Chapter 15 Part 11 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1
Issak put his head on the pillow beside Temmin, who lay there red, sweating, and barely awake; Anda crawled up beside him and kissed him, an unknown yet familiar taste on her lips. "Different," Temmin mumbled. "Was different."
Issak ran his fingers gently up and down Temmin's golden-furred belly. "Men are better at it than women," he agreed.
"Not this time," said Temmin.
He fell into a doze as they petted him, and when he awoke, they were gone. He was starving, his stomach threatening to digest itself unless he ate, quickly. Something smelled good. A luncheon sat on the table: cold meat, cheese, fruit, pickles, cider, the good-smelling something being a loaf of still-warm bread. He ripped the top knot off, a habit that back home resulted in Cook chasing him out of the kitchen with a wooden spoon. He slathered a large knife-full of butter on the bread and devoured it, licking the melting butter from his fingers.
He tore into the rest of the meal just as avidly, until Allis's voice said, "Do you always eat like that?"
"'M growin'," Temmin answered through a mouthful of beef and cheese. He swallowed. "I'm always hungry. Please, sit. There's plenty," he added, gesturing at the still-laden table.
Allis sat down next to him; the soft rasp of her linen Temple skirt against his thigh reminded him that he wore nothing at all, and he grabbed a pillow to cover himself, staining it with his greasy fingers. "You must accustom yourself to nudity, your own and others," she admonished him, tweaking the pillow away.
"Why are you in clothes, then?"
Her face broke into the closest thing he'd seen to a grin from her. "There will be time for that, never worry. Did you have a good nap?"
"About that," he said, putting down the tumbler of cider. "Why did I fall asleep?"
"You weren't tired from your exertions?"
"I was wide awake during them, I assure you. I mean, at night I--that is--if I have trouble sleeping, it can help..." he trailed off.
"Issak told me you said it was different. I take it you meant, different from your one experience of that kind with Alvo. Anda was practicing a certain technique. It works best on men. If one does it correctly, the receiver is so sated he falls asleep almost instantly."
"Tell her from me she doesn't need to practice. She's mastered it."
"We use it in many situations, often at the Healer's House--oh yes," she said at his dubious expression, "we work with the Sisters--with all of the Temples. We serve at the Healer's House, caring for the emotional needs of their petitioners, and Sisters serve here, caring for the physical needs of ours."
"There are Sisters? Here?"
"The Sisters help us with contraception training, recognizing illnesses, that sort of thing. Sometimes, the sick come to us first. They're too ashamed to see a Sister, and go to one of these modern doctors..." She shook her head. "Frauds. By the time people finally come to us, and from us to someone who can really help them, it's often too late. Once a year or so, a man's heart will give out in the throes of passion. First the Sisters try to help, and if they can't, the Friends are called to take him to the Hill."
Temmin shivered. "I can't imagine a Friend here. All hooded in black robes." The robes brought Teacher to mind, which led to the voice in the chapel, and from there to thoughts of the upcoming Supplicancy vows on Neya's Day. "Allis," he began, "what's going to happen? I mean, on Neya's Day. Do I just swear a vow before the Most Highs and that's the end of it, or...?"
"You will take two sets of vows. The first will be before the Most Highs the night before. The second will be in communion with the Goddess on the night itself."
"What kind of communion?"
"She'll take your virginity, Temmin, what do you think?" Allis said, amused.
He went pink. "Then you'll be responsible for me, yes?"
"No," she said. She flicked her slender fingers over the remains of his lunch. "Are you going to eat these grapes?" She popped one in her mouth, seeds, thick skin, and all. "Mmm. In a way, I will be. But really, Neya will be responsible for you. She will be bound to you, and you to Her. My body, but Her Spirit."
"I remember what you said about puppets. But tell me, what's actually going to happen? Where will we be, what words must I say?"
Allis nodded to herself, absently peeling and seeding a second grape. "You don't need to memorize anything. You'll be told the words to repeat. The night before, you will take your first vow. The next night, you will help bring down the God into Issak--Anda will help bring down the Goddess into me. It's not a comfortable sight, I warn you now. The Gods will then enact the Chase, the people will watch until They are through, and then you will present yourself. If They accept you, They will take you back to the ceremonial bedchamber."
"They may judge you unacceptable. In that case, the blame falls on the Most Highs, Issak, and me, and we will pay for it, not you. But if you've lied about your status, They'll kill you--at the least, you. Maybe us, too."
"I swear, Allis, I swear--"
"Neya will initiate you and accept your final vow to belong to this Temple for two years and two days. And then your Supplicancy will begin."