13. Free Fall

Over the years that follow Sieia’s flight, Lucius and Valeria start to fill their nursery. Through some strange miracle, Lucius is an affectionate husband and father. Not only can he tell his children apart, he has an intimate knowledge of their likes and dislikes, and their intellects and temperaments. He and Valeria are aware that their eldest son, Valerius, is artistically inclined, so they go to some trouble and expense to secure opportunities for instruction and practice. When their youngest son, Claudius, struggles to nurse and suffers from screaming fits, Valeria is exhausted and short-tempered for months, while Lucius treats both mother and infant with tender sympathy.

It’s a novel idea to Tereus that children differ in important ways. If asked, he could supply a shocking wealth of detail about any terrain his troops fought in, and he’s confident that these details proved decisive in battle. He has no idea if Marcus was a good feeder or a bad one, and he very much doubts that Lavinia does, either. Tereus loved warfare and found it entirely absorbing; Lucius adores his wife and children, and is interested in even the smallest details of their lives.

As the years pass, Tereus sees these things, and starts to understand his own failures and omissions. He doesn’t much mourn the loss of Sieia herself, but it grieves him that he never knew her, and that he and Marcus are strangers. The loss is too fundamental to grasp: He didn’t know he was supposed to know his children. As a child and a young man, he resented interference, and had no concept of affection beyond his fraternal bond with Lucius. He reasoned entirely from his own upbringing, and thought that the best thing he could do with children was to leave them alone.

To his other sorrows, then, Tereus adds a private confusion: He’s erred badly as a husband and father, and can’t imagine how his mistakes can be fixed.

The confusion becomes more profound — approaches aphasia — when Tereus considers his younger, bastard son. Tereus knew the boy was his — he understands the facts of life, and was present at his birth. That time was terribly confused, however. Tereus’s memories are disjointed, and he struggles to connect the public events of his arrest, trial and conviction with his thoughts and feelings, and with Lucy’s fate. It all happened so quickly — it was hard enough to grasp what was real, to say what was expected, and to maintain coherent expressions.

He consented to pay for the child’s maintenance and upbringing; it couldn’t be apprenticed out because something was badly wrong — it didn’t speak, and couldn’t be made to understand simple orders. It was brought to Shelawn House, and, somewhat at random, assigned to work as a groom. Eventually he heard from the housekeeper that it had been handed off to the gardener, because it was worse than useless in the stables — violent, disturbed.

Sometime later, the estate manager raised the possibility of training the boy to be a footman. He spoke of the child as quick-witted, strong for his size. Tereus remembers being surprised that they would bother to consult him about a minor staffing matter. He agreed with little thought; he hadn’t seen the child in years.

When the kid showed up in the main house wearing livery, Tereus didn’t connect the boy’s features with his own. Tereus thinks less of his face than he does of his height and strength. His honest reaction was that the boy was girlishly pretty, and therefore breakable, contemptible, pitiable. A man of 6’2” who rides 14 stone is unlikely to think much of a 15-year-old who barely tops five feet, and weighs 100 pounds soaking wet.

Over the years he saw little reason to revise this opinion, despite a stream of incidents ranging from a fistfight in the servants’ hall to nocturnal behavior that the housekeeper said bitterly made the ancestral home of the Shelawns little better than a bawdy house. The Drow kid was quick, conscientious and clean when he was on the clock; an elderly female servant would likely think of any healthy boy of 15 as a hellion.

Ultimately, these matters were beneath Tereus’s notice; it’s the butler’s responsibility to instruct and discipline the footmen. Tereus thought about the second footman about half as often as he did the butler or housekeeper, and found him considerably less interesting than even the homeliest parlormaid.

This is a fair account of Tereus’s conscious thoughts about Fabius, the second footman in Shelawn House. A second layer of incoherent impressions does exist. Putting them into words risks distorting them beyond recognition. Like all of us, Tereus has interior depths, lightless ocean trenches that support bizarre, half-glimpsed creatures.

It’s simplest and most accurate to say that Fabius occupies a gap in his father’s awareness. Tereus cannot stitch together events that occurred on the battlefield and in the mineshaft with mundane existence. Though his crimes and their consequences are more present to him than daily, waking life, he can’t be expected to connect a bloody, squalling infant born in a mineshaft with some weedy little punk who gets paid to fetch and carry and hold open the carriage door.

Fabius has no place in either the trenches or tide pools of Tereus Shelawn’s mind; therefore Tereus does not think of him.

Soon after his investigations are complete, Tereus lets go entirely of the few principles he’d held onto, vague notions of decency or civility or propriety, or simple good taste.

All fear deserts him; he enters free fall.

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

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