42. Proper Channels

Inglorion wakes from trance at dawn the following morning. The candle has burned down, and has not taken the bedclothes, bed and inn with it. The previous night’s storm has passed, leaving the air damp and chilly, the sky clear. The inn and docks are waking up — people are eating breakfast, ordering conveyances, working to meet the tides.

Despite its pleasingly rural name, The Shepard’s Rest’s clientele consists of sailors on shore leave, dock workers and low-level merchants. The common description applied to inns, “respectable, but doesn’t cater to gentry,” really means that it’s neither a bawdy house nor a thieves’ den. The patrons might have a glass of beer at night to relax, but they’re here to work, not carouse. Inglorion chose it for this reason, and because it houses a mixed-race bunch: mostly humans, but also a pair of half-orc brothers, and the usual compliment of half-elves and wood elves — just enough diversity to give Ajax the cover he needs to fetch hot water and retrieve their clothes from the laundry.

They’re still an exotic pair. Inglorion is also the only patron traveling with a servant, and he’s reserved the sole private parlor. Both add to Inglorion’s consequence and air of mystery, and the latter provides Ajax with a comfortable place to nest. He’s not timid, but he dislikes humans and half-orcs. They tend to bully him, ask prying questions, or repeat tiresome urban legends about their cousin’s friend who went to the Underdark and slept with a Drow chick.

This train of thought is interrupted by Ajax himself, bearing hot water and freshly laundered clothing. As Inglorion dresses, he considers his next steps. He has fulfilled the letter of his trial: He knows that his scars were self-inflicted. The spirit, though, is broader. He’s supposed to be finding out how he became who he is, which means understanding why he acted as he did. It baffles Inglorion that so many adults could have seen him scratch and cut himself, and dismissed it as nothing more than willful bad behavior. Few people cared what a wicked little Drow boy thought or felt, so Inglorion feels that he should spend a day or two learning about his younger self. 

The problem is, Inglorion doesn’t know how to retrieve records from the orphanage. Gray elves keep archives and employ lawyers and functionaries to protect sensitive records. In a less-tense political atmosphere, he might count on charm or persuasion or effrontery; here and now, he thinks that an official request made through the proper channels is more likely to succeed. Inglorion’s only connection to “proper channels” is his half-brother Marcus. He decides to pay a visit to Marcus, then, and dresses accordingly, omitting his sword belt and weapons, elaborately braiding his hair, and adding a few generic aristocratic touches: fob, watch, seal, mosaic ring. By the time he’s done, it’s plausible that Inglorion has “returned from abroad,” not crept out of the Underdark.

Inglorion assumes that Xardic runs tame in the Shelawn townhouse like any successful suitor would, so he seeks his half-brother out at the Embassy. He finds Marcus’ office without difficulty — Marcus is a mid-level functionary, not nearly as grand as General Field Marshal Tereus Shelawn, or Sir Lucius Shelawn, diplomat. He does have his own office and private secretary; this obliges unexpected visitors to cool their heels in an antechamber fitted with quality moldings, a marble fireplace, and a fine mantlepiece clock, probably the gift of a long-forgotten Dwarfish delegation.

Inglorion writes his gray elvish name on a calling card and hands it to the secretary. “‘Inglorion Fabius.’ Do you have an appointment?” the secretary asks.

“I’m afraid not. I’m here on personal business. Since I’m family, and only in town for a short while, I’m hoping he can fit me in.”

The secretary eyes Inglorion, but doesn’t seem to see much amiss. “He’s in a meeting now. I’ll see if he can fit you in between appointments.” The secretary returns to his little desk, placing the calling card on his blotter. Inglorion dutifully admires the mantlepiece clock.

After 20 minutes, there are sounds of a meeting breaking up within, and a handful of gentlemen trickle out through the antechamber and into the corridor. The secretary slides in with Inglorion’s card, and pokes his head out to gesture Inglorion inside.

Marcus is standing at a small conference table by the fireplace, straightening papers and returning them to a folder. He comes around to shake hands. “Inglorion, how are you? I understand you called on Sieia at tea-time last night. I was sorry to miss you.”

Inglorion smiles up at him, shakes his hand firmly, says, “Collatinus told me of her engagement. I came straightaway to wish her happy, but I didn’t care to disturb the family so late at night.”

“It’s a good match,” says Marcus. “She took her time deciding, and I think they’ll suit well. Certainly Penelope has been an excellent wife to me.”

From his easy manner, Inglorion judges that either Xardic didn’t complain of his visit, or Marcus doesn’t choose to acknowledge any tension. Neither of them has anything to gain from discussing it, so Inglorion lets it pass. He says, “I’m delighted that she’s made a good match. I pressed her to return to Liamelia partly because I thought she would be happiest as a wife and mother. I came to your office to ask for your help with a separate, personal matter. Of all my acquaintance, I think you can best advise me. Do you have a moment?”

“My next appointment is in 30 minutes. Is that enough time?”

“It should be. It’s a delicate matter, but not complicated. I’m here in Liamelia to look into some personal history. I know very little about the circumstances of my birth and early childhood. I’ve often felt that it was best not to know — that any inquiry might cause needless pain to the family without being illuminating.” He looks up at Marcus’ face. He looks bland and sympathetic. So far, so good. “I’ve made my home abroad for the last several years. Questions have come about about injuries I sustained when I was at the orphanage, before I came to work on the estate.”

Marcus nods warily, waits for Inglorion to continue.

“I”m not interested in the old scandal. No important facts are in dispute, and there’s nothing new to be learned. But it would be helpful to see any records that were kept at the orphanage concerning my physical condition, and how I got along with the staff and other children.”

“What do you hope to learn?” Marcus’ manner is guarded now.

Inglorion sighs, paces over to the fireplace, stands there for a moment. It suddenly seems bright in the room — there are floor-to-ceiling windows, a fire, several lit candelabras. Inglorion presses his palms to his eyes briefly to rest them. “I have extensive scarring on my wrists and arms. I don’t have any reason to believe that it resulted from mistreatment or cruelty. I don’t bear any grudges, and I’m not trying to dig anything up about our father, my mother, or anyone else. But I need to know where those marks came from.”

“I appreciate your candor,” says Marcus. “It is a delicate question. Do you mind if I ask why you need to know?”

“As I said, I’ve been living abroad. It’s usual, as part of elite weapon training, to make a systematic inquiry into one’s past. There are questions of fitness, and willingness to confront the truth. It’s part of a religious and spiritual commitment. It’s not license to blame others, or to pursue grudges.” 

“Yes, of course. You were always devout. I forget that sometimes.”

“Did I have that reputation? It’s true, certainly. But you took your oath early, as well.”

“Yes, but my reasons were different. I came into my inheritance, and I was reluctant to leave my fortune in the hands of agents. Under the circumstance, 73 wasn’t premature.”

Inglorion grins. “Twenty-two probably was, but I try not to second-guess my interactions with the gods.” He sees that Marcus doesn’t find this funny, and that open talk of the gods doesn’t suit his sense of propriety. “Putting that aside, of all the people I know in Liamelia, I felt you were most likely to know how to approach the orphanage without seeming like I’m muckraking or making accusations.”

“What do you expect to learn?”

Inglorion closes his eyes again briefly. His voice softens. “Marcus, Collatinus already told me the facts. As a child, I was disturbed in some way. I cut and scratched myself very badly for years. I wouldn’t talk, and I was violent and hostile. I don’t remember any of that.” He opens his eyes, looks Marcus in the face. “I could simply walk away with those bare facts, but I want to understand. I want to know why I did that to myself.” 

Marcus nods. “If you tell your story that way, I should think they would help you. You could make a formal records request, but without citizenship, you wouldn’t get far. You’d have to retain a lawyer, which would require time and money.” He considers a bit more, then nods again, briskly. “I’ll tell you what. Take an archivist with you. Our Aunt Valeria worked in the archives before her marriage to Lucius. I’ll give you a letter of introduction to give to the head archivist. It’s not the same as a formal records request, but it will lend weight to your personal, private inquiry.”

“Yes, I like that,” says Inglorion. “And I think it will help to have your written support, as head of the family.” 

“It may. I hope it will. These are unsettled times,” he says with a sigh. “The massacre had people on edge for some time, and we gray elves pride ourselves on our long memories.” He seats himself at his desk, pulls paper, ink and quill towards him, scratches out a quick letter. He reads it over, signs it, sands it, and uses his signet ring to seal it. “It’s directed to Albertus Magnus, the head of the Liamelia archive,” he says as he hands it to Inglorion. “Start with him.”

Inglorion pockets the letter. “Thank you, Marcus.”

“Thank you for giving me the opportunity. If I can be of further assistance, let me know.” He pauses, and as they shake hands, Marcus adds, “I appreciate your generosity. Your position is difficult.”

Inglorion looks surprised, cocks his head. “I suppose it is. I don’t know anything else. It’s true that I don’t bear ill-will towards any living person in Liamelia. How could I?”

Marcus meets his gaze. The eyes are silver, but the half-lowered lids, the tilt of his head, the effortless charm, are all familiar. Each time Marcus sees Inglorion, he’s startled by how closely he resembles their father. Marcus hears himself ask, “What about the dead?” 

Inglorion’s gaze drops. “That’s a different matter.” A shadow of grief flits across his face, briefly quenching his brilliance.

After a moment, he raises his eyes and says, “But that would be foolish, wouldn’t it? — to hold a grudge against the dead.”

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