Another episode of Man Raised by Spiders, the coming-of-age story of Valentine Shelawn.
Valentine has a secret now. Inglorion — Sieia’s half-brother, Valentine’s cousin — is a high-ranking, token-holding member of the Theates clan. At first, Valentine avoids discussing this with Sieia. There seems to be nothing to say, and conversation implies judgment, decision, action. Sieia seems hold both truths together comfortably: Her marriage to Xardic and her unquestioning love for her brother. Valentine dithers, then decides that even if he can’t resolve the contradiction, at least he needs to chart its extent.
He chooses a time when they’re simply visiting — one of numerous garden parties held to celebrate his engagement to Ariadne. For this one, Sieia has set up a target, and the young people, including Ariadne, are lightheartedly practicing their archery, an exercise that confirms Valentine’s dour opinion of the city’s military readiness. He declines to join them, and scrupulously refrains from giving pointers, saying to Aramil, “I hope I’m not that big a dick.”
Aramil shrugs. Naturally he’s not constrained by hopes or fears on the subject; he starts coaching the others despite his own lack of archery experience.
Valentine and Sieia sit a little bit apart, then. He drinks lemonade, while she prettily sips champagne.
“Have you heard anything from Inglorion?” he asks. It feels silly to ask after Inglorion as if he were an aged relative with a mild, chronic ailment.
“Oh, no. I would have mentioned it. Well, I probably would.”
“Look, I’m the last guy to criticize someone for having ties to the Drow. But it’s something I’ve wondered about — more as a matter of family history than anything. So, Inglorion’s father and yours was Tereus Shelawn, my uncle. Who was his mother?”
Sieia shakes her head. “All I know is that she was Drow. She bore him here, and he was raised in Liamelia. There was a terrible scandal, and it was part of the reason my father left the army. I always knew that Inglorion was my brother, even though our father never acknowledged him. The whole thing was something of an open secret.” She hesitates. “I should tell you — this is another open secret — that Inglorion and I ran away together when I was a girl. We adventured together for quite awhile. My wild time. He brought me back when I was a little younger than Ariadne is now. I resented it bitterly at the time, but of course he was right to do it.”
“Why did you come back?”
“I came into my inheritance.”
“Your parents died.” Valentine narrows his eyes.
Sieia sighs, shakes out her curls. “It’s such a boring story. ”
“Look, Sieia, I’ll stop bugging you if you just tell me.”
“Oh, Valentine. You’re clever. You do the math. I’m 118 now. When Inglorion brought me back, I was 43 and he was 53. Marcus inherited my father’s fortune; I inherited my mother’s. Inglorion got nothing except the blame for my truancy.” Valentine has never heard Sieia sound bitter before. “I hate all this old history. It’s sad, and it can’t be changed.” Her gaze drifts over to the archers. Aramil is teaching Ariadne something patently false. Sieia and Valentine avert their gazes. “Oh, dear,” she says. “Did he just…?”
“It’s not dangerous to do it that way, it’s just…”
“If they do anything dangerous, I’ll step in,” she says.
“Thank you.” He waits for her to continue, then finally prompts her. “I’m sorry, Sieia. It’s not just curiosity. It feels important to me somehow.”
“It is.” She sighs again. “Think about it, dear. You’re 78 now. You were three years old then.” She waits for him. “Darling, my father founded the Xialo settlement. You and I were orphaned in the same raid.”
Valentine sits stunned for a moment, then laughs. “No wonder I’m a celebrity.”
“Almost everyone here was connected to someone who died. Xardic, Penelope, Marcus — they were young adults when it happened. Aramil was old enough to know what happened. And the Shelawns are prominent people. My father was a general. His brother — your father — had been a diplomat, and was attached to the Foreign Offie. Your mother was a well-known scholar before her marriage.
“It was a bit like a fairy tale,” she says dreamily. “There were no eyewitnesses, no written record. Apparently when the the wood elves found the massacre site, they sent a courier describing it. That was it. Then you came knocking on the city gate with your violet eyes, no memory of events, and a letter from Mindartis that you couldn’t read. You might as well be Bacchus, or Shiva, or Corellon Larithian himself.”
“Or just some poor guy raised by spiders,” he says. They both laugh. For awhile, they watch the archers. Presently Valentine says with asperity, “Aramil’s a great guy, but it amazes me that he can err publicly in such an unblushing fashion.”
“In his defense, he doesn’t know he’s doing it all wrong.”
“He’ll find out when that bowstring snaps. So, Sieia, I’m going to tell you the piece I know. You can forget it, or repress it, or tuck it away and think about it later. I just need to say it out loud. I assumed that Inglorion killed someone to get that token — that it was basically the world’s most dangerous trophy. Did he ever tell you it was his?”
She shakes her head. “We never discuss things like that — his ties to the Drow.”
“I think it must be his. That makes more sense, because it explains why no one was looking for it, and how he knew it would be safe with you. So your brother Inglorion holds a token from a Drow ducal family in the Theates clan, whoever they are. The Drow are matriarchal, which means his mother wasn’t a scullery maid or a serving wench — she was important enough to pass on some of her status to a son. I’m guessing that when Inglorion got screwed out of his inheritance in Liamelia, he turned around and claimed one in the Underdark.”
Sieia gives a peal of delighted laughter loud enough to actually turn a few heads in their direction. She clamps a palm over her mouth, but her eyes continue to dance.
Valentine shoots her a sly glance. “I know, right? Spy, traitor, disgrace to his Shelawn blood, whatever you like, but mostly it’s just really fucking funny.” He shakes his head. “I do keep thinking, shit, that ring had the seal of Lolth. Demon Spider Queen sounds funny up here in the sunlight, but believe me, I’ve seen some sobering shit. Inglorion’s a big boy — he could kick my ass at will. But I hope he knows what he’s doing.”
Sieia smiles, dismisses the problem with a pretty shrug. “I wouldn’t worry about it. Inglorion’s got a gift: He’s a crazy motherfucker with really good luck. Like you.”
Valentine recoils, then makes a joke of her remark. “Yeah, that’s exactly what I am. Except for the crazy part. And the luck. I don’t know — if you’re the only survivor of a massacre, is that good luck or bad luck?”
“Neither. It’s epic.”
“God, Sieia. That sounds like the shittiest possible kind of luck.” Valentine still has a lot of questions — why the massacre happened, how and if it’s connected to a score of Drow warriors popping up then fading away like a crop of mushrooms or a bad odor. By now, though, he knows that Sieia will refuse to entertain further questions.