54. Faith and Terror Shining in His Eyes

Soundtrack and Video: Ministry, Jesus Built My Hotrod

Five days before the festival, Inglorion stops eating solid food, and drinks only water, broth or tea twice a day. He’s not sure why he’s fasting, and he goes to some lengths to conceal his actions. Inglorion’s always moody, but now he becomes increasingly volatile, cycling through anger, grief, fear and elation. The stretches of religious exaltation become longer and longer. His trance drops from six hours to four, then to two. For the last two nights, he’s unable to enter trance at all.

By the end of the fourth day, he’s thoroughly crazed, pacing and singing snatches of classical oratorio, old spirituals, and obscene ditties that he composes on the spot. When he’s in this condition aboveground, Inglorion will simply fuck until it’s over, either finding one woman with extraordinary endurance and patience, or fucking a string of women until he’s done. This isn’t an option in the Underdark, so on the fifth day he roams the corridors and byways of the city-state, trying to find a sparring partner, or just pick a fight. At this point in his Underdark career, he’s bested all his peers, and he can’t get any of them to agree to even a shooting match. The few hardened soldiers who will spar with him are busy or absent, so he returns to his quarters, thwarted but still cheerful.

It’s mid-afternoon, zero minus six hours. Inglorion has stopped trying to settle down. He paces through his three rooms, humming and thinking, stopping occasionally to jot something in his notebook. Every now and then he pops into the storeroom and museum to check on Ajax and Ancilla.

Ancilla is bringing in trade goods, and stowing and organizing them according to Ajax’s instructions. Ajax is working on an intelligence report. Inglorion’s interruptions are witty, beguiling, and entirely incompatible with constructive work. Ajax recognizes this state. It’s unusual, but apparently necessary to Inglorion at times.

When he interrupts for the fifth or sixth time, it’s to perform a brief section of Handel’s Messiah and demand that Ajax and Ancilla learn to read music and recruit an alto from among their acquaintance so that they can all sing baroque quartets properly. He ends by asking how that critical report is coming along, and remarking that he hopes they’re making progress with the storeroom because it’s a bit chaotic now, and until everything is stowed they’ll be tripping over things in the dark. He darts back into his own quarters without waiting for a reply.

Ancilla gives him a moment to get out of earshot, then asks, “Is he always like this?”

“Oh, no. Only on rare occasions,” says Ajax.

“How long does it last? Because I’m about to strangle him.”

“It will end tonight.” Neither Ajax nor Inglorion has told Ancilla about the planned assassination.

“What happens after that?”

“We’ll see.” They can both clearly hear Inglorion pacing from room to room, stopping occasionally to perform a soft-shoe routine to music only he can hear. “I’ll talk to him,” Ajax says.

Ajax slips back into Inglorion’s quarters, and finds him in his bedroom. He’s thrown himself on the bed, and is writing fiercely, quill scratching and sputtering. Inglorion’s handwriting is very bad, and it’s made worse by his stubborn refusal to stop and mend his pens.

Ajax positions himself in Inglorion’s line of sight, and waits to be noticed.

“Yes, Ajax?” Inglorion doesn’t look up or stop writing.

“Sir, are you OK?”

“Hang on — let me finish this thought.” Inglorion scratches madly for another minute or two, then sets the blotted scrawl aside to dry. “What was that, Ajax?”

“Are you OK, sir? You seem agitated.”

“Hm.” Inglorion looks thoughtful, gazes into the distance, absently brushing the feathered side of the quill back and forth across his chin. His fingers are liberally stained with ink, and his queue is coming undone, so a lock of hair keeps falling across his face. He tries a couple of times to tuck it behind his ear, then gives up. “It depends on what you mean by OK. I’m as mad as a hatter right now — you know that.” He looks Ajax in the face, tries to catch his eye. He does this occasionally without thinking, and Ajax finds it almost painfully seductive. “I think it’s OK, but I don’t know for certain.” Ajax resolutely looks down, but he can tell from Inglorion’s voice that his brilliant, shy smile has broken through. “I’ve been having visions, you know. The gods are very present to me. I don’t know what’s happening.”

There’s a moment of silence while Ajax tries to think how to respond within the narrow bounds of the master/slave relationship. This is the longest Inglorion’s been quiet since the second day of his fast. Finally Ajax says, “I trust your judgment, sir. But I’m worried.”

“I know, Ajax. It’s been strange for me, too. I’m grateful to have you here.” He pauses, then says in an entirely different tone, “I know that I’m out of control now. But I also know that I never control anything. Do you know how the Iliad begins, Ajax, with the rage of Achilles?”

“No, sir.”

Inglorion recites:

Rage — Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles
Murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses
hurling to the House of Death so many sturdy souls
great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion
feasts for the dogs and birds
and the will of Zeus was moving towards its end.

“They were fighting a war they thought would never end, too. The will of the gods works itself out through all of us — even our flaws and weaknesses. I don’t understand what’s happening, and I don’t have to.” He says this soberly, with calm conviction, then gives a loud, sharp laugh. “Does that answer your question?”

“Are you afraid, sir?”

“Look at me.”

“Sir, you know I can’t do that.”

“Do you know why it’s forbidden? Because the Drow are afraid of emotional contagion. If you look me in the face, you’ll feel what I’m feeling.” His voice is stern, almost cold. “Look at me. I’ve looked the Duchess in the face. You can look at me.”

And so he does.

Ajax has never looked Inglorion full in the face. At most he sneaks a glance, as a special treat to himself. He’s felt that if their eyes ever met, Inglorion would vanish or he, Ajax, would die. Neither happens, of course. Inglorion’s expression is tender, sympathetic.  Faith and terror shine in his eyes. Ajax feels as if he’s been burned.

“Inglorion,” he says, then, correcting himself, “Sir.”

“Yes, Ajax?”

Ajax drops to his knees, kisses Inglorion’s rings. It’s a gesture slaves sometimes make when begging for mercy. That’s not what Ajax is trying to do, but he has no words, no sign.

In any other state of mind, Inglorion would be appalled and uncomfortable. Now he simply draws Ajax to his feet and embraces him. Their foreheads touch, but they do not kiss. Ajax finds it deeply erotic, but he’s always known that Inglorion doesn’t want or need that from him, and that his gesture is a chaste expression of love and loyalty.

Ajax leaves, and Inglorion returns to his writing. He’s calmer now. It helped to tell Ajax what he knows.

NB: The quote from Homer’s Iliad is taken from Robert Fagels’s brilliant translation.

One thought on “54. Faith and Terror Shining in His Eyes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s