Chapter 1 Part 3 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Temmin twirled his mother through the dobla, the simple traditional dance that began all Tremontine balls. As they turned, he took in the room from the corners of his eyes, as he'd been trained. Issak was making the reserved Sedra blush; Ellika was treating the surprisingly graceful Litta as if he were in doddering need of her guidance, luckily to his amusement; and Harsin was entirely too close to Allis. His father wore the intimate, hooded expression that meant far more than polite interest.
Temmin buried his anger and brought his full attention back to his mother, to catch her scanning the balconies; she returned searching eyes to his face. "You look so very well! You've grown, my dear! Are you happy? Did you make the right decision?"
"Oh, yes." His mother quirked a brow; no training could hide his heart from his mother. "Mostly," he amended. "It's not quite what I thought it would be. But I'm learning a great deal, and not all what…what most people think goes on there." He blushed; he still couldn't control his blushing reliably.
On the next turn Ansella looked up into the balconies again for a fleeting moment, and when he swung round himself he saw what had fixed her attention, or rather who: Ibbit, priestess of the Temple of Venna the Sister, and the Queen's religious advisor. She'd been Temmin's religious advisor when he was still at home, but they hated one another so much that Ibbit let Temmin skip most lessons: their one shared secret. Ibbit watched the dancing in disapproval until she saw the Queen; her long face broke out into a possessive gloat. She met Temmin's eyes, and her expression changed to contempt.
He spun his mother round the other way and found himself facing the many mirrors lining the hall. One did not reflect the glittering room. Instead, it showed something no one else in the room could see: a slight, androgynous figure, clad in a severe black suit covered in a black robe; its iron-colored hair was pulled back in a tight, conservative tail, and disturbing, silver-gray eyes followed him as he danced. Teacher! It was Teacher.
He smiled at the reflection on his next turn; Teacher's stern face split in a rare grin just before vanishing altogether. Seeing Teacher was almost as great a birthday gift as seeing his mother. He returned his attention to her, giving her a spin that left her giggling like a girl, and let happiness swell his heart.
Harsin spent his time working the crowd and dancing. Balls blended his two favorite pastimes: politics and women. Watching his lords at leisure taught him much. They revealed themselves not only in whom they talked to, but in whom they didn't. It was genuine dislike in cases like Anvalt Duke of Litta and Bornet Duke of Corland, but in the case of Corland and some of the minor lords of his duchy, it seemed to Harsin as if they didn't want to be caught speaking to one another. Interesting.
More interesting tonight were the women. Take Baroness Hawksfield, a blond beauty married to her much older husband not a year and here she was, blatantly carrying on with a handsome cavalry lieutenant. Did Hawksfield care? He couldn't be oblivious to his young wife's dalliances. The Baroness's libido must take after her sister's; Harsin glanced over at Anda Barrows, his son's fellow Supplicant. Baroness Hawksfield received all the beauty allotted to the Barrows girls, but all in all he thought the plainer of the two more honest in her wants, and far more appealing. Judging by the crowd of men around the plump Supplicant, he wasn't alone in his assessment.
Nevertheless, he put the Baroness on his list. Always good to have new faces; he'd gone through so many of the room's beauties already.
In the last year, he hadn't enjoyed his list as much as he had in the past. He chalked it up to the presence of his wife. For most of the last eighteen years she'd been living at her family's estate near Whithorse's ducal capital, raising their children. Her bride price had been simple: In exchange for her coveted hand, she was to be allowed to raise her children away from the Keep. She wanted to give them a normal childhood, she'd said. Harsin's main advisor Teacher had approved; it would ground the Prince in ways the traditional aristocratic education at Parkdale could not. Harsin had agreed; after all, it gave him a free hand with his own…interests.
What a mistake. Temmin grew up too comfortable among commoners, and Sedra grew up too fond of study. He could not complain about Ellika, he thought as his giddy daughter whirled past. Beautiful, happy and addicted to gaiety--a rather frivolous girl he'd have no trouble marrying off to a suitable ally, unlike her overly-serious sister.
Harsin rarely admitted to himself that Ansella's absence had aggravated him the most. Yes, he'd visited her at the Estate, official visits taken by carriage or the new train and secret visits taken there via Teacher's magic, but over the years they'd grown apart. A thousand miles separated them, as did the list. She was unwilling to cross the former, he to cross off the latter.
They'd spent the early days of their arranged marriage struggling against one another in bed and in life. He'd always wanted her, list or no, and before Temmin's birth he knew she wanted him in spite of herself. She might have even loved him. She was porcelain over a malleable metal he never quite shaped to his will. Her resistance thrilled him, aroused him and ultimately frustrated him.
Ansella looked particularly well tonight. She always did in blue. It so suited her porcelain-and-roses skin and golden hair, and it matched the shade of her eyes. The cut of her dress displayed her still-splendid figure without vulgarity, and he once again rued the distance between them. She was squeezing Sedra's hands as if in parting but she was looking over her daughter's shoulder. He followed his wife's gaze up into the galleries to Sister Ibbit.
Harsin was unused to rivals. It galled him. Why must everything always be so complicated with Ansella? Ibbit left the gallery as Ansella left the ballroom with nary a nod his way.