69. Risk Assessment

In retrospect, the signs will seem obvious. The Magnificent Five capture 12 more shipments prior to their final ride. At first, it was as easy as adventuring in the old days, when he and Sieia and various chance-met companions stripped wealth from disorganized groups that could be loosely considered enemies.

Over time, Inglorion notices a progression from small numbers of slaves, fed and cared for by a handful of smugglers and brigands to a leaner and more precarious operation. The slave rations dwindle, the reliance on shackles and irons increases, and the number of paid guards shrinks. Towards the end, prisoners are bound together like a chain gang, and led out daily to relieve and clean themselves. Their condition worsens, but is never truly dire. Until the last shipment, the slaves are treated as valuable property, and only flogged for escape attempts. The guards from Amakir surrender at the first shot, as they’re paid to do, and the shipments are easily diverted to nearby villages, and from there to Liamelia.

Most shipments provide valuable intelligence, which Inglorion continues to collect directly, by interrogating the guards and prisoners. He includes much of what he learns in his after-action reports, but he saves some tidbits for his rare reports to the Duchess, and keeps key facts entirely to himself.

Inglorion can’t tell if they’re being sent to intercept every planned shipment, or if Sir Noix deliberately allows some to get through. Certainly Sir Noix is more concerned with interrupting Drow supply lines than he is with concealing their activities, or providing Inglorion a fig leaf of deniability among his own people. In any case, Inglorion can’t stand to think of even a handful of prisoners going into captivity. Once they’re in the Underdark, he’s powerless to rescue them.

By the end, it has become an obsession. Though the pace is physically and mentally grueling, Inglorion feels he cannot stop, and the others never refuse, or even voice dissatisfaction. Valentine is driven by righteous anger; Aramil feels he must prove himself to his uncle and Liamelian intelligence agents; Ajax longs for freedom, and, being Drow, is tough and uncomplaining. Lucius loves his adopted father, and can see no wrong in him. And they all thrive on the excitement; certainly Inglorion is never happier than when he’s riding out to intercept yet another slave convoy.

Virginia sometimes gently questions Inglorion’s growing obsession, but she’s too far from operations to know what questions to ask. She expresses vague concerns, and Inglorion brushes them aside. Their first true quarrel breaks out on the eve of the final operation. It’s been smoldering for days, and finally bursts into flames in Virginia’s sitting room after dinner.

Inglorion is studying a map and looking over his correspondence, or at least pretending to. His nibbles his quill so fiercely that it looks like he might consume it entirely. He occasionally leaps up to pace, and intermittently emits expressive noises: Oaths, vulgarities, obscenities. 

Virginia is trying to read, and she does make some headway in a scandalous French novel, Les liasons dangereuses. The letters of the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont would normally absorb her entire attention, but even a much less sensitive wife would struggle to ignore her husband pacing and growling like a wild cat. 

The footman brings a note, and when Inglorion reads it, he unleashes a string of muttered obscenities, discards his quill and parchment, and paces rapidly to the far side of the room. He stands by the bookshelves whistling softly as if he’s perusing the titles, when, in fact, he’s obviously trying to calm acute rage and frustration. 

“Inglorion, darling,” she says. 

He doesn’t hear her. This is unsurprising. When he’s not attending to her specifically, Inglorion might as well be entirely deaf.

“Inglorion. Inglorion.”

He half-turns, says distractedly, “What, my dear?”

“What just happened?”

“Now? Nothing. A letter. Nothing at all.” He starts pacing at the far end of the room.

“It’s not nothing. You called someone a motherfucker.”

“Oh, that. Just Aramil.”

“You’re worried.”

“A bit, yes.”

“Why?”

He sighs. He would like nothing more than to pour out his worries to a sympathetic soul. However, Lucius will take part in the operation, and he doesn’t choose to worry Lucius’s mother with a detailed risk analysis. “It’s nothing out of the ordinary. Aramil is being a jackass — going drinking the night before an operation. We’re all tired and on edge, and his fix for the problem is to get hammered on blue ruin.” He cuts himself off. “Like I say, nothing unusual.”

She says mildly, “If you have real concerns, I wish you would share them with me.”

“My darling, we’ll pull through. We always do. I’m a crazy motherfucker with good luck.” He says it abruptly, dismissively, then returns to pacing. 

Virginia’s temper, usually quite cool, begins to rise. “Don’t treat me like a child. I know you’re worried. Something’s wrong.”

“Virginia, many things are wrong. The details of the operation are my concern, and can’t possibly interest you.”

Here’s where matters are difficult between Inglorion and Virginia: He respects her deeply, and knows her to be wise and perceptive. However, like most gray elvish women, she knows nothing of battle. Even if he wanted to share his concerns, he can’t easily explain them to her. 

“It’s very risky, isn’t it?” She tries to sound sympathetic, but comes across as accusatory.

“Yes. It is.”

“Then why are you doing it? Why not call it off if you’re afraid it will go badly?”

Inglorion’s eyes narrow and his voice drops. He says quietly, “Because I have a letter of marque from the City of Liamelia to capture and divert slave shipments headed for the Underdark. It’s not a hobby or a lark. It’s real, and lives are at stake with each shipment.”

“But if you’re not ready — if it’s risky —”

He cuts her off, and for the first time Virginia sees her playful, tender, whimsical lover visibly angry. “Yes, there’s risk. There always is. I’ve mitigated and accepted the risk for this operation, and I won’t discuss it further with you.”

Something about his tone frightens and angers her, and she can’t help but say, “Inglorion, surely if there’s real danger —”

Inglorion feels cornered precisely because she’s right. She doesn’t know the facts, but she’s assessed the risk as accurately as if she’s been in every briefing and hot wash. He knows that his team is overworked and on edge, but he feels he has no choice, and he’s too exhausted to defend himself. He paces a bit, then finally says, “There’s significant danger. Nonetheless, I see no alternative but to accept the risk and go forward.”

She’s shocked that his language is so purely impersonal and operational. She’s focused on keeping her son and husband safe, while he’s speaking entirely in abstractions. She takes a breath, opens her mouth as if to speak, and he says in a chilly, quiet voice, “No, Virginia. I don’t choose to discuss this further with you.”

She turns away suddenly. He hears her clearing her throat, sees her pull out her handkerchief. She’s crying silently, and is ashamed of her tears.

His anger dies away. He touches her shoulder, tries to turn her back to face him. She shakes her head angrily, wards him off with a raised hand, and hurries from the room.

To read about Inglorion and Sieia’s escape from Liamelia, click here; the story of their early adventures is here.

For the first episode of Inglorion’s adventures, click here.

For a linked table of contents, listing all of Inglorion and Valentine’s adventures, click here.

 

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