60. The Coronation of Inglorion Atropos Androktasiai, Marquis Theates

Soundtrack and Video: Rage Against the Machine, Killing in the Name (Live in London 2010)

The coronation takes place in a torchlit cathedral with a vaulted ceiling and massive, ornately carved stone pillars. Every creature attached to the Theates clan is jammed in, from slaves to nobility. Priestesses stand by ready to light and douse torches on cue, elite warriors will clash their weapons, raiders and scouts let out a constant stream of whistles and clicks — Drow operational language, used to communicate on the battlefield. 

Inglorion finds himself just offstage — essentially, in the wings. The area is stuffy and noisy, and jammed with clergy and Theates nobility. He can hear the crowd buzzing and growling and emitting the occasional war cry. He’s been told almost nothing about the sequence of events, or how he should conduct himself. Alecto and two other priestesses are present to handle him like a circus animal. After a time, Alecto leans in and shouts in his ear, “Strip to the waist.”

“Pardon me?” he says, baffled.

She yells again, “Strip to the waist,” so he does. It’s actually a relief to take his shirt off — the room is desperately hot, and he’s sweating with terror. He’s never been in front of a crowd, and he’s never seen a crowd this large assembled in one place. Alecto finger-combs his hair and braids a few locks on either side so that the coronet will go on without awkward snagging, then anoints him with some kind of grease. He immediately feels much hotter, as if he’s about to faint or vomit. She shouts, “You’ll be crowned, and the other nobility will pay homage to you, then the Duchess will present you to the crowd.” 

Receiving public homage is outside his experience, so he just nods and yells, “Okay.”

Philomela squeezes by him, takes the stage outside his line of sight. She’s wearing leather armor, long fur robes and her coronet, and sweat is streaming down her face. The crowd roars as she enters. She must be gesturing, controlling it somehow, because the sound begins to ebb and flow like breakers from an approaching hurricane.

Alecto touches his shoulder. “Are you ready?”

The crowd noise continues to swell, which seems impossible. “I was born ready,” he says.

The three priestesses lead him onstage and position him front and center. The crowd goes wild: A few thousand Drow, usually small, inexpressive creatures, scream and writhe and reach for him. He’s giddy with terror. He stands before them for a long moment, half-naked, sweat and grease streaming down his cheeks and chest. Whatever his private doubts, under the glow of torches, Inglorion looks like an object of worship: Slender, muscled, radiant. He realizes that he can do no wrong: All he has to do is absorb their energy and mirror it back. 

Alecto raises her arms, and the sound fades to a low rumble. The three priestesses turn him, lead him to the throne. He’s been shown how to do the next step — Alecto made him practice it over and over. He kneels several yards from the throne, places his hands on the ground, crawls forward, flattens himself face-down on the ground. Philomela steps up, draws him to his knees before her. 

Over and over, Alecto told him that he must not be seen looking at Her Grace. It’s not enough to look away — his head must be bowed and his face averted at all times, dramatizing his obedience in front of the crowd. Now, as he was taught, he mimes the spectacle of a proud and powerful man humbling himself before the only earthly power over him.

Alecto hands Philomela the coronet, and with slow, deliberate motions, Philomela places it on his head, secures it, smooths his hair back. She draws him to his feet, resumes her throne. The priestesses arrange him front and center again, this time in profile to the audience. A line of Theates nobility and gentry forms, representatives of various interests: Trade, intelligence, the armed forces. Each one approaches Inglorion in turn, face averted, kneels, and kisses his signet ring. The crowd screams throughout. Inglorion focuses on moving slowly and deliberately, treating each interaction as if it were meaningful, when in fact he has no idea who half of these cold, sober women and men are.

The last is Jason. His gestures are particularly craven and humble. As he drops to his knees, Inglorion steps back a bit before offering his ring so that the crowd can clearly see both of them. Jason takes Inglorion’s hand, presses it to his forehead, appears to tremble. He brings his lips to the signet, eyes averted, head and shoulders bowed in defeat. His gestures are flawless. There’s no sign of defiance or a wish for revenge, no sense that he’s simply biding his time. Though Inglorion reminds himself that Jason is an accomplished liar, it’s hard not to believe that he’s a defeated, broken man. He finally releases Inglorion’s hand. Inglorion draws him to his feet, allows him to withdraw and join the others in the wings. 

Inglorion turns to face the crowd. He’s supposed to lead them in a series of ceremonial war cries. He’s sweating, shaking, thoroughly drenched with adrenaline. The acoustics are unparalleled. From here, he can bring the house down. Around the perimeter, warriors start to clash their swords and tap crossbow bolts together like drumsticks. Raiders send out a torrent of clicks and whistles. 

He raises his arms over his head like a victorious boxer, and lets off a long, ululating cry “Ai-ai-ai-ai-ai.” The crowd replies: “Ai-ai-ai-ai-ai.” He screams again, “Ai-ai-ai-ai-ai-ai-ai-ai.” The crowd matches him. He keeps going, each time screaming louder, longer and faster, with shorter intervals in between. By the fifth cry, he lets out an extended howl of shocking volume and purity. The crowd noise subsides for an instant, then crashes against him like a hurricane storm surge.

Now they’re all screaming continuously, and Inglorion is pitched forward, every muscle standing out in dramatic relief, tendons straining in his neck. His entire body whips forward and back like a striking bullwhip. The pleasure and release of it is shocking: There’s no gap between his gesture and their obedience. The crowd pounds against the stage, and he realizes with a shock of horror that if he continues, the front rows are in danger of being knocked off their feet and trampled. He falls silent, drops his arms by his sides. Gradually the crowd settles back like an ebb tide. 

Alecto gives a cue, and all around the cavern, the torches are raised high, then doused in water. The cavern is awash in heat. Above the hectic glow, the crowd sees the blaze of Inglorion’s torso. Dark on his left breast, a nightingale in song. On his right, a black swallow in flight. Drifting above, the tattooed mask of his face, one side scored with war paint, the other a skull stripped of flesh.

A hush falls over the cavern. Row by row, the Drow drop to their knees, avert their faces, throw their hands up to shield their eyes. He can hear the rustling of their cloaks, the clanking of their armor as they flatten themselves on the ground and grovel before him.

Now he knows in the most visceral way that he’s achieved his ambition. He’s Marquis, and will be Duke. Thousands of citizens and slaves owe him obedience, and most are eager to comply with his wishes. He can command this crowd and every individual in it with a look, a word, a gesture. This is one truth.

There’s another, equally important fact. He grasps it instantly, and will always feel it. In this moment of power, he’s entirely exposed: Alone, half-naked, and in crossbow range from every corner of the cavern.

He thinks, It would only take one shot. You might hear the string being loosed, but the arrow’s flight would be silent.

The curtain drops.

As Inglorion turns to leave the stage, he stumbles. Alecto catches him, steadies him. He’s drained, drenched in sweat. Even his hair is wringing wet. “This way, Your Lordship,” she says as she leads him offstage, sits him down. The other priestesses remove the cornet tenderly — this one will be packed away and used only ceremonially. Like Philomela, he will have a simpler one for daily use.

They sponge him off, dry him, hand him his clothing, touching him gently, almost reverently. They address him as “Your Lordship” and look away.  Now only a handful of privileged Drow are permitted to use his name. Instead, he will be addressed as “Your Lordship” or “Theates,” and treated as an object too sacred to touch or gaze upon.

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