Chapter 3 Part 1 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
Temmin danced every dance until the Obbys went home, even though Allis had no spots on her card left; most of the dances involved changing partners, and he made sure he danced in her group. He racked his brain for clever things to say when they partnered, failed, and settled for staring at her every chance he got over the shoulders of his partners. More than one young lady told her maid later that though the Heir was handsome, he was unpardonably rude; you'd think he'd never seen an Embodiment of Neya before!
Temmin himself remained oblivious; the only person he saw was Allis, though he noticed her brother more and more. While Issak usually danced in different sets than his sister, he sometimes ended up next to Temmin, or even dancing with him in the figures where the sexes broke apart. Each time they met in the dance, Issak's effect on Temmin grew, and Issak seemed to sense it. A close pass brought their faces within inches, and Temmin swore Issak nearly kissed him. It should have displeased him, and he wondered why it didn't.
Halfway through the ball, Allis and Issak partnered for the traditional dance between brothers and sisters, and Temmin dragged Sedra onto the floor. "Do stop gawping, Temmy," Sedra murmured as his head whipped around to keep the Obbys in view. "You're embarrassing yourself."
"Am I?" said Temmin, turning his face to hers. "I thought everyone was watching them." In fact, the crowd had pulled back to form a clear circle around the twins. They're perfectly matched, he thought, like carriage horses--no, that's a horrid thought, like--well, like two beautiful things that look alike! He sighed to himself; love poetry was out of the question.
He let Sedra steer them out of sight of the Obbys. "You don't know what you're getting into when it comes to them," she said.
"Probably not," he agreed, "but I should very much like to find out."
Temmin's new best friend Fennows buttonholed him time and again, and wouldn't stop pestering him about Ellika. Temmin found this irritating, as it cut into his questions about Allis. He found the only way to shut Fennows up was to suggest a bumper of sparkling wine, and soon the two sat before the fire in an unoccupied salon off the ballroom proper, empty wine bottles in an untidy pile under a table.
"So, in the City two days, eh?" said Fennows, refilling Temmin's glass. "Someone like you, I should like to know how many tasty bits you left behind in Whithorse!"
"Tasty bits?" said Temmin. "The only thing I left behind in Whithorse was my freedom. And my best friend," he added, glowering at the pimply young man across from him.
"You'll have plenty of good hunting here, my friend. You--you can have any girl you please! Good-looking, the Heir--" Fennows burped. "Excuse me. No girl'd turn you down, not even the daughters of the nobility if you wanted 'em. My position gets me plenty, I assure you, but--say, are you sure you can't put in a good word with your father on my behalf? Corland is important to the empire, and Papa pays a good deal of tribute. Past time for the ties between us to get stronger. Matrimonial, I should think."
"I don't think Elly is in the marriage market," said Temmin. "At least she hasn't said."
"She's not the one who decides whether she is or not, now, is she!" said Fennows. "I'd treat her like a precious--a precious--thing, I dunno, statue, gem, some such, I should think. All she'd have to do is stand in the middle of the room, just stand there and listen, and I'd make her appreciate the life of the mind, like poetry--I write poetry, d'you know--and I know she'd come to love it, if she'd just give it a chance! I'd protect her from all that is coarse and impure, from those stupid, handsome things she likes to dance with--I tell you what it is, old man," he added, wobbling forward in his chair. "I tell you what it is. I've done a great deal of thinking on this. Women are a separate species. They're not like you and me a-tall."
"They're not?" said Temmin.
"No, no!" said Fennows, settling back in his chair. "Not a-tall. Think of your sisters, eh? Not like us, I should think, not a-tall. No appreciation of the real things in life, of the life of the mind. No appreciation. They're all clothes and simpering."
"I'd like to see Sedra simper, that'd be a sight," said Temmin, blinking.
"And then!" Fennows said, leaning forward again. "And then, there are species in the species!"
"I don't get--get your meaning," said Temmin, dribbling from his glass. He scrubbed at his waistcoat, relieved the wine was white; he'd catch it from Jenks otherwise.
"Well!" said Fennows. "Can't say a merchant's daughter is the same species as our sisters, I should think! And then there're maids! And then the ladies of a house, d'you know!"
"What makes 'em species in the species?"
Fennows laid out his philosophy, a neat deck of cards kept in his head: "You can keep a merchant's daughter, but you can't just tumble 'er. You can tumble a maid any time without keepin' 'er, but if you get 'er in the family way you have to pay 'er a bit and support the brat at a Mother's House. Else she'll go to the Father's Temple for justice, didn't she, and then there's a fuss. Justice for a housemaid, feh." Fennows considered his glass, then said, "And ladies of a house--different species altogether. More like us. They'll do anything with anyone, and they're business-like and friendly. Don't expect anything from you but your coin. No pretending, just fucking. Know how to treat a man. Oh, you can make an appointment with a Beloved at the Lovers' Temple, but then they make you think about it! Gods, I'd keep any number of merchants' daughters to stay out of that pink marble heap, but for Neya's Day! Now, that's a sight worth seeing, I should think! Ah, Farr hang it, dead soldier," he finished, shaking the last drops from the current wine bottle.
"Hang on," said Temmin, "hang on, it's a ranking? Women like our sisters, then merchants' daughters, then maidservants, then...ladies of a...house? What ladies?"
"I mean whores, old man, what d'you think I mean!" hooted Fennows.
Temmin frowned. "Whores? Wouldn't do. Hussies. Dishonorable. Wouldn't like 'em."
"That's what's so good about them! They have no honor! No, rank women all you'd like, they're none of 'em like you and me," Fennows said. "Not properly people, are they? Don't understand 'em a-tall."
"I understand my sisters--mostly. They're certainly people! Sedra has a--what d'you say?--a life of the mind. That's all she has! I don't know any merchants' daughters--"
"--And I've never met a--a whore--what house are you talking about, anyway? As for maids, all the maids I know are people," said Temmin, thinking of the pleasant, motherly women who attended the Queen and his sisters--the last women in the world he'd "give a tumble." Aloud, he said, "What else would they be?"
"A different species!" declared his companion. "You can't say you treat 'em the same as your sisters?"
Temmin's thoughts turned from from the ladies' maids to Mattie, whose soft breasts had until that night been the focus of his daydreams, and little Arta, whose happy face and trim figure caught his interest on sight. Allis Obby had supplanted both, but oh, they were different from the ladies' maids he'd known since childhood. "No," he said, "I can't say as how I do."