Inglorion walks back from the Foreign Office slowly, giving himself time to think. As he strolls the wide, green streets and squares of central Liamelia, it occurs to him that perhaps he should have mentioned this scheme to Virginia, Valentine and Ajax before signing papers committing to it. He might have reviewed recent intelligence, consulted with allies like Jason and Alecto. He should have sought permission from Philomela, who does, after all, have absolute authority over the Theates tribe. He’s taken a decisive step — probably a dangerous one — without consulting anyone else.
The awkward fact is, he hasn’t told anyone about his discussion with Marcus. He’s ashamed of his legal status, and finds it loathsome to be pitied for the stupid facts of his race and bastardy. Both have limited and determined his choices at almost every phase of his life: His upbringing, education, career and residence. Now they threaten to bar him from honest relations with a woman whom he loves. And he was offered the opportunity to take direct action on slavery. Really, he could not have done otherwise.
Of course his team will consist of Valentine, Aramil, Ajax and Lucius. Inglorion’s certain that all four will join up, whatever the risks. They’ve all got three key ingredients in different proportions: They’re loyal to him personally, hate the institution of slavery, and are young, idle and reckless.
Ajax is sensible and cold by nature, but he’s also in the habit of obeying Inglorion implicitly; he might question his methods, or point out holes in his reasoning, but he’s never questioned Inglorion’s fitness to rule, or expressed skepticism about what Inglorion will do with power once he has it. Whatever influence Ajax has is subtle, indirect, and exercised entirely at Inglorion’s pleasure. Neither one of them is foolish enough to imagine that the former valet of a Drow Marquis has significant, independent authority, in the Underdark or anywhere else.
As for Aramil and Valentine, Inglorion’s confident that they’ll fall into line. Valentine might grumble, but he’s restless and bored underneath that mask of propriety. He hates slavery, and feels guilty that he alone escaped. Aramil hopes to restore his citizenship through service, but he’d take a letter of marque for shits and giggles, even if it required double-crossing his thieves’ guild in Amakir.
Lucius isn’t reckless — he’s a quiet, thoughtful creature, like his mother — but Inglorion knows there’s a well of untapped chivalry within him, and he believes in the kindness, benevolence and wisdom of his newfound father. If Lucius knew of the legal barriers preventing Inglorion and Virginia from marrying, he would do anything in his power to unite the two in wedded bliss. Inglorion’s always intended to read Lucius into his various projects and plans as Marquis Theates. Helping to execute the letter of marque will be the first step in his initiation into the complex politics of the Underdark.
And what of Virginia herself? Inglorion can’t perform quite the same cold-blooded analysis in her case. He’s never asked if she’s considered marriage, to him or to anyone else. He chooses to believe she’s diffident rather than passive, and that a woman of her strength and determination wouldn’t simply tolerate his presence. She allows him space in her sitting room and bed, and permits him to call her son mon fils, a privilege he knows she wouldn’t grant casually. She’s already accepted that he’s a spymaster. A letter of marque is a mere detail, or should be.
Does Inglorion believe he’s arrived as a sound decision, well-informed by the available facts? Not at all. He’s at least foggily aware that he’s made a decision out of wishful thinking, optimism and the idealistic desire to make a difference now, today, quickly. Inglorion believes that he’s a crazy motherfucker with good luck, and events have conspired to reinforce this belief. If he’s paid a price for his foolhardiness, he’d be hard-pressed to name it. He’s alive, in love, and hasn’t run out of money. He’s heir to a Dukedom in the Underdark, and has lived and thrived on the fringes of gray elvish society for years.
Inglorion knows the gods favor and guide him in some way. He has a purpose. The morning’s events have a secret meaning, and can’t be weighed on a purely rational scale.
And so he thinks, Yes, it’s risky, but it’s for the best. It’s my duty to grasp this chance. The others should follow, and they will.
Inglorion reaches this conclusion and his cousin’s flat at pretty much the same time. He’s pleased to see that Valentine, Aramil and Ajax have gathered in the library for a leisurely meal that appears to be breakfast for some, tea for others.
“There you are, Inglorion,” says Valentine. “Tea or coffee?”
“Oh, coffee,” says Inglorion with voluptuous delight. “Is there toast? I’m starving.”
“Toast, and some chocolates that Aramil brought over.”
“Nice. That, plus a cigarette, is all a man could want on a cold fall day.” He accepts a cup from Valentine, and snatches all the hot toast and two truffles. These take up all his attention for several moments. He realizes that he left without eating breakfast, and that, for all of his suave manners, Sir Noix never offered him so much as a cup of tap water.
After disposing of the toast, he accepts a second cup, lights up, kicks back on the chaise lounge and surveys the others. After a time, they sense his deliberate silence. Conversation ends, and three sets of eyes turn to him.
“You’re clearly full of news,” says Valentine. “Where have you been?”
“I paid a morning call at the Foreign Office, and then the old City Barracks,” he says. “I was offered a letter of marque to halt slave shipments over land. I’ve accepted it.”
There’s a short, stunned silence. Aramil bursts out laughing, cries, “The devil you have,” almost drowning out Valentine’s quiet, “Well, you’ve been busy.”
Inglorion pulls the letter out of his waistcoat pocket, unfolds it and says, “See for yourselves. Straight from the hands of Liamelian operational intelligence. Sealing wax still warm, and the ink just dry. It’s perfectly genuine, and entitles the bearer to search and redirect any land shipment reasonably suspected of carrying captives bound for slavery in the Underdark.”
He hands it to Valentine, who scans it, says, “Good God! How on earth — is that wise, in your position?”
“Almost certainly not, but I couldn’t resist.” Valentine hands it to Aramil, who glances over it carelessly and tosses it to Ajax. “Are you in, gentlemen? I’ll need a team of five.”
“Of course,” says Aramil. “Through Liamelian intelligence?”
“We’ll be paid prize money through private funds, but, yes. I figured we might as well all be double-agents. You might call it a shortcut to Mother Liamelia’s heart. Not to mention the most direct possible way to combat a great evil.” His gaze turns to Ajax, who is still scanning the letter with trembling disbelief. “Will you join me, Ajax?”
Ajax knows better than anyone what Inglorion did to become Marquis Theates, and understands his compromised ties to the Underdark. Inglorion adds softly, “I’ve thrown up everything. I need you to help me sort through and see what can be saved.”
“I will,” says Ajax without meeting his old master’s eyes.
“Thank you,” says Inglorion. He gives Valentine a wry half-smile. “What do you think, sir?”
“I’ll do it, of course, if only to keep the rest of you out of trouble. Who’s the private party?”
“Lord Carlyon. A new peerage, unless I’m mistaken. Do you know him?”
“By sight only. And yes, he’s a merchant looking to buy position and respectability. To hear Marcus tell it, his initial service to Liamelia consisted in paying down the city’s war debt. So now he’s turned to abolitionist philanthropy?”
“Apparently. How’d he earn his fortune?”
“Trade and speculation. He wasn’t forced to resort to slavery and sugar-cane, like our forebears.”
“The Shelawns were slavers?”
“Oh, dear, yes. Tereus’s father, Agamemnon, sold off the plantations, bought land and silver mines, made everything pretty. But you don’t come into that kind of money without human sacrifice.”
Inglorion glances over at Aramil, who nods and shrugs. “Good Lord,” Inglorion says. “The Drow may be brutal, but at least they’re not hypocrites.”
“So we’re four,” says Valentine. “Who’s your fifth?”
“Lucius,” says Inglorion. “He’s a skilled archer, and I’ve been meaning to read him into our boys’ club for some time now.” Valentine raises his eyebrows. Inglorion meets his gaze and adds, “I’ll tell you all now fairly, that the letter of marque bears my name alone. This is a military operation, not a democracy. I value your judgment, but in all matters, the final decision will be mine.”
All three murmur assent, more or less eagerly, and Inglorion says, “We’ll start training tomorrow.”