13. Curiously Disengaged

For the next few years, Inglorion’s visits to Rosalee are the most regular thing in his life, forming a heartbeat or cadence that both he and his daughter find comforting. Every other week, he spends three days in the Gypsy camp, just outside the city gates. This gives his life an odd 11/3 rhythm. Or, rather, 7/2/3/2, since he spends two days traveling each way.

Alexandra usually takes advantage of his presence to slip away on smuggling trips or to visit regional markets, so he’s often alone in the caravan with his little girl, cooking her simple meals, tending the goats and chickens, and even, on one exciting occasion, harvesting honey from the royal beehive. As his intelligence network becomes more extensive, he installs a small safe in Alexandra’s home; he never meets sources there, however, and he’s instructed his staff to contact him there only in a dire emergency. Though his relationship with Alexandra is not romantic, or even particularly affectionate, their tribes’ interests are aligned, so she remains an important ally.  

Inglorion adores Rosalee, though she’s undeniably a difficult infant and toddler: Prone to tantrums, stubborn, easily upset. She’s better with him than with anyone else, probably because he leaves her to herself most of the time. When they interact, he indulges her whims, singing the same songs over and over, playing the inscrutable games she makes up. He’s sympathetic to her wish to control her own diet, and strives to adapt to her complex, ever-changing fads and aversions. 

Though he’s ignorant about the ways of children, Inglorion knows that Rosalee doesn’t behave like normal children do. At three, four and five, she still hasn’t spoken, and she resolutely ignores other boys and girls, treating them like vermin or objects. Alexandra isn’t an anxious parent, but she mentions this as Rosalee grows older, casually at first, then more pointedly. Gypsies have no idea of learning disabilities — they have only the most informal notion of learning — but they are highly social, and Rosalee’s preference for solitude is taboo. 

Inglorion arrives one evening late in the spring of Rosalee’s fifth year. He’s brought fresh bread, which Rosalee dismisses scornfully, and a half-dozen roses that he picked on the way. She seems pleased, but also puzzled, inspecting them much like Ajax would. Alexandra asks to talk to him outside.

“I am worried about her,” she says, as they lean against the side of the caravan.

“She is a funny one. She never talks at all?”

“No. I don’t think she understands speech.”

Inglorion considers. “I know she and I communicate. I think she understands what I say to her. She responds, and her responses make sense. But it’s kind of a private language, and I often misunderstand her. It doesn’t worry me all that much. I didn’t speak until I was eight or nine.”

She sighs. “You’ve told me that.”

“I don’t mean to be flippant about it. I’m surprised she hasn’t started talking, but she’s affectionate and loving with us, and she seems happy. I started learning when I was good and ready, and I imagine she’ll do the same.”

Of course, Alexandra’s not worried about Rosalee’s lack of scholarship. It’s that Rosalee refuses to know anyone beyond her parents. She clearly adores Inglorion and feels safe and comfortable with Alexandra, but much of the time she’s curiously disengaged even from them.

They stand there quietly for a moment. It’s a lovely summer evening: Clear, temperate. 

Inglorion adds, “I was in my own world a lot of the time as a kid. I still am. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad. But I can see why you’re worried. I think it would help to know more about how I was, though it might not tell us much. I was very disturbed.” There’s still a good deal of light from the setting sun. He rolls up the sleeves of his white linen shirt. “Have I shown you these scars?”

“No.” She traces them with an index finger. At first they’re hard to make out, but once she tries to follow the lines, she realizes how extensive they are: An elaborate, interlocking lattice, faded almost to illegibility. She looks up, brows knit.

“I cut and scratched myself. I think it started when I was around her age.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. I had hysterical fits. Much worse than anything she has. I was in a chaotic, brutal environment — an orphanage, then the stables, where I was an undergroom. The other kids bullied me, and I attacked them viciously — injured two bigger ones quite badly. They hated me instinctively, and not just because I was Drow. There was something different about me. They knew it, and they couldn’t stand it. That’s why I’ve never forced her to be around other kids.”

“Good God,” she says blankly. 

He’s looking down, hasn’t met her eyes most of the time they’ve been out there. “I think she’s like I was, just happier and calmer. I’m sorry, Alexandra.” He tries to look up, and finds that he can’t. “Do your people have a name for how she is? Does anyone remember other children like her?”

“No.” She laughs uncomfortably. “I think they think it’s an elvish thing.”

“Oh, no. Though of course the gray elves blamed it on my being Drow. It’s not that, though. I don’t think she has much dark vision, and I’ve never noticed her trying to echolocate, which I did instinctively as a kid.” He paces back and forth, longing for a cigarette, then finally says, “With your permission, I’ll take her to see Collatinus, the gardener at Shelawn House. He raised me after I was five, and he knew me better than anyone, really paid attention to me.”

Alexandra nods. “Yes, of course, if you’d like. Maybe he’ll have some ideas.”

“I am sorry, Alexandra. Perhaps I should worry more. But I love her so much, and I’m pretty sure she’s like I was, and that some things will just take her time.”

“Like Latin?” There’s a rare trace of humor in Alexandra’s voice.

“Oh, fuck Latin,” Inglorion says dismissively. “Though you’d think she’s adore grammar. She’s very orderly.”

They go back inside. Alexandra is preparing to leave for an overnight trip. As she moves around, packing a little bundle, washing up a few dirty dishes, Inglorion sits down on the floor next to Rosalee. She’s arranging the roses he gave her. She takes each rose, neatly plucks the petals one by one, and arranges them on the floor in an elaborate sunburst pattern. Once she’s done with the petals, she strips the leaves and thorns from the stem and arranges these, too, creating an exploded view of the flower. It’s beautiful, orderly and painstaking. Her demeanor is serious and thoughtful as she does it. When she’s absorbed in a task, she emits a series of low humming noises. Inglorion does the same thing, usually when he’s finishing up a difficult translation, or practicing with his bullwhip. It’s a quiet sound: “Hm. Hm. Hm.” He feels peaceful hearing it, because it means Rosalee is happy and engaged. 

He watches without disturbing her. When she’s done with the last rose, she comes over to him, presses her face against his shoulder. “Hey, sweetheart,” he murmurs. Alexandra signals to him that she’s leaving, so he waves, smiles mechanically. When the door closes behind her, he hugs and pets his daughter. Like a cat, she has very particular ways that she likes to be touched. He strokes her neck, which is damp with sweat, then finger-combs her curls, which she likes, and almost always permits.

“Oh, darling,” he says. “I love you so much. You are my sweet little rose. Would you like a song?”

She presses her face against him again, rocks back and forth in the hollow of his shoulder, just under his collarbone.

“Excellent. I shall sing ‘The Horse You Rode in On.” He clears his throat theatrically, sits up straight, and sings, “A young lady once decided / That she was sick of stupid boys / So she threw quite a dancing party / Plenty of juice and lots of noise…”

He is sad and worried, and feels guilty that his little girl is odd and silver-eyed, just like he was. Even so, he’s charmed by the little tune, which he has sung to her thousands of times. In the minutes it takes to reach the final chorus, he feels his heart lift, and he takes innocent pleasure in his own voice. “What did you say your name was? / For I would hate to get it wrong. / If you don’t like it, leave our party / And the horse you rode in on!” She giggles and snaps her fingers, though she doesn’t sing along.

“Shall we sing the ‘Hallelujah Chorus?’” Once again, she burrows against him, pleased with his choice. “Will you help me out? I will sing tenor if you sing soprano.” He hums the piano introduction, and beats time on her shoulder with one index finger. She waits, filled with solemn anticipation, and joins him at just the right instant: “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” And in a moment, together, “The Kingdom of our world / Is become / The Kingdom of our Lord / And of His Christ…”

They sing for quite awhile, ending with the “Battle Hymn of the the Republic,” which they both particularly like. Soon after, they curl up on the little Murphy bed. She falls asleep, which he still finds curious and charming, and he enters trance to the sound of her heartbeat and breathing. 

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