64. Effervescent, Honey-Flavored Hope

From the beginning, Inglorion finds the task of turning five individuals into a team both absorbing and daunting. All five are clever, skilled and devoted to the cause. They’re also far from perfect.

Valentine is a busybody: Rigid, convinced of his own righteousness and insight. Ajax is quietly efficient, and uncomplaining and uncritical to a fault. While Valentine raises objections daily, even hourly, Ajax never voices his reservations, or expresses an independent opinion.

Aramil is brilliant, daring and lucky. Perhaps as a result, his drinking swiftly becomes a problem. He’s often late, occasionally impaired, and always defensive. He and Valentine quarrel briskly on the subject, like brothers. 

Lucius is extremely skilled, but shy and lacking in confidence. Valentine dismisses his strengths, and lectures him about minor shortcomings. For two brief, dreadful days, Valentine takes it on himself to improve Lucius’s fencing skills; Inglorion quickly splits them up when Lucius takes on a startled, anxious look and blows a simple knife-throwing drill. “Yes, yes, I know you mean well, but you’re giving him the yips. In another week he’ll lose his precision of eye entirely,” Inglorion says. “I had a similar experience when I was enrolled in a weapon academy. We’ll have to leave to poor fellow alone for awhile, let him go back to whatever bad form was working for him.”

Despite all of this, they enjoy a string of early successes, halting six shipments in the first month, saving 56 captives from slavery and earning more prize money than they can easily spend. Valentine turns his share over to the others; for him, it’s too much trouble to collect and deposit with his banker. Aramil and Lucius can and do quit their day jobs after the first two outings. Inglorion affects not to notice his sudden wealth, but that’s because he’s never had much money of his own. In fact, it’s distinctly useful. He’s freed from the irregular and grudging stipend of his tribe, and can afford to be generous about such matters as reimbursing Valentine for his share of stabling costs.

At first, their activities are carried out in the strictest secrecy. After the string of early triumphs, many of the original strictures are lifted, and Sir Noix and Lord Carlyon begin to quietly promote their activities as a way of steering civic policy.

Inglorion has always enjoyed a certain notoriety in Liamelia. Most citizens know him by sight and by reputation: He’s Tereus Shelawn’s natural son, and a secret from Sieia Ceralac’s delinquent youth. He’s always represented an unpleasant truth, a scandal. Suddenly, his skills are of use for a progressive cause. His after-action reports, once limited to Sir Noix and the silent Council of Elders, are circulated privately, then discussed openly before Xardic Ceralac’s cabinet. His club has always been a hotbed of progressive politics; now he finds he’s often approached quietly, by men expressing appreciation and admiration. A handful of radical politicians approach Valentine looking to be introduced to his Drow cousin, and ask his opinions about the news of the day while sharing a cigarette or a quiet game of billiards. 

And then there’s the day when Aramil bursts into the library, waving a newspaper overhead, saying, “Our fame is spreading, gentlemen — Inglorion’s latest after-action was provided to The Jupiter, and Liamelia’s paper of record is very impressed.”

Valentine, Lucius and Ajax array themselves around the hearth and tea-table to listen. Valentine says, “Where’s Inglorion got to? Inglorion, come down from there. You’ve made it into the papers.”

“What?” Inglorion is on the top step of the ladder, straining precariously to reach a volume of Tacitus. 

“You’re famous, uncle. We all are. The Jupiter has chronicled our exploits.”

Inglorion manages to hook the volume by its dust jacket so that it falls into his outstretched hand. He pockets it neatly, hops down, and perches on the chaise lounge in a most attentive fashion. “Do tell!”

“Says The Jupiter, ‘The noble Band of Brothers whom we shall call the Magnificent Five, has triumphed once again. What was once rumor has now become conclusive word from the silver quill of their leader, Inglorion Atropos Androktasiai. Our eloquence fails next to his, but we will venture to add our few, poor words to the praise that has been heaped upon them.

“‘Aramil Augustus, a prodigal son of Liamelia and the Shelawn family, has more than redeemed himself by turning his skills as a highwayman to good account.’ A bit thin, that, but I’ll take it,” Aramil comments. “‘The Drow Ajax belies the savagery of his race by tenderly nursing injured and ill captives.’ I always thought you were a savage beneath that quiet manner of yours, my dear. Let no one forget it!

“‘It’s said that the half-Drow Lucius Scaevola D’Arcy shoots from horseback like a Great Plains warrior, and never misses.’ Of course, they’ve never seen you in practice, Lucius. How could they know any different? Your secret is safe with the Sacred Brotherhood of the Magnificent Five, however.

“‘Valentine Shelawn, heir of one of Liamelia’s most storied and ancient families, could rest on his accumulated wealth, and devote himself to a retired life of leisure, but with the natural energy of youth, he devotes himself to ending the cruel institution of slavery.'”

“Notice the delicacy with which they omit the fact that I somehow wound up with your inheritance,” Valentine says.

Aramil waves this aside. “All for one and one for all. I regard the Shelawn fortune as common property to be shared among the Band of Brothers.”

“Marcus would disagree, but go on,” says Valentine.

Aramil’s voice deepens, becomes more rich and sonorous. “‘At their head, first among equals, we find Inglorion, beautiful, brave and eloquent — a true son of Liamelia despite the tragedy of his birth. His nobility and idealism provide a shining example to us all, citizen and resident alike, no matter what their birth, race or degree. The city-state of Liamelia stands fast for the ideals of justice, freedom and courage. May we all learn from his example, and learn to espouse the ideals that animate the Magnificent Five.'”

“Amen,” says Inglorion. “Let that be a lesson to all of you. The eyes of the city-state are on us, gentlemen. Though I wish that I could be lauded publicly without reference to the tragedy of my birth.”

Though the editorial forms the subject of much ribaldry and teasing over the next few weeks, Inglorion feels naive pride. Of course The Jupiter is fickle and cynical. Inglorion doesn’t believe that he’s an example to all of Liamelia. If he were, among other things, the foundling hospitals would be sadly crowded. He does believe in the ideas of courage, justice and freedom, however, and he’s terrible pleased to be in a position to act against the cruel customs that scarred Ajax and Valentine so deeply.

Inglorion feels an effervescent, honey-flavored hope. Though he does not propose to Virginia, he’s emboldened to speak more directly about the future, and about his earnest wish that the four of them — he, Virginia, Lucius and Rosalee — could form a family.

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