Soundtrack: G.F. Handel, “Hallelujah Chorus
When Inglorion visits the archive the following morning, the head archivist, Albertus Magnus, insists that he’s willing to help, but denies any ability to do so. After reading the letter of introduction from Marcus he says, “My dear boy, it’s a lovely letter. I would like nothing more than to be able to help you. But I suspect that the records are confidential, and my presence won’t change that.” Nonetheless, he accompanies Inglorion to the orphanage with every appearance of good-natured helplessness.
As they walk the few blocks together, their conversation is trivial, strained. Albertus is suave and kind, but Inglorion feels that there’s a deeper layer of confiding ease that he’ll never reach. Inglorion accepted long ago that he’ll never see certain gray elves at their best, in the absence of disquieting half-breeds. And perhaps he’s being unjust. It’s easy to assume Albertus is racist, when perhaps he’s tired or distracted, or bad at small talk.
The receptionist, secretary and file clerk are all female, so work stops when Inglorion walks into the orphanage office. He grins boyishly, introduces Albertus, describes his quest, and rains down winks and confiding smiles. The file clerk is pretty, and has a sweetly conscientious air. She searches the catalog and files with care, and apologizes repeatedly. It’s seems Albertus was right: Neither Inglorion’s charm nor Albertus’s respectability can circumvent the rules.
“I’m so sorry, sir, but I can only show you two files — your admission and discharge forms. Daily records — progress notes, report cards, that kind of thing — might include the names of other patients, and they would have to be reviewed and redacted. We’d really need a formal records request.” She’s apologetic but entirely firm.
“I’m sorry to hear it. I know you have rules to follow, and that they exist for good reason. I would like to see the admission and discharge forms, if that’s possible.”
She looks uncertain, but nods and says, “You’d have to review them here. The forms are originals, and of course we don’t have anything like a loan policy.”
The office is tiny, but there are a few wooden, hard-backed chairs for visitors to wait or fill out forms. Inglorion and Albertus each take a seat while she retrieves his file, sorts through it, and places the forms in a separate folder. Inglorion can tell immediately that they’re dull: a form recording the results of an examination performed when he was admitted, and a half-page letter describing his condition upon discharge. The latter seems to have been written to demonstrate that he’s well-suited to a life of servitude on his father’s estate, in whatever capacity the esteemed General Field Marshal thinks appropriate.
The intake form was filled out hastily, by rushed and disinterested staff. Inglorion knows nothing of the proper dimensions and condition of infants, so the form tells him more about the hazards confronting orphans than it does about his own childhood. There are detailed questions about deformities, contagious diseases, parasites and birth defects. Much space is provided to document dehydration, poisoning and nutritional deficiencies. There’s a section on common mishaps: industrial accidents (examples provided include chimney burns, mine collapses, and exposure to chemicals used in dying and tanning), neglect (fetal alcohol syndrome, exposure to opiates through breast-feeding) and abuse (excessive whipping, injuries to the hands, feet, face or genitals). Since these sections are all marked “N/A,” Fabius apparently arrived clean, healthy and well-fed.
Once he’s recovered from the litany of bad fates he avoided, Inglorion notes two names: a midwife and wet nurse, Margaret Amastacia, who was present at his birth, and the orphanage choir director, Titus Tullius, with whom he’s said to have shared a special bond.
When he returns the file and asks about Titus Tullius, the clerk says, “Oh, yes! We don’t have a lot of money for extras, but the choir is supported by charitable donations. Titus has been with us as long as anyone can remember. He’d be in the music room, just finishing up classes. Do you remember where it is?”
“No — can you direct me?” Because she’s pretty and sweetly concerned, he says it with a self-deprecating, flirtatious smile.
She checks her watch, and says, “I’m due for a break. I’ll walk you over there.” Albertus takes his leave, saying that he doubts he was of help, doesn’t grudge the time, and should probably be getting back to his regular duties.
The file clerk escorts Inglorion through a series of hallways lined with classrooms, everything miniaturized for children. Inglorion has a curious sense of being tall and old — almost monstrous or clumsy. When classes end and clusters of children stream by, he’s concerned that he’ll step on them, as if they were not-terribly-clever pets like gerbils or hamsters. It’s charming but strange — a sprawling, lovely old building made tired by continuous hard use and poor maintenance.
The door to the music room is ajar. When they enter, it smells familiar, a combination of wood, varnish, polish, paper and chalk. It’s actually a small auditorium with risers for a full choir to stand and sing, and a pit equipped with an upright piano. Inglorion notices the acoustics immediately — the sound of his boots on the wooden floor. The clerk says, “There’s Titus. I’ll leave you.”
“Thank you.” He smiles and winks. Though they speak in undertones, their voices are clearly audible throughout the room.
A small, middle-aged elf stands up from the piano.
Inglorion asks, “Titus Tullius?” The man bows. “I’m Inglorion Fabius. I believe you taught me when I was a child.”
“Good God,” the man cries. “Of course! How are you? It’s been —”
“More than 50 years. I’m surprised you remember.”
“How could I have forgotten? I’ve had lots of students over the years, but…”
As Titus speaks, Inglorion searches his memory. Nothing. Titus is slight, pale, dark-haired and dark-eyed, dressed plainly, and entirely unfamiliar.
“What are you doing now?” asks Titus. “How did you happen to come by? So few students are in a position to return — chaotic, difficult lives, harsh apprenticeships.”
“I’ve been lucky, I think. I’ve been living abroad, but I still have family here, a half-sister and half-brother. I came back to learn about my childhood.” He breaks into a sweet, mischievous grin. “I’m tempted to fake it, but I find that I can’t. I don’t remember my time here. I don’t recognize you at all, I’m afraid. The room feels familiar — it’s the first thing that has.”
“I did wonder —” Titus breaks off. “You don’t remember anything?”
“Nothing. That’s why I came, because this was a blank to me. Like I say, there’s something about this room, and the sound quality…. I don’t know exactly what.”
Titus walks over to the piano. “I wonder…” he says. He plays a brief introduction, just a few bars, then stops. “Do you know it?”
“Holy shit,” says Inglorion. “Of course.” He bursts into laughter. “I can’t do justice to the alto line anymore, but —” then he sings, with great precision and sweetness, “The kingdom of this world / Is become / The kingdom of our Lord / And of His Christ, and of His Christ.”
Tullius joins him, taking the bass line: “And He shall reign forever and ever” and they sing together, “And He shall reign forever and ever!”
Inglorion ruins it by breaking into laughter of mingled delight and chagrin at his changed voice. “I’d have to learn the tenor line. I wish — it’s so strange…”
“You’d pick it up quickly enough,” says Titus. “Unless — have you learned to read music?”
“Oh, no — I don’t sing now, not in any real way.” His face is radiant, and he’s near tears. “I remember perfectly — I sang both soprano and alto, but for the Hallelujah Chorus you had me take alto. It delighted me how the altos shine through with ‘King of kings / and Lord of lords.’ It makes up for coming in second to last with ‘And He shall reign forever and ever,’ followed by the sopranos hitting it again and again like power drills, and the awful suspense, wondering if they’d miss and miss badly. Oh, God—” He breaks off, marveling.
“You don’t sing at all?”
“No — I mean, casually. I’m an excellent mimic for some reason, and a passable drawing room act. But I never did learn to read music, so I can’t pull off the genteel after-dinner duet or quartet thing. How on earth did I learn Handel?”
Titus laughs. “You had an extraordinary ear — you could repeat even the most complex line after hearing it once — you were a flawless mimic, you could improvise — you were, what? Four or five. So of course you didn’t know you had a gift. A beautiful voice — flawless, pure, unforced — gorgeous, soaring, effortless tone.”
“It’s not bad now, I think, but it’s entirely untrained, and I’m very sloppy. I shift octaves to avoid hitting a break, I don’t try anything demanding. I’ve never really sung as an adult.” He grins at Titus, cocks his head. “I’m a mercenary fighter, you know, so there’s not a lot of demand for the classical repertoire.” He pauses again, amazed. “How did I forget that? Such incredible, pure joy.”
For the next hour or so, Titus plays songs on the piano: Bach, Vivaldi, popular tunes of 50 years ago. Inglorion remembers them, and can reproduce them in falsetto, or dropped an octave. Finally Titus says, “Let’s see if you can still do your old trick. You don’t know the tenor line of the Hallelujah Chorus, right? I’ll sing it, then you repeat it.”
They run through it once, then Inglorion easily sings tenor against Titus’s bass and piano. Afterwards Inglorion exclaims, “How delightful! I’d forgotten that the tenors get that sweet moment: ‘For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.’ Thank you so much! I’d forgotten completely, and yet I’ve loved music my whole life. I’m sure you’re the source of that. It’s given me real pleasure.”
“You were incredibly gifted musically. It was a real pleasure to teach you. It wasn’t even teaching — you picked things up effortlessly. I’ve often thought, if only I’d had the chance to teach you to read music.” Titus sighs.
And now, as they’re winding down, Inglorion realizes that there’s been a hesitancy in the choir master’s manner all along. Inglorion waits, then, as Titus tidies the scores on the piano. There’s something he wants to say, or ask. After a time, he does.
“Inglorion, you remember the music…”
“Do you remember anything else? The other children? Times we performed? Things that happened after class, or during breaks?”
Inglorion considers. “No. It’s very abstract. I remember each piece — its complexities, the parts I loved. I remember how the sopranos struggled with the climax of the Hallelujah Chorus — feeling impatience at how shrill and harsh they sounded. But, no. I don’t remember anything outside the music.” He pauses, then adds, “It’s been so wonderful that I forgot my original purpose.” He looks down almost bashfully. “I didn’t expect to remember so much — to feel so much pure joy. But … I came because I read a letter abut my discharge, and it said that we were very close. That you knew me better than any adult here.”
Titus nods. “That’s probably true.”
“I feel terrible. It seems so strange. But I don’t remember you at all, only the music.” Inglorion feels genuine distress, thinking of it. “I didn’t recognize you when I saw you. I wouldn’t have recognized your speaking voice. I’m so sorry — I didn’t know that you existed —” He breaks off, leaving a question hanging in the air, implicit.
After a moment, Titus says, “I don’t know what anyone has told you…”
“Nothing,” says Inglorion.
At first, Titus speaks slowly, hesitantly. “As far as I know, you were entirely silent until they put you in my class when you were four or five. As far as I know, you never spoke while you were here at the orphanage. Certainly you never did in my presence. When you were first came to this classroom, I was shocked. You could mimic any sound, any style, even things like bird calls. For a long time everyone thought it was just mimicry, that you were simple somehow, just a recording device.” He looks at Inglorion with sudden urgency. “I remember late one night — I’d offered to fill in for one of the night monitors — I never did that, but my wife and I needed extra money at the time. You’d withdrawn into the dormitory cloakroom, and you were improvising — very serious, very focused. I’d never heard anything like it. You’d chosen some throwaway popular song of the day. You were experimenting with it, and it was truly original and beautiful, like nothing I’d ever heard.” Titus is a plain man, quiet and precise, but his sincerity gives his words power and radiance. “Inglorion, you never spoke. I honestly don’t think you knew I was there. You heard the music, interacted with it — I was only the medium, and a poor one at that. We thought you were —” he stops, embarrassed.
Inglorion says gently, “An idiot savant?”
“Yes. It’s like you didn’t see us. You lived on another plane entirely. It sounds stupid, but there was something divine about you. You were entirely indifferent to us.” He stops, looks at Inglorion with an almost pleading air. “I’m not surprised you didn’t remember me.”
Inglorion realizes that this kind, modest man feels that a gifted child should consume the music he offers and discard him like a wrapper. He says, slowly, “I wish so much that I could remember you. That was my weakness, my lack. I wish I could remember the other singers, that they weren’t just bad voices to me. I wish I remembered the color of the sky on any given day. Or your kindness, the fact that you had a wife and were worried about money sometimes. It pains me that I don’t remember anyone.”
Titus says somberly, “No. You were a divine and beautiful child. If you knew how much pleasure your gift gave me — I’m well-trained, but an unremarkable musician. Here, in an orphanage, a child who couldn’t speak, who was entirely withdrawn and solitary — and yet, you responded to music with intense pleasure, such joy and seriousness and focus. I coached little tone-deaf monsters for years. You loved the music in a way that even sophisticated adults rarely do. It reminded me why I love it so much — that brief contact with the divine.” He gives a self-conscious laugh, adds, “It’s a good thing you lived in modern times. Two hundred years ago, they would have castrated you.”
Inglorion gives a peal of laugher. “Of course, in an orphanage. Oh, dear. That was lucky.” Then he adds, quietly, “I’m so glad my singing gave you pleasure. What incredible providence.”
The two men smile at each other. Titus says, “And now?”
“What do you mean? I think I’m normal. I pass, anyway.”
“Are you happy?”
Inglorion considers. It’s his way to take all questions seriously, and try to answer them truthfully. “Yes, I am.” He asks, “Is there anything else I should know?”
“I wish — I’m only in town briefly. But I wonder — how can I learn to read music? It seems silly that I never learned.”
“Oh, that’s easy.” Titus pulls a textbook from the bookshelf. “This is standard — used for children and adults. You’ll be sight-singing in no time.” He adds, shyly, “I hope you will sing, no matter where you go, or how you make your living.”
“I always have. But, yes, seriously — in a real way.” The two men embrace. Titus presses Inglorion to accept a handful of musical scores.
“You’ll need to practice,” he insists.
Inglorion walks back to the inn, singing in a fine, strong tenor: “And He shall reign forever and ever / King of kings and Lord of lords…”