas we've kicked around on rasfw recently. He thought the idea of Gaidal Cain being reborn as Logain is ludicrous, although he swears he never noticed the rhyme with Fain-Jain-Logain- Cain-Taim before. He dodged Chad's question about whether or not we'll see Jain "McGuffin" Farstrider again. He dodged a lot of our little questions, including Tam's past and the identity of that old man with Graendal. As something of a concession for avoiding so many of our questions, he admitted flat-out that Aram is a darkfriend. And was at the social. I think he was a bit surprised we hadn't figured this out; he seemed to think the evidence was plain.
Well, the group started to break up at one of those odd lulls in the conversation (hard to believe, I know!) when folks started looking at their watches. Judy G and Joe M had to head home because they had to be up early the next day; JR claimed the press of his schedule, too.
Chad, Mike, Joe Shaw, and I all stayed around for more chat and a few more beers, but it just wasn't the same without Him. They forced me to spill my story regarding JR's appearance; I was never all that good at keeping a straight face anyway. James had gotten my name and phone number through the folks at Tor. He called me the day before the social and told me he'd like to stop by, if that was okay. If that was okay?! Gack! I must have looked like I had just been offered a crown.
All in all, I had an amazingly wonderful time. I'd like to thank everyone who came, and also a special thanks to Patrick Nielsen-Hayden, who has made this all possible. I couldn't have said any of this if it weren't for him. I know my own recollection is far from perfect, so I encourage the others who were there to correct me where I'm wrong and add where I've omitted!