Chapter 5 Part 1 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
The royal carriage rolled through the streets of the City on the night of Lord Litta's ball. Temmin sat within on the Tremontine red velvet cushions, drumming his fingers on the window; Ellika sat opposite in a swansdown-trimmed hood that gave her the look of a fluffy white kitten. "Why isn't Seddy coming?" said Temmin.
"She never does," Ellika sniffed. "She only came to yours because it was in the Keep. Oh, she's not as bad as all that. The season is winding down, is all, not even two spokes left, and I don't understand why anyone would want to miss out on what little fun is left. After Nerr's Day there won't be any balls or theater at all, just a few small dances, dinners, card parties, outdoor concerts--little entertainments, no more than a few hundred people at most and usually half that. And then we'll be at High Haven for the whole of Summer's Ending, and it's boring as anything up there. Though it is nice and cool, and the City is so very hot in the summer. But I do miss the grand balls!"
Temmin let Ellika's voice flow over him as he watched the streets and squares glide past the window. Would Allis be happy to see him? And what about Issak?
What about him, indeed. Temmin hadn't considered men much, apart from observing his older cousins and their Mentors, and some adolescent groping with the stable boys. The former filled him with apprehension more than desire, and the latter seemed like so much play--practice for when they could get girls. It had stopped a couple of years ago, anyway, until Alvo. Thinking of Alvo made his eyes smart.
His mind returned to his destination. It's just a dance, he told himself. Why did it feel like so much more?
His father had made his wishes quite clear, but why should he listen to him? Harsin didn't even know how many children he had. Temmin thought of Mattie, and winced. Perhaps he hadn't behaved well towards her, and not just because she was his half-sister. Had he done the right thing with Alvo? Possibly not, but what could he have done? Alvo had run off without saying anything. He resolutely turned his mind back to the ball, and thoughts of the Obbys. They alternated his mood between elation and apprehension. He didn't have to become a Supplicant to see them. That would certainly please his father, but doing so both cheered and irritated Temmin himself. Perhaps he'd seek out that little maid after all, the one with the curly hair--
"--I'm sure, though, we'll make our own fun in the mountains-- Are you even listening to me, Temmy?" Ellika said. "Do stop brooding. If I wanted brooding I would have stayed home with Seddy and discussed the Inchari Problem, or the philosophy behind postage stamp portraits: left profile or right profile. Neya bless me, am I the only one in this family who's any fun whatsoever?"
"You're entertaining enough for the three of us, Elly," smiled Temmin. Ellika bounced on the red-cushioned seat, and he glanced out the window: they had arrived.
The Duke of Litta's townhouse stood in one of the most fashionable yet conservative districts in the City. During the day, its white-painted brick and polished brass gave off a formal, rather stuffy air. Tonight, light and gaiety poured from every window, and the reception hall glittered.
As did Ellika. Amethysts circled her neck and wrists, and winked from her ears. Her dress was almost subdued, for her. Not a scrap of lace, sashed, simple, full-skirted, purple and white shot silk that shimmered in the gaslight: a fairy princess.
"Tem, look around," she whispered as he offered her a proud arm and they proceeded through the genuflecting crowd. "Notice anything?"
"What am I supposed to be noticing?" he whispered back.
"The young men! Look at them. They're all trimming their beards to look like you--moustaches and sideburns and no chin whiskers!"
Temmin looked around. Every third man under the age of 30 had trimmed his beard to look like his, unintentional though it was. "Isn't it hilarious?" giggled Ellika. "They're calling the style 'The Heir.'"
"Jenks makes me shave my chin to keep from looking scraggly until it fills in more," grumbled Temmin. "Maybe I'll just shave it all off."
As they entered the ballroom, the crowd broke out into thunderous applause and cheers, and his transitory bad mood lifted. This enthusiastic reception, from the stable hands to the crowd at a grand ball, increasingly felt natural, as if he might gather the energy in his hands and mold it if he could only learn how. He greeted the Duke of Litta, trying hard not to stare at the lurid scar slashed through His Grace's left brow.
All the acclamation almost made him forget why he came, until he looked out into the crowd and caught not one but two pairs of languid green eyes. Allis once again wore her thick, black hair loose to her waist. No one else in the room wore their hair loose but Issak. All of the women had their hair in great piles on their heads. Those men who wore their hair in the conservative longer style had it tied neatly back. The loose hair gave the twins a wild elegance; everyone else looked contrived.
Ellika nudged him. "Temmy, you're staring again. Oh, do get it over with! Find out when your dance is!"
Temmin walked through the parting crowd to the twins. He passed unseeing over most of the faces, though he did spot Fennows, who gave him a knowing wink, the prat.
He held out his hand. Allis took it and curtsied low, and Issak bowed. "Holy Ones," bowed Temmin, his voice much stronger than his nerve. "Miss Obby, I do hope you've saved a dance for me."
Allis looked up at him through her dark lashes and smiled; his soul lit up. "You asked for a whole set of dances, Your Highness," she said. "Do you still wish it?"
"Oh, yes," he said, stunned and happy. He offered his arm, and they took to the floor with the others.
This time, Issak stayed near. Temmin said little to Allis, and she said little to him; words seemed unnecessary. He never knew what to say at these things, but with her, awkwardness didn't apply. She made him comfortable, even though in the back of his mind he knew everyone in the room was staring at them, and some of the stares were not friendly ones.
When the set of dances ended, the revelers began milling about in gossiping clumps. The men escorted their partners to seats, and hurried off to fetch ices, tidbits, sweets, drinks. "May I get you some lemonade, Miss Obby? Wine, perhaps? Are you hungry?" said Temmin.
"I should prefer to see the gardens--I haven't been in Lord Litta's townhouse in too long. Would you fetch my shawl, Your Highness?" said Allis.
"Yes, of course," said Temmin.