19. The Heir and the Penniless Adventurer

As he walks over to Shelawn House, Inglorion’s mood is defiant. He and Marcus have enjoyed cordial, if distant, relations as adults. They each acknowledge that the other is a decent, honorable fellow. That said, their habits, values, temperaments, and modes of life could hardly be more different. They share a father, and some family history, but Marcus is the heir, and, to quote their sister Sieia, has made respectability his god. Inglorion has significant responsibility among his own people, and expects to inherit a dukedom, but aboveground he’s pretty much the same penniless adventurer he’s always been.

For these reasons, it’s uncomfortable for Inglorion to confess that he has a five-year-old bastard daughter whose mother is a Gypsy. He’s mortified to have to admit that, yes, he knocked up a Gypsy and didn’t marry her, and now the child has problems. Of course, it’s not really like that. Or is it? And why should he feel the need to defend himself to his stiff, priggish brother anyway?

Once he reaches the door, he asks for Marcus rather than inquiring if the family is at home to visitors. It’s not that he dislikes Marcus’s wife Penelope — well, actually, he does dislike her, but he realizes that his dislike is unjust, and he believes that his presence must be distasteful to her. Nothing he’s heard about his nephew Aramil makes him eager to renew the acquaintance. Aramil is said to take after his mother, an unappetizing prospect, given her common looks and manners. According to rumor, Aramil spends his time much as Tereus Shelawn did at his age: Drinking to excess, engaging in foolish wagers, and dabbling in dangerous forms of sport. Inglorion has no particular dislike for dangerous forms of sport — it stands to reason that they’re superior to safe ones — but the rest speaks of the sort of thoughtless, heedless privilege that was wicked in Tereus, and that would be insupportable in a vulgar and unattractive young man.

Inglorion need not have worried about encountering his sister-in-law and nephew; they’ve both gone out. Marcus has enjoyed a bachelor meal, and is savoring a glass of port in the library. He’s in an unusually mellow frame of mind when his half-brother is announced. He stands up, offers Inglorion a place by the fire. “Can I get you anything?”

“No, thank you.”

“Are you sure? This port is quite good. Unless…” He frowns slightly. “You’re not a tea-drinker, are you?” He asks this in the same tone that he might use to reassure himself that Inglorion hasn’t become a vegan, or taken up yoga. 

“If anything, I would take a cup of coffee.”

“Certainly. Aramil drinks it in the morning, so I know I can oblige you there.” The butler leaves, and Marcus contemplates his visitor with satisfaction. “How are you keeping, Inglorion? You look well.”

“I’m never ill, certainly.” He finds Marcus’s goodwill oppressive, given the nature of his errand. They chat for awhile, giving the butler time to return with the coffee service, and to pour out a cup. Once he’s left, Inglorion takes a moment to roll a cigarette and consider his approach. He lights up, and says, “This isn’t a purely social visit — I came to discuss a delicate matter.”

Marcus inclines his head.

“I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I have a daughter,” Inglorion says, rushing his fence. “She’s five years old, and lives with her mother, Alexandra, the leader of the local Gypsy tribe.”

“Oh, indeed,” says Marcus. “I don’t believe I heard of your marriage.”

“Gypsies don’t marry according to elvish law,” says Inglorion. He adds, with unnecessary candor, “We wouldn’t have chosen to marry in any case. Alexandra is a fine woman, but our traditions are different enough to preclude marriage, even if I were a citizen of Liamelia.” He favors Marcus with a hard glance, daring him to ask how he came to impregnate a woman whom he couldn’t marry. Marcus remains silent, and Inglorion continues, “We’ve agreed that she will raise Rosalee in her tribe’s traditions, and I will take her when she’s in her late teens or 20s and introduce her to our ways. She looks more human than elvish, and more Drow than gray. I don’t choose to expose her to the insult and ridicule I faced as a child.”

Both men are frowning and uncomfortable now, which is exactly what Inglorion didn’t want.

“I’ve heard you’re courting a wealthy widow in Amakir,” says Marcus.

“I suppose I am. Artemisia de la Viña. She’s a citizen, wealthy and from a good family. Arguably above my touch, if she hadn’t married a merchant.”

“Does she know you have a daughter?”

“She knows that I have family obligations that require me to split my time between Amakir and Liamelia.”

Marcus sits back in his armchair, takes a sip of port, contemplates his half-brother as if he were an exotic specimen: A zebra, or a polygamous Mormon from the wilds of Utah.

Goaded, Inglorion says, “Are you faithful to Penelope?”

Marcus takes another sip, considers the question. “According to our mutually agreed-upon terms, yes, I am.”

“Do you mind if I ask what those terms are?”

“Professionals only. Nothing that encroaches on the affection and duty I owe her as my wife.”

“Did you propose those terms, or did she?”

Marcus shoots an amused glance at Inglorion. “I did. She’s accepted them.”

“A prince among men,” says Inglorion. 

Marcus shrugs. “I see no evidence that she’s displeased. We both get what’s due to us.”

There’s a long silence while both men consider that. Finally Marcus says, “Anyway, the terms aren’t the point. The point is, we both understand and respect the agreement. There’s no dishonesty or concealment.”

Inglorion sighs. His innate honesty forces him to say, “No, you’re right, of course. It’s not an arrangement I would accept, but your point is taken.”

Marcus presses the argument. “If she doesn’t know, then you’re just doing what our father did, which is whatever you think you can get away with. He didn’t care if he hurt my mother. He just couldn’t stand tears and recriminations. He hid his affairs for a long time, and when that became impractical, he bullied her into silence. He would have fucked every parlormaid in the house. He certainly tried.”

That truth silences Inglorion for awhile, partly because he’s surprised to hear Marcus use such frank terms. “Yeah. The only reason he didn’t fuck them is that I got to them first.” He grimaces and says, “What happened after I left?”

Marcus says flatly, “He tried to seduce them, and if that didn’t work, he raped them. I don’t know the details, but I heard the gossip, and the estate agents reported to me. You’ll be grieved to know that it became difficult to staff Shelawn House in a fitting manner.”

“Nice.”

“Yeah.” Marcus finishes his port, goes to the sideboard to pour himself another glass. “Are you sure I can’t interest you in a glass?”

“No, thank you.” Inglorion gestures with his cigarette hand. “Cancer stick.”

Marcus sits back down, says, “It’s a long subject. The short answer is, things got much worse after you left. It was a terrible scandal, and they had no idea how to handle it. They put it about that you had abducted Sieia, but anyone who knew the two of you knew the truth. Finally they mourned her as dead, as if she really had been kidnapped.”

“Good God. I had no idea. What did you think?”

“I didn’t know what to think. Collatinus approached me and assured me that you were honorable, and would care for her. It terrified Lavinia the way you two vanished into thin air. I don’t think she ever got over her fear of lurking Drow.”

Lurking Drow? I stood behind her chair and served her a thousand times, carried her packages and helped her in and out of the carriage. That’s hardly lurking.”

“You know what I mean. The very boldness of the crime was breathtaking.” 

There’s mockery in Marcus’s tone, but Inglorion doesn’t hear it. “Oh, for fuck’s sake,” he says impatiently. “She was my sister. I mended her toys and she braided my hair and sewed buttons on my livery. She came to me when she was hurt and scared.”

Marcus glances back from the fire. “I didn’t know that.”

“No one was supposed to. But, yeah, she came and slept with me in the servants’ quarters. I was afraid he’d hurt her, or kill Lavinia. It probably seems crazy that I took her away. It seemed crazy at the time. I didn’t know what else to do. She was a little girl, just 12. I felt I had to protect her, and I didn’t know how else to keep her safe. I don’t know how it looked to you. You weren’t there, under the same roof.”

There’s a long silence between them. Inglorion rolls and lights another cigarette. He’s embarrassed to have exposed his own idealism and chivalry.

Finally he says quietly, “If he’d touched her, I would have fucking murdered his ass. It would be cause and effect, like dominoes going over. Drow servant kills rich landowner; Drow servant hangs. It didn’t just seem possible. It seemed inevitable.” He looks up at Marcus, pale eyes burning. “That son-of-a-bitch was crazy, and so was I.”

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