Chapter 10 Part 3 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
Temmin came to his tour of the Temple on Neyaday. A quiet Jenks helped the Prince dress; Temmin thought it wisest not to ask after his subdued mood, and let him have his way without complaint.
Ellika stayed in her room after the incident at Naister's, and never did send for the new dress. She found an unworn one suited for the occasion in the back of her wardrobe, and insisted on going with Temmin "just to the door if nothing else." Some of her naturally cheerful spirit made its way past the shock of Horn's death, and she came bouncing down the stairs behind her brother to take his arm. She wore a confection of white lace and ribbons against pale pink silk. "You look like a wedding cake," said Temmin, kissing the top of her head.
"Thank you! Put your gloves on, Temmy."
The apprehensive ride to the Temple passed quietly. Even Ellika's chatter limited itself to comments on the scenery as the carriage rolled up the Temple Promenade. First they passed the gray granite expanse of Eddin's Temple, students and priestly Scholars coming and going from the university spreading out behind it; opposite stood Amma's Temple, its Mother's House filled with the orphaned and abandoned children of the City nestled inside its wings; at the Promenade's end loomed the crowded, white marble House of Law bound to Pagg's Temple.
The carriage came to a stop halfway down the graceful boulevard. To his right, through the blossoming dogwoods edging the Promenade's center park, Temmin could just see the busy Healer's House connected to the Sister's Temple. He looked to his left to the graceful, rose marble Temple of the Lovers as the carriage pulled to a halt.
Temmin alighted first, then handed Ellika down. "I'm still not comfortable with your being here," he said.
"Pfft," said Ellika. "I'm the royal patroness of this Temple. And I'm not taking the tour with you, I'm merely introducing you."
"I've met them!"
"Not the Most Highs, you haven't."
Brother Mardus arrayed the security detail around them, and bowed: "Your Highnesses." Temmin followed his gaze to the Temple's roof; sentries in unfamiliar uniforms stood along it, crossbows cocked. Temmin sighed inwardly--would they turn the Temple into an armed camp for his sake? He took Ellika's arm in his, and led the way up the steps. A phalanx of men in the same uniform as the sentries met them midway to the top; they wore helmets like the Brothers, but crowned with swan's feathers instead of red horsetails. He had seen swan's feathers on the helmets of Allis's escorts the day she came to the Keep, but those men were definitely Brothers; these men were definitely not. Then again, swans were one of the Lovers' symbols. "The Temple's Own, sir," murmured Brother Mardus. "They will protect you in public areas, but only in the Temple--the Brothers watch over the Embodiments and Most Highs past the Temple steps. We will be waiting when you leave." Temmin nodded his thanks, and let himself be handed off like a package to the Temple's Own.
At the top of the steps stood two familiar figures and two new ones--old ones, really, he thought. Allis and Issak stood next to a wizened pair he assumed were the High Lover and High Beloved: a surprise. He'd expected them to be younger, though he couldn't say why. All four dressed in the same plain-cut gauze clothing; the Most Highs' loose clothes were dyed rose, with elaborate white and red embroidery at the cuffs and hem: bulls, cows, swans, flowers--all symbols of the Twins. In contrast, the undyed, undecorated clothing of the Embodiments clung. He wondered if they were cold.
Temmin and Ellika stood before the clerics and bowed. "Ellika of Tremont, why are you here?" said the High Lover.
"I am here to present my brother to you," she answered. "High Lover Gan, High Beloved Malla, may I make known to you Temmin of Tremont, Heir to the Throne."
"We welcome you to the Lovers' Temple, Your Highness," said Malla; she took his hands, and kissed him. He expected a kiss like one of his bristly, sour-smelling great-aunts, but her lips were soft, and she smelled warm and sweet, like the clover honey of the Estate. Her hands were warm, too. Before he could recover from his surprise, the High Lover took his hands and kissed him in turn. Both kisses were unexpected, and pleasant; little wonder how the two had come to be Most High, if they could still kiss like that.
He turned to face Issak. This kiss was expected, and when Issak took him by the wrists and pulled him close, he leaned in and closed his eyes. It was less of a kiss and more a sharing of breath, some exchange of vital energy that set his hair crackling, as if a thunderstorm were imminent. Issak broke the kiss first, his expression somewhat surprised.
Temmin turned to Allis. He took her small hands, leaned down and kissed her. It was shorter than Issak's kiss, but it still sent a thrill down his neck to the base of his spine. When she pulled back, she smiled, small and intimate, and the thrill traveled up the way it came.
"Welcome," the twins said at the same time. Temmin walked into the Temple with one on each side, Ellika and the Most Highs following behind and the Temple's Own clustered around them all. The bustle of the Great Hall paused to let them pass, worshippers and clergy bowing and curtseying. They led Temmin up a broad staircase on Nerr's side of the Hall to a private, guarded area, where the Temple's Own left them.
Two servants--an almost ridiculously beautiful man, and a plain, fat girl--bowed them into an opulent sitting room. Two wide, low-backed couches sat close to the floor, more like small beds piled with cushions than couches. Several braziers warmed the room, and Temmin resisted the strong urge to loosen his starched collar. The servants brought tea and cakes on trays and put them on a low table between the couches. Allis poured the tea and Issak passed it round; he let his hand linger on Temmin's when his turn came for a cup, and Temmin swallowed hard.
The talk was formal: Temmin's recent arrival in the City and its differences from life at the Estate in Reggiston; his parents' wellbeing; polite, vague inquiries into the Most Highs' health; the weather. Temmin drank a good deal of tea and ate a huge pile of cakes in his nervousness. To his surprise, Ellika didn't filch a single sugar cube from the bowl.
At last, his sister said her goodbyes, accepting kisses all round. "Be good," she whispered to him as she kissed his cheek, then let the beautiful young man lead her away.
"And with that, we shall take our leave and return to our duties," said High Lover Gan. The plain, fat girl helped each Most High to stand. Temmin bowed. They inclined their heads, their eyes filled with mirth more than gravity; the beautiful servant opened the doors, and they left the room with the fat girl trailing behind. Odd they'd employ an ordinary-looking girl as a servant, and then pair the poor thing with that man, thought Temmin. Almost cruel.