Inglorion sits there, watching his son’s face. He feels weak from hunger, but choked with nausea. He’s sticky with sweat and dirt, but too tired to walk back and take a shower. His eyes burn with tears, but he cannot cry.
Lucius’s face is sweet in repose. If they were gray elves, no one would mistake them for father and son. Their features are entirely different. People say they look alike because they’re both short and slight, and have silver eyes. As he watches Lucius, he feels that perhaps he made the same mistake. It was lovely to have a half-Drow son.
His gaze drifts to the ceiling: Bare rafters, made of some dark and knotted local wood. His mind drifts, too. He sees Tereus’s still face, with its tattooed death mask. He feels the weight of his father’s body, stiff and unwieldy, cold and rubbery to the touch.
As a young man in service at Shelawn House, Inglorion never looked at his father directly. He sensed his presence, heard his voice, tracked him in peripheral vision, but deliberately averted his eyes. Tereus scorned others’ opinions; Inglorion was ashamed of him, and for him.
When did he last see his father in Liamelia? He doesn’t remember. He’d promised his 12-year-old half-sister sister, Sieia, that he would take her away from Tereus’s drunken rages and the atmosphere of stifled terror. He remembers the logistics: Striking a bargain with Gypsy smugglers, finding a priest willing to take his oath. There was no leave taking — no apologies or excuses or high-spirited defiance. They left on foot one Thursday afternoon, Inglorion in the only suit he owned that wasn’t livery; Sieia in a morning dress, carrying a single bandbox. Inglorion worked that day, as he did every day. He must have served his father at breakfast that morning, or opened the carriage door for him. He can’t remember.
They returned after the massacre, so that Sieia could claim her inheritance. He restored his sister to his half-brother Marcus’s care, and left Liamelia the same day. He never wore mourning, though he’d lost much of his family, too. Soon afterwards he left for the eternal twilight of the Underdark.
Tonight he laid his father out, and buried him with his own hands. He avoided looking at the corpse or touching it, shrank from it, twisted away even as he dragged it. He’s afraid the sights and sounds of this night will haunt him.
He hears Lucius stirring, looks down at him. He’s blinking, rubbing his eyes.
“Bon matin, mon pére. Have you been here long?”
“Did you go to Dunbar-Spring?”
“How did you find Brutus?”
“I buried him, my child.” The tears come now, silently. He turns away, covers his face.
He feels Lucius’s cool hands, stroking his neck and shoulders. “I’m sorry,” he whispers.
He tells Lucius some of what happened. It’s as if he already knows. Inglorion sobs violently. He finally stops because he’s aware that he reeks of sweat and dirt, and the sun will come up soon.
“You should shower and lie down,” Lucius says tenderly.
“I will in a moment.” His eyes slide from Lucius’s face. He feels ashamed. “Lucius, why did you bring me here?”
“Because I loved you and I missed you and I couldn’t bear to be alone.”
“Honey, you had your mother and Valentine and Rosalee — your responsibility to the tribe. Your mother was carrying a child. She must have needed you.”
He shakes his head, looks miserable. He pulls his hands from Inglorion’s grasp. “I was alone. I missed you horribly. It was all I could think of.”
Since the first night, Inglorion hasn’t asked what happened after his death. He knew it would torment him. Now he gives in to temptation and asks, “Was it a boy or a girl?”
Lucius gives a small, private smile. “A girl. They named her Julia. She had your face, but with dark hair and eyes. She didn’t look Drow at all. Everyone said she was a true Shelawn, a throwback to Tereus. She took the name Alexander because you and Tereus admired him.” The strain eases on Inglorion’s face when he hears this, so Lucius continues. “Everyone called her Miss Alex Shelawn, because it seemed more proper than her true name. I came back for her come-out and helped her dress. She wore a snow-white ballgown with silver spangles, and a French blue bolero jacket — a very dashing cut and color for a debutante. They opened the ballroom in Old Shelawn House.”
Inglorion frowns. “Why was she Miss Shelawn? It should have been D’Arcy.” He looks confused and frightened as he demands, “Lucius, why was she named Shelawn?”
His son looks stricken, sick with remorse. “Father, please.”
“You need to tell me.” Inglorion’s face is hard and blank.
In a breathless, hurried voice, Lucius says, “Valentine and Virginia married after your death. Valentine adopted her and raised her as his own.”
“Oh,” says Inglorion quietly. “That would explain it.” Without another word, he walks back to the shower, strips, washes. He throws his filthy, bloodstained clothes in the hamper, lies down in his cool, dark bedroom. He can hear the initial burst of morning birdsong, but the windows are cleverly sealed so that the sun can’t find its way in.
He holds his mind blank, lies there tracing the scars on his forearms. There’s a curious rushing in his ears. He prays softly and tonelessly under his breath in a loop. He feels the long-ago marks, the oldest scars on his body — older than memory.
Inglorion lies abed for several days, refusing to eat or drink, smoking cigarettes if Lucius brings them. Before, he knew that he had a wife. Now he remembers Virginia: Every sweet and comforting detail of her body, her voice and laugh, both musical and low. Her kindness and forbearance. His adoration.
He remembers the last time they made love. He noticed a fullness in her breasts and belly, a flush in her cheeks. She told him she was pregnant, and he swore that he would abdicate, that he was sick to death of fighting.
He remembers that when he fell in love with her, his entire inner world reoriented and shifted. It knew it would take an enormous effort to bring the outside world into alignment, but he couldn’t stop himself from trying. He loved her recklessly and unreservedly, worshipped her. He knew that she had saved him.
It is horrible, sickening. He wishes for oblivion.
He’d felt for Valentine because he was rich, handsome and painfully shy. He’d often exasperated Inglorion. He was officious, overbearing, stiff, easily angered. He and Aramil bickered like brothers. He never took to Lucius, and treated Virginia with such withering formality that Inglorion had been forced to make excuses for him.
All these things were true, but of course Inglorion loved his nephew, and truly valued him. Valentine was smart and funny, and he cared for Inglorion with an almost maternal tenderness. Inglorion admired his nephew. After all, he’d been orphaned, raised a slave, flogged cruelly, deprived of touch and gaze and tender words. He spoke High Elvish with an accent, and Inglorion often wondered if he missed some small but critical portion of what was said to him. It often seemed to Inglorion that Valentine understood little beyond battle and, later, business. Despite that, Valentine never lost sight of the miracle of his escape, and the beauty of the sunlit world.
Inglorion lies alone in the sweltering blackness. He remembers Virginia, whom he loved with all his heart and soul and body, and Valentine, for whom he felt such tender regard. Virginia had taken care of herself for so long. She deserved the care of a loving husband. It had long seemed as if Valentine’s ill temper sprang from a lack of feminine company. Of course they found each other. It was the natural solution.
The thought fills him with rage and revulsion. It sickens him as if he were alive and had found them in bed together. Some wretched animal part of him calls her an unfaithful, cheating bitch. He’d never cheated on her despite a lifetime of habit and ample temptation. She never said she loved him, despite all of his forbearance!
Valentine lucked into everything that Inglorion never had: Family, fortune and citizenship. That miserable punk should be horsewhipped for taking what was his — the precious treasure he found so late, and lost so suddenly.
Inglorion’s race, bastardy and poverty made him a bad husband and father, no matter how pure his intent. Inglorion died striving to overcome his birth. All he’d ever had was charm, beauty and a stiff dick, and he knows better than anyone how little these mean in the end.
For a linked table of contents, listing all of the Shelawn family adventures, click here.