Chapter 3 Part 2 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
Temmin woke late the next morning hungover for the second time in a week, and cursed Fennows. When the room appeared more level, he gingerly stepped out of bed. "Jenks!" he called, then louder, "Jenks!" to no reply. He shambled into his study, hanging onto the furniture and the doorframe, but Jenks was nowhere. He tugged on the bell rope, and a pink-faced footman entered. "Bring me some sort of--something. Tea. Toast. And something for my head. Find Jenks! He'll know what." Pagg damn that Jenks, he grumbled to himself. Always under foot until you needed him.
"Very good, gentlemen," said Harsin to the table full of ministers. "You know our concerns, and we are aware of yours, so let's be at it. We will be busy the rest of the morning, and so we will resume tomorrow." With that, Harsin left his conference room, his secretary trailing behind him.
"The Queen is waiting in your study for the discussion of the Prince's further education, Your Majesty," said Winmer.
"Where is Teacher? Where's the Colonel? I thought they would wish to participate in this."
"They are elsewhere," said Winmer.
"I don't want them elsewhere, I want them here," said Harsin. "See to it, Winmer."
"I will try, sir, but I'm not sure either of them is within reach."
Harsin raised a brow at this, but said nothing. He walked into his study, to find only his wife waiting for him. Her face was blotchy, and the cameo pinned to her breast rose and fell in time with her rapid breathing. "A by-blow!" shouted Ansella.
"You've been at the Keep all of three days, and your dramatics are already boring me! What now?"
"A by-blow, a bastard," she said. "You promised me! You promised me no child would come out of all your whoring!"
"I prefer the term 'engagements,'" said Harsin. "And no child has come of any of them."
"That you knew, apparently!"
"Annie, you attack me in my ignorance," said Harsin, sitting down. "Please enlighten me."
Ansella trembled, her fair brows low. "Do you perhaps remember in all your 'engagements' a maid at Whithorse named Tellis Ambler?"
"Tellis Ambler? Tellis..." said Harsin, rolling the name around his mouth as if calling up the memory of a wine.
Ansella let out a disgusted breath. "It would have been about the time Temmin was born."
"Ah!" he said. "Oh, yes. I remember her."
"You have a daughter. Her name is Mattisanis."
"Do I!" said Harsin with a surprised smile. "Is she as pretty as her mother was? What's she like?"
"She's a maidservant, is what she's like!" said Ansella. "Until this morning, she worked at Meadow House for my mother!"
"Until this morning--Annie, what have you done?" said Harsin. "You will not harm this girl."
"I haven't done anything to hurt her," said Ansella, turning away. "I know the girl, and her mother, and I'm clever enough to know who's really to blame. I sent Teacher and the Colonel to deal with it."
"Without consulting me? Whatever for? I'll have Winmer arrange a stroke of good luck for her, and there's an end to it."
"Don't bother. They went by mirror early this morning. She has to be out of the way as soon as possible, out of the province if they can manage it!"
"How did you discover all this?"
Ansella paused, considering. "The Colonel has known all this time, and didn't tell me to spare my feelings until circumstances required it. He's always been very considerate of me. Unlike you!"
Harsin shrugged. "Tellis was a maid, of no consequence whatsoever. I didn't even remember her name until you told me."
"She was of consequence to me! You--had her when I was in labor with our son!"
"Just the once, not an ongoing affair, unlikely to result in any sort of child--an impulse."
"An impulse like your father's many 'impulses' that litter the countryside? I'd think you have enough ongoing affairs not to need 'impulses.' Do you intend to leave Temmin with bastards to deal with as well? This House has enough trouble with your half-brothers. How many have you sired on your little 'impulses?'"
She leaned forward as she spoke, shaking with effort; she was as close to dissolving into pure rage as Harsin had seen her in years. "Don't agitate yourself, Ansella, if I had a son other than Temmin, we'd know. This is a girl," said Harsin, "a girl I had no idea existed until today. She's no threat whatsoever to Temmin." Ansella laughed. "D'you see some threat I'm not seeing, wife?" he demanded.
"Harsin, your son kissed her."
"So?" said Harsin.
"He found her with a young man and she let him--touch--her in exchange for keeping her job."
Harsin's brows rose, and he pursed his lips. "Interesting! He threatened her?"
"No," admitted Ansella. "But apparently she was quite frightened."
"Sad for him it was his half-sister. Ah, well, Teacher will sort it out. He didn't leave her pregnant, I hope? I suppose Teacher can take care of that, if it comes to it--take her to one of the better Mother's Houses, perhaps even arrange a quiet marriage," he said. He dropped into his favorite chair, a tufted leather wingback near the hearth. "Will you sit?"
"Pregnant?" said Ansella, white-faced. "How can you be so cavalier about such a disturbing possibility!"
"I'm not cavalier, I am pragmatic," he snorted. "I find the prospect mildly unsettling myself. Is she?"
"No, she is not. Temmin is still innocent."
"As far as you know."
"I made sure of it," Ansella said, staring him down. "I made sure he had absolutely no opportunities to turn out like his father and grandfather. I raised him in accordance with Venna's Way. He's a virtuous boy!"
"He's an unnatural boy, you mean!" said Harsin. "What does the Sister's Way have to do with it? The girls have to pass Her test, but he certainly doesn't have to! How could you do something like that to him?"
"I've done nothing but keep him safe. That's all I've ever done, is keep my children safe!"
"He's safer here than anywhere, and his virginity is no one's business but his own!" boomed Harsin, rising from the chair. "And that's the last word on the subject!"
Ansella closed her mouth. Her trembling stopped, but the rims of her eyes showed red around the blue. She searched for words. "You may not believe it, but your whoring endangers your children," she finally said.
"Annie," he said, opening his hands in conciliation, "this is nothing new. We were not a love match, as you're so very fond of reminding everyone, and we both have lovers. Why are you so angry?"
Ansella's face mottled, red and white. "Don't you dare paint my one--my one--relationship in the same light as all your mistresses!"
"I've never shamed you, nor have I ever put a one of them above you!"
"You've never had to! I've been a thousand miles to the west all this time!"
"And whose choice was that!"
"As far as I'm aware, it was mutual!" She marched through the door and slammed it behind her. Harsin heard her slam the door to his receiving room as well, but knew that once she made it to the hallway, she would be composed enough to avoid strong emotion in front of the servants. He sighed.
"Winmer," he called, "As soon as Teacher and Colonel Jenks return from Whithorse, bring them in. And I don't care how fucking early it is, I'm in need of a brandy."
Teacher and Colonel Jenks--for Jenks was no corporal--arrived before the brandy. The Colonel let Teacher give the details of their trip, standing back from the King in what anyone else would see as respect, but which Harsin knew was something less. "Thank you. Teacher, please stay. Colonel, you're dismissed." Jenks tapped his heels, bowed, and left, his manner stiff and formal; Harsin wondered if the man would ever forgive him for the past, and wondered again why he cared. He turned to the pale figure by the fireplace. "I want you to show her to me. My daughter."
"Very well." Teacher faced the great mirror over the mantel. "Show me Mattisanis Dunley of Reggiston."
The reflection rippled once and reformed into the kitchens of the Whithorse Estate's Great House. The servants ranged around a long table with Crokker at its head. The perspective narrowed more, onto a girl with Harsin's own dark hair and her mother's heart-shaped face. Easy smiles flashed over her open, sweet face as she passed dishes and drank her tea, until a footman entered the room. Her eyes hardened, and Harsin's own implacable nature flashed across her face before she turned her back on the young man. In spite of his mercenary words to his wife, the King's heart twisted. "Another spirited daughter," he murmured. "Another child I don't know."