Chapter 3 Part 1 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
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Ansella lay cuddled beside her lover before her private drawing room fire, Ibbit's arm heavy around her. "You're spending a great deal of time here lately, love. Shouldn't you be more at the Hearth?"
Ibbit squeezed her waist. "I have others helping my cause there. For now, I think it best I should be known to be with you as often as possible."
Ansella frowned, absently running her fingers along the woolen weave of Ibbit's green robes. "Why is it so important that your being here be known?"
"I saw your son today," said Ibbit, playing with a curl escaped from Ansella's hair. "He was paying a mourning call with his senior clergy--and I use the term 'clergy' lightly. When I'm Eldest Sister, there will be an end to visits from the likes of them, I assure you."
Ansella sat up and took Ibbit's hands. "How is he? Did he say anything? Did he look well?"
"He looked the same as he did at his birthday," said Ibbit, jerking her head. "He asked after my health very prettily. I'll say this for that whorehouse, they've taught him impeccable manners."
Ansella dropped Ibbit's hands. "Ibbit, you know I dislike it when you talk about the Lovers' Temple in that way."
"He sent you a message, though." Ansella brightened and brought her hands back to Ibbit's thigh. "He said to tell you he loves you and misses you and hopes to see you as soon as you might come to him now that his father seems to have ended open warfare against him. You won't go, of course."
Whyever not? Ibbit disapproved of her relationship with her son; Ansella never understood why. Ibbit had known him since childhood. True, they had not often gotten along, but as his religious advisor Ibbit had to know what a good boy her Temmin was--so cheerful, so kind. He had grown into a good man, strong and full of conviction, walking in the ways of the Gods, if not the Gods she would have chosen for him. Ibbit preached that men and women were inherently incompatible--certainly true in Ansella's own marriage and her parents'--but that couldn't extend to her only son. When Ibbit got like this, Ansella had learned it was best to nod and be silent. Let her lover think she agreed; it cost her nothing. She would find a way to see Temmin soon without Ibbit discovering it. She returned to the Sister's arms.
"Oh, my sweet girl, I'm so sorry," said the priestess.
"I imagine Temmin and I will run into one another at some state occasion or other."
"Oh no, not for that. No, I meant about the King's current slut openly disrespecting you yesterday."
Ansella blinked. Harsin had promised her he would never bring shame on her, never place another woman above her in the public eye. "What do you mean?"
"Didn't you hear? Twenna Shelstone rode through town bold as brass, straight up to the Foothill Lodge gate for everyone to see--practically a parade. She may as well have worn a sign round her neck with 'King's Whore' painted on it. Then she sat in the Duke of Corland's box at the theater last night. Everyone knows Corland wouldn't have been seen with her except at the King's request. He even came to sit with the Duke during intermission and acted surprised to see her there, but kissed her on both cheeks in front of everyone. Or so I heard."
Ansella choked with rage. "He's acknowledged her publicly?"
"I'm so sorry, my sweetheart, but men betray us. We're better off without them."
Angry tears stung Ansella's eyes, and her heart gave an unexpected thud. "Yes!" she cried. "Yes, we are!" She subsided into silence. I will not cry over Harsin's faithlessness, I will not cry.
Ibbit broke the silence. "You have never sounded so sure of it."
"I've never been so sure of it," said Ansella into Ibbit's shoulder. "I hate them."
After a pause, Ibbit said, "You support my candidacy as Eldest Sister, don't you, Ansella?"
Ansella blinked away her last unshed tears. "Yes, of course!"
"You will say so when the time comes?"
She snuggled closer into Ibbit's arms. "Nothing could make me happier."
"Then it is time for me to tell you why it is so important, why you must. So very much is at stake. Do you swear you are a true daughter of Venna?"
"Of course I am!"
"Swear it, Ansella. Say, 'I am a true daughter of Venna.'"
"I am a true daughter of Venna," the Queen repeated in some consternation. "I have always been true to Her, above all other Gods. She has been everything to me, my sole support since I began taking instruction with you."
Ibbit stood. "I must go back to the Sister's Temple, but I will leave you with this." She took two books from her apron pocket, one the familiar green-bound Sister's Saga and the other a thin book bound in gray leather. She handed the second to Ansella. "This is one of the last copies. Do not show it to anyone--no one, not even Sedra. She will come to know it in time as she learns the faithlessness of men. Hide it. I have given you almost all the teaching, and would give you this final teaching myself, but there isn't time, and this explains it so clearly, so forcefully! When you've read it, you will know why it is so vital I become Eldest Sister. The old guard, they know nothing. I can bring us back to the True Way of Venna, and help restore the Goddess to Her Oneness." Ansella frowned. Oneness? Ibbit pulled Ansella to her feet and kissed her, driving the question from her head. "I need you standing by my side, darling. Will you be beside me?"
"Until I die, Ibbit. I love you."
The priestess smiled and kissed her again. "I love you too, my sweet girl." She straightened her robes, strode from the drawing room into the formal receiving room, winked and shut the door.
Son in Sorrow will end its serialization July 15, 2013.
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