32. Ignorance and Blindness

Soundtrack and Video, Marilyn Manson, “Sweet Dreams,” live early 90s

Inglorion returns to his quarters to find Ajax in the storeroom, scratching in one of the many ledgers he keeps tracking the flow of black market goods through Inglorion’s household.

Inglorion cocks his head. “Why are you up so late, Ajax?”

“Are you ready for trance, Your Lordship? If so, I’ll brush your hair and such.”

Inglorion considers refusing his valet’s services. If he’s touched, he’ll want to think and talk about what he’s seen. Finally he says, “Very well.” They retire to Inglorion’s dressing room and bedchamber, and reenact the ceremony Inglorion went through with Philomela, except that Ajax is deft and unobtrusive, and Inglorion is absurdly restless and animated. 

As Ajax wraps Inglorion’s queue in a length of black silk, Inglorion cannot help but say, “Her Grace is ill, you know — perhaps dying.”

“I’d heard she was unwell, Your Lordship.”

“She’s not eating and drinking enough. She’s starving herself deliberately. She’s very thin and weak.”

“I’m sorry to hear it, Your Lordship.”

“She’s very ill, and very stubborn.” He strips his rings off one by one, and hands them to Ajax, who stows them in a little jewelry box. “Even if I can persuade her to eat, it may not be enough to keep her alive.”

Ajax is facing away, handing up Inglorion’s sword belt. He turns back. “It’s that bad, Your Lordship?”

“I don’t know. No one else will touch her or help her. She’s alone in the center of all this.” Inglorion’s voice is hard, urgent. 

Ajax unbuttons Inglorion’s cuffs, and helps him out of his leather armor. As he hangs it up, he asks, “Your Lordship, why would you hesitate to do whatever is necessary to save her life?”

“It would be a terrible indignity, an assault on her person. I’m afraid I’ll hurt her.”

“Injure her?”

“No.” Inglorion’s never told Ajax about his visions — that he saw Tereus force-feed Philomela and rape her.

“What, then?”

“Hurt her spirit, break her will. I’m afraid she won’t forgive me.”

Ajax kneels at Inglorion’s feet, helps him to pull his boots off, sets them aside. Finally he says, “Your Lordship, when you were ill and dying —” he breaks off momentarily, then says, “The cases are different, but I feel the principle is the same.”

“What do you mean?”

Ajax helps Inglorion into a black-and-red silk dressing gown, a frivolous item that Ajax procured aboveground. “Whatever I felt — confusion, love, fear that you would die or I would be punished — if you lived, you would have an opportunity to forgive me, but if you died, you wouldn’t feel anything at all — love or hate or resentment or anger or gratitude. The story would end there. I couldn’t bear to stand by —” he breaks off.

“I know I owe you my life. I’ve always been grateful that you saved me from my own recklessness.” 

Ajax hears a shade of reserve in Inglorion’s voice. “Why would you hesitate, Your Lordship, if there’s a chance of saving her?”

“I think she wishes she’d died.” 

Ajax considers. “Your Lordship, that sounds like High Elvish bullshit to me. I think Her Grace would rather live to shoot another day. That’s the Drow way.”

Inglorion feels dissatisfied, and suddenly wants to end the conversation. “You’re probably right,” he says coldly.

As he seeks trance, he can’t stop thinking of his mother’s lightless eyes, the restless motion of her hands.

The next morning, a courier arrives with a note from Jason offering to brief Inglorion on the Lavyryx massacre whenever is convenient. Inglorion proposes to visit Jason’s quarters in half-an-hour, giving them just enough time to talk before the morning briefing. 

When Inglorion enters, Jason is alone in his study. He’s laid out a small spread of refreshments: Dried vegetables, jerky made from an indeterminate meat. Because they were bought on the black market rather than served up in the communal kitchens, these items are exotic and desirable among the Drow.

“Please sit down, Your Lordship,” says Jason. “Let me just finish preparing this drink.” He’s dropping clumps of cocoa powder into a mug of water, and stirring vigorously as he does it. He peers at the result, frowns, stirs a bit harder. “It doesn’t seem to dissolve particularly well. It may be intended to float on top,” he says optimistically. “My manservant wasn’t certain.”

He carries the two mugs over to the tea-table, and hands Inglorion one. It contains a half-cup of cold water, with a half-tablespoon of cocoa lumps floating stubbornly on top. 

They sip from their respective cups, grimace. Jason frowns at his drink. “It’s very bitter.”

“I think it’s usually prepared with hot water and sugar,” says Inglorion. “I’m not sure — it’s a new delicacy even in Liamelia.” There’s a brief, preoccupied silence while they both study the deeply unappetizing drink before them.

“It’s supposed to be a mild stimulant, like tea,” says Jason. They both take another sip, frown. 

Inglorion says, “I’ll ask my man, Ajax, if it’s something he’s prepared. If so, I’ll send him to you. There may be a knack to it.” He sets his mug aside.

Jason nods. “That would be kind.” Drow-style, he continues to drink it despite the offensive flavor and texture. “I can definitely vouch for the dried items. I use this supplier all the time.”

The vegetables seem to be the sort used to prepare field army rations and prison meals among gray elves. These are a mix of cubed, dried carrots, parsnips and turnips. Inglorion suspects that they would normally be soaked and then stewed, not placed on a serving tray like salted peanuts. The flavor is inoffensive, but he’s concerned that he may chip a tooth. “Excellent,” Inglorion says. “I imagine it protects troops against scurvy, too. What else have you got here?” He tries the jerky. “That’s good. It tastes like game meat — maybe buffalo?”

“It is good, isn’t it?” Jason helps himself to a lump, chews it with vigor and persistence. “I think it’s raised natively, down here in the Underdark.”

“I wouldn’t have guessed.” Inglorion masters an urge to spit it out. There are few sources of red meat in the Underdark; eating any of them would be considered cannibalism by gray elves.

“I can ask my man what it is.”

“Oh, no. I wouldn’t put you to the trouble. It’s very good.” He takes another piece.

After a decent pause, Jason says, “You asked to be briefed on the joint action aboveground, Your Lordship. I have very little to pass along. Only three Theates troops participated, and they were very junior, temporarily attached to a Xyrec assault group. To my knowledge, no after-action report was written. The Xyrec classified it as an extended training exercise.”

“That’s nonsense. It’s highly unusual to send a large number of troops aboveground, far from any egress point.”

“I agree, Your Lordship.”

“So it wasn’t a planned joint action. It was a training exercise of some kind, run by the Xyrec.”

“That’s what we were told, Your Lordship.”

“Did you debrief the Theates troops?”

“Yes. I did it personally. They had no advance notice, weren’t briefed on objectives. They had a miserable time of it — several days of forced marches aboveground. They were pursued by wood elves the whole way, and retreated to the Underdark when several members of the party fell prey to hypothermia.”

“How’d the massacre occur?”

“The merchants were camped directly over the closest known egress point. The retreat was judged to be urgent, so they killed them all.”

“How many troops were lost?”

“Three Xyrec aboveground, one subsequently, to illness. None of ours.”

Inglorion considers for a moment. “The whole thing seems stupid from start to finish.”

“It was, Your Lordship.” He adds, “I’ve begun withdrawing any troops of ours that are embedded with the Xyrec. We need to retain control over our troops’ activities.”

For the rest of the day, Inglorion’s thoughts keep returning to the Lavyryx massacre: The blood-splashed walls, the smell of decay, the twisted bedding thick with flies, the calling card that Valentine Shelawn left, “Death is close.” He finds it baffling. Why the hell do the Xyrec want to draw Theates troops into their battles? The Theates tribe is tiny, and their soldiers lack the training in hand-to-hand combat that the Xyrec prize.

None of it adds up. Or, rather, the more Inglorion considers it, the more he thinks that everyone acted as they thought best, despite their ignorance and blindness.

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