Chapter 16 Part 5 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
The King seemed to settle in to the same calm surrounding the younger man; he joined his hands loosely before him. "What else have you been told?"
"That I am the son of a man you hated for good reason," Ardunn answered. "I never knew him nor any of his kin--as far as I'm aware, I'm the only Ulvyn left, am I not?" At Tennoc's grim nod, he continued, "I know my grandfather was your stepfather and that he loved you until he went mad. And I know you grew up under a cloud, as I have."
The King cast a shrewd glance at Gwynna, who raised her eyebrows in acknowledgement. "You are also the heir of the last King of Kellen," he said.
The boy smiled. "Strange, I thought you were King of Kellen."
"We are King of Tremont, which now includes Kellen."
"Then that officially makes me nobody," concluded Ardunn.
Gwynna wanted to box Ardunn's ear and tell him to curb his irreverence, but she realized Tennoc almost enjoyed her son's gentle flippancy. "You're an Ulvyn," he said.
"I cannot hold allegiance to a house that doesn't exist any more. Could I take my mother's clan name I would, but what's left of Clan Gwyrfal is too frightened to accept me. The Mother's House is the only allegiance I hold--I'm Ardunn ar Amma, I suppose. So here we are."
"Here we are," repeated the King, faintly smiling. "What has your mother told you of me?"
What would Ardunn say? She had never lied to him about the Tremontine King's resolve, but she had also couched it in political terms. In spite of hating Tennoc, she'd never been able to stop loving him either, not after a lifetime. What else had she told her son? She could not remember. "She has said little with her mouth but much otherwise," said her son, giving her a long, measuring look that made her blush. "Her heart has always been in two places, but that's what she told me of herself, not of you."
The King fidgeted, staring first at Gwynna's blushing face and then at her impudent son. "What would you do if you left the Mother's House?"
"I would serve the Mothers as protector, but I can't take vows to Farr in good conscience."
"If you took vows you would be beyond my reach."
"Oh yes, but I neither desire men nor can I turn my back on women, not well enough for me to become a priest of the Warrior without breaking my vows in any event. Nor am I particularly dedicated to the Scholar, the Lovers, the Father or the Bloody One. I grew up in a temple, you see. Vows have great meaning for me--it's not enough that they would save my life. Amma is my Lady, but I cannot serve Her in orders."
The King fastened his hands behind his back, nodded his head and paced slowly from side to side, as if hoping for better views of the boy--really, very much a man, thought his proud mother. "I see. If you cannot serve a God, would you serve me?"
Ardunn let out a small startled noise, but before he could say more Gwynna bounded forward. "What are you suggesting? Is this a ruse to get him to leave this place?"
"Mother, this conversation is between this man and me," said Ardunn, steel in his voice, "and he needs no ruse. Whether I come out today or Eddin's Day--it doesn't matter, the end result is the same." She fell back, abashed.
"The end result," said the King. "I'm entirely unsure what that result might be now. You are not afraid of me, are you, Ardunn?"
"Perhaps I am, but if you choose to kill me I choose to face my death with honor. I will not cringe from it."
At this the King turned away. Gwynna crept up to her son's side and clutched his arm; he removed it and took her hand in his, the clasp warm and comforting. How hard to be the comforted and not the comforter. "You asked a boon of me when I took Gwyrfal, Gwynna, do you remember?" said Tennoc, his back still to them.
"I asked you not to send the wives and daughters of your enemies into indenture, and to spare the boy children," she said.
The King faced them again. "I swore that if the boys of those families would swear allegiance to me on their swords I would let them live, to go into fosterage in Tremont and be raised as Tremontines. I kept that oath and so far I have not regretted it. This boy is the son of one who took sides." He stared intently at Ardunn. "Swear allegiance to me on your sword in Pagg's Temple. Swear to come with me into Tremont and never return to Kellen. Then I will let you go."
"I've never been in Pagg's Temple--swearing there would mean nothing to me," said Ardunn. "Let me swear here before the Mother, and I will do as you say though I know nothing of Tremont nor do I speak the language."
"You're a bright young man. You'll learn." Tennoc turned to Gwynna; she vibrated in shocked hope. "Call for the senior Mothers," he said. "They will bear unimpeachable witness."
"One matter," interrupted Ardunn. "My mother. What's to become of her?"
The King bowed his head to her. "Lady? What's to become of you?"
"Am I to be allowed to accompany my son?" she said in a shaking voice.
"You are free to do as you please," said the King.
"Then I'll come."
"Then I'll swear," said Ardunn.