Chapter 12 Part 6 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1
Temmin returned to the dinner table that night, tensed for a confrontation. Instead, his father ignored him, giving him no more than a cursory "Good evening" and a withering look the one time he spoke. Sedra and his mother watched them both, while Ellika chattered on. Temmin supposed Fennows took his dinner in town; he didn't bother to ask.
After dinner, when the women had retired, Harsin left for his own rooms after one silent glass of port, bolted back and the empty glass deposited on the table. Temmin told himself he didn't care, drank his own glass and joined his mother and sisters in the Small Sitting Room.
"Small" at the Keep meant smaller than the Grand Salon where hundreds of dignitaries and large receptions might be entertained, but larger than the average cottage; it was considered a private room, for the family's use alone. Books and portraits of Temmin's ancestors lined the walls. Despite its high frescoed ceiling covered in gilt and Gods, it had a cozy feel to it, especially in the circle of warmth around the fireplace where the women sat with their handwork; Ellika picked fretfully at her embroidery and Ansella knitted a little silk reticule, while Sedra drew in her sketchbook. At his entrance, Sedra stuck her pencil at a non-regal angle behind her ear.
He could see from their faces that news had traveled fast. He wasn't surprised his mother knew--his father probably spent half the morning berating her for not changing his mind. His sisters hearing of it surprised him. "I saw the envelope that came for you this morning, you see," explained Ellika, so excited her hair seemed curlier.
"I thought it best not to bring it up around Papa," murmured Sedra.
"Can we not talk about it?" he said, folding himself up on a footstool by Ansella's chair. He leaned his head against her knees.
"No, sweetheart, we don't have to," she said, brushing his hair back from his forehead. Ellika deflated in disappointment, but returned to her haphazard stitching; Sedra plucked the pencil from behind her ear and resumed sketching. Mama's familiar perfume of chamomile and roses mingled with the scent of the lavender sachet she used in her wardrobe, wafting faint from the violet silk of her dress. It reminded him of quiet nights in the nursery when he and his sisters were still small: Mama and Nurse knitting and mending, Sedra reading aloud, Ellika playing at paper dolls or stitching, and Jenks cracking nuts by the fire, all at peace with the world and each other. He should be ashamed of himself for this longing, but Temmin longed not for his boyhood as much as the peace with the world he'd had at the Estate. He closed his eyes, listening to the gentle voices, the soft but determined scratch of Sedra's pencil, and the tiny, comforting click of Mama's steel knitting needles, and knew this rare, restful moment would have to carry him through his increasingly complicated life for a long time to come.
Upstairs, the King paced his study; Winmer stood to one side, notepad at the ready as always, and to the other stood Teacher, white hands folded before the long sweep of black robes and the severe black suit beneath them.
"He spent two hours in the chapel last night? Gods," said Harsin. "I don't suppose he was meeting a girl there? That little housemaid? No? Luck is failing me."
"He told me he was praying, Your Majesty, on the advice of Neya's Embodiment," said Teacher.
Harsin groaned. "He said the Gods called him, but I didn't know he believed it!"
"The Gods?" said Winmer; he cast an accusing eye on Teacher, who returned it so coldly that Winmer looked away and shuddered. "Regardless whether he feels divine inspiration," the secretary continued, "there is still hope he might be turned away from his present course."
"Let him go," said Teacher, brows lowered.
"So you've advised," retorted Harsin. "We disagree, and we order you to stay out of it from now on. I would send you to your library for good, but I need you, and you know it. Now, Winmer, give me hope."
"Hope dusts the downstairs rooms, and wears a white cap on its curly little head," smiled Winmer.
"That maid?" snorted Harsin. "He's too timid to do anything on his own."
"Perhaps we might give him a little push, then, sir," said the secretary.
"He's furious," said Temmin to Jenks on Ammaday morning as he tugged on his riding boots. Paggday had been difficult; a usually pleasant day off had turned into a constant reminder of his father's anger, every glance falling like a blow to his forehead.
"You knew he would be, Your Highness," Jenks answered, laying out the prince's morning clothes on the dressing rack. He stepped back to survey the effect.
"You're not still mad, are you?"
"No, no, Temmin. I never can stay mad at you for long," said the valet.
On his ride, Temmin pondered how nice it would have been to have Jenks as his father instead of Harsin. Harsin was forbidding; Jenks was not. Jenks approved of him; Harsin did not. Harsin had been absent most of his life, coming to the Estate twice a year. (He overlooked the times when his father came, with no fanfare or preparations, whenever the children or the Queen took ill.) Jenks, on the other hand, had always been there, a presence as constant and reassuring as his mother's.
Jenks loved him; his father did not, he told himself.
He ate breakfast in his room, avoiding the tension of the night before. When Teacher entered the study, Temmin already sat on the green velvet couch, the old red-bound book on his lap. "I want to sit here today. It's more comfortable."
"To be sure," said Teacher in mild surprise. "There is no real reason to do otherwise."
"So, how bad was it with my father?"
"I have been ordered to 'stay out of it' from now on," replied Teacher. "I can no longer advise you on the subject in any capacity. Just remember what I have told you in the past. That is all I may say."
"I don't need any more advice anyway," Temmin said confidently. "He couldn't have been too mad--he didn't lock you in your room!"
A small smile wavered on Teacher's lips. "He threatened it. But he knows I have endured long periods locked in my room over the centuries. By now it makes little difference to me, and my counsel and support are more valuable than satisfying his pique."
"Did Hildin really lock you in your room?" asked Temmin. He was done thinking about his father.
"Only for a little while. Are you ready to continue?"
Temmin slid a hand over the book's cover and opened it. The blank pages blossomed into words, then pictures, and finally swallowed him up.