40. Burn the Witch

Soundtrack: Arrested Development, Tennessee

Perhaps because of his lingering sadness, Inglorion misses Sieia acutely. Almost without thinking, he walks over to the manor house after he’s done with Collatinus. It’s just after the dinner hour.  If the family dined at home, they should be settling in to tea.

Inglorion doesn’t recognize the young footman who answers the door. “Is Miss Shelawn at home?” he asks. The footman seems uncertain. Inglorion doesn’t imagine that he’s been instructed to deny admittance to all random half-Drow. It’s just an awkward time to pay a call. He gives the kid a silver piece, writes Inglorion Fabius on a calling card, and adds, “I’m family, you know.”

The footman leads Inglorion to a sitting room, says, “I’ll see if she’s at home to visitors.”

It’s dusk, and a fire has been laid in the hearth but not lit. Inglorion sees his own heat signature — pale, ghostly — in the mirror over the fireplace mantle. He realizes with a start that despite his gray elvish clothes, he looks Drow. He’s wearing his hair down, and it falls past his shoulders, held back by an adamantine circlet. Besides the Alexander ring, he’s acquired Drow rings of onyx and carnelian, both in heavy adamantine settings. His fob, seal and pocket watch were made by Dwarfish slaves. They’re elegant and understated, and nothing of comparable quality is available aboveground. 

His self-examination is cut short when the door flies open and Sieia greets him joyously, “Inglorion!” She throws herself against him and nestles into his arms, just like she always has. 

He finds himself pressing his face into her hair, kissing and petting her. “Hi, baby,” he says. “Oh, honey, I missed you so much.” After a long embrace he holds her at arm’s length. “Let me look at you, sweetheart. Oh dear, you’re very much the debutante. You look very fine.” And so she does, with her hair modishly cut and curled, a simple but expensive muslin dress in a pale, cool color that Inglorion can’t make out, and a pearl necklace and earrings. She smells of jasmine and roses, and she’s carrying a painted chicken-skin fan.

She giggles. “Don’t I just?” His fine white hair is falling across his forehead and cheek. She reaches up, tucks it behind his ear, and says shyly, “You look like a prince, you know.”

“It’s this foolish circlet,” he says, “and I’ve left my hair down. I should have braided it like a decent elf, but my valet did it this way this morning, and I didn’t think to stop him.”

“You have a valet now? How very posh! Where have you been?”

“Adventuring abroad. Not so very far away.” He almost wishes she would guess — he’s not used to keeping secrets from her. Partly to turn the subject, he says, “Collatinus tells me I’m to wish you happy — that you’re engaged to a brother of Penelope’s.”

She nods, and giggles again. “I am. His name is Xardic Ceralac. It’s a good match. He’s very clever and ambitious.”

“You must have had many suitors.”

“Well, yes. But Xardic is kind to me, and gentle. I think he will suit me.”

“I’m glad, honey. I do wish you very, very happy.” They hug silently for a long time, and Inglorion has to wipe away tears. She feels so familiar, and he’s missed her terribly. 

After a time, she breaks away and says, “I wish you would join us for tea. Xardic is here now, and I’d like you to meet him. Marcus and Penelope are at home, too, though their son Aramil is away at school.”

“I don’t think I should, sweetie.”

Please, Inglorion,” she says.

“Darling, I’m happy for you, and I’m sure Xardic is a wonderful man. But does he know about me? That Tereus had a natural son, that I’m Drow?”

“Of course. I had to tell him, because of how long we were gone. When he asked for my hand, Marcus told him everything.” 

Inglorion winces. Knowing Marcus, the discussion was entirely elliptical, accomplished through gentle hints and half-sentences. In any case, there’s a huge difference between a mysterious half-breed bastard brother comfortably buried in the past, and one in the drawing room sipping tea, kissing his sister and flaunting his long silver hair. 

Inglorion tries again. “Collatinus told me — it’s his way to be blunt — that it’s an excellent match, but that Xardic…” he hesitates, then concludes lamely, “… might not welcome a Drow brother-in-law.”

He sees the familiar, mulish expression cross Sieia’s face. She buries her face in his neck and says, “No, no — I couldn’t bear that. Please, Inglorion.”

The question becomes moot when the sitting-room door opens again. A strange young man walks in, and stops cold when he sees Inglorion and Sieia hugging on the settee. Inglorion disengages himself gently and steps forward.

Before Inglorion can introduce himself, Xardic — it is he — turns to Sieia and says with distaste, “This is your brother?”

“I’m afraid so,” Inglorion says. Xardic is a young man, roughly a decade older than Inglorion, and resembles his sister Penelope: Curly black hair, green eyes, brown complexion. Like hers, his features are — how to say it? — “undistinguished” and “common” seem cruel, but they’re both accurate. Xardic clearly doesn’t intend to shake hands, so Inglorion bows and says, “I’m Inglorion Fabius. You must be Xardic Ceralac.” It’s uncomfortable to introduce himself this way, highlighting his lack of a family name; it would be worse to use his Drow name, which even Sieia doesn’t know. Inglorion thinks ruefully, As usual, there are no good choices. 

Xardic eyes Inglorion silently, finally returns his bow.

“I understand I’m to wish you happy. I do, you know.” He almost falters under Xardic’s outraged gaze, but presses on. “Sieia speaks well of you.” It’s hard. He feels that he’s humbling himself by reciting commonplaces to a gray elf functionary.

The silence stretches out. Xardic reminds Inglorion of nothing so much as a dog poised to attack: stiff-legged, back up, practically snarling. Xardic is unarmed. Surely he knows that Inglorion’s swords and whip aren’t ornamental, and that he shouldn’t trifle with their owner.

Even as he entertains these sensible and reassuring thoughts, Inglorion can tell that Xardic is in the grip of irrational race hatred. They’re sharing what Inglorion thinks of as a “burn the witch” moment. If Sieia weren’t there, he’s pretty sure Xardic would try something — insult Inglorion, order the butler to throw him out, call a constable. Suddenly the Drow way doesn’t seem half-bad. If he and Xardic were to spar, it would settle something — dissipate the tension, or at least trigger an open feud. 

Inglorion and Xardic are standing in front of the hearth, just a little more than arm’s reach apart, eyes locked. Inglorion hears Sieia get up off the settee, feels her take his left hand in both of hers. She snuggles up to him, says, “Xardic, Inglorion is my brother and I love him. I wish you would shake his hand.”

“I’m fine over here,” says Xardic. He adds, with difficulty, “I don’t wish your brother ill. We’ll discuss this later.”

Inglorion reflects that it’s unfortunate that he and Sieia look so little alike. If he saw Inglorion and Marcus side-by-side, perhaps — but no, probably not. Marcus inherited Tereus’ size and coloring, but his manner and features are muted. Xardic’s probably never seen Tereus, and right now he’s focusing on Inglorion’s hair and eyes, and the exotic touches in his clothing and jewelry.

It’s a long, bitter moment that takes nearly as long to play out as it does to describe. Finally Inglorion acknowledges that he can’t hold his ground or approach without triggering a crisis. He’ll have to retreat. 

He looks down at Sieia — it’s hard to drop his eyes when he can feel Xardic’s glare — and says, “I’ll leave you two.” He hugs Sieia, kisses her forehead. “I love you, baby. When I see you next, I’ll expect you to be a fashionable matron, settled in your own establishment.”

She’s rigid with anger, and tears are starting to well up. She looks up at him and says perfectly audibly, “I love you more than anyone in the whole world. I always have, and I always will.”

He gives her one last kiss, and lets her go. He still feels Xardic’s gaze, but he can’t bring himself to confront the weight of his hostility. He makes his bow, and without looking up, says formally, “I wish you both very happy. Xardic, you’re a lucky man. I know you’ll treat my little sister well. I can find my own way out.”

With that, Inglorion leaves the Shelawn townhome.

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