Chapter 16 Part 4 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Gwynna covered her mouth with both hands. Tennoc was coming, and his own wife said he still loved her. Shivers began deep in her chest, spreading out to her fingertips like tiny cramps. Fear, excitement, hatred, love--they all shook her at once, and instead of the strong woman she'd been since Ardunn's birth she was a tree hit by lightning, its bark ripped open and its heartwood exposed. The door opened again and the King stepped through.
He'd grown a beard in the Tremontine style. Gray was creeping into its sandy brown; it made him look older than his forty years. He was no longer a slender young man. His chest and shoulders had broadened, and he stood tall and easy in his furs and silks, the scabbard at his side empty. His straight brow was heavy--she remembered her father and how he'd had the same serious air about him before his mind had gone.
Tennoc examined her with his familiar, steady blue gaze, and Gwynna blushed for her plain appearance. "You look just the same," he said in a low, roughened voice. She blushed harder, pleased in spite of herself. The King turned his head slightly, as if bringing a good eye to bear on her. "I could have killed Ulvyn's son in his sleep any time these last eighteen years, you know."
"How is that?" she frowned, her pleasure brought to an abrupt end.
"Kellen is part of Tremont now. I can see into every corner of it. I've watched you both. I could have stepped through the reflection into this Temple and killed him a thousand times over."
She should have known he would watch her. The fine hairs all over her body rose thinking about it. "Why didn't you?"
"I was sworn."
"Why are you here now?"
"On Eddin's Day the boy turns eighteen. He will leave this place."
The King's bearded jaw worked, and he dropped his eyes, no longer regal but uncertain. "I don't know. My wife and chief counselor have urged me to speak with you before I do anything, and so I'm here." He raised his head again; the invisible crown settled back on his brow. "What does he intend?"
"Intend?" she laughed incredulously. "What can he intend? How can he even have dreamed a future? You said he had none, and it's easy to believe you meant it every time I see the soldiers outside still waiting for him."
"This is not what I wanted for us," said Tennoc, so quietly the soft echoes of his voice almost garbled the words.
"I daresay it wasn't what I wanted, either," she answered. "This was your doing."
"I daresay it was." He shifted suddenly, drawing himself up. "The Elder Brother here tells me Ardunn ar Ulvyn is a worthy young man. He wants the boy to join the Brothers. That would put him beyond my reach."
"Though he admires them, he does not wish to join them."
"He has not a martial spirit?"
"…Men do not inspire his devotion, shall we say," said Gwynna, bowing slightly. "The Brothers say he is as good a swordsman as any they've seen, but he feels he cannot take a vow he cannot keep even to save his life."
The King nodded slowly. "I want to see this son of yours." At Gwynna's stiffening face, he added, "I am sworn, Lady. I have neither sword nor armor."
"Only the magic of two lands to protect you," she mocked.
"I am sworn," he repeated, his voice rumbling through her body to the statue of the Mother behind her. "I wish…I wish to see the grandson of Dunnoc ar Gwyrfal."
Which of Ardunn's ancestors did he hate more, wondered Gwynna: Dunnoc ar Gwyrfal or Daevys ar Ulvyn? He might kill Ardunn here in the Hall at the feet of the Mother, break his vow to the Gods and be damned, or he might kill Ardunn in the street and face nothing but his lords' approval. She opted for his damnation; at least she and Ardunn would get some sort of revenge. "All right, I will call for him." She walked back through the doors leading to the cloister and took her time finding a Postulant Mother to carry the message; let the King wait.
Ardunn was wearing his sword when he joined her at the doors to the Worship Hall. His serious young face was so much like Kenver's that her already-fragile heart broke open. "I've said my goodbyes, Mother. Let's see this King."
For the first time Gwynna saw him as a grown man, and she was reduced to tugging at his sleeve like a child. "Don't go at him, I beg you--let him bear the blame. He claims he is still sworn. Let him take the damnation on himself."
"Never worry, I know what to do." Ardunn strode past her into the Worship Hall, hands carefully held away from his sword hilt. She hurried to precede him, giving him a quelling look; to her surprise, he obeyed.
Gwynna bowed her head formally to the King and brought her son forward. "This is Ardunn ar Ulvyn, son of Gwynna ar Gwyrfal, grandson of Dunnoc ar Gwyrfal and nephew of Kenver ar Gwyrfal." She waited to observe the effect of this last on him, looking back and forth from his face to Ardunn's.
Ardunn made a respectful bow. "Your Majesty."
The King seemed thunderstruck. He took a step toward the boy, then another. "You are very like your uncle."
"So my mother has told me. I never knew him."
"I did, and I loved him very much," said Tennoc. "I've seen you in reflections before this. The resemblance could not be denied, but as you stand before me...you are very like," he finished, obviously unsettled. Gwynna watched him, sharp-eyed. All her agitation vanished; she focused entirely on the interplay between the man and boy. "What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Say for myself?" said Ardunn, surprised but calm. "I don't know that I have anything to say for myself, nor whether I need to say anything for myself."
"You brought your sword."
"I've been told for eighteen years I might need one, you see," said Ardunn.