Chapter 2 Part 1 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Allis woke up slowly, her head pillowed on Temmin's shoulder. Just past her nose she could see long strands of her black hair laced among the curly gold ones furring Temmin's chest; she'd neglected to braid her hair the night before. She would have tangles to brush out.
She slipped from Temmin's grasp; he burbled in his sleep and turned over. She smiled at his broad, white back and frowned at his now just-as-white neck. The tan he'd always had from life spent more in the stables and hills than in fashionable drawing rooms had faded in his year at the Temple. It saddened her. The color gave him a common touch; it humanized him. While everyone respected his father King Harsin, few loved him. Temmin would be a king people both respected and loved, she was sure of it. When he ended his Supplicancy next year, she hoped the tan returned. She didn't want to think about next year.
How late was it? Well past dawn; the drawn curtains let in light. It must be blinding in her public rooms. There, the walls were painted soft white, the color of the Goddess Neya, accented with Nerr's red and the entwined rose-pink of the Lovers Joined. Issak's public rooms mirrored hers, all in red with white and rose accents. In their private rooms, the Embodiments could have things as they pleased, an extravagance in lives tradition and service circumscribed into the narrowest of channels.
Allis turned onto her back and gazed up at the blue ceiling. She kept her own rooms in colors of the sky--blue, gray and white. They reminded her of her childhood before Maman died, when she'd sneak up into the brothel's attics and look out over the verdigris rooftops of Ouve, the seaside capital of the duchy of Belleth. The sky there was just this blue, and the clouds all white and gray would float by like the ships leaving the harbor. She would imagine she and Issak and Maman sailing free in one of those puffy ships high in the air, over the city, over the harbor, over the sea far away to some place where Maman would be well and the three of them could live without Maman having to work for Mistress Polls.
When Maman got sick Allis wanted to go to the Sister's Temple to pray to Venna the Healer, but Mistress said a whore's children could never go inside any Temple. Allis found a copper in the gutter and bought a figurine of Venna from a street seller instead of sweets. She prayed and prayed to Venna in her secret attic for Maman to get well so she might finish paying her indenture to Mistress and they could all leave.
Then Maman died, and Issak and Allis had to work for Mistress to pay Maman's debt. No more sneaking up to the attic window. No more windows at all. Just men.
They were ten years old.
Teacher came for them a few spokes later and took them through a mirror to a Mother's House here in the City. One night not long after, the House of Polls burned to the ground. Allis loved the idea of burning down the house where she and Issak had been forced to do things no child should do, and wished she'd set it alight herself--during the day, so that the house's black smoke would rise into Ouve's blue sky. The memories the house contained would sail from their lives forever. The child in her thought perhaps if that cloud ship had sailed, no one would ever have known.
The adult in her knew the King would have found out anyway. When he sent Lord Litta to blackmail the twins, the child in her had wailed in shame and grief, but the grownup Allis remembered her mother. Liddy Obby's sheer force of will had somehow kept her children from anything other than menial work in that house, even as her body withered. Allis could be that strong.
When she and Issak turned the tables on Litta it satisfied almost as much as the brothel's destruction. They paid a great price in some ways for telling their story to the newspapers; now everyone knew. But it bought more than the breaking of Litta's hold on them. As long as the whores paid their fees to Pagg's Temple, prostitution was legal. Child prostitution was not, though enough coin bought anything. In telling the secret, Allis and her brother unleashed a tide of reform that swept through the brothels of Tremont; it freed more than one child kept as they had been. Best of all, Temmin had come to her in spite of knowing, in spite of everything the King had put in his way.
Them. Temmin had come to Them, Nerr and Neya, not her. He owed his allegiance to the Lovers, not their Embodiments.
She kissed his shoulder, slipped out of bed, brushed the tangles from her long black hair and pulled on a clean set of the thin linen skirt and tunic she wore within the Temple's confines. The Lovers' Embodiments always wore undyed, undecorated Temple garb and only one color at a time in their other attire; their beauty should be adornment enough. Some day after they retired, she would wear more than one color at a time--patterns, even. She'd put her hair up like other women, and she'd never, never have an all-white room again, nor Issak an all-red one. She walked into her private sitting room, knocked on the door between it and her brother's, and stepped through at the muffled invitation.
To read about Allis and Issak's life at the House of Polls, see the short story collection Accounts.