46. Greta X

Soundtrack: Adam Ant, And the Horse You Rode in On

After a few more rounds of drinks and banter, Aramil proposes going to see a cabaret act. He knows a place nearby — he’s heard that there are several excellent performers on the bill that very night. Valentine says that he doesn’t know, he might be busy — perhaps he should stay in.

Aramil snorts, “That’s your problem, Valentine — you feel like you’re too busy to have fun. Come on — what’s the harm? You’ll see a little bosom, a bit of ankle, hear a few worldly songs. I don’t think you’ll learn anything you don’t want to know.”

“Oh, very well,” says Valentine. “But I don’t suppose Inglorion will want to waste his time with that sort of thing.”

“You’re wrong there,” says Inglorion. “I live for displays of bosom and ankle, as long as they’re in good taste. And if they’re not, I can always tease Aramil for having poor taste. I can’t lose.”

Aramil and Inglorion drag Valentine out ruthlessly, push him up to the second row, sit on either side of him so that he can’t retreat, and cheer, clap and stomp their feet for the various performers. “The last one is called Greta X,” says Aramil. “the program says, ‘Half-Drow, All Woman.’ Sounds right up your alley, Inglorion.”

A spotlight plays on the closed stage curtain. The crowd buzzes with anticipation, lets off the occasional howl or wolf whistle. The curtain lifts, revealing an achingly tiny, slender figure reclining on a velvet chaise lounge, feigning sleep. Greta X’s black curls are piled on her head, with lovelocks tumbling down her shoulders and across her pale breast. Her skin is shockingly pale, almost bluish under the spotlight. She’s wearing a floor-length black silk gown with a red corset over it. Her lips are red. Her black lashes are incredibly thick, and her closed eyes are heavily lined, and shaded with metallic gray. As a lute plays a soft introduction, she feels the audience’s gaze, and her eyelids open. Her irises are a brilliant, pale silver. Along with the rest of the crowd, Inglorion cheers and stamps his feet. Greta X flutters her lashes, smiles, preens for the audience. A catchy little tune starts up on drum and lute, and Greta X begins to snap her fingers, tap her little feet, and sing, “A young lady once decided / that she was sick of stupid boys / so she threw quite a dancing party / plenty of juice and lots of noise.” 

She takes to her feet, and begins to sway and twirl. The tune and dance are both simple and charming. Miss X has a clever, knowing air, and her alto voice is humorous and expressive. As the song and dance reach their climax, the steps become faster and more complex; throughout, both her singing and dancing are smooth and effortless. “Mister, what did you say your name was? / For I would hate to get it wrong / If you don’t like it, leave our party / And the horse you rode in on!” She ends with an unbearably saucy smile and a series of hip thrusts.

The crowd responds with cheers and catcalls. Greta X curtseys deeply and mimes fanning herself — she’s warm from dancing — then gathers up her trailing curls and lifts them, exposing her slender neck, which glows from exertion. She feigns reluctance for a moment, then settles back onto the chaise lounge and performs a lovely little ballad for an encore. The curtain drops, and the crowd erupts into thunderous applause.

“Well, that was pleasant,” says Valentine as the audience begins to disperse. “I hardly thought it would go so late.”

“Oh, no you don’t,” says Inglorion. “I refuse to leave without making the acquaintance of Miss Greta X. She’s too lovely to pass up.”

Valentine groans. “Good God, are you seriously proposing that we hang around outside the dressing room of a cabaret singer?” 

“Certainly not,” says Inglorion with dignity. “I’m proposing that we enter her dressing room and pay her extravagant compliments. Those are two very different things.”

Valentine shoots a desperate glance at Aramil, seeking support, but Aramil merely grins and says, “Oh, come on, Valentine! It’s a chance to see the master at work. Don’t tell me you haven’t wondered.”

And so they join the stream of gentlemen heading backstage to deliver bouquets, plead for favors, and generally throw themselves at the feet of the fair performers. Greta X’s dressing room door is mobbed. Valentine says, “Oh, well, that’s too bad. Unless — perhaps you can take a number, and have someone call when it’s your turn?” He leans against the corridor wall, arms crossed, smirking skeptically.

“I’ll do no such thing,” says Inglorion. “Watch and learn. Aramil, look sharp and stick close behind me.” He cocks his head, eyes the mob, then announces in a loud, authoritative voice, “Gentlemen, please! Make way! I have an urgent message for Greta X!” He begins to make his way through the crowd, gently touching lapels and shirt sleeves where necessary, saying, “My dear sir, give way — I have an urgent message for the performer. Sir, please! Thank you, sir. Everyone will have his turn!” His effrontery and air of authority are complete — the crowd parts, and Inglorion makes his way right up to the dressing room door with Aramil close behind him. He dislodges her most persistent fans from the doorway by refusing to entertain any argument, simply saying, “Certainly, sir. But my message won’t wait. You’ll have a word with her presently, I promise you. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”

She’s with an admirer, of course, a youth busy presenting her with flowers. Inglorion sizes up the situation quickly. There’s no special relationship between them — the kid just broke from the audience early to get priority. Inglorion turns to the young man and says suavely, “I’m sure Miss X is deeply grateful, and will thank you kindly later. However, I’m bearing an urgent, private message.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” stammers the young man, abashed. 

“Thank you so much. I appreciate your understanding,” says Inglorion. “And if you wouldn’t mind getting the door behind you….”

Once he’s gone, Inglorion walks up to Greta X, who is sitting at her dressing room table, looking amused and curious. 

“I’m Inglorion,” he says, extending his hand. “My nephew and I wanted to compliment you on your charming performance.”

“Thank you,” she says, taking his hand. 

He draws her hand to his lips, kisses it with just the right mix of deference, humor and invitation. “Did you do the choreography yourself?” he asks. “I liked it — classic, and I suspect more difficult than it looked.”

“I did,” she says. “I come from a family of performers, you know.” Both Aramil and Inglorion are aware that she’s amused, but hardly smitten. Most women would be melting, whether because of Inglorion’s good looks, his masterful handling of the crowd, or his sincere admiration for her looks and ability. She’s not cold or offended, but she also hasn’t moved an inch past curiosity. It’s as if she’s immune to Inglorion’s charm. She adds, “What was your message?”

Inglorion flutters his own lashes, says, “I made that up, you know. You’re lovely and clever, and I really wanted to talk to you.”

As a pure onlooker, Aramil is puzzled. He thinks, This should be working. He considers and rejects possibilities ranging from a jealous boyfriend lurking nearby to distaste for her fellow Drow. Nothing quite fits. He scans Greta X head to toe. His eyes snap back to the pale hand still resting in Inglorion’s grasp. Something clicks. He makes a little choking noise of amusement. 

Inglorion hears it, turns, catches Aramil’s grin and barely-suppressed laughter. His gaze follows Aramil’s down to Greta’s surprisingly strong, calloused fingers. His eyes widen, and he gives an involuntary shout of laughter. He looks back again at Greta X, who gives a distinctly boyish grin and shrug of apology. Inglorion says, “Aramil, you wretch! Did you know before I got us in here?”

Aramil shakes his head, eyes dancing. 

“I’m still intrigued, but in an entirely different way,” says Inglorion. He perches next to the slender boy in the black silk dress and says, “Look, you’re half-Drow and obviously clever. Is there are time when we could talk? I really want to hear your story.”

“My real name is Lucius Scaevola,” he says. “I perform here often, and I use the dressing room almost daily. I can tell you my story anytime you like, but I don’t know that it’s very interesting.”

“I’m confident that I will enjoy it very much,” says Inglorion. He raises Lucius’s hand to his lips one more time. “What a fascinating creature you are! I’ll leave you to your proper admirers, my dear.” 

As they leave the theater, Aramil eyes his uncle and says, “Nice recover. But do you really plan to seek him out later?”

“Why wouldn’t I? I find it intriguing. Look, half the fun of chasing women is being surprised. You’ll admit that was a larger-than-usual surprise. It stings a bit to realize that I’m so naive, but I really do want to hear his story.”

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