74. The First Mass Funeral, the Second Set of Graves

Inglorion wakes to a sense of sorrow and oppression, and to a very physical comfort in his son’s embrace. He lies there for a moment, remembering where he is, trying to come to grips with the day ahead. Lucius surfaces, blinking and yawning. Inglorion feels an almost painful sense of gratitude to see his son’s silver eyes, smell the scent of his hair, so like his mother’s. 

“Bon matin, mon pére,” says Lucius softly.

“Bon matin, mon fils.” Inglorion smells coffee, and this motivates him to brave the cold, damp morning. Valentine is back. He’s made a camp fire outside, and is brewing a pot of coffee. “Thank fucking God,” Inglorion says.

“Good morning, Sunshine,” says Valentine. “I’ve brought a medic, and our saddlebags are crammed with supplies. We travelled cross-country, so the wagons are two days out, sad to say. And there’s no cream.”

“If that’s the worst thing you ever do to me, cousin, I’ll consider myself a blessed man.” They each get a cup down before Ajax shows up to notify Inglorion that five slaves died of exposure during the night. The Gypsy guard is hanging on, but Ajax is pessimistic about his chances. 

Ajax adds, “Sir, we’ll have to be prepared to lose more of the slaves. Their condition is very bad. Many are feverish even though they’ve been hydrated. Some may have gaol fever, or other illnesses.”

Inglorion nods, says, “Valentine brought a medic, and at least some of the supplies you requested. I hope that will help.”

Ajax seems reluctant to leave. Finally he says, “Sir, we will need to start burials today. It’s cold now, but it will be a warm day.”

“Make it so. Mark out the locations and dimensions of the grave, and I’ll see that it’s done. We won’t bury the Gypsies just yet. They have very specific beliefs, and they’ll be reluctant to have their own buried with foreigners, and without a priest in attendance. As for the elves, I know the funeral service, so I can preside.”

After he and Valentine finish a second, hurried cup, they start to dig a mass grave and latrines, respectively. There are only two shovels, so Inglorion adds that to the list of supplies they need.

Further logistical problems crop up: Inglorion and Valentine can forage, and two of the freed wood elves are well enough to shoot and prepare game. Even so, rations will be lean. The Gypsies’ water runs out quickly, and the nearest spring is almost two miles away through heavy underbrush. Inglorion details two Gypsies specifically to fetch, store and guard water throughout the day. 

At noon Inglorion presides over the first mass funeral, for the human and elvish prisoners who died before rescue. The humans have selected a leader, and he confirms that, under the circumstances, they can be buried according to elvish rites. Inglorion finds himself by a mass grave, then, reciting the service from memory, improvising where necessary, concluding with High Elvish words that are familiar and comforting to gray elves, at least:

“The light has gone from them, and been gathered up to the Bringer of Light. Here, in our loss and sorrow, know that his light remains among us. The light in me sees and acknowledges the light in each of you.”

It would be usual to sing a hymn now, but none of the wood elves or humans knows any for Corellon Larithian, and Inglorion realizes that Valentine and Aramil probably don’t either — they’re far from devout. So he signals Valentine and Aramil to begin shoveling dirt into the grave. He and the other mourners stand by the graveside with their heads bowed. A human woman bursts into tears for her husband, and a boy of 12 or 13 drops to his knees, stunned. Inglorion gently leads them both away from the sight and sound of the grave being filled. He brews them tea with water from the creek.

As he’s standing by a camp fire, trying to persuade the boy to eat a biscuit, the medic, Sextus, pulls him aside, says, “It’s as your man Ajax feared. There’s gaol fever among the slaves.”

“What does that mean?”

“It’s bad. I expect one in three to die, since they’re already in ill health and exposure will be hard on them. It’s contagious, too. I’d quarantine those with symptoms, and have a dedicated nurse. It’s a coin toss whether it should be me or Ajax, since we’ve both been exposed and neither of us has immunity. I’d suggest that I do it, since I’m more rested. If either one of us falls ill, we can decide how to proceed from there.”

“Make it so. I trust your judgment, but please keep me appraised of the number of cases and prognosis.”

By mid-afternoon, they’ve dug the second set of graves, prepared a luncheon, and distributed water. There are signs that the slaves are returning to health — grievances and rivalries emerge, and some begin to complain of minor ailments. Inglorion is secretly pleased and amused, but it does take up time. He’s ill-cast as Solomon, and yet he’s thrust into that role immediately after the second funeral of the day. The two angriest Gypsies sneak off, too, and to Valentine’s chagrin, Inglorion just shrugs and says, “Fuck ’em,” over a small dinner consisting of poorly cooked game and army rations. “What are we going to do? Bring them back in irons?”

Lucius has looked ill and tired all day, and he’s struggling to swallow his dinner. Inglorion assigned him to lighter tasks, but he still seems unwell. When asked he shrugs and says, “J’ai mal de tête,” and of course he’s unaccustomed to to this much sun. An hour later he’s confined to Inglorion’s tent with a raging migraine, vomiting and shrinking from even candlelight. Ajax gives him a very small does of morphine. Inglorion’s gripped with foreboding when he sees him lying there still and white, as if he were laid out for burial. 

Soon after sundown Inglorion and Valentine share a cup of coffee and a cigarette — the day shows no sign of ending, and they feel they’ve earned it. Valentine confides that things are bad back in Liamelia. “The Council of Elders brought me in for questioning. They’re not pleased.”

“That’s not surprising. It’s a tough situation. What did they say?”

Valentine hesitates. “They were upset about the casualties, wanted to know why you didn’t classify them as civilians in your report. I answered their questions as best I could.” He takes a drag, exhales. “They were toying with the idea of jailing me. I had to give bail to be allowed to leave.”

He passes the cigarette to Inglorion, who gives himself the pleasure of a couple puffs before he replies, “Well, shit. I made it clear that we treated them as civilians, but that I didn’t have enough information to make a determination in the field. I’ll have to set them straight when we get back. And, indeed, I’ll ask one of the Gypsies to carry an update tonight. I did my poor best, but the flash report was no prose masterpiece.”

“Is that wise?”

“To send a Gypsy? They’re going to run off one by one anyway. The Council might as well pay them to carry a letter. And in any case, I need to send for a priest. I can’t spare Ajax or Aramil, and Lucius is too ill to travel. it’s a pity, because I wouldn’t mind getting him out of here. Wagons will arrive day after tomorrow?”

“Good Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise.”

“Good.” He laughs unsteadily. “I’m not cut out to run a refugee camp.”

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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