Another four slaves died during the night, so Inglorion and Father Nate are in one of the two makeshift morgues, allocating eight fresh corpses to graves and planning funeral rites. After the incident with the half-orcish woman, Inglorion feels it’s wise to review each case formally with Father Nate. Space is tight, Inglorion’s scrawled notes are hard to make out, and he finds the mundane reality of laying-out and burial bleak beyond belief.
Once they’ve confirmed the identity of each body and split the burials between themselves, Inglorion and Father Nate stand outside, looking over each list one last time, passing the quill and ink back and forth.
“I think that’s it,” says Inglorion. “I’ll check back with Aramil to make sure that he’s aware of the numbers, and that he’s laid out and dug the graves accordingly.” They pocket their respective lists, and Inglorion says, “There’s one other matter I’d like to discuss with you. I’m not entirely familiar with your beliefs. Marriage is a sacrament among Catholics, like burial?”
“It is, yes.”
Inglorion is not entirely certain how to pose his question. Finally he says, “Whom can you marry, as a human priest? I don’t perfectly understand how it works.”
“Just to be clear, I’m not a Catholic priest,” says Father Nate. “I’m Episcopal. I can’t bury Catholics or marry them, strictly speaking, because they don’t accept our rites. The services are almost indistinguishable, though, and I know Jaime well, and was available to travel on short notice.”
“You’re not Catholic? Good God,” says Inglorion blankly. “You’ll have to sign the death certificates. Will the Gypsies…?”
“Illiterate parishioners are unlikely to examine the paperwork closely. In any case, my signature is illegible.”
“Oh. Very well. Setting that aside, whom can you marry?”
“Our Communion is open. I can perform a ceremony over any two willing, believing adults who accept our rites. Once that occurs, you’re married in the eyes of God.” Inglorion looks confused and tongue-tied, so Father Nate adds cooly, “Perhaps you don’t know that marriage has two parts: The ceremony and sacrament, which unites you in the eyes of God, and legal recording of the union. It’s common to do the two together, but not strictly necessary.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“I believe the two are strongly linked among elves. The city-states make provisions for other races and faiths, however. The relevant religious authority controls the ceremony: Who can perform it, the participants, any conditions the couple must meet prior to marriage.”
Inglorion fiddles anxiously with his quill. He finds Father Nate’s manner hard to read, and he’s oddly shy about discussing the details of his situation. “Virginia and I aren’t married. I’m not a citizen, so the consequences of a marriage –” He breaks off, fiddles with the quill again, zipping and unzipping the feathers.
“Your situation isn’t as uncommon as you might think,” says Father Nate. “Many of my parishioners are Gypsies. They don’t choose to record weddings; some perform the sacrament, many simply live together as husband and wife, and consider themselves to be married after several years, or when children are born. As I said, I can marry any two believing adults who subscribe to the fundamental tenants of our faith, which are summarized in the 39 Articles.” Inglorion still looks confused, so Father Nate adds, “It’s an oath — a statement of belief. The articles are curiously particular — concerned with fine points of doctrine that are immaterial to most parishioners. They originated to root out crypto-Catholics and dissenters.”
“How odd,” Inglorion murmurs. “I don’t think — that is — would I be swearing a false oath? I know nothing about your gods.”
Father Nate says, in an uncharacteristically gentle tone, “I find it’s best to set aside questions about the form that God takes, how truth is revealed, how the church is best organized to convey that truth. You believe in God, or the gods, correct?”
“And your faith guides your actions?”
“As much as — I’m imperfect — I don’t know. I do my best, certainly.”
“You conform to their will as you know it?”
“I’ll need to speak to Virginia as well, but I see no barrier,” he says. “It’s a matter of conscience, which we consider to be private and personal. If you believe, and she does, I consider the formal requirement to be fulfilled.”
Inglorion finds Virginia in his tent. She’s bathed Lucius’s hands and face with water, and is in the act of changing his pillowcase. Later she will walk down to the creek, hike upstream, and wash all the dirty linen by hand, using a small bar of soap that she brought for that purpose. Lucius looks tired and pained. He’s not in trance, but his eyes are closed, and he turns from the light instinctively when Inglorion pokes his head in.
“My darling, can you walk with me for a few moments? There’s a matter I want to discuss with you.”
“Of course.” She pours out more water for Lucius, smooths back his hair.
Inglorion leads her down to the post road. Once they scramble down the bank into the road itself, they’re able to pace arm in arm, in relative privacy and quiet.
“Virginia, my love,” he says, “When you came here you said you would never leave me. I know you’re a woman of your word, and you don’t say such things lightly.”
She looks up at him, brow furrowed, nods.
“You know my worldly condition — that I’m a bastard and a non-citizen. I cannot marry you legally without citizenship. I hope with all my heart that when this is done, Marcus will nominate me for citizenship by service, and the Council of Elders will approve his request. I’m hopeful, but my situation is precarious.”
He stops walking, turns her to face him, takes her hands and looks full into her upturned face. Her cheeks are flushed, but she meets his gaze with a calm, inquiring look. For a long moment, he lacks words entirely. He feels that his suit is impertinent, even offensive. None of this is what he imagined or intended.
In his confusion and humility, however, he feels conviction, a guiding force. He continues, “I love you with my whole heart, and I love Lucius as my son.” He’s choked, confused, and on the verge of tears. He clears his throat. “Father Nate has agreed to marry us — to perform the religious sacrament — if you’re willing.” He drops to one knee, kisses her hand fervently and says, “Virginia, if you will marry me now, before the gods, I will do everything in my power to cherish and protect you and care for both of you. And, indeed, if you find that you can’t, or if you feel you must wait, I still will. I love you.”
He looks up at her. The situation is faintly absurd — he didn’t intend to kneel — and he feels that he’s begging her for something that perhaps she shouldn’t grant.
She turns away slightly, color high, breathing quickened. “I hardly know how to reply,” she says. Her hands and voice are steady. “If you knew what my life has been — I never thought of marriage.”
“Neither did I. And, indeed, it’s not a proper, legal marriage, though I want that with all my heart. If Father Nate marries us, it’s a religious sacrament, like naming or burial. It will be true and real in the sight of the gods. It already is in my heart. It has been from the moment we met.”
She looks at him tenderly, says with a small laugh, “I believe you. Stand up, walk with me.” As he gets up and brushes the dust from the knees of his breeches, she says fondly, “How absurd you are!”
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.