I should admit — at least in these pages — that I have come to care for Tereus: A man who revolted, angered and disgusted me — someone whom I hated. There are times when I still hate him, when his coldness and lack of empathy surprise and anger me. I’ve always respected his mind, but have loathed and despised his heart. I thought he was cruel. Privately, though, in these pages, I will say — what?
That I value his opinion.
I find him beautiful.
Now I see that he struck out blindly, in a rage, because his extraordinary physical and mental powers were dammed up, choked, backed up within him, and became sour and brackish.
I see more clearly than ever the predicament of his marriage with Lavinia. Before, I took her part instinctively. Now he counsels me to be patient with her, and I judge her angrily.
I never speak to him of Lucius. I believe he has seen how I struggle there, and understands.
These matters grieve me terribly — more than I can express. I feel I should be truthful here, if nowhere else.
I have felt for some months that Tereus values me. Indeed, in some sense he always has. Lucius always assured me that Tereus respected me more than any other member of the family.
I think now there is not just respect, but sympathy, a sense of kinship. Before, the feeling between us was abstract, cold — really, acknowledgement of a worthy adversary. Now I feel genuine warmth on his side.
I regard him warmly, too.
It is late. I should put down my pen, blow out the candle. And yet, when I’m exhausted in body and mind, I’m freed to admit that I’ve developed an awareness that is new to me, and I feel his charm, which was lost on me before. We’re inclined towards one another.
These thoughts are dangerous, but much less dangerous than the emotions and sensations that drive them.
I resent Lucius and desire Tereus’s approval and admiration. It pains me to say it, but I must give vent to my feelings somewhere. I’m afraid they will find expression in some other way.
He seeks my advice — mostly in an offhanded way, modestly, as if he fears rejection — giving us room to learn to work together. And now we talk at length, about many subjects.
I should explain.
The other women have been cooking while I work to get the crops in. My part in the physical labor is relatively light, but Tereus and I consult each step of the way — planning and strategizing — and delegate and report to one another. It would probably seem foolish to anyone raised on a farm, but the tasks are new to both of us, and we understand their seriousness. We both act as if our little settlement must be entirely self-sufficient, while the others think nothing of dipping into the Shelawn fortune to purchase luxuries, or even critical items like seed corn. Once the bulk of the work is done and the others have left, we review accounts, or simply walk the fields together, talking and planning.
I love how he notices details, searches out information with a positive hunger — picks up handfuls of the soil, watches the sky, chews a stalk of hay and notes the flavor and texture. He admits that he understands only a small portion of what he observes, but he earnestly explains that he’ll understand it later — he will remember details, place them in context, and derive meaning from them. The others assume he knows what he’s doing; the longer he and I spend together, the more I realize he’s learning as he goes, improvising, essentially teaching himself how to farm.
I’ve always known that he’s brilliant, but it’s a real pleasure to spend hours in contact with such a quick and lively mind. I can’t remember when I last felt such complete intellectual sympathy. The pleasure is real, and deeply seductive.
I’ve never thought that the gods cared about such things — that they would bother to disapprove. Nonetheless, it pains me to admit that I feel almost entirely disconnected from Lucius, who was once so dear to me, and profoundly connected to his brother, for whom I once felt nothing but loathing and contempt.
I should just say what happened.
We were working late. Not even working, really, just walking the grounds, talking in a free and disconnected way about our impressions from the day. He broke off, stopped in mid-stride, looked at me and said, “Valeria, I know we haven’t always agreed, but please know how deeply I value your mind, your impressions and sensibilities.” As he said it, he took my hand, and looked at me with sudden, peculiar intensity.
I tried to laugh it off, became stiff and anxious, strained against his grip, said something foolish — I don’t remember what — and he said, “No, please. I mean it. I want you to know that — to feel it. I value you. I’ve relied so much on your judgment and intellect.” He broke off and smiled to himself, released my hand. “I won’t detain you. I don’t mean to cause you pain.”
We stood there, silent. The sun was setting. It was warm and golden, and suddenly felt late. A skylark erupted from the ground and burst into song — such beauty. We both turned to watch and listen, and as we stood there side-by-side, I said, “Thank you. I feel I’ve misjudged you, and I’m sorry for that.” Something like that — I’m not sure.
He took my hand and kissed it, smiled and thanked me. Yes, it was a practiced gesture, but it was also deeply, entirely sincere. I felt real danger because I am nothing. Lavinia is a true beauty — womanly and demure — and I am — nothing.
And so I turned away sharply, started walking back to the house. Even as I walked, I felt mortified because I’d embarrassed him and spurned a sincere gesture towards peace and reconciliation.
He caught up with me — easy enough, given the length of his stride — and said humbly, “I’m sorry. I’ve offended you. Please believe that that’s the last thing I intended.”
He seemed genuinely distressed — was distressed — and I did not know how to answer him. It galls me that I’m so awkward! I shook my head, walked faster, was almost running across the fields. He stopped me — grabbed my hand and pulled me back. We were both flushed and confused, and he said, “Valeria, please accept my apologies. I’m sorry — so sorry.” He added, under his breath, “I always fuck things up.”
I felt for him, because I’ve so often felt that everything I say and do is wrong, and that I understand this only later. I couldn’t leave him in such distress, so I said “No, no — it’s not your fault. I do admire you. I always have. You’ve been very kind, and I’m deeply grateful.” I said many other things, poured my heart out after weeks of painful reserve — a lifetime, really.
He listened and looked at me as words rushed and tumbled form me — everything I had choked back all this time — how stupid and awkward and foolish I am. My contrition for that, and for how I misjudged him.
Finally, when my speech slowed to a trickle, he said, “Valeria, my dear, I would do anything to help you. I don’t want to cause you pain or embarrassment. I wish I could —” He fell silent, and the golden evening rushed in to fill the space, and we both heard the skylark suddenly. After a moment, he kissed my palm, smiled at me, released my hand, and said, “Let’s go back.”
We walked side-by-side, not touching, and I smelled the soil and felt the air and took in the colors of the sky through my very pores, and truly felt the greatest joy and pain I have ever felt, emotion so strong that it had no name. It embodied every feeling — joy and fear and sadness and delight and despair — like sunlight contains the full spectrum.
When we got home, I curled up next to Lucius’s cold, pale form and tried to enter trance. I lay there, alive and trembling, feeling my heartbeat and breath and limbs as if for the first time.
For a linked table of contents, listing all of the Shelawn family adventures, click here.