Chapter 1 Part 6 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
When Temmin returned, he got no further than the Keep's mud room when Jenks pounced. He traded his mucky boots for carpet slippers, and once upstairs, his dusty riding clothes for more elegant attire. "Do you need a shave this morning, young sir? You rushed out before I could get a good look at you," called Jenks from the wardrobe.
Temmin examined his chin in the mirror; still not enough beard to grow out, though his plentiful sideburns and moustache left little to be desired. "No. Why can't I just change my boots?" he said, scrubbing his face with a wet flannel.
"This is court, Your Highness, you cannot go to breakfast smelling like a horse."
"I've washed my face and hands! Oh, really, Jenks, a tie? At breakfast?"
"Just a soft one. The dark blue suits you. And do try to keep egg yolk off it, Your Highness, silk is the Bloody One's Own to clean."
"Explain to me some time why clothes are such an obsession in the Cavalry," said Temmin, fastening the unwanted cravat with a simple horseshoe stickpin.
"That's too casual, young sir!" said Jenks as Temmin escaped.
"That's too bad, Jenks!" replied Temmin over his shoulder.
Downstairs, most of his family waited for him outside the morning room. "Where's Elly?" said Temmin.
"She stayed up half the night playing cards with friends in the Little Salon," Sedra sniffed. "She almost never wakes up in time for breakfast."
"Really?" said Ansella, taking her son's arm. "That will change."
Indirect sunlight from many high windows flooded the morning room. It was painted robin's egg blue, its longest wall lined with tall mirrors that brightened the room even more. The morning room was a Whithorse innovation, transplanted to the Keep at the insistence of the Queen, and Temmin immediately felt more at home. Strong coffee, cocoa, sausages and newsprint scented the informal room's air. Even the King's face softened as his family gathered round the table, together for the first time in nearly two years.
"I'm very happy to have you here, Temmin," Harsin said.
"I'm very happy to be here, Papa," he replied. Affton appeared at his elbow and poured him a cup, half coffee and half cocoa--Temmin's favorite. He liked a well-briefed butler.
"Tomorrow is your birthday--a man at last," said Harsin. "We shall meet tomorrow morning with Teacher. He was my tutor as well, you know."
He must be ancient, Temmin said to himself, and added aloud, "What's his name, sir?"
"Name? Just Teacher." Harsin tapped one finger on the cream damask table cloth. "Tomorrow night is your birthday ball. Everyone of any note in the empire will be attending--most of the major nobility, the high priests and Embodiments of all the Temples but Harla's, of course." Temmin shivered inwardly; who would want Death at one's birthday? "Inchari princelings, ambassadors from the Vakale'le Confederacy nations, and Sairland, too," his father continued. "I trust you are prepared for diplomatic occasions?"
"Do I have to go? I don't care to dance, and I'm not very good at it," said Temmin. He'd never been to an actual ball, only little parties to practice dancing with his sisters and a few friends.
"It's in your honor, of course you have to go," said Sedra.
"You will brush up your dancing with Ellika, then," said Harsin. "The servants are already preparing the ballroom, and the music master is planning out the program this afternoon. That should give you music for practice. I shall have my secretary send Ellika to you whenever she graces us with her presence. You'll acquit yourself just fine--you have your mother's light feet. I've seen you dance myself," he added.
"You have? When?" said Temmin.
"Newspapers, Your Highness?" murmured Affton at Temmin's elbow.
"Ehm, no." He eyed the salver stacked with the morning's news. "I don't read 'em."
"Very good, young sir." The butler moved on to Sedra. He deposited a large stack of papers at her right hand, a stack almost as high next to Harsin, and a single magazine next to Ansella.
"You really should read the papers, Temmy," said Sedra, rattling open the top one on the stack with an emphatic flourish. "Rulers must know what is being said."
"Why are you bothering, then," he snickered. To his surprise, her offended face appeared over the drooping paper; she'd always dismissed his needling with a "Pfft!" and a toss of her head before. "What's wrong, Seddy?"
She set her jaw, her sharp resemblance to their father strengthening. "Nothing. I've simply forgotten your style of humor."
Temmin looked down at his plate. She'd always been proud, but she never rose to his bait. Everything and everyone was different here, and he hated it.