The summer muddles along, alternating between enervating heat and violent storms. It’s understood that Inglorion will spend much of his time with Tereus, observing and helping with the house and crops. If Inglorion’s absent for more than a day or two, Tereus tries to lure him over with food or drink. This makes sense to Tereus, who appreciates such things. Inglorion’s relationship to both is more anxious and troubled, but he appreciates it when his father offers him a handful of greens or a cut of beef. Here, food stands in for any number of luxuries.
Lucius begins disappearing for days at a time. It’s not clear if he’s off with friends from the neighborhood, or if he’s slipped through a wormhole to tend to Underdark business. The former seems likely, since he often returns with rumors of unrest along the railroad lines, or in the central city, where reliable water sources are lacking, and society is precarious and turbulent.
There are other signs of turmoil. Tereus mentions stories of marauding gangs only to dismiss them. If rapists and cattle-rustlers can contrive to travel 50 miles in diesel-burning vehicles, he applauds their enterprise, and suspects they’ll break down or run out of fuel long before they reach the foot of Cuk Son.
The locals take the threat seriously. When Tereus and Inglorion visit the junkyard, Andres pulls Tereus aside to tell him about a series of brazen robberies just one town over, in Benson. On another occasion, he says that his cousin’s girlfriend was cornered by thugs and insulted in some way. He describes the crime by spitting in the dirt and making a warding gesture. At the end of August, he pulls up his shirttails up to show that he’s carrying a pistol, and tries to persuade Tereus to purchase its mate, along with several boxes of ammunition.
The two elves regard the gun with curiosity and respect. It’s nestled in an armored, locking box, and held in place by a series of foam cutouts that Inglorion likes quite as much as the gun itself.
Tereus declines to buy it, saying, “It’s a fair price, but I don’t choose to tie myself to a weapon that requires ammunition.”
Andres shrugs, closes and locks the case, and slips it back behind the counter. His demeanor suggests that he thinks Tereus will come around eventually. Tereus buys a few brass fittings, mostly to be polite.
As they’re leaving, Rosa appears and presses something into Inglorion’s hand: A card, with a picture of San Miguel slaying a demon. The saint’s expression is businesslike, even non-committal. The fiend’s eyes bug and its tongue lolls. On the flip side, there’s a prayer in Spanish. He looks down into her face, smiling blankly, trying to grasp what’s expected of him. She tugs his hand urgently and says a few words, but they’re unfamiliar — nothing connected to trade or finery.
“She wants you to pray with her,” says Tereus.
“Oh. That’s easily done,” Inglorion says. He turns back to Rosa, nods vigorously.
She kneels on the blacktop in a thin slice of shade just outside the quonset hut. He joins her, and she drapes one arm around his shoulder, presses her cheek against his. He holds the card out in his cupped hands, and they clutch it together. She prays at some length, and he recognizes enough of the words — God and mercy and love and protection — that it touches him as it ought.
After a time, she shoots a hard glance at Tereus, and pats the ground on her other side. To Inglorion’s surprise, he joins them, kneeling, wrapping one arm around Rosa’s waist, and bowing his head. She calls down more blessings, reaching up to stroke their shoulders and hair rhythmically. To Inglorion it’s utterly strange. He’s crouched on cracked pavement, with a human woman chanting and petting him. She’s stout and grizzled, but he can’t tell her age. He understands one in every three words. She had no particular smell, and her voice is an earnest mumble, broken with frequent pauses as she searches for words. Her manner is tender, serious, maternal.
She surrenders the card to Inglorion, crosses herself, rises. He and Tereus do the same. Inglorion is so flustered that he can’t remember how to thank her in Spanish. He says, “Thank you so much, Rosa,” squeezing her hands in his own and kissing her forehead. Tereus, too, behaves with solemn kindness, though Inglorion’s never heard him speak of the local religion with anything other than casual scorn.
As they walk back, he asks, “What happened there? Are we married?”
“No, that would require a priest. She performed a warding ritual. You’re to repeat the prayer on the card three times a day for nine days, or 27 to be on the safe side. Some largish multiple of three.”
“I’ll have to learn Spanish.”
“I’ll cut out the middleman and teach it to you in Latin. It can’t hurt, unlike Andres’s gun. He’s more likely to blow his dick off than catch a criminal.”
“It was loaded?” Inglorion’s still entirely unaccustomed to firearms. He glances back reflexively, half-expecting to see Andres staggering after them, untidily castrated and bleeding out from a severed femoral artery.
“I promise you, the one in his pants was loaded, and if it had a safety, he’s removed it,” Tereus says. “It’s a local custom. Aside from that, he’s a perfectly sensible creature.”
Inglorion frowns. “Do you think…?”
“No, I don’t,” Tereus says flatly. “I don’t think anything at all.”
For a linked table of contents, listing all of the Shelawn family adventures, click here.