63. An Impulse, Visceral and Piercing

hussar jacket
Inglorion can’t make out the color of Tereus’s cloak, but he can see the dazzling silver buttons and ornate braiding.

Ajax and Aramil retire soon after dinner, leaving Valentine free to broach a delicate question. “Inglorion, you know Sieia gave me Tereus’s cloak, and I wore it for some time. It had sentimental value, though I’d be hard-pressed to say why. I feel it’s yours by right.”

Inglorion laughs and shakes his head. “I remember bundling it up and wrapping it in brown paper, and leaving it with Sieia’s luggage. It seemed awkward to hand it to Marcus, since she’d stolen it. You know, I haven’t seen it since.” He breaks off. His eyes are downcast.

Valentine’s reminded that though he’s shameless in most matters, Inglorion is occasionally overcome with modesty. “I think you should take it,” he says. “It’s hanging in my wardrobe now. Marcus has never worn it. I wouldn’t feel right, even though it’s as much my personal property as any heirloom can be.”

“Is it part of the entail?” Inglorion asks. 

“I have no idea. Marcus would know, but I don’t intend to ask him. You can consider it a long-term loan, if you like.” Valentine leads his uncharacteristically bashful cousin to his dressing room, and throws open the wardrobe, revealing a splendid array of jackets, shirts and pantaloons, and, on one side, a full-length mirror framed in gilt. 

“Nice,” says Inglorion.

“Sieia thinks it’s vulgar.”

“She’s wrong,” says Inglorion. “It’s fucking awesome.”

Valentine parts the front row of clothing, murmuring, “It’s back here somewhere…” he burrows through the parted ranks of hanging clothes, and then slithers back out holding the cloak high, carefully disentangling it from grasping hangers and a handful of loose neckcloths. “It really is a nice piece,” he says. The door opposite the mirror is lined with hooks. He hangs the cloak up, shakes it out.

Inglorion can’t make out the color — it’s French blue brocade — but he can see the dazzling silver buttons and the matching, ornate braiding around the high collar and seams. It’s quilted with an oak leaf pattern picked out in silver thread. The silk lining is a deeper indigo shade, rich, gorgeous and infinitely soft.

“It really is beautiful,” Inglorion murmurs. He strokes the fabric, traces the the quilted pattern. He glances up at Valentine for permission, then pulls it off the hanger, settles it over his shoulders and shakes the long, heavy folds into place. 

It’s been decades, but the weight and scent of cedar are instantly familiar. It’s long — Tereus was 6’2”, and Inglorion is a mere 5’4” — but Inglorion learned decades ago to manage the length. He pulls the two halves of the collar together, and Valentine secures it with a matching silver oak leaf pin. 

“We should find you an adamantine pin,” he says.

Inglorion nods. “Absolutely.”

Valentine steps back, and they both study the image of Marquis Theates in Tereus Shelawn’s cloak. 

“It does suit you,” says Valentine.

“It always has,” says Inglorion. “It’s odd.” As much as he resents the resemblance between himself and Tereus, when Inglorion wears the cloak he feels less like an usurper and more — what? As a youth he wore it out of defiance, much as he named himself Inglorion. It was a way of flaunting his bastardy and insisting on his existence: The Drow son, the living consequence of Tereus’s actions.

By donning the cloak now, he accepts that troubled heritage: His face, his voice, his temperament and intellect — even the scent of cedar and tobacco. 

Inglorion feels a sudden impulse, visceral and piercing as a cramp or the threat of tears: He wishes Tereus could see him, and feel proud.

He studies himself in the mirror, much like he did as a child. There’s no vanity in his gaze. He’s still trying to deduce his identity from the image before him. He remembers a vision he had years ago, in the Underdark: Tereus, blond hair powdered white, glancing in the mirror over his washbasin, drying his hands, whistling Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” under his breath. He’s reached the age Tereus was then. Now, looking in his cousin’s mirror, he sees his father’s pure and radiant visage. The guarded, sober expression is his own.

He looks back up at Valentine. “You’re right,” he says. “I’ll take it.”

The following day, Lucius agrees to the scheme, and the five begin to train. Buoyed by urgent activity and the novelty of love, Inglorion begins a new habit. Instead of writing only to accept or decline dinner invitations, he sends Virginia an impression he would normally record only in his journal. He writes:

My dearest Virginia,

I remember as a child feeling paralyzing terror about many things. For many years, I had a phobia about vomiting, and I often couldn’t sleep for fear I would be stricken with a sick headache, and would wake up ill. Over time, I coped with this fear by praying when I first lay down, “If I’m going to vomit tonight, I want to do it now.” I would wait a moment, and when no puke was forthcoming, I could usually go about my business and settle into trance.

The ritual continued into my late teens, so I must have understood that it had no effect whatsoever. The magic, I believe, lay in thinking, “Fuck it. Bring it. I’ll vomit now and every moment of the night.” (If I’d realized then how much of my career in the Underdark would be spent heaving, I would have either abandoned myself to despair or felt tremendous relief. I still loathe being sick, but use makes master, and I would choose it over slicing my own eyeball with a razor, or licking a boar’s balls.)

I’ve used this mental trick in one form or another my whole life, I think. It’s how I approach everything from sparring to paperwork, and it’s how I’ve thought of death ever since I first saw real combat: “Fuck it. Bring it. I’ll die now. I don’t give a shit.”

Only now has it started to lose its power. My sources of consolation are different, of course. I truly do believe that I’m in the gods’ hands. It’s more than that, though. When I say I don’t care if I die, my bravado is exposed. I want very much to live.

It’s hard to know the consequence of this shift. In the abstract, I’ve longed for love my whole life. Its effect is much different than I expected.

You’ve seen enough of life to understand my meaning. As I write, I explain myself to myself. With you, my love, I believe — I hope — no explanation is needed. The habits of mind that I describe are curiosities, nothing more. Know that I love you, Virginia, more than I can describe or show. You are the center and core of my existence.

Yours,

Inglorion

Quickly, before he can think, he seals it and sends it by penny post. That night, he knows that she’s received and read it, and he believes her manner is sweeter, more tender.

It’s hard to be certain — his own tenderness and passion soon overwhelm him.

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