Chapter 16 Part 2 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1
The urgent conversation appeared to be one-sided from a distance, but on closer inspection, both parties were fully involved, a small pulse in the King's jaw the only sign of increasing tension. "Master yourself, Corland. What do you mean, Temmin's lovers are a sham?" said Harsin, keeping the smile on his face.
"I mean, he's pulled the wool over your eyes!" hissed Corland. "He still qualifies! Your son means to take Supplicancy!"
"How do you know this?"
"Fennows found it out--His Highness must have confided in him," Corland said evasively.
"He would never have thought up such a plan. He doesn't have it in him--doesn't have the courage. He's as guileless as a child..."
"He's not a child any more. He's fooled you. You must stop him. Where is he?"
"He went to Whithorse to spend Neya's Day with his--with his lovers..." Harsin thought back over his conversations with Temmin. In none of them had the Prince said outright that he'd taken those servants into his bed. "Pagg damn him. Pagg damn him!"
He left the purple-faced Corland and exited the ballroom as naturally as he could. Winmer fell into his wake as he climbed the Residence Wing stairs. "Call Miss Selvaci out of the dance, as if I'd sent for her. I don't want my absence to raise suspicions. Take her to one of the suites connected to mine--you know which one. Send Teacher to my study. See if Temmin is in his rooms, then send the Colonel to me as well, damn them both. Then go back and keep the girl busy--get her drunk. She loves sparkling wine and it won't be long until she passes out. Put her to bed, then come to me yourself." Winmer nodded, and peeled off as Harsin tried not to slam the door to his study.
Colonel Jenks and Teacher came in not long after, the former in a hastily-donned and rumpled coat, the latter as smooth as ever. "Where is my son?" said the King.
"Where is he? He's off to Whithorse! The old crow took him," said Jenks with a jerk of the thumb at Teacher. "Outright refused to take me with him, said he wouldn't need me. It's time we told him what I am, sir. I can no longer insist on my presence in--in some situations."
"We both know Whithorse security is up to the task," said Harsin, "but we both know that's not where he is." He measured the Colonel's unfeigned look of surprise, and turned toward Teacher. "Tell me where he is and how he got there. I order you."
"I took him to the Lovers' Temple, as he requested."
Teacher paused, then murmured at the mirror over the mantel. A foggy image formed of a great bath: men and women milling about in various degrees of nakedness; towel-wrapped heads just visible above the surface of a steaming pool. The image moved closer to a naked, golden-haired young man covered in soap and sitting on a stool. The most beautiful young man Harsin had ever seen was dumping buckets of water over the other's head. Temmin--for once the suds were gone, it was clearly him--spluttered under the stream, though Harsin couldn't hear him. A last bucket poured over him, and once he'd shaken off the water, a buxom young woman Harsin recognized as the current Supplicant of the Lovers pulled Temmin off the stool, threw a towel over his head, and vigorously dried his hair, kissing his laughing face at the end.
"I gather you didn't know, Colonel Jenks?" said Harsin.
"No," said Jenks slowly.
"I believe you. It would appear that our boy has become a man capable of lying to almost anyone." The King sank into his chair, the leather creaking. "Teacher, when I said take him to his lovers--you know very well what I meant!"
"But that is not what you said," replied Teacher. "I regret that my lessons in precision of speech--"
"I would call down Pagg's curse on your head, but it's too late for that, isn't it?" snapped the King. "You're dismissed, Colonel. No, no, not for good," he added at the tightening of the man's broad jaw. "For the evening. Go on."
In the doorway, Winmer stepped aside to let the Colonel pass, then closed the door behind him. "Miss Selvaci is asleep, sir," he said to the pacing King. "She'd entertained herself quite well at the ball already. I've instructed one of the upstairs maids to nurse her through tomorrow's expected hangover."
"He's gone, Winmer. Slipped through our fingers," said Harsin, watching his feet as he paced slowly back and forth.
Winmer bounced on his toes, thinking. "You could still force him out. Send Teacher to Whithorse, bring those two servants back--"
"You said that girl was reliable."
"Indeed, sir, but we underestimated his determination. They can still be of use, though. Have Teacher bring them back. We can use them as leverage against the Prince. If he thought them in immediate peril...?"
"He cares about them enough to shield them. True." Harsin stopped pacing and ran through the possible scenarios in his head.
Two deaths to possibly save the kingdom. Harsin had killed more men than that in battle with his own hands, and caused the deaths of thousands more in Inchar. But those were Inchari, stubbornly refusing what was good for them. These were Tremontines, and innocents. The prophecy might be wrong, or the Scholars of Eddin might be interpreting it incorrectly.
"If he balks, the death of the young man and a sword at the throat of the young woman would bring him to heel quickly," said Winmer. "Do it in the Great Hall of the Temple. Teacher can take us there without anyone knowing."
Teacher's silver eyes radiated contempt. "I am the servant of the King, except when I am the servant of the Gods. No outsider may enter a closed Temple without an invitation, and the Lovers' Temple is closed until the Spectacle tomorrow." Teacher pointedly turned away from Winmer to the King. "You have come perilously close to outright disrespect, Your Majesty, astonishing from a man who does not believe but knows what the Gods can do. Have I taught you so poorly? Have you paid no attention all these years to the Gods made manifest over and over in your life?" At Harsin's shaken expression, Teacher added, "It comes down to this, Your Majesty. You fear for the Kingdom's fate. Will you murder two innocents on the steps of a Temple, and perhaps bring down an even worse one?"
"No," whispered Harsin, dropping his head. Winmer rocked on his heels in disapproval. Harsin raised his eyes to his secretary. "But if Temmin knows I'm aware of his deception, the threat of murder might be my only recourse. You," he said, glaring at Teacher. "Find my son's spurious lovers--no, let's be exact, shall we, Winmer?"
"Arta Dannikson and Fen Wallek, sir," said the secretary.
"Find Dannikson and Wallek. Bring them here to the Keep. Do it now. Is that specific enough?"
"Yes, Your Majesty," said Teacher, with only a hint of reluctance in departing through the mirror.