1. The Duke of the Underdark

A gloomy, unlit parlor would seem to be a bad place for an invalid to recruit his strength. Our hero, Inglorion Atropos Androktasiai, Marquis Theates, is a bad patient. He sits in the window seat, which he would normally avoid, being Drow, and sensitive to sunlight. It’s winter, and mizzling, so the weather matches his mood, and the light doesn’t dazzle his silver eyes. He’s holding a quill, and a notebook is open on his lap. The ink has dried on his quill, however, and the page is mostly blank.

His thoughts alternate between irritable impatience with his lingering infirmity — it’s taken almost two months to recover from a bout of gaol fever followed by pneumonia — and indifference born of a morbid conviction that he’s fucked up completely, and can hope for nothing better than a swift descent into an early grave. Accordingly, he’s spent the last several weeks alternating between bouts of restless activity that drive him to fever and alarm those charged with nursing him, and stretches of silent despondency that cause his sister to whisper to his wife, “I never thought I’d say this, but I almost wish Inglorion would start chattering about Sanskrit or some Spartan battle. It’s not like him to be so quiet.”

He’s sitting quietly now, with an abstracted expression and a mind as drearily active as the slither of raindrops down the windowpane. He’s considered cleaning his quill and setting aside his notebook, but this would serve no useful purpose. A closed notebook and a clean quill are no better than an open book and a dirty pen. He sighs.

The parlor door opens, and a footman enters and hands Inglorion a calling card that reads, “Father Nathan Szyba.”

“He insisted on seeing you personally,” says the footman.

“He’s here now?” Inglorion feels stupid, slow. “Bring him in, then.”

Father Nate is tall, handsome and human. His demeanor is cold and proud. When they last parted company, Inglorion was lying half-conscious on a stretcher, wracked with fever and chills. Inglorion had boldly liberated a shipment of prisoners headed for slavery in the Underdark, and found himself saddled with almost 100 injured and desperately ill slaves, and a handful of disaffected hired drivers. Father Nate came to help out with burials, and ended up foraging, hauling water and tending wounds with the rest of them. Inglorion arranged for food, water, sanitation and medical care, and finally led the hobbled caravan through a snowstorm to the gates of Liamelia. They’d barely made it. Inglorion himself was overcome with fever while waiting for the city gates to be opened. He’d dismounted, puked, passed out, and had to be strapped to a stretcher and carried, half-conscious and entirely delirious through the streets of his hometown, with his new bride, Virginia, in attendance. In the weeks that followed, while Inglorion was wracked with fever and his cousin Valentine was under house arrest, Father Nate arranged for the remaining captives to be fed and housed by his parishioners, using Valentine’s share of the prize money. 

This morning Inglorion is conscious and sitting upright. He’s freshly bathed, and wearing a silk dressing gown. Even so, he looks ill and fragile. More than anything, he’s lost his radiance — a combination of vigor and moral conviction as uniquely his as the timbre of his voice, or the silver of his Drow eyes.

They exchange greetings, and Father Nate joins Inglorion on the window seat. 

“What brings you back to Liamelia, Father?”

“I have a message for you.” He adds, abruptly, “You don’t look well.”

“I picked up gaol fever you know, on that last day, and suffered an inflammation of the lungs after that. I’ve been slow to recover, for some reason.”

“How are the others? Your son? Your wife? Valentine?”

“Lucius has entirely recovered, and the charges against him were dismissed. My wife is well. She’s been nursing me, along with my sister Sieia. Valentine will likely stand trial in a month or so. Marcus’s lawyers seem to have the case well in hand. Aramil was forced to remove to Amakir, and naturally Ajax went with him. I suppose you heard there was an investigation, and the Letter of Marque was revoked.”

“Yes. The case has been much discussed, both here and in Amakir.”

“I don’t read the papers or frequent coffeehouses, so I’m spared that,” says Inglorion flatly. His gaze drifts towards the window.

There’s a short silence, then Father Nate says awkwardly, “I’m sorry for all that. I have urgent news on a different matter.”

“Yes?” Inglorion continues to look out the window. 

“It concerns your daughter Rosalee.”

Inglorion’s gaze snaps back to Father Nate’s face. “You have news of her?”

“Her mother is ill, and struggling to care for her.”

“Where is she? Is she OK?”

“Rosalee is well. She’s still in the North Mountains, with her mother’s tribe. It’s three days’ travel, if the weather holds. I can take you there.”

“What’s wrong with Alexandra? She’s a young woman. When she wrote she didn’t mention being ill.”

“She has a wasting illness, and won’t recover.” 

Inglorion looks stricken. He’s not in love with Alexandra, but he remembers her as a clever, handsome woman, and an affectionate mother. “Good God,” he says blankly. 

“Are you well enough to travel?”

“I’ll have to be. You say you can guide me there?”

“Yes. It’s close to my parish. It will be a week total, on horseback and then on foot, over hard roads. There’s little shelter. It’s Gypsy territory, and largely uninhabited except for smugglers and brigands. The altitude is high, and it will be cold, perhaps snowing.”

“Very well. It will take me a day to prepare. I’m assuming we’ll have to carry provisions, and be prepared to camp out.”

“I’m afraid so.” Father Nate eyes the sickly-looking elf sitting next to him. Father Nate is human, and over six feet tall. To him, Inglorion seems laughably tiny. “Are you sure you’ll be OK? What would your doctor say?”

“Fuck my doctor,” says Inglorion briskly.

“Will your wife object?”

“Certainly not. Why would she?” says Inglorion with the harassed demeanor of a recently married man who realizes that wife may object strongly, and will come prepared with cogent, forceful arguments if she does. He adds, “She vowed to honor and obey me in front of you and God.”

“I’m not a married man myself,” says Father Nate, “but I’ve noticed that among wives, that oath is honored in the breach.”

“Hm. Virginia is a sensible woman.” He frowns. “In any case, she can’t stop me.”

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

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