Chapter 5 Part 3 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
Temmin realized how close they all sat on the bench. Allis pressed against his right, her hand light on his thigh; Issak boxed him in on his left, one hand soothing up his back before resting on his shoulder. "Just--kiss you?" he squeaked. "Both of you?"
"Have you never kissed a woman?" said Allis.
"Not this sober, no."
"Lesson number one," said Allis, turning his face to hers. She kissed him, soft and slow.
The tender pressure of her lips, the scent of her hair: something floral, sweet incense, clean skin underneath. Heady. Only his lips touched hers, but the kiss resounded through his body, sending minute shocks along his skin; they set his hair on end.
His eyes drifted closed. When they opened at the end of the kiss, she moved from a distant object of beauty and desire, static as a statue, to a woman; amusement, compassion, pleasure and hesitancy moved across her face, and to his surprise, he caught each look and understood them all.
A different hand turned his face the other way. "Lesson number two," said Issak. His firm kiss hardened; Issak's insistent tongue opened Temmin's mouth, and left him whimpering as it explored inside. Allis's fingers trailed across the taut front of his trousers. He fell out of the kiss with a gasp, leaning his head against Issak's broad shoulder. Was it intentional? Did he care? He did not. Such a small touch to leave such a great ache behind it. Another touch from the other side, more deliberate, and he pushed out, groaning.
"Sshh," soothed Allis, kissing him again. "Quietly, Temmin. We wish no more attention than we've already gathered. We should go back now, before we're missed. Listen, the music's started, the dancers are beginning to assemble again."
"I--I can't go in just yet," Temmin said, dazed and uncomfortable.
"Stay outside if you wish," said Allis, wrapping her shawl around her shoulders. "We have dances bespoken in this set."
Temmin gripped the bench, as the twins stood before him arm in arm. "What just happened?" he said.
"We will see you inside, Your Highness," said Issak.
The Obbys returned to the ballroom. Temmin took to pacing the little arbor in agitation. Jenks in his underwear, he recited to himself, Jenks in his underwear, Pagg-damned Jenks in his Pagg-damned underwear, to no avail. He strode down the paths leading deeper into the garden, hoping to walk off his arousal, but the paths left by fingers and lips refused to fade. He stopped in frustration under a tree whose low, spreading canopy sheltered him from sight. The party noise seemed tinny, and bright, and quite far away. He braced himself against the trunk with one hand, while he worked himself with the other one.
Kisses. Touches. He imagined where they might have gone, how Allis might have opened his trousers and caressed him, how Issak might have bent his head back and kissed him, how Allis might have knelt between his legs as Alvo had, how her mouth might have felt, how she might have looked up at him just when--
Temmin came in a longing spurt against the tree trunk. He rested his forehead on the smooth bark until his breath came more easily, then cleaned up what hadn't hit the tree with his handkerchief, thinking he must wash it out before putting it in the laundry. He checked himself all over for signs of impropriety, and stepped out from the tree's shelter toward the house.
A man he didn't recognize approached, still far down the path. Temmin took his hands from his pockets and straightened his shoulders. He was just reassuring himself that the stranger had been far enough away during his interlude under the tree, when the man drew a long dagger and ran at him.
Time slowed down, as it sometimes does in dangerous moments.
The man came between Temmin and the safety of the house. Only the King wore a ceremonial dagger at balls now; Temmin had no weapon. He cast about for anything nearby he could use to defend himself, found a palm-sized rock in a decorative grouping beside the path, and pitched it hard, scoring a solid hit on his attacker's temple. A cut opened; the man checked his stride, but only for a moment.
No more rocks, nothing to use as a shield or as a weapon. Nothing else for it: Temmin set himself in a defensive stance and sent up a prayer to Farr. "I'll send a case of the best wuisc I can find to Your temple, Warrior, if You get me through this," he muttered.
Several dark figures rose out of the nearby greenery. Accomplices? Three of them raised small crossbows and let fly; Temmin's attacker dropped, a bolt placed neatly between the eyes up to its fletching and two more in his ribs.
Another figure stepped into the path. "Your Highness!" said the figure, dropping to one knee and opening his arms. "I'm a Brother. We're Brothers. You're safe."
Temmin's heart beat so hard he could feel it in the tips of his ears. The Brother got to his feet, and said, "I'm Senior Brother Mardus. Are you hurt at all?"
"No, Brother, just--" scared, he admitted to himself. Aloud, he said, "Startled. Who was that? What in Harla's name just happened?"
"Another assassin, sir, though not a very good one. Hard to find professionals nowadays outside our service. I assume he was sent by your uncles."
"An assassin? Who'd want to kill me? I only have one uncle, and he's dead!"
Mardus clamped his mouth closed. "You had best ask your father about them, sir. It's not my place."
Time had returned to its usual flow, but Temmin's nerves still jangled and rang; he put his hands in his pockets to hide their shaking. He looked back at the dead assassin, whose eyes still stared up into the low light from the paper lanterns. The fletching bristled between the man's eyebrows. He was young, rough-looking; his formal apparel didn't fit well, as if it were borrowed. One eye had filled with blood; it trickled down the side of his face onto the gravel path.
Up came Temmin's dinner.
He retched into the grass, Mardus and another Brother standing respectfully to one side. When he'd finished, Mardus handed him a large bandana with a discreet, "Your Highness"; Temmin wiped his mouth. "I collect you've never seen a dead man before, sir?" said Mardus.
"Not like this, no," said Temmin.
"Don't be embarrassed," Mardus murmured. "Every man here has done the same, at least once." He took the bandana from Temmin's shaking hands, and folded it into a pouch hanging across his chest.
"What happens now?"
"You go back into the ball, sir, and we sweep the grounds. You will stay in the same dancing set the rest of the night, please, though you may choose different partners. The men in the set will be ours."
"Brothers dance?" said Temmin with a little smile.
"The dancers are officers from the Royal Guard. They've been among the dancers the entire time, sir." Mardus grinned. "Spares us Brothers the indignity of dancing with women." He shooed Temmin back to the house.
Ellika waited on the terrace; when she saw him, she ran up and took his arm. "I've been looking for you--you look terrible--you smell terrible! Did you throw up? Here--rinse your mouth with this lemonade and spit over the terrace, no one is looking. Did you have a fight with Allis already? That didn't take long!"
"No, and I'm not in the mood to be teased."
Ellika took a second look at his ashen, serious face, and said, "I'm sorry. No teasing. What happened?"
"Do you know anything about us having uncles on Papa's side?"
"Uncles? Papa didn't have any brothers, just Aunt Sofalla and Aunt Tessia. What's this about?"
"I don't know," said Temmin.