“Can you watch over Lucius tonight?” Virginia asks Inglorion during dinner. “You’ll need to give him fluids and medication, but I’ll write up a schedule for you. Sextus asked me to take the remaining fever cases tonight.”
“Of course. Should I watch him through the night, or can I get a few hours of trance in?”
“Oh, the latter. His condition is stable. Thank you. I’ll be glad to be of use. It’s hard knowing there’s so much need.”
“Isn’t it? I’m glad you can help. I think Sextus has only managed to keep up with things because the sicker patients keep dying.”
“That’s nursing,” she says. “You’re learning.”
He relieves her immediately after dinner, planning to write up the day’s events — four deaths, five more fever cases — then get a few hours of trance. His exhaustion has reached a point where it feels normal. He’s numb, confused and clumsy, and can no longer remember a time when he wasn’t.
When he Inglorion enters the tent, Lucius is awake and lucid for the first time in days. “Comment vas-tu, mon fils?”
“Pas mal.” Lucius is lying on his back, staring at the ceiling. He’s pale and sad. Inglorion takes his hand, hoping to comfort him.
They sit in silence for a long time. Inglorion starts to drift into trance. He knows he should take off his boots, lie down, but even that feels like too much trouble. He’s startled when Lucius says, “I’m so very sorry.”
Inglorion blinks back to full wakefulness, sees the expression of burning remorse on Lucius’s face. He says blankly, “I don’t understand, my child. What are you sorry for?”
“I’ve failed you so very badly — I killed that outrider — getting sick like this — I’m useless to you now, a burden, and you have so much to bear already. I wish I weren’t so weak. I’m sorry. I’ll do better.”
It takes time for Inglorion to process what Lucius has said. Inglorion is so grateful for Lucius’s presence, for his very existence, that it’s difficult to make sense of this. Once he’s understood it, he struggles to find words.
Finally he says, “Lucius, what have I told you of my father?”
“Very little. He was a famous field marshal, but disgraced later in life. You were his natural son, which is why Uncle Valentine will inherit.”
Inglorion nods and strokes Lucius’s hand and says, “I will tell you a story then. I know you’re sad. I’ll ask you to be patient and listen.
“I knew my father, Tereus Shelawn, when I was a child and young man. We weren’t close, because the relationship was not recognized, and because of the shame surrounding my birth. He was everything a man should be. Tall, strong, handsome, rich, brilliant, talented. He was a charming dancer, and had a lovely, well-trained singing voice. He was a gentleman of the old school, very much a product of his time, a rough and beautiful era, when a man could drink and wench and wager a fortune on a single hand at cards, or break his neck on the hunting field, or fight a duel over a woman’s eyes.
“He was all those things — a perfect picture of manhood, and of a wartime commander. You’ve seen the portrait of him in Valentine’s library by Joshua Reynolds. I know it’s hard for you to make out, because you’re color-blind like I am. But if you look, you can see it: His arrogance and power and skill and brilliance and insouciance and beauty.
“And as a child and a young man, I had none of those things.” Lucius wrinkles his brow, opens his mouth to speak, and Inglorion says, “No, my child. Let me finish.
“It’s said I look just like him, and the resemblance is striking. I once mistook his reflection in a mirror for myself. But he was over six feet tall and powerfully built. Not like you or me. So strong. Again, you’ve seen my brother Marcus. They’re the same height, though Tereus was much stronger, because he’d fought most of his life. And of course he had dark eyes, and could see colors, and ride in full daylight.” Inglorion pauses for a moment, and Lucius can feel the almost unbearable weight of his sadness. “I was a bad copy of him — almost a parody, a caricature. I can’t describe it.
“From birth I wanted two things: To have dark eyes, like a proper gray elf, and to be as strong as he was. I remember lying in darkness, with terrible sick headaches, and longing to pluck my eyes out because I knew they were the source of my suffering — my Drow eyes. And it terrifies me now when I think —
“I’m very strong now. You know that. It was a pure act of will, and not a good one. I was injured and in pain every day of my life because I wanted to kill that weak, small part of myself.”
He’s staring at the ceiling dreamily, as if he can see an image of his younger self there, sharp and distant like in a camera obscura.
Finally he continues. “Cutting, burning, tattooing, fasting. And I was always injured. I wanted so badly to drive the demon out, so that I could be my real self: Tall, strong, educated, born to wealth and privilege.
“I’m none of those things, and I never will be.” He turns onto his side to face Lucius. Their eyes meet, Inglorion’s calm and candid, and Lucius’s puzzled.
“But father, everyone adores you. You’ve done so much, here and elsewhere.”
“Yes, my love. I could do those things because I’m half-Drow and self-taught, and I had no fortune, no home, no people. That bitter striving, that ambition and longing — you mustn’t think I’m ashamed of it. It’s part of who I am, just like the silver eyes. And though he had everything I didn’t, he felt the same cruel spur of passion and restlessness. In the end, it drove him to his death.
“Like I said, I’m not ashamed of that quality. But I do wish with all my heart that I could save you from that striving, the wish to be other than what you are. I love you with my whole heart, and I would not have you be different. You’re like I am — short and slender and adapted to the underworld — and you have a kind of peace and sweetness, too. None of these things makes you less noble, or less brave, or less of a man.”
They’re both silent for a long time. Lucius’s brow is knit, and he looks worn and confused. Inglorion remembers with a shock of remorse that Lucius is ill. Probably his apology springs from some morbid fancy of pain and fever.
Lucius says, “Mais, mon pére —”
Inglorion shushes him. “No. It’s true. You may not see how, but you must believe it. The gods make us as we are, my dear. Know that, even if you can’t feel it.” They’re quiet again, Inglorion reflecting, Lucius slowly succumbing to a troubled, feverish trance.
Inglorion adds abruptly, in a choked tone, “The things I’ve done in the past week — for all of his strength and brilliance and fortune, Tereus Shelawn couldn’t have done them. I did, Inglorion Atropos Androktasiai. And someday you’ll do things I can’t do.” He looks over, particularly proud of this point, and sees that Lucius’s dark-lashed, silver eyes have fluttered shut, and his breathing is deep and even.
Inglorion eases out of his boots and jacket, turns on his side. Even in his sleep, Lucius senses his father’s presence, snuggles up, and lays his head on Inglorion’s shoulder, allowing their breath and heartbeats to intertwine.
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.