Chapter 17 Part 7 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Temmin stood before the Most High Beloved. "Am I excused as well, Most High?"
She studied him coolly. "You are excused. While I know you don't need to practice the Eight, I may say there are other disciplines you must work at more diligently--as you have been reminded before. I trust you are clear now on this matter, Temmin Supplicant?"
"Very, Most High," he bit off, all pretense at calm abandoned. He kissed her hand and retrieved his crumpled tunic from the couch, where Allis wiped the sweat from her body. He bowed. "Forgive me if I don't give the customary kiss." She gave him a serene, disinterested nod; he turned on his heel and stalked from the room. Perhaps it hadn't all been Malla's idea.
Senik caught up with him in the hall. "I don't think you and I are finished," he said.
"Oh, I very much think we are." Temmin picked up his pace.
Senik kept up. "You were rude to your superiors, including the Embodiment and the Most High."
"Senik, I strongly suggest you leave me alone," he growled.
"Oh, I very much think not."
Temmin jolted to a halt, his temper fully engaged and his face within an inch of Senik's classical nose; Allis's scent arose from the man. "I am warning you, Senik! Keep it up and you'll get a lot more than a kiss."
"You wanna fight?" said the priest, a back alley accent suddenly gracing his voice. His beautiful face turned hard as paving stones. "You wanna? Is that it? You wanna fight me?"
Temmin snorted like a bull and nearly pawed the ground. "I want to grind you into a pulp!"
"Then c'mon. You and me. In one of the Temple's Own training salons. There should be an empty one this time of day. C'mon." Senik leaned in, a sneer slashing his face.
Temmin paused. Strangling Senik until his crystalline blue eyes popped and his alluring lips turned purple tempted him. Senik's sense of humor always sliced a little too close to the bone, but Temmin didn't hate the man; they'd been bedmates more than once in the last two years. That demonstration was calculated to humiliate Temmin as much as possible, yes, but it had clearly been Malla's calculation, not Senik's.
Temmin could beat him in a fair fight; he had a longer reach, a more muscular physique, and possibly more training. But what would happen to Senik afterwards? He had to know that even if he beat Temmin, he'd lose once the King heard about it. It was a goad--either Senik's own or more likely more of Malla's rebuke--and Temmin decided not to give him satisfaction. "I could whip you," he said. "We both know it."
"We most certainly do not," laughed Senik. "You know nothing about where I've been and what I've done."
"And we both know that in the end I could have you whipped." Temmin kissed him, biting Senik's lip hard enough to draw blood; the Lover tasted of Allis. "There's your 'thank you.' Now leave me alone." He resumed his solitary walk back to his room.
"You still haven't thanked Allis," Senik called after him. Temmin resisted the urge to make a rude gesture and kept walking, his pace more moderated but his feet striking the floor harder than necessary.
Once inside his room, he knelt before the little altar in the Supplicants Chamber, lit a candle to the small entwined statues and prayed. "I've failed You. I've learned so much, but I haven't learned the detachment You require of us. I thought I'd done the right thing coming here, but I don't know if the people are prospering as the prophecy said they would. I'm trying not to love Allis. I did what I was told and turned to others but it hasn't helped. I've asked for Your help but You haven't answered me. I've given up so much for You! I set my father against me and lost the last years of my mother's life for Your sake. Can't you give me something in return? Some little thing? Why can't Allis love me? Why is she so cruel?" Tears started in his eyes. "It isn't fair." Even as the words left his lips he knew they were childish, and he cringed in shame. Jenks had told him something two years ago: The great secret of adulthood is that there's always something wrong and life isn't fair. Perhaps Temmin was an adult now, for the secret was no secret any more.
That night at dinner he sat among the clergy's lower ranks. He usually ate with the Most Highs and the Embodiments, but tonight he could not bring himself to do it.
After the meal, Anda slipped her arm in his. "Are you free? I miss you, let's have a good gabble in your room." In short order, he found himself stretched out on the Supplicants Chamber couch, his head in her lap, tears sliding down his temples into his ears and everything confessed. "Oh, Tem, I'm so sorry," she murmured, stroking his hair. "I heard a little about a demonstration and confess I wondered."
Temmin raised up on one elbow. "Heard what? From whom? I will murder Senik one day, I swear--"
"No, no, Senik is a gorgeous, annoying git but he's not malicious. I heard a couple of Postulants talking. They had no idea what they'd seen, but I gave them the 'class time is confidential' lecture and they slunk off with their tails between their legs. I wish you'd told me sooner, and why won't you talk to me about Allis? I know we're both busy, but I'll always make time for you--you can always talk to me."
Temmin sank back into her lap. "What is there to talk about? I love someone I'm not allowed to love. Malla told me once that if we were anyone other than who we are she would have separated us for good and all--each assigned to different ends of the country. But she's an Embodiment and I'm a Supplicant. We have to be here. We have to work together."
"When you've left the Temple you can pursue a less formal relationship."
"Not in the way I want. What I want is impossible."
"Surely something is better than nothing? You can still live in hope, Tem, just don't let it stop you from loving anyone else."
Temmin looked up into her round, good-natured face above her Beloved's tunic. She wore a short, boned velvet vest that supported her large breasts like a corset; he ran his fingers across its pile, turning it from silvery pink to deep rose and back. The color suited her better than her old white Supplicants garb had, but he missed it anyway. He took her hand and played with her fingers. "I wish we were in love, Anda."
"How would that be easier, hectic boy? You can't marry me, either."
"No, but I could keep you. I'd make you my mistress the day I'm through here. I'd even make you a countess when I become king."
Anda brought his hand to her lips and kissed it. "That might be nice, but it would never do, you know it wouldn't."
"No. It wouldn't." He covered her hand in his and gave it a squeeze. "When I become king, perhaps I'll make you a countess anyway." Temmin sat up on his knees and smoothed her hair back from her face. "Stay with me tonight, Anda. Please."
Anda stayed, and wiped away the tears from Temmin's eyes as they made love in his alcove bed.