2. The Greatest Errors of His Career

It’s long been said that for a Shelawn, men will lay down their lives and women will pull up their skirts. Agamemnon Shelawn’s heir Tereus seems designed to fulfill that prediction.

Most noticeably, he’s an attractive physical specimen. He’s tall for an elf — over six feet — and unusually strong. His features are shockingly lovely, perfect from every angle, at any time of day, no matter what his condition or expression. As recently as a few decades ago, Tereus looked gorgeous even when he was tired, sick, enraged, in combat, or passed out drunk.

Tereus’s loveliness is striking, but anyone who spends more than a few moments with him concedes that his appeal goes far beyond physical beauty; it results from an alchemic mix of charm, will, conviction, stamina and restless energy. At the time when our story begins, he’s a bit worn around the edges, but can still walk into a coffeehouse stale drunk knowing that both sexes will turn to admire him.

He’s also stone-cold brilliant, picking up written and spoken languages with little effort, and thoroughly mastering any subject that interests him. He’s more interested in technology than the average elf, and as a child he spent many happy hours taking apart clocks and reassembling them, and even happier ones experimenting with propellants and explosives.

He inherited his father’s excellent taste. Among other things, he has a beautiful tenor voice, and was an admired amateur singer in his youth; he dances well, dresses elegantly, and is accomplished at all forms of sport, whether genteel or vulgar. He plays more musical instruments than he can easily recall, and displays real skill and taste on pianoforte.

A few bad fairies did show up at Tereus’s christening. He’s bereft of any moral conviction or firm beliefs beyond his own desire and ambition. He’s impulsive and easily bored, and feels disordered and miserable in the absence of strong stimulus: Battle, sex, intoxicants.

As a young man, he very nearly destroyed his health with debauchery and criminal violence out of sheer restless boredom. The Liamelia of his youth offered nearly unlimited license to young, wealthy men. He found gambling dull, but reveled in dangerous forms of sport: Boxing, cock-fighting, carriage racing. He was famous for accepting any wager offered, and for winning most of them: Everything from racing an entirely unbroken thoroughbred to entering and winning a gladiatorial contest.  Liamelia’s dominance in trade meant that exotic drugs were available, so Tereus enjoyed passionate flings with smoking opium, chewing cocoa leaves, and taking hallucinogenic mushrooms. And, of course, he’s been a notoriously hard drinker in a hard-drinking era.

Because Tereus seemed inclined to major in classical studies with minors in breaking his neck, choking on his own vomit, light verse and mathematics, Agamemnon redirected his energies by buying him an army command. This proved to be an act of real genius. When Liamelia renewed its eternal war upon the Drow, Tereus found he had a knack for battle, and rose through the ranks with little effort. During this time, Tereus produced translations of classical military texts, including a vigorous, poignant and unfinished rendition of Homer’s Iliad. He scribbled the latter in his tent in the hours before daybreak; he skipped the dull parts, and circulated it privately because he couldn’t be bothered to find a publisher.

Tereus’s fortune passed into his hands abruptly when Agamemnon was killed in a carriage accident. The surrounding gentry murmured among themselves that it was the best possible end for a man who should have perished on the gallows years earlier. With his father was out of the way and his fortune in his possession, Tereus settled into a more sober mode of life, becoming a general, and eventually being named Field Marshal over a joint force consisting of Liamelian troops, the wood elves of Xiomelia, and elvish and human armies raised by the nearby city of Amakir. He achieved a series of victories that severely curtailed the war-making capabilities of the Drow tribes that make up the city-state of Physryk.

The greatest errors of his career date from this time. Both concerned women, though womanizing ranks low on his list of vices. He likes a wench, and takes them when he finds them in his path, but is more given to carousing and battle than seduction. During his father’s lifetime, Tereus’s sexual career was the interpersonal equivalent of joyriding in stolen vehicles and trashing swank hotel rooms — casual crimes of opportunity.

Upon his father’s death, Tereus recognized the need to marry and produce an heir. He’d been toying with Lavinia Arahir, a gorgeous, vacuous creature whose father was one of Agamemnon’s estate agents, little better than an upper servant with a university degree. Once Tereus brought her into fashion, Lavinia was the reigning beauty of the day. He cut out his rivals and won her thoughtlessly, much like one would claim a sporting trophy. To his amusement, Lucius fell in love with her younger sister, Valeria, the acknowledged brains of the family. The two couples were wed in a lavish double ceremony. Tereus swiftly regretted his choice; following family tradition, he produced an heir, then had little to do with his wife.

Soon afterwards he committed a much greater error, which also concerned a woman. At the height of his military career, Tereus’s troops captured a Drow commander and peer, Philomela Procne Arachne. He interrogated her personally. When it became clear that she would give no useful intelligence, he arranged for her to be removed to a mineshaft in the North Mountains. He raped her repeatedly, impregnated her, and forced her to bear his child. The crime was so distasteful — so baroque and ugly — that it couldn’t be ignored. When it was discovered, he was court-martialed and relieved of command.

The crime was shocking precisely because it was unexpected. Tereus held himself and his troops to a high standard, and never hesitated to prosecute war crimes. He was considered to be a model commander: Firm, compassionate, just. He wasn’t prissy or rigid, but he recognized the necessity of order and discipline, and knew how quickly ease degenerates into depravity. He could not explain his actions to himself, and scorned to explain them to anyone else. His career ended abruptly in disgrace and humiliation, and that public failure tormented him.

At the time when our story begins, Tereus is restless and bored, and deprived of constructive work. He’s ashamed of his failures, and of his mode of life. He often drinks to wretched and dangerous excess, because the various stages of drunkenness feel different from daily life in unpredictable, if terrifying, ways. For these reasons, he’s been trapped for decades in an ever-tightening, self-destructive spiral.

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

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