Another episode of Man Raised by Spiders, the coming-of-age story of Valentine Shelawn.
Valentine is accosted by another Gypsy child who is not a child. She directs him to an address that turns out to be a hookah lounge not far from Hairy’s Tattoos. When Valentine gives his name, an attendant — a lovely, dark half-elf girl — leads him to a private room in back. Inglorion’s reclining on a couch, smoking from a hookah. He gestures to the second couch. “Join me. You’ve rekindled my taste for it, unfortunately.”
Valentine pulls off his boots, settles in. “What’s in the pipe?”
“Just mint-flavored tobacco. I’m sure you can get opium if you know how to ask. I don’t. No fighter should touch that shit.”
Valentine laughs. “I’m not completely sure what opium is. Isn’t it an aboveground thing? A vice for half-orc sailors who have traveled the spice routes?”
Inglorion hands him a mouthpiece affixed to a long, coiled hose. “Just inhale like you normally would. I’m pretty sure you can get opium in the Underdark. Anywhere there’s pain, there’s opium. It’s rare among the Drow, as far as I know, but I get the feeling there’s a black market for it in the slave population.”
“Certainly if someone would pay for a thing, the Avril would happily supply it. I’m surprised anyone would smoke down there, though.” Valentine takes a drag. It takes a couple of tries to inhale with just the right force and speed.
“I imagine they shoot it up, or swallow the tincture. I’m guessing, though. My depravity stops far short of chasing the dragon.”
Valentine exhales his third stream of white smoke. He starts to feel a mild rush of euphoria. He settles further down into the cushions. “Damn. That’s really nice.”
“Isn’t it? Someone was telling me the other day that in the East they don’t inhale when they smoke hookah — their god disapproves of it, but forgives them if they don’t inhale. Apparently the nicotine is absorbed through your lips and tongue eventually. I was like, ‘Let me give you a tip straight from Corellon Larithian himself. You’re going to love this…’”
“You sure it’s not from Lolth?”
“Oh, no — smoking definitely comes to us from the Bringer of Light. Don’t you think?”
“I never gave it much thought.”
“I have. It seems pretty clear to me. Now that you’re settled in, time to talk business. What do you know about Tereus Shelawn?”
“He was your father and Sieia’s, and my uncle, of course. He founded Xialo and died in the massacre there.”
“He kept your mother prisoner, and was thrown out of the army for it.”
“Yup. Raped her. What else?”
“He never acknowledged you. You were raised with Sieia and Marcus. After Xialo, they inherited, you didn’t.”
“Depends on what you mean by ‘raised with,’ but sure. Anything else?”
“That’s all I know. To me, you guys look alike. I saw a portrait of him in the Shelawn collection. I thought it was you in some kind of costume until I noticed his eyes.”
Inglorion gives a harsh bark of laughter. “You’re certainly the first person in Liamelia to acknowledge any resemblance.”
“You know, that’s just fucking weird. I mentioned it to Sieia and she said, ‘No… they were very different…’ Then she said I look like him.”
“Nice. I bet you get that a lot.”
“All the time. When people aren’t comparing me to Tereus, they’re comparing me to you. Always in your favor, I might add.”
Inglorion winks. “I do look pretty fucking good in dim lighting.” The original, crackling tension has drained from him a bit. He takes a long, sensuous drag on the hookah, releases the smoke slowly, hands the pipe back to Valentine. “I’m trying to think what you need to know, what matters here.”
Valentine waits. Inglorion seems angry. Valentine is curious to see if his discretion will slip as a result.
After a time Inglorion continues. “So here are a few more facts to add to your collection. Tereus Shelawn was a fucking brute. He beat his wife — Sieia’s mother — not much at first, more as he got older and more bitter. Things were awful by the time we ran away. I know Sieia was afraid he’d kill her. It was a reasonable fear. I can’t imagine what her life was like at Xialo. Philomela probably did her a favor, and your parents, too.”
Valentine sits speechless for a moment. “Why didn’t Sieia tell me that? Or Aramil?”
“I’m sure Aramil barely remembers Tereus. Marcus was careful to keep him and Penelope away from all that.”
They sit quietly for awhile. Valentine sips occasionally at the hookah. The shop girl comes by with a brazier full of fresh coals. She restocks their hookah carefully, bending over multiple times as she uses a tiny set of tongs to knock off the ash, turn them, stack them. Inglorion openly watches this performance. She inclines her head this way and that, leans over one final time to fan the arrangement. Her plump cheeks and bosom are flushed from her work. “Thank you, darling,” says Inglorion with an angelic smile and a final, raking glance.
“Of course. I’m Linnea, if you need anything.”
“I’m Inglorion. I’ll keep that in mind.” There’s an extra swing to her hips as she retreats down the hall; he observes it appreciatively.
Valentine smothers a choke of laughter. “So they just do that wherever you go?”
“Pretty much. It’s a knack. You could pick it up if you cared to. You’re a Shelawn.” He puts his hand out, and Valentine hands him the pipe. Inglorion takes a drag, then says, “As for why Sieia didn’t tell you, it’s no secret that her mind veers away from unpleasant truths. Once they were dead and she was back in Liamelia and newly married, she was able to forget the worst of it. Or she seemed to, which is much the same thing.”
“You knew at the time?”
“Of course. I was a servant, but I saw everything that servants see.” He catches Valentine’s incredulous expression. “Oh, you didn’t know that? I was a groom in the Shelawn household, then a gardener and footman. I started out in the stables because of my size. Horses are skittish around the Drow, though, and I’m no exception. And I don’t have to powder my hair to work as a footman.”
“But Sieia said…”
Inglorion sighs. “I’m sure she said a lot of things about our childhood, all partly true. When we left, everyone said she’s eloped with a footman. If it had been true, of course, they would have tried a lot harder to catch us and bring us back. It wasn’t openly acknowledged that we were brother and sister until much later.” He adds, “There have been a lot of vulgar rumors, but she had just turned 12, was still playing with dolls. I took her away because I knew if I didn’t, she would try to leave on her own.”
“Why did he do it?”
“Beat Lavinia? Because he had a temper, and was bitter and often angry, especially once his behavior started to catch up with him. Because she forgave him, and the family looked the other way. He felt entitled to treat people however he liked, especially women.”
Inglorion falls silent. He’s staring into the distance, remembering, analyzing. “He was handsome, brilliant — very clever and pragmatic on the battlefield. You and I are essentially soldiers, but he was a general at heart — a skilled strategist and tactician. He beat his wife because, ‘For a Shelawn, men lay down their lives and women pull up their skirts.’ That motherfucker could charm the birds out of the trees.”
Inglorion adds, “I was lucky. He mostly ignored me, occasionally treated me with contempt or humiliated me. I was a consequence he had to live with, and there’s nothing he hated more. I’ve been free to hate him with a pure, clean, unadulterated hatred. Lavinia, Lucius, Valeria — they suffered the tortures of the damned because he brutalized them, then lured them back.”
There’s a shouting and banging in the front of the shop, followed by a loud scream. Inglorion’s gaze snaps into focus, meets an inquiring look from Valentine.
They spring up, draw weapons, position themselves on either side of the doorway. Footsteps pound down the hall in their direction. Inglorion signals in Drow sign language that he’ll strike first. Valentine nods, takes a half-step back, giving Inglorion room to swing both longswords.