22. His Desperate Longing to Be Good

Soundtrack: Eurythmics, Missionary Man

Through all of this, there’s Lucia herself, hopeful, innocent. The first time Inglorion sees her after his conversation with Lucius, he knows that, yes, of course, she sees him as a suitor. She’s modest and pious, so there’s no flirtation in her manner, but she does everything in her power to showcase her homemaking skills: her care of her younger siblings, her diligent maintenance of the family linens and clothing, her cooking, the simple accounts that she keeps. He failed to see it before because his interest lay elsewhere — with Artemisia’s charms — but also because the idea of such a wife is entirely alien to him.

He tries to draw back from their intimacy, but it’s impossible when they’re under the same roof. They’re seated together for every meal. He has to study and she has to sew, and they must share a candle to do it. He can’t escape her company without being persistently rude. Though he knows it would be wrong to engage himself to Lucia, he’s reluctant to snub or ignore her.

As the month passes, Lucia begins to drop small hints. Her mother and sister often leave them unchaperoned, offering Inglorion an opportunity to plead his case. On one such evening, he finds himself in the sitting room, studying by the light of a single candle, while Lucia is engaged with a portion of her endless darning. He’s struggling to concentrate on Thuycidides. The translation must be very bad, he thinks, because his account of the Peloponnesian War is wooden, senseless. 

“You’ve torn the hem of your cloak,” she says. “Hand it over so that I can mend it.”

“Oh, no, Lucia. You don’t have to do that. I’ll take care of it.”

She smiles, shakes her head. “You’ll botch it, you know you will. I wager you’ve never set a stitch in your life.”

“Well, no. Sieia always did that for me. I suppose I’ll have to learn, or descend into squalor.” He says this without thinking, tries to reapply himself to the book before him.

“I’m happy to do it, you know.”

“I wouldn’t put you to the trouble. You have a pile of mending already.”

“Chloe’s petticoats can wait, or she can do it herself. She puts it off from day to day, hoping I’ll find the time. She doesn’t mind looking like a shag-rag.”

Still looking at his book, he says, “I hope I’m more generous than Chloe. I’ll look like a shag-rag, or learn to mend my clothes, but I won’t add my cloak to your pile.”

“Come on, I really don’t mind. I’d rather do your cloak.”

It’s draped across the back of Inglorion’s chair, and she starts to pull it from behind him. He snatches it back, and for a moment there’s an absurd tug-of-war, then Inglorion says firmly, “Lucia, no. I mean it. I won’t have you mending my clothes. It’s not fair to you.”

She drops her end of the cloak, sits down. “I won’t if you truly don’t want me to. But I thought —” she breaks off, disconsolate, genuinely close to tears.

“I’m sorry, Lucia,” he says quietly. He’s been avoiding this conversation, and suddenly he realizes how cruel that is. She can’t raise the topic. All she can do is wait and hope, and have her parents maneuver him into position. The greatest prize she can imagine is a future spent darning Inglorion’s clothes, keeping a modest house for him, and bearing little silver-eyed quarter-Drow children. 

He moves his chair closer to hers, takes her hand. “Lucia, you’re so good, so kind. You’ve made me feel at home here, been kind to me when I missed Sieia.” She brightens, looks up at him eagerly. “But I don’t think of marriage. Your father raised the question, and I tried to explain it to him.”

“You talked to my father?”

“He asked what my intentions were. He was looking out for you, as he should. I’ll try to explain it now, to you. I don’t know what your father has told you about my birth and breeding.”

“He said you’re the natural son of a very wealthy and famous man in Liamelia, a general and field marshal.”

“Yes, Tereus Shelawn. He never recognized me. I have no inheritance; I didn’t receive an education; he took no responsibility for my upbringing. I was raised on his property, as a servant, by other servants.”

She nods thoughtfully. “So you have to make your own way in the world, and you’re doing that.”

“Yes.” He presses on with his list of objections. “You must know — it’s obvious, though we’ve never spoken of it — that my mother was Drow.”

She nods. “Father told us that you were half-Drow, before you came to live with us. Mother was concerned, but he said that you were sworn to Corellon Larithian, and that what matters is what’s in your heart — there’s no such thing as a cursed race.”

“That’s generous of him, and I’m grateful for it. There are differences, you know. I don’t fully understand it, but I’m not one of you. I’m color-blind, and I’m blinded by full sunlight. I still get sick headaches if I’m in the sun too much. No horse will carry me. It’s not a curse, but it is real — the hatred and prejudice, the physical limitations. I hope to be commissioned as an officer, but I don’t know that any gray elven army will take me. If I married, my wife would bear that burden. And, of course, if I had children, they might inherit those traits.”

Her brow furrows. “But, Inglorion, no one has any certainty. Anyone could have a child that was handicapped, or could fail in their career. Marriage is a bulwark against uncertainty.”

“That’s partly true, and easily said. But if you knew how I grew up, in that house, under a curse, a bastard, an alien — I can’t imagine having children. I was so thoroughly miserable, knowing that I didn’t deserve to exist, that my very presence was a kind of sin —” he breaks off, anguished. He hadn’t planned to say so much, or to confide in her so deeply.

As expression of pity crosses her face. He’s still holding her hand. She squeezes his, presses it against her heart. “Oh, Inglorion! No! The Bringer of Light forgives all and loves all. His wisdom and justice rule supreme.”

He gently disengages his hand from hers. “I know. That’s been my only consolation.” He’s frustrated, feels like his words have made no impression on her. He tries another tack: “Lucia, you don’t what’s in my heart. The way I was raised, all those years as a mercenary. My mode of life has been such that I would make a very poor husband.”

She frowns, shakes her head. “But your habits are excellent! You don’t drink or smoke, you’re not given to vice in any way.”

He sighs. “Lucia, trust me when I say that I would cause you nothing but pain.” He gropes for some explanation that isn’t the truth, but that can stand in for it. “My father was a vicious man — debauched, violent. I know that I’m like him. We look alike, I have the same temperament, the same flaws of character. Your father has lectured me a hundred times already. I’m willful, arrogant, volatile, impatient, easily angered. I don’t want to be like that — I don’t want to be like him.” He’s wringing his hands anxiously, agitated. “I’ve made no progress. If anything, I’ve gotten worse since I came here.”

“No. This is a hard time for you, I think. But you’re none of those things. You’re truly not.”

“You don’t know me.”

She pauses, says tentatively, “Father says that a wife is a moderating influence, that subjecting yourself to the bonds of marriage and family–”

He cuts her off. “No. He beat his wife viciously. She was trapped, an outlet for his rage. Lucia—” he breaks off, genuinely anguished, looks down at his hands, close to tears.

She reaches out, touches his shoulder. He shakes her hand off, leaps up, paces to the far end of the room, stands there, arms wrapped around himself. His expression is pathetic — rage, sorrow and shame, mixed with physical distaste. He starts pacing in a little circle, throat working, holding back tears, trembling, awkward, completely undone. Even now, he is piercingly lovely — the picture of innocent suffering. 

Lucia is tender-hearted, and she would feel for any young man who made a similar confession. Inglorion is so lost, so beautiful. She’s dazzled, moved almost beyond words. “Oh, Inglorion,” she says. 

He’s overwhelmed memories — sickening, shameful, disgusting — of being forced to carry his father upstairs, strip him, put him to bed. Sieia’s terror as a little girl, how she came to Inglorion for refuge, the sound of her breathing and heartbeat, the sensation of holding her in his arms while she wept. The terrible things he’s done for sex, lying repeatedly, striking Camilla until she could feel enough to climax. 

His thoughts and feelings are jumbled beyond recognition. Without thinking, he traces the faint pattern of scars on his wrists and forearms. He says blankly, “I want so much to be good, Lucia. But I don’t think I am.”

After a time, she walks up to him, places her hand on his shoulder. This time, thinking of Sieia, longing for comfort, he allows her to embrace him, stroke his hair. She whispers, “You’re not him.”

“No, I’m not,” he says. He thinks, but does not say, “I am much, much worse.”

This is how Inglorion becomes engaged to Lucia, and finds himself accepting the congratulations of her family. He’s done things that made him feel filthy; he longs to turn from that. Though he does not want to marry Lucia, he can’t bear to disappoint her. His dream of rule, of power, is so vague and impractical that he accepts something else in its place: The approval of the people around him, and the promise of divine approval. He longs so desperately to be good, to relieve the nauseating shame that clings to him.

One thought on “22. His Desperate Longing to Be Good

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s