Chapter 1 Part 5 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
"Temmy, are you listening?" said Ellika, whacking his knee with her fan. He started, and glanced out the window; they had crossed the Feather at Kingsbridge, and were approaching the great gates leading to the parklands around the base of the cliff that held Tremont Keep.
"We're having a ball for your birthday," said Sedra.
"A ball? Who wants a ball?"
"You do," said the King.
"Me? I hate balls, they're boring!" He'd been dragged to many a small dance, filled with pimply cousins and dowdy girls from the local gentry who couldn't do more than giggle, but then Ibbit arrived and the dances stopped--one of the few benefits of the Sister's presence.
"I did tell you about it, Temmy," murmured his mother.
"You will not be bored," said Harsin. "You will smile, you will dance, and you will celebrate your coming of age with your people. We will not discuss this." His father had not changed. "You will enjoy yourself more than you suspect, son," Harsin amended. "I know you're used to doing as you please, mucking about with the stable hands--" here he gave his wife a sharp look-- "but you're an adult now. I expect you to take up your studies in all seriousness. My own tutor will be taking you in hand. Your childhood is over, son."
The gates closed with a thunk. The carriage rolled down the long drive, toward the ancient fortress castle on the cliff.
Temmin woke the next morning from a dream of Alvy with breasts, to find his brown bedcurtains had turned red. He sat up, puzzled, before remembering he wasn't in bed at home. The curtains parted, and Jenks stuck his head in. "Ah, we're awake, are we?"
"I want to go home, Jenks," said Temmin as he rubbed sleep from one eye.
"We are home, young sir. Moping won't change it, and I for one am tired of your complaining."
"How you talk to me! If you were anyone but you, I should have you horsewhipped."
"If you were anyone but you, I'd've taken you over my knee by now." Jenks opened the window shades to reveal rosy clouds in the pre-dawn sky. "But you are you, and I am me. You wouldn't whip a horse anyway. Now--" He waggled a pair of riding boots. "I suggest you keep your old habits in this new home, and be at the stables before breakfast."
"Jebby! He must be scared stiff!" Temmin walked into the wardrobe, and stopped short. "Where are my riding clothes in this warehouse?"
"On the dressing stand, Your Highness."
Temmin surveyed the immaculate riding coat and breeches. "A cravat? A hat? Jenks, these are not riding clothes. These are formal riding clothes. Where's my cap?"
"I got rid of that rag before we left. It's high time you do as the Cavalry does, if you have any aspirations to it. Clothes make the officer."
"If clothes make the officer, why were you a corporal?" grumped Temmin.
A clean and exquisitely dressed Temmin stumped down to the stables, a small flask of sweet wine and a prayer written on birch bark in his pocket for his offering to Amma. Bath before riding, what nonsense. He'd just get dirty again. At least Jenks allowed his old boots, though shined to an unaccustomed polish. When Jenks could no longer see him, he stashed his smart topper in a secluded bush, fished the disreputable, ancient tweed cap he'd filched from Jenks back home from his pocket, and slapped it on his head.
The stables at the Keep made the Estate's yards look small, and he looked forward to a heady array of horses. Surely, with all this room, he'd be allowed to breed stock as he had at home. Once in the stableyard, though, he groaned; they'd seen him coming. Every groom, every stableman, even the boys still clutching their polish rags stood in ragged lines awaiting him, caps in hand. A grizzled old man in riding master's boots bowed. "Welcome, Yer Highness," he said in a thick Far Isles accent. The workers all put knuckles to foreheads.
Indoors, Temmin was used to a modicum of deference, but not in stables. He mucked out stalls, toted hay bales, polished tack, and curried Jebby himself; he'd always been one of the men, since he'd been a tiny boy darting among the horse's legs and bothering everyone. "If you'd like t'inspect the stables now, sir?" said the old man. "I yam the riding master, by name Cappel, sir." The hands looked to Temmin, faces nervous and expectant.
After an astonished pause to gather his wits, Temmin said, "I'm just here to ride my horse. I do want to see the stables, but not this morning." The men and boys deflated. "Unless--unless you've gone to some effort?"
"Aye, well, sir," murmured Cappel, "they been cleanin' fer the last week, sir."
"Ah," Temmin murmured in return. He spoke up louder. "Ehm...I'll take a turn round these fine-looking stables after all." The stablemen brightened. "But one thing." They leaned forward, waiting as if for a command. "I'm just here to take care of the horses, and you're just here to take care of the horses, so let's all take care of the horses, yes?" No one moved until Temmin thought to say, "Ehm, dismissed?" Satisfied, the men and boys touched their knuckles to their foreheads again, put their caps on their heads, and stumped off to their chores.
They stopped first at Amma's shrine in the main courtyard. Temmin poured the sweet wine he'd brought over the altar stone and made Her sign: he touched his head, heart and groin, and murmured "Merciful Amma, keep me from harm," then tucked the birch bark prayer under the stone. Proper obeisance to the Lady of Cattle made, he let Cappel hustle him through the huge complex, the men's eyes following them; Temmin made sure to exclaim at how clean it all was.
In the royal family's personal stable, Jebby filled the last stall. The chestnut gelding whickered. Temmin pulled a sugar cube from his pocket and held it up for the big horse, who lipped it into his mouth. Jebby turned his head sideways and stared, one-eyed, until Temmin took an apple from his other pocket and cut it in half. "Greedy guts," said Temmin as the horse munched.
He turned to see Cappel lugging an immaculate saddle from the tack room. "Ah, I'll take that!" said Temmin, reaching for it.
"I yam not s'old as all that," said Cappel. "And that's no work for such as you, sir."
Cappel's age had not occurred to the young Prince. "I'm used to doing for myself, though," said Temmin.
The riding master squinted at him. "That's as may be, but my men and I have our pride, sir. Let us do our jobs, and you do yours. Our jobs is carin for the horses, and yours is bein a prince, sir. But," he amended, observing Temmin's dumbfounded expression, "why don't you, just this once." He leaned against the stable wall, and watched as Temmin displayed his mastery of tack. "Eh, aye," he admitted, "you know your way around a horse. T'will be our pleasure to look after you, sir."
Look after him? Temmin looked after himself in stables, he huffed to himself as he rode Jebby out of the yard. He didn't order people around. If he did, they paid no attention. What was the point? Stablehands treating him like an outsider. He didn't like the Keep.
He and Jebby came to the great War Road leading into the King's Woods; six men could ride abreast down it, and had done so when Tremont's military campaigns departed from the Keep long ago. Jebby danced in place, until Temmin stuffed his cap back in his pocket, tapped his heels into the big horse's sides, and yelled "Gidyap, Jeb!" The chestnut took off down the Road, ecstatic to stretch his legs.
For Temmin, this was pure delight--the fresh morning, the sturdy horse moving beneath him, the wind whipping his hair back. This would not be taken from him. This belonged to him. Temmin leaned down over Jebby's neck and let him run.