47. And So You Shall

Soundtrack and Video: Adam Ant, Rough Stuff (Live)

Alecto agrees to tattoo Inglorion for what Ajax promises is a very moderate price. She must have been pleased with the bargain, because she agrees to do his back and face — three or four session of several hours each. They do it after hours, in her small quarters. She has a little table for the purpose, much like a massage table. It’s even padded, which is more than can be said for the stone altar where he got his name tattoo.

When she hears that he’s been fasting and is seeking spiritual direction, she insists on administering a hallucinogen. “If you want a vision, this is the perfect opportunity,” she says. “Tattooing is a ceremony and a channel to divinity. It’s part of your oath to Lolth.” Inglorion’s not eager to be drugged, partly because he finds the state unpleasant, almost physically aversive. In the end he submits, figuring that while he’s gathering opinions from the gods, he should check in with the Demon Queen of Spiders.

At first the visions are disconnected, drifting. He’s convinced that spiders are nestled under his clothes and in his hair. He sees them in his peripheral vision, scrambling over each other playfully, like shifting tiles in a kaleidescope. He watches this for the first several minutes with alternating alarm and amusement. Then the drug kicks in hard, and he sees himself squirming, drenched with sweat, Alecto pinning him down and continuing to ply the needle.

And then he’s striding quickly through a clearing, towards a large tent, a kind of battlefield headquarters. There are five men with him, and they all have to trot to keep up with the length of his stride. The indigo cloak swirls behind him. The air is thick with smoke from burning crops.

When Tereus enters the tent and takes his place at the head of the table, men leap to their feet and bow. The members of his entourage find their places, and he says, “Please be seated. Let’s begin.” His voice is soft, melodious — Inglorion’s voice. 

The room is focused on Tereus. His every gesture is anticipated and obeyed. Pointers, paper, ink and maps appear and disappear. Field commanders give briefings. As they speak, a soldier updates troop positions on a map spread over the table. Briefings are cut short, sped up or extended at the wave of the Field Marshal’s hand. Tereus doesn’t notice any of the mechanics — he’s focused on the disposition of troops, the moves open to him as a commander. He considers the possibilities, asks a few questions about terrain and weather. The quartermaster provides updates on shortages of ammunition and fodder that will limit operations. Once Tereus is satisfied that he understands the position, he issues a series of commands. An aide records them, reads them back, and they’re written up and dispatched to waiting couriers. It’s over in less than an hour.

When he leaves the tent, a groom is waiting with his chestnut, Copenhagen. He swings into the saddle and heads off at a canter, leaving his aides-de-camp to find their mounts and catch up. They reach a ridge overlooking the main area of operations, and he scans the valley before him, looking for breaks in the pattern, differences from what he saw on the map. 

A courier rides up, reports that two dozen Drow troops are holed up in a farmhouse near gray army supply lines. Almost 50 troops have been lost besieging them. The commander wants instructions. 

“They’re trapped?” asks Tereus. “No tunnels out?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I assume the property is walled. Have any of our troops managed to get in?”

“Six of our men breeched the wall and took shelter in an outbuilding. They’re low on ammunition, and struggling to hold it.”

Tereus nods briskly. “Withdraw our troops, make a firebreak, and set fire to the compound.” It’s an aggressive step — one a field commander might hesitate to take on his own. 

The messenger looks stunned.  

“Did you hear me?” Tereus says. “Make a firebreak and burn them out. It’s a windy day — it should be quick work.”

The courier is young, and visibly swallows down his fear before saying, “Sir, there are injured Drow troops in there that can’t be withdrawn, possible non-combatants — a cleric, women.”

Tereus looks at him with contempt, brings his charger stirrup-to-stirrup with the courier’s horse. Though they’re close, he continues in a fine, carrying tone: “Let me make sure I understand the position. The farmhouse is in an area of active operations, correct?”

“Yes, sir.”

“It’s not a field hospital, or even a dressing station?”

“No, sir. It’s not.”

Tereus raises his voice further, berating the courier clearly and loudly. “I should fucking hope there are injured Drow in there, if we’ve lost 50 troops already. There are no non-combatant Drow aboveground — their clerics will cut your throat, and every woman in there has a bigger dick than you do.” He pauses, eyes the kid, then adds, “Are you going to carry my orders, or shall I?”

The kid looks stunned — literally unable to respond. 

Tereus turns to one of his aides, a scout. “Can you lead us there?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Let’s go.”

It’s an hour’s ride to the farmhouse. They’re forced to skirt smoldering fields and an area of active skirmishing. Tereus is fuming at the time and troops wasted, and the insubordination of the courier, who trails disconsolately behind Tereus’s entourage.

When they reach a ridge just above the farmhouse, it’s clear why so many gray troops were expended: The farmhouse walls are within crossbow shot of infantry assigned to guard a supply road. They’ve done their best to take cover and throw up defenses, but their position is shitty, and has been for two days. The commander on the scene rides up, salutes. When Tereus starts asking questions, it comes out that the Drow have ample provisions and ammunition, and, worst of all, the farmhouse has a working well. 

“Oh, yeah, fuck that,” says Tereus. “We can’t leave them where they are. They won’t surrender, but take prisoners if you can.” He watches as engineers hack out a fire break, and the last gray elvish troops are withdrawn, barely walking. Infantry cheerfully toss pitch-soaked torches over the walls, making a game of it, and soon the barn and chicken coop are burning merrily. The farmhouse is thatched with straw — it won’t last long.

Tereus feels calm satisfaction now. Morale has already improved among the infantry guarding the road. They’re well-trained, and will stand under fire almost indefinitely, but it’s not reasonable to expect them to enjoy taking random casualties when they can’t hit back. As he and his ADC’s are wheeling their horses and preparing to leave, they hear Theates war cries coming from the far side of the compound, followed by the clash of arms. 

“Sounds like you might get a prisoner or two,” says Tullius. 

“We’ll wait,” says Tereus. The sounds of battle are brisk. Tereus murmurs with satisfaction, “They have no idea of surrender.” He’s interested to see how discipline is holding. It should be a simple test: They have explicit orders to take prisoners, and they know the field marshal is on the scene.  

After a time the field commander returns, says, “We’ve taken five prisoners, sir, one quite valuable, I believe.” Tereus follows him to a lean-to guarded by military police. The doorway is low — Tereus has to duck to enter. The two MP’s salute smartly — they’ve been told to expect him.

“What do we have here?”

“Captive Drow, sir. Three badly injured, one high-value target.”

He glances at the casualties. Two have abdominal injuries, and a third has a sucking arrow wound to the chest. A medic is going through the motions, but they won’t live. The last two women have been stripped of their armor and bound. They’re tiny, like all Drow — about four and a half feet. To Tereus, who’s just over six feet, they look like dark, sullen children. 

“The one on the right was openly wearing a token, and carried calling cards,” says the MP. He hands over an onyx cloak pin. Tereus tilts it to catch the light. The stone is etched with a lidless eye. The setting is carved with fasces made up bound crossbow bolts. “Nice. And the calling card?”

The MP fans a pack of playing cards. “They’re all the same.”

Tereus picks one, examines it. It’s the woman on the right, portrayed as the Jack of Hearts: Flowing white hair, black skin, white eyes, a naked short sword in one hand and a bleeding human heart in the other. On the back, the symbol of the Theates clan, framed with fasces.

Tereus looks down at the prisoner. Her silver eyes meet his squarely. Her face is impassive, free from defiance or fear. Like a lot of gray elves, he struggles to tell Drow apart. To him, they’re all roughly the same size and color, usually female. He doubts he could pick the high-value prisoner out of a lineup. 

He turns back to the MP’s. “Excellent work, gentlemen. Take good care of these two.” He squints as he emerges from the shack into full daylight. It’s midday already. The field commander is waiting outside with his batman and an orderly. Tereus says, “She’s Theates nobility. I’ll interrogate her myself. Prepare a detailed after-action report. I’ll need to know the exact sequence of events.” He compliments the man on his troops’ discipline and courage, and leaves for headquarters.

As they trot back, Tereus recalls the troops’ relief and gratitude. They were pleased to take action instead of hunching and wincing behind cover. They knew they hadn’t been forgotten or abandoned. He’s proud of their conduct. They’re living in conditions barely above squalor, eating bad food, taking incoming fire, enduring sleeplessness, exhaustion and exposure. They rarely get a hot bath, let alone a drink or a wench. They followed difficult orders because they’re good and courageous and honorable, but also because they’re well-led. They trust their officers and Tereus to keep them alive and less than entirely miserable. Like Tereus, they’re living a grand adventure on a keen edge of discomfort and anxiety, relieved by bursts of hilarity, terror and exaltation. 

It’s an absurdly beautiful day, and Tereus feels a deep, animal pleasure. The smoke in the air reminds him of the bonfires lit for the winter festival for Corellon Larithian. He spots a kestrel hovering over a nearby field. It plunges to capture a mouse, then wheels away. Tereus feels kinship with the bird — imagines that they share a sense of total focus and physical control.

Tereus looks over at Tullius, says, “How’s that mare of yours holding up? You want to give her a gallop?”

Tullius laughs. “She won’t beat your Copenhagen, but she’ll certainly try.” 

Tereus urges his horse to a gallop, and they race the last quarter-mile to headquarters, Tereus easily keeping the lead, the roan mare never falling more than a half-length behind. They pound into HQ, horses sweating and blown, men laughing, overflowing with vigor and joy.

This is how Tereus’s men see him: A figure just ahead of them, dark cloak and fair hair streaming in the wind, in effortless command of himself, his mount and the men around him.

A groom takes Copenhagen, and Tereus retires to his private quarters, just off the larger conference area. He washes and dries his hands, glances up at the mirror. Inglorion is startled to see himself: His face and hands, a white queue bound with a black ribbon, the silver-trimmed brocade cloak.

It’s an illusion, of course. After a moment he recognizes Tereus: Tall, powerful and dark-eyed, his blond hair powdered white in the style of the time. His features are as lovely, clear and radiant as Inglorion’s are now.

As Tereus brushes the dust of the road from his hair and smooths it back, he whistles a few introductory bars, then picks up in the middle of the tenor line of the Hallelujah Chorus: “The kingdom of this world / Is become / The kingdom of our Lord / And of His Christ / And of His Christ.” He pauses for the bass line, marking time with one finger, then continues: “And he shall reign forever and ever!”

And just as Inglorion has so often done, he becomes entirely absorbed in the music — not just what he’s singing, but the grandeur of the bass, soprano and alto lines in his head, the intricate harmonies among them. He’s filled with spontaneous joy, and sings at full volume and with incredible purity, “And He shall reign forever and ever! / King of Kings / And Lord of Lords.” Such eccentricity is allowed, even admired, in the General Field Marshal. He sets the tone in his command, and a cultivated voice is never out of place here.

Tereus turns from the mirror, subsides into whistling the soprano line, and re-enters the public view.

The vision fades. Inglorion is lying on his stomach, blood and sweat pooling on his back, tears on his cheeks. 

After a moment, Alecto sees that he’s returned to himself. “What happened?”

“I was my father.” Then, because the drug has seared away inhibition, he says, “He was magnificent. I wish I could have known him. I wish I could be like that.” 

His hair has fallen across his face, lank and sticky. Alecto stops for a moment, rinses her hands, then sponges Inglorion’s face and back with a cool, damp cloth. He starts to shiver again.

“You will,” she says. “You will.”

5 thoughts on “47. And So You Shall

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