43. Love Is Love

Inglorion is reading yet another intelligence report that Ajax has brought from the Underdark. The news isn’t bad, precisely, but it’s ambiguous. He’s straining to understand its significance. It doesn’t help that there’s a migraine shimmering at the edges of his vision. He’s nauseated, too, and knows that he should try to eat something. He finds himself reflecting bitterly that the life of a Drow spymaster is dismayingly routine and tiresome. He’s relieved, then, to see Ajax standing in front of him, waiting to be noticed. 

“Yes, Ajax?”

“Your Lordship, do you remember how you said that if I wanted to leave your service, you would let me go?”

“Yes, and naturally the offer stands. Just tell me what you need.”

“I would like to be transferred to your cousin, Aramil Shelawn.”

“Of course. I’m sorry to lose you, but I’m happy to do it. Have you discussed it with him? Is he willing to take you?”

“Yes, your lordship. He is.” 

Inglorion cocks his head, observes Ajax narrowly. He’s typically a model of correct Drow conduct, but Inglorion would swear that his tone sounds a bit coy. “Ajax, you sly dog! Am I to wish you happy?”

Ajax permits himself a slight smile, ducks his head and says, “Yes, your lordship.”

Inglorion tosses the report aside, hops up, and hugs Ajax ruthlessly, startling them both. “Congratulations! I’m delighted to hear it! If you two aren’t happy, it won’t be your fault. You’ve put up with my moods and whims all of these years. I’ll talk to to Aramil today, and see what will be best and quickest. Seriously, Ajax —” he’s actually a bit choked up as he says this — “You’ve been a wonderful companion and help to me. I’m so happy that you’ve found someone who will love you like you deserve.”

Ajax laughs nervously and ducks his head again. “Thank you, your lordship. I’m so very happy.”

Inglorion squeezes him one more time, says, “What time is it? 11? I’ll pay Aramil a morning call, and if your prince charming is still asleep, I’ll make that worthless man of his roust him for me.”

As it turns out, Aramil is awake, though barely. He’s wearing a resplendent silk dressing gown, starting on his second cup of coffee, and considering whether to have another slice or two of bacon. 

Inglorion bustles in. “There you are! Oh, you have coffee! Pour me a cup, there’s a good fellow. Cream, no sugar.”

“How did you get in?” asks Aramil sourly. 

“I bribed your butler, of course. You know, he’s a cheap date. I gave him two silver pieces, and he seemed surprised and excited. I’m wondering what he’ll do for three.”

“Do I need to pay him more?”

“I don’t know. Ask him.” He accepts a cup of coffee from Aramil. “Thank you.”

“Bacon? I finished the toast.”

“God, no. I don’t know how you can eat that stuff. I believe there’s some ancient taboo against eating pig, you know — something about cloven hooves, or perhaps creeping across the earth. In my mind, you can’t be too careful.”

“God, Inglorion, get to the point. It’s early. I can’t sit here in my own home and listen to you make up scripture.”

“I’m told you’re intent on stealing Ajax from my service. You’re welcome to him. He’s been pawning my spare neckcloths any time these 10 years.”

“Well, yes, if it would suit I would be glad to have him,” says Aramil airily. “My boots always look like they were polished by a groom in a hedge tavern.”

“Young man, you live in a hedge tavern. Certain consequences follow from that choice.” He cocks his head, smiles in a confiding fashion and says, “That’s it? A vague desire to improve your image? I’m disappointed. Ajax seems quite smitten with you. I hope you’re not leading the poor fellow on.”

Aramil blushes rosily, hangs his head, and stutters. “Cousin, I — Ajax is — that is to say, we —” he breaks off, bewildered and half-ashamed.

Inglorion catches his eye, says, “Aramil, Ajax is wonderful. Loyal, kind, one of the most modest, loving creatures I know. I’m delighted for you both.”

Aramil smiles shyly and says, “Oh, I know — it’s exactly as you say. He’s the sweetest creature. I’m very lucky.”

“You both are. Congratulations, cousin.” They hug, and Inglorion breaks away to eye Aramil’s outfit. “I’d have to ask Valentine, but I suspect that dressing gown is reason to be glad I’m color blind, or evidence that you are. No wonder you feel tired in the mornings.”

Aramil laughs. “Inglorion, are you sure you don’t mind? I know it’s awkward — I haven’t told my father or mother, or anyone, really. I’ve known for a long time.”

Inglorion shrugs. “Love is love. I never thought about it until Ajax was in my service. But once I knew about him, I always felt — look, I’m sure you two have discussed it. He saved my life. I’ve been humbled by how loyal and generous and loving he is. I wouldn’t tell just anyone this, but I sometimes found myself wishing I could return his feelings. He’s taught me much of what I know about true, selfless love. I’m happier than I can say that you’ll care for him like he deserves.”

“Thank you,” says Aramil. “I don’t know what I’ll tell everyone.”

“It’s a solvable problem, I think. The family adores you. If you choose to discuss it with them, I think they’ll be happy for you in time. Now, look, I’ve been offering Ajax his freedom for any time these 30 years. His position is difficult. I’ll be happy to do whatever will suit you.”

“He would like you to give me title to him. Either to sell him to me, or as a gift, if you’re that generous. Since we can’t marry, we both felt that a legal bond of some sort was important, so that we can’t be separated.”

“Of course. I’ll have my lawyer draw it up today. We’ll have to have you added to his tattoo, as well, so that other Drow aren’t always trying to return him to me as lost property. Of course it will be a gift.”

Aramil smiles, toys with the last piece of bacon on his plate. “Thank you, Inglorion.”

“You’re more than welcome.”

Valentine shows up at Inglorion’s townhouse later that day to talk over clan business, and finds Inglorion signing the paperwork and handing it over to his man of business. 

“What’s that?” asks Valentine idly.

“Oh, I’m transferring Ajax to Aramil. He’s finally decided to improve his lot after all these years. We were getting to be like an old married couple. I can’t blame him for wanting a little strange.” Inglorion favors Valentine with a flirtatious grin.

Valentine frowns. “I must say, I don’t think it’s quite right. You know how Aramil is. He doesn’t always think these things through. He may not think it matters that Ajax is… but….”

“Valentine, look at me.” Inglorion catches his cousin’s eye. “I’m only telling you because you already know about Ajax. They’re in love.” Valentine looks dumbfounded.  “I know. I didn’t know, either. But I swear to you, if I have to choose between you and them, I’ll take those crazy kids.”

“Aramil is…?”

“Yup. He told me he’s known for years. It makes sense if you think about it. He’s been with women, but he doesn’t seek it out. He flirts with them, but he’s always preferred male companions. He could probably marry a woman and soldier through, but why should he? You’re the heir now. Duty-fucking is your job, not his.” 

“God, Inglorion, you’re so crude.”

“Thanks. It’s my one true gift. But seriously, Valentine. I love both of them. I don’t know why it bothers you, but try to put that aside and be happy for them.”

“I just don’t know why it makes you so happy,” says Valentine. “Things will be really hard for them.”

Inglorion smiles, gazes off into the distance. “Things are hard for everyone. I’ve fucked up so much in love. It’s so precious. Nothing else matters, you know? Everything else falls away in the end. I envy them. It will be hard, but they have each other, and they both looked so happy and excited. It was humbling.” He fixes Valentine with his burning, prophetic gaze and adds, “It’s God’s work. We’re nothing in the face of divine love.”

“Oh, very well,” says Valentine ungraciously, and Inglorion decides that’s the best he can expect from his prudish young nephew.

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