31. The Gods Made Us as We Are

Clytemnestra leads him back to the little cell. On the way, she explains, “You will receive a clan tattoo tonight, such as a child would receive. Tomorrow, you will be sworn to Lolth, and take your Drow name. That will make you an adult member of the Theates clan. Your weapons will be returned to you; you will be placed in a cohort, and be permitted to join in day-to-day clan life. Do you speak or read Drow?”

“No.”

“You will be assigned a servant who can act as a translator and tutor until you are fluent. Weapons instructors will assess your abilities. What weapons do you fight with?”

“I fight two-handed with longswords. Otherwise, longbow, short bow and bullwhip.” 

She leaves him in yet another stone cell, saying, “The priestess, Alecto, will arrive within the hour.” 

The priestess enters shortly, carrying a portable kit containing tattoo needles and ink. She’s older than any Drow he’s seen yet; perhaps for this reason, her manner is less brusque, if not precisely warm. She addresses him in High Elvish, like everyone else has. “Is this your first tattoo?”

“Yes.”

“The clan tattoo is typically placed on the back of the left hand. It’s painful, and will take about an hour. Do you have any problems with excessive bleeding or poor wound healing?”

“No.”

“Very well. We’ll begin.” She cleans the back of his hand thoroughly, covers it with a thin layer of ointment, then uses a kind of stencil to ink on a pattern for her to trace. It’s a lidless eye, roughly two inches across, with Drow words beneath.

He says, “I don’t read Drow, you know. What does it say?”

“The clan motto: ‘We see you.’” She spends a moment preparing the ink and needle, positions his hand just so on the stone table between them, pins it down firmly, stretching the skin. He notices that her hands are wrinkled, but steady and strong. They’re covered in interlocking, abstract tattoos that disappear into the cuffs of her linen shirt. “Are you ready?”

“Does anyone ever say no?”

She smiles. “If you have to pee, now’s the time.”

“I’m good.”

She starts the painstaking process of hand-poking a tattoo. She’s deft and quick, but it’s definitely painful. After five minutes or so, she says, “You OK?”

“Yeah. About an hour, huh?”

“Yes. You’ll feel it less in a few minutes.” This proves to be true. After 10 minutes or so, the sensation is tolerable, even interesting. Presently she asks, “Have you chosen your Drow name?”

“My name among the gray is Inglorion. To them it means ‘bastard’ — literally, born outside the bounds of wedlock. I’m used to it, and I’ll keep it if there’s no objection.”

“Inglorion?” She pronounces it slightly differently. “There’s a word in Drow, a cognate. It’s used for those who have no clan affiliation: infants who are exposed, children who are stolen or die before they receive a clan tattoo.”

“Among the gray, Inglorion is an insult. It’s considered dishonorable, shameful. Does it have a similar sense in Drow?”

She considers. “No. There’s a sense of misfortune, perhaps. Tragedy or curse, in the Greek sense. Not a scapegoat, precisely, but being singled out by the gods, isolated.”

“I think that’s appropriate, then. If it’s not offensive, like naming yourself ‘shithead,’ then I’ll keep it.”

“Did you name yourself shithead among the gray?” For the first time, he hears a hint of humor in a Drow voice.

“Pretty much. At the time, it seemed fitting.”

“It doesn’t have that sense for us. What are the other names? It’s usual to pick three.”

“Atropos Androktasiai. Atropos is the last of the three Fates, the one who severs the thread of human life. Androktasiai are spirits of battlefield slaughter.”

“Inglorion Atropos Androktasiai. It’s a good name for a warrior, especially one who comes from aboveground. Are you still doing all right?”

“Oh, yeah. It’s not bad.”

“Tomorrow you’ll be drugged, of course,” she says offhandedly.

She works in silence for awhile, and he watches. Finally he asks, “Alecto, do you know how I came to be here? Did Clytemnestra or someone else tell you?”

“Oh, yes. You came here alone, and asked to see Her Grace. You’re one of us. You were lost aboveground, and came back to us.”

“Her Grace, Philomela —” he breaks off, doesn’t quite know how to ask the question. The Drow seem to have little idea of kinship. Finally he says, “She was lost aboveground, many years ago?”

“Yes. She came back to us, and became Marchioness Theates. So, you see….” She trails off, but the implication is clear. Their fates are considered to be symmetrical in some way. No one has said openly that Philomela is his mother. It’s not that the fact is a secret, or shameful in any way; the blood relationship is unimportant to the Drow. To Inglorion, Drow logic has a dreamlike quality. Facts that have determined his entire life among the gray mean nothing here. Strong logic and emotions are at work, but he can’t grasp them yet.

“Tomorrow I’ll be sworn to Lolth?”

“Yes. We’ll take your oath as part of the naming ceremony, just like gray or wood elves do.” She’s sensed the hesitation in his voice. “You’ve already taken an oath to Corellon Larithian? You must have been quite young.”

“I was 22. I think the priest was a bit of a renegade. I’m not yet 60 — I’d be considered young if I did it today.”

“Why did you do it?”

“I was leaving home, taking on adult responsibility. It was a way of reminding myself of the gravity of the task. It’s often done routinely, upon reaching a certain age. I was devout, so I was eager to do it, and I wanted it to have meaning — to mark the transition from childhood to adulthood, as it should.”

“Did it?”

“As much as anything can. I may feel differently when I’m 90 or 100.”

She’s finishing up the tattoo, wiping away the excess ink, filling in here and there. “I’ve served Lolth for a long time now — more than 600 years. Better to take an oath early, in sincerity. You’re sure to feel different later, but you can’t know how. The gods made us as we are, and they’re not petty bookkeepers.” Their eyes meet, and she smiles at him. She’s beautiful as the Drow often are: strong, compact, shining white-hot against cold stone. He sees dark tendrils of tattooing curling around her collarbones and throat. “You’re done now. You’ll need to wash it every few hours. I’ll give you some ointment to apply. Rest tonight. I’ll be back tomorrow to take your oath, and give you your name.”

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