7. The Magnificent Five: Ajax

Delightful as it may be to linger over Inglorion’s sentimental adventures, it’s time to turn our attention to the second of the Magnificent Five, Ajax.

In these pages, we have referred to Ajax as Inglorion’s Drow slave and valet. When Inglorion recklessly exposed himself to a massive dose of spider venom, Ajax nursed him through paralysis, blindness, hallucinations, and the early stages of kidney failure. Ajax saved Inglorion’s life because it’s his job to do so; because he feels that Inglorion is the love of his life; and because he believes that if Inglorion becomes Duke of Theates, he will strive to end slavery in the Underdark. Ajax’s sentimental motivations are strong, but over time they’re surpassed by pragmatism. Ajax devotes his considerable talents to Inglorion’s reign as Marquis because Inglorion represents a real chance at freedom.

Ajax appears to be Inglorion’s quiet, submissive wife and in some ways, he’s exactly that. The role suits his personality and temperament. Like all wives, however, Ajax overflows the role he currently fills.

To understand how he got here, it’s necessary to review a bit of history and political economy. By the Drow calendar, which counts forward from the Great Divide, his year of birth is 3012. Aboveground, where the Common calendar prevails, he was born in 1687. At the time of Ajax’s birth, the four tribes that make of the city-state of Physryk had formed an alliance to fight off attackers from aboveground. To be more precise, the Xyrec, who live by raiding, had robbed, tortured and murdered enough gray elvish settlers to bring down the united wrath of Liamelia and Amakir upon their heads. The Cyrx, Theates and Avril were drawn into the fight because gray elves think of the Drow as a featureless swarm that must occasionally be killed off. If you find a sewer roach prancing around your bathtub faucet, you don’t research its tribe and alliances, you crush it and call an exterminator. When the Xyrec got too frisky, the gray elves brought in Tereus Shelawn, who applied his considerable talents to rousting all four tribes from their dark, wet home and slaughtering them.

This is not to say that the other three tribes were collateral damage. When the Xyrec were pillaging aboveground, they weren’t pillaging their neighbors in Physryk; since they couldn’t be cured of this unfortunate habit, the general sense was that they should be given intelligence and resources to do it elsewhere. The Xyrec also sold any booty they couldn’t consume or use, which angered the traders of Avril, but pleased the Cyrx and Theates. Much of the wood, leather, fabric and paper in the city-state dates from this time. If three of the four tribes want something, they’ll generally kick the fourth tribe into agreement, so the Avril were forced to swallow their objections and hand over calendar, maps, almanacs and other useful documents.

All four tribes have kept slaves since the Great Divide. The economy of the Underdark depends on it. Oxygen, space and food are limited, and these limits are not easily exceeded. If the population creeps too high, people will starve and choke on their own waste; if it drifts too low, tribes will lack the necessary labor to farm, mine, trade, make war, and maintain infrastructure. Like the Spartans before them, the Drow have solved this equation by adopting a radically flat social structure — even the nobility eat communally produced food and clothing, and live in shockingly small quarters — and by creating a small group of citizens who rule, make war and serve the gods, and a large population of slaves who feed, clothe and house the citizen class.

Ajax became a slave by being captured in infancy by a Theates war party. He’s never known his own people, though he’s been told he was born Cyrx. He has a tattoo on the back of his right hand that acts as a brand and record of ownership. At the time of our story, it reads:

Θ — Άϊáς

The first line indicates that he’s a slave of the Theates and his name is Ajax. In smaller print underneath, it’s recorded that he belonged to the late Duke, Pandion, was allocated to Philomela, and currently belongs to Inglorion. By custom, Inglorion is free to dispose of Ajax in any way he likes, from putting him out to stud to flogging him to death.

As a boy, Ajax lived in a barracks with slave children of both sexes. They were subject to strict schedules and arbitrary rules. Any deviation was subject to immediate, harsh, physical punishment. Harsh physical punishment is the constant lot of Drow slaves; the rules are a pretext for the punishment itself.

The most fundamental rule of Drow culture is that no one, from slave to Marquis, may look a social superior in the face. Slaves may never look directly at anyone, and are forbidden to touch others unless their duties require it. A slave warrior may touch others while sparring or boxing; a personal servant, like Ajax, may wash, comb and style his master’s hair, and nurse him in illness. Unnecessary physical contact is strictly forbidden, however. Of course, this rule is violated daily, almost hourly; perfect compliance would bring the system down. Slaves engage in furtive sex, dress each other’s wounds and hair, and so forth.  These rules and many others exist to support a regime of whipping, flogging, beating and branding.

As a boy, Ajax was small and shy. The Drow are a small race, males tend to be smaller than females, and Ajax is small even for a male Drow — just under four feet tall.

His first collision with the law occurred when he conspired with a half-elvish girl to steal a spool of wire. The theft went undetected, and for a few glorious weeks, they ran a workshop at night, fashioning rings, bracelets and necklaces for sale on the black market. A bunkmate snitched on them; the two were caned, and their inventory was seized. The surrounding barracks were searched, and their entire body of work was rooted out and destroyed. The wire was too soft to be fashioned into shanks, but to Ajax’s dismay, a necklace of his design had already been used as a garrote in a lover’s quarrel. Ajax’s tastes for finery and trade persisted. Over time, he mastered the black market; now, as an adult, he oversees the illicit underpinnings of Inglorion’s Marquisate.

As a youth, Ajax knew that his fellow slaves found ways to satisfy their romantic and sexual urges. The venues were uncomfortable — abandoned tunnels, crowded barracks, musty closets — and the connections were contingent and sometimes desperate. His little half-elvish business partner became the moll of a human laborer who beat her and petted her according to his needs, and abandoned her when she became pregnant and was forced to expose the infant.

Ajax had a series of crushes on older boys, including a certain wood elvish raider whom he still remembers fondly as a figure of heart-stopping glamor. None of his crushes returned his interest. He never expected it, and would have been alarmed if they had. Ajax inspired little interest from either sex: Girls seemed to think he was one of them, while boys and men overlooked him entirely.

He does remember a human sailor who served food in the slaves’ mess hall. The man winked at Ajax, gave him absurdly large portions, tried to draw him into conversation. His tattoos were crude and faded, but provided an excuse to examine the man’s wiry forearms and thick wrists. Ajax recalls a time or two when they spoke and touched each other, and though Ajax didn’t precisely care for this man, he found it obscurely compelling to be urged to trace the images of knotted rope. Was there an animal of some kind on his bicep? Ajax remembers that the man had been flogged in the Navy, and claimed not to mind the floggings in the Underdark — it was like sailing the high seas for Liamelia.

As a young man, Ajax moved into his role as a personal servant. The Duke and Marchioness both trusted this quiet, trim, clever slave. He was a kind of page to the Duke, and later assisted Philomela’s dresser and personal secretary, Clytemnestra. His invisibility and reticence became discretion.

When he was allocated to Inglorion, Clytemnestra simply pulled him aside, hustled him off to a priestess for a tattoo update, and walked him over to his new master’s quarters. Ajax remembers waiting in the corridor, and hearing them speaking High Elvish. Inglorion’s accent was unfamiliar — gray elvish speech has a lilting quality to Drow ears — and his voice was a pleasing tenor.

“He’s mine entirely? I can do with him as I wish? Very well. Send him in.”

This is how Ajax and Inglorion met. Though their recollections differ sharply, they both remember it clearly.

Ajax kept his eyes strictly lowered, and confined himself to short replies. Inglorion had no idea of Drow manners, so he glanced about freely, laughed and chatted with Ajax. He asked personal questions, and offhandedly admitted that he was entirely ignorant of Drow language and culture. The Drow never admit weakness and hide their emotions scrupulously, so Inglorion’s manner seemed reckless and confiding to Ajax.

Inglorion was unhandily chipping mud from his boots, and wearing travel-stained clothes with an air of catlike distaste. His soft, white hair was braided in an outlandish fashion, and was coming undone in the back. He looked raffish and sexy, and Ajax remembers thinking  with a surge of happy relief that he could be Inglorion’s guide in the Underdark, and could advise him, teach him his manners, tidy him up and keep him organized.

Ajax also established through quick half-glances that his new master’s face and form were breathtaking. Inglorion was not born a gentleman, but by that time he’d learned to pass as one; to Ajax he seemed refined, exotic, and manly all at once. On that first day, as Ajax went about his self-imposed duties, all but a sliver of his awareness was taken up with Inglorion’s hands and shoulders and the carriage of his head and — best and worst of all — with the fascinating bulge in the front of his breeches. In the beginning, when they lived in close quarters and Ajax tended his master’s clothing and person, Ajax’s love dominated his field of view. His considerable energies were devoted to daily, happy worship.

If anyone asked Ajax if he loved his master, he would have denied it. This is how he answered himself when he considered the question. Though his impressions were distinctly carnal, he retained a kind of innocence. Of course he knew of certain female Drow citizens who inspired lust and devotion in male slaves. He drew no analogy with his own case. This is how Ajax fell in love with Inglorion, and felt that this was a natural and inevitable response to his master’s brilliance and charm.

Over time, Ajax brought the image into focus, and defined what he saw. He loved Inglorion in every sense of the word, and though Inglorion liked and appreciated Ajax and treated him with offhanded kindness, he had no romantic or sexual interest in his servant. In the Underdark, Inglorion was given over to ambition, and seemed as sternly chaste as Artemis. When they ventured aboveground, Inglorion reverted to his usual flamboyant heterosexual unchastity, thereby firmly quashing any hope Ajax had preserved.

Ajax’s love moderated, but also deepened. Inglorion’s beauty and sex appeal impose themselves on his acquaintance almost independently of their owner’s wishes. Inglorion is sexy on a train and in the rain, on a boat or with a goat. He can’t ride horseback, but his attempts to do so are darling. It’s not just that, though. Ajax truly loves Inglorion. If the two are separated for days or weeks, Ajax feels anxious and irritable in his absence, and experiences a shock of joyful rediscovery when they’re reunited. Occasionally the sheer size and depth of Ajax’s devotion is suddenly revealed, and he feels the old helpless, ecstatic sense of worship.

By now, Ajax is well-versed in his master’s flaws and shortcomings. He also understands that Inglorion will never love him, but that many, many people will love Inglorion, and will wish to serve and follow him. Combined with his intelligence and bravery, the Marquis’s heavenly beauty has concrete political value; to a smart slave with business sense, Inglorion represents an excellent investment.

This is the young Drow who makes his way to Amakir to arrange Inglorion’s household and impose order on his spy network: Clever, discreet, ruthless as all Drow are ruthless. He bears the tattoos and flogging scars of a slave, and has maneuvered deftly and successfully to bring Inglorion to political power. He dislikes gray elves and sunlight, but will endure both. Following Inglorion aboveground is a small matter. He would follow Inglorion to heaven, or to hell.

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