Chapter 13 Part 8 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
The day after he committed his father's body to the Hill, Tennoc rode down from the Keep to Tremont City for his hasty, simplified coronation, his father's reluctant lords at his back. Hanni followed behind, holding the reins of a white bull calf. They climbed the long winding switchbacks on foot up Pagg's Hill to the Temple at its top. He could have lifted himself to the top had he wished--Teacher had taught him to raise himself on a column of solid air--but he did not wish to leave his lords behind. He had lords now. What a strange thought. Would that he could depend on them.
They stopped at Father's Rock, the great flat stone that had served as Pagg's holy place in the City before Temmin the Great built the white marble Temple beside it. Tremontine banners fluttered from atop the Temple among Pagg's purple and gold streamers. A flock of burly young priests in rough white robes stood by, as did the Little Father and Pagg's Embodiment dressed in resplendent purple with gold trimmings. Teacher stood off to one side, already come by reflection. Hanni handed the reins of the bull calf to the Little Father. The young priests wrestled the animal to the ground and bound it before and behind; the entire company turned to Tennoc in expectation.
Teacher had coached him on the ceremony. Tennoc's magic lifted the bawling calf into the air; he dropped it hard atop the rock, stunning it. The Embodiment took a gold-hilted knife and slit its throat, expertly dodging the artery's spurt; the blood ran down the Rock's already-stained sides. The Little Father examined the pathways the blood took down the Father's Rock, pronounced them auspicious, and led them all into the Temple where he read the prayers and placed the crown atop Tennoc's head, proclaiming him "The Third Temmin, great-great-grandson of the Great Temmin and our true King." The company cheered, though not as lustily as they might have. It didn't matter. Andrin's magic had passed to him, and Teacher recognized him as King; they mightn't have been happy about it, but to his surprise no one questioned it.
Tennoc had no sooner led the procession back down the Hill to the gathered horses when a messenger galloped up. He jumped down from the saddle and dropped to one knee. "Sire, two travelers have come from Kellen--they appear to be noble. They've taken refuge at the Healer's House, for the man is badly hurt and not faring well. The girl is overset, and they bore something that…well, none have seen inside it but we all can smell it. Oh, please come, Your Majesty, they are begging for you!"
"When you need me, sire, look for me in a reflection," said Teacher. "I will stand ready."
Tennoc swung himself into the saddle, and the Brothers who'd accompanied him mounted as well."I want only Hanni," he said.
"You will take us too, Your Majesty," said their stubborn leader.
"Oh, very well!" he exclaimed, and spurred his horse toward the Sister's Hill and the Healer's House at its foot.
Tennoc found the travelers from Kellen in a small, bright room. On its low bed lay a naked man covered in yellowing bruises, sores and lash marks; broken teeth showed in his open mouth, one eye must have been swollen shut not long ago, and stertorous breathing spasmed his chest. His crooked left leg had turned an ugly purple, green and black. Beside him knelt a young woman, grass and bracken tangled in her messy, dark braids. Dried blood stained her tattered dress.
The man was Sian ar Lifris; the young woman beside him was his daughter, Cariodas. As she helped the Sisters tend her father's wounds, she murmured in a steady voice that they were safe, he would be looked after now, but when she saw Tennoc she lost her composure; her great brown eyes brimmed over, and she began to shake.
"What's happened!" cried Tennoc in Kellish. "How came you to be here? Cariodas, what's happened?" He lifted her to her feet, and she stumbled into his arms.
"Your Majesty," said the elder of the Sisters, "if you know this lady, please convince her to let us care for her. She is exhausted. Make her lie herself down."
Tennoc smoothed her hair. "Cariodas," he translated, "the Sisters say you must lie down and let them take care of you."
"I'm not hurt," said Cariodas. She propped herself up on Tennoc's chest and trembled in shock and weariness. "Papa is hurt, I have to stay with him. They beat him, they've nearly killed him--oh, Tennoc!" She collapsed against him in a near-swoon. He scooped her up, carried her to the darkened room next door and laid her down on the bed.
A rangy Sister bustled after him and took over, washing Cariodas's face and hands and checking her pulses. "She is not injured, sire, but driven to the ends of endurance," said the Sister. "I doubt she's slept more than a few hours in days, or eaten at all. She is a brave, brave girl. The man with her--"
"Her father, a noble lord of Kellen."
The Sister shook her head. "Kellish ladies must be made of strong stuff. She dragged him behind her horse on a branch sled all the way from Kellen along with that wretched chest. He will lose his leg at best, sire--I don't know how she got him here alive."
"Do what you can for him. Where is this chest?"
The tall Sister's nose wrinkled. "Sire, I'm sorry, but we could not keep it here. It is on its way as we speak to Harla's Hill, for while this lady insisted only you might open it, we could smell what it contained."
Tennoc's hair prickled. "This lady's name is Cariodas ar Lifris. Her father's name is Sian ar Lifris. They are dear to me. Watch over them, Sister."
He sprinted from the Healer's House back to his horse. "It's Cariodas, Hanni," he said as he mounted. "And her father--Lifris has been beaten near to death."
"What did they carry, sire?"
"Nothing good. We're off to Harla's Hill." Hanni blanched, but followed his master at a gallop.
They overtook the cart not far from the Temple's entrance. At first, no scent assaulted Tennoc's nose, but when they stopped the cart it came to him--no more than a whiff, but he knew it instantly. "We will take this into the Hill, for whatever is in it belongs there."
Once at the Temple's door, the Friends of Harla emerged and helped carry the chest inside. The high priestess introduced herself as Friend Dian. "You were right to come here, Your Majesty," she said. "We will open it in a grieving room. Whoever it was must be cleansed." Tennoc knew the chest contained something quite dead, but hearing it referred to as "who" and not "what" made his skin crawl. Dian made a sign; the Friends bowed and disappeared through various passages. Tennoc and Hanni followed the chest into the small grieving room, where its bearers placed it beside the stone table and water-filled basin at the room's center. Dian gestured to the chest.
Tennoc crept up to it, more afraid than he'd ever been in his life. His hands and feet turned to ice, and sweat formed on his palms. He unfastened the clasp and with a determination he did not feel, he opened the lid.
It contained two heads, one male, one female. The man's hair was dark. The woman's hair was ash blonde, a scant few wiry strands of gray marring it. "Judging by the smell and the state of the flesh, sire, these people have been dead about three weeks," murmured Friend Dian. "Do you know them?"
Tennoc couldn't breathe; his throat closed and his chest clenched at every attempt until he got in a great gulp of air. A discreet Friend appeared from nowhere carrying a large basin, and Tennoc vomited into it. Somewhere nearby Hanni screamed in Leutish as if his eyes were being plucked from his head. Tennoc retched and retched; when he finished he slumped back on the floor, spent.
Dian handed Tennoc a wet towel and a cup of water to rinse his mouth. Beside him, Hanni lay in a wretched lump on the cold stone floor, great sobs shaking his wiry frame. "Who were they, Your Majesty?" said Dian.
"Prince Kenver and Queen Lassanna of Kellen. My brother--my best friend--and…and my mother…" Hanni crawled across the floor, and Tennoc held the man as he howled in grief. Dian put an unnoticed hand on Tennoc's head in blessing; Tennoc kept his arms tight around his old friend, and ashes filled his heart.