38. Funny and Shameful by Turns

Inglorion and Ajax reach Liamelia, not without incident, but at least without injury.

Inglorion tends to be careless of his own comfort; when he’s alone suffers from a vague Spartan sense that he should travel during daylight hours, headaches and bad temper be damned. Ajax dislikes the cold, and finds even gloomy January days distressingly bright. His misery is so clear that Inglorion can’t force him outdoors at midday any more than he would push a cat into a full bathtub. Inglorion decides that they will travel at dusk and dawn instead, and finds that he’s more cheerful and healthy, and that he reaches Liamelia feeling only a mild version of the malaise he associates with life aboveground. 

Once they leave the direct vicinity of Amakir and travel into elvish territory, a more intractable problem arises: Most aboveground races think the Drow should be exterminated like roaches, and are indignant to see Ajax.

Inglorion is honestly surprised at the hostility they encounter. Until now, Inglorion thought he understood bigotry among and about elves. Humans and dwarves have never presented a problem for Inglorion, because they think all light-skinned elves are the same: charming, pretentious, a bit light in the loafers. Wood elves like anyone who’s a decent woodsman and a crack shot, so they avoid the question by pretending to think that Inglorion’s an exotic and reclusive breed of high elf. The Drow don’t notice skin color, because all warm-blooded creatures glow white-hot in dark vision; Drow racial prejudice is mild, and centered on eye color. Inglorion has his share of enemies among the Drow, but no one’s ever hated him because of how his skin looks in the so-called visible spectrum.

Inglorion encounters the most resistance from his own people. Gray elves will unashamedly interrogate Inglorion about his white hair and silver eyes, and whether he’s sworn to Corellon Larithian or to some darker power. If Inglorion braids his hair, wears gray elven clothes, weapons and armor, and recites the occasional piety about the Bringer of Light, most decide that he’s a tragic but blameless figure. They may snub, patronize or insult him, or touch his white hair without asking, but they’re unlikely to call for his arrest. 

Alas, none of this applies to Ajax. Like all full-blooded Drow, Ajax has black skin, pale eyes and white hair. This tells even the most uncouth human or reclusive dwarf that he’s no common elf. Wood elves want to kill Ajax or drive him out of their territory; gray elves will take any legal recourse available to lock him up or run him out of town. The Theates branded him a slave in childhood, so any Drow slave-catcher would automatically capture and return him if he strayed in the Underdark. All his life, Inglorion has joked around about having hounds set on him. Suddenly, with Ajax in tow, this is a real possibility.

After a few days of dodging warning shots and being told that no rooms are available for their sort, they settle on a mode of travel. Ajax keeps the hood of his cloak pulled up and and wears a muffler. He carries concealed throwing daggers, since gray elves are shocked and indignant to see him with a rapier and crossbow. Inglorion handles their money, orders their rooms and food, and speaks for them both at all times, since people can’t understand fluent High Elvish when it comes out of Ajax’s mouth. Curiously, though most gray elves are opposed to slavery in principle, and loathe the Drow partly because they keep slaves, they’re more comfortable with Inglorion, a half-gray slaveholder with obvious marks of wealth and nobility, than they are with Ajax, who could be considered to be in need of liberation, or at least consciousness-raising.

Inglorion finds the whole thing funny and shameful by turns. He’s opposed to slaveholding in principle like any gray elf, but has to acknowledge that he can’t take a principled stance right now. Among other things, the deep prejudices of his fellow gray prevent him from freeing Ajax and urging him to seek his fortune aboveground. Inglorion offers Ajax and his conscience a compromise: It’s not clear how to free him now, but Inglorion can’t stay on the wrong side of history forever, and Ajax won’t always be forced to donate his labor, heart and body to the Theates clan. 

And so this odd couple — a gay Drow slave and his half-breed straight master — make their way to Liamelia, a bastion of gray elvish wealth and privilege. 

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