30. Philomela Procne Arachne, Duchess Theates

She leads him through a series of passages — natural ones at first, and then much larger ones that have been reinforced, paved, even ornamented in some places. They become wider, more level and regular, though still unlit. They finally reach an antechamber outside of two massive double doors. The walls are lined with stone benches. The sides and backs are carved with images in relief, but Inglorion cannot make out what they depict, if anything.

“Wait here,” says Clytemnestra. She disappears through a small side door, leaving him alone in the silent antechamber.

Over a time — perhaps 20 minutes, perhaps much longer — one of the two huge doors opens partway. Clytemnestra slips out, leaving it ajar.

“When you enter, I will lead you to the front of the room, where Her Grace is seated. We will both walk on the right side of the corridor. I will leave you with Her Grace, and return for you at the end of your audience.” She does not mention the fact that his clothes and boots — and probably hair and face — are mud-stained.

She pushes open the double doors and leads him into a huge, ornate room. The ceiling is high and domed, supported by massive Doric pillars. It seems to be a throne room, or it could be used for the deliberations of a small legislative body. They pass row upon row of stone carved benches upon both sides. Most are bare, but a few have small, flat pillows on the seats or are lined with fabric. At the far end of the room, on a low dais, is a chair with a portable desk to one side. A Drow woman is seated in the chair. She’s somewhere in the long stretch of adult elven life between youth and old age. She’s small, slim, and simply dressed, in leather breeches and a doublet. She wears a plain headdress forged of adamantine and decorated with fasces and ribbons fashioned from metal. Like most Drow, she wears her long, white hair down. Her features glow white-hot; if he were to see them in sunlight, no doubt they would appear black. Her eyes are colorless and metallic, like Inglorion’s. He notes all this in a glance, then lowers his eyes as he’s been told. The floor — which will be the object of his gaze for the next several moments — consists of abstract mosaic fashioned from dark stone. There are no carpets or fabric hangings. Even slight noises echo; his booted footsteps boom through the chamber.

They step onto the dais, and stand in a little area demarcated for visitors. Inglorion mimics Clytemnestra’s stance: hands clasped, head lowered, eyes down.

“Yes, Clytemnestra?” The Duchess’s voice is a clear, uninflected alto.

“I have brought Inglorion Fabius to you, Your Grace.”

“You may leave us, Clytemnestra.”

“Thank you, Your Grace.” She withdraws quickly and silently through the massive double doors, closing them behind her. Inglorion thinks that the hardware must be very cunning and well-oiled, since she does it silently, without effort.

“You are Inglorion Fabius?”

“Yes, Your Grace.”

She studies him for quite awhile. “How like your father you are.” Her voice is level, expressionless. The remark seems to be an observation, not a judgment.

Many possible replies occur to Inglorion, but he merely says, “Yes, Your Grace.”

“Why did you come here?”

“To offer you a bargain.”

“What do you have to offer?”

“I’m a skilled fighter, Your Grace, and I have detailed knowledge of the cities of Liamelia and Amakir. If those skills would be useful to you, then I would like you to use them.”

“What do you want in return?”

“I don’t know your clan, or Drow ways, Your Grace. I don’t know what you have to offer.”

There’s a moment of silence. The Duchess’s manner is unhurried, calculating. If she feels even mild emotion — interest, excitement, anger, impatience — it’s imperceptible to Inglorion. Finally she says, “I could kill you now, as an enemy.” It’s as if she’s offering one of several possibilities.

“I understand that, Your Grace.” He’s determined not to beg for his life. He’s already accepted the possibility of being killed or enslaved.

She continues to study what she can see of his face and features: white hair bound in a queue, a bit untidy and stained from travel; his graceful profile, which appears serene. Even in repose, it’s clear that his body is strong, the product of drill and discipline.

“Look at me,” she says.

“Pardon me?”

“Raise your face and gaze. Look at me.”

He looks her full in the face, cocking his head slightly. Their gazes meet, silver on silver, hers cold, his burning. Her eyes narrow, and he hears a quick intake of breath. She says, “Ah, yes. I see.”

He smiles, and continues to hold her gaze. She’s thinking through the implications of those Drow eyes combined with Tereus Shelawn’s flawless features. Inglorion says, softly and deliberately, “I believe Your Grace will find many uses for this tool.” He drops his eyes.

She considers for a long moment, then seems to reach a decision. “You’re called Inglorion Fabius now,” she says. “You will take a Drow name. It’s usual to choose mythological figures, something in keeping with Drow sensibilities. You will be sworn to Lolth, and receive a clan token.”

“Thank you, Your Grace,” he says. Though his voice is steady, he feels a surge of triumph. His vision was true.

Fuck Corellon Larithian. Fuck the Shelawns.

A path lies clear before him: Inglorion will rule in this dark fairy tale realm.

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