Chapter 3 Part 6 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2

As he strode down the corridor to his old rooms, the thought of the next day's breakfast reminded him he'd had nothing to eat. He would order a tray once he'd changed into warmer clothes. He opened the door to his study.

The fire had been lit, as had the lamps. Everything appeared just as it had the night Teacher had spirited him away to the Lovers' Temple almost a year ago, right from under his father's nose: the moss green velvet sofa; the wing chair he never sat in; the wuisc, brandy and barisha decanters lined up on the sideboard; the tea table by the windows; the heavily-laden bookcases; the globe atop the long library table. One new thing now inhabited the room: a lectern he recognized from the Tower Library, Teacher's own study. Atop it lay a familiar book bound in ancient Tremontine red leather. The faded gilt lettering on its front cover read, An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom.

The book. The magic book that had changed his life in so many ways.

Temmin's magical sensibilities had grown since he'd first looked in the book; he saw sigils invisible to others--the fertility charms glowing silver on the twins' left hips, the glow of possession when Gods came down into their Embodiments--and when Teacher watched him in a reflection he could see his observer clearly. He couldn't use reflections himself to see or travel without Teacher's assistance, but he wondered if some day he might. Teacher seemed to think so, a prospect frightening as well as enticing.

When he'd first opened it a year ago, the pages were blank. Only when Teacher "read" to him did they come alive. First, words bloomed on the page. Then the words turned to pictures, the pictures began to move, and he was drawn into the story, experiencing it from one set of eyes and then another. Last year the book had told him the story of his ancestor King Warin the Wise and the enchanted Princess Emmae of the Kingdom of Leute--now the Duchy of Litta. It was a story of such erotic passion that he'd had difficulty remembering who he was whenever the book released him. The kings of Tremont still had magic then, magic his family lost some 350 years ago, and though Warin was powerful it wasn't enough to break the curse on Emmae. Instead, she broke it herself.

Temmin learned so much from that story. Leadership. Sacrifice. Servitude. The wages of pride. The hearts of women--or at least the heart of Emmae, his spirited, many-times great-grandmother. How it had helped him see what he had done to Mattie! Would he still consider that moment in the hedge a year ago good fun otherwise? He couldn't say, but it had stopped him from doing the same to Arta Dannikson.

Temmin wondered what the book might still teach him, and if he'd ever be able to read it himself. Perhaps that time had come? He crossed to the lectern, anxiety mixing with anticipation as he opened it.

He peeked at the pages. Still blank. He frowned and said, "Once upon a time...?" Nothing. Well, it would have been a mixed blessing anyway.

Temmin shambled through his bedchamber into the gigantic wardrobe, everything as neat as if Jenks were in the next room instead of kicking his heels in Reggiston: clothes brushed, shoes and boots polished, fresh linen and stockings filling the drawers, for all the world as if he were expected back any moment rather than a year from now. He shucked off his uniform, pulled on an old pair of trousers and a shirt over clean undergarments, and shoved his bare feet into his most broken-down, comfortable pair of carpet slippers.

After a tug on the study's bell pull, a footman appeared to take an order for "something edible and plenty of it," and to summon however many of Temmin's sisters who might be flitting about the Keep to his room. In moments, his oldest sister Sedra flung open the door. "What are you doing here?" She ran up and took him by the hands. "Do Mama and Papa know you're here? What's going on? Are you all right?"

He kissed her cheek. "Too many questions before I've eaten! Here, sit. Shall I call for barisha? My decanter's empty."

"Brandy, please. Elly drinks barisha. It's too sweet for me." He raised an eyebrow but poured two fingers from the sideboard decanter into a snifter and handed it over. She warmed the glass in her hand and settled into the wing chair. "One question at a time, then: What are you doing here?"

He laid out the story, skipping the intimate connection between their mother and her religious advisor. "I'm fine as far as I know. Mama's worried I may have some long-acting poison in me or something, but I'm far more worried about her. Seddy, she's come undone!"

Sedra took a breath to speak, but a discreet knock heralded the arrival of Temmin's meal; she sipped at her brandy instead. One footman set the tea table before the fire, while the other laid out the cart's plentiful something edible. Their task completed, they left the room with a visible excitement in their step. They would be popular tonight; none of the other servants had seen the mysteriously returned Prince.

"This is what I've missed the most," said Temmin. "Our kitchens close after a certain hour, but I can always get something to eat here."

"What you've missed most is the food?"

He gave a small, snorting laugh. "No, of course not." He took a huge bite from a cold chicken leg, swallowed, and added, "I've missed you girls and Mama--and Jenks. Have you heard from him? He is an indifferent correspondent at best."

"You of all people haven't any grounds for complaint. Jenks writes to Mama. She says he's doing well, something about training your friend Fen Wallek. Listen, Tem, I don't want to talk about Jenks! I'm terribly worried about Mama. I've tried to get Papa to intervene between her and that Ibbit, but he doesn't care about a single thing I say..." She shrugged angrily and took a full enough drink from her snifter that Temmin almost choked from the imagined fumes. "I've been trying to get her away from Ibbit for the last year. Since you left for the Temple. I even wondered if that bitch was poisoning her. I did manage to get Papa to insist she be seen for her lack of appetite and listlessness--he was beginning to worry about her himself. She wanted Ibbit to do it, but Eldest Sister Wirdun said it wasn't proper for her religious advisor to be her healer."

"And?"

"She's fine. At least she's not being poisoned." Sedra rubbed her eyes; how tired and drawn his sister looked, far more than she had at his birthday ball. "I just wish Mama didn't love her so."

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