Soundtrack: Adam Ant, Wonderful [Acoustic]
Inglorion realizes now that Artemisia must have loved him. The signs were there: She fed him, noticed his preferences, lit up when he entered the room. This is the most time they’ve ever spent together. Before, it was always a night or two here or there, when he was in Amakir.
What did he feel? Not love, he suspects. He misses her when she’s away, enjoys her conversation, is reliably attracted to her. The carnal bond between them has deepened into a kind of sweet ease over the last few months. He knows how to please her, finds her infinitely charming. But everything he’s read and heard tells him that he feels affection, caring and respect, but not love.
He did not mean to hurt her, but in retrospect the insult seems clear and unforgivable. Over the last four weeks he’s thought a lot about the uncomfortable consequences he’ll suffer because of the engagement, but he truly didn’t think it concerned Artemisia. He’d even hoped that she could help him get out of it. “I can’t advise you on whom you should marry. Surely you understand that.” He didn’t, though. He saw her as a worldly and trusted friend, and hoped that he could rely on her wisdom and advice. “I knew you would hurt me,” she said. He had not known that he would.
He walks back home, much earlier than he’d planned. The afternoon stretches out before him. He should study or drill, but a cold melancholy settles over him. He’s physically and mentally exhausted, and is making no progress in any case. Now that he’s not fighting or fucking or looking forward to either, he feels how thoroughly drained he is. He hasn’t been eating enough, trance is a struggle, he’s been forcing himself out into the sunlight, though he hates it and it sickens him. For months now, he’s been morbidly aware of his failings as a fighter and scholar, but he hasn’t benefitted from this knowledge.
Private devotions are forbidden, but Inglorion needs some kind of comfort, so he filches a votive candle from the communal altar, and takes it back to his room. He kneels in prayer all afternoon and into the evening, until the candle is consumed and the flame gutters and dies. He has no insight, and feels no comfort. Mostly he’s stiff and cold from kneeling. But he hasn’t done anything stupid while praying, and hasn’t hurt himself or anyone else.
He goes downstairs for the family meal, though it’s impossible for him to eat. His misery is clear; he says he has a sick headache, and sits silently, waiting for the meal to end. As they’re preparing to leave the table, the maid brings the mail, including a little package “for Master Inglorion.” He tucks it in his pocket without comment, makes an excuse about his headache, and slips away to his room.
The parcel is heavy, though it fits into the palm of his hand. It’s neatly wrapped with brown paper and twine. The address is written in a firm, clear, slanted hand. He teases the box open, and the mosaic ring falls into his hand. It feels cold and heavy. He experiences a fresh shock at the beauty of the image of Alexander. Inside the box, there’s a single, folded sheet of paper, covered with the same bold handwriting.
I said I would write you, and yet I hardly know what to say. The news of your engagement shocked me. When two people are so far apart — when they understand each other so little — neither curses nor explanations serve any purpose.
I wish you well with your engagement. I do not understand your reasons, but it is not necessary for me to understand them. You have made your choice, and of course our paths must lie apart.
Please keep the ring. I gave it to you freely, without conditions. It’s said that Alexander was high-spirited, reckless and brilliant, and that he had an instinctive grasp of terrain, timing, and the psychology of battle. I hope you will wear it, and remember the moment when you first said you were born to rule.
I am very sad. I hardly know what I am writing. I missed you terribly those four weeks, and wondered if you missed me, too. I have my answer now, though it is not the one I’d hoped for.
Nonetheless, I remain your friend and well-wisher,
Artemisia Anna de la Viña
Inglorion pulls a sheet from his journal, and writes the following note hastily:
The last four weeks have been terrible — a wretched, black period. Of all the things I regret, I most regret that I hurt you. You have treated me with kindness and generosity, and I am ashamed that I responded carelessly, with cruelty.
As you say, we do not understand each other. Or, at least, I cannot explain myself to you. This saddens me, because there has always been such perfect sympathy between us until now. I hardly understand my own actions. I know I have felt nothing but misery since contracting this wretched engagement. I will not trouble you with my presence; I am not thinking clearly, I do not understand matters between us, and I fear that in my confusion I would cause you further unhappiness.
I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me, and that you will forget me as I deserve.
P.S. I will keep the ring. I am grateful to have a reminder of your generous spirit, and your belief in me. If you knew how much I am suffering, I believe you would forgive me.