Inglorion has trusted Ajax implicitly to bar any visitors or strangers, and not to discuss his condition with anyone. His valet may have gotten reports to Philomela somehow, but Inglorion is confident that his rivals have had no information about the severity and course of his illness. As a result, they’ve had more than a week to create and circulate rumors about his condition.
By the ninth day, Inglorion is able to hear, see, walk and talk almost normally. He doesn’t relish the idea of sparring, and he looks rough. He’s lost weight, his lips are still cracked, and his skin and hair are dull. Ajax bathes him, washes and combs out his hair, and dresses him, and he sits up for part of the day. He manages to read a bit, work on a translation, and make notes in his journal.
On the tenth day, he wakes up at his usual time and pokes his head out into the office. Ajax is sitting quietly in his nest, apparently rolling dice, left hand against right.
“Hey, Ajax. Can you get me ready to go to the briefing at eight?”
As soon as Inglorion is bathed and dressed, Ajax asks, “How do you feel, sir?”
“Like shit. How do I look?”
“Like you almost died.”
“What do you think?”
“I think you should go if you can, sir. At some point the rumors will become destructive, and any sign of ill health will damage your reputation.”
Inglorion nods briskly. “Good. Because I’ll go fucking crazy if I have to sit around here for another day. Fuck ‘em. I’m not sparring, though.”
“Oh, no, sir. I wouldn’t recommend that for several more days.”
Inglorion puts on his jewelry, including the Alexander ring. “You’ll have to stay with me, as if you’re translating. If I think I’m going to puke or pass out, I’ll leave the room. You can follow me and get me out of there.”
Half an hour later, he strolls into the briefing room thinking, Just walk in, sit there without throwing up or fainting, and walk out again. He takes his usual seat in the second row. It requires all of his powers of concentration to walk steadily and sit down without collapsing into his chair. Ajax takes the open seat on his right. He hears a wave of whispers. Antigone turns around, spots him, says, “We thought you died.” There’s a faint note of chagrin in her voice.
“Not quite,” he says.
Inglorion takes in very little of the intelligence provided that day. He’s lightheaded, and struggles to focus his eyes on the briefers. At the end, when they’re dismissed, he lingers for a moment, closing his notebook, capping his inkwell, wiping his quill. As always, he’s the only one taking notes. Antigone’s talking to a neighbor in a voice clearly meant to be overheard. “Inglorion here will tell you that the first trial is easy — just hop in and do it.”
Inglorion leans into their conversation, catches Antigone’s eye and says, “I wouldn’t lie like that. It was shitty. As bad as it looks, and worse.” He winks. “No need to wait — the spiders will be ready for you in four days.”
She regards him silently, with loathing. Her friends pull back from him with looks of distaste.
He and Ajax walk back, Inglorion focusing on maintaining a brisk, firm stride. Ajax darts hard little glances at him. Presently Jason falls into stride with them, starts asking detailed questions about the obstacles, spiders and venom.
Finally Inglorion cuts him off, saying, “Clytemnestra will tell you everything you need to know. And anyway, aren’t you working on building up immunity? Your experience will be very different.”
Jason shrugs. “I just want to know what I’m getting into.”
Inglorion stops, turns to face him. “You know that this isn’t about strength and endurance, right? Or the ability to memorize a long number and lift 40 pounds.” Jason looks confused. “What she really cares about is how we solve problems. Each one of us has a very different style. This trial is designed to bring out differences in intellect and temperament.”
Jason still looks puzzled.
“Jason, I’ve shown my hand. Her Grace knows who I am and what I’m capable of, and so do you. Now all you have to do is show us who you are.” Jason’s dissatisfied, but he allows himself to be dismissed.
It’s just as well. By now, Inglorion is ashen-faced, and Ajax can see that he’s swaying on his feet. They’re within a few steps of Inglorion’s quarters. As soon as they’re through the door, Inglorion leans heavily on Ajax, who steers him into bed and removes his boots. “Thank you, Ajax. I’m very tired,” he says as he sinks down, nearly fainting.
Inglorion is young and strong, and after another week, he’s attending briefings and sparring as usual. A week after that, he’s summoned to an audience with the Duchess in her throne room. Once Clytemnestra withdraws, Philomela says, “That was boldly done. You’re lucky you survived.”
“Thank you, Your Grace,” Inglorion says.
“It’s not a compliment.”
“No? I apologize, Your Grace. It sounded like one.”
“The first trial is the only one common to all candidates. From now on, each trial will be personal to you.”
Inglorion inclines his head further. “Yes, Your Grace.”
“Alecto tells me that your wrists and forearms are scarred. She noticed when she tattooed you. How did you get the scars?”
“I don’t know. I’ve had them for as long as I can remember, Your Grace.” As he says this, he feels vaguely ashamed and anxious. They’re old and faint. Others rarely notice them, and he avoids thinking about them.
“For your next trial, you will find out how you came by those scars. I assume you will need to go aboveground to do that. You will need to find people who knew you as a very young child. You will report back to me personally in, say, 90 days. Will that give you enough time?”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“I will be interested to learn what you discover.” She regards him for a moment, cooly but not unkindly. “In the last trial, you showed who you are now. This will help you to learn how you became this way. You may go now.”
He bows deeply, and leaves.