Another episode of Man Raised by Spiders, the coming-of-age story of Valentine Shelawn.
Valentine continues to drive their marriage plans forward. His thwarted desire finds expression in absolute, swift conformance to what he believes to be Valykria’s wishes. He tells himself again and again that he placed Valykria in danger by taking her to the Underdark and compromised her by traveling alone with her, so it’s his duty to free her from her family. Marcus remains out of town on business, and Sieia urges Valentine to wait for his return, since he’s the head of the family. Valentine resists this — the more uncomfortable he feels, the more he becomes determined to act chivalrously and immediately, without regard to petty considerations of money or status.
A date is set two weeks out, and Xardic acquires a special license that allows them to marry at any church, without the delay of reading banns. Under the circumstances, a private wedding is thought to be best; notices will be published in the papers afterwards. Naturally Valentine is profoundly ignorant, both of the law and of what tradition and their stations demand. He relies on Sieia and Xardic to ensure that the ceremony is legal, proper and binding. As the days slip by, Valentine can’t deny that his chivalrous impulse has had real consequences; Sieia and Xardic are working hard to bring an air of propriety to events.
A week before the wedding date, Valentine returns from the archives to find a calling card from Valykria’s brother, “Eralon Amakir, Esq.”
The butler says, “The young man was agitated — seemed determined to see you — could only be discouraged from waiting with great difficulty. He asks that you visit him at his inn at your earliest convenience.”
“Thank you. You did right to discourage him from staying.” He hesitates to meet Eralon without a trusted second — someone who can back him up in a fight, help him tell his side of the story afterwards. Valentine fingers the card, considers. After some thought, he sends the following reply:
I will do myself the honor of waiting on you this evening at 6.
A note to the barracks earns a promise from Hector to act as a second. Hector takes his role seriously, and provides wise counsel during the cab ride over. However, Valentine is firmly convinced that Eralon Amakir is the source of his problems, and he’s eager to thrash him.
The inn doesn’t cater to gentry, but is clearly respectable. Valentine gives the ostler his card. He and Hector are led to a private parlor. A young man is waiting there for them. He stands up, introduces himself as Eralon Amakir. Valentine presents himself and Hector, and the three of them exchange cold bows.
Eralon is tall and beefy, but unimpressive. He looks unhealthy somehow — his skin is mottled, as if from drugs or excessive drink. His clothes are rumpled, he smells bad. There’s something evasive, unwholesome about his stance and gaze. As military men who train regularly, Valentine and Hector both regard him with instinctive disgust and suspicion.
Eralon says abruptly, “You have my sister Valykria. I don’t know where you’re keeping her, but I demand that you release her to my care. The family is willing to forgive everything.”
“I’m not keeping Valykria anywhere. She’s a guest of my cousin, Sieia Ceralac. We’re to be married within the week. She’s done nothing wrong, so the family’s forgiveness is unnecessary.”
“You abducted her, traveled in her company without a chaperone —”
“She sought protection from me and my cousin Aramil because you and her father treated her with unendurable cruelty. Her flight was irregular, but entirely innocent. It’s not necessary that we marry, but we choose to do so. There’s nothing you can do to stop it, and no reason why you should.”
“This marriage is not in the family’s interest. Her father doesn’t choose to marry her to a penniless younger son.”
“Valykria is of age, and is free to marry whom she likes. As her affianced husband, I will defend her interests, and those of the Shelawn family. Your interests do not concern me.” So far so good. Valentine has stuck to the facts and played the part of a proud Shelawn. There’s an uncomfortable pause while Valentine waits with raised brows for a reply. Finally he says, “Unless you have something further to say, sir, I’ll bid you good day,” then nods to Hector, and turns as if to leave the room.
Eralon blurts out, “I’ve made her my whore. Did she tell you that?”
Valentine turns back to Eralon slowly, addresses him deliberately, almost with relish. “I’ll trouble you to repeat that, sir.”
When he sees Valentine’s expression, Eralon hesitates perceptibly. Then he says, distinctly, “I fucked her. She’s not worth fighting over. Has she even let you fuck her yet?”
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Valentine wonders why Eralon is goading him. Why doesn’t he just let her go, let her become a Shelawn family problem? It’s hard to think — it feels as if a massive charge is building up within him, seeking ground.
Eralon adds, “So much for the vaunted Shelawn pride. You do have a taste for whores.”
The slight tickle of curiosity disappears in a flash of white-hot rage, and Valentine floors him with a single punch. Valentine snaps at Hector, “Hold him!” Hector dutifully pins his arms and holds Eralon up while Valentine lands a series of brutal, scientifically placed blows to the head.
Eralon was out cold after the first punch; after the next few, both his eyes are blackened, and Valentine has connected twice with his jaw and smashed his nose so that blood spurts down the front of his white shirt. “Let him go,” Valentine snarls. He’s prepared to start smashing ribs on the way to issuing a thorough stomping.
Hector says, “Don’t do it.”
Valentine breaks off, paces rapidly to the other side of the room. He shakes his hands out, looks over his shoulder. “Give me one good reason not to kill that filthy little punk with my bare hands.”
“You can’t kill your brother-in-law. Or, you can, but that’s going to make the holidays awkward for years to come.”
“Not fucking good enough. Try again.”
Hector looks down at Eralon’s face. “Man, you didn’t even take off your signet ring off.”
Valentine gives a short laugh. “Did you hear what that piece of shit said?”
Meanwhile, Eralon is starting to come around, groaning and spitting blood. With the speed of a striking sidewinder, Valentine crosses the room, grabs his hair, yanks his head back, forces Eralon to meet his gaze. “You filthy little cock-sucking son-of-a-bitch,” he snarls. “I do have a taste for whores, and I’m going to make you mine. I’m going to rip your fucking heart out and shove it up your ass, and hammer it into place with my dick. I’m going to fuck you until you love me, you piece of shit. Do you hear me?”
Eralon coughs up more blood, gasps as if he’s about to say something. Hector cuts him off. “I wouldn’t. He’s crazy. I can’t keep him off you.” Eralon takes one more gasping breath, and Hector adds, “I mean it. I’m going to drop you and walk away. He’s Drow. It won’t be pretty.” Eralon looks from Hector to Valentine and back, subsides into silence.
“Fucking pussy,” says Valentine. He clearly hopes to taunt Eralon into further speech.
“Don’t,” says Hector. “Give him a chance to think it through.” He looks down at Eralon, gives him a little shake. “Are you done?”
Hector drops him. “All right. Let’s go.”
Valentine stands over Eralon, steps firmly on his cravat, leans over. “I know what you did, you little shit. If you hurt her or interfere with our marriage in any way, I will give you pain you can’t even imagine.”
They pause in the stable yard so that Valentine can rinse the blood from his hands. “Thanks for stopping me. I was ready to take that to a place that would be tough to sell to a jury.”
“It’s cool.” Hector laughs and shakes his head. “Fuck him ’til he loves you? Is that how they taught you to talk in the Underdark?”
“Oh, yeah. It’s an art among the Drow. The Xyrec are famous trash-talkers.”
Hector looks troubled. “He was trying to goad you into something.”
“I know. I stopped when I remembered that. Otherwise….” He shrugs.
“What he said… Did he really…?”
“Yeah, he raped her.” An expression of real pain crosses Valentine’s face.
“Oh, man, I’m sorry.”
“Valykria is a wonderful girl. It fucked her up badly. I’d just as soon kill him as look at him. Her dad, too, for different reasons.” He sighs, looks down at his hands, flexes them. He’s got a series of cuts on his left hand around his signet ring. “I might have to have that setting changed. Makes you wonder about my dad. Did he never take a swing at anyone?”
They catch a hackney, head back to the barracks and the townhouse, satisfied with the day’s work.