33. Conclusion: The Great God Pain

Soundtrack and Video: Johnny Cash, “Hurt”

Tereus wakes up, dry-mouthed, bile rising in his throat. He’s tied to the split-rail fence surrounding the stable yard. His arms and legs are spread wide, and he’s slightly bent at the waist, cheek pressed against a rough wooden beam. His bonds are cruelly tight. It’s exhausting to support his weight, excruciating not to.

He can hear a Drow soldier behind him, pacing, shifting her weight, panting with drug-fueled need. He thinks he can smell her through the rank sweat that drenches his face and chest. He grasps the situation, its essential hopelessness. His fear is acute: A stabbing in the groin, a cramping in the gut.

He hears the first command. While the soldier struggles to cut off his clothing, he has a few moments to dread the what’s next.

She rapes him with the wooden butt of a three-tailed whip.

He hears himself begging until he forgets their language, then his own. He is reduced to animal howls. Pain unmans him, strips him of thought and consciousness. His agonized flesh crowds out perception; he vanishes before it.

At Xialo, Tereus finds religion. He’s sworn to Panic and Agony, and comes undone. There’s no itching malaise, no boredom, no dissatisfaction. The world tilts on its axis. He slides towards a precipice, accelerates, hurtles downwards. Suffering fills him up and empties him out. Tereus dies.

Corpses form the only record: He, Lavinia and the others, scored like seeds and planted. The dead Drow in the boarded-up cellar.  

***

News of the massacre comes to Liamelia by courier. Mindartis Amahir’s eldest son conveys the bare fact that Xialo has been obliterated: Six murdered, a child enslaved. He hands a sealed letter to the Council of Elders describing the extent of their suffering. All six were tortured: Raped regardless of sex or age, flogged, flayed, branded, and finally buried alive.

The motive is clear but unspoken, conveyed in a calling card: The Jack of Hearts, portrayed as a black-skinned woman holding a short sword, regarding the viewer with triumph.

The condition of the bodies does not allow for transport. They’re interned in place, according to wood elvish rites. Marcus Shelawn feels positive relief. As a diplomat, he knows he should bury his father with the pomp and ceremony due to a Field Marshal; as a man, he’s reluctant to parade his family’s misfortunes once more, and to claim the patience and pity of the city-state.  

Marcus inherits the fortune that he managed for so long, and becomes the head of a family reduced in numbers and plunged into mourning. He works earnestly to set things right. Some argue that the massacre should be considered an act of war; he disputes that interpretation wherever it appears. He doesn’t say why it occurred, but he maintains that it won’t be repeated. He searches out his little sister, Sieia, ensures that she receives her inheritance. Their Drow half-brother, Inglorion, understands that his race and birth bar him from citizenship; he restores his sister to her family, and leaves Liamelia quietly. After a period of readjustment, Sieia contracts a brilliant marriage to the Mayor-elect.

Marcus’s new brother-in-law, Xardic, hates the Drow and preaches angrily against them, but for him they’re an abstract threat and a political tool. His speeches would have amused Tereus, for whom the Drow were very real. He knew their language, culture and tactics. He’d killed many, interrogated some, raped one and forced her to bear his child. 

In the Underdark, Philomela’s act earns the title Marchioness Theates. When the old Duke dies, she is crowned Duchess.

Claudius was conscious during his kidnapping, but would remember nothing. He is reborn a Xyrec slave, Charon, and knows nothing of his parents or heritage. Decades later he escapes, returns to Liamelia, and takes the name Valentine Shelawn. He learns how the past has bounded and determined his future.

Inglorion Fabius grows up in the shadow of his father’s cruelty and beauty; his face, intellect and temperament belong to a man he hates. He contorts himself painfully in his struggle to break free from his father’s legacy.

The massacre and the events that follow — Valentine’s homecoming, Inglorion’s exile and return — become history, then myth.

***

Death fixes its victim in place, trims and thins the conflicting impulses of character into a coherent beginning and middle. If Tereus had caught a stray crossbow in the throat as a lieutenant, or had found peace after decades of farming, he would have left a simpler legacy. Without a villain, the author would have had no hero, and no story. The gods would have used other tools to carry out their ends.

It’s hard to write sympathetically about a death that’s prolonged, agonizing and deserved.

Though his acts were monstrous, Tereus was not a monster. He committed crimes on an epic scale, but was neither a hero nor a god. He was a rich and powerful man, nothing more. His wealth and sex and natural ability amplified his acts, distorted them, drowned out and stifled personal desire. He never spoke of what drove him, and may not have known himself. There is an inner story — unspoken and half-seen.

In his last days, Tereus Shelawn was flawed, loving and beloved. Private and life-sized, bewildered as we all are, he imagined he had time to amend his errors and omissions. At Xialo, he began to see them.

And so author returns to something smaller, more modest.

Tereus’s last conscious thought was a childhood memory: His nurse warning him to wash fruits and vegetables carefully. She held the paring knife in her soft and wrinkled hand. As she peeled a peach for him, she said impressively, “Each one of us will eat a ton of dirt in a lifetime.”

He couldn’t stand to wait, so he snatched a dirty peach from the bowl at her feet, bit into it.

He hears himself sucking up the juice, saying in his clear boyhood soprano, “I’d rather eat my dirt a bit at a time than all at once on my dying day!”

His whole life, Tereus sought combat and intoxication to drive out pain and fear.

At Xialo, he ate his ton of dirt, and was entombed in it.

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

 

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