Musical Score: Iron and Wine, Such Great Heights
Today is November 1, All Souls Day. It’s been just over a year since Valentine emerged from the Underdark with a couple of rapiers, a brace of throwing daggers, a hand crossbow and ammunition, and clothing of Drow manufacture. A year ago this week, he was wandering in the woods, and narrowly avoided death from hunger and exposure.
The day after he talked to Marcus, Valentine inspected the Shelawn bachelor flat. He’s unable to imagine a more elegant home, so naturally he agreed to take possession after a thorough cleaning and a few minor repairs. Today he packed his valise and weapons cases, and moved there with his still-scanty personal belongings.
Foyer, library, bedroom, dressing room, guest suite, a sitting room used for dining; less glamorously, cellars, an attic, a kitchen, and quarters for his valet and housekeeper. The whole thing is built around a courtyard with a garden. On Sieia’s advice, he’s hired a gardener, because, she assures him, “You won’t like rooting around among the plants, and you can’t let it run wild.” It’s taken a week for a half-dozen bustling servants and random workmen to turn it into a home suitable for gray elf gentry. Nothing is lacking, as far as Valentine can tell, and if it is, it’s not Sieia’s or Penelope’s fault.
After everything was cleaned with a breathtaking ruthlessness, silk carpets were delivered and rolled out, including a spectacular Chinese one the color of sunlight. It’s said to have belonged to some Shelawn diplomat. Valentine can’t decide if it’s gorgeous and bold, or flashy and in extremely poor taste, so he’s decided to keep it in the library for daily evaluation.
Furniture came next — minimal, according to Sieia and Penelope, but bewilderingly extensive in Valentine’s opinion. Bookshelves, a desk and a spectacular poster bed, of course. But also a flotilla of occasional tables and gilt chairs, a washstand, a coat rack, and a massive, ornate wardrobe that Sieia condemns as gaudy, but that holds all of Valentine’s clothes, and, when fully opened, reveals a full-length mirror. There are other mirrors, some framed in wood, some in gilt — Valentine secretly prefers gilt — and also locking cases for his weapons and ammunition. Valentine’s favorite piece is a chaise lounge upholstered in blue silk brocade and stuffed with down. It’s the centerpiece of the library — the perfect spot to lounge and drink coffee and write rambling journal entries in a mix of Drow and High Elvish.
Dishes, glassware and silverware have been unearthed from safes and cellars. The Ceralac household has been particularly generous. Sieia practically begged him to accept a set of china in cobalt with gold leaf. “It was a wedding gift, and of course it’s charming,” she says earnestly, “but there’s so much of it, and the colors are all wrong for that funereal dining room of ours. I’ve never let them use it — not even in the most dire emergency. Your house is so bright — it will add just the right touch.” Valentine finds that he likes it very much, just like he likes the little tea-set, the Shelawn family crystal glassware, and a pleasingly minimal set of silverware that belonged to some long-forgotten Shelawn bride with Spartan tastes.
He steadfastly refuses Penelope’s offers to supply either a silver epergne or a massive soup tureen, and when she tries to foist a particularly awful centerpiece on him, he’s forced to resort to brutal candor. “I know you mean to be kind, but I don’t hold with the gray elf tradition of inflicting massive silver items on each other. The Drow warrior in me rises up, and won’t be denied.” He adds later, when describing the incident to Sieia, “Besides, that one was in particularly poor taste — I counted no fewer than five Native American Indians hunting buffalo around the perimeter. I wouldn’t let her uncover it fully, for fear there was a squaw giving birth in the center.”
Sieia says, “I don’t think she means to give you something ugly, precisely. She just knows it would be worth a lot of money if you melted it down into ingots, and it would add to your consequence.”
“It would make people think I’m a very vulgar fellow,” says Valentine. “I won’t have it in my home.”
A bewildering array of consumables have appeared in parcels and been stowed away, as well: everything from wax candles to soap to lamp oil and boot blacking. He trusts entirely to his housekeeper and valet, and so far items like tooth powder have appeared when needed, and he hasn’t stumbled across anything outlandish and unnecessary.
The final step is to select and hang artwork from the Shelawn collection. He picks out a handful of hunting scenes and plein air landscapes from the last two centuries, along with one or two older allegorical paintings. Both Sieia and Penelope tell him that he should have a larger, more valuable piece to hang in the library. Though he’s tempted by a naughty woodland scene from the previous century, he finally asks Sieia if it would be wrong to take the Reynolds portrait of Tereus. “I know it’s tremendously valuable,” he says, “and perhaps Marcus will be reluctant to part with it. But I think I really do want it.”
Sieia considers. “It’s a good choice. He was a nasty old reprobate, but it’s an excellent likeness, and there’s nothing equivalent of your father. I’m sure neither Marcus nor Penelope will mind, as long as you insure it properly.” And so the portrait of Tereus is cleaned, boxed up and transported by a curator from the archive, and hung with great ceremony by the hearth, where Valentine can see it from his desk, and contemplate it as he reclines in the chaise lounge.
If he snuffs the candles in the library just before sunset, Valentine can watch the sunset over the harbor, and see the north mountain range dyed gold, then pink, then crimson. On November first, then, he settles down onto the chaise lounge with a cup of coffee, and absorbs the beauty around him. The fire casts a soft glow over the silk carpet, hardwood moldings and coffered ceiling. He’s starting to worry less that he’ll spill coffee, or track in mud, or shed long white-gold hairs all over everything. He’s going to do all these things. This house and its furnishings belong to him for his lifetime. After that, some other Shelawn can deplore Valentine’s bad taste and untidiness, and have things refurbished and fixed to his own, more modern taste. This is Valentine’s home. He’s come a long way from the starved, cold, hunted slave he was.
His mind drifts back to the place that he found after a week aboveground. It really was just a gap between two giant slabs of stone. It offered protection from the sun and wind, and the ground was level, hard-packed sand. He remembers that the mornings were terribly cold — the temperature would drop and the wind would pick up just before dawn, and he would be racked with chills. He would walk the few steps down to the stream to drink water, wash his face and hands, and wait for animals to come and drink. He longed to just watch them, but of course he had to hunt them. He shot two rabbits and a squirrel. The latter, in particular, had an awful, gamey taste, and seemed to consist mostly of tiny bones. It would be hard to imagine a more wretched meal. He didn’t know how to clean it, couldn’t light a fire, and he had no salt, pepper or spices. He shudders again in retrospect — there is nothing more hideous than raw game, poorly cleaned. He remembers forcing himself to take a bite, chew it, swallow it, pretty much gagging the whole time.
He lived through those days. He didn’t starve or die of exposure, and despite the squalor, cold, hunger and exhaustion, he was often very happy. Everything was beautiful. He spent hours just watching the sun advance across the floor and walls of his little cave, marveling at the rich variety of colors contained in each pool of water. He found petroglyphs nearby, and he would often walk over to admire them. He spent hours in trance, resting, building strength, telling himself again and again how he got there. He was free, the world was beautiful, and if he died it would be okay.
By his calculation, he started walking again on October 30. Within a day, he collapsed at the feet of a bemused wood elf patrol. Through his delirium, he remembers their odd accents, the calls and whistles and gestures they used to communicate on patrol. On November 1, All Souls Day, he woke up in a wood elf camp, on a lush bed stitched together from furs. The warmth was spectacular. He felt calm, rested. He knew he would live.
Now, reclining in front of the fire in his own home, his own library, he traces the tattoos on the backs of his hands: the calling card on the right, the brand and token on the left. He’s aware of the filigree of Drow characters across his shoulders and chest, under his crisp, white linen shirt. It occurs to him that being a double agent simply means that he’s both Drow and gray — he cannot choose between them now, and perhaps he doesn’t have to.
Valentine Claudius Shelawn: a stray cat, a stolen child, a charming, cruel and tragic man. Charon Pallas Proioxis: the ferryman to the Underworld, a god of war and wisdom, the spirit of eagerness for battle. Some of these names were imposed upon him, and some were chosen. Each one is fragmentary, partial. Together, they form a mosaic of what he has been, what he hopes to be.
Did you know you’re just a few episodes from the end of Valentine’s story? Now’s the time to start reading the sequel to Man Raised by Spiders, The Biography of Inglorion Atropos Androktasiai, Marquis Theates.