Chapter 13 Part 4 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2

Tennoc left the room much disturbed and ran almost headlong into Fallik. "Do you have a habit of listening at doors, cousin?" said Tennoc.

The cords stood out in the bigger man's neck. "You are a rude, dishonorable cur. I've half a mind to challenge you!"

"By all means!" answered Tennoc; his new power crackled and sang within him. "Name the time and place, if you ever find the other half."

To Tennoc's astonishment Fallik faltered and dropped his gaze. A pursing of the lips, an exhalation, and he raised sullen eyes. "I have more sense than to challenge the Heir in single combat, however deserving he might be of the flat of my sword. Stay here. The seneschal will be along to show you to your room."

As his cousin walked away Tennoc's magic quieted, but his brain boiled: Fallik feared him. Perhaps Lord Grandfather did, too.

Once in his room, Tennoc unbuckled his sword belt and took off his boots for the first time in days; he wiggled his toes and gave a happy groan. He wanted to lie down on the comfortable-looking bed and fall into a deep sleep, but he was starving and a meal had been set for him on a table: a big slice of mutton pie, a small wheel of cheese, a wheaten loaf, a dish of stewed apples and a silver pitcher of wine. Beside it stood a matching cup. Tennoc sat down before it and had just reached for the wine when a face appeared on the surface of the pitcher. Its eyes were the color of the silver, its hair the shade of the iron candleholder. The face was almost delicate, clean-shaven and boyish, the mouth sensitive.

Tennoc jumped back; he knocked the chair over and drew his dagger. The surface of the pitcher distorted; a swirling mass rose from it, forming itself into a black-robed sliver of a figure that bowed as soon as it had a waist to do so. "Your Highness, sheathe your dagger. I could never harm you even if I wished to. I serve you."

"Who are you? What are you?" stammered Tennoc. "Are you my father?"

"No," smiled the newcomer. "My name is Teacher."

"Teacher what?"

"Just Teacher. I have been the counselor to the Kings of Tremont since Gethin the First."

"That was sixty years ago. You can't be more than thirty."

"Appearances, as I am sure you are aware, can be deceiving. Trust that your interests are mine, and that I am here to serve your family until…until I am no longer needed. However many years that may be."

"How do you have magic?" Tennoc persisted. "Are you a royal? A noble?"

"I am sorry. I can tell you nothing of myself until you are King."

Tennoc sheathed his dagger, still keeping his eyes on Teacher. "I've heard of you," he admitted. "They call you the Black Man."

"Many call me the Black Man, but I am no fairy tale, nor have I ever carried off a child and eaten it. In fact, I dislike being called the Black Man to my face, please."

"They say you choose the Kings, that you've chosen them all since Temmin the Great."

"I do not choose, I recognize. I sense the bloodline of Temmin the First, and the one closest to direct, preferably legitimate descent is the one I serve. Today that is Andrin. Some day, barring a true miracle from His Majesty's latest wife, it will be you."

Tennoc sat down slowly, dinner forgotten. "So if she bears a son, I am supplanted. The legitimate son comes before the illegitimate one, no matter when they are born?"

Teacher nodded. "But I have not sensed a son in Her Majesty's womb though they have been married these three years, and I doubt I will."

Tennoc leaned forward, curious in spite of himself. "You know the sex of a King's child before it's born?"

"I sense only the sons. I do not know a girl child is coming until she is here--or if one of the King's women is obviously increasing and I sense no son."

Tennoc considered. "Did you know me?"

"Your father was the Heir then, not the King, or I would have. When he ascended, you flashed like a beacon in the west."

"More's the pity. I should have preferred going unnoticed."

Teacher sat on the table's edge. "Is ruling Tremont so repugnant, then?"

"It was not what I expected from my life." Tennoc poured himself a needed cup of wine. "Oh, shall I send for another cup?" he added, offering his own.

"I do not drink, but thank you. I ask again, is ruling so repugnant?"

"I never expected to enter Tremont let alone rule it," he said into his wine cup. He took another long sip; the red wine lay thick and complex on his tongue--and strangely unwatered. Not for gulping. He set the cup down and rubbed his face with both hands. "I'm sorry, but I must eat."

"I am not hungry, please do not hesitate," said Teacher, waving a long-fingered hand over the table as Tennoc pounced on the loaf. "What did you expect of life?"

Tennoc swallowed a chunk of bread. "A quiet holding a few days' ride from Gwyrfal, marriage to the lady my stepfather chose, and service at Prince Kenver's right hand in combat. That's what I wanted." Not all, whispered a traitorous voice in his head. He wanted Gwynna, not Cariodas. Perhaps now he might have her. Dunnoc would never agree to the marriage. Tennoc would have to take her by force. The King of the Kells might save Tennoc the trouble; he looked to be headed toward war with Tremont already. "I'm not sure how I feel about being a Prince," he muttered. "I left that part to Kenver." He picked up the piece of mutton pie and took a grateful, speech-blocking bite.

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