Chapter 5 Part 7 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
As Temmin walked to the Keep's mudroom from the stables, he saw Ellika in the gardens, cutting carefully chosen roses in fastidious little snips. She wore a dress of tiny pink and white stripes, with a neckline that would have gained their mother's strong disapproval without a modest lace fichu tucked into it. Atop Ellika's pile of blond hair balanced a wide straw hat covered in a ridiculous mound of silk roses, tied under her chin with trailing pink ribbons. Trotting after her in nervous, guilty adoration came the redheaded footman, Fen Wallek, holding a rose-filled trug basket.
"Temmy!" she called. "How d'you do! Isn't it lovely out? You'd hardly know Neya's Day hadn't come yet!"
Temmin ducked under the avalanche of silk roses and kissed each cheek. "How about giving me an early tea? I rode through lunch and I'm famished. And I'm hoping you can tell me more about--about someone we both know."
"Allis Obby, perhaps?"
"Behave, Elly," he said in an unsuccessful attempt at severity.
"Oh, I never behave," she answered, winking at Fen. The poor footman turned crimson under his freckles. He glared at Temmin, who returned the glare with interest. Fen dropped his eyes to the trug basket and kept them there.
"Somehow I can believe it," said Temmin, offering his sister an arm. She laid her shears in the basket full of roses, and sent Fen into the Keep with instructions to take the flowers up to her rooms and give them to her maid with instructions to expect His Highness at tea; Fen bowed, eyes worshipful, and sprinted into the mudroom. Temmin scowled.
Once safely in Ellika's sitting room, he said, "You really shouldn't torment the footmen, you know."
"Oh, nonsense," she said. "They like to look at me, and I like to be looked at, and there's an end to it. Thank you, Iddie, we'll have tea in here, please," she said to her maid as she sailed into her private sitting room. She perched herself on a spindly gilt chair at her spindly gilt tea table. "Wallek's attached to little Dannikson in any event, or so Iddie tells me. Don't they make a sweet pair? I'm hoping he declares for her soon so we can throw a little wedding party for them. Servants' weddings can be so diverting and sweet! And then perhaps we'll have little ones with curly red hair come of it, how charming! I shall take one as a page!"
"You're not breeding lap dogs."
"You shouldn't scold me if you want to hear more about Allis," she said.
"Miss Obby isn't the subject, though I wouldn't mind hearing more about her. We're going riding this Neyaday--do take off that hat, I feel as if I'm talking to a centerpiece--thank you. No, I actually came to talk to you about this footman, Wallek. Don't lead him on," he said, ignoring her tiny grimace. "He has a sweetheart, you know."
"I'm the one who told you about them!"
"You need to start acting as if you know about them. He's starting to take you seriously."
"He couldn't possibly!" exclaimed Ellika.
"He broke up with Dannikson over you." A partial fib, no more, he told himself. "They were to buy their promise rings in town today, but he stayed behind to move your furniture."
"How d'you know all this?"
Temmin paused, and said, "I heard it from Dannikson herself. I found her crying in the woods."
"You did, did you," she said, eyes narrowed. "You realize there's servants' gossip about the two of you."
He closed his eyes in consternation. "I swear on our mother's head there's nothing to it, and I'd hope you would pass that knowledge along--especially not as coming from me! I've only talked with her once or twice, and it was completely innocent."
"Oh dear. Dear, dear," murmured Ellika. "Wallek is a dunderhead, but he's an endearing dunderhead. One of my favorites. And little Dannikson is adorable. Well! We can't let this state of affairs stand, especially if we're partially to blame."
"You, not we," he grumbled.
"Leave it to me, Temmy, this is the kind of project I love. I'll have them back together in no time! Now that I've satisfied you, you must satisfy me," she continued. "Have you made up your mind about the Temple? Do you intend to see Her Holiness before--or after?"
"Before or after what?" he said uneasily. Ellika leveled a gaze at him until he shifted in his chair and blurted, "I don't know yet. Papa says after. Jenks seems to think before, but I haven't talked with him directly about it. And don't really want to."
"What does Mama say?"
"I'm not going to ask Mama! It's bad enough having this conversation with you!" he said.
"Pfft. I worry about you, either way."
"Why? Is there something wrong with Allis?"
"Oh, not at all! I'm the highest-ranking patroness of the Lovers' Temple, and I've gotten to know both Embodiments very well. Allis and her brother are the most amiable, sympathetic pair in the world," she declared. "I dare say you could tell them anything. Well, you can--they've taken vows of confidentiality, haven't they? Allis loves to ride almost as much as she loves to dance, so you could not have invited her to anything she would enjoy more. Now, tell me you love me, and pass me one of those butter cakes before you eat them all." He did so, and snagged the last lobster roll in passing. "I'm very glad I warned Iddie you were coming," said his sister. "Speaking of warnings! What happened last night? You never said, and I was half asleep on the ride home or I would have asked you then."
"It's a bad business, Elly. I don't really want to talk about it."
Ellika cocked her head at him. "I asked Mama this morning about any spare uncles I might have. She said something about Grandpapa scattering children across the country. I suppose we have a few bastard uncles we don't know about?"
"You'll have to ask Papa about it. No, don't cajole me--girls shouldn't ask about such things. Besides," he added, "I don't like the word 'bastard.' It's not the baby's fault, is it?"