Chapter 12 Part 2 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
He scratched at the scabbed-over stitches at his temple and then at his nape under the long, nagging queue he'd grown at the Temple. He'd had time to think and still hadn't figured the Alvo dilemma out. The last time they'd been together for any real length of time was almost two years ago, when he'd gotten roaring drunk and pawed Mattie in the hedge. Nausea and guilt shuddered through him, worry chasing close behind. He wished he knew where she was now so he might set things right.
Temmin turned his mind back to Alvo. The occasional sexual play between them as boys--play Temmin always assumed was practice for girls--had turned into something different that night: Alvo's declaration of love, and Temmin's first climax at another's hands. At the Temple he'd learned how pleasurable sex with men could be, but that wasn't the issue. Did he want Alvo as a lover?
He loved Alvo, certainly; Alvy was the closest thing he'd ever had to a brother. What did he want from Alvo now, and how did he want it--by choice, or by coercion? He knew at least a dozen different ways to bring Alvo round his thumb, but none he wanted to use. Some ways he now realized he'd used in their childhood; he'd always been able to coax Alvo into doing anything he wanted. As Heir, he could make anyone do anything he wanted by simple fiat, but he never pulled rank, especially with Alvo. At least, he liked to think so. Mama had drummed it into his head that relying on rank was the resort of bullies and cowards.
Temmin stood up and stuck his hands in his pockets. In the right-hand one, his fingers brushed the familiar rasp of sugar cubes. He smiled and walked to into the stables, where a big chestnut gelding stood peering over the stall door. Above the stall, an impeccably shined brass plaque read "Jebby"; an Heir's coronet crowned the plaque. The horse whickered and bobbed his head. Temmin almost ran to the stall, but once there stood relaxed and calm, letting the horse nudge and nuzzle him. "Hey, Jeb, hey, boy," he murmured.
Jebby had his fill of whuffling his master and turned away slightly, presenting his mane to be scratched. Temmin obliged and put his arms around the thick, muscular neck when he'd finished. He hugged the great horse close, breathing in hay, carrots, apples, oats, molasses, dung and clean horse--the smells of a well-run stable that said "home" deep in his bones. Mama had helped him pick out and train Jebby. Temmin hugged the horse tighter and released him.
The chestnut eyed him sideways and dipped his head several times. "Oh, all right," smiled Temmin, producing one sugar cube and then another; Jebby lipped each one from his hand, the velvety muzzle and its paradoxical whiskers both tickling his palm. They stood leaning into one another, Jebby careful not to lean into his master so much the fragile human toppled over.
Temmin let his eyes wander around the quiet stable. This is what he would do. He would simply stay near. He would let Alvo know the approach was his to make. He would place no barrier between them. He would offer himself to be leaned upon, even as he wished he could lean upon Alvo himself. Perhaps when they were comfortable again as friends and brothers, he might make up his mind whether they could be lovers.
Every morning Temmin and Jebby rode out over the rolling grasslands. Every vista reminded him of Mama; they squeezed his heart dry and filled it with her love over and over. Each time he was that much more as one with the enormous animal, and that much more reconciled with his mother's loss, however minutely. But even he could spend just so much time in the stables. He was unused to working with his hands after nearly two years in the Temple, and Alvo's attitude was so provoking Temmin thanked Nerr for his training in patience. "Alvo Nollson," the stable master scolded one morning just before Temmin turned the corner, "what has come over you? His Highness has never stood much on ceremony, but I'll thank you to at least treat 'im with respect, else I'll show you the business end of a riding crop!"
Temmin halted, listening for Alvo's answer. "How exactly have I been disrespectful, sir? Show me where I'm wrong and I'll correct it." The stable master grumbled that Alvo knew very well what he meant and stumped off. Temmin let himself round the corner; Alvo's guilty expression hardened into dull servitude. Temmin gave him a small smile and left him alone.
Walking back up to the Great House, he wondered what to do with himself for the day. Ellika had Anneya, and Lady Donnis was consoling his grandmother the Dowager Duchess at Meadow House. He considered visiting there, but discarded the notion. Grandmama had taken Mama's death hard, very hard indeed; she had outlived all her children and her husband, and Donnis fretted that the old lady mightn't survive her grief. Temmin wished he could be more supportive, but at times he wondered if he'd survive his own grief; he had nothing to offer.