Chapter 4 Part 8 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
Temmin's dinner curdled. Who could have told his mother? Was it Jenks? No, never! Someone else at the Estate must have found out and told her. He wondered if he could send a letter to Alvo to find out who--Gods, it wasn't Alvo, surely? "What did Mama say?"
"That you kissed a maidservant under somewhat coercive circumstances."
"Coercive? She said yes."
"Temmin, we both know she said yes because she was afraid of losing her job." She'd certainly begged him not to tell Crokker, but he'd never considered she really might lose her job. Why would she lose her job? "There's nothing wrong with that," the King smiled, his teeth white against the dark of his beard and moustaches. "I've always found something rather arousing about holding that over them. Apparently you are of my mind."
"But I didn't hold it over her," said Temmin, appalled.
Harsin shrugged. "You don't have to justify yourself to me, son. Take a maidservant if you wish--take several. I've heard you're behind your peers on that score. I've left off the Keep's maids for your mother's sake--promised her I'd never have a mistress in the house--so the field is quite clear."
"You have mistresses?" said Temmin.
"No, Temmin," said his father. "I've been celibate for the last eighteen years. Of course I have mistresses."
"But what about Mama? You're a married man!"
"When your mother said she sheltered you, I had no idea how serious she was." Harsin's voice softened. "You must understand the deep affection and love I have for your mother. Ansella and I may not have been a love match, but I could not have asked for a better Queen and mother for my children. I hold her in the highest esteem--she is an excellent, if frustrating, woman."
"Then why take mistresses?" Temmin muttered.
"The question isn't why I have mistresses. The real question is why haven't you taken one by now. Your mother says you haven't."
"I don't really think that's a proper conversation to have with one's father."
"No," said Harsin, eyeing his son's burning cheeks. "You wouldn't. Is it a question of preferring men? To think on it, it's high time I found you a Mentor."
"No, no, sir. Men don't disgust me, but women are..." Temmin trailed off.
"Just so," chuckled his father. "In any event, your mother was concerned you might try to call this maid up to the City from Meadow House. Don't."
"I hadn't really thought about it," Temmin lied.
"Of course you have. Any red-blooded man would, if he fancied the girl enough."
"There's someone else I fancy a great deal more, actually," said Temmin, brightening.
"Fortunate, because this girl is out of the question," answered his father.
"I thought you wanted me to tumble a few maids."
"I want you to do as you please in that regard, is what I want. But not with her." Harsin sighed deep in his chest. "When you were born at the Estate, I was there, you know. So was a very pretty little thing in livery named Tellis Ambler. Beautiful hazel eyes, sweet rosy cheeks. Quite a beauty. Are you attending me, Temmin?"
"You don't want me repeating your mistakes, perhaps?"
"No, I don't want you having sex with your half-sister. Do mind the brandy, son, you're about to spill."
Temmin sat back in the wing chair, his brandy dangling from his fingers. "You're telling me Mattie is your daughter?"
"I kissed my sister."
Temmin swallowed hard, his face gone from cherry to chalk, and he broke out in a cold sweat. "Does she know?"
"She has no idea. Her mother knows, your mother knows, and now you and I know. And Teacher knows--Teacher took care of things, along with your manservant."
"Took care of things how? You didn't hurt her?"
"Do you think I would hurt my own daughter? No, we gave her mother some money--a great deal of money, actually--and strongly encouraged them to take up residence as far away from Whithorse as possible. Mattisanis has a nice dowry now, and she'll find herself a nice squire in Alzeh, or Kellen, or wherever they end up."
"May Amma forgive me," Temmin said, his voice breaking.
"For what? You didn't know. I've taken a look at young Mattie through the mirror. Don't feel too badly, Temmin, if I hadn't known, I'd have done it myself. Not as pretty as her mother, but that's a hard standard to meet. No, don't worry about her. She's well taken care of. I may even acknowledge her, if I need to shore up a minor alliance. But tell me," said Harsin, switching tacks, "who's captured your eye? Anyone I know?"
Temmin was still lost in uncomfortable thoughts--sisters, breasts, threats, infidelity, enchantments, sex, Travelers, magic--but said, "Who'm I interested in? Allis Obby."
Harsin burst out laughing. "Allis, the Embodiment of Neya? That Allis? Well, you're the Heir. You won't have to do any persuading or tithing--just make an appointment!"
"That's odd. I've been told I'd have to chase her--her and Issak Obby."
Harsin instantly grew serious. "Chase them--you're not seriously thinking of becoming a Supplicant?"
"Is there a reason I shouldn't?" said Temmin in surprise.
"I thought you'd planned on lay dedication to Farr the Warrior, not the Lovers. No Heir has ever been a Lovers' Temple Supplicant."
Temmin gaped. "Are you forbidding it?"
Harsin's brow darkened. "That would be impiety. Despite my reputation, I believe in the Gods. I've seen too much not to believe. I don't want you taking Supplicancy in any of the Temples, but this one in particular. In fact, I object in the strongest terms."
"But why would it be such a terrible thing?"
"You've heard the saying, 'When Nerr gets the Heir,' I gather? Of course you have--we all say it whenever we think something's never going to happen. Few remember what it means. It was once a prophecy. When an Heir becomes a Supplicant of the Lovers--when Nerr gets him, in essence--it foretells good times for the common people."
"What's wrong with that? It sounds as if I should go right now, if it means luck for our people."
Harsin shook his head. "At Eddin's Temple, the Scholars believe the saying means the common people will gain this luck at the expense of the nobility. Everything balances, Tem. If they go up too far, it follows that we go down."
"But it doesn't have to be that way, surely. Wouldn't their prosperity lead to ours?"
"Too much prosperity for the people generally leads to unrest, even more so than not enough prosperity. The just-desperate-enough are easier to control. I wouldn't take the risk."
Temmin tensed and leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees. "So what are you telling me, sir? That I can't do this?"
"I am saying my strong, strong preference would be for you to lose your virginity to anyone other than Allis Obby, and then you can spend as much time with her as you want. You can even become a devotee of the Lovers' Temple if you absolutely have to. If you can't find someone yourself--" Harsin's lip twitched, and Temmin colored further-- "I'm sure we can acquire someone for you. The City is full of women, some of whom are almost as beautiful as Allis. I'd even hire you a girl if you'd like, though I don't care for professionals myself. Dirty, and not in the good way. All covered in pawprints. How do your tastes run? Dark hair? Light hair? I'd suppose dark, considering Mattie and Allis, large-breasted, too. Tell Winmer, and we'll arrange something. He tells me there's a girl here at the Keep you seem to like--little thing with curly hair, downstairs maid. Take her for your first. She won't deny you, I guarantee it."
"How'd you know about her?" demanded Temmin. "And I haven't touched her--well, I've touched her, I suppose, but not like that--"
"I encourage you to touch her all you'd like, any way you'd like, but don't go to the Temple a virgin. Am I clear? I can't forbid it, but I can say I am completely opposed."
"Very clear, Father," Temmin said, ice in his voice. He left his brandy on the side table, untouched.
"Jenks!" he called when he returned to his rooms. "Jenks, Pagg damn you! You--Caid," he said, sticking his head out the door and hailing the nearest footman, "off you go. I want a bottle of apple brandy, quickly, please."
Jenks found him after an hour, staring into the fire through the rosy amber in his glass. "Did you know that girl was my sister--half-sister?" Temmin asked him.
"Yes, sir," said Jenks gently. "And as I'm sure you're sitting there suspecting terrible things, I'll come straight to it: I told your mother. If I hadn't known the parentage of the girl in question, I would never have said a thing."
"No, I know you wouldn't. I'm not drunk, if you're wondering. I'm just tired of feeling how unfair everything is. Something's not right in this place."
"There's always something not right, sir, and life isn't fair," said Jenks. "These are the great secrets of adulthood."