58. The Household Returns to Its Natural State

When Inglorion and Valentine are eating alone, they lapse into their natural incivility, and use the time to catch up on correspondence and paperwork. The day after the dinner party, Inglorion receives two personal letters at breakfast in addition to the usual courier bag filled with reports and briefings. He recognizes Alexandra’s handwriting on the first letter, and opens it eagerly. She writes:

Dear Inglorion,

I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to set your mind at ease. As I’m sure you realize, I was compelled to lead my tribe into the North Mountains. In your absence, I saw no alternative but to bring Rosalee with me. We have been detained longer than I expected. It is our plan to return to Liamelia in the spring, once the passes are clear.

Rosalee is much the same. She misses her father. The alarming symptoms that we saw last year have eased, but not ceased entirely. She still does not speak, though she will turn 7 soon. You have said you began to speak at 8 or 9, so I still have some hope.

I know you are a fond father, and that her absence must pain you. It is still my intent that she should make her home with you permanently and learn your ways, perhaps in a year or two. I have been feeling my age lately, and it comforts me to know that you will care for her.

Your affectionate friend,

Alexandra

P.S. A reply addressed to me at Harry’s Tattoos will reach me. Our couriers stop there regularly, and will know how to find me.

He dashes off the following reply:

Dear Alexandra,

Thank you for your kind letter. It did relieve my mind. I’m glad to hear you are both well. I miss our daughter terribly, but I know she’s safe with you, among her people. I have established myself in Liamelia, and am working to make a stable home for her here. I miss the delight of her company, but am also sensible of my duty to her, and my promise to you.

I believe Rosalee understands much of what she hears, so please remind her daily of my love, and sing to her for me. I look forward to seeing both of you here in Liamelia in the spring.

Your faithful friend and ally,

Inglorion

Inglorion sands his note, sets it aside to dry, and picks up the second letter. It has no return address. The paper is cheap, but folded elaborately, with great precision. It reads:

Sir,

I recently received a summons to your city to discuss certain matters with others. I would like to take the opportunity to meet with you and your associates while I am there. Please convey instructions about how best to do this.

—A Friend

Inglorion frowns, looks over at Valentine. “Is this Aramil’s handwriting?” He hold the note up for inspection.

Valentine glances over at it. “Yup. Did it come folded in some outlandish ornamental fashion?”

“Yes. I think it was supposed to be a goat. Or perhaps a turtle.”

“The contents have an air of mystery, and don’t convey the facts that you need?”

“Yeah.”

He takes up the note, glances over it. “Definitely Aramil.”

Inglorion takes the note back, frowns. “I told him not to put anything in writing in any language. How did he interpret that as license to send me unsigned letters that convey no useful content? I must say, Ajax would never have let me do anything that stupid.” He pauses for a moment, searches his memory, then adds, “In writing, that is. It wasn’t in his power to prevent me from doing and saying idiotic things, though he tried, poor fellow.”

“You should have given Aramil a cipher,” says Valentine.

“I should have given him a kick in the ass,” says Inglorion. “He has your direction here, right?”

“It’s a family residence, and he knows that I inherited. Once he sees that the house is inhabited, he’ll figure out that I live here.”

“That will have to do. Indeed, with the best will in the world, I couldn’t send him instructions, unless I’m supposed to send a note to the Liamelian intelligence service, addressed to Your Most Recent and Feckless Recruit.”

Though Inglorion is frustrated by Aramil’s poor operational security, his nephew’s imminent arrival provides a valuable distraction. Inglorion has a goal in mind — claiming Virginia as his bride — and by blood and breeding he’s inclined to kick things over and start fires until he gets what he wants. Inglorion finds enforced inactivity exquisitely painful, and he fears that when Marcus says he intends to have a few conversations, he means that the following morning he’ll sit down in his office, draw up a ranked list of officials, and determine the correct approach for each one. Over the next several weeks, he’ll probably implement a thoughtful, measured plan to develop realistic alternatives, occasionally pausing to adjust his targets and priorities.

As a young man, Inglorion would have pestered Marcus with repeated inquiries. Now, as a sober elf on the cusp of middle age, Inglorion tells himself firmly that he will regard Marcus as on business travel, dead, or otherwise inaccessible for three weeks, then politely send a footman with a note asking if Marcus requires further information to move forward with his inquiries. In the meantime, he will occupy himself constructively by training like a demon and pestering Virginia with offers of oral sex.

For two days, Inglorion sticks to his plan, behaving in a fashion that he believes should qualify him for sainthood, and that Valentine finds decidedly tiresome. On the evening of the second day, Valentine and Inglorion return from a boxing match to find the entryway piled high with luggage, and the housekeeper and butler resisting Aramil’s fast-talking charm.

“Sir, I couldn’t,” she says. “Not with the best will in the world — I don’t know where I would put two additional guests, what with Master Inglorion in the best spare bedroom, and all the other rooms in holland covers.”

“Aramil and Ajax!” Valentine exclaims. “What a pleasant surprise!”

Aramil furrows his brow and says, “Is it possible that Inglorion didn’t tell you to expect us? I’m concerned for his powers of deductive reasoning. Or would that be inductive? In any case, here we are, and Mrs. Coventry insists that there’s no room at the inn.”

“I’m every so sorry,” says Mrs. Coventry, “But the second housemaid sprained her ankle last week, and has been confined to light duties. And I hardly know which rooms would be suitable. The Blue Room would do for Master Aramil if only we could get it cleaned and the covers removed, but I hardly know where to put his friend.”

“The Blue Room will do very well for both of us,” says Aramil. “There’s a separate dressing room that will be perfectly comfortable for Ajax. He’s Drow, and accustomed to tight quarters.” He gestures at Ajax, who is undeniably silent and compact.

Valentine says, “Indeed, if you could just give it a quick dusting and bring in some linens, I’m sure they’ll settle in perfectly well.” He looks around the hall. Judging from the volume of baggage strewn about the entryway, they’re planning a long stay. “Aramil, did you ride down, or take the mail coach?”

Aramil says carelessly, “Oh, we came post to save time, and led my nag. Have you set up your stables?”

“No, I’ve arranged with Marcus to stable the roan at Shelawn House. I suppose I could set up my stables. It hardly seems worth hiring grooms and so forth for two horses. Though clearly I’ll have to bring on an extra maid or two.” He sighs.

“All that Shelawn wealth seems to be weighing on you, Cousin,” Aramil laughs. “The estate will easily bear two housemaids, a pack of grooms, and and anything else you care to lay on it. If you don’t want to wangle the grooms out of Marcus, I can easily board my horse.”

Though Valentine grumbles, all four of them obscurely feel that, with the arrival of Aramil and Ajax, the household has returned to its natural state. Lucius keeps rooms at Virginia’s townhome, but most of the time he can be found in Valentine’s flat, as well.

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