29. Valentine Claudius Shelawn Was Born a Citizen of Liamelia

In the middle of all of this, when the whole family is preoccupied with Aramil’s predicament, Xardic calls Valentine into the library. Valentine’s amused to note that even though he’s a decorated soldier, weapon master, spy, and resident of the townhouse, when he’s summoned to Xardic’s library, he feels like he’s in trouble. No matter what Valentine is doing, a polite request to present himself in the library at his earliest convenience makes him drop everything and fiddle anxiously with his neckcloth, thereby pulling it askew.

“There you are, Valentine!” says Xardic cordially. He seems unusually self-satisfied, even jovial.

“Yes, sir. You wanted to see me?”

Xardic appears moved, doesn’t know how to begin. He adjusts some papers on his desk. “When you first came here, we discussed the matter of your citizenship. Originally I planned to request it on the basis of service to the city, given the difficulty of documenting your birth. However, subsequent events made it clear that no one contests your parentage — not even your worst enemies. Of course, it’s an honor to be born a Shelawn — an ancient, proud family — but in your case there have been tragic consequences, as well.

“After the Battle for Liamelia, I revised your application to request that you be granted citizenship by birth, not by service. I’ve never heard of a successful application on that basis. But the case was so unusual, so compelling, that I felt I had to make the attempt. The Council of Elders approved your application. The ceremony will take place tomorrow evening, at the courthouse. There’s not an existing process for restoring citizenship, but the magistrate will preside, and he’s said that you should choose 3-5 adult, male citizens to act as witnesses. Whom would you like to sponsor you?”

As Xardic speaks, Valentine is surprised to feel a rush of emotions — pride, regret, humility. “I hardly know. This is unexpected. You’ve made me so welcome that I never questioned —” Valentine laughs. “Yourself, Marcus, since he’s the head of the family. Albertus. Of the people I’ve served with — Brutus, Hector, Tarquin — are any of them citizens? I ask because they’re all either wood elves or half-elves.”

“Brutus is by service. I can check on — what were their names?”

“Hector and Tarquin. Both half-elves.”

“Almost certainly not, especially if they’re enlisted men rather than officers. I’ll find out.”

“Who counts as an adult for this purpose?”

“For any legal purpose, it’s having taken an adult name.”

“Then I would ask Augustus, since he’s the head of Ariadne’s family. The news won’t reach him in time since he’s at sea, but I’d like to acknowledge the connection. You’ll know how best to make the request — perhaps you can direct it to Breisis.”

Xardic nods. “Yes, a very proper attention to pay to her family. I’ll notify those people, and get back to you on Hector and Tarquin. Sieia will want to have a dinner party afterwards, to celebrate. It will be a formal occasion. As far as dress, you can safely put yourself in Sieia’s hands. I always do.”

That night over dinner, Sieia reviews the guest list with Valentine. Xardic is dining at his club with several other officials, so she’s bubbly, informal. “I’d love to have a ball, of course, but it wouldn’t be proper for Briesis to attend one, and I’m sure she wouldn’t have the heart, poor dear. And with Aramil in jail, it wouldn’t be proper for us, either.”

“By next year I will have hired a dancing-master, and I’ll happily dance at any balls given in my honor. For now, I’d rather not.”

Sieia covers his hand with hers. “I know, darling. But by spring you’ll be cutting a dash in the ballroom — waltzing, even. You’re very graceful, and all the Shelawns are beautiful dancers. It’s how your father won your mother over, and how Xardic and I met. Tereus was a famous dancer, of course.”

Since they’re alone, Valentine asks, “And Inglorion?”

Sieia gives a ringing laugh of pure delight. “Inglorion taught me to waltz. Mother entertained all the time in that beautiful ballroom in the Shelawn townhouse — it’s wasted on Penelope and Marcus, sad to say. I was still in the schoolroom. Marcus couldn’t be bothered with his red-headed little sister, but mother would bring supper up to me, and Inglorion and I would dance in the gallery if the windows were open and we could hear the musicians. He was so graceful and handsome and kind, and we were so happy.” She beams at him. “Valentine, you’re still very young. You will be very happy here — more than you can imagine right now. Will you let me dress you tomorrow?”

“With pleasure, my dear. I finally have evening clothes.”

An hour before the ceremony, then, Valentine presents himself for inspection in Sieia’s withdrawing room. “Evening clothes, and no weapons,” he says. “You can see I’m a quick learner.”

“So you are,” she says. “I like that waistcoat.”

He says with naive pride, “It’s grand, isn’t it?” Though the fashion is for elaborate, colored waistcoats, Valentine chose a deceptively plain one: white brocade quilted with an ivy leaf pattern picked out in silver thread. The hem and high collar are intricately embroidered with violets and deep green violet leaves. His neckcloth is knotted in a simple military style, and he’s chosen a black evening coat and pantaloons. The jacket is almost severe in its simplicity — a new style, very dashing — except that it’s lined with French blue silk that precisely matches the brocade of his cloak. Valentine sees Sieia noting that detail with approval, and he says, with a grin, “My tailor nearly despaired of matching it.”

“Did he?”

“No, he’s a very phlegmatic fellow. It was like ordering a cut of meat from the butcher. A very world-weary butcher. I’ve pinned my silver star to the jacket. Is that right? I don’t know how they’re worn.”

“Oh, yes. No better occasion, especially since you don’t have a military uniform. It’s too bad about your hair. You’re right to leave the circlet off. That wouldn’t look right at all.”

He says primly, “They’re expecting something exotic. That’s what they’ll get.”

She laughs. “Did I say that before? Oh, dear.”

“Well, you had to comfort me somehow. I suppose you still do.”

“It’s a charming suit. Let’s see it with the cloak.”

“It’s almost cold enough to need one now.” He settles it over his shoulders with a flourish, then bends down so that Sieia can place the silver pin.

She steps back, surveys him from head to toe, claps her hands like a delighted child. “You look very handsome. You have excellent taste, which is a pleasant surprise.”

“I thought all Shelawns did.”

“We were becoming worried they’d done something to you in the Underdark, my dear. Perhaps an oath to Lolth swearing off finery. Now, I have a surprise for you.” She turns to the mantelpiece, where she’s left a jewelry box. As always, she picks the lock instead of using a key. “It was your father’s. I assumed that if he wore a signet ring it was long gone. But Penelope remembered that he gave one to Marcus for safekeeping. It’s been in their safe all along.”

“Sieia, you wretch! You asked me if I had a signet ring, and it was in Marcus’ safe?”

She shakes it out of its velvet pouch, and into his palm. “It’s unusual, but pretty, I think.”

The setting is plain — mithrail etched with acanthus leaves. The stone is onyx: massive, square. It fits Valentine’s left ring finger perfectly. He tilts it to catch the light, squints at the image cut into the stone. He finally makes out a lithe, long-legged Egyptian cat striding along, head tilted, tail a jaunty question mark. “Good God,” he says.

“It’s the oddest thing. If you dislike it, you can always have another one crafted.”

“It’s perfect,” he says fervently. He’s actually speechless for a moment, choked up. For the first time he thinks of his father as an actual man — not a vague figure in Tereus’s entourage, or a cipher who lived just to die in Xialo. “He liked cats,” Valentine says in a stunned tone.

“I’m glad you like it, darling. We found jewelry of your mother’s, too, some of it quite fine. Perhaps you’ll want to have some of the stones re-set.”

There’s a knock at the door. Xardic says, “The carriage is out front. Are you ready, or should I have the coachman walk the horses?”

Valentine steps into the hall, blows Sieia a kiss. “I was born ready,” he says to Xardic. “Let’s go.”

When they reach the magistrate’s chambers, the footman throws open massive French doors, announces, “The Honorable Xardic Ceralac, Mayor of Liamelia. Valentine Claudius Shelawn.” This is how Valentine learns that he has a middle name. He immediately resolves to have Charon added, and to have his underwear and handkerchiefs monogrammed “VCCS.”

The magistrate’s chambers feature a profusion of red brocade, Roman-style moldings, and a high, coffered ceiling with a chandelier that’s been converted to gas. The magistrate and witnesses are gathered in front of a fireplace whose mantlepiece is larger and more ornate than most townhouse facades. The magistrate has placed a lectern and high-backed chairs in a semi-circle around the hearth. Xardic leads Valentine up to the hearth. “Your Honor, may I present my cousin, Valentine Shelawn? Valentine, this is Titus Andronicus, the High Magistrate of Liamelia.” They shake hands. There are two empty chairs, Xardic’s, directly to the left of the lectern, and Valentine’s, at the bottom of the semicircle. As he takes his place at the bottom, Valentine shakes hands with Albertus, arrayed in his academic hood and cloak, and a red sash for the Royal Academy; Brutus, stiff and resplendent in a spectacularly uncomfortable Hussar’s jacket and pelisse; and Marcus, wearing the black evening clothes of an embassy attache with practiced ease. Titus is dressed in judicial robes, of course, in the effortless way a jockey wears silks or a blacksmith dons an apron and gauntlets.

“Gentlemen, please be seated,” he says. He’s so accustomed to the rarified air of his chambers that he combines ease and grace seamlessly. “We have a ceremony for welcoming new citizens created by service. It is beautiful — uncommon, but not rare. One of our witnesses here today became a citizen through devoted service to Liamelia.” He inclines his head gracefully at Brutus. “We don’t have a recorded ceremony for awarding citizenship by birth. Perhaps it’s just as well. Childbirth brings its own trials and beauties, and the ladies preside over these rites better than I could hope to do.

“Valentine Claudius was born a citizen of Liamelia, a descendent of the Shelawn and Arahir families. He was torn from his family, city and heritage before he could read or write or speak, before he was capable of forming memories. He was enslaved, confined, tortured, and after his escape, hunted cruelly. His story is, in many ways, tragic.

“We cannot undo history; we cannot resurrect the dead; we cannot restore what has been lost. Valentine’s escape, homecoming, and subsequent service, show extraordinary will, determination, luck and grace. To undo these events would be to undo and blot out the noble young elf before you. I would not do that if I could.

“Valentine, please step forward.” Valentine approaches the podium. “As High Magistrate of Liamelia, my greatest and most sacred duty is to discover the truth and proclaim it. It is true that Valentine Claudius Shelawn was born a citizen of Liamelia. I am honored — deeply honored — to proclaim this truth, and through an official act, to confer on Valentine the citizenship, rights and privileges that were his all along.” Titus hands Valentine a scroll that is as stiff with seals, ribbons and thread as his Drow heart could wish.

Valentine accepts the scroll. He’s overwhelmed — feels dazed, almost ashamed. “Thank you, your honor,” he says. His voice is melodious. He’s tall and handsome. As always, his outward grace conceals the confusion within. Xardic, Albertus, Brutus and Marcus stand and applaud. They’re all beaming. Valentine realizes that he’s made them very happy — that he’s given them a reason to feel proud and happy and excited. He returns to his place on the hearth. Titus concludes benevolently, “Thank you, gentlemen, for your service today, and every day. I believe we’re all invited to one of Sieia’s select dinner parties, to begin within the hour.”

With that, the ceremony breaks up into masculine conviviality. Marcus, Brutus, Albertus, Xardic and Titus all take turns congratulating Valentine. He’s genuinely touched, partly because the occasion is clearly emotional for the others.

Marcus thanks him sincerely for taking care of Aramil, saying, “It’s been such a comfort to Penelope to know that you’re looking after your cousin.”

Brutus appears stoic, but smiles briefly as he murmurs, “You’re one of them now, by right of birth. It’s yours. You have nothing to prove.”

Albertus is delighted and proud, and, alarmingly, determined to converse at least briefly in Drow.

During the carriage ride home, Valentine says to Xardic, “Thank you so much, sir. It meant more than I could have imagined. Thank you.”

“I’m glad I could be of service to you.”

“It was elegantly done. Titus Andronicus was so impressive.”

Xardic replies with real enthusiasm, “Wasn’t he? I admire him so much — a true public servant of the old school. An amazing fellow.” Xardic’s air of deep satisfaction tells Valentine that his greatest wish is to exercise just this kind of patriarchal benevolence.

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