Chapter 2 Part 1 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One

Neyaday, the 9th Day of Spring's Beginning

The first thing Temmin saw when he looked into the bathroom mirror on his birthday was a man. He was eighteen; that was that, he was an adult now. "And I still can't grow a proper beard," he said aloud, rubbing his chin.

"What, sir?" called Jenks.

"Nothing!"

The second thing he saw when he looked in the bathroom mirror was a face not his own.

Underneath his own reflection lay a faint tracing--a smooth face, a paler, thinner face with precise features, odd silver eyes, and iron-colored hair pulled back in an old-fashioned tail. He blinked, and it disappeared.

"Jenks? Insanity doesn't run in the family, does it?"

"Not to my knowledge, sir," said Jenks.

It happened again when he came back to the stable yard from his ride with Jebby. They went to the trough, and Temmin leaned down to splash himself. The water's smooth surface reflected his face: flushed, sweaty, happy, and a little dusty. But as he watched, the strange figure reappeared, its cold, intense eyes staring. For some reason, Temmin thought of the wardrobe in Nurse's room, back in the nursery at the Estate. How convinced he had been that the Black Man lived in there--why would he think of that?

The impatient Jebby stuck his nose in the trough and took a slurp; ripples broke the water's surface, and the reflections vanished. "Here, Your Highness," said a groom, taking Jebby's bridle, "I'll see to 'im, go off to your birthday breakfast. You look a bit pinched, if I may be so bold!"

"I am hungry, thank you," he murmured. "That explains a great deal."

Even Ellika, pink and yawning with sleep, attended the breakfast table that morning. He accepted everyone's congratulations, and sat with his back to the morning room's mirrors. Why were there so many mirrors in this place?

Sedra was polite but formal, and said nothing to him about newspapers even though he took The Daily Voice of Tremont from the pile atop Affton's salver. "You don't want that," said his father. "Read The Morning Capital first--a proper newspaper--then you can read that radical nonsense." Temmin nodded, put both papers beside his plate, and opened neither.

"I have meetings this morning, Temmin," said Harsin at meal's end, "but after lunch I shall expect you in my study to meet Teacher."

"I'm going back to bed," said Ellika, still yawning. "No amount of coffee can wake me up."

"Oh dear, I hoped we'd go through my jewel case, to see if there's anything you'd like to wear tonight," smiled her mother as she rose. "I suppose it can wait."

"Mama, wait!" said Ellika, following Ansella from the table. "I'm suddenly feeling much more awake!"

Sedra tucked her remaining newspapers under her arm, and rose herself. Now, Temmin decided, was the time to patch things up. "Seddy," he said, catching up with her at the door. "Do you still like to walk after breakfast?"

"I'm sorry?"

"It's just that it's been so long," he said, keeping pace as she strode through the halls. "You always used to take walks after breakfast, and sometimes you'd let me come with you. D'you still do that? Would it be all right if I walked with you? I've missed you," he said. "I feel as if we don't know one another any more, and I thought perhaps we could...catch up?"

"I still know you," she said, stopping at the foot of the stairs. "You're trying to get out of something."

"Only this rock pile. I'm going to be cooped up here the rest of the day, and it's a nice morning. Seddy," he wheedled, "let's go for a walk."

"You don't need me to go walking, Temmy," she said, climbing the stairs.

"No, but I want to walk with you."

She looked down where he stood on the bottom step; he put on his best little brother smile. She softened. "All right," she said. "Meet me on the terrace in twenty minutes."

Jenks insisted on yet another wardrobe change: "You can't go wandering around in the woods in your nice day suit!" The ensuing, futile argument and inexorable swap of the day suit for a tweed walking suit and sturdy boots meant it took the full twenty minutes for Temmin to run back downstairs. Sedra waited, dressed in a sensible blue walking dress cut short enough to show the tops of her black boots. On her head sat an equally sensible blue felt bonnet, lined in a flattering rose silk. Her only other concession to fashion was a voluminous fine wool Inchari shawl, beautiful but practical on a brisk spring morning.

"How many sets of clothes does one go through in a day around here, Seddy?" said Temmin, offering his arm.

"Let's see," she said as she took it. "Rising dress--I suppose for you that's riding clothes--then morning dress, then if you have visitors that day there's afternoon dress, and then dinner dress. More if one goes walking or riding during the day, or goes to a Temple or the Promenade, or out after dinner--theater, dancing, card parties. Or if you're Elly," she finished with a grin.

"And how are you and Elly getting along these days?" he said, letting Sedra choose which path they took through the gardens.

Sedra sighed. "I'm only a year and a half older, and I feel as if I'm her mother."

"You have been, in a way. Mama's been at the Estate with me."

"I suppose you're right. Elly is so unwise sometimes, and she won't listen to a thing I say! She flirts shamelessly with anyone she pleases, no matter his rank or position--I've even caught her flirting with girls. She's escaped harm so far, but I worry. The Beloved watches over Elly, but one of these days, Blessed Neya won't be watching." She kicked out her skirts as they stepped onto the wide green lawn, first-cut for the season the day before. In the distance, a reflecting pool lay before a little marble pavilion ringed with cedars, and Sedra led him toward it. "What worries me the most," she continued, "is that Elly is determined to make a love match."

Temmin considered. "I can't say I blame her. I should very much like to love whoever I end up marrying, wouldn't you?"

"Oh, to be sure," retorted Sedra. "It would be lovely."

"Well, it would, wouldn't it?"

"Temmy, whatever Ellika and I would like has absolutely no bearing on what will be. If I fall in love with a fine and respectable gentleman--let's say, the Earl of Random--but Papa wants me to marry the horrible old Duke of Accident for political reasons, off I go to become Duchess Accident no matter how much I hate Accident or love Random."

"You've never loved anything random, Seddy, you're the most methodical person I know."

"Stop it," she laughed. "You know exactly what I mean." Her smile faded, and her brow grew darker still. "It'll be the Grace of Amma if I'm paired with anyone I can stand, let alone love. I'm twenty-one, and it's already getting late. This time next year I'll very probably be the Duchess of Accident, or something like." Temmin squeezed her arm. 

They sat on the benches inside the ridiculous little folly; on its columns, walls and ceilings, a profusion of inlays and exotic carvings strove to imitate Inchari temples. It failed, utterly and charmingly. "You, on the other hand," she continued, "will very probably have some say in who you marry--at least a choice among several eligible Ladies Accident and Random. But then, you have the advantage over us in several ways."

"I don't see how," said Temmin. "I don't get much more choice than you or Elly. I still have to study things I don't want to study, and do things I don't want to do--"

"Tem, you'll be king some day," she cut in. "And when you're king, you can do what you want to do, and no one will ever tell you otherwise. Well...mostly," she amended.

"The one choice I don't have is whether to be king or not. I'm sure I don't know why any sensible person would want the job, though there are times I think you do. Which makes me wonder how sensible you really are."

Sedra glanced at him from the depths of her bonnet, her deep brown eyes brimming with a passion that stoppered his mouth. "I was born to rule in every way but my sex. I know it, you know it, Papa knows it. But I'm not even allowed to study any more, apart from my own reading."

Temmin faltered, then said, "You can study with me if you'd like. Papa doesn't have to know. I've always said you were smarter than Ellika and me put together. You even look the most like Papa," he said, trying to jolly her out of her anger. "I'm meeting with Papa and this Teacher person this afternoon--perhaps--"

"I've been forbidden to learn from Teacher," she said, her voice turning flat.

"But Papa doesn't have to know--"

"He'll know."

Temmin considered the set of her jaw. "So you've studied with Teacher? What's he like? He has to be as old as the Keep if he tutored Papa. Can he even stand up?"

"I don't want to talk about it," said Sedra.

"But I only--"

"Please, Tem, I don't want to." She laid a firm hand on his arm. "Please?"

"All right," he said. "Perhaps it's best anyway. If you were there, I'd have to work harder!"

She turned on him. "If you're going to be king, Temmin, you have to start taking things more seriously! Will you ever stop being such a child?"

"At least I was a child!" he said, dropping her arm. "You were born with your nose in a book! Do you ever have fun?"

"The kind of fun I have, real entertainment that engages the mind, you wouldn't understand in the least!"

"And another thing!" he said as she stood. "I am sick and tired of everyone telling me how stupid I am!"

"Then stop being stupid!" she cried, face mottled and mouth contorted. He watched her stomp off, a skirt-blue and petticoat-white froth around her legs, and snorted in the clear, cedar-scented air. Why was she so upset? What had he said but the truth? More sincerely than ever, he wished they were all back at the Estate, where she had been more amiable, and he hadn't needed half so many clothes.

When she walked out of sight, he drifted to the reflecting pool. He picked up a perfect rock, lying among the gravel, and drew his arm back to skip it. On an impulse, he looked down into the water; he saw his own bad-tempered face, superimposed over the cold, smooth face of another. "Who are you!" he shouted. "No--you're no one, you're something I've made up, just go away! I have enough to worry about without worrying about my sanity--!"

A hand reached out of the pond, followed by an arm, a shoulder, and a head. "Do be quiet," said the head. The hand closed on Temmin's ankle, and yanked him into the pond.

Comments

jz's picture

All the stuff I really want to say compares what's here now with what used to be here, and the stuff that I'm fairly sure is underlying them.

So... If I can avoid spoilers, I'll just say that I like the way you're introducing characters a lot this time around. Not that I had any problem with it before, but I'm enjoying the foreshadowing.

Taslin's picture

Postulant

I LOVED the Duchess of Accident discussion. Smile A very nice addition. Also, things get going much faster in this version--which is great. Can't wait for Wednesday!

Amy's picture

Supplicant

the Accident vs Random discussion was priceless fun. & I don't remember Teacher snagging Temmy via a reflective surface before. (could be my bad memory) This feels like a new twist. I am really enjoying this.

Gudy's picture

Embodiment

... is not at fault. This is new. Also, fun. Smile

MeiLin's picture

Most High

Coming close here...

Capriox's picture

Embodiment

Hahahahahahahahaha!

Clare-Dragonfly's picture

Supplicant

I can't think of anything to say that no one else said so I'll just say "awesome" again Biggrin

Zandu Ink's picture

Embodiment

Groovy, too, Brah!

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