Inglorion folds the papers, tucks them back into the little black paperback. He notes that it’s Ernst Junger’s Storm of Steel. He’s been standing next to the bookshelf all this time. He sits down on the couch, sets the book down beside him.
It humbles Inglorion to see his father’s burden of sin, and to know that he carried it for so long before exposing it for the gods to burn clean.
He remembers Tereus’s singing voice: Pure, beautiful, expressive.
His touch was deft and sure. He took comfort in cleaning and stitching Inglorion’s wounds. He’d put water back into the earth, and coaxed out the modest beauties of flowers and food. His care for the soil and water was a form of love.
The question is not, did Tereus find peace despite his crimes? He did.
The question is, knowing what he knows, can Inglorion forgive him?
Inglorion’s earliest memories are of envy and longing. Tereus was rich and well-born and tall and strong. He was violet-eyed, and saw in the visible spectrum. Inglorion knew he was Tereus’s son. He knew his eyes were wrong.
Everyone around him hoped he would die. Tereus made a game of trying to force his mother to miscarry. Philomela labored for three days, and had to be restrained from killing him. Tereus brought in a midwife, who saved mother and child. She gave the hungry, pale infant her breast without thinking. An act of compassion: Unwise, entirely loving. She risked her family and livelihood by turning Tereus in. Later, she gave him his child name: Fabius.
Inglorion’s first language was violence. He cut and scratched and hit himself, and lashed out at other children. Words clogged his tongue, thick and useless, shaming. He reduced other people to silence with displays of violence. He punched and slapped his own face, and dreamed of gouging out his eyes. He remembers now that when he learned to speak, he decided to preserve his notorious features. He took out his misery on his hands and wrists and forearms.
As a young man, he fancied himself devout. In truth, he hated the traits that exposed him as Drow. He hated his father with a focused passion. Inglorion fucked hundreds of women, but his pleasure and desire were ephemeral. Hatred was his sun: Hot, all-absorbing, the source of heat and light. His hatred was necessary and sufficient for life.
How many times did he lie abed in pain, longing to split his head open like Zeus giving birth to Athena? When he first saw a painting of St. Lucy holding her own eyes on a plate, he felt kinship and recognition. With the martyr saints, he found stories as terrible as the secrets of his heart. He sees now the horrors he bundled up and called love of God. There’s not prayer enough to cleanse his heart. Only a miracle of grace could serve.
He thinks, My life really was made up of myth: Extremes of pain and hated, but also love, redemption, salvation.
They were so much alike. Not just his features, but his intellect and temperament — his cruelty and self-absorption — the witchery of his voice, his mastery and assurance — everything, down to the way he held and stroked his cock.
They spoke of his mother once. Inglorion swiftly forgot the conversation. Now it rises up, unbidden.
They were sitting on Tereus’s front porch drinking coffee, not long after sunrise. Tereus poured each of them a second cup, lit a cigarette, and sat back to regard his visitor. In full daylight, the tattoos obscured his expression. He said abruptly, “When you first got here, you’d cut all your hair off. Why?”
“Hm. Yes,” said Inglorion vaguely. He ran a hand through his hair. It had grown out to an unruly white halo a few inches long. “I took a blood oath. It’s a Drow tradition.”
“I’ve heard of it,” he said curtly. “Who died?”
“How did she die?”
Inglorion looked away from the black-and-red mask. “She took her own life.” His face convulsed with grief and rage. He worked to swallow it down, panted with the effort.
“I’m sorry to hear it,” Tereus said. There was a long silence while each waged his own struggle. Finally Tereus added in a flat tone, “So Nemesis caught us all in the end. I felt certain she would escape. Did you fulfill the oath?”
He looked up, met his father’s hard gaze. To Inglorion, Tereus sounded skeptical. Goaded, he said, “I murdered a rival Duke, along with his bodyguards, a member of his cabinet, three priests, two senators, and his heir, the marchioness. My cousin and I fought back-to-back in the Xyrec throne room for more than an hour. It was quite the bloodbath.”
“Were you satisfied?”
“Of course not. The Drow don’t have any way to speak of losing one’s mother, or to mourn it as we do. I did my duty as her heir. To them, it’s an equation: Blood for blood. Grief for grief. Pain for pain.” He shrugged. He tried to look cool, but felt confused and lost.
Tereus said, “Exactly. I know their ways intimately.”
Inglorion continued in a low, trembling voice: “When we butchered the last of them in front of his cabinet, I stood there, covered in his blood and my own. I remember rows of shocked faces standing in the pews. I sheathed my weapons and paced up and down screaming that if they dared to whisper or think or even dream of revenge, I would fucking find them and cut them down. Valentine took a full pack of 52 calling cards and chucked them at the corpses. They settled like birds and stuck in the blood. It’s the happiest I’ve ever been. It was better than fucking.”
Tereus looked at his son with wonder. “So you know.”
“Oh, yeah. I know.”
He knows. And knowing, he forgives.
For a linked table of contents, listing all of the Shelawn family adventures, click here.