Chapter 9 Part 1 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book One
Temmin set out on his early morning ride the next day with thoughts of Allis. He saw the multitudes of green in her eyes everywhere: pale, tender new leaves; ferns lacy and bright; the deep moss blanketing the tree trunks. Nothing held him back now but his father, who could only disapprove, not stop him. He said the nobility would be angry. Why would that matter? Who could stand against the royal family? And why should he care about what his father feared? The King didn't care about anything other than molding his son into a copy of himself.
He rode through the King's Woods, already knowing it by rote and absorbed in his thoughts, when he noticed a movement up ahead, not far from where he'd found Arta crying. Had she returned, or was it a deer hiding in the underbrush? As he drew nearer, the figure moved toward him, not away from him; it was no deer, but a man.
Temmin pulled up. It might be a Guard--or an assassin. His father had said no one could enter the King's Woods from the far side, and an assassin coming from the direction of the Keep was unlikely. An assassin coming directly at him in plain sight was even less likely. A Traveler, perhaps? The Traveler Prince in the History had red hair, but nowhere near as alarming as this man's.
"Hangin back? Fuckin coward!" the man called, wobbling closer. "Aye, you'd better be careful, you bastard!"
He recognized both the voice and the hair; they belonged to the young footman, Arta's sweetheart, the one who dangled after Ellika. "Wallek?" Temmin called uncertainly. "That's your name, isn't it?"
"Get down from that horse and I'll make you remember my name, you asshole!" cried the footman.
"What's amiss? My girl's amiss! My life's amiss!" Fen waved a small white cloth at Temmin like a little flag. Jebby took a snorting step back, and turned his side toward the intruder. "Get down offa that horse an fight like a man, you beardless shit!" He advanced, weaving as he went. "I'm gonna show you why I'm the bare knuckles champ of Templestone!"
"Bare knuckles--are you serious?" said Temmin, thinking of his training with various fighting masters. Champion or no, Temmin was sure he could beat the footman if he had to.
Jebby was a calm horse by nature, but he sensed his rider's tension, and took great exception to the stranger waving a cloth. The big chestnut pinned his ears back and swished his tail, but the stranger paid no attention, and neither did the confused and preoccupied Temmin. When the stranger came too close, Jebby struck out to the side with his closest hind leg, just grazing the man's thigh. The young footman went down.
Temmin wheeled Jebby around, moved off a short way and dismounted. "Stay put!" he told the unrepentant horse as he wrapped the reins around a branch. He ran back to where Fen lay gasping. "How badly are you hurt?" he said, crouching down. "It's my fault--I should've noticed his mood and moved him away, but don't you know better than to come up on a horse like that?"
"Don' matter," Fen muttered. "Jus stand there an I'll pound you into paste from down 'ere!"
A strong odor of spirits met Temmin's nose. "You're drunker than Farr! Here, let me look at your leg--all right, then, if you won't show me, then let me at least check for a broken bone," he said. "I've seen a horse's kick kill a man, you should be more careful--be calm around horses."
"Calm, he says. How can I be calm when you stole my girl!" Fen tried to sit up, and went right back down, sweating and pale.
Temmin ran a gentle hand down the footman's thigh. "Nothing broken. Probably just a bad bruise. Lucky, actually. No, stay down--you must stay down! I'll have to go back to the stables for help, but let's see if we can't get you out of the path first."
Temmin slung Fen over his shoulder and helped the young man onto his good leg as he hissed in pain; they hobbled to an improvised seat in the roots of a tree. "No matter," muttered Fen. "I'll fight you when I can stand up."
A little flask fell out of the footman's jacket; Temmin pocketed it before Fen could catch it. "I'd rather not fight you at all." Fen burst into snotty tears. Temmin took the little white cloth still clutched in Fen's hand--as he'd thought, a handkerchief, but one with a familiar sigil embroidered on it. "Hang on, this is one of mine! How'd you get it?"
"How'd Arta get it, you mean!" cried Fen. "That's what I came to find out! You fuckin bastard! Any girl in the Kingdom--Pagg's balls, you could have Neya's Embodiment! And you want my Arta!"
Temmin sat back on his haunches. "Is that what this is about? Wallek, I don't want your Arta. I didn't lay a hand on her--well--not much of a hand--damn!" he winced. "Besides, she told me you'd broken with her!"
"You admit pawin her, then!"
"I admit nothing of the kind! And, d'you know, I could beat you senseless for having pretensions to my sister!"
"Miss Ellika's the one who got Arta to tell me about you!" cried Fen. He snatched the disputed handkerchief, and noisily blew his nose. "I'd never--I didn't--she made me so mad!"
"Ellika? She makes me mad every other day," said Temmin, sitting down next to the footman. He ran a hand through his hair. This had his sister's pawprints all over it.
"No, no--at Arta! How could anyone ever be mad at Miss Ellika? She's like--bein around her is like bein around a fairy!" Fen stopped crying. "She's so beautiful, so sweet! Otherworldly-like!"
"'Otherworldly-like?'" snorted Temmin. "You wouldn't say that if she were your sister."
Fen paid no attention. "The Princess asks me to do somethin, I do it, but Arta, she doesn' understand." He looked so young sitting there wiping his nose, even to Temmin. "S'pose I can't blame 'er. We were goin to get our promise rings, and there I was, movin furniture on my day off."
"For another girl, I might add," chided the suddenly wise Temmin.
"That's what Arta said. Never seen her so mad! And the things she said--I didn't know she knew those words! She said I was an idiot, and who did I think I was, a junior footman danglin after a princess, and I said who did she think she was, a downstairs maid jealous of a princess, like a jenny wren jealous of a swan!"
"I'm sure that went over well."
"If I coulda took it back, I woulda, but she had me so mad! And then she said if she was nothing but a jenny wren, why was I her sweetheart, and I said, we can change that, y'know!" He patted his coat for his flask. "Can I have just a tad? Please?"
"I think not," said Temmin. "What did my otherworldly-like sister do to goad you into this foolishness?"
"She heard gossip--"
"Gossip? She heard it from me! I told her to stop encouraging you, that she was coming between you two."
"She never encouraged me! And you had a hand in the business yourself," glared Fen.
Temmin screwed up his mouth. "People talk... You've probably heard I--I qualify to be a Supplicant to the Lovers' Temple." Fen nodded warily. "All right, then. How could I qualify if I'd done anything...dishonorable with Arta?"
Fen stared blankly at the Prince. "That's true! You couldn't go there if... Any road, Her Highness talked to Arta and found out what you done--"
"I told her! She already knew!"
"She didn't know about the hankie! Or the kisses!"
"One kiss! And I might add I didn't have to talk Arta into it!"
"Are you callin my girl easy?" Fen tried and failed to get up again, and sank back in pain.
"No, no, nothing of the sort. There, now, stay down. Finish the story."
Fen repeated Arta's story, and how she had shown him the handkerchief as proof. "I swore I'd knock you straight into Inchar, prince or no, an she said what did it matter, she wasn' my girl any more, an I said of course you're my girl." He sighed. "Anyway, got myself a bottle for courage, cuz I'm sure to be cashiered or worse for this, and came out here to wait. They lock the Keep at eleven bells, you know. I was so mad I didn' think about bein stuck out here. Oh, Gods, they're gonna hang my head over Marketgate."
"Not if I can help it," said Temmin. "Rely on me. I won't let them touch you. I'll vouch for you."
Fen regarded him warily. "You'd do that?"
"This was a misunderstanding--my sister goaded you into foolishness. And besides, you're the sweetheart of a friend--and Arta is nothing more than a friend. I do my best for my friends."
He gave Temmin a sideways look, filled with grudging respect. "You're all right, Your Highness. Not princely-like a-tall."
"I'll take it as a compliment," he answered. "You're all right, too."