60. The City Barracks

the old city barracks
“The walls are built from fired brick, and topped with concertina wire and chevaux-de-friese. It feels like the hardy remnant of a civilization destroyed by fire or plague.”

The glorious conviction of triumph fades, as it must. Inglorion soon suffers from the same itching impatience that tormented his father and forefathers, back to some nameless, primal Shelawn who emerged from the Great Divide scheming to abduct an heiress or float bad stock.

Just as he finds himself wondering whether he should call on Marcus, send him a note, or accept that the man is a hopeless slow-top from whom nothing can be expected, Inglorion receives a letter asking him to wait on his half-brother the following afternoon at the Foreign Office. He writes, in part:

My apologies for the late notice. I encourage you to rearrange your schedule to attend; if you cannot make the date and time named, please notify me immediately.

Your very obedient servant,

Marcus Shelawn, esq.

Marcus meets Inglorion in the outer room of his office suite, saying, “I’ve arranged a series of meetings at the old City Barracks. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the building.”

“I know where it is, nothing more,” says Inglorion. As long as anyone can remember, the City Barracks has been used as office space for a swarm of quiet, efficient, seemingly interchangeable men in fine, wool overcoats. Schoolboys speculate that these men carry out sinister scientific experiments, house and torture enemies of the city-state, or test and manufacture secret weapons. Most adult Liamelians accept that the City Barracks houses the various intelligence services, and that their work consists primarily of detailed record-keeping.

Inglorion had forgotten how ugly the squat, brooding structure is. It covers an entire city block. The walls are built from fired brick, and topped with concertina wire and chevaux-de-friese. It feels like it may have been part of a primeval city that preceded Liamelia, the hardy remnant of a civilization destroyed by plague or siege. Now, walking in its shadow, Inglorion imagines that the structure represents Liamelia’s future, and that wide, marble steps, pillars and allegorical friezes will be swept away and replaced with high, featureless walls shoved up against narrow walkways. There will be peepholes and arrow slits to surveil a population diverted into a few deep, narrow channels. 

They come upon a man door that is set into a wall, and partly sunk underground. A porter admits them into a waiting room entirely bare of furniture or ornamentation; there’s just a single, steel door leading further back. The effect is one of almost comic indifference or hostility. 

Inglorion hardly has time to wonder at all this before the metal door swings open. The room is so tiny that Marcus and Inglorion must shuffle backwards to allow two men to enter. 

Marcus says, “Sir Noix, Lord Carlyon. As requested, I’ve brought my brother Inglorion to you.”

Sir Noix is aged to the point of decrepitude. His eyes are dark, and he has the strange pallor of a very old man who works long days and nights indoors. Inglorion touches his hand gently, for fear of damaging his papery skin.

Lord Carlyon’s age is indeterminate, though he probably has at least 100 years on Inglorion. He’s the tall, slender, aristocratic-looking elf variant, and he wears his hair cropped short, a style that military men have started to affect in forward-looking places like Amakir. The title isn’t familiar to Inglorion; he assumes it’s a recent creation. Even so, Carlyon gives the impression that he expects Inglorion to be honored, perhaps even intimidated, to make his acquaintance. They exchange bows.

Once introductions are complete, Sir Noix gives a thin smile and says, “Marcus, I won’t trouble you to stay. Our discussion may take some time. I’ll see that your brother’s returned to you at the Foreign Office.”

“Yes, of course.” Marcus bows himself out. 

“Follow me,” says Sir Noix. He leads Inglorion and Carlyon through a series of long, narrow corridors. They’re bare, empty of traffic and brilliantly lit with gas lamps. Despite his age, Sir Noix’s stride is brisk, assured. After several moments, when Inglorion is thoroughly lost and feels that they must have covered the entire building in a push-broom search pattern, they turn into a corridor lined with identical, featureless metal doors. Sir Noix selects one, and opens it by typing a combination into a discreet brass keypad. The door opens with a satisfying click, revealing a small room. There’s a gas fireplace, an oak conference table, and four chairs. The floor is covered with a wool carpet woven with a disarmingly lovely repeating figure of intertwined thistles in bloom. 

They seat themselves around the table, and there’s brief pause while the men size each other up again. Sir Noix says, “Marcus provided some details of your situation, and your experience and skills. I hope you won’t mind if I ask a few questions covering some of the points we discussed.”

“Not at all.”

“You were born and raised here in Liamelia. After that, you traveled and worked as a mercenary fighter.”

“Yes, until I was 78.”

“Marcus said that you went abroad to seek your fortune, and were engaged in elite weapons training and administration for a foreign government.”

“That’s accurate, yes.”

“Before we go any further, I think you’d better tell us where you were, and name the government for which you worked.”

“Certainly. I’ve lived primarily in the Underdark, with my mother’s tribe, the Theates.”

“You’ve served in the Drow army?”

“No,” Inglorion says without hesitation. “All citizens are assigned to barracks and reserve duty, but I’ve never been on active duty, or commissioned as an officer.”

“If you’re not in the army, what’s your position?”

“My title is Marquis Theates. I hold an administrative position in the government.”

Sir Noix’s voice becomes more precise. As he speaks, he’s watching Inglorion’s hands, his face. “Have you ever committed an act of war against Liamelia, Xiomelia or Amakir? Take your time to reply. Our countries have been at war within the last six months; hostilities have ceased, but no treaty has been signed.”

“I have not. My position is purely administrative.”

“Are you sworn to Lolth?”

“I took an oath to Corellon Larithian before leaving Liamelia. I’ve never broken that oath, and never would.”

Sir Noix looks over at Lord Carlyon, who shrugs.

“Do you have any marks associated with the Drow? Tattoos, brands, scarification? Anything that identifies you as Drow, or demonstrates loyalty?”

Inglorion raises his eyebrows. “Sir, my eyes and hair identify me as Drow. You might as well ask if there’s anything about me that makes people suspect I’m related to the Shelawns.”

“Beyond your racial identity — something making it manifest that you’ve aligned yourself with them voluntarily.”

Sir Noix is looking Inglorion straight in the eye, studying his expression.

Inglorion realizes that he’s raised an objection, then hesitated briefly. It will be difficult to lie convincingly, and the truth is defensible.

“No brands or scars. I’m extensively tattooed on my chest, back, arms and face. It’s traditional in my tribe, and the imagery is personal to me.”

“On your face?”

“They’re not visible in ambient light. In total darkness, my face will appear blurred or dim to creatures with inferior darkvision. To Drow eyes, the images are precise and detailed.” Seeing their puzzlement and distaste, he smiles and says, “Gentlemen, it’s unusual, but not illegal. I was born between two very different cultures, and I’ve navigated that as best I could.”

“You’ll be examined for visible marks, of course.”

“Of course.” There’s a brief silence, then Inglorion says, “Forgive me, Sir Noix. I don’t believe I caught your title, or the name of your organization.”

“I didn’t say it. I work for the operational wing of Liamelian intelligence.”

“And you, Lord Carlyon? I’d like to know my business associates.”

“My interest is as a private citizen and philanthropist.”

“I see.” As with classical Athens, it’s not unusual in Liamelia for wealthy citizens to finance military ventures. “When Marcus and I spoke, he said he wasn’t in a position to make any offers. Are you gentlemen?”

“I am,” say Sir Noix. He gives another slight, cold smile, then says, “Just a few more questions, if you don’t mind. You speak Drow?”

“Fluently, with an accent. I write it, and use their operational language, as well.”

“What other languages?”

“Undercommon, Romany, some French. Wood elvish hunting signs. I read Greek and Latin.”

“You’re confident that you could select and train a small group of operatives? Say, five or six men?”

“Yes. I would insist on selecting them, or at least on the right to reject unpromising candidates.”

Sir Noix nods. He and Lord Carlyon exchange glances again. “Lord Carlyon, perhaps you’ll notify the first set that we’re ready for them?”

Once the door closes behind Lord Carlyon, Sir Noix turns back to Inglorion and says, “We have a very specific need that has gone begging for lack of a proper candidate. You’ll meet a series of officials, specialists in various areas. I’d recommend that you answer their questions honestly. It’s not necessary to volunteer information beyond the questions asked, and doing so may add weeks or months to the process while we seek independent confirmation of details that don’t bear on the case directly. 

“In the end, if none of the parties consulted raises a valid objection, then you will be offered the opportunity to carry out a series of operational missions. I should tell you that you’re the only viable candidate; you may speak to people who are reluctant or skeptical, but the game is yours to lose. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Sir Noix,” says Inglorion.

“Once you’ve met everyone, I’ll return to you. If you’re discreet and careful about your answers, I see no reason why we shouldn’t reach an agreement today.”

With that, he leaves.

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