27. The Magnificent Five: Valentine Claudius Shelawn

When Inglorion wakes the following morning, it’s already hot and muggy. He cleans up as well as he can, but the washbasin and pitcher are unequal to weeks of accumulated dirt from playing cowboys and Indians in the North Mountains. By alternating charm with pathos, he persuades a parlor maid to send up a hip bath and hot water, though it’s not the usual day for that. He bathes a second time. Once his boots are polished, his coat is brushed, and his linen comes back from the laundry, he’s tidy, if disheartened.

He orders breakfast in the coffee room, and forces down a slice of buttered toast and a cup of coffee while telling himself, The Gypsies didn’t steal your daughter. Your daughter is a Gypsy. They can’t take shelter behind the city walls, so of course they withdrew at the first sign of hostilities. She’s with her mother. She’s safer in the North Mountains than she would be camping by the city walls. He’s not entirely convinced, but he’s heartened enough to bend his unruly mind to tribal business.

When Inglorion first came aboveground after his coronation, he gave Sieia his signet ring for safekeeping. It would have been genuinely dangerous for him to carry it while acting as a Drow intelligence agent, and it tickled him to know that she would lock it up in Xardic’s safe and never give it a second thought. It was a childish joke, and one Inglorion has occasionally regretted. In the decades since, her husband’s prominence has grown, and Sieia has become a fashionable society matron and political hostess. Xardic has continued to pursue legal measures to curb the rights of non-citizens and transients, but public office has taught him to shroud his racist views in the language of progressive economic policy.

As Marcus says, these are unsettled times. Inglorion loves and trusts Sieia, but still fears that he’ll be turned away if he knocks on the door of Wallace House. He’s tormented by a three-pointed contradiction, as well. He wishes to tell Sieia about his daughter, and thinks that Alexandra has behaved wisely and all is well. Despite his intellectual conviction, he feels irrational grief and terror. Decades of secrecy have left Inglorion unable to speak of anything that truly distresses him. He knows, then, that any reunion with Sieia will be partial and constrained.

He needs his ring, though, so he finally scratches out the following awkward note:

My Darling,

I left a small item in your possession long ago. I have need of it now. Please let me know when I can retrieve it from your hands.

Your loving brother,

Inglorion

His words sound cold. They don’t express half of his fear or longing. He wants to add a postscript, but anything he might add would sound positively lover-like: “I miss you terribly, and long to hold you in my arms again.” It’s true, and entirely innocent. He misses the easy intimacy and understanding that they share. He fears he will be an uncomfortable reminder of the past; he hopes that when she reads it, she will supply everything that he was unable to write.

The reply arrives almost immediately, by footman:

Dearest Inglorion,

Come at dusk, and meet me in the formal garden just off Holborn Square. I will bring you up to my withdrawing room, where I can see you privately.

Love,

Sieia

He adores her sweetness, her intrinsic innocence, the fact that she signed it “love.” How kind of her to save him from walking around in broad daylight, too. After an anxious, miserable day devoted primarily to pacing, Inglorion slips out into the dusk to meet his sister.

A low wall separates the garden of the old Wallace House — now the Ceralac House — from Holborn Square. The garden is small but elegant — the Shelawn formal gardens are much larger. The orange and lemon trees have lost most of their blossoms, and the fruit has come in. He barely has time to note how pretty the dark leaves are against the pink stucco walls before he sees Sieia peeping out a side door, beckoning to him. The door leads into the armory. Wallace was a famous collector, and Inglorion realizes with a shock that the collection must have come with the house — Sieia grabs his hand and forcibly drags him down a corridor filled with case upon case of valuable weapons, armor, clockwork and porcelain.

“No, no — we mustn’t linger,” she says. “The collection is enormous — you’ll never get through it. I’ll take you around later, if you insist. I want to have you to myself, though.”

“Did Xardic buy all the painting and sculpture, too?”

She makes a face. “Oh, Lord, yes, and much of it is very improper. Sir Wallace died a bachelor, you know. Loads of old paintings of men leering at women’s cleavage, a very famous Rape of Lucretia. And there’s a Greek frieze that would even make you blush.”

“Really? Where?” He stops in the middle of the hall, glances around eagerly.

“Not now!”

They run along hand-in-hand, giggling and whispering. He can hardly believe that he’s here with her. He wants to look around him, to note the details of his sister’s home, but he finds that he can’t. He’s breathless and flurried, and can barely see what’s in front of him.

As they’re climbing the back stairs she stops and says shyly, “I want to show you something first. May I?”

“Of course, honey. What is it?”

They start climbing again and she says, “When I came back, I found a shrine in the old house — our house. One that you had built long ago, in the servants’ quarters. It hadn’t been tended for awhile, and I didn’t want to leave it there for fear someone would take it down and get rid of it. I brought it with me when I was married, and set it up.”

She leads him to the third floor. At the end of the main hallway, there’s a set of ornate French doors. As she pushes them open she says, “It’s a guest room now. A cousin of ours, Valentine, is staying here. I don’t think he’ll mind. I’d like you to meet him. He’s at the archive now, but I’ve asked him to join us later.”

The room is tiny but lovely, dominated by the shrine and hearth at one end, and a four-poster bed at the other. He’d forgotten how beautiful the shrine is. He lavished love and attention on it, and it fairly radiates youthful energy and obsession. It’s draped with colored silk, and layered with papel picado. He spent hour after hour — every spare moment he had for weeks — folding and snipping colored tissue paper with tiny, sharp shears that he’d begged from the housekeeper. Now he’d have to be locked in solitary confinement to stick with such a tedious task. There are masses of dried leaves and flowers — it’s a miracle they haven’t crumbled to dust — and ranks of votive holders arranged according to some elaborate and deeply meaningful scheme that he’s forgotten. The candles are unlit, but the shrine is in use: There are matches, votives and holy water, and a half-burned candle in front of the idol. He genuflects, dips his fingers in the basin, flicks holy water over the massed greenery, lights a fresh votive, and murmurs, “To the eternal glory of the Bringer of Light.”

Sieia proudly shows him the rich draperies and panels, the ornamental moldings picked out in half-a-dozen subtle shades. He doesn’t have the heart to remind her that he can’t see blue and indigo, and to him it all looks dim and muddy. As they’re about to leave, he pauses, turns back to the shrine. He palms one of his calling cards, and when Sieia’s not looking, he props it up against a glass votive holder.

As they leave, he says, “Thank you for showing me, honey. It made me very happy.”

She squeezes his hand, smiles up at him and says, “You see, there’s a place for you here. There always will be.”

He knows that there isn’t, but he’s touched by the strength of her desire and denial. “Thank you, honey.”

“Now I’ll show you my sitting room. It’s very pretty!”

The sitting room is an elegant, tasteful little bower, and he’s touched to see that she’s arranged the seating so that he can be far away from the fire and candles. She’s the only one who remembers, and she does it silently, without being asked. He removes his sword belt, bow and quiver, and they curl up together on her chaise lounge to chatter about nothing in particular. He has much to conceal, and she chooses not to talk about her husband, but they’re deeply happy nonetheless.

She buries her face in his his chest, just as she did when they were children, and he holds her and pets her and marvels at her familiar scent and feel. He’s anxious — afraid they’ll be caught, absurdly terrified that she’ll be torn away from him. He can hardly feel her through the fear and delight. Because he’s lost his daughter, or for some more primal reason, just holding her releases a deep flood of affection within him. He says again and again, “I love you! I missed you so much!” He didn’t intend to be so emotional, but it’s overwhelming to hold her, and to remember when she depended on him entirely — when he was her sole protector and first, innocent love.

She says, “I wish you could stay awhile.”

“I know. I miss you, too, honey. More than you know. Every day.” He looks into her dark eyes, asks, “Are you happy? Is Xardic kind to you?”

She smiles. “Oh, yes! He’s very good, very kind.”

He kisses her forehead. “I’m glad. That’s all I need.”

After a time she says, “I should tell you about Valentine. He’s our cousin, you know, returned from the Underdark — Lucius and Valeria’s youngest son. He reminds me of you, and of Father.”

It’s true, then. The slave Charon has found his way home to Liamelia, and to the Shelawns.

“How nice for you to have a protegée,” Inglorion says. “What’s he like?”

“He’s a funny one. Very cold and Saturnine. It marked him, I think, being a slave. He was one, you know, among the Drow. He’s a sweet creature. I hope you will like him.”

“I’m sure I will, if you do.”

When Valentine enters the room later, Inglorion has strong, twin impressions. First, he’s definitely a Shelawn. Not just the coloring, but a certain pent-up, violent energy. Second, his manners are very Drow. He’s almost entirely expressionless — cold, correct. He forces himself to meet Inglorion’s eyes, but the natural spontaneity of youth has been beaten out of him. Sweet is not the word Inglorion would choose: Handsome, bright, utterly cold with a horrible temper burning beneath — that’s Inglorion’s sense of his young cousin Valentine.

Inglorion initiates a handshake, and sure enough, the kid has a Xyrec brand and a raider’s Ace of Spades, plain for any Drow to see. He’s wearing a bandolier of throwing daggers with an empty sheath, too. The note at the massacre site makes sense now: The Xyrec motto and Ace of Spades on fine gray elvish parchment. It must have been Valentine’s reply to the Drow troops hunting him.

When Sieia steps out of the room for a minute, Inglorion gives the kid back his dagger, notes his reaction. He seems surprised, but accepts it quietly, without comment. Inglorion’s famous for having brass balls, but he wouldn’t accept the risks Valentine’s running. He makes no attempt to conceal his Drow background or his part in recent events. Inglorion can only conclude that Valentine is entirely naive: He doesn’t know that he’s a target, or that Inglorion is Marquis Theates, in Liamelia on clan business.

Finally Inglorion can delay no longer — it’s time to get his ring and go. Sieia has it locked up in a little jewelry box. He slips it on his finger, blinking in the bright candlelight. It fits perfectly, just like his coronet. Sieia gives him a little velvet bag to carry it in, and clasps the chain around his neck as if he were a child. As he submits to this simple, maternal act, he’s overwhelmed thinking of the risks he runs. He desperately wants her to be secure and happy. “I love you so much, honey,” he says as they hug one last time. “I’ve never been good or careful, sweetheart, but I always think of you.” He strokes her hair, trying to absorb its scent and texture.

Finally he releases her, looks up at their young cousin. Valentine’s face is cool, impassive. Inglorion has the impression that he’s noting every detail, laboring to understand what he’s seeing. “Well met, cousin. Sieia thinks well of you. I’ll try to do the same.”

“Likewise, sir,” Valentine says.

Inglorion feels an impulse to ask him to look after Sieia. It’s unnecessary, though: He already is. It comforts Inglorion to know that Sieia has found another Drow Shelawn.

Sieia’s dresser silently escorts Inglorion to the side door, watches as he slips through the gate. As he strides across the dark, empty square, Inglorion hears Madison slide the deadbolt home behind him.

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