Chapter 14 Part 10 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Temmin headed toward the stables for his morning ride. He'd been trying the gentle approach, encouraging Alvo to come to him rather than forcing the issue, but it had been almost two weeks. Temmin didn't have time to wait for Alvo to come around. He had to get behind him and push.
He found the stocky young man in Jebby's stall. "How fortuitous. My horse and my best friend, just the two I want. Fetch a horse, Alvy, we're going riding."
Alvo froze midway through taking off his cap. "Your Highness, I have work to do."
"Balls to that. Saddle up. This is not a request." Alvo stomped off. Sometimes, thought Temmin, a man must use the tools at his disposal, and rank was such a tool.
Soon they were trotting from the yards, Temmin on Jebby and Alvo on a stubborn-faced but obedient gray. Frost covered the ground this morning; it crackled under the horses' hooves. Neither man spoke as they broke into a canter and left the road, flying over the familiar pastures and meadows surrounding the Estate and its farms.
Temmin let their course set itself as he thought over what to say and soon discovered he'd pointed them at the old hill fortress rising up from the flattest part of the lands around the Estate. The lords of Whithorse had abandoned the Freehold long ago, though he remembered it from Tennoc's story as it was in its prime. Sheep grazed where its defenses once stood, the ramparts and ditches reduced to steeply rolling ridges around the great hill. The Freehold's enclosing walls had crumbled away; on the broad, flat hilltop could still be seen the stone fortress's faint remains. After a long gallop he reined in, and Alvo did the same.
A strained silence descended, as sharp and clear as the cold air. Temmin had been taught a dozen ways to breach such a silence, but none came to him now as they began the long circumnavigation of the great rise. He settled on pointed scrutiny--often a winner--and turned a steady gaze on his old friend.
Alvo could not be called handsome; compared to Senik and Issak he was coarse, lumpy and common. His broad face had lost the childish roundness still clinging to it just two years ago, his solid cheekbones and clean-shaven jaw sharp and his neck corded with muscle. His wide, round-tipped nose had grown a bit red in the chill. The dark hair under its habitual tweed cap had more the texture of hay than silk. His best feature--expressive, honest eyes the color of freshly turned earth--stayed focused on the horizon framed by the stubborn-faced gray's ears. Coarse and common it may have been, but Temmin loved Alvo's face beyond measure.
He pressed his lips together in frustration and abandoned his tactic. "Damn it, Alvy, I deserve better than this!"
"I didn't have to come, sir," rasped Alvo.
"The Hill you didn't. I have been waiting out your sulk since I got here. I have been patient and approachable, and now I'm done. You will talk to me, Alvo Nollson."
"Very well, sir," Alvo answered in an even, servile voice. "My sister's husband tells me the lambing is going well, sir--"
Temmin dug his heels into Jebby's sides, rode ahead and cut Alvo off. "Hang the lambs, damn you!"
Alvo stopped, though he could have easily walked around the big chestnut blocking his way. His obstinate mouth gave a tell-tale quiver. "I shouldn't think hanging 'em is good for 'em, would you, sir?" he said, suppressed laughter in his tone.
A great grin spread over Temmin's face. "Hang whether it's good for 'em!" The two men broke out in boyish guffaws, tension driving laughter greater than the small joke was worth until tears streamed from their eyes. Temmin brought himself close facing the other direction and reached out his hand. "Oh, Alvy, how I've missed you."
"And I you, Tem," said Alvo, quietly taking it.
"I'm leaving for the City on the eleventh. I want you to come back with me."
Alvo dropped his hand. "To the Keep? What for? You're at the Temple still."
"For three more spokes. You can find something to do there for three more spokes."
"And then what? Oh, no. If I'm going to be currying horses I'd rather do it here, where I'm known and respected, instead of in a stable where I'll get treated like a rustic stooge."
"No one would dare treat you like a rustic stooge. Alvy, you're the closest thing I have to a brother." Tennoc and Kenver came to mind. "You are my brother. With things the way they are and me leaving the Temple soon I have no one and nothing but you."
"You have your sisters."
"Sedra's engagement will be announced as soon as mourning for Mama is over. And you've seen Elly. I don't think she's quite right in the head at present, and besides, she intends to stay here with the baby."
"What about Jenks? And that Wallek character?"
Temmin grimaced. "Jenks…that's complicated, and Fen's a good sort of fellow but he's not you."
"There's your father--"
"We hardly know one another!"
"Then start!" said Alvo. "You're lucky to have a father." He tapped the gray's sides and started off again around the Freehold at a slow walk.
Temmin followed after him. "I need you. No one else knows me as well as you do. I need you to help me stay myself. You were right, the City is changing me--and not all in bad ways--but you were wrong, too. I'll never forget my best friend and they can never keep us apart. Alvo, please." He rode far enough ahead to seize the gray's bridle, bringing them both to a halt. "My last night here before I moved away, you begged me. Now I'm begging you. Come back to the Keep with me. Be my rock."
Alvo stared at Temmin's stirrup. "I don't know if I can be near you knowing you like...that's it's not just women you like," he murmured.
"I honestly don't know about sex with me and you," said Temmin, releasing the gray's bridle. "I need more than that from you. Sex--I can get that anywhere. I can't get brothers anywhere."
"The Heir can't be brothers with a groom anyway."
Temmin smirked. "You won't be a groom. I'm making you my Master of Horse."
Alvo met his eyes in astonishment. "The Heir's Master of Horse? At the Keep?" he cried, pleased in spite of himself. He recovered his equilibrium. "You can't be brothers with your Master of Horse, either."
"Alvo Nollson, are you angling for a knighthood?"
Alvo's face dropped in horror. "No!"
"Because I can't give you one for at least thirty years if Amma blesses the King with long life--and here's hoping. I'm in no hurry to rule." Even the notion of his father's death brought his mother's to mind and his eyes welled, but now was not the time to indulge in grief. He laughed and dashed the tears away with the back of his glove. "The cold makes my eyes water. Listen, one thing I've learned about being the Heir is that despite all the official nonsense I can mostly do as I please. Especially compared with Temple life. Good Gods, I'll never complain again. So if I want to be best friends with my Master of Horse I'm bloody well going to be."
Pain colored Alvo's face. "You're asking something very selfish, Tem, do you even know that? You're asking me to go with you, with no hope for the future--to love you with nothing in return--"
"Will you love me if you stay here?"
"I'll always love you," Alvo said with a simplicity that drew Temmin's heart from his body.
"Then love me at the Keep. I can't give you the answer you want about more than brotherhood right now. Love and sex--you'd think my time at the Temple would have helped me understand the ways in which they're different and the same, but Gods help me if it has. I need you. Please come back with me."
Alvo contemplated the chalk horse carved into the hill rising far across the flat fields around the ruined fortress, his thoughts clear on his broad countenance as he weighed life at Whithorse--achingly far from the man he loved--versus life at the Keep--close by, but possibly filled with its own suffering. Temmin's heart tumbled as the winner became clear: "No." Alvo wheeled his horse around and uttered a curt "Gidyap!" The gray shot off across the wide plains toward the hillocks surrounding the Estate.
Temmin let him go. The wind grew colder, though the strengthening sun stood higher in the sky.