Chapter 11 Part 5 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Harsin folded Ansella's arms over her chest. The Friends brought the shroud around her body; Harsin and the children took turns sewing it closed. Emsa gave Ansella's velvet-wrapped hair to Sedra, who accepted it with shaking hands. The Friends took up the body in its coffin again and returned to the main hall for the walk to the royal section of the catacombs.
A ramrod-straight, barrel-chested man in the dark Tremontine red uniform of a colonel of the Royal Cavalry waited in the hall; the uniform's markings were of the First Cavalry Battalion of the Whithorse Guard, and medals covered its front. Tradition banned weapons from the Hill, and his sword sheath hung empty at his side. The man held his black fur winter uniform hat under his arm. Gray threaded the black hair fringed round his head as well as his neatly trimmed beard, and his weather-lined face flashed a heavy grief before he snapped to attention.
It was Jenks, Temmin's valet since boyhood, the man who'd raised him with his mother, who'd helped teach him to ride, the other male member of the little family that would sit beside the nursery fire at home of a night at the Estate. Temmin resisted the urge to run to him like a little boy.
He took a second look. Why did Jenks wear a colonel's uniform?
Harsin didn't seem surprised to see him and shook his hand. "At ease, Colonel."
Jenks took each girls' hands in both his own--"Miss Sedra, Miss Ellika--Miss Ellika, have you been ill? What happened to your hair?"
"Oh, Jenks!" cried Ellika, pressing her forehead to his hands. She burst into tears, the first Temmin had seen. She recovered herself enough to release him and turned to her sister, who held her while she cried.
Jenks snapped to attention again. "Your Highness," he said to Temmin.
Not knowing what else to do, Temmin followed his father's lead: "At ease." He added, "Jenks, why are you in uniform? I don't understand."
The older man took Temmin's hand in a strong grip. "Later, sir. It's past time for explaining, but not now."
They all walked deep into the catacombs, past sealed and empty niches carved into the walls. Jenks should have been with us when we gave Mama her final bath. Technically he was a servant, but Jenks was as much a part of Temmin's family as anyone--but was he a servant? Seeing Jenks in a colonel's uniform confused and unsettled Temmin.
The unhappy group stopped at a niche prepared for its new occupant in the section reserved for high nobility; masons waited, bricks and mortar beside them. The Friends slid the coffin inside, and the masons began to seal the temporary tomb closed. "Goodbye, Mama," whispered Temmin.
The family spent the long day's remainder accepting condolences in the Keep's main Receiving Room until Temmin thought he would go mad. The worst was shaking hands with Fennows, that spotted git. The lordling gave Temmin a syrupy condolence, almost snubbed Sedra and clung so hard to Ellika's hand that the princess had to shake him off with unfeigned annoyance. By now, Miss Clommert had insisted on covering Ellika's shorn locks in a black snood. Perhaps she should have let the shaggy mop be seen; it might have thrown Fennows off.
Each condolence bit at Temmin, leaving his soul as bloodied as his temple; a Sister assigned to the Hill had stitched his cut closed, and Harbis had helped him arrange his hair so it hardly showed. When he escaped to his rooms, he found Jenks standing by the hearth, still in the grand red tunic covered in medals. Relief at seeing his dear friend warred with irritation and no small alarm. "Why are you wearing a cavalry uniform?" he demanded as he came into the room.
Jenks fiddled with his hat. "I am in the cavalry, sir."
"Put that down," snapped Temmin. "You know exactly what I mean. You are long retired, and you were never a colonel."
"Oh, but I was, Temmin--I am," sighed the big man. "Forgive me, but will you sit, sir? You look tired and hungry--and I can't sit until you do."
"Of course!" cried Temmin, abandoning his attitude. "Please, sit. May I offer you a drink? How strange to offer you a drink, I'm not used to playing host with you. I'll order dinner. Is that idiot Harbis around? Harbis!"
The annoying, perfect valet emerged from Temmin's bedchamber. "I have taken the liberty of ordering dinner for you and the Colonel, sir, and have laid out your favorite carpet slippers and house jacket. Shall I help you with your attire, sir?"
"Oh, push off, Harbis. I can attend to it myself." He caught Jenks's disapproving eye. "And thank you. You think of everything, really, and as difficult as these few days have been, I have appreciated your service. Truly."
Harbis bowed. "Thank you, sir. I'll…'push off,' sir, but I shall stand by if you need me." He glided across the floor and let himself out.
"Thank Pagg he's gone. Oh, Jenks, I'm so very glad to see you! I don't know about you but I need a drink."