Chapter 8 Part 1 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
On Neyaday morning, Temmin skipped his ride. For one, he wanted Jebby to be fresh, and for another, he wanted to give what saddle time his poor bottom would allow to Allis. He would have her all to himself for an afternoon. What would happen once he had her all to himself, he didn't know.
Jenks and Affton made the preparations. A picnic would await them in the Fairy Meadow, not as high in the foothills as Temmin had ridden two days previous, but high enough to afford a lovely view of the City from the comfortable shade of an Inchari-style tent pavillion: opulent carpets, enormous pillows, a low table, and no chairs. Temmin himself found the Inchari style of dining fussy and overly exotic, a decadent, indulgent byproduct of the southern continent's laxity of character and oppressive heat. But with Allis to impress, every luxury the Keep could produce must be brought to bear. All Temmin had to do was show up, and not make a fool of himself.
Given his way, Jenks dressed his charge with a savage fervor, assembling and re-assembling until he found his ultimate combination: a fine dark gray riding suit tailored to a knife's edge, its cutaway coat graced with a black velvet collar; black riding boots so polished Temmin briefly worried Teacher might spy on him through their reflections; a light gray waistcoat patterned with the sigil of the Lovers' Temple--would Allis notice? She seemed to notice everything. Small sapphires winked at his cuffs, a matching stickpin in his simple, dark blue cravat. Gray gloves, a low black riding hat: on the whole, an impression of complete confidence.
"This is why I keep you around, Jenks," said Temmin as he examined himself in the mirror. "I look as if I know what I'm doing!"
"Now you know why the Cavalry is so particular about clothing," said Jenks, beaming. "Looking as if you've already won is half the battle, we say. Now, off with you. Staff will be waiting for you in the Fairy Meadow."
Temmin bounded out of his study, straight into his last obstacle: his mother, or at least his mother's representative in the form of her personal attendant and dresser. Miss Hanston brought Her Majesty's compliments, and would His Highness please accompany her to the Queen's apartments? Temmin blew a breath out in dismay, but trailed dutifully after her. Looking for clues in Hanston's demeanor was pointless; when it came to anyone's dealings with her mistress, she radiated the disapproving protectiveness people showed when a careless child entered a porcelain seller's shop, or when a too-jolly uncle picked up a newborn baby. No one was careful enough with Her Majesty--not even Her Majesty's son--and Hanston wasn't having it.
Hanston ushered Temmin into his mother's private sitting room. The dresser's face broke into soft, doughy benevolence as she announced him to Ansella, and puckered into hard folds again as she gave Temmin a glance that said, "You break her, my boy, and you'll have me to pay."
Ansella put down her teacup, patted the couch cushion beside her, and took his hand as he sat. As soon as the alternately scowling and beaming Hanston left the room, she said, "I know you're hurrying off, Temmy. But I never see you now except at mealtimes, and often not even then. We're both so busy here--I was afraid this would happen." She studied an arrangement of tulips on a nearby console, blood red in the soft cream and blue sitting room, and sighed. "I wanted to speak to you as your mother about your pursuit of Allis Obby," she continued.
"Oh Gods, Mama," he groaned. "I'm just going riding with a pretty girl. I haven't committed to anything at all," he recited.
"She's not a 'pretty girl,' Temmy. It's very wrong of you to call her that," chided Ansella. "You should refer to her as the Holy One, or Miss Obby at worst! I know you haven't committed to anything, sweetheart. But your father is quite adamant that you have nothing to do with the Lovers' Temple until you're...older."
"He can't keep me from doing it."
"No, and he shouldn't."
Temmin raised his brows in surprise. "Are you saying I should chase the Lovers?"
"I can't go that far," said Ansella.
Her face bore a troubled look, and he said, "Would it make you so very unhappy?"
"No!" she said, her face clearing. "No, it wouldn't make me unhappy at all. To have a child of mine called by the Gods? Nothing would make me prouder, even if it is the Lovers and not my own Venna. Your father believes in the Gods, but only because as king he's...he's seen things. I believe because I want to, I believe with all my heart, and always have since I was a small child. Ib--Sister Ibbit," she stumbled, "advises me you should not chase Them. You know how much she disapproves of the Lovers, strongly disapproves."
"She disapproves of everything," muttered Temmin.
"I share her disapproval, if not to her degree. But if They want you...I won't tell you to chase Them, but I certainly won't tell you not to chase Them."
"Papa didn't ask you to talk me out of it?"
Ansella put her hand over Temmin's. "Oh, of course he did. I told him what I'm telling you...more or less. Your father has his reasons for disliking this, and so do I. But my concern for you is greater than my dislike of the Lovers." She rose, pulling her son with her. "Temmy, you are my youngest," she said, bringing her soft little hands to his face; they smelled of mint-and-chamomile tea. "You are my baby, my only boy. I have to give my girls away. You're the only one I get to keep. I wanted you to stay the same sweet boy you've always been, and so I kept women out of your way."
"What?" he said.
"But if you must go with women," she said in a rush, "this is the best way. Oh, please don't tell your father what I'm saying! But it's true. I would rather see you safely and honorably with the Lovers, than see you dallying with loose women, keeping mistresses, whoring all over the countryside, endangering your children, bringing shame on us, siring bastards on housemaids in my own house--!"
Temmin said nothing. His mother's unintentionally comic tirades against unseen women of dubious virtue were often sources of private amusement for her children. But he'd never connected these tirades with his father. How many mistresses did his father have, he wondered now--how many illegitimate children besides Mattie? Should he worry about sons? "Marriage isn't always a happy ending," Teacher had said.
These thoughts showed in Temmin's face, and Ansella stopped, her face guilty. She recovered herself with difficulty, and resumed, "You know how much I've always hated it that Elly chose the Lovers--"
"Mama, she only goes to Temple but once a year."
"--But you're a man, and you will do what men do, and I'd rather you do it in an honorable way. Your people will be able to look on you with pride, your wife will be able to look on you with pride, I will be able to look on you with pride!" She broke off, choking down a sob.
Temmin took her hands in consternation. "Do I need to call for Hanston?"
"Oh, no, no!" she said. She dropped his hands, fished a handkerchief out of her pocket, and wiped her eyes. "Don't do that or neither one of us will hear the end of it. I'm sorry, sweetheart, your interest in...in women is a milestone I've been dreading. I'm feeling it too greatly," she said. "Go on your ride. Decide for yourself what you will do. And if your father asks if I talked with you, try not to tell him exactly what I said." He left her sitting on the couch again, eyes closed and looking as fragile as the teacup in her hand.