57. No Man of Honor

Penelope and Sieia pay a brief call of ceremony on Virginia the following day, and make arrangements for the proposed dinner party. Sieia says, “Valentine and I will come fetch the three of you. Even if it’s just a family party, somehow it’s more comfortable to arrive together.”

That evening, then, the Ceralac family barouche pulls up in front of Virginia’s modest townhome. Her butler tenderly hands Virginia, Lucius and Inglorion over to a pair of liveried Ceralac footmen. Valentine and Sieia insist on sitting forward and Lucius offers to occupy the box with the coachman, leaving the best seats to Virginia and Inglorion. 

Sieia smiles impishly and says, “How very fine your outfit is, madam! I plumed myself on my toilette until this moment, but your dress is so elegant! French, I assume?”

“It is.” Virginia studies Sieia for a moment, uncertain how to take the effusive praise she’s just received. 

Inglorion says, “My dear, Sieia means what she says. She’s incapable of artifice or subtext.”

Sieia buries her face in her hands, then peeps through her fingers, laughing. “That did sound terrible — as if you’re overdressed. And yet I meant it in the best possible way! Truly!”

And, indeed, Virginia has nothing to blush for. Her French blue gown is simple to the point of severity. She’s wearing diamond drops in her ears and carries a velvet pelisse against the cold, but her rich appearance owes more to the delicate rose tints in her cheeks, her brilliant blue eyes, and her raven-black curls. Sieia’s toilette is far more frivolous: A bronze-green silk dress and a fine set of emeralds, topped with a swansdown muff and pelisse. 

Sieia’s gaze turns to her brother’s outfit, and she claps her hands with delight. “You wore French blue!” she exclaims. “I’ve always said it suits you.”

“Well, it is the family color,” says Inglorion modestly. “Of course, Virginia picked the fabric. I wouldn’t dare.”

“Well done,” says Sieia. “I’ve never been able to get him to wear colors.”

“You can try your hand with Lucius,” Virginia says. “He owns colors, I promise you — but for such a formal occasion, he couldn’t bring himself to trust me. He’s wearing dove-gray pantaloons, I believe, but only because I wept when he said he planned to wear black.”

By now they’ve arrived at Shelawn House. For a family dinner, the butler is supported by four footmen.

“Wigs and powder,” murmurs Sieia. “Well!”

“Each one a tall, strapping fellow, too,” says Inglorion.

“My dear, don’t you feel that they’re unusually well….?”

“No, no. I believe that’s padding,” says Inglorion repressively. “It’s an addition to the livery we wore in my day. It ensures a uniform look.”

“Well, if you’re certain,” his sister says, craning her neck for one last glance.

“I’m not certain of anything, and my curiosity is limited, as well,” he says. 

They’re all facing forward and smiling as the butler throws the door open and announces in sonorous tones, “Lady Sieia Ceralac and Valentine Claudius Shelawn. Virginia Regina D’Arcy, Inglorion Atropos Androktasiai, Marquis Theates, Lucius Scaevola D’Arcy.”

Inglorion whispers to Virginia, “I have the most names of anyone.”

The room falls silent just as Virginia laughingly replies, “Then how is it you’re announced after the Mayor’s wife?”

Penelope steps forward, admirably feigning deafness, and says, “Madam D’Arcy, allow me to present my husband, Marcus Shelawn.”

Marcus bows over Virginia’s hand, and she draws Lucius forward. “Penelope, Marcus, my son Lucius Scaevola.” Further bows are exchanged, and Lucius feels, as many elves have before him, that Marcus and his wife seem stiff, but probably don’t dislike him personally. The young lady, Griselda, is presented to Lucius as a desirable dinner companion, and Penelope ruthlessly pairs the others up and herds them into the dining room.

The dinner that follows is not unduly merry, but it does go off well. Marcus is deeply proper, Valentine and Lucius are quiet in company, and Inglorion is torn between uncharacteristic diffidence and almost comical anxiety for Virginia’s comfort. The ladies set to work with a will, however, and maintain a proper volume of chatter. Penelope briefly regrets her decision to place Griselda between Lucius and Inglorion. She remembered that her brother-in-law was strikingly handsome, but she couldn’t have anticipated how well evening clothes and manhood would suit him. Griselda is a good girl, however, and dutifully tears her gaze from the vision of loveliness on her right, instead dividing her attention between Lucius on her left,  and Valentine, who is perfectly eligible, and conveniently located across the table.

Inglorion knew he would have no reason to blush for Virginia or Lucius. If anything, their natural reserve wears better in company than his volatility. Nonetheless, he’s proud. When the gentlemen join the ladies after dinner, he finds Sieia and Virginia deep in sisterly conversation, Griselda peacefully engaged with her needlepoint, and Penelope shedding benign smiles. Lucius joins Griselda, and soon the two are eagerly rifling through the scores on the piano, looking for a duet to sing. Valentine draws Marcus aside to discuss some point of business, Virginia excuses herself to help Penelope with the tea-things, and Inglorion is free to join his sister. Inglorion feels piercing joy when Sieia snuggles up to him and whispers, “She’s a delightful creature! So droll! I shall love her like a sister no matter what happens.”

They whisper tenderly for some moments, while Virginia watches from a slight distance. When she first met Lady Ceralac, Virginia thought she looks nothing like her brother. Despite her air of girlish innocence, Sieia seemed to be every inch the wealthy gray elvish matron. Now, seeing her in her brother’s embrace, the resemblance is clear. It’s not entirely physical, though they’re both short and slight, and there’s an echo of his high cheekbones and deep-set eyes in her pretty face. Virginia sees a hint of something feral in their fierce, twin-like bond. They curl up together with absolute comfort and trust, and block out the rest of the world. As Virginia watches, Inglorion captures his sister’s hand, kisses it, and whispers in her ear, causing her to glance up at him roguishly. 

Penelope recalls Virginia’s attention, saying, “Marcus never takes tea. Here’s for Valentine — cream, no sugar.” Virginia dutifully conveys the cup and saucer to her prospective cousin, who thanks her coldly and turns back to Marcus.

Marcus uses the slight interruption to beckon to Inglorion, saying, “Sieia, I’ll restore your brother to you shortly. Inglorion, you’d asked for the loan of a volume of Blackstone. I’ll take you to the library so you can pick out what you need for yourself.”

Once they reach the library, Marcus says, “I wanted to give you Sulla Arahir’s summary immediately. It’s as you suspected. Depending on the sources of her fortune, marriage would be ill-advised.” He unfolds the letter, points to a passage. 

There, in neat, lawyerly copperplate, Inglorion reads his fate:

Upon marriage to a non-citizen, a female citizen retains investments in the form of stocks, bonds and annuities, but cedes all real property to the nearest male relative possessed of citizenship.

“I wish the news were better,” Marcus says.

“So, not just land,” says Inglorion numbly.

“Any real property. Land, buildings, water and mineral rights, any equity share in a business,” Marcus says.

“Good God.” Inglorion folds the paper, puts it in his waistcoat pocket.

“Her property could be converted to investments, placed in trust — perhaps portions of it transferred to her son, if he’s a citizen.”

Inglorion cups his palms briefly over his eyes, laughs abruptly. “I’m brass-faced, but I don’t think I could propose marriage on that basis.”

“No man of honor could.”

Inglorion’s face convulses with some strong emotion — grief, or perhaps anger. He clears his throat. “Right, then. I need a moment. I’m going to smoke a cigarette.” He starts to roll it, glances up and says, “Go ahead. I’ll follow you.”

“In a moment,” says Marcus. He pulls the tinderbox down from the mantle, gives Inglorion a light. He watches as his younger brother cups the flame, inhales, then steps away. Being Drow, Inglorion instinctively turns from the fireplace, into the gloom. He stands in the shadows for a moment, raises the cigarette, takes another drag. He squints as he exhales, obscuring the silver of his eyes.

Marcus has a clutching, painful sense that he’s looking back at a figure from his childhood: White hair, as pale as if it’s been powdered, against French blue brocade. An aquiline nose, broken long ago and set imperfectly. The heavy rings on his strong, graceful hands. Most of all, an expression of abiding bitterness and resignation.

Tereus would have turned from the light in that moment, too.

Inglorion feels his brother’s scrutiny, glances up. The flash of his eyes breaks the illusion. No one looks like Inglorion. 

He brushes past Marcus, throws his cigarette into the fire. “I’m good. Let’s go.”

Marcus hears himself say, “There may be another way.” Inglorion raises his eyebrows. “It’s possible to become a citizen through service.”

“How would I do that?”

“I’m not in a position to offer anything. But there may be services that you could provide to the city.”

“I have no information to provide,” Inglorion says. “None.”

“Let me speak to some people. Like I say, I’m not personally in a position to offer you anything.”

“I’m sure you’ll refrain from giving anyone an exaggerated idea of my skills or importance,” Inglorion says mildly. He adds, “Though for the right price, I would perform almost any service.”

With that, they rejoin the party.

2 thoughts on “57. No Man of Honor

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