Chapter 16 Part 2 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2

Winter turned to spring and still Gwynna and the baby could not leave the Temple. Soldiers kept watch day and night in sun, rain and snow. The Brothers also kept watch to prevent the soldiers from entering, but they were protecting the sanctity of the Mother's Temple, not Ardunn; they would kill the baby themselves if Gwynna and Ardunn left their holy shelter.

Some days King Temmin stood among them--she could not call the man who'd spoken with her at the feet of the Mother that day "Tennoc." Sometimes he called to her, and sometimes she heard him. Sometimes he even sounded like Tennoc. The day came when the Mothers told her the new King had finally left Gwyrfal to turn his attention to conquering the rest of Kellen. Cror ar Crymavon was left behind with instructions to continue the watch.

Gwynna began working in the Mother's House--still a safe haven as it sat on the Temple grounds. Word arrived that Tennoc had married Cariodas. Gwynna had expected it for years, but it still cut deeply, as did later news of their first son's birth. But she had made her choice; never could she give Ardunn up. She began to hope Tennoc would grow tired of hounding her now that his dynasty was secure, especially once news of other children came. Instead, the years went by and the soldiers remained, always rotating so none might become overly sympathetic to the Mothers' most famous inmate.

Ardunn grew tall. He looked more like Dunnoc's line than Ulvyn's, with her family's gray eyes and the same calm, irreverant, loving disposition as Kenver. He was the cheerful kind of older boy who seemed to be a human climbing tree and often walked about with younger children hanging from every limb. More than once Gwynna mistook him for her brother out of the corner of her eye. More than once she thought that if he could just see Ardunn, Tennoc would love him and let him live.

Clergy came to the Mother's House to teach the children and look for postulants. Sisters checked their health, taught the girls spinning and tried to coax them into the Hearth; Scholars came to instruct the brighter boys in their letters and all the children in their numbers. Sometimes Friends came to take a child to the Hill, giving the little bodies their final baths at the House so their playmates could add their tears.

Brothers came three times a week, giving lessons in warfare to the boys and scouting them for potential postulants. Ardunn did well, so well the warrior priests gave him a real sword and talked themselves hoarse extolling the virtues of life in Farr's Temple. "I may be for a warrior's life," he would say with a wink at the nearest girl his own age, "but I won't give up the company of women."

Still, Gwynna wondered if Ardunn's one safe way out of the Mother's Temple when he came of age was to enter the Warrior's Temple. Though she racked her brains the only solution she could see to save his life was some form of priesthood, and the other Gods did not suit him.

When Ardunn was nearly eighteen King Temmin the Third of Tremont returned to Gwyrfal, the city the conquering Tremontines had renamed Greenvale. It was Fall's Ending when his entourage arrived, a few weeks before Eddin's Day--Ardunn's birthday.

"Do you think he's come for me?" Ardunn asked his mother one night. They sat by the fire in the tiny antechamber she shared with two other lay Mothers, she with a pile of smocks to mend, he with his back propped against her chair and his legs stretched out on the hearthstones.

Gwynna paused in her mending. "I honestly cannot say. He was ever a respectful man, but that was long ago when he bore a different name."

"What shall we do if he does come for me?"

"There's no escape I've ever found," she said, twirling her needle between her fingers in thought. "Else I would have taken it long ago. Outside the Temple grounds the Brothers will obey the King and kill you, no matter how much they like you themselves."

"I wish you to go without me, then."

"I will never leave you, not until I have seen you safely settled. Ardunn, have you given any further thought to the Warrior's Temple? You'd be safe there."

"I have no objection to a warrior's life, but I'm not a lover of men, and to give up all hope of a wife…" Ardunn faltered, and added with a crooked smile, "I suppose I should have no illusions about taking a wife as things stand, hey?" Gwynna's eyes prickled. She had never gone that far in her imaginings for her son; it had been hard enough to imagine him alive after the coming Eddin's Day, when he turned eighteen and would have to leave the Mother's Temple one way or another.

"If they come for us before my birthday, there will be fighting," Ardunn resumed in his calm way. "The Brothers will defend the Temple, but I don't know how many soldiers the King brought with him nor how determined he is to kill me. If he has enough men to breach the Brothers' lines, the chances are good they'll kill any boy even close to my age they find. Maybe every boy, no matter his age. That's what I'd do if I wanted to be sure. So if they come for me--now or on Eddin's Day--I will leave the Temple sword in hand to die honorably and alone. Don't cry, Mother," he said, patting her knee. "We always knew this would happen. I'm grateful you fought for me, and I've had a good life here at the Temple. I've tried to make myself useful, and perhaps Harla will be kind to me in the next world--when I am dead, please ask the King to let me rest in the Hill with my grandfathers, for I have done nothing to him that he should deny me burial rites."

Gwynna could not answer him; her hands covered her face, and she sobbed into them as she rarely allowed herself to do. Nothing had gone her way since the day Tennoc rode from Gwyrfal, and now the time had come when she might lose her one comfort, her dear Ardunn, to him. What had she done to deserve her life? What had her child done to deserve his death? She had prayed to Amma for some answer to her questions, and none had come. Perhaps this was the answer to her prayers: an end to the suspense. She controlled her tears long enough to say, "If you go out with your sword, I go out with my dagger. We die together." No amount of Ardunn's pleading, cajoling or flat-out ordering her to stay safely in the Temple would change her determination. He would try to arrange some sly way of keeping her from danger, but she would find an equally sly way to stay by his side.

Comments

Tigger's picture

Supplicant

I love her. I do. The things she has endured, the love for her child...she is such a strong woman, even if she doesn't always realize it.

MeiLin's picture

Most High

Ardunn is not as composed as he seems; he's as unwilling to die as the next person. But his sense of honor Is strong, and he would not feel honorable going to the Brothers only to save his skin.

Ardunn-as-climbing-tree is based on one of my brothers-in-law, who is just that.

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