14. The Purpose and Mainstay of His Short Life

Soundtrack: Husker Du, Hardly Getting Over It

To Inglorion’s surprise and relief, when Sieia meets with Sextus in the morning, she agrees to return quietly to Liamelia under his escort, as long as Inglorion can travel with them. After three days’ travel by post chaise, they arrive in Liamelia.

When they pass through the city gates, it seems to Inglorion as if nothing has changed: orderly streets, squares ornamented with monuments and statues, stately homes and public buildings, all designed on classical principles and executed in the region’s black-veined white marble. Thirty years are the blink of an eye in elven time. After decades of nomadic existence and constant novelty, it’s strange to arrive at a place that’s so utterly, deeply familiar.

“I’ll take you to the townhouse,” says Sextus.

“I suppose I should see Marcus,” says Inglorion. 

“I think so, yes,” says Sextus. “Once I’ve brought you there and introduced you to Lady Penelope, I’ll seek him out at the Ministry. I’m sure he’ll want to see you, and to welcome Lady Sieia home. Has either one of you met Lady Penelope?”

“No, that was all arranged after we left. You’re right, though — I should ask for her.”

The hour that follows is one of the most awkward of Inglorion’s uncomfortable and unconventional life. A footman answers the door: Septimus, a crony from Inglorion’s days in service with the Shelawns. His look of outraged disbelief is almost comical. Inglorion bursts out laughing, says, “Hello, Septimus. Don’t call the constable just yet. I’ve brought Lady Sieia home.” He pulls Sieia forward, a slender, violet-eyed redhead. All three of them are travel-stained, boots and cloaks muddy. Sieia carries only a bandolier of throwing daggers, but Inglorion is dressed for combat: matched longswords, bullwhip, longbow and quiver. “Is Lady Penelope in, and available to see us?” 

“I’ll find out if she’s at home to visitors,” says Septimus. “Follow me.” He escorts them to the library, darting shocked glances at both brother and sister. 

“At least he didn’t make us wait in the kitchen,” says Inglorion once he leaves. “Or the stables, for that matter. It would be well within his rights.” 

Within moments, a young matron enters. She’s dressed entirely in black silk, presumably in mourning for the massacre victims. She’s best described as handsome rather than pretty, with a profusion of curly black hair, a brown complexion and hazel eyes. Her features are unremarkable, but her manner is assured, with an unattractive shade of condescension. She bows coldly to Sextus, turns inquiringly to Inglorion and Sieia. 

“I don’t believe we’ve met, Madam,” he says. “I’m Inglorion. Marcus may have mentioned me. I’ve brought Lady Sieia back to you.” She bows to Inglorion rather than shaking his hand, creating the impression — perhaps unintended — that he’s beneath her touch. Sieia steps forward, and they shake hands awkwardly. Neither seems inclined towards a sisterly embrace. 

“Welcome home, Sieia,” says Penelope. “Marcus will be glad to see you.”

She invites Inglorion and Sieia to make themselves comfortable by the fire, and orders refreshments. Sextus leaves to find Marcus. Inglorion and his hostess make labored conversation about the weather and the state of the roads. Inglorion finds that he doesn’t dislike Penelope. It’s clear that she married above her station, but she seems sensible. Her manner is cold, but he suspects that that’s simply her way. It speaks well for her breeding that she doesn’t betray any special distaste for his company.

That said, it would be hard to find a more ill-assorted group. Sieia longs to be greeted with open arms, to be hugged and petted by a new sister. Inglorion and Penelope hardly have two thoughts in common — their only bond is a desire to pass the time without giving or receiving offense. Just when Inglorion fears he will have to resort to inquiring about the grape harvest — a subject which neither he nor Penelope is prepared to canvass in detail — Marcus enters. They greet him with undisguised relief.

“Marcus,” says Penelope, “This is Lady Sieia, much changed since you last saw her, I’m sure.” 

Sieia stands, and they shake hands. Even in her rough clothing, she’s a strikingly beautiful young woman. The perfection of her face and figure are not lost on Marcus. “Welcome home, little sister,” he says. His manner is courtly, entirely proper, and just warm enough to set Sieia at ease. 

“Oh, Marcus,” she says. “Thank you for coming home to make me welcome. I hope —” She breaks off, confused. Inglorion can see that he’s charmed, almost against his will. 

“We’ll do our best to make you comfortable. It’s been too long.” He turns to Inglorion. As young men, they knew each other only by sight. No one looks like Inglorion, so in Liamelia he requires no introduction. “It’s Inglorion, isn’t it? I still tend to think of you by your child name, but of course you took your oath before you left here. Thank you for bringing Sieia home to us.” As with Penelope, if he feels any distaste at being forced to greet his bastard half-brother, he conceals it well.

“Of course. We returned as soon as we had the news.” 

“It was a bad business — a terrible blow to the city, and to the families involved. I wonder, do you have time to talk briefly? Penelope, you’ll want to show Sieia to her room, help her to settle in.”

Sieia shoots a frantic glance at Inglorion, who nods to her. “Go on, my dear. I’m sure Marcus will give us time to say our goodbyes.” The ladies withdraw, and Inglorion turns back to his half-brother.

In Inglorion’s eyes, Marcus is unchanged. In his youth he aspired to a career in diplomacy, and now he’s a diplomat in fact: correct, warm, but also reserved. He’s suffered a great loss and inherited great wealth; except for the mourning he wears, he gives no sign of all this. He truly was born and bred to his position. 

In Marcus’ eyes, Inglorion has changed a good deal. If Marcus ever conversed with him outside his duties as a footman, he can’t recall it. He knows Inglorion by sight, then, and a bit by reputation: a lady-killer, a brawler, hot-tempered and disorderly. In his youth, Inglorion was shy, volatile — given to outbursts of rage and mirth. His manner now is quiet and assured, however, and Marcus is forced to admit that, dressed for combat rather than in livery, his half-brother is an imposing figure. Marcus recognizes, too, that while he’s modeled himself after his more sedate Arahir forbears, Inglorion is much like their father. Not just his features, but his manner and gestures, a certain outsized, barely contained kinetic energy. It’s strange to see so soon after Tereus’ death. 

Inglorion speaks, breaking Marcus’ train of thought. “I’ll save you the trouble of asking. There’s no bar to her marrying. I’ve made sure of that. Her mode of life has been unusual, but she’s entirely innocent.” He smiles ruefully. “It wasn’t easy. She’s naturally modest, but she was widely admired.”

Marcus says, “Naturally, I was concerned. Thank you for taking care of her. She was with you the whole time? You can vouch for her innocence?”

“Yes, we’ve always been together.” Strangely, there doesn’t seem to be much else to say. “I think she’ll settle in easily enough. This will seem strange to her at first, but her nature is affectionate and malleable.” He adds, somewhat abruptly, “I’m sure you’ll treat her fairly. Please be kind to her, too. She has a loving nature, and she was afraid to come back.”

“We’ll do everything in our power,” Marcus says, then adds, “Will you stay with us tonight? Help her to settle in?” He hadn’t planned to offer, but Inglorion’s manner is unexpectedly conciliatory and subdued. 

Inglorion looks startled. Marcus sees a flash of the diffident, half-feral young man that he was. “Oh, no. It’s kind of you to offer, but I mustn’t stay.” 

“I won’t press you.”

Inglorion is afraid he’ll be overcome, and that he’ll feel tempted to confide in Marcus. He brings the interview to a close, asking, “Can I see her one more time, to say goodbye?”

“Of course. I’ll bring her to you.” A few moments later he brings Sieia in, withdraws.

Sieia flies to Inglorion, buries her face in his shoulder. “I’m afraid. It’s strange here. Please don’t leave me alone with them.”

“Oh, honey. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Marcus and Penelope will be good to you. I know you’ll be happy here. I’ll come to check on you, and if you’re not happy, I’ll take you away again. I think you will be, though.” He hugs her silently for a long time, kisses her hair. He’d intended to reassure her by remaining calm and strong. The immensity of his loss strikes him now, and to his horror he realizes he’s close to tears. 

His little sister pulls back, looks up at him. They’ve both acted as if Sieia’s case was difficult. In truth, her future is assured. Inglorion, her constant companion and protector, has lost the purpose and mainstay of his short life.

“I love you more than anyone,” she says softly. “I always have, and I always will.”

“I love you, too, baby,” His voice is suspended with tears. He turns away, leaves. He passes Marcus and Penelope in the hall, but doesn’t see them. He looks utterly stricken; they don’t detain him.

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