37. The Magnificent Five: Aramil Augustus

Though he is an unconventional host, Inglorion does know how to throw a dinner party. Once Valentine has tracked down Aramil, Inglorion hosts both of them at his club, a quiet establishment made up of wealthy tradesmen, gentlemen committed to radical causes, and a handful of artists, writers and tastemakers. The library and reading room are excellent of their kind, and a few private parlors are available for intimate bachelor parties. The dinners are said to be good but not lavish; Inglorion has never sampled the contents of the cellar, but he assumes he won’t have to blush for the wines served.

He meets his guests in the smoking room, which is empty aside from two older men standing in a corner reminiscing about snuff mixtures they took in their youth. Inglorion is using the room as God and the club membership intended, by smoking a cigarette rolled from an expensive Turkish tobacco that Artemisia gave him upon his return. Despite the haphazard nature of his household, Inglorion is impeccably dressed in gray elvish evening attire, highlighted with a profusion of Drow rings made of adamantine and onyx.

It’s a cold January night, so there’s a fire roaring in the fireplace. There’s a minor bustle as the waiter shows Valentine and Aramil into the room. The two are arguing good-naturedly about something, and are not attending to Inglorion. This gives him a moment to observe his nephew as the two of them cross the room.

At first glance, Aramil looks little like a Shelawn. He inherited Marcus’s height and breadth, but his features and coloring come from the Ceralacs. He’s got a mane of black curls, which he wears in lovelocks, green eyes, and a brown complexion. His features are unremarkable, and he’s dressed in an expensive and colorful fashion which Inglorion cannot like. The cut of his coat is exaggerated and he’s wearing some kind of cape in place of an evening jacket — an abomination, particularly when combined with a florid waistcoat. His manner and dress strike Inglorion as determinedly youthful; Valentine, with his military bearing and correct clothing, comes across as older and more worldly, though he’s a decade younger.

As Inglorion approaches, Valentine says, “There you are, cousin. Inglorion, you probably knew Aramil Augustus as a child. Aramil, this is your Uncle Inglorion, the subject of much rumor and speculation.”

They shake hands, and Aramil exclaims naively, “Good God, sir, you’re exactly like my grandfather! You really are a miniature Tereus!”

“So I’m told,” says Inglorion. “Though not always in such frank terms.”

Aramil laughs and says, “It’s meant as a compliment, of course! He was considered to be an extraordinarily handsome man.”

Inglorion finds himself laughing along with Aramil. He cocks his head, studies his nephew for a moment. He has to look up to him. “You know, at first I would have doubted that you’re a Shelawn, but now I see it. You remind me of my sister Sieia.”

“It’s kind of you to say so,” says Aramil. “But I don’t look a bit like her, or any other Shelawn.”

“Not your looks,” says Inglorion, “Your manner and charm. She has the same laugh, you know — it’s impossible to be angry with her, no matter what she says.”

“What did I say?”

“I believe you said that I’m like my father, but much smaller.”

“Oh, that! It’s true, you know.”

“Exactly like Sieia! ‘But it’s true, my dear! He was very tall — which is not to say that you’re short, precisely. Or, rather, you are, but somehow you’re still very handsome.’” Inglorion mimics his sister’s eager, loving tone perfectly, making Aramil laugh.

“Like she would say about my mother: ‘Very bad taste, the poor dear, and no eye for color, but an excellent woman, and a fine wife for Marcus!’”

“How could one possibly object to any of that? We’ll go down to the private parlor now. They should be finished laying the covers. I had no idea what to order,” he says candidly, “So I told the sommelier and cook to please themselves. I’m no judge.”

“No? I thought all the Shelawns prided themselves on their good taste.”

“Not in food and wine. I’m indifferent to artwork, too, and like your mother, I have no eye for color.”

Aramil turns to Valentine. “I feel cheated! You assured me that Inglorion was a man of taste and refinement.”

“Whatever gave you that impression, Valentine?” Inglorion asks with an assumption of cordial interest. He turns to Aramil and says, “I’m flattered by his good opinion, but I can’t account for it. I can carry a tune and write a sonnet, but Valentine is tone-deaf, and never reads a book cover to cover. It can’t be my taste in women — he thinks I’m indiscriminate.” They take their places at the table, and Inglorion carves the meat and serves it out.

None of them knows what to expect from their dinner, so they’re all pleasantly surprised. Aramil expects any senior member of the family to be guarded and formal, like his father. It’s unusual for Marcus Shelawn to swear even in the stables, and his laughter is polite and measured. Aramil doesn’t know it, but Marcus’s rigid sense of propriety is largely a reaction against his own father’s unconstrained manners. Tereus’s animal spirits made him a charming if unpredictable companion in his youth; later in life, he was more given to verbal abuse and sporadic, angry dish-throwing. Aramil knows little of this, and is delighted to encounter a relative as spontaneous as his young uncle. In the course of an evening, Inglorion demonstrates the whistles and clicks of Drow operational language, sings the opening bars of the “Ode to Joy,” and nearly persuades Valentine to demonstrate a series of bar tricks that he picked up from a half-elvish army buddy.

Inglorion likes his half-Ceralac cousin much more than he expected to. Aramil is boisterous, drinks more than he should, and clearly deserves his reputation for poor judgment. He’s also genuinely funny, and well-informed about subjects that interest him. He has the charm of a Shelawn: As with Sieia, he gives the impression of sympathetic interest, which softens the edge of his wit.

Both Inglorion and Aramil are famously magnetic, but in Valentine’s eyes, the two are quite different. Aramil’s appeal is innocent and boyish — he gives the impression that he likes you, and he very much wants to be liked. Inglorion’s looks and grace command attention effortlessly. He’s accustomed to making a stir wherever he goes, and rarely thinks of it, deflecting or manipulating people’s attention with the practiced ease of a Hollywood star. When he exerts himself to be pleasant, Inglorion is flamboyantly and entirely irresistible, at least to the waiters, parlor maids, sommelier and others who parade in and out during their dinner. The chef even comes in to assure himself that the menu meets with Inglorion’s approval, an attention that Valentine never knew existed.

Of the three, Valentine is the most reserved; he’s comfortable observing his cousins as they flirt and banter with each other and any available onlookers. More than anything, Valentine’s relieved that they like each other. Inglorion is at his best: Unfailingly gracious, engaging, self-deprecating. If he disliked Aramil, he would quickly lapse into distracted silence.

It seems natural that Inglorion should recruit Aramil at the tail-end of the evening. Over little cups of Turkish coffee, he assures himself that his cousin has intelligence to give, and is sober enough to remember the conversation. He suggests with little fanfare that his nephew should get in contact with the agent from Liamelia. Afterwards, he can hedge his bets by sharing any intelligence he collects with his agreeable Uncle Inglorion, who will use it to protect Aramil and promote his interests in some unspecified way.

The dinner breaks up just after midnight. Aramil departs with an airy wave, saying that he’s engaged to meet with a few choice spirits at a little place he knows. Valentine and Inglorion watch him depart.

“I do like him,” says Inglorion. “I didn’t think I would, and I’m not sure why I do.”

Valentine shrugs. “It’s that Shelawn charm.”

“Yeah,” Inglorion muses. “He’s clever, but not brilliant. Funny. Foolish in some ways. It must be the charm.”

“You know what it is?” Valentine says. “He’s sweet-natured. He has one of those naturally sunny personalities. I’m grim, and you’re volatile, but Aramil is sweet.” They both give a satisfied nod, and stroll back into Inglorion’s club.

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