33. Ajax

Inglorion wakes up in the same tiny bedroom. Aside from the bed, there’s a washbasin and a cedar chest. His muddy, travel-stained clothes have been folded and placed at the foot of the bed.

He opens the door, finds an office or study, with a built-in desk and bench. It’s a bit bigger than the bedroom. If there were additional chairs, three people could sit and talk comfortably, as long as they felt no need to gesture expansively or walk about. It sounds as if the far door opens onto a busy corridor. These are Inglorion’s living quarters. He’s attached to the barracks, among his cohort.

His tattoos are tender, starting to scab over. There’s water in the basin, so he washes up and tends to his tattoos, applying the ointment Alecto gave him. He brushes off his shirt and breeches as best he can, then dresses, frowning with distaste. The shirt is stiff — he sweated through it at least once during the naming ceremony, before he was stripped. He trying to knock the dried mud from his boots when Clytemnestra walks in, leaving the door to the corridor wide open.

Startled, he says, “For fuck’s sake, don’t you know how to knock?”

“I’ve brought you a slave,” she says. “He is called Ajax. Your name has been added to his brand.” 

He realizes that he must outrank Clytemnestra. After all, he’s been permitted to look her in the face. Alecto corrected him swiftly and without punishment when he omitted signs of respect. He thinks, fuck it. It’s like the joke about hell. Don’t blow a demon just because he asks you. You’re going to be here a long time. You’ve got to pace yourself.

He sets his boots down, straightens up. “Where is he?”

“I’ve left him in the hall.”

“Thank you, Clytemnestra. He’s mine entirely? I can do with him as I wish?”

“Yes. It’s customary to have one in your position.”

He doesn’t bother to ask what his position is, since he doesn’t feel equal to a long, circular conversation in which he and Clytemnestra call the same thing by different names, or use one word to refer to entirely unrelated concepts. “Very well. Send him in.”

She leaves, and a male Drow takes her place. Ajax is tiny and unremarkable — a few years older than Inglorion, but still barely out of his youth. He stands, hands clasped, gaze lowered, waiting to be addressed. 

Inglorion is frankly puzzled. In Liamelia he would know what to do with a manservant. Most of the positions of trust held by servants aboveground — groom, butler, valet, dresser, housekeeper, majordomo — don’t seem to apply in the Underdark, where there are no horses, elaborate outfits or large private residences. 

Of course, the point is not whether Ajax will be useful to Inglorion. Aside from translation and tutoring, Inglorion assumes that Ajax’s primary duty will be to report back to Philomela. This chafes him. He doesn’t choose to break any rules now, but he may want to do so in the future, and he doesn’t fancy having to deceive a servant. Servants know more than their masters think they do, and add conjecture to any facts they possess. They also like and respect their masters less than their masters think they should. It’s uncomfortable for Inglorion to find himself on the blind side of an unequal relationship. He will have to bore Ajax and Philomela into inattention.

In the meantime, Ajax is standing in a bedroom almost too small for two adult elves, waiting for orders.

“Hello, Ajax,” says Inglorion. “Let me see your brand.” Ajax extends his right hand to show a Theta for Theates, his name, and a record of ownership. “I can’t read it, of course. I’m still learning Drow.”

“I belonged to the late Duke, sir, and then to Her Grace.”

Inglorion’s initials have been added — the tattoo is fresh and oozing — to show that he is Ajax’s current owner. “You’re Drow. How did you become a slave?”

“I was captured in a raid in infancy, and became the property of the late Duke. My clan was Cyryx, I believe, but I had not yet been tattooed.”

“I’m surprised they didn’t just raise you Theates.”

“I believe slaves were needed at the time, sir.”

“Yes, of course. Look, Ajax, I wasn’t raised among the Drow. I don’t know what’s usual. I assume you know your role and duties?”

“I do, sir.”

“Very well. You’ll have to translate for me, and tutor me for a few hours a day in Drow. I picked up Latin and Greek without trouble, so it shouldn’t be that bad. Otherwise, if I have orders, I’ll give them to you. Where are you supposed to sleep?”

“At the foot of your bed, or directly outside your bedchamber.”

“Oh, dear. Well, you can’t sleep at the foot of my bed. I’m clumsy first thing in the morning, and I’d certainly trip over you. Settle in however you think best. You seem resourceful. I’m sure you’ll let me know if you need anything.” Inglorion returns to chipping away at the mud on his boots. Ajax keeps keeps standing in the doorway, hands clasped, looking down.

“Ajax, do you need anything else?”

“Sir, I will bring you a change of clothing. When I return, I will clean your boots.”

Inglorion laughs. “Is that how this works? Thank you, Ajax.” He sets his boots down and perches on the edge of the bed, grinning boyishly. Ajax doesn’t smile in return, but he goes about his duties with an air of satisfaction, fetching clean clothes from a storeroom somewhere, procuring clean water and laundry soap, and later, making a small nest for himself in the office.

Ajax discovers and carries out his duties with little instruction from Inglorion, first by keeping their quarters orderly and clean. This is no small thing, since Inglorion tends to leave his possessions in untidy heaps on the floor. Ajax removes mud stains from Inglorion’s clothes and boots, maintains his weapons and ammunition, and even mends his quills once Inglorion shows him how. Throughout the day, Inglorion scatters these and other items thoughtlessly, and Ajax gathers them up and puts them where he’s decided they belong. He fetches hot water for bathing, and, to Inglorion’s indignant horror, makes it his particular business to remove reddish mud stains from Inglorion’s fair hair, and to comb and style it. After a few weeks of silent struggle, Inglorion submits to this indignity with the air of a cat being groomed for show; he realizes that perfectly coiffed white hair is a mark of status among the Drow, and that Ajax will be blamed if he is untidy.  As Inglorion acquires expensive armor and weapons and small items of jewelry, Ajax cares for those, too. Aside from espionage and language tutoring, Ajax’s main duty is what gray elves would call adding to Inglorion’s consequence, and he does this in a skilled and unobtrusive manner.

Over time, Inglorion comes to trust Ajax. It’s in his interest to teach Inglorion the norms for aspiring Drow nobility, and he displays a quiet, stubborn desire to promote Inglorion’s interests and defeat his rivals. Since Inglorion is reluctant to confide in his peers, Ajax is a safe and loyal source of information. He understands Drow culture, and explains aspects of it to his master; he’s willing to ferret out information, too. The Drow treat privacy and free time with suspicion, and Inglorion needs both. Ajax becomes adept at contriving ways for Inglorion to goof off and feel unobserved. This becomes one of Ajax’s most important roles, and he fills it well. As a result, Inglorion enjoys some freedom in a highly structured, communal society.

Ajax himself is everything a Drow slave should be: impassive, quiet, discreet. He’s there when Inglorion needs him, and absent when Inglorion wants to be alone. He understands his duties, and performs them with little direction. He insists on certain points when he knows that Inglorion doesn’t understand the situation, or is making a decision hastily or thoughtlessly. In all other matters, he defers to Inglorion’s preferences, needs and whims seamlessly.

Within a few months of Inglorion’s arrival in the Underdark, an arrangement that initially sounded bizarre — owning another human being and trusting him — feels, if not natural, then certainly convenient and useful.

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