5. It Seems As If Everything Must Be Forgiven

Soundtrack: Adam Ant, Try this for Sighs

Inglorion dresses with care for his appointment with Artemisia. Given the opportunity, he would make himself late striving for effortless elegance. However, there’s only so much he can do. Men’s clothing has begun its centuries’-long decent from the powdered wigs, embroidered silk waistcoats and high-heeled, jeweled shoes of his father’s youth, and has settled into the neatness and propriety advocated by Beau Brummell.

To our eyes, Inglorion’s rig would seem foppish, but to him it is pleasingly minimal: Knitted, dove-gray breeches, a black silk waistcoat and jacket, and gleaming black boots with silver tassels. He aspires to express his sense of personal style through an elaborate neckcloth arrangement of his own design, but after breaking a personal record for most neckcloths ruined by compulsive adjustment and rearrangement, he falls back on a simple military style.

As a Drow Marquis, he has a valuable collection of curious and well-crafted rings. He chooses three of onyx to compliment the one that really matters: The mosaic ring Artemisia gave him long ago, just before she broke with him. They all look charming on his pale, strong and shapely hands. As he ties his hair back with the usual length of black silk ribbon, he thinks that he’s probably a fool and a jerk, but he looks handsome and respectable.

The weather is fair, so he walks over to her townhouse, reminding himself every few minutes that he can’t expect to pick up where he left off with Artemisia. He’s changed a good deal — he hopes for the better — and she must have changed, too.

From the moment he knocks on the door, he has an almost intoxicating sense of familiarity. Her butler, Madison, still has the same air of detachment colored with a barely detectable shade of disapproval. At the time, Inglorion thought Madison disapproved of Artemisia’s way of life; now he thinks that he, Inglorion, disrupted Artemisia’s settled existence, and her retainers were naturally protective of her. He pays Madison off, as he always did, though it’s unnecessary. The light still slants from the fanlight and high windows. He’s struck, as he always was, by the sense of stillness and permanency that only accumulated wealth can buy.

When he enters her study, Artemisia is sitting at her desk reviewing accounts, as she often did before. She makes some little show of being absorbed in them, but he suspects that she’s been waiting to hear his step. Madison announces Inglorion Atropos Androktasiai, Marquis Theates, which fills Inglorion with pride and wonder. In the Underdark, his title feels familiar with use, and is weighted down with dreary responsibility. Aboveground, it sounds pleasantly exotic.

Artemisia looks up. She still has the same quality of seriousness. Now, her handsome features are animated with a girlish eagerness. Inglorion walks over, takes her hand and kisses it. Their eyes meet, and her expression is excited, anxious, tentative.

“Darling,” he says, and though he didn’t intend it, he takes her into his arms and holds her for a long moment, simply breathing in her familiar scent, which he’s always found irresistible and provocative.

“Madison, leave us,” she says, just as she always did. “I’ll ring if I need you.”

As the butler withdraws, Inglorion says, “It feels as if no time has passed at all. I want so badly to kiss you.”

“I have the same sense,” she says, “and yet I know it’s not true.”

He releases her from his embrace, but keeps his hold on one of her hands. He draws her over to a chaise lounge, and they sit side-by-side.

A part of Artemisia had hoped that she’d be disappointed, and that she could write off her memories as the product of infatuation. His voice, his eyes, his gestures, are all more lovely and seductive than she remembered. He looks like a fallen angel. Seeing him again, she feels a carnal shock.

She looks at him for a long moment, and she does note some differences. In his youth, he always looked half-starved and a little bit martyred. His features are still flawless, but he’s stronger and more solid, and has gained a calm, decisive air. His manner towards her has shifted, too — he’s more serious and gentle. He wasn’t precisely a boy before, but now she feels he is unquestionably a man.

Inglorion’s impressions of Artemisia are less detailed and complete. He’s painfully aware  that his desire for her is unchanged. He’s missed her and is eager to talk to her, but a part of him just wants to know how long it will be until he can decently kiss her, seduce her, reacquaint himself with the infinite charms of her body. He wants her badly, and is willing to press his luck in order to have her.

“There’s so much I want to know,” she says, “but first, how did you become a Marquis? Your family isn’t noble, and last I heard, your birth was illegitimate.”

“I’m so glad you asked! It saves me the trouble of trying to work it into the conversation. I’ve been living in the Underdark — I went there a few days after you and I parted. My mother is Duchess Theates. She selected me as her heir, so when she dies, or if she abdicates, I will become the Duke of Theates. Of course, among gray elves, I’m still a nobody, and it’s what gray elves would call an honorary title. Her Grace’s rule is almost absolute; as Marquis Theates, I’m mostly a convenient target for factional rivals.”

She gives a trill of delighted laughter. “So you’re a Drow nobleman?”

“Mostly I say I’ve spent my youth traveling abroad. I don’t know how it is here, but in Liamelia there’s still a sense that gray and Drow are natural enemies.” He pauses, and his voice drops to a softer, more intimate tone. “You know, none of that seems important now. I’ve missed you. And seeing you — it’s stronger, more immediate. I know I shouldn’t speak of it, that I have apologies and explanations to make. But I think you feel it, too.” He hopes she does. He’s speaking a bit at random.

She’s silent for awhile, gazing down at their clasped hands. Being a woman, she’s more aware of the change in him. Finally she answers, “Yes. I don’t know. What was the question again?” They both laugh.

“Exactly,” he says. Being Inglorion, he gazes into her eyes, draws her hand to his lips, kisses her fingers, palm, the inside of her wrist. He says, “Forgive me, darling,” and kisses her softly on the lips. She responds passionately, and soon they’re making out like teenagers. Their kisses are long and hard and electric. He longs to slide his fingers into her, take her here and now, as he often has before.

He breaks off and says a bit breathlessly, “I know there are things we should discuss. I can’t think, I can’t remember what they are.”

She nods and laughs. “I missed you so much. We’ll go upstairs. We can talk later.”

Though it seems reckless, they go up to her boudoir. The silk coverlet on her bed is pink rather than pale green now, and the curtains and bed hangings are gold. The dappled, filtered light is unchanged, and it truly feels to him as if she is, too: The spice of her perfume, her sweet yielding, the taste of her lips, the texture of her dark curls. To Inglorion, it’s like he never left, as if that sad day and the terrible weeks and months that followed never occurred. The feeling is so strong that it seems as if she must understand, and as if everything must therefore be forgiven.

She has the sense that he’s just as beautiful, and more commanding. Artemisia does not yield lightly. She’s a serious creature by nature, and takes herself seriously. And yet, when Inglorion kisses her and gathers her up in his arms, she surrenders to him in some fundamental way. He experiences this as a quality of hers — how she yields entirely, gracefully and beautifully. Artemisia locates the quality within him. He requires surrender from her, and she yields gladly to him, and only him.

He’s dreamed of this moment for so long. It feels like a miracle that she’s in his arms, that he’s permitted to hold her and make love to her. He so often took her hastily and greedily over some handy piece of furniture, both of them half-dressed. He never stopped to marvel at holding her hand, lying next to her, just the simple sound of her heartbeat and breath. He’s determined to savor everything that he rushed through before.

He holds her, kisses her, slowly undresses her. He loves her ass and the curve of her waist, how the back of her neck smells. He places her on her side, then enters her from behind. He gives her a long, sweet fucking just like this, turning her head back so he can kiss her lips. He revels in all the little charms that had faded from memory. She’s always had gorgeous curves, and it seems to him that her figure is just a bit more lush now. Certainly he takes great pleasure in reclaiming every inch: Her slender waist, the outward flair of her hips, her sweet, perfect ass.

He feels he could fuck her like that forever — lose himself entirely in her flesh — but he senses that she wants him to take her hard and fast, like he used to, so he draws her to her hands and knees, kneels up behind her, and slides in. She whimpers with joy, tilts her hips to take him deeper, pushes back against him. He holds her firmly and starts to bang her. He’s at 85% effort, trying to leave somewhere to take it. She knows him too well, though — she knows he’s holding back. She looks over her shoulder and says, “Come on, really fuck me.” That’s what he remembers best about her: Her insatiable appetite for his cock. And so he fucks her almost all-out, for a long, long time.

He remembers how she uses him up completely, turns sex into a contest of will, a battle of attrition. He’s determined to fuck her into submission in exactly the way she craves. He doesn’t have the absolute recklessness and inexhaustible energy of youth, but he’s stronger, and has more weight and muscle to put behind each thrust. He knows her body well, and still has a few more tricks than the devil.

He flips her onto her back, and guides her legs onto his shoulders. It’s a good, deep angle, and he can cup her ass, spread it. Once he’s got a rhythm going, he slides two fingers deep into her ass. He feels her stiffen with surprise and delight, and as he thrusts his cock and fingers into her, he murmurs, “That’s how I’ll finish — by pounding your sweet ass.”

She moans, and he can feel her clamp down hard. He holds himself deep inside her, and when she’s done, he flips her over, settles her onto a pillow so that her ass is in the air, and pushes his slick cock in. She’s sobbing wordlessly now, holding her cheeks apart. He settles all the way in, pins her there for a few beats.

“Is that it?” he whispers in her ear. “Is that what you want?” His full weight is on her.

“Just fuck me,” she says, and he does — long, hard, fast strokes. He has no idea how she takes it. Since he’s been fucking her hard all along, he has to switch into overdrive to come. He grips her waist, pulls her back against him as he slams down into her, bites the back of her neck, empties both barrels.

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