Chapter 16 Part 4 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1
Steel glinted against Arta's throat, and in Temmin's imagination red bloomed against the white of her skin. But here and now, the steel wavered ever so slightly. He cast about for anything he could draw upon for guidance. He thought of Jenks: "Who are you more afraid of? The Gods, or your father?" Now that he feared for two innocents, not for himself, he wasn't sure.
What would Warin do? He would try to rally the Guard to his side, but as his ancestor had discovered, their bond to the crowned king was stronger than their bond to justice.
Senik said he knew nothing about reading people, that inborn talent notwithstanding, inexperience doomed Temmin's attempts to do it. Even so, it was all he had, and he studied the King, calling on everything he knew about his father. Harsin was angry, that much was clear. But he'd seen his father angry before. This time, a desperation tinted his voice. The question was, would his desperation lead him to do something horrible, something unforgivable, something that would both damn him and destroy the nascent ties between him and his son; he had to know that if he killed Temmin's friends, it would be the end of any intimacy between them. It might already be too late, he thought, tasting bile.
Silence filled the Promenade. Temmin finally said, "Fen, Arta, are you sure?"
"Yes," said Fen, speaking for them both in a voice choked with emotion. "I would go to the Hill for you, sir." Arta nodded vigorously, unable to form words, the curls at her forehead bobbing and tears coursing down her face. The dagger at her throat openly trembled.
Temmin turned to the Most Highs. "I'm staying." Each word appeared in a white puff before him, expanded and dissolved.
"Very well, then. Take your first vow," said High Beloved Malla, her voice filled with a power he hadn't suspected the gentle priestess possessed. "Crouch down before us. Now, put one hand beneath your feet, and the other atop your head." Temmin kept his balance until he looked up at the priests and began to wobble. "Say: All between my hands I give to the Lovers for a span of two years and two days."
Temmin took a deep breath, looked straight at his father, and said, "All...all between my hands I give to the Lovers for a span of two years and two days." Everyone--the Guards, the Temple's Own, the Most Highs, his father, the crowd below--exhaled, a long, surprised sigh, and he rose to his feet.
"No more 'Your Highness' will you hear in this Temple," said the High Lover. "You are now as a Postulant, no more, for the first year. You will address us always as Most High, and the Embodiments always as Holy One. You will obey your superiors immediately, and that includes all sworn Lovers and Beloveds. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Most High," said Temmin. His ears rang, and unexpected tears pricked the corners of his eyes. He had never broken Harsin's gaze, and said now, "Do what you must, Father."
"Sir," said Winmer in an urgent undertone, "a crowd has formed. Do what you must."
Harsin trembled with rage and glared up at the assembly on the landing. "You have brought doom on this kingdom, Temmin," he said in a low voice. He mastered himself, stood straighter and turned to face Arta and Fen, and by extension the crowd below, already agitated in uncertain joy. "Neya's Day is a time for love and celebration," he said, an artificial smile in his voice. "We rejoice with you at Prince Temmin's instatement as Supplicant of the Lovers' Temple!" He turned back, and once out of the cheering crowd's sight, his face contorted. "There will be many unprecedented changes in store for this Temple, I'm sure!" With that, he descended with his escort and rode up the Promenade toward the city's center, leaving Fen, Arta and Teacher alone on the steps.
Arta swayed as if ready to drop; Fen caught her in his arms, even though he himself looked faint. "It's all right, we're alive, sweetheart," he murmured into her hair. "We're alive."
Temmin ran down and embraced Fen and Arta, then turned to Teacher. "Is there any reason you can't take them back to Whithorse?" he said.
"None in the world."
"Perhaps they might like a cup of something hot first?" called the High Beloved.
"Something stronger, I think," replied Temmin. He stayed Teacher as the other two climbed the steps into the Temple, and said, "Did you betray me?"
"I have helped you in this matter time and again," said Teacher. "Why would I try to thwart your ambition now?" The pale, smooth face, usually so empty of anything but intelligence, beamed.
"Then who did?" said Temmin earnestly, one hand on Teacher's shoulder. "Who was it?"
"I do not know, but I am extremely invested in finding out, Your Highness. Now, go on. They are waiting for you."