28. Allowing the Aftertaste of Jaded Sorrow to Fade

Inglorion returns to the inn, and makes final preparations to leave for the Underdark. He left Amakir abruptly, so it’s necessary to send instructions to his housekeeper to close the house and place herself and the other servants on leave.

He also writes the following note:

Dear Artemisia,

The business that called me away from Amakir has proven very tiresome indeed. In order to settle the matter, I must travel abroad for some time. Regrettably, I will not be in a position to send and receive correspondence, and I cannot predict when I will return.

Even a very eloquent man would find it difficult to excuse such an abrupt and extended absence. I will simply repeat my promise to apologize in person at the earliest opportunity, and trust in your forbearance.

Sincerely,

Inglorion

He produces two more copies, with appropriate changes to the salutation, and sends one to Nathalie, his lover in Liamelia, and one to Cecelia in Amakir. As he seals and addresses them, he reflects bitterly on Marcus’s questions and advice, and on the interaction of necessity and moral failure that has produced a trio of nearly identical letters addressed to three very different women.

Most of his personal papers remain safely under lock and key in Amakir. However, he carries a journal when he travels. He reviews the contents now, and winnows out entries that would be difficult to defend in the Underdark.

As he flips through, he pauses to read an entry he made just before he got word of Valentine Shelawn’s escape:

July 13, 18—

Some months ago I was walking in an older part of Liamelia, drawn by whim down an unfamiliar, narrow street. The sidewalks were buckling, forced up by the roots of massive oak trees. I passed pale, stuccoed walls, peered through gates, and caught glimpses of brick and marble buildings, covered with vines and shaded by olive and cypress trees. It was quiet and the windows were dark. I saw rabbits grazing here and there, and a cat slipping under a gate and into the undergrowth. 

I wish I could explain the place I found. The high, white garden walls pressed up against the sidewalk. There was a wrought-iron gate, which was approached by narrow steps of dark marble, gray veined with black. I climbed the steps and looked through the gate and found a scene from a dream.

The gate opened onto a straight, narrow path made of sunken marble slabs and bounded by volcanic rock. A white marble building stood at the end of the path. The facade was windowless and featureless except for two massive Ionic pillars supporting a lintel, and underneath that, wooden double doors bound with iron. To one side of the portico lay a marble globe, perhaps three feet in diameter, shattered as if it had fallen from a great height. On the opposite wing, set far back from the street, I could see a covered walkway lined with slender pillars, which led to an abandoned fountain. The scene looked undisturbed. The building was dark. The path was overgrown, and the garden had run wild. Pomegranates and olives were left to ripen, and had fallen to the ground to rot. 

I felt certain that if I could follow the walkway to the end, sit on the edge of the fountain and examine the marble basin and shattered tile, I would know true happiness and rest. 

I stood there a long time, choked with unshed tears, longing to scale the wall. I knew I’d seen this place in a dream or vision, and that I’d felt this way as a child. The desire was so strong! I’ve fucked many a woman because I sensed in her an echo of the mystery and charm of that place.

I feared that if I walked down the path and through the walkway, the spell would be broken. I would be confronted by a groundskeeper and unable to explain myself, or the distant fountain would prove commonplace upon inspection.

I could not cry and chose not to enter, so I sat down on the steps and watched the moon rise over the black limbs of the cypress trees and the glow of the pillars and walls.

I have walked by several times since, never seeing any sign of life or habitation, never entering. I peek through the gate, see the windowless facade, twin pillars, fallen globe and dry fountain, and feel a sense of peace and order.

I spent much of my childhood in that attitude: Gazing with longing on grounds that were forbidden to me. Somehow the promise of that place is bound up in my sense of utter failure, the lovelessness of my existence. I love my sister and daughter, but I’m still left with despair so large that I cannot permit myself to feel it or sense its contours: Choked, desperate, passionate desire, bricked up and abandoned like a fouled well.

The sense will fade and pass. It has before. If I’m truthful with myself, I’m reluctant to turn from it, to confront the urgent, absorbing and unsatisfying demands of daily life. I wish I could sit on these steps night and day, pressed against the queer, ornate iron gate, sensing peace and fulfillment close by, half-seen through an array of shining pillars.

There is a sense of promise so strong that it almost chokes me. At the same time, I’m not so foolish as to think I can claim it by walking down the path and examining the fountain. I wish I knew what I hope to gain, and how to claim it! I am overwhelmed by longing that finds no outlet. 

Early this morning, I was walking back from Nathalie’s flat. I was wearing the previous night’s clothes. I knew I smelled of smoke and sweat, and I could taste her on my lips and hands, so I sat for awhile on those dark marble steps, watched the sun rise, and allowed the aftertaste of jaded sorrow to fade.

I thought, it must be the promise of heaven: The idea that some final consolation awaits, the hope that someday I’ll be done with this tedious business of slaking my petty needs for sex and conquest, and the gods themselves will provide true comfort and nourishment.

He feels the same longing now, so strongly that it almost brings him to tears. If only he had time to reflect, to determine what’s really important! Instead he rushes headlong through life, striving for ill-defined ends he can’t explain.

He doesn’t understand what’s happened with Artemisia and why. He appreciates Nathalie in Liamelia and Cecilia in Amakir — they’re both accomplished, bright and charming. And yet he’s never been able to grasp their purpose in his life, or his in theirs. He tries to be kind to all three, and almost certainly has failed.

He misses his daughter, fears for her safety, wishes he could play and sing with her now.

His sense of longing is more primal than even his love for Rosalee. It’s connected to some fundamental loss he can’t grasp.

There’s nothing to be done, of course. He gathers up the pile of torn-out pages, and feeds them one by one into the fire.

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