51. I Couldn’t Stay Away

Inglorion is unusually nervous when he presents himself at Virginia’s suite the following evening. He feels guilty and anxious, but he’s drawn forward by anticipation. When her maidservant admits him to her private parlor, he’s surprised by the force of his desire — he’s almost bashful in her presence. At the same time, her manner is so frank and natural that he masters himself, and doesn’t appear entirely star-struck.

“Hello, Inglorion,” she says. “I”m glad you came. I’m fixing tea right now. I’ve been experimenting with something called chai. Perhaps you’ll join me.”

“Yes, thank you. I like chai very much. An old friend of mine, a Gypsy, used to make it for me.”

They chat easily while she prepares it. Within a few moments, she brings the tea-tray over with their two cups and several biscuits of different flavors. She hands him his cup, takes her own, and says, “Now, sir, tell me about yourself. First of all, are you really a Marquis?”

He hesitates briefly. It’s not something he would normally discuss aboveground, with another gray elf. Of course, Lucius is proof that Virginia has ties to the Underdark. “I am,” he says. “It’s a Drow title, and an honorary one. My mother is Duchess Theates, and she’s chosen me to succeed her.”

“That’s exotic. What are you doing aboveground?”

“I was born and raised in Liamelia, so I handle the clan’s business aboveground. We don’t have official diplomatic ties, but there are plenty of unofficial relationships to be maintained. I have family here, as well. I’m related to the Shelawn family on the wrong side of the blanket. I’m close to my half-sister, and to a cousin and nephew.”

“That’s very exotic indeed. Few people travel between those worlds.”

“You seem to have done so.”

“No, Lucius’s father did. I’ve never been to the Underdark, and neither has Lucius, unfortunately. He’s been raised entirely as a gray elf — it’s the only way I could raise him.”

They talk for hours, easily and eagerly. She’s witty and opinionated, but she also has a calm sweetness that reminds him of Sieia, or of Lucius himself. She’s open about herself — makes no effort to conceal her past profession, and in fact tells both funny and pathetic stories of that time. She has a fine, searching mind, and Inglorion finds himself discussing personal matters in a way he rarely does with Valentine or Aramil. The charm of her conversation is hard to identify, but Inglorion notices that nothing surprises her, but she’s not jaded or cynical. Perhaps more fundamentally, he feels that she understands and partakes of his sentiments instinctively and eagerly, and that they share an unspoken intellectual and emotional sympathy.

They’re both surprised when the clock strikes midnight, and they realize that the rest of the inn is dark and still. The fire has died down to embers, and the teapot has long been cold.

“I’m sorry to have kept you up so late,” says Inglorion. “I had no idea.”

“The time went very quickly. Thank you for visiting me.” She smiles and glances down, and looks almost shy for a moment. “I wanted to ask you — why did you come to see me tonight?”

He cocks his head, considers. “I wanted to get to know Lucius’ mother. He’s dear to me, thought the friendship is new. He thought you and I would get along, and he was right.” He pauses, looks down, then meets her eyes again. “The truth is, I couldn’t stay away. I felt drawn to you. I wanted to see you again.”

Now her gaze drops, and he sees a faint flush in her cheeks. For a moment, they’re both flustered. 

Inglorion knows he could kiss her now, and it takes great force of will to refrain. He says softly, “My dear, I would very much like to come see you again — perhaps to visit you in Liamelia. But there’s something I must settle first. I’m not entirely free.”

“I would like very much to see you again, Inglorion, but only if you’re —” She stops, then says abruptly, “I like you very much.” Her eyes are still lowered, and her color is very high.

He takes her hand and kisses it fervently. “I’ll leave you now, Virginia, but I’ll be back, and soon.” He presses her fingers to his cheek. She can feel his lashes fluttering against the back of her hand. He releases it, and without thinking she presses the back of her hand against her lips. This is how he will remember her: Eyes wide, cheeks rosy, her expression almost wounded.

Inglorion walks home to give himself time to gather his thoughts. He cannot, of course. He has one thought, that unifies a score of subtle impressions: Virginia is entirely lovable and desirable, and he wants her desperately.

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