Chapter 2 Part 4 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
Jenks had gone through every combination of black and white clothing in the room, considered them, and discarded them, until he'd made the only possible conclusion and assembled it on the dressing stand. "It's a ball!" said Temmin. "One wears a black dress suit, a white shirt and stock, and a white waistcoat. All of the men will be dressed identically!"
"You are so, so wrong, Your Highness," said the valet, surveying the tidily ransacked wardrobe. "There are subtleties to the male wardrobe only a connoisseur may perceive, and while you are not yet a connoisseur, you shall be when I'm through with you. In the meantime, you will look the part." Temmin rolled his eyes. "It's for the pride of Whithorse, sir, think of it that way."
"Your pride'll be the death of me," grumbled Temmin.
"My pride will be the making of you, sir, depend on it."
Once dressed, Temmin had to admit Jenks was right. The suit fit him just so; the rich yet subtle pattern of the white waistcoat relieved its formality without vulgarity; just the right amount of lace edged his stock. The royal rubies glowed at his cuffs and the fob of his watch, neither ostentatious nor inconsequential. His hair even behaved, arranging itself into golden waves. "Well done, Jenks, I must say! I look as elegant as a portrait, and about as stiff."
"The elegance is mine, the stiffness is yours. Take Miss Ellika's example to heart and go have fun, sir," beamed Jenks, walking his charge to the door.
"D'you know, I just noticed something--you've started calling me 'sir,'" said Temmin.
Jenks gave him a fond smile. "You're a man now, Temmin, not a boy, and you're due that much respect." He put his big hands on Temmin's shoulders. "And you're within half an inch of my height now. Another year and you'll be past me entirely. The older you get, the more you remind me of your uncle."
"D'you think Uncle Pat would be proud of me, Jenks?" said Temmin, ducking his head.
"Lord Patrin loved you very much, sir, and I'm sure he would be exceedingly proud of you," said Jenks, his eyes turning watery. "Off to your birthday celebration. Go."
"Well, aren't we looking sleek!" came Ellika's voice as soon as Temmin stepped into the hall; her bright head peeped out from her doorway. "Come in!"
"Isn't it time to go down?" he said.
"Don't be ridiculous! The thing's just started. We can't go down for another fifteen minutes at the earliest. Now, come in and tell me how splendid I look!"
He walked into Ellika's sitting room, and blurted, "You look like a riot in a lacemaker's shop!"
"Temmin, you have no taste at all. You should thank the Beloved for Jenks."
If one row of lace pleased Ellika, twelve rows pleased her more. Its exuberance suited her. A sapphire and pearl necklace set off her bare shoulders, which rose creamy and pink from her sky blue silk dress. Though Ansella dressed more conservatively, Temmin couldn't help but see his mother mirrored in his sister's face.
"Shall we see if Sedra's ready?" he said.
"She's probably already gone down. She hates balls, always wants to get them over with. We're not allowed to leave until Papa does, but he usually doesn't last much past the second set of dances after dinner. He has other engagements," she added, thinning her lips. "Put your gloves on, Temmy, and don't embarrass me."
"Yes, well, don't call me Temmy downstairs and I'll see what I can do." He stopped before Sedra's study to knock, but the door swung open. Sedra started back from the threshold in surprise. "Merciful Amma, Temmy, you scared me to death!"
"I'm sorry, Seddy," he said, red-faced. "I--we're going downstairs--I thought--"
"Sedra!" exclaimed Ellika over his shoulder. "You look splendid! I don't know how you manage to wear off-season colors so well, but it's perfect."
In contrast to her sister, Sedra's dress avoided all frills, relying on the deep Tremontine red satin and cut for its elegance. Pearls and rubies encircled her neck, and plaits encircled her head in the classical style, dark roses forming a crown along their curve.
In her hands, Sedra held a little knot of white roses, trailing blue ribbons. "For you," she said, pinning it to Ellika's sash; her sister let out a tiny, delighted squeak, and kissed her on the cheek. "And," she said to Temmin, "for you." She produced a rose of the same deep red as those in her hair, and pinned it in Temmin's buttonhole. "Happy birthday," she added, giving his shoulder a tender, tentative pat.
Temmin gathered her into his arms. "Thank you, very much."
"I'm sorry," she murmured in his ear.
"Don't be, it was my fault." He hugged her close and kissed her on the forehead. "Now is it time to go down, Elly?" Ellika pulled out his pocket watch, consulted it, and gave a nod. Temmin took a sister on each arm, and the three headed downstairs.
The music stopped as the high doors to the ballroom opened and the siblings descended the broad staircase. The dancers turned, and the orchestra struck up a patriotic fanfare; Temmin flinched before a wave of deafening cheers and applause. On his right, Ellika reflected the adulation back onto the throng, glittering and happy, and on his left, Sedra grew taller and even more regal, her head held proud and high.
A thought crept in on him: no matter how beautiful and intelligent his sisters were, all this was for him--the Heir--not them. His hands held the reins to the crowd; he could feel them. Whenever he acknowledged the cheers, they redoubled. This must be what power felt like. He straightened his shoulders and let the energy fill him.