27. Feeling His Humiliation

Lucius Shelawn sits in the library, as he often does. If someone were to ask what he’s doing, he would say that he is feeling his humiliation. No one asks, so there’s no opportunity to say this, but it is what he thinks as he sits there, hour after hour.

“Library” is a grand name for a humble room. It has books, true, and a fireplace. It’s cold in the winter, hot in the summer, dull, and not particularly private. He can hear Valerius overhead and the women’s hushed quarrels in the kitchen. Recently he glimpsed Tereus and Valeria through the window, talking earnestly in the kitchen garden. Though he could not hear their words, their gestures and expressions were eloquent of mutual desire. Finally he turned his chair so that he couldn’t see them.

Lucius woke from his suicide attempt with his cuts neatly stitched, and his repentant brother by his side. They spoke tenderly of the past, and Tereus expressed remorse for stealing Lucius’s wife, and for several other injuries and slights.

Lucius has loved and worshipped his brother as long as he can remember. Now, having nearly escaped into death, Lucius realizes that Tereus deprived him of everything he values: Wife, family, career, income, home. He agreed to the Xialo scheme because he hoped it would absorb Tereus’s energy and give him hope and purpose. Once Tereus regained his health and faculties, he used them to steal Lucius’s wife, apparently because he enjoyed her company and hadn’t been laid in awhile.

Lucius Shelawn is a domestic soul by nature, loyal and submissive. He was intensely proud of his brilliant, spirited wife. He took satisfaction in their intimate relations. He loved his children, and felt that there was a satisfying symmetry in the fact that they had a son, then a daughter, then another son. He calmly expected their next child to be a daughter, and to continue alternating until they had a brood of six or seven. After all, Valeria is an excellent mother, and he loves being a father. He’s anxious for his children’s happiness. Like Lucius, Valerius has the Shelawn Look, but is shy and kind. Camilla is clever enough to please her mother, but sweet-natured and dutiful. To Lucius, Claudius seems very clever indeed, though anxious and inclined to cling to his mother.

And Valeria! She was so very funny when he courted her, and danced with vigor if not with perfect grace. She was clever and astute, and devoted herself entirely to himself and the children. She could have done so much, and she chose the modest life he offered her. Though she was not beautiful, she was his domestic goddess — comforting, kind and erotic. She was his, and his alone, and he felt fierce pride that he chose her and won her, and that they were so happy together.

“Alienation of affection” is another phrase that reoccurs. He wishes his brother had not stolen Valeria. It seems unfair. Tereus can’t possibly love and need her like Lucius does.

Before, when Valeria insisted that Tereus was cruel and a brute, Claudius maintained that she didn’t really know him. Now Lucius thinks that perhaps she truly knew Tereus then, and chooses to fool herself now.

When Lucius is ill and vulnerable, he and his brother revert to nicknames from their time in the Army. It’s a reminder of all those years of tenderness and care — how Tereus defended Lucius when they were schoolboys, and in turn Lucius adored and worshipped his brother, and followed him unquestioningly. As a child and a young man, Tereus struggled to understand his brother’s fragility and diffidence. Although Tereus was callous and imperious, he loved his little brother, and any seeming cruelty was rooted in thoughtlessness.

Now Tereus calls Lucius his Army nickname, “Japes.” It’s an adaptation of JP, Jackson Pollack, and it came about on the one occasion when Lucius tried to match his brother drink for drink. The evening ended early, with Lucius ejaculating on a prostitute, then, in his confusion, pissing on the bedroom wall, and vomiting extensively up and down its length. The pattern of drips and splashes resembled Abstract Expressionist art — at least to Tereus’s eye. Soon afterwards, Tereus took his little brother home, put him to bed, and watched him to see that he came to no harm. Now Lucius knows how serious the incident was. He’d had alcohol poisoning, and could have died. It was part of a long pattern that continues to this day: Tereus places his brother at risk, rescues him dramatically, and cares for him tenderly.

“Japes” seems less sweet and more sinister now, especially when Lucius considers Tereus’s nickname, “Picasso.” If you ask Tereus why he’s called that, he just winks and says, “Because even my sketches are worth millions.” The two nicknames neatly summarize the inequality of their fraternal bond.

Now, when he has no reason not to be honest with himself, Lucius remembers that he liked the Foreign Service partly because it offered an escape from his beloved and tyrannical elder brother. He remembers his time abroad as simple and pleasant. Valeria adapted cheerfully to various cultures and climates, and was well-suited to motherhood.

His last posting ended a decade or two after the scandal. Elvish memories are long, and it became clear that though he had given satisfaction personally, another suitable posting could not be found. He was offered a modest civil service job, and warned by his patron that he had better take it — little else could be done in the current political climate. He returned to Liamelia, not in disgrace, but knowing that his career was probably over. He’s never said it aloud, but he sometimes thinks bitterly that Tereus wasn’t the only one who was deprived of work that he loved.

When they got back, things were bad. Tereus is a witty, engaging and infrequent correspondent. His occasional letters from that time omitted or concealed much of what had occurred. It was shocking, really. Tereus and Lavinia had very nearly withdrawn from society. Though Tereus tried to make their homecoming a pleasant occasion, the misery of the household was clear. Lucius cannot like Lavinia, and thinks she is an unsuitable wife for Tereus, but he was forced to admit that her situation was pitiable. Tereus was caught up in a cycle of drunkenness and violence — riding hard to break his neck, quarreling with the neighbors, abusing the servants, snarling at Lavinia whenever he was reminded of her presence. Marcus had withdrawn from the household years before, and spoke to his father as little as possible. Lucius and Valeria met Sieia for the first time upon their return, and it couldn’t be concealed that she was a thoroughly miserable little girl — noticed only to be corrected or cursed.

One could speak of Tereus’s cruelty to his wife and neglect of his heir and daughter, but the presence of Tereus’s bastard, Fabius, was hard to grasp, to put into words. It’s hard to bring it to memory now.

That first evening after their return, the night before the ball, Fabius served at the table. Valeria couldn’t stop staring at the young servant, so obviously a slight, angelically fair copy of Tereus. Thinking back, it’s the only time Lucius has been in a room with Tereus when attention was split between him and another man. The footman was quiet, correct, and soft-spoken, but his heritage couldn’t be hidden. The brief dinner service allowed the guests time to catch a flash of his pale eyes. He acknowledged an order, “Yes, sir,” and those two words established that he shared Tereus’s melodic tenor.

Once the servants were dismissed, Valeria asked Tereus flatly, “Who was that young man?”

Tereus let the question hang for a moment, allowing her to recall that it was rude, ungenteel. Finally he said, “I think you know very well, Valeria.” After a moment he added, “It’s not like you to be disingenuous.”

Valeria felt her sister’s real discomfort — Lavinia kept her eyes firmly fixed on her plate — and remembered that Tereus was impervious to insult, dead to shame.

He regarded her with amusement. He was tempted to goad her further, but refrained. Finally he murmured, “Good girl. Keep your powder dry. You’ll have your chance.”

Lucius and Valeria retired early. To Lucius’s dismay, Valeria was burning with outrage. As they undressed and prepared for trance, she fumed, “How could he? I don’t expect him to feel the impropriety of it, but he must know that it’s agonizing for Lavinia — a terrible, public slight. One can’t blame Marcus for setting up his own establishment. It speaks poorly for his courage, but I never gave him much credit, so I’m immune to disappointment from that quarter. And that poor little girl!” She shook her head. After a time she added, as an afterthought, “It can’t be comfortable for that young man to be thrust into this household, either.” She recalled the glow of his Drow eyes and shuddered.

The ball the following evening was dreadful, of course.

The morning after the ball, Lucius, Valeria and Lavinia strolled through the orangery, then through the Shelawn formal gardens. All three were silent and languid, though Valeria occasionally tried to draw Lavinia out on the subject of her husband’s depravity. Quite by accident, they turned into a clearing in front of the gardener’s cottage, and came upon the gardener and second footman sparring with live weapons. Collatinus saw them first and called a halt.

Lavinia seemed indifferent, but Valeria struggled to conceal her discomfort. Male and female spheres are absolutely divided in gray elvish society; though Lucius was a cavalry officer, she’d never seen him or any other man sparring. Collatinus was dignified and reassuringly old, but the sight of Tereus’s bastard shirtless and wielding two naked longswords was unsettling. Dressed in livery and serving at the table, he strove to efface himself. Now, at Collatinus’s signal, he sheathed his weapons, bowed curtly, and stood there, waiting for them to pass.

It chilled Lucius to see Tereus’s beauty transposed into a different key: The deep-set eyes, the masculine carriage of his head, the strong hand lingering on a sword-pommel. The boy was pale, slight and too thin, but his torso was gorgeously molded and sheened with sweat. His sword belt and breeches rode low on his hipbones. He was slim enough that there was a gap in front. Even a gently bred woman could imagine slipping her fingers down there — the smell of clean sweat —

Everyone froze for an instant. Lucius said some civil nothing to Collatinus. They exchanged bows, and the party retreated, walking some distance in silence. Even Valeria was speechless. She prided herself on easy, liberal relations with servants. It was their half-day, so their time was their own. It’s not as if they were carousing, or ogling women. Fabius wouldn’t attack Lavinia, drag her off the path, break her neck, bury her to devour later. Nonetheless, the situation felt menacing.

Soon thereafter, the threat was realized in a form they couldn’t have predicted: Fabius whisked his half-sister away in a fit of protective chivalry. That scandal plunged Lavinia deeper into shame and misery, and heightened Tereus’s defiance.

Lucius sits in the library. It’s cold, but he doesn’t stir to light a fire. Why did he think that kindness and diplomacy could heal the rifts in that household?

He could have left. Why didn’t he?

And why did he agree to come here, to Xialo?

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

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