Chapter 1 Part 4 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
To Temmin's dismay, his mother's religious advisor joined the royal party at dinner. At Whithorse, Sister Ibbit lived at the Temple of Venna in Reggiston and never dined with them, but tonight Ansella seated the priestess to her left and Temmin to her right. Looking up from the soup, he caught Ibbit staring at him in contempt, and wondered if he'd have to endure her half-hearted religious instruction at the Keep. He'd managed to out-and-out skip most of it, with Ibbit's approval; her open hostility led him to avoid her as much from personal dislike as boredom, and she seemed to share his feeling.
After dinner, he and his mother were to play cards in the salon car, but before he could follow her there, Ibbit blocked his way. "A word with you," she said. "We will not be taking up our lessons in the City, Your Highness. I am sure you will have too many other demands on your time."
"Oh," said Temmin, trying to contain his glee. "I shall be very...sorry...to miss our times together."
She examined him down the length of her forbidding nose, and cocked her head. "Our understanding cannot be continued at the Keep. You will be watched too closely for that comfortable relationship to continue."
Temmin thought to himself there had never been anything comfortable about their relationship, but said nothing.
"I'm sure they'll give you a Brother to pretend to instruct you while giving you a good beating," she continued, "though I don't know what kind of religious instruction a priest of Farr could possibly impart. Furthermore, I have always felt religious instruction wasted upon men. I will be happy to end the connection." She turned and left the dining car, holding her gray robes clear of the platform gates.
That answered that question, thought Temmin.
Over the next two days, Temmin watched the scenery change from Whithorse's beloved rolling grasslands and forests to the foothills of the Altenne Mountains, rising high and snowy above the valley. Many small cities and towns dotted the landscape, often built up the sides of the lower foothills each with their Temples clustered at the top in the ancient style. The train passed through several, slowing down as it approached the stations but never stopping, though Temmin wished they would; he’d seen none of the country outside Whithorse, and the mountains looked like the borders of the world.
They came to a small town tucked in a little valley, its thick bands of orchards so covered in blossom they looked more like clouds than trees. It was Temmin's holding of Prunedale, and he chuckled as they passed; he'd had to go there after all.
Up and up, through the dusky foothills, into the pines as the track switched back through the Sella Gap and up above the treeline, the track cutting through the snow in thick, blue-white walls on each side. They crawled down the Altennes into the Feather River valley. The long, fat ribbon of trees and settlements along its banks got closer and closer until the train plunged into the valley, tracing the river itself. Their progress slowed as the train passed through countless villages and towns, but again did not stop.
All along the way, especially here by the river, people gathered along the tracks to watch the train pass, though Temmin wondered why they cared. Didn't this train come through at least once a week? The tracks followed the Feather west and south toward its confluence with the Shadow River, leaving the countryside around the City behind; it slowed near the city, and crowds packed beside the tracks. "Why is everyone so glad to see the train?" said Temmin.
"They're glad to see you, young sir," answered Jenks. "Now. Out of that dirty shirt--how you manage to drop sausages down your front at your age I'll never know." Jenks coaxed his charge into clean linen, a formal gray suit, Tremontine red brocade waistcoat, black cravat and his grandfather's amber studs and cufflinks. "I shall not have you reflect badly on Whithorse, Your Highness."
"You mean, you."
"And your mother would kill me if you weren't properly turned out," rumbled Jenks in his gravelly baritone, putting an end to any argument.
"Ugh. I feel like one of Elly's old dolls." Temmin moved to run a hand through his golden hair, but at a look from Jenks, he checked himself and put his hat on his head with a sigh lost in the hiss of the train's brakes; they had arrived at the River Street Grand Railway Station.
Red and gold banners fluttered from the empty railway station's high ceiling, and crowds thronged the streets all around for a glimpse over the shoulders of the Royal Guard. Around the platform itself, Brothers stood guard; the spring breeze rushed through the open station, picking up the long strands of the Tremontine red horsehair tassels atop their bright silver helmets. He wondered how the Brothers could stand the strands tickling their faces, but then, the priests of Farr were cut from stone, the saying went.
His father and sisters stood alone on the platform. The gray in King Harsin's dark hair and beard had increased, but otherwise he looked the same: a serious, handsome face with a slight, sardonic twist to it; powerful; tall. Temmin wondered if he were still shorter than the King, and tugged his waistcoat down.
His sisters looked like women now; Sedra was just turned twenty-one and Ellika was halfway between nineteen and twenty. In her elegantly tailored, sober gray coat, Sedra resembled the King, tall, dark and serious; her face bore a twist as well, but one less cynical and more humorous. Merry little Ellika dressed in rose, their mother's twin but for their father's dark eyes. Ellika rose up on her toes in excitement, until Sedra put a quelling hand on her shoulder.
Temmin and the Queen stepped onto the platform. A roar went up. It shook his bones; he had never heard so many voices cheering at once, nor seen so many people. Hundreds? Thousands? He thought he heard his name among the cheers. The King greeted his wife with a kiss on each cheek; he took his son's hand in a too-strong grip. His sisters each offered a cheek to be kissed, and Ellika whispered, "I've missed you! I'm so glad you're finally here!"
Ansella's daughters both forgot their dignity and threw themselves into their mother's arms. "There, my girls," she laughed. "I'm not going anywhere. We're in public! Behave!"
Greetings exchanged, the crowds acknowledged, the royal family left the station. As the royal carriage rolled away, Temmin saw his horse Jebby taken off the train and thought of Alvo. Why couldn't he have come? And why had he ruined everything?