73. Bonne Nuit, Mon Enfant

The day grinds on. Ajax selects 12 men, women and children to leave that night. Inglorion said he’d speak to them personally, but none is in a position to understand and reply. They’re gaunt, pale, feverish. The wounds from their irons are infected. An older woman’s limbs have swollen painfully around her irons, and gangrene is setting in. Most are unconscious; a few are in such terrible pain that they’re reduced to an animal state: Whimpering constantly, or mute with suffering.

Inglorion picks two Gypsy drivers, and begs and bribes them to drive the crippled slaves to Liamelia. “Brothers, I’m asking you in the name of Christ. Take them as fast as may be, over the mountain pass — I know you know the roads.” He pays them, gives them copies of the letters Valentine is carrying. Both men are solemn at the sight of the slaves’ suffering, abashed at their role in the disaster, and moved by the sight of five highwaymen working to save scores of filthy, dying slaves.

The two caravans leave at sunset. Aramil, Lucius and Inglorion labor to erect shelters and move people into them, providing carefully rationed food and drink as they go. Shortly after midnight, Aramil takes Inglorion aside and says, “Lucius is in a bad way.”

He leads Inglorion to a half-constructed shelter. Lucius is sitting nearby, on the embankment, almost in a swoon. Inglorion sits down next to him. “Comment vas-tu, mon fils?”

“Pas mal.” Lucius is pale and trembling with exhaustion.

Inglorion loses his French, switches back to Elvish. “Honey, don’t make yourself sick. Aramil and I will finish up. I need you, OK? Come on.” He leads Lucius to a little lean-to that Ajax, bless him, has set up as a headquarters — basically, a little private spot for Inglorion. He settles Lucius in, gives him the brocade cloak for warmth, and restrains himself from fussing over him only with great difficulty.

Finally Aramil pokes his head in the tent flap and says, “Inglorion, I’ll stay with him. Send Ajax to us. I’ll join you presently. OK?”

“Yes, of course,” says Inglorion mechanically. He rouses himself after a moment, kisses Lucius’s forehead and whispers, “Bonne nuit, mon enfant.”

In the early hours — 0330 by Aramil’s repeater watch — all of the slaves are stable, and have been fed and settled into shelters. Ajax has made himself a nest among the most critical cases, and has set his watch to chime when they should be checked — linens and dressings changed, feverish ones sponged off. The dead have their own little barracks, and are wrapped in sheets or blankets. Inglorion sets the Gypsy casualties aside. They’re Catholic, and will need a priest. Aramil, Ajax and even poor Lucius have recorded everything they remember about how each of the casualties occurred. Inglorion seals each report with wax, ties them up, and carries the package in his inner cloak pocket.

Aramil and Inglorion are exhausted. Most of the heavy work — lifting, pounding stakes, hauling supplies — falls to them, and to a handful of Gypsies that Inglorion deems trustworthy. Inglorion tours the impromptu camp one last time, with his nephew by his side. It’s cold, and strangely quiet. The air is damp, and smells of fall.

Inglorion turns to Aramil. “What do you say? Trance or coffee? It’s almost dawn.”

“I can hardly stand. I’m going to lie down, and you should, too.”

“Yes, of course.” Inglorion and Aramil retire to the little tent. Lucius is out cold. Inglorion keeps wanting to check that Lucius is breathing, as if he were a newborn.

Aramil slumps to the ground. “Fuck, I’m tired.”

“Hey, thank you so much. It was a rough day. I’m glad you were here.”

“Glad I could help.” Aramil is out almost as soon as the words are spoken.

Inglorion’s mind is spinning. He keeps jerking out of trance, thinking of things he must do, letters to be written, plans to be made. Aramil looks peaceful and calm and boyish. His trance is always immediate and deep, curse him. Lucius looks pale, drawn — it’s as if he’s unconscious, not in trance. Finally Inglorion surrenders and lies down next to his adopted son, embraces him. Inglorion can hear his heartbeat, and his deep, steady breath. He sinks into a shallow and restless trance.

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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