45. The Next Chapter for the Marquis of the Underdark

Inglorion arrives home to find Aramil and Valentine installed in his library. Valentine is drinking coffee, and Aramil has a snifter of brandy. 

“Excellent,” says Inglorion, “A hassle of Shelawns. Now the evening is complete. I see you’ve gotten yourselves drinks, and of course Aramil has helped himself to my valet. I only regret that I don’t have a wife to offer Valentine here.”

“Oh, hello, Inglorion!” says Aramil in an ingenious tone. “This brandy is pretty good.”

“I’m glad you like it, since you gave it to me. Certainly I’m no judge. Valentine, is there more coffee where that came from?”

“On the sideboard.”

Inglorion pours himself a cup.

“It was pretty clever of me to give you some decent brandy,” says Aramil. “It’s the only way to ensure that you’ll have anything tolerable for around for guests.”

“I assumed that was your plan all along.” Inglorion joins them by the fire. “How did you find Ajax? I take it that’s what brought you here.”

“Oh, yes. I thought I’d bring him home with me tonight.”

“Of course. I don’t grudge a bit of inconvenience. If I can’t get my boots off, I’ll use a jack or sleep in them.” He glances over at Valentine.  It looks as if he and Aramil have settled whatever differences they may have had. And, indeed, they’ve always been close. “What brings you here, Valentine? Is Aramil trying to recruit you? Turnabout is fair play.”

Aramil laughs. “If only it were like espionage! But taste can’t be taught.”

“That’s certainly true. Look at the two of you, combatting stereotype! Valentine here is always dressed with taste and flair, while our gay Shelawn emerges from the closet costumed like a dollar-store Liberace for elves.”

“You’re no judge,” says Aramil. “You’re entirely colorblind.” 

“I don’t need color vision to know that your jacket is badly cut. It must be the Ceralac blood.”

Valentine shakes his head. “They are a shocking crew — every last one dressed like a grocer. Indeed, you would lay off Aramil if you knew how much he’s had to overcome.”

“I thought I’d venture to offer a friendly hint. But what do I know? I’m Drow. Left to myself, I’d probably walk around in a chainmail loincloth and half-boots.”

Valentine raises his eyebrows. “What’s stopping you? I feel like you could charge admission.”

“Definitely a business opportunity,” says Aramil. Then, in a strip-club announcer voice: “Next up on center stage, he’s a spymaster, womanizer and Marquis of the Underdark —” he breaks off. “What’s your stripper name, Inglorion?”

“You boys tell me. Not Atropos Androktasiai. Damn, though — I do feel like that might be the next chapter for the Marquis of the Underdark.” He hops up, does a little bump-and-grind, belts out a funk refrain: “‘It takes a big, big man to do a big, big job!’ — or, no, it should be “Queen Bitch”! — help me out, Aramil.”

Aramil says, “Oh, shit, yeah, how does it go?” He taps out a beat, mutters, “Da-da-da-da — How does the first verse start?”

Valentine tries to cut him off. “Aramil, don’t! You’ll only encourage him. You know what he is.”

Meanwhile Inglorion performs a charming series of pirouettes to his own inner beat, ends with a double hip-thrust, and says, “What a fucking prude you are, Valentine. I guess there’s one in every family.”

“It’s envy,” says Aramil. “You just know he gives concerts all the time in front of that huge mirror in his dressing room.”

“I certainly hope so,” says Inglorion, settling back into his armchair. “If I had that setup, I’d never leave the house. Valentine’s more Johnny Cash, though.”

Valentine nods. “I am the Man in Black. At least you’ve got that straight. How’s Artemisia?”

“Well enough. I had work to do, though, and I wanted to see Ajax off. Don’t tell me you boys congregated here assuming I’d be out all night.”

Aramil and Valentine exchange glances. Inglorion’s demeanor is not that of a man happily in love. As always, he evades discussion of anything that truly distresses him.

“If you’re busy we can leave,” Valentine says. 

“Not at all. It’s just a bunch of reports to read. I can knock it out in the morning. We’re overdue for a symposium.”

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