Soundtrack: Public Enemy, Megablast
When Inglorion reaches Amakir, he’s surprised to feel sharp nostalgia. He settles at a modest inn called the Swan, far from his old stomping grounds. but as he goes about the business of meeting leasing agents and looking at bachelor flats and townhomes, he crosses and re-crosses the city, largely on foot. He’s reminded of the brief, tumultuous period when he lived there — dozens of incidents, large and small — and of the routines and habits of that time.
On his first morning back, he ventures out looking for bread and coffee, and finds himself in the outdoor market he frequented almost daily for months. Many of the same vendors are there. The fruit seller recognizes him and smiles. They used to flirt outrageously and innocently, and she often gave him little extras because she knew he was a poor student. He can’t find the patisserie he remembers — a shame, because it was excellent, run by a wizened old Frenchman who’s probably long-dead. After roaming the aisles for awhile, he finds a baker who sells fresh rolls with homemade preserves, so soon he’s carrying a half-dozen rolls and a pot of apricot jam. He finds the coffee-seller who has always handed out free samples in little tin cups. They’re generous enough to get the morning started, and he would sheepishly take one or two most mornings, preparing himself to spar or study.
The flower-seller is set up on the same corner as always, her wares massed into a luxurious bank of color and scent. She carries the usual blooms: Roses, daisies, irises. Inglorion sniffs each one voluptuously in turn. The old woman has always been surprisingly patient with his need to stroke and hold them. “They’re beautiful,” he says, still trying to excuse himself.
She smiles and nods. “I’ll show you something even better,” she says. She reaches behind the counter she uses to trim and wrap her wares, and brings out a little bouquet of violets.
Inglorion gasps with pleasure, reaches for them without thinking, then says, “May I?”
“Of course.” She hands them over, and he inhales deeply, with great pleasure. They exchange a beaming look.
“I love violets,” he confesses. He can make out the yellow streaks deep within their throats, but he can’t distinguish the colors of the petals and leaves themselves. To him, they’re dim and muddy, especially compared to the roses and daisies nearby. The scent intoxicates him, though — not the just the flower itself, but deeper whiffs of earth and roots and picked greens, something lush and secretive and magical. The leaves are thick and juicy, and covered with a down that both excites and distresses him.
He hadn’t planned to buy flowers, but he can’t bear to hand them back. She packs the stems in wet cotton, and wraps the whole in layers of paper tied with string. As he carries them back to the hotel, he catches little whiffs.
When he gets back to the Swan, he begs a glass of water from the taproom, and sets the violets on the windowsill. He prepares and eats a roll with jam, and arranges the other items he bought: ink, paper, wafers, and a few pieces of fruit to eat later. He’s excited from the coffee, so he paces around, trying to remember what he’d planned to do next. It’s no use. He’s entirely distracted by the violets in their little glass jar. He brings them over to the desk and sits there smelling them and stroking the leaves. He wishes he had the skill to draw them.
Now that he’s alone, he allows himself to remember Artemisia, a woman he knew all those years ago, before he went to the Underdark: Her beauty, her wry, serious manner. He gave her violets whenever he could find them and afford them. Other flowers, too, but to Inglorion, violets were the perfect flower for her.
She wasn’t much older than he was, but she’d been married and widowed, and had managed her own fortune for years. She’d had the money and time to develop her tastes. Through her, he learned to appreciate Chinese tea and silk rugs. She always had odd little delicacies in her pantry, and could persuade Inglorion to eat even when he was at his most anxious and finicky.
She was patient with his youthful enthusiasms, and encouraged his ambition when he was an unpromising creature: Lovely, volatile, tormented with questions about his character and abilities, the types of questions one feels obliged to solve at the threshold of adulthood, that become irrelevant soon thereafter.
He and Artemisia were lovers for several months while he lived in Amakir and attended a military academy. He was entirely unfaithful, and never considered behaving any other way. Matters came to a head when he contracted a stunningly foolish engagement — he still cringes when he thinks of it — to the daughter of his weapon master. He had no romantic interest in the girl, and was trapped into making her an offer. He looked to Artemisia to help him break the engagement. After all, she was older, sophisticated. He thought she would understand how he’d been out-jockeyed by the girl’s parents. She hadn’t understood at all. She screamed and wept, threw him out out of her house and broke with him by letter that very night. He saw in a sick instant that she loved him and he had no idea of love, was simply interested in avoiding the consequences of his selfishness.
He sets the violets aside, and though it’s barely midmorning, he lies down on the bed and stares at the whitewashed plaster ceiling. He can still recall the shock of her angry tears and curses, his own sick sense of mortification.
He remembers a half-dozen charming details about her. The way she wore her dark, curly hair with a single lock trailing over one bare shoulder. The sound of her silk dresses. As a widow, she always dressed richly, in jewel tones that suited her creamy skin and dark hair and eyes.
He removes his boots, coat and neckcloth, and frees his hair from its queue. He lies there in his breeches and shirtsleeves, and allows himself to remember, not just her beauty, but her passion — dozens of sweet interludes. He would take her repeatedly, until they were both drained, then lie there kissing her, still half-blind with desire. They talked for hours about everything and nothing, held hands, brushed each other’s hair, fed each other ripe fruit and bits of cheese.
A few, brief months. He was so fucked up and distressed then, over nothing important. Or, actually, now that he thinks of it, his mother had just murdered his father, he’d been parted from his sister, had no fortune or prospects, and was essentially alone and friendless in the world. Still, it seems absurd that he was convinced he was uniquely cursed, when in fact he was just callow and thoughtless and kind of a dick.
He thinks of the dramatic curves of her waist and thighs, and her lush ass, which was a work of art in itself, truly a fit object for worship.
She probably still lives here in Amakir, just under three miles away. Her business interests are centered here, and she owned the townhouse free and clear — had inherited it upon her husband’s death. He remembers the address, could walk there in a half-hour. He could pay her a morning call, bribe her butler for admittance, bring her the violets sitting on his desk.
That’s impossible, of course. He treated her so very cruelly. She may have remarried, too, or moved away.
Inglorion draws a sheet of paper to him and writes the following letter, really just trying to see if there’s a case to be made:
We have not spoken for so many years. I hope that the passage of time may have eased your bitterness and just anger. I recently returned to Amakir on business, and will be here for some time. Naturally, when I came back after decades of absence, I thought of you, and the exquisite hours we shared so long ago.
If I’m honest I must admit that I never forgot you. I think of you often, with a mix of sorrow, tenderness and regret. I cared for you more than I knew or understood. I knew you were unique, but because of my youth, I did not fully appreciate how unique you are. It is an impertinence to address you — I feel this strongly. You may have remarried. You may be unwilling to see me, even as a friend. Nonetheless, I find I must ask. I hope you are free, and will treat me more kindly than my past behavior has deserved. I long for the opportunity to do better.
Since you have always been kind enough to take an interest in my career, I will say with pride that I have earned the right to sign the name and title below.
Your very obedient servant,
Inglorion Atropos Androktasiai, Marquis Theates
He studies the letter. The words themselves seem persuasive. His handwriting is as bad as ever. If he takes real pains, he can achieve a dramatically slanted hand that is otherwise regular and legible. Once he’s actually absorbed in the flow of thought, it quickly degenerates into a wild scrawl. This is unfortunate, but unsurprising to anyone who knows him, and a powerful argument in favor of brevity.
He copies the letter out fair, and achieves a result that doesn’t entirely cover him in shame: A few blots and splutters, a line or two that wanders, though he did carefully rule the page beforehand. It’s not a bad letter.
He sands it, folds it up, writes the direction, and sits there for a moment with the little folded note centered on the blotter in front of him. When he rose from trance and dressed this morning, she was far from his mind. Having spent the morning bathed in the scent of violets and indulging in reverie, the matter seems alive and urgent, and he can’t imagine not sending the letter. She’s almost certainly here in town, within a few miles. They’re sure to meet on the street, or at a concert or lecture. Even if she chooses not to reply, she’ll know that he’s in town and contrite.
He summons a footman and sends it, and deliberately leaves the inn soon afterwards, planning to remain out all day. It’s not reasonable to expect a reply, but if he stays in, he’ll grow anxious and melancholy waiting for one.
He does manage to divert himself. He has to make banking arrangements, an unpleasant novelty for someone who has been poor, and, more recently, a member of a society that has abolished private property. His fellow peers were bewildered and skeptical when he explained that he would need a quarterly allowance to lease a house, clothe and feed himself, and pay daily expenses like carriage hire and vails for servants. To them, the whole thing seems foolish and avoidable. He finally said bluntly that if they want a spy network aboveground, they’ll have budget for a full-time spymaster. He can’t do the job if he’s forced to wait tables or hire himself out as a mercenary, or peddle his ass dockside in Liamelia. He’s certain he’ll have to revisit the argument repeatedly, if only because the logistics of payment are difficult. Every three months some bright fellow is sure to think, Wait, is this really necessary? Because it’s a huge pain in the ass. Once he’s opened an account and established a banking relationship, whatever, that means, he looks at a few houses, finds a furnished one that seems suitable, and makes an appointment to sign the lease the following day.
He pretends to be preoccupied with these thoughts when he returns to the Swan, and almost does feel puzzlement when one of the waiters hands him a note.
He retires to his rooms, strips off his neckcloth and jacket, flops down onto the bed. It’s from her, of course. Her hand is bold, firm, slanted, and she uses the same heavy, cream-colored paper as before. He reads:
If you wait upon me tomorrow at the usual time, I will receive you.