Chapter 10 Part 1 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
Nerrday, the 29th day of Spring's Beginning
"You're a Princess--why d'you have to fetch your own dresses?" said Temmin as he handed his sister down from the carriage at Mistress Naister's shop, not far off the Temple Promenade. "I should think the dressmaker would come to the Keep."
"Oh, she does, but I like to come into town, see and be seen and all that," Ellika answered, acknowledging the small crowd through the Guards lining their way to the door.
Mistress Naister's shop looked like the inside of a fragile seashell, pink and cream and gold; Temmin kept his knees and elbows in for fear he'd break something, though what he could break in a dressmaker's shop, he wasn't sure. Mistress Naister curtsied so low, Temmin felt compelled to help her stand again. He impulsively kissed her knobby hand; her fingers smelled of beeswax. Mistress Naister swallowed a girlish giggle, sat Temmin down on a spindly chair made for someone much shorter, and clapped twice. A nervous little shopman came from the back carrying a tiny pink and gilt tea set; he served the Prince while Ellika and Mistress Naister exclaimed over one another like old friends. The cup looked like a thimble in Temmin's hand, and he hastily put it down.
The shopman brought out many heavy bolts of fine muslins and silks; Ellika nattered on to the dressmaker about summer frocks, hats, gloves, shoes, jewels, and whether her current provisioners remained in fashion, until Temmin stopped listening and their conversation turned into a soft, feminine murmur broken by Ellika's familiar, infectious laugh. Temmin conquered his fear of breaking the teacup and drank the entire pot in a quarter of an hour. The shopman kept the pot refilled, but in spite of the tea--and no biscuits, he grumped to himself--he soon grew desperately bored and in need of a bathroom.
Time stretched on, and Ellika hadn't even gotten to the trying-on-the-dress part. A thump brought Temmin out of his stupor, and he looked up to see the shopman had dropped an armful of bolts on the floor; the little man's hands shook as he picked them up, and Temmin wondered if perhaps serving the royal family unnerved him. But he had to have met Ellika before, surely. Temmin tried to keep his observation discreet, but their eyes met more than once before the man looked away. Sweat poured from the shopman's forehead as he shuttled in and out of the stockroom, and he patted himself with a futile handkerchief. Was he ill? He looked as if he might faint.
Ellika and Mistress Naister finally disappeared into the fitting salon; Temmin sighed and rose to stretch, lifting his arms over his head until he brushed against a low-hanging lamp. He heard the shopman's voice, broken and croaking: "I'm sorry, Your Highness, but they have my children!" Temmin turned; the man held a dagger in both hands. The man thrust the dagger at him, like a child attempting to cut his meat for the first time. Temmin jumped back as far from the shopman as he could get, knocking over the gilt chair and its table; the pink tea set shattered on the floor. Cream and tea spilled everywhere; Temmin slipped, but managed to regain his footing as the man sprang forward.
The Prince grabbed the nearest object for a shield, a bolt of sprigged muslin. The shopman slashed at it, shredding the delicate fabric trailing from the bolt end; Temmin parried every thrust, keeping the bolt between them. The shopman tried to thrust underneath it at Temmin's gut, but Temmin darted to one side; the dagger found its mark in the bolt instead, and stuck fast. The shopman struggled but could not free it; he cried in despair, casting about for another weapon, and found an enormous pair of shears, a tool he used every day that fit in his hands. But by then, Temmin had wrested the dagger from the bolt himself; his much longer reach held the man off. Temmin tried talking with him, but kept the table between them. "What is this about? Who has your children?"
"I have to kill you, sir! I don't want to, but if I don't, they'll kill 'em!" said the man. He cried so hard Temmin wondered if he could see.
"Stop!" pleaded Temmin. "I can help you!"
Ellika screamed from the fitting salon door; the shopman turned toward her. Temmin took the opening, came round the display table, and grabbed the shopman's arm. The shears fell to the floor, and Temmin kicked them under the table.
The front door burst open and Guards filled the room, swords drawn. "Don't kill him!" Temmin cried over the noise, but the first Guardsman to reach the shopman stabbed him full in the belly. The man fell to the floor; the spilled cream turned pink, and then red. The Guardsman pulled back what hair the man had to finish him. "I said, no!" boomed Temmin, in a voice he didn't recognize.
The Guardsman looked up, startled. "There's no savin' 'im, Your Highness, not with a gut wound like that, and he's going to end up with his head over Marketgate whether he lives or dies!"
"We wish to question him," came Teacher's voice behind Temmin.
"Where'd you come from?" said Temmin.
Teacher raised an eyebrow. "The fitting salon. Guardsman, let him go. He's not going to hurt anyone." The Guardsman shrugged, but released the shopman's hair; his head fell back against the shredded bolt of muslin lying on the floor.