57. The So-Called Visible Spectrum

The penultimate episode of Man Raised by Spiders, the coming-of-age story of Valentine Shelawn.

Once the house is ready, Valentine invites Inglorion to stay in the guest suite until the heat is off, not really expecting him to accept. Inglorion cocks his head, considers. “It’s not out of the question. It might be better to have a public, cousinly tie rather than to pretend we don’t know each other at all. It obscures the spying relationship a bit, since it’s known that I don’t use any other relative in that way. And a private home is a harder target than a public inn.” He adds naively, “I could use your library, too. It’s driving me nuts not having access to a Latin dictionary.”

“Do you ever stay with Sieia and Xardic?”

“Nope. Xardic’s an out-and-out racist, you know. He can smell the Drow on me, and I can tell he’s just itching to call the constable and whistle up a pack of dogs. You notice Sieia doesn’t ask her servants to wait on me for fear they’ll refuse.” He breaks into a radiant smile. “By the way, thanks for not moving in with Marcus and Penelope. Their butler was a footman with me, and I can’t see the guy without remembering a half-dozen incidents that are not to my credit. I haven’t gone near their stables in decades, but I’m sure it’s the same story. The head groom would start yapping about how Tereus’ prize chestnut could smell evil on me, or, I don’t know, try to start a fistfight because I stole his girl 120 years ago.”

“Did you?”

“I stole everyone’s girl. I stole every girl that wasn’t nailed down. And I made a point of stealing any girl who gave the time of day to a fucking groom. It was a matter of principle. Grooms smell of horses,” he says piously. “I felt that the parlor maids and laundresses of Liamelia deserved better.”

And so Valentine and Inglorion settle into a temporary roommate arrangement. Inglorion is a surprisingly easy guest. He’s quiet, tidy, considerate of the servants, and, to Valentine’s relief, seems disinclined to hold orgies or drink wine out of skulls. Instead, he divides his time between weapon training, classical studies, and reviewing reports Ajax brings in a mysterious bag with a locking zipper. The first week, he skips training for three days straight because he’s absorbed in translating a passage from Livy’s Early History of Rome. When Valentine teases him about it, he simply says that he’s pretty handy fighting with longswords, but that his Latin needs work.

Indeed, Inglorion is surprised that Valentine would find his habits tame. “Look, I know I have a reputation of being mad, bad and dangerous to know, and I cultivate it to some extent, but most of the time I’m a quiet, steady fellow. It provides a contrasting backdrop when I do decide to fuck shit up.” He adds, “Anyway, I was a servant. I remember all too well what it’s like to be held hostage by people’s whims and vices. Which reminds me — you have a snail problem in your garden. If your man doesn’t know how to trap them, I can show him a couple of tricks.”

Valentine also has time and leisure to notice how Inglorion’s perceptions differ from his own. Broad swathes of visual art and natural beauty are lost on him — there’s much that he can’t perceive, or finds actively distressing. The day Inglorion moves over from the inn, Valentine shows him a massive sylvan landscape fresh from the Shelawn collection. “I’m happy to look if it gives you pleasure,” says his older cousin, “but you know that I can’t see it, right?”

“What do you mean?”

“I literally can’t make out the image. I’m able to see red, orange and yellow, but the rest of the so-called visible spectrum looks muddy.” He grins at Valentine. “You mean you spent 75 years among the Drow and you don’t know that? You know about dark vision, right? Someone’s brought these things up to you?”

Valentine laughs. “Sure, but it didn’t sink in. I guess I thought you were just stubborn bastards who liked to sit around in the dark. I wish you would take a look at all the artwork now — now I’m curious what you’ll see.”

As they go through the collection, Inglorion’s taste is distressingly abstract and minimal — classically Drow — even when he can see the colors. He’s sensitive to the texture, depth and thickness of paint, and studies the quality of mark-making, but is uninterested in representation. In a different time and place, he probably would have spent long moments in sincere admiration of an Ad Reinhardt black painting, or a Gerhard Richter gray abstraction.

The one painting he really likes is a Turner, one of his massive sunset paintings. It’s almost abstract — billowing clouds stained gold, orange and crimson, with no land or sea to lend contrast and perspective. “It’s supposed to be a sunset?” Inglorion asks. “It’s beautiful.” He paces around it for several minutes, cocking his head, making small humming noises of satisfaction and pleasure. “It’s so beautiful! I’ve never seen anything like that. I can’t normally look at sunsets. I really like it. It’s so neat to be able to look at a sunset and understand what people get so excited about.”

When they get to the Reynolds portrait of Tereus, he says, “Yes, this was supposed to be quite the treasure. I’ve never paid any attention to it.” It’s difficult for him to make out the image. He has to prowl around, study the brushstrokes. Finally he says, “I guess it’s a good likeness. I’m no judge. It’s a lot of work, studying a painting just to get a glimpse of that asshole and his fucking prize chestnut.”

“Yeah, I’m not sure exactly why I wanted it.” Valentine knows exactly why, though he can’t explain it. Inglorion’s resemblance to his father is shockingly close, and there is an odd mirroring effect in seeing his cousin face down that towering image. At the same time, Inglorion’s experience of the painting exposes the differences between Drow and gray on a purely animal, sensual level. His cousin is able to ignore the portrait comfortably, so Valentine has plenty of opportunities to study father and son together, and to puzzle over the problem of resemblance.

Inglorion has other little habits connected to sight Valentine thinks of as uniquely Drow. When he’s asked a difficult question or is listening intently, he will look down and to the right, or, more likely, will close his eyes entirely. It’s a quirk that Valentine has never seen among the gray, but that is common among the Drow. In fact, Inglorion lights candles only to read books or as a courtesy to others; left to himself, he would exist comfortably and happily in conditions from dusk to total darkness. Like all Drow, he has excellent infrared vision, which allows him to see subtle differences in temperature. All vision depends on radiation, however. It’s useless in the absence of light and heat. Over time, Valentine comes to realize that Inglorion relies on other, more mysterious senses.

Inglorion’s hearing is acute, certainly. He listens to people’s voices more than he looks at their faces, has perfect pitch, and is distressed by sounds that Valentine can barely hear. His kinesthetic sense is strong, as well. He moves effortlessly through dark rooms, and is irritated when the servants move small items around needlessly or, God forbid, rearrange the furniture. He’s unusually attuned to scents and textures, and will react with disgust or pleasure to something as simple as the finish on a piece of paper. Inglorion condemns the carpet in Valentine’s library, not because it’s gaudy, but because he loathes the texture and smell. “Wool is greasy,” he says, “and it smells like an animal I don’t want to be near.” On the other hand, he’s very fond of silk and down. Once he’s tried the chaise lounge, he schemes constantly to roust Valentine and claim it for himself.

Until now, Valentine has given little thought to these matters. The Drow insistence on darkness and Spartan simplicity seemed to be a cruel affectation, another way of keeping slaves deprived and miserable. He realizes that Inglorion is attuned to a different set of frequencies; for him, the world aboveground is sensually chaotic, a buzzing confusion of heat and light. The Drow world is equally rich, but only partly perceptible to Valentine, or any gray elf. As Inglorion considers how to strike back against his enemies underground, Valentine begins to appreciate that while he, Valentine, is culturally Drow, his sensibilities are very much those of a gray elf. Inglorion was raised among the gray, and he shares many of their values, but his perceptions and constitution are entirely Drow.

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