Though Virginia could raise many excellent objections to the proposed trip, she refrains. When Inglorion finds her in her sitting room and airily informs her that he plans to relieve a stubborn inflammation of the lungs with a week-long, high-altitude camping trip, she knits her brow, considers, and gives a quick nod. “You’ll be glad to have Rosalee back, of course,” she says. “What should I do to prepare for her arrival? She’ll need a bedchamber, and someplace to play — a room that can serve as a nursery and schoolroom. What else?”
Inglorion sighs, takes her hand. “It’s hard to say. I’ll know more when I’ve seen her.” He kisses Virginia’s hand, releases it, begins to pace. Foolishly he realizes that he never thought past the first hurdle: Getting his bride to agree that he’s well enough to travel. He says, “I’ve told you how she is. I hope to keep her here for awhile, close to me, while I’m still something of an invalid. I’d like her to spend time with Collatinus. He raised me, and has a little home farm on the grounds of Shelawn House. I hope that between the two of us, we can draw her out of her shell.”
Virginia nods. “Of course. Just let me know what you need — what you think she might like.”
He keeps pacing, and she can see that he’s deeply uncomfortable. Finally he says, “It’s hard to plan. I trust in your kindness and patience and ingenuity.” He stops abruptly, looks up. “I’ve told you before, but it’s hard to take in. She doesn’t speak. She’s never acknowledged anyone besides me and her mother. She’s a picky eater, and won’t wear most of the clothes she’s given.” She starts to speak, and he raises a hand. “No — a normal child complains, or leaves food on its plate. She ignores it, or uses it as finger paint, or throws it on the floor.” He’s wrapped his arms around himself, and his hands are clenched. He looks down, sees what he’s doing, and deliberately releases his hold, shakes his hands out by his side. “My darling, when I last saw her, she’d started to have fits. She scratched and bit herself, hit her head against the floor. The last letter I had from Alexandra — the only letter — said that she still….”
He breaks off, starts pacing again. “I adore her, and I’m accustomed to her ways. But I won’t lie. It may be very difficult. I hope that if she spends time with Collatinus — if she can be happy there, with him… But I don’t know. It may be very difficult indeed.”
Virginia says mildly, “I can’t know, of course. Lucius was a very easy baby.”
“Well, exactly. And she’s not a baby — she’s almost eight. I must say, I’m glad she’ll be here with me, because that’s when I started to speak.” He almost chokes on the words.
Now she does stand up and walk over, though some instinct prevents her from embracing him. After a time she takes his hand and says, “It will be OK.”
There’s a long pause. His gaze is averted. He says in a low voice, “I’m sorry, my dear. I know you took an oath, but I’m afraid there’s been more sickness than health.”
“Remember,” she says, “I wasn’t listening. I was preoccupied with the beauty of the groom.”
He kisses her hand, releases it. “Let that be a lesson to you.” He shakes his hands out again, returning his mind to more practical matters. “I’ll leave tomorrow. I’ll send a note to Collatinus, and one to Marcus and Penelope. Perhaps you’d be so kind as to inform Sieia of my plans?”
“Of course. I expect to see her — let’s see — at tea on Wednesday. I’ll mention it then, if she should ask.”
His face brightens and he says, “Yes — yes, of course. I knew I could count on your help.”
He retires late, after packing and writing a series of notes and instructions, and scrawling an entry in his journal. She’s still awake, reading a novel as she usually does before seeking trance. She’s wearing reading glasses, a charming compliment to the black curls piled loosely on her head, and her white silk dressing gown.
She’s domesticated him enough that he remembers to hang up his clothing in his dressing room, and to put his underthings in the hamper. He’s tempted to congratulate himself out loud as he slides between the sheet, but sensibly refrains.
She pretends not to to notice him, frowning with great seriousness at the volume in her hand.
He snuggles up next to her. “Your feet and hands are chilly. Perhaps I can help.” He takes her free hand and warms it in his. “Let me know when you’re ready to switch off.”
Her hands and feet warm up gradually. “How wonderful you smell,” he says, burying his face between her shoulder blades. “Don’t mind me. Keep reading. I’ve always regretted that I haven’t read Stendhal in the original.” He presses against her more insistently.
The volume droops in her hand. He pulls it from her slack grasp, sets in on the bedside table. “You’ll have a week to finish it in my absence,” he says helpfully. “This hand is quite warm, but I wonder if it would help….?” He places it on his hard cock.
“Why do men think that’s clever?” she asks, her voice a little breathless. He kisses her ear and bites her neck.
“I don’t know, and I’ll thank you not to raise that with Sieia during tea on Wednesday. Or ever.”
“She’s not easily shocked.”
“Not at all. She routinely puts me to the blush. She would have a theory, and would expound on it at length, with paralyzing candor,” he says.
After this, conversation languishes. Before he gives himself over entirely to sensual enjoyment, Inglorion thinks that her mix of shyness and knowledge is utterly intoxicating — truly the greatest aphrodisiac he knows.
Afterwards, as he twines his fingers in her curls, he returns to what he couldn’t say in the propriety of her sitting room. “It will be hard with Rosalee. She’s like I was. I started to talk at her age, and I hope….”
She smiles up at him. It’s hard to feel solemn or serious. “You turned out just fine.”
His face is grave. “I think it could have been very different. Wait — I don’t think I’ve shown you.” He slips out of her embrace, sits up Indian-style. he pats the pillow. “Sit up here, next to me.” She joins him. The bedclothes pool around his waist. He extends his wrists and forearms. “Look at them,” he says. She glances up at him, puzzled, and he says, “Really look.”
The scars are old, but after a time she sees a curlicue of palest violet, fading into pink, then white. As she studies his skin, fair almost to translucence, she sees an irregular, pale cross-hatching that extends to the crook of his elbow. The skin puckers here and there.
“I’m told I started at five, then stopped at eight or 10 — a little older than she is now. I don’t remember. I wasn’t an easy child, my dear.”
She takes his hands in hers, bends over to kiss them. Her lips linger on his right wrist, and she says, “Is that one of your tattoos? It’s cool here — I can feel it.”
He’s covered in Drow tattoos. The ink is invisible in ambient light; the Drow see them in infrared, as black against a white-hot background. He says, “That’s my Drow name: Inglorion Atropos Androktasiai.” She can just follow the strange characters. He says dreamily, “Inglorion: an outsider or scapegoat. Atropos: The third of the three Fates, who cuts the thread of human life. Androktasiai, the spirits who personify bloodlust and battlefield slaughter.”
“I don’t think of you that way,” she says.
“I took my names young. I have changed.” He muses, “You didn’t change your name. You’ve always been Virginia D’Arcy. Are you still the young woman you were?”
“I think we keep those old selves,” she says seriously. “They’re a source of strength. I’m not ashamed of her. Far from it.”
“That’s what I love about you,” he says. “You’ve moved on without repudiating yourself.”
“How could I? I have Lucius, and all this.” He catches her gaze and smiles. She finds herself blushing. How odd that they’re married, and she still feels bashful in his presence! “How beautiful you are,” she says breathlessly.
“You might feel differently if you could see my tattoos,” he says. “That’s why I got them — to be less of a pretty boy. I should have done like Valentine and mixed in visible ink. No one calls him beautiful.” He sits up fully. “Do you notice them?”
“On your face, of course — your lips and cheeks.”
She traces the warpaint, then trails her fingers down to his pectoral muscles. “They’re birds, right? For your mother?”
He nods primly. “A swallow and a nightingale.”
“I feel like I knew that. This is definitely the swallow — its split tail.”
He turns his back to her. She runs her palms over his shoulder blades. “You’ve told me this is Arachne, but I can’t picture it.”
“I don’t look at it much myself. I think you’re in her hair now. If you go up the nape of my neck —” he guides her hand. “There’s the noose. Her face, which is black. Very gruesome. And here, along my spine, her arms and legs. Her feet at kidney level — it was quite painful, I promise you! Just a few inches further down — yes, there — that’s the heron. My father’s bird. A crest like a soldier’s helmet, and a beak like a drawn sword. Or so Ovid tells us.”
Her fingers caress the small of his back, and she can just make out its feathers, its militant gaze, the beak slashing across one hipbone. “That’s one classy tramp stamp,” she murmurs.
“Nothing but the best for General Field Marshal Tereus Shelawn.” He winks at her over his shoulder. His fresh-faced beauty really is striking: The purity of his profile, the flash of his Drow eyes.
For a linked table of contents, listing all of the Shelawn family adventures, click here.