42. An Unsettling Preview of a Mysterious Adult State

Soundtrack and Video: Adam Ant, “Wonderful,” 2011 live acoustic

Aramil and Valentine are gathering up practice weapons and boxing gloves, and preparing to spar in the atrium.

As Valentine unlocks the French doors that lead from the armory to the garden, they hear someone singing, first softly, then at full volume. Valentine recognizes Inglorion’s voice, and is no longer surprised by his cousin’s habit of bursting into song.

Aramil looks up at the half-open door, then back at Valentine. He asks, “Is that —?”

Valentine nods, makes a shushing gesture. Aramil leans over and whispers, “He has a stunning voice.”

Valentine nods again. After a moment, he pushes the door open and slips through, more than anything just trying to figure out if they can set up in the boxing ring without intruding. They ease down the path a few steps, and see Inglorion surrounded by books and papers, half-reclining on a bench at the far side of the garden.

His eyes are shut — he always does that when he’s concentrating — and he’s singing a love song. The rendition is beautiful, raw, and clearly not intended for their ears. Normally his voice is unearthly in its purity; now it’s harsh and edged with sadness.

The bridge takes his to the top of his range and volume. He descends the scale, improvises the final verse and chorus, and falls silent for a moment. Valentine sees him wipe away tears. He reprises the bridge twice, changing the intonation slightly each time. Then, apparently satisfied, he sits up, picks up his quill, dips it in ink, and resumes writing.

The two young men exchange appalled looks and sneak back into the armory. It’s worse than if they’d caught him masturbating.

They lock up their weapons, then stand for a moment in horrified silence. Valentine finally says, “It was a love song.”

Aramil shakes his head and gives a low whistle. “Who knew?”

Valentine says, “Do you think he’s ever really felt that way, or was it just a persuasive performance?”

Aramil shrugs.

Until now, Valentine and Aramil firmly believed that their older cousin finds women fascinating and charming, but has difficulty telling them apart once he’s fucked them. Valentine knows that Inglorion loathes his dead father and loves his sister Sieia, and that he’s capable of fierce intellectual engagement and strong animal passions. But he’s always seemed to be above strong human attachments.

For Valentine, the grief in Inglorion’s voice provides an unsettling preview of a mysterious adult state. Inglorion is dashing and handsome, powerful and competent. Valentine retreats to his dressing room thinking, If Inglorion feels compelled to voice helpless grief suddenly, in broad daylight on a Wednesday, adulthood must be terrible indeed.

At the moment, it is. Inglorion is keeping company with Artemisia again. Within a week of returning to Amakir, he was as firmly enslaved as ever; now he’s settled into the familiar misery of knowing he can’t soothe her discontent or free himself.

When he sought trance in his cold, narrow bed in Physryk, Inglorion dreamt of kneeling up behind Artemisia, burying himself deep within her, and satisfying them both. Little vignettes played out in his mind: He would return aboveground, they would reconnect, and he would become a generous, patient, affectionate and faithful lover. In the Underdark he thinks of desire and its fulfillment as an unqualified good, and forgets the riptides of aggression and recklessness that batter him aboveground, the grinding humiliation of need.

He’d taught himself to believe that his absence would provide an opportunity for them to start afresh. Instead, she’s angry and resentful, and he’s inarticulate. He’s conveyed the bare facts of what occurred in the Underdark, but failed to communicate the emotional content: The visions, the hours spent caring for Philomela. It’s not that Artemisia’s indifferent — she maintains an expression of polite interest — but he falters in the face of her incomprehension.

As before, their relations are purely formal and public. She dislikes being touched, and treats his sporadic efforts at seduction as a joke that has become grating with repetition. Because he’s not getting laid, he becomes ill-tempered, surly and impatient, and he genuinely fears he’ll take a swing at someone. He manages to keep his temper leashed, but his demeanor is that of a man struggling to hold his rage in check. 

And so he does what he’s always done: He chases tail, subsists on cigarettes and coffee, and trains compulsively. When things get really bad, he avoids human contact. Within a few weeks of relocating to Amakir, he’s bored, jaded, scrawny and sleepless, and alight with a weird kinetic energy. His migraines return. When Ajax dresses him, they both notice that his wrists and neck are thin, and his cheeks are hollow. His beauty shifts into a different register: His eyes burn, the angles of his face sharpen, muscle and bone stand out with disturbing clarity. If Tereus’s masculine appeal was built upon sheer mass — height and weight and bulk — then Inglorion’s springs from speed and motion, and an aura of discipline and rigor. Ajax scolds him, Aramil teases him, and women want to feed and nurture him, much as Artemisia did long ago. In his lowest moments, Inglorion is convinced that he is a vile creature, well on the road to becoming his father. At other times, he thinks that he just needs a hobby, a wife or a harem. 

These are the thoughts he can think, the emotions he can afford to feel. In idle moments, other images expand and take flight. As he sits in the garden, trying to write, he sees Tereus lying unconscious and bound at the feet of a Drow warrior, and Philomela in the Xialo farmhouse, standing blankly at the top of the stairs while Tisiphone euthanized soldiers in the basement. He thinks of Rosalee holding out blades of grass for Collatinus’s quail, and giggling as they dart forward to tear off tiny bits. If he’s bound to an iron wheel, so is Philomela, and so was Tereus. He fears that his daughter will be, too.

It’s hard, this period of decompression when he returns to the aboveground world. 

Inglorion was given brilliance and beauty, and has cultivated strength, but he knows that other, less glamorous qualities matter more. He lacks self-mastery and discernment; without these he will achieve nothing, and will lapse into petty cruelty.

He misses his daughter, fears for his mother, and mourns his father.

And so he sings. It’s a form of prayer, a way of expressing longing, and of conceding how little he understands. 

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