76. I Couldn’t Stay Away

Inglorion wakes just before dawn. He finds himself calculating how soon he could possibly see Virginia, if she chooses to come. It will take the courier five hours to reach Liamelia. She’ll need a few hours to pack, and the return trip is another five hours if they travel cross-country without stopping. The soonest he could see her is 0600 or 0700. Really, 0900 is more reasonable. The wagons may arrive soon thereafter, perhaps noon. Though the calculations are simple, he finds himself reviewing them repeatedly, until they’re interrupted by the sound of hoofbeats.

He emerges from the tent, frowzy and sleep-blurred, pulls his boots on hastily. When he scrambles over to the embankment, he sees three figures approaching on horseback: The gypsy courier, a priest in black vestments, and Virginia in a plain, black riding habit. 

As they draw level with him and pull up, the Gypsy salutes and presents Father Nathan Szyba.

“Thank you so much for coming, Father. You people need your ministry badly. I’m sure Jaime has explained the situation. You can tether your horse by the large tent. You’ll find one of my lieutenants inside — Valentine Shelawn or Aramil Augustus. Either of them can get you a meal and show you about.”

Father Nate’s appearance is cold and proud, but Inglorion can’t fault his efficiency. He says, “I’ll do as you say. If someone can see to my horse, I’ll get straight to work.” He and the courier make for the tent, while Virginia dismounts and loops her mare’s reins over a handy branch. She barely has time to brace herself before Inglorion sweeps her up and kisses her ruthlessly.

“You came!” he exclaims.

“I couldn’t stay away.”

“You very well could have! You know that.”

“No, no! The fact is, I haven’t had influenza for a year or two, but I’ve had gaol fever and nursed friends through it. So, you see…” She smiles up at him.

He bursts out laughing. “Immunity to gaol fever is not a quality I knew I needed in a woman, but, God, you’re perfect. I wouldn’t trade you for anything.” He tucks her arm into his, and leads her over to his little tent. Before they enter, he stops and whispers in her ear, “Darling, please never leave me. I need you.”

She looks up, surprised. “Of course.”

“Say it, please.”

“I’ll never leave you.”

“That’s settled.” He leads her into the tent. “And Lucius here heard the whole thing.” 

In fact, it’s doubtful that Lucius heard anything. His eyes are closed, and he looks pale and drawn. She kisses his forehead and starts to examine him, taking his pulse, checking him for fever. She nods abstractedly when Inglorion says, “I’ll see to your mare and bring Sextus to you as soon as he’s free.”

For the rest of the day, Inglorion sees little of Virginia, but the knowledge of her presence calms him. A good thing, too, because shortly after Virginia arrives, Sextus reports that Ajax has become ill with gaol fever, along with three of his gravely injured patients. Five more people died during the night: The Gypsy outrider succumbed to his sucking chest wound, and four more slaves, from some combination of wounds, illness and exposure. Aramil and Valentine resume the work of grave-digging, though Inglorion has to admit that he doesn’t know how many dead are left of each faith. Ajax was tracking that, and when he visits Ajax briefly, the question slips his mind entirely.

Ajax is an impassive and uncomplaining fever patient, which Inglorion finds more affecting than any complaints could be. Aramil’s demeanor is uncharacteristically grave, too. Inglorion learns much later that Sextus banned Aramil from the sickroom, not understanding that he and Ajax are lovers; Inglorion was admitted simply because Ajax used to be his manservant. Aramil shows a kind of sheepish resignation about the whole matter that almost annoys Inglorion. In the latter’s mind, Aramil has the greatest possible claim to visit Ajax, and a duty to exercise that claim, not in the name of homosexual freedom, but because Aramil mustn’t abandon Ajax in the midst of illness. In the end, though, he can only guess at what indignities they both swallow, and what calculations they have to make. 

Inglorion feels frankly overwhelmed. He sticks with simple tasks, starting with double-checking the faith of each of the dead and assigning them to graves and rites. Now that a priest is available, Catholic funerals become the priority, followed by anyone willing to be buried by a Catholic rite. Most elves think funerals are for the living, and don’t care whether ground is consecrated and what other bodies lie nearby, so Inglorion asks Father Nate to bury the remaining elves in a separate grave once the Gypsies are in the ground. Curiously, the leader of the human slaves communicates that he would prefer Inglorion to bury the non-Catholic humans in a separate mass grave, at least 10 feet from the Gypsies. Inglorion shrugs, measures the distance, and scratches out another rough plot for Aramil to dig. The lone half-orc has been dead the longest and has no one to speak for her. Lacking knowledge of the wishes of her gods, Inglorion slips her in with the Catholics.

Immediately after the Catholic funeral, one of the remaining live Gypsies figures out that the half-orc is resting among his dead tribe members, tracks down Inglorion, and starts screaming abuse in Common in the middle of the camp. 

“You fucking buried that Orcish filth with good Catholics,” he hollers.

Inglorion answers quietly in Romany, hoping to steer the quarrel into that language: “Brother, she needed burial. She’d been dead almost five days.”

“Dump her body at a crossroads — who gives a shit?” 

Inglorion grabs him and drags him into the little lean-to, where Lucius is lying, pale and wan. Inglorion’s voice drops further, to avoid waking his son: “I do, Brother. She was here against her will, away from her home and people. There was a real risk of infection and illness. I did what I thought best.”

“We don’t think it’s best.” He keeps replying loudly in Common, refusing to admit that Inglorion knows his language.

“Father Nate felt, as I do, that it was best to bury the poor lady before the day got any hotter.”

“We’re never buried among foreigners, only according to our rites, with members of our race and faith.”

“I know, Brother. I think you’ll agree it was a special case. Don’t you have an exception for battlefields and other emergencies?”

“We don’t serve in the army.”

“Oh. True.”

Virginia enters the tent, and is startled to see them there. “Inglorion,” she murmurs, gesturing towards Lucius.

“I’m sorry, my love. We needed to have a private conversation. We’ll be done in a trice.” Virginia withdraws quietly, but Inglorion can hear her waiting outside. He turns back to the Gypsy. He knows he should take whatever time is needed to soothe him, apologize, express remorse, connect with the poor fellow in his grief. But Inglorion is tired and grieved himself, and lacks tender words, so he simply says, “I regret that my decision caused you pain. I’m responsible for the health and well-being of the entire group, and I chose accordingly. It’s done, and I won’t discuss it with you further.”

The man’s face tightens with rage. “Fuck you, white nigger heathen. You killed our people.”

“I know, Brother. My daughter is a Gypsy. It grieves me that your people came to harm at our hands.”

He replies in Common, “Don’t fucking call me Brother,” and leaves the tent.

Inglorion follows him out, leans against a tree trunk. After a time, he rolls and lights a cigarette, and Virginia joins him, takes his hand. 

He says, “It’s interesting. I find I have reserves of compassion, but not of tact.” 

She smiles, squeezes his hand. “What was that about?”

“I slipped a half-orc corpse in with the Catholics, so now their god is offended.” 

“Or at least that guy is.”

“It’s taboo for them.”

“Did you really kill his people?”

“No, but Valentine did.” They’re silent for a long time. It’s been weighing on Inglorion, so finally he says, “It’s the kind of thing that happens on the battlefield. Adrenaline, confusion, a language barrier. He got rattled somehow. It’s going to be difficult to defend.”

She switches to French. “Will they call it a crime? Charge him?”

“I think so, yes. And I can’t say it wasn’t. I haven’t decided what to do. I’m just trying to deal with what’s in front of me.”

“Does Valentine know?”

“Oh, yeah. He’s army. He’ll face any charges, take his medicine.” Inglorion’s expression is one of true misery. She’s silent. He stops talking because if he opens that box, he’s not sure he can cram the nightmares back in. He finishes his cigarette, kisses her hand. “Thanks for being here. How’s Lucius?”

“As well as can be expected. I’ll stay with him tonight, but after that I may ask you to take a shift so that I can help Sextus with the other fever cases.”

“Just let me know. It’s a full day, but I control my calendar,” he says ruefully. Then, “God, I fucking suck at this.”

She looks surprised. “I know it’s hard, but it would be so much worse if you weren’t here.”

His expression brightens. “True. At least we’re burying our dead, not dumping them at a crossroads.” He shakes himself into action. “What the fuck was I doing? Oh, yeah — water.” He kisses her, and leaves to find new water-bearers.

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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