Another episode of Man Raised by Spiders, the coming-of-age story of Valentine Shelawn.
There’s no way to mark time in their cell. It seems like it’s been more than 12 hours but less than 24 when Inglorion returns. He brings a candle, which he lights as he enters. He locks the door behind him.
He introduces himself to Valykria. “Lady Amakir, I’m Inglorion, Marquis Theates, Valentine’s mysterious Drow cousin.” Then, to Valentine, “I was able to arrange for you both to be released,” he says. “It will take a day or two to process you, handle the details.”
“That’s a huge relief,” says Valentine. “I’d shake your hand if I weren’t tied up.”
Valykria bursts out, “So we have to leave?”
“Yes, almost immediately. It’s all I could arrange.”
“But, sir, I can’t go back. I came here for one reason — I wanted—”
“You wanted what?”
“Women train as fighters here. They’re respected. They have status.”
Inglorion’s brow furrows. “What you’re asking isn’t possible. You’re a gray elf. Your family belongs to the gentry. If you stay down here you’ll be enslaved, like Valentine was. I can’t protect you, and he certainly can’t.”
“I can’t go back,” she says, anguished. “My brother fucking raped me — your mother — how could she send me back there?” She’s in tears of rage.
Inglorion’s expression is sympathetic, but also stern. “Lady Valykria, this place isn’t what you think it is. My mother would have no sympathy for your situation. If she did, it would make no difference. There are practical limits — limits on my power, and hers.”
“How could she not?”
Valentine says quietly, “What Inglorion says is true. During the Xialo massacre, my family was tortured to death. Philomela ordered that they all be raped, male and female alike. She had no compunction about it.”
Valykria looks disgusted, but also desperate. “Even if that’s true, I can’t go back. I would rather be a slave.”
Valentine bows his head, turns away.
Inglorion says, “You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“How bad could it be? Valentine survived.”
Valentine’s voice is cold, hard, as he replies over his shoulder. “It’s worse than you could possibly imagine. You haven’t seen my scars. I was a very obedient slave, and a privileged one, and I was nearly flogged to death more than once.”
She looks mutinous, ready to continue the battle. Inglorion cuts in. “I’ll leave you. Lady Valykria, I regret your situation more deeply than you know, but you can’t remain here. You will both be released within 48 hours.” He says to Valentine, “Take her to Sieia. It’s all I can suggest.”
When the cell door closes behind him, she hisses at Valentine, “How could you?”
“How could I what? Negotiate for our release? Valykria, you don’t know what I traded away. He was going to kill both of us.”
“He’s your cousin. He likes you. Surely—”
“No. Don’t make that mistake. He’s Drow. He’s charming, congenial and handsome, and he would kill us both without hesitation if the situation required it. Probably with his own hands.”
“Why did you bring me down here, then?”
“Because I’m naive and I’m an idiot — because my judgement can’t be trusted — because I didn’t understand the situation fully. I told you all of that in advance! Look, I’m a crazy motherfucker with good luck, and that saved us this time. Be grateful.”
“What on earth will I do?”
“I don’t know.”
What are you doing?”
“I have to go back to Liamelia.” They’re silent as they ponder their fates. Presently Valentine says, “I’ll take you to my cousin Sieia. I don’t know what she can do. But it’s better than taking you back there. I couldn’t do that.”
Valykria considers this, then says blankly, “We’ll have to be married.”
The truth of this statement strikes Valentine. “Oh, fuck. We ran away together, traveled in each others’ company for days…” He breaks off, appalled.
She looks thoughtful. “It kind of solves the problem, though.”
He rounds on her angrily. “God, no! I couldn’t do that! Valykria—”
“I don’t know why you object,” she says. “You said that you love me.”
“That’s exactly why I object. You don’t love me — you know you don’t! You can’t. I can’t think of anything more awful than an empty marriage to a woman I adore.”
“I’m fond of you. We have similar tastes. I’m sure we could become accustomed. And it would give both of us freedom.”
“Yes, except that I wouldn’t be free to marry someone who returned my feelings. Anyway, neither one of us has a fucking cent, and I don’t have a profession. What would I do? Enlist?” He adds bitterly, “I thought I was the sole source of bad ideas around here, but you’ve outdone me. Congratulations.”
She looks back at him, calm, certain.
“I won’t do it. Valykria, it’s a terrible fucking thing to ask — you don’t know. I won’t do it.”
“You’ll have to. I don’t like it, either. I never wanted to marry. But if we go back to gray elf society, they’ll make us. And it does solve the problem.”
Her face is fixed, hard. Her knows the strength of her will. His innate sense of justice reminds him that he took her from her home, brought her to the Underdark, placed her at tremendous risk. If he’s honest with himself, he knows that he did it out of love, because he couldn’t bear to be parted from her.
“Oh, God,” he whispers, “I really fucked this up.”
They fall silent, and remain that way until the next time the guards show up.