Chapter 10 Part 2 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
Temmin and Teacher crouched down beside him. The man's face grew gray; he reached out for Temmin's hand, and said, "Your Highness, I've been loyal all my life. I'd as soon kill myself as hurt you. But they took my son and my two little girls last night. Sent me one of the baby's fingers--" He choked. "I told them I was no fighter, but they said you were too well-guarded...they had to take every chance from now on...and that if I didn't kill you when you came today, they'd send all three back in pieces."
"We will find them, and they will pay for this," said Teacher. "Who are they? There is no point in hiding their identity."
The man shook his head, strength almost gone. "Don't know their names, sir," he whispered. "Please don't let them die..."
Temmin looked up at Teacher, who reached out and closed the man's eyes.
"Leave her alone! She's done nothing!" Ellika screamed. Temmin turned toward her; two Guardsmen held Mistress Naister as she begged for her life. A third stood before her with his sword drawn, while three ashen-faced girls, pincushions on their wrists, stood supporting one another in the doorway to the work room. "She's done nothing!" Ellika repeated, tugging at the nearest Guardsman's arm.
"Let the woman go!" called Temmin, straightening. "She's blameless!" The Guardsmen released her, only to catch her again as she fainted. They carried Mistress Naister to a settee in the fitting salon; Ellika waved smelling salts under the dressmaker's nose. When she came round, Mistress Naister told them the dead man's name was Nat Horn. He and his wife Nan kept a tiny house just inside the Old Walls on Tallow Street, and they did indeed have three children. "Nat was a good man, a kind man, worked so hard--he's been with me for fifteen years! Oh, poor Nan! Poor Nan!" wailed Mistress Naister.
Ellika wanted to stay, but the captain of the Guards was adamant: respectfully, the Heir and the Princess Ellika were to be taken back to the Keep directly. The three seamstresses would be able to provide for their mistress better than Her Highness, begging pardon. Teacher assured Temmin they'd find Horn's children, and that Mistress Naister and the seamstresses would be questioned without any harm coming to them.
The two were hurried back into the carriage, past a hushed crowd held far back from their path. They sat side by side on the red velvet cushions, holding hands. Clouds eclipsed Ellika's sunny face, and Temmin couldn't stop thinking about Nat Horn, bleeding to death into the cream. Neither spoke until the carriage passed the great gates; Ellika sat up and cried, "Oh! All that, and I left the dress in the shop!" She gave a high, squeaking laugh that fell into sobs, and Temmin held her the rest of the way, trying not to cry himself.
Temmin demanded his father keep Nat Horn's head off the hooks above Marketgate. Without his head, Nat Horn would spend the afterlife forever separated from everyone he loved; Harla did not permit headless bodies within Her Hill. The Guards found Horn's wife--poor Nan--and their three children murdered, and Harsin relented. The Friends of the Bloody One welcomed the Horns to a niche in the catacombs of Harla's Hill, where their bones would rest together forever.
Temmin, Harsin and Teacher met after dinner that night in the King's sitting room. The fire provided most of the light, and the resulting gloom matched the mood. It glittered in the King's dark eyes as he sat before it.
"How did whoever-it-was know I was going to Mistress Naister's in the first place?" said Temmin. "It's not as if I make a habit of going to dress shops."
Harsin looked up at Teacher, who leaned against the mantel to one side. "We have a spy in our midst," said the counselor. "Brother Mardus, Winmer and Affton are going through recent hirings. So far we have no trace of the men who set Nat Horn on you, Your Highness. Mistress Naister and her women have already been acquitted, but we are shadowing them nonetheless. Now that you've come of age, your uncles are becoming desperate."
"Up until now," said his father, "the attempts have been more subtle. Then the attack at the ball, and now this--much more brazen. You are not to stir from the Keep without a visible guard, Temmin."
"Why? I can take care of myself. I stopped Horn."
"Ellika could have stopped Horn," snorted his father. "This is why you must stay away from the Lovers' Temple. Temmin, it's a weakness to devote to the Lovers, let alone become a Supplicant! You'd be showing my brothers your belly, and protecting you at the Temple--I can't think how we'd do it! Teacher," he appealed, "explain it to him."
"I cannot," Teacher said in a hard, flat voice.
The two stared at one another, until Harsin shook his head and sank back into his wing chair. "Son, I just want you to understand the very real danger you're putting yourself and the kingdom in if you do this--all for the sake of a woman."
Temmin clasped his hands before him. "I promise to think on all that, sir."
"Good night, then," said his father.
Temmin shambled out, lost in thought. The King watched him leave. He turned to his counselor, still leaning against the mantel. "The Embodiment's leading him by the prick, and you're just going to stand there," he said.
"Sir, if there is one thing the Prince can learn at the Lovers' Temple it's how to keep from being led by the prick," said Teacher. "It is a more valuable skill than perhaps you realize."
Harsin glanced sharply at his counselor, but said nothing.