Chapter 13 Part 3 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Whitehorse Freehold reared up from a flat plain, its ancient earthen and stone fortifications undulating around it in sinuous curves. Rising above it stood a new stone fortress, spectators lining its ramparts; a lookout must have noted the unknown additions to the outriders and spread the word. Though the fortress was huge, the hill fort itself dwarfed it--an old, old place. Across the valley, another hill rolled up from the grasslands surrounding it. Turf had been carved away from the hill to form a rearing horse, white chalk against the deep green grass.
Tennoc, Hanni and the Whitehorsers rode through the first gate and up the winding causeway; the earthenworks mounded on each side hemmed a potential invading force into a single file, perfect targets for boulders and boiling oil. They passed through two more lightly defended gates, up the last curve and into the hill fort. A small city bustled within the walls, tradespeople and craftsmen coming and going; numerous wattle-and-daub thatch-roofed houses huddled between the fortress and the outer ramparts, with plenty of open space for seasonal markets. The houses and Temples looked a bit old-fashioned to Tennoc's eye, but the fortress itself was everything a modern military man might want, thick-walled and easy to defend. The earthen and stone defenses included enough room for the people of the surrounding countryside to shelter in times of war--with all their cattle if need be, so great a space it contained.
Fallik led the riders into the fortress's own courtyard, where they dismounted. Fallik began calling out orders in a loud voice, speaking so quickly in Tremontine that Tennoc had trouble following. While his mother had spoken Tremontine to him his whole life and he considered himself fluent, he'd never been around groups of people speaking it all at the same time. He caught his Tremontine name, and heard himself described as "King Andrin's bastard out of Lassanna"; he grit his teeth and reminded himself he needed these people's help. His cousin's commands ended with an order to find Lord Gonnor.
Tennoc would finally meet his hated grandfather, the man who'd tried to kill him in his mother's belly. His father the King was a coward for not protecting Mama, but Lord Grandfather was a bully, and Tennoc despised bullies. Even so, Tennoc could not afford to anger the man. He was dependent on Gonnor's shelter until he could equip himself for the journey to Tremont City.
It never occurred to him that as Andrin's Heir he outranked every man in the castle.
Grooms took their horses; Hanni made as if to follow, but Tennoc stopped him, saying, "I need you close by, Hanni. You're all I have here."
Hanni snorted and waved his hand around the courtyard. "The home of your family. The Heir to the Kingdom. A holder of powerful magic. You, perfectly safe. My horse a fifth shoe needs, more than you need me."
"I need you to keep me from killing my grandfather," muttered Tennoc.
Hanni put his hand on his master's elbow and spoke in the perfect Kellish he used only when dead serious: "You are a smart boy. Let Pagg guide you, for His justice is with you, not your grandfather." Hanni snatched his horse's reins from a surprised groom, abusing him in randomly accented Tremontine as he walked the animal to the stables.
Tennoc strode behind Fallik into the fortress itself, thinking on how to behave toward Gonnor. Haughty? Angry? Imperious? No, those smacked of fear. He would be himself. He would speak to Gonnor as he would to Lord Ulvyn--politely, but with reserve. Fallik led him not to the castle's hall, where Tennoc expected to meet Gonnor, but to Gonnor's own rooms; his new cousin ushered Tennoc through the door and shut it behind him.
Gonnor Duke of Whitehorse stood with his back to the door; his hands clenched and flexed at the small of his back in agitation. Tennoc waited. Lord Grandfather knew he stood there. Was disdain to be his greeting?
Gonnor turned to face his grandson and clasped his hands before him. He was still a well-formed man, tall, with the body of a thoroughbred forced to pasture. His eyes were blue, and Tennoc wondered if they were like his own. The expression in them was unreadable--a wariness, but not directed at him. "So you're Lassanna's boy," the old man said slowly. "Did you leave your mother well?"
"Perfectly well, sir," he replied, inclining his head. Though I'd like to know what business it is of yours, he said to himself.
"And she is happy in Kellen?"
"Happier than she was in Tremont, sir," he snapped, his rare temper getting the better of him.
Gonnor smiled, a small, weak thing that died on his mouth. "I dare say. Dunnoc is good to her?"
"Yes," he answered more slowly.
"And you? Has he been good to you?"
How to answer? His stepfather had tried to kill him--but so had Lord Grandfather. Dunnoc's betrayal hurt far more, and was of far more import in the here and now. "He…he was, sir, but of late he has turned against me. Your letter to my mother, calling for me to come to Tremont, seems to have convinced him I am a danger to Kellen."
"It is an unfair charge, sir. Kells are my kinsmen. I would never move against them."
"Whatever name my father chooses to list as mine in the rolls of the Tremontine nobility is his concern, but in private my name, sir, is Tennoc." His mother's flight across the border, a tale she never told but one often recounted by Hanni, tumbled into his head. "Clan Sial accepted me as their own and gave me a name when no Tremontine would. I will be Tennoc ar Sial until my dying day."
Gonnor shook his head. "You must accustom yourself to a Tremontine name, Temmin."
"No," said Tennoc, "Tremont must accustom themselves to an Heir with a Kellish name. I have not forgotten why my mother fled to Brunsial, and if you think I ever will, you are greatly mistaken. Forgive me, sir, I have been on the road many days and I am tired." He turned on his heel to go.
"Grandson--!" At the anguish in the old man's voice, Tennoc turned. Tears were rolling down Gonnor's lined face into his white beard, and he'd aged twenty years since the interview's beginning. "I have spent these long years regretting what I did--what I tried to do--"
"You could have given my mother back her name at any point, and yet you did not until your King required it of you!"
"And here you see the results of my pride," said Gonnor, openly weeping. "I knew I'd wronged your mother within the year. Reports came to us over time, you know--we have eyes everywhere. I heard much of you and your valor at Maalig, and much of your mother, too. All of it good, all of it honorable. It made me secretly proud. Lassa was my darling, my favorite, and I have never stopped loving her or missing her. Driving her out was the greatest mistake of my life, and seeing you I realize your mother has not shamed our house but glorified it."
"Because I have the luck to be the only son of your King. You wouldn't hire me as a stall-mucker let alone receive me in your house otherwise."
"No, no!" choked the old man. "No--Temmin--Tennoc--you don't understand. You don't understand."
"I don't suppose I do. Nor will I. Good day, sir."