1. The Last Days of Tereus Shelawn

Tereus Shelawn was the son of Agamemnon Shelawn, the wealthiest man in the filthy rich city-state of Liamelia, and Agrippina Veii, the daughter of a gray elvish earl. Tereus’s mother can be disposed of quickly in this narrative, much as she was in life. She was known for obedience and inoffensive prettiness; the author has never heard that she distinguished herself in the areas of intellect, wisdom or virtue. Her marriage to Agamemnon was arranged when both parties were too young to object, or, indeed, to consummate the marriage. The two were wed as soon as was practicable, when she was a naive 13 and he a knowing 16.

Gray elvish couples in that era lived like Athenians, which is to say that Agamemnon raced chariots, wrestled nude, and attended sophisticated drinking parties, and Agrippina died while giving birth to Tereus’s younger brother Lucius. Agamemnon correctly perceived that Agrippina had provided the two things he needed from a wife — an heir and a spare — and lived the remainder of his short, wicked life a bachelor, adding to the family’s staggering wealth, indulging in brutal sports and exotic vices, and having nothing to do with the opposite sex.

Agamemnon grew up in a libertine age, and claimed the right to dabble in the more outlandish practices espoused by philosophers of the era. In practical terms this meant that he openly maintained a string of effeminate male lovers — clerks, secretaries, and the occasional footman or gardener — which was technically a capital offense. This might have escaped notice if he hadn’t flown into a drunken rage and murdered one of them over dinner, apparently because the pretty youth flirted with a footman. He was never charged with a crime, since his dinner guests and servants swore to a man that the miserable little cur had given Agamemnon the lie, thrown a glass of wine in his face, then spitted himself on a rapier that the luckless older man had drawn purely in self-defense.

This edifying incident occurred while Tereus and Lucius were away at boarding school, but they privately agreed that of course Agamemnon was guilty; they’d always thought one of his wretched symposia would end with a corpse and an inquest. To the reader, Tereus and Lucius’s upbringing may seem bizarre. Indeed, it does to the author. However, in the wealthy, hierarchical society of Enlightenment Liamelia, their father’s cruelty and absolute power seemed routine.

Tereus and Lucius are unmistakably brothers, but upon first meeting them, observers are struck by the differences. Or, rather, they’re fascinated with Tereus, and notice his little brother later, if at all. In every important regard, Tereus takes after his notorious male forbears. He’s bold, impatient, brilliant, handsome, and, if not deliberately amoral, then certainly devoid of principle or religious feeling. He’s physically courageous to the point of recklessness, and possesses extraordinary strength and stamina. Even as a very young man, he had unusual intellectual confidence, which admirers and enemies alike concede is fully justified. Like his father, he respects people who can give him a fight.

Lucius, on the other hand, is naturally patient, quiet and sweet-tempered, and inclined to doubt his own perceptions and opinions. Tereus will change his mind in the face of facts and argument; as a boy and young man, Lucius adapted his opinions to his company. Lucius does his duty in every way, but is shy, reserved and cautious, and defines his duty more narrowly than his older brother does. 

Tereus and Lucius both inherited their father’s coloring: Pale blond hair, violet eyes, and fair skin with a faint bluish cast. They have the same flawless features: Deep-set eyes, an aquiline nose, and lush lips with a chiseled Cupid’s bow; high cheekbones, a broad forehead, and a strong jaw and chin. Lucius is a half-head shorter than his brother, delicate, and clumsy in the way that absent-minded, timid men often are.

Agamemnon respected Tereus, and regarded Lucius with casual contempt. He called Lucius a pansy, a pussy, a weakling and a coward. His nickname for Lucius was Sissy, and he rarely addressed him in any other way. Until the very end, he could reduce Lucius to mute, almost tearful misery. Luckily, he regarded Lucius as small game, and rarely bothered with him.

Any energy that Agamemnon devoted to fatherhood fell to Tereus’s lot. Agamemnon insisted that Tereus spend as much time on the estate as his schooling and military deployments allowed. Agamemnon had a vicious temper, and for many years enjoyed rooting out and punishing even minor shortcomings in his heir. Tereus was a difficult target, however, and only became worse with age. As a child, he seemed indifferent to beatings and invective alike, simply memorizing the more shocking insults and throwing them back with variations. At 15, he turned on his father during a particularly brutal canning, wrestled the stick away, snapped it in half, and threw it at his father’s feet. During this period, Tereus went to some lengths to shield his younger brother. He tried to teach Lucius how to manage their father, and took the blame for Lucius’s few, minor indiscretions. When Agamemnon was riled and looking for someone to hurt, Tereus acted as a lightning rod.

Tereus didn’t hate his father. Though Agamemnon’s conduct couldn’t be expected to improve the tone of his sons’ minds, he had real gifts, and Tereus is fair-minded enough to appreciate them. Most obviously, the older man’s business sense was impeccable; in his hands, staggering wealth became epic, almost unfathomable. He also cleansed their fortune of its distasteful origins. The Shelawns made their money on slavery and sugar cane; Agamemnon correctly guessed that this would become illegal, and converted it all to land and silver mines. Though the era was a rough one, he insured that both sons received an excellent education. He expanded on the family’s collection of original art and priceless manuscripts, and hired the leading architect of the day to build and furnish what would become Shelawn House. While some men might take cold comfort in a world-class library and art collection housed in a neoclassical mansion, Tereus shares many of his father’s tastes and interests, and he’s grateful for that part of his inheritance.

For a linked table of contents, listing all of the Shelawn family adventures, click here.

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