3. Year Nine

Once they’ve eaten and rested, Lucius leads his father into the city. Inglorion is tired and numb. They cross the railroad tracks: Half-seen, impressive, mysterious, and entirely meaningless to our hero. He can’t make sense of the abandoned cars that clog the streets, either, so he ignores them.

After miles of incoherent and abandoned cityscape, they reach a residential neighborhood, and a block of half-abandoned row houses. Lucius leads Inglorion into the end unit: A shotgun shack. It’s dark and quiet.

Though elves will often share a bed for trance, Lucius gives Inglorion a little closet of his own. He urges his father to take trance or rest, or to just sit quietly — whatever he needs after his ordeal. By now Inglorion’s tired again. Lucius’s tender solicitude makes it worse somehow.

“You’re cold,” says Lucius. He tucks a wool blanket around his father’s shoulders.

“What happened here?” Inglorion asks, like a child pleading for a story.

“The Navajo say it was a plague. It came from the plains. The wind bore it. Everyone thought the first storm of summer would drive it away. But the rain never fell that year.” Lucius smiles. “The Apaches don’t speak of it. They call this year nine, and say there was nothing but darkness before that.”

He embraces his father, and leaves.

The following morning, and for a few days thereafter, Inglorion lingers in a strange, half-stunned condition. He was alone in the ground for so long, cold and insensible. He can’t warm up entirely. He’s left part of himself for dead.

Main Ave, Tucson, AZ
Inglorion explores the city, walking the streets for hours.

After a week, he begins to explore the city, walking the streets for hours. He’s tired and grieved and longs to stop, but he’s drawn forward — not by hope, but by need. It feels like home must be a block ahead or behind him, almost visible between the drooping mesquite branches, heavy with their clouds of tiny, pale green leaves. 

He knows the facts of his former life. He was a product of rape, and the bastard son of Tereus Shelawn, a famous and wealthy man. His mother, Philomela Procne Arachne, was a prisoner of war; she escaped soon after his birth, abandoning him. He was raised on his father’s estate, and employed there as a gardener and footman until he ran away. He knows that he loved his half-sister Sieia tenderly. They were parted when their father died, and he missed her for the rest of his life. He made his fortune among his mother’s people; he was Philomela’s heir, and was crowned Duke of Theates after her death. He returned home, worked as a spy, wooed and won a wife, and fought in a slave uprising. He was a leader of men, and died from an assassin’s arrows.

He told himself these facts for more than a century, every time he sought trance. He recalls it all, but his memories are uncomfortably abstract: Just a list or litany.

When summarized, his life sounds like an overwrought fairy tale. Was he really born with a caul? That seems excessive, unless he accepts that he actually was a prophet and martyr, blessed by the gods.

He recalls some of what he felt: The shame of being half-Drow, and an alien in both Liamelia and the Underdark. Aboveground, he resented the sickening necessity of swallowing insults and injustice; in the Underdark, he longed for the traditions and religion of his youth. Through it all, war and bloodshed and espionage. Constant exhaustion, mixed with the sure knowledge that the times demanded more and better leadership than he could offer. The private pains and failures that accompany a public life: The brevity of his marriage, his failings as a father.

He knows he felt these things, but now they’re anecdotes about another man’s burdens and regrets.

He misses the comfort of familiarity: Easy camaraderie, the instinctive upswell of protective love. He struggles to connect these feelings with particular people and events: His wife, daughter and sister, his marriage, his mother’s death.

The loss is massive and incalculable, and made worse by the empty precision of his factual memory.

He knows that in childhood he often felt this way — a ghost among ghosts, prey to nameless agonies and rages. The pain is exquisite.

He’s tormented with physical yearning. He misses the sights and sounds of Liamelia. Most mornings a marine layer lay over the harbor and town, burning off by mid-afternoon. In the summer, the air retained a soft, foggy, humid quality; storms rolled in off the ocean, and broke with an irreplaceable carnal thrill. He remembers soaring marble buildings with pillars, porticos and elaborate friezes. Even modest homes were rich with architectural detail, and attached to well-tended gardens. At the time of Inglorion’s death, Liamelia was lit by torches, candles and wood-burning fireplaces; a few public buildings had been fitted for gas lighting.

His habits and routines make no sense in the desert. He doesn’t speak the local language. The city is a bewildering jumble of blank concrete or glass facades and squat bungalows of brick, block, and mud. Little of the infrastructure remains in use; electrical wiring, conduit and pipe strike Inglorion as useless and ostentatiously ugly.

A daily round emerges, centered on finding and cooking food. They barter and scavenge, and Inglorion learns to glean a common and vile-tasting weed that Lucius knows. Inglorion’s proficient at trapping, but there are few mammals. Just as the plumpest lizards start to look eligible, he figures out how to snare the little bunnies that graze at dawn and dusk. They harvest mesquite and palo verde and jojoba beans. The onions and corn sprout. Soon there will be cactus fruit.

They sing. Inglorion becomes so deft at trapping rabbits that they have extras to sell and barter. He expands his repertoire to include the slim desert quail. He loves the burbling noise they make, and their preposterous little bobbing crests.

In time, his memories return. Or, rather, his memories are transformed into the more usual collection of images, words and sense-impressions, colored by associated emotions. It’s a painful awakening.

He’s protected by the fact that he lost everything all at once. It would be unbearable to sleep alone in the bed he shared with his wife, Virginia. The breakfast room in his flat at Liamelia would seem empty without his closest companions: Valentine, Ajax and Aramil. He misses them all terribly — cruelly at times — and longs for his daughter Rosalee and his sister Sieia. But it would be much worse to be reminded of their absence by the infinite associations of home.

The skills of his youth come back to him: Chopping wood, laying brick, handling animals of all kinds. The climate and landscape are different, but the principles remain the same.

The brilliant clarity of the air pains and thrills him.

The immediacy of their life tempers his grief.

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

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