2. At the Foot of the Black Mountain

mural, Tucson, barrio viejo
Mural in Barrio Viejo’s Elysian Grove, Tucson, AZ

At first, Inglorion felt the serene clarity that follows a long illness. As Inglorion lies there, in his son’s embrace, emotion and sensation well up within him.

He says, “Where are we, Lucius? I don’t understand how you found me.”

“What do you remember?”

“Very little. It’s strange. I can’t recall where I’ve been recently. I feel certain that I don’t know this place.”

“Does it seem familiar?”

“No. It’s beautiful, but I’ve never seen a landscape like this.”

“We’re in a place called Cuk Son — at the foot of the black mountain. It’s high desert, far from Liamelia, or even from the Continent,” says Lucius. “Father —” he looks over at Inglorion, face cloudy, troubled. “I’ve done something. I hope you will forgive me.”

“I’m sure I will.” Inglorion turns to face Lucius. Inglorion is a half-Drow elf, and therefore short and slight, but Lucius is smaller still — slender to the point of fragility. Lucius’s silver eyes are lowered.

A fact returns to Inglorion: Though Lucius is part-Drow and calls him Father, they are not related by blood. He remembers that they speak French together, and that Lucius calls it the language of the heart. Inglorion adds, “I can’t recall where I’ve been, but I know that I’ve missed you terribly, mon fils.”

Lucius reaches over, grips his father’s hand, scoots closer under the blanket they’re sharing. “I’m not sure how to tell you. I think you’ll remember more in time. What’s the last thing you remember?”

Inglorion sits up, rubs his face. “We were campaigning, I think. You and I, with Valentine and Ajax and Aramil. I had a full retinue. Of course — I was Duke. I’d been crowned.”

“You’d negotiated a treaty,” Lucius says.

“Yes, amnesty for the slaves who had rebelled, a structure for integrating them into the tribes. I don’t remember the details, but I know we’d reached an accord with Liamelia and Amakir and even the wood elves. Good God, I deserve to be knighted now that I think of it. The Cyrx had some objection to the framework, which pissed me off because they’d given me their proxy; I was authorized to negotiate for all the Drow tribes. We’d arrived at their camp. We were waiting for their delegation to receive us.”

Now he recalls the moment sharply: A frigid morning in the woods an hour’s ride up the post road towards Amakir. The Cyrx had set up a semi-permanent camp just outside of wood elvish territory. He, Inglorion, had an entourage befitting a Duke: His lieutenants, Valentine, Ajax and Aramil; 20 troops, a handful of clergy. He remembers now that because Lucius was his heir, he had to remain in a sealed caravan surrounded by bodyguards. It was a routine precaution aboveground, with so many tribes and races assembled.

“What else do you remember?”

“Valentine and I had dismounted, handed off our horses. We were among the Cyrx, waiting for that fellow of theirs whose name I can never recall. Valentine was to my right. He’d just asked me if I thought it was a trap, and I said, Oh, probably. Bring it. I’m a shitty diplomat. Words to that effect. But none of us really thought it was. Ajax and Aramil were just behind us, with the horses. The clouds were breaking up after rain. It was muddy — just after first thaw. A funny, idle moment. I remember thinking, Spring is overrated. I much prefer fall.”

Lucius is studying his face anxiously. This seems odd, because his memories are benign. He felt the routine, galling burdens of a powerful man. The moment offered respite, a small delay. The sky, the calm among his own troops and the Cyrx. He heard whistled greetings here and there on both sides. “That’s all. We were waiting, so I chatted with Valentine and noticed the sky. Nothing after that. I woke up much later, underground.”

Lucius clasps his father’s hands in both of his own. “Mon pére, shots were fired. I was crowned that day. We buried you.”

Lucius feels Inglorion’s hands stiffen. He gives a bark of laughter. “Cyrx?”

“No. Theates. A mole, loyal to the Xyrec. Valentine saw it all in an instant, whistled a cease-fire.”

“How long ago was that?”

“Forty-two years.”

Inglorion is silent for a long time. There’s too much to ask. He feels helpless, knowing that the joys and fears of that world have rushed past him. There’s nothing he can do. Everything’s been settled for a long time. “How did you bring me here?”

“Tisiphone showed me what to do,” Lucius says, naming one of the priestesses. “There’s a cost. A debt, of sorts.”

Inglorion studies Lucius’s face. The light of the fire blots out Drow tattoos, so he sees nothing. “You took an oath.”

“You’ll see it later. Father, I missed you.”

Inglorion feels real, clutching terror. Instinctively, he draws Lucius close. The two embrace tightly. Inglorion kisses his son’s face. Now that he knows, he can feel the vague, cold tracery of ink under the skin on his cheeks, eyelids, all along his jaw and throat. Finally he says, “I didn’t know such things were possible.”

Lucius murmurs, “With the gods, all things are possible. I chose to do it. I’ve taken great care to ensure that I bear the cost.”

Inglorion feels he should question Lucius, but he’s devout, and recoils from what his son has done. Lucius sees his exhaustion, feels the engine of worry starting up in his father’s breast. Inglorion asks, “Where are the others? Valentine? Virginia? Rosalee? Sieia?”

“Everyone is well. They’re back at home, in Liamelia. I brought you to a very different time and place. A continent away, two centuries later. There’s work to be done here — ends we must pursue. The others may follow. If so, there will be a cost to them, and to you. I’ll divide my time between here and the Underdark, just like you did with Liamelia. I’m still Duke of Theates, you know.” He strokes his father’s Drow hair, white and infinitely fine. “You’ll live the remainder of your life as if the arrows had never hit you.”

“Who else knows?”

“No one. I’ll tell the others presently. I was afraid it wouldn’t work, or that you would be different — not yourself.”

“Perhaps I’m not,” he says gently.

Gray elves operate in an elaborate web of interdependent moral laws and values; the Drow moral universe rests on a single law: Live to shoot another day.Inglorion is half-Drow, half-gray. It’s his curse to see both sides.

Inglorion has always knows that his soul is his own, but his life is in the gods’ hands.

Lucius has changed the rules. Somehow, the game continues.

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

 

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