Chapter 1 Part 2 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Temmin kept his face as tranquil as he could, though his heart beat so hard against his starched shirt front that its studs must be quivering. Would his father cut him on his own birthday? There'd been more than one royal snub in the last year: no invitations to his sisters' birthdays; careful avoidance at events requiring the attendance of the entire family; communication with the royal family completely blocked--even with his mother.
The Heir's birthday celebrations made contact unavoidable. Every year a countrywide public holiday and fireworks marked the day. Since his coming-of-age the year before, the royal family also hosted a ball. The one last year had been a daunting introduction to life in the City after his peaceful childhood home at Whithorse Estate, to the north and west in the rolling grasslands around Reggiston. How happy they'd all been at home--just him, his sisters, and Mama.
Temmin banished his melancholy and trained his gaze on the twins' glossy heads. Their nearness should have calmed him, but instead it brought more worries to mind. He'd been seeing less of them lately even though they were his teachers as well as his lovers. It troubled him, especially losing regular contact with Allis. In many ways he'd entered the service of the Gods for her sake; first her beauty and then her empathy had knocked him into near-insensibility. She'd instantly known his heart's every secret, and after a year in her company he trusted her more than anyone on earth but for his mother. No comfort could be found in thoughts of the twins; instead, he focused on his father.
Harsin wore his full dress cavalry uniform: a smartly-tailored tunic in the blood-dark hue called Tremontine red, and crisp white breeches tucked into brilliant black riding boots. Several jeweled medals, each one earned, hung in a cluster above his heart. He carried the only sword allowed in the room; it hung at his left hip from a broad black sash across his chest. He appeared invincible, as if he could conquer armies single-handed, though silver had almost conquered his beard and was increasingly invading his near-black hair. Temmin wondered if he'd finally grown taller than his father.
Beside the King stood Temmin's mother, Queen Ansella. She kept her gaze on the Embodiments, though the impatience and excitement twitching at the corner of her mouth told Temmin how much she wanted to embrace him.
Allis and Issak descended into the room's tense stillness to make their bow and curtsey before the King. Harsin took Issak by the right hand and Allis by the left, and raised them to their feet again before kissing each one on both cheeks. A pleased surprise rippled through the crowd.
The twins moved aside to make their obeisance to the Queen. Temmin's fellow Supplicant Anda Barrows flicked her eyes at him in signal, and they started down the remaining stairs to the King. Anda made her curtsey; Harsin raised her up, kissed her round cheeks and released her to the Queen.
The throng held its breath as Temmin and the King came face to face. Temmin concentrated on his training: Blink little, and slowly, smile little if at all. Face forward, eyes front but not staring, head just bent to show respect but not submission. Mimic his posture and stance, and then subtly start changing it--he will follow. Feel what you are doing, don't pretend. You've beaten him once, you have nothing to prove…Oh, if only that were true… He waited for his father to break the moment.
Harsin smiled, his white teeth blinding, and clasped Temmin at the elbows; Temmin followed suit, pulling his father close in relief. The onlookers exhaled. Harsin put his cheek against Temmin's and whispered, "I haven't forgiven you, but I can play a part better than anyone in your Temple. Welcome home," he added aloud.
"Thank you, sir," said Temmin, smiling as his insides wrenched. Well, at least he'd get to see his mother and sisters. At a sudden thought, Temmin leaned in again and murmured, "Contrary to your expectations, the prophecy meant nothing. The nobility is still intact and you're still King. All your enmity for nothing, Father."
Harsin's smile hardened as he drew away. "The night is young, son," he said aloud. "Let's enjoy it while we may." He offered his arm to Allis, and she took it.
Temmin moved to his mother, and here his body relaxed; he ignored his training entirely and let delight overtake him. "Good evening, Mother."
"Good evening, my son," all formality until he kissed her on each cheek; she whispered, "Oh, my sweetheart, how happy I am to see you!" He breathed in her familiar scent of roses, lavender and Mama, and allowed himself to close his eyes for a moment.
He released her and saluted his sisters in the same way. First came Sedra Princess Royal, the most like their father of the three siblings--studious, dark and tall. Her chocolate eyes, usually crackling with intelligence and a somewhat biting wit, shone bright and soft tonight as she murmured a welcome.
Ellika was a different matter. The middle child was a near-copy of their mother but for her father's deep brown eyes, and she sparkled with excitement and fun. Where her sister wore a spare, elegant steel-colored dress, Ellika wore an exuberant display of lace and tiny pearls over pale primrose satin. Her golden curls bounced as she pounced on her brother and kissed his furred cheek. "Temmy, you're home!" she chirped in his ear before releasing him.
The King was to dance with Allis, Issak with the Princess Royal, and Temmin with his mother. Who would he give Ellika to for the first dance? Hovering on the crowd's edge stood that loathsome Percet Sandopint--Lord Fennows, the most unwelcome of Ellika's suitors, even if he was the son of the influential Duke of Corland.
Where was the man Temmin had seen earlier? Choosing him would send a clear signal to certain parties present. He led his sister past the glowering Fennows to his sometime enemy, the Duke of Litta, and presented her. "Your Grace."
Ellika, who knew nothing of the history between her brother and the Duke, smiled and offered her hand. "I am honored," said Litta, taking it in astonishment.
Temmin returned to his mother and gave her his arm. The music master shook his black mop of a mustache and his blacker mop of hair; he raised his long, thin arms, the music began, and the dancing pulsed with a cheer no longer forced.