12. Cupid Spouts Latin to an Infant with a Soaked Diaper

Inglorion spends five idyllic days getting to know his newborn daughter. The first night, he stays in the caravan with Alexandra and Rosalee. He delights in watching Rosalee sleep. She wakes up and cries a lot, and needs to be fed more often than seems possible, but elvish trance is short compared to human sleep, so he doesn’t suffer much from the experience, and he rather likes singing her to sleep after Alexandra has fed her.

Alexandra graciously shares her bed with Inglorion — it’s that or make him sleep on the floor — but she makes it clear that she expects him to keep to his side of a very small bed, and that his nocturnal sprightliness isn’t appreciated.

Gypsies are casual, but they’re also curious. No fewer than three female neighbors stop by the following morning on contrived errands to drink tea and question Inglorion. The boldest one remarks, “So I guess you’ll be moving in now? A foreigner among us, just like that.” She finishes her tea, then looks pointedly at the empty cup.

While Alexandra fills it, Inglorion says airily, “Oh, dear, no. I’m settled in Amakir. Business.”

“What kind of business?”

He winks slyly and says, “Imports and exports. It’s an excellent opportunity, but I can’t say more than that.” He instantly resolves that he will never give the same answer twice to any question he’s asked in the Gypsy camp.

He removes to an inn just inside the city gates to demonstrate that he’s there in the capacity of father, not lover, and walks back and forth morning and night. The first two days he reads a volume of Tacitus that he happens to have brought; after that, a courier reaches him with a series of classified reports, and he does his usual paperwork on the floor of the caravan. Every now and then, when Rosalee is awake, he locks everything up, caps his ink, cleans his pens, and spends an hour or so singing to her, trying to engage her in games like pat-a-cake, and reading aloud to her in Latin.

Inglorion knows nothing of how best to amuse or educate children. He educated himself willy-nilly as texts and teachers appeared, and failed entirely to educate his sister. Far from instilling a lifelong love of learning, his attempts to tutor her in Latin, Greek and algebra instilled in Sieia an aversion to classical studies and mathematics that has persisted to this day. Rosalee may be more susceptible than her aunt, however, and he may be less of a priggish know-it-all than he was at 22, so it seems worthwhile to expose her to such things. She likes to look at him and listen to him, and even Alexandra has to admit that Inglorion has an intuitive sense of what will please or annoy this choosy little creature. She seems inclined to like him whether he’s silly or serious, and he feels that there is an affinity between them. For five days, then, father and daughter happily live parallel lives that occasionally intersect in the form of goofy, made-up songs or impromptu lectures on Roman historiography.

Drow and gray elves don’t have much in common, but both races believe that each child should master certain skills and texts common to her city-state, tribe and race. What the Drow lack in literacy, they more than make up for in drill and rote memorization. Gray elves unashamedly maintain that any gentlemen worthy of the name should demonstrate mastery of the trivium and quadrivium, and appreciate the arts. Inglorion is color-blind, so he scorns two-dimensional visual art; he’s also known enough bright women that he extends the standard beyond his own sex. Otherwise, he’s very much a gray elf, and his interactions with Rosalee reflect that. He sees no reason why Rosalee shouldn’t enjoy Handel if her father performs it with accuracy and taste over her crib. Of course, Inglorion was neither born nor bred a gentleman, and he fits the definition only by the most generous criteria. This makes him value the ideal even more. He regrets his lack of formal education, and blames his father for failing to recognize and cultivate his considerable abilities.

During these long hours, Alexandra comes and goes, caring for livestock and carrying out what might loosely be called Gypsy royal business. Mostly, she views Inglorion’s industry and concern for Rosalee’s intellectual development with amusement. On the fifth day, however, she returns from a smuggling-related errand to find Inglorion trying to comfort Rosalee by walking up and down outside the caravan while reciting something in a low, sweet murmur. Rosalee’s distress is comically visible — she’s settled into a series of piercing, indignant shrieks that resemble nothing so much as a Theates war cry.

“What are you doing?” Alexandra demands. “Did you check her diaper?”

“Oh, do you think that’s it? The sun is below the horizon, and you’d just fed her, so I was out of ideas.”

“Always check the diaper first. It’s usually the diaper.” Alexandra takes Rosalee in and changes her, and after a time she subsides into angry snorts.

“She’s got excellent lungs,” says Inglorion. “I don’t care for opera myself, but it seems well within her ability.”

“What were you singing to her just now?”

“Latin verb declensions.”

Alexandra finishes wrapping and pinning the new diaper with the air of someone who’s refraining from comment. Finally she says, “Inglorion, she’s four months old.”

“I don’t expect her to memorize them and recite them back,” he says. “It was just something to say to her. I don’t require her to be a prodigy, you know.” His demeanor suggests that he has a right to expect a prodigy, but he would make every effort to love and cherish a lesser daughter.

“For now maybe just stick to that little song about ‘The Horse You Rode in On.’ She seems to like that.”

“I’d already sung it six times.”

“Because you didn’t check her diaper.”

“I’ve added that to the list.” He sighs. “Alexandra, she’s my daughter, too. I know the Gypsies don’t care about Latin, but I do.”

“Don’t be so rigid with her, so ambitious. She’s going to grow up here, with dirt roads, barefoot in the summers, playing with other Gypsy kids, singing the songs we sing, taking care of goats and chickens.”

“I know that.” Alexandra puts Rosalee down in her crib, and though she squirms and grimaces a bit, she seems inclined to sleep.

Inglorion ruffles her sparse black curls and says, “Sleep tight, honey.” To Alexandra’s chagrin, his touch visibly comforts Rosalee.

By common consent, they go outside to continue their quarrel, leaning up against the side of the caravan. Inglorion is craving a cigarette, but he doesn’t want to add that to his sins.

Alexandra is thinking back to the afternoon a year ago when a beautiful young stranger showed up at her door, talked about gods and visions, and made sweet love to her for hours on end. There was something poetic about it, as if Bacchus or Cupid had whisked her away to a distant meadow and ravished her far from prying eyes. She almost didn’t send for him. She wanted to preserve the lyric beauty of their lovemaking, and to keep Rosalee for herself.

Now she’s stuck with him, and with the mundane reality of Cupid spouting Latin to an infant with a soaked diaper.

“I’m sorry about the diaper,” says Cupid. “I’ll check that first next time. Or, I may forget, but you’ll be here to remind me.”

His candor is very far from charming right now. She sighs.

“I’ve been told that I’m not very practical, and I suspect that’s true,” he says. “I am ambitious. And rigid and selfish and thoughtless. I don’t know what I’m doing with Rosalee or you or anyone, really. Honestly, I think I have kind of a low standard, because my father was a violent brute. He beat his wife and was cruel to servants. He was convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, which is a polite way of saying he raped my mother and forced her to bear me.”

Now he really wants a cigarette. He’s not sure why he’s saying all this to Alexandra when she’s just asking him to stop and think to check the poor kid’s diaper. It feels urgent, though, so he keeps going. “I don’t know how to be a father, so I just thought, I’ll love her and show her the things I like, the things that have beauty and meaning for me. And maybe she’ll like some of them, and she’ll have some way —” Inglorion wipes away tears and stares fiercely at the darkening sky, the innocent dusk.

“Alexandra, he read Thucydides and Caesar, and studied the campaigns of Alexander the Great, and sang baroque music. I had to find all those things myself. We never shared them. I never knew until after his death. I was barred from attending the university because of my birth, and there was no one to see that I was educated as a gentleman. So when I saw her I thought, If sing to her and teach her what I know, if I don’t beat either one of you, and if I don’t get drunk or rape anyone, it will be OK. Realistically, I’m going to fuck it up in ways that I can’t guess. She’ll have a crazy father who’s gone a lot, and does boring paperwork, and who smokes and chases women, and who will probably try to kill anyone who asks her on a date, and who will want her to rule the world, or at least a small tribe of bloodthirsty dark elves.” He shrugs. “It could be worse.”

Alexandra is quiet for awhile. More than anything, she’s taken aback that he brings such anxiety and effort to what should be a simple matter: Letting an infant grow into a little girl, and eventually a woman.

“Well,” she temporizes. “It will be fine. Just relax and let it happen.”

“Of course,” he says with great dignity. “That’s what I was doing.”

She looks over at him: Earnest, excitable, idealistic, charismatic. Not even a little bit relaxed.

They’re stuck with him now. As he says, it could be worse.

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