Chapter 7 Part 1 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
In fact, Fennows could not ride. Fennows couldn't do anything. Temmin watched a groom trying, and failing, to give the spotty young man a foot-up onto his horse. Fennows abused the poor groom the whole time: did the groom know who he was--disrespectful cur--clumsiest groom in Tremont, he should think. And he got away with it! The groom didn't blink an eye. If Temmin had used that tone at home, he'd have found out what was what. But none of the grooms met Temmin's eyes this morning, merely pressing their knuckles to their foreheads or bowing, and all of them eyeing Fennows when they thought the Heir wasn't looking. It all conspired to deepen Temmin's already-sour mood.
"You will entertain Lord Fennows tomorrow, Temmin, and from time to time while he is with us as your studies permit," King Harsin had said the night before. "His father is important to me politically. Learn to like him. Is he really so bad?" he'd added at Temmin's sour face.
He was really that bad, thought Temmin now, watching Fennows jounce gracelessly into the Woods. Impatience got the better of him; he tapped Jebby in the sides, and galloped past His Lordship without so much as a glance behind him. Not long after, though, his conscience caught up, and he slowed to a walk; Fennows came puffing up at an awkward canter. "That really was unreasonable, I should think, Temmy!" he wheezed.
The unwarranted use of his nickname overrode any prickings at Temmin's conscience, however small. "It's unreasonable to waste the day," he snapped. "Keep up or go home! Gidyap, Jeb!" The big horse tore down the War Road, leaving the enraged Fennows gasping in the saddle.
Temmin didn't see Fennows until he returned to the stables for lunch, to be served in Temmin's study. They walked from the stables, through the mudroom--though Fennows disapproved of any door but the main one--and up the Residence Wing stairs in silence. Temmin knew he should apologize for his behavior, and disgorged a sort of one: "I'm sorry you couldn't keep up this morning."
Fennows immediately brightened. "Oh, that's all right, Temmy old thing," he said in an ingratiating tone that made Temmin regret the apology, as imperfect as it was. "I know you're quite the horseman, and riding isn't in my line."
"I really don't care for my childhood nickname any more, Percy," said Temmin as they entered his study.
"Oh, that's all right, you can call me Percy all you'd like--well! Hello!"
Standing near the bookshelves was Arta. She fumbled her feather duster in surprise, recovered herself, and turned her face to the wall.
"Arta--Dannikson, don't do that! You know I hate it," said Temmin in exasperation.
"I can see why. Want to see as much of that face as possible, I should think, though the back view ain't bad. A prime bit!" Fennows whispered, nudging Temmin and ignoring the Prince's answering glare.
Arta was in fine looks, a cluster of curls wisping at her nape, her hazel eyes clear and bright, if anxious. "I'm sorry, Your Highness, it's a habit," she quavered, turning to face them. "I was told to dust the upstairs studies, and I thought I'd be able to finish this one before you were due home, sir--I'm very sorry!"
"I'm not!" grinned Fennows. Arta blushed as red as her ribbons. "Spin round, my dear, let's get a good look at you!"
"No," said Temmin. He took Arta firmly by the elbow and escorted her through the door into the empty hall. "It's all right, you're not in trouble," he murmured. "Just stay away from Lord Fennows, or you'll be in trouble, and not with me or Affton."
"I'm sorry, sir, I didn't mean to bother--"
He stopped her, and gave a furtive glance up and down the hall. "Arta, you didn't bother me," he said. He ran his thumb along her cheek, and chewed on his lip. "I don't want him anywhere near you. If he bothers you, you tell me. Promise me."
"Sir, you don't need to worry about someone like me."
She took his hand from her cheek, her face troubled. "I promise."
"All right, then. Go on."
She disappeared down the service stairs, and he stalked back into his study to the smirking young lord. "Ah, I see where things lie, I'm no dull wit, I should think!" said Fennows.
"I'm sure I don't understand you," said Temmin, throwing his coat over the back of the green velvet couch.
Fennows chuckled. "You don't have to play coy with me, old thing! Last person in the world you have to play coy with when it comes to a little love! When did you land her? I should have snapped her up the minute I saw her, too! Those eyes--and nice tits under the livery, I'd wager, hey?"
Temmin advanced on him, his jaw tight; Fennows shrank, but held his ground. "You stay away from her, Percet Lord Fennows," he spat. "She is to be left alone, by you and everyone else, d'you understand me?"
"Never worry, never worry," said Fennows, hands before him. "She's your little bit, I shouldn't dream of poaching 'er."
"She's not my 'little bit,'" said Temmin.
"Eh?" blinked Fennows.
Just then, Jenks entered with lunch. Temmin's every glance pleaded, "Don't leave me alone with this idiot," but Jenks returned his mute entreaties with flinty unconcern and left once he'd set the meal on the little table by the window.