Chapter 6 Part 1 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
The First Day of Spring's Beginning, 991 KY
Twenna Shelstone stepped down from her father's carriage into the throngs crowding the Lovers' Temple for the Neya's Day Spectacle. An orderly procession flowed from the Promenade to the Temple garden gates, where the Spectacle would be held. Postulants and servants bore hundreds of bright lanterns through the crowded gardens until every leaf seemed illuminated. Twenna fretted to be without even a footman to look after her, but she reassured herself. Harsin had said Winmer would find her there and protect her from unwanted advances.
Many spectators aimed sideways glances and outright stares at her; those who actually knew her greeted her in abstracted familiarity, too absorbed in anticipation of the night's events. What those events might be were in the most vague outlines in Twenna's mind: the Gods would possess their Embodiments, Nerr would chase Neya through the gardens until He caught Her--or until She let Him catch Her depending on how you interpreted the Sagas--and They would make love as the faithful filed past. Witnesses were blessed for the year in all the Gods' activities: music, poetry, performance of all kinds, and of course, love and sex. So blessed, the onlookers then found someone--or someones--to emulate the Gods and ensure the fertility of the earth, at least once on living ground if possible no matter how cold the night.
She pulled her fine wool cloak a little closer and wished she'd brought a muff with a handwarmer hidden inside, but her dresser had put her foot down: "Past the season, miss." Twenna wished someone had told the weather it was past the season.
Once inside the gardens, Twenna looked for her expected escort. Mr Winmer had chaperoned her at more than one event she'd unofficially attended with the King. But he was nowhere in sight, and no substitute came forward. Troubled, she began looking for Harsin. If she could keep him in view, her mind would be easier.
Embis Winmer was having a difficult evening.
First he'd trimmed one side of his little mustache shorter than the other. For one horrifying moment it appeared he'd have to shave his lip bare for the first time since he turned seventeen. After a tense series of snips the little mustache was quite a bit littler, but at least it was still there, and it was even.
Then his tailor sent word his new formal suit would not be ready. His current best was more than adequate for the occasion, but this was the first Neya's Day Spectacle he'd attended in ten years; he had high hopes for the evening once he'd delivered Miss Shelstone to the King for the night. Usually royal paramours who'd won the lottery had husbands to escort them and there was no need for Winmer to chaperone, but the young lady's father, the former tailor, had not won a ticket and Winmer had.
He left in more than enough time to beat the crowds or so he'd thought, but his carriage became snarled in the aftermath of an overturned barouche at the foot of Kingsbridge. By the time he arrived at the Lovers' Temple, he was just in time to see the gates locked. A Temple's Own captain barred his way. "Very sorry, sir. Ticket or no, you're not getting in."
Winmer raised his voice to an unaccustomed shout. "But I am the King's Secretary!"
"I don't care if you're the King himself," said the captain. "The Spectacle is beginning. Opening this gate before the Gods retire is dangerous." Neither cajoling nor threats moved the man. Winmer turned away, his face the color of the Tremontine red livery his coachman wore. Were he not an atheist, Winmer would have sworn the Gods were after him. He rarely failed the King, and tomorrow would be a difficult day in the office. And then there was the girl herself; leaving her alone among the revelers distressed him. He hoped Miss Shelstone had the sense to find a Lover to escort her until the King fetched her, poor little featherbrain.
Inside the Lovers' Temple itself, the Gods had nearly arrived. Starved, beaten, blindfolded, barely conscious, the twins now hung suspended on frames, each in separate but connected rooms. Barik, Temmin and the terrified Mathanus Postulant attended Issak; in the Goddess's Chamber, Glaes Beloved, Anda and an equally terrified Postulant Beloved named Justinna attended Allis.
Heavy clusters of rubies dangled from clamps on each of Issak's nipples and from his ball sac. He was panting now, head held low and sweat plastering his hair to his head. His erection had lengthened with the pain, seemingly the one unbreakable part of his body and the part the God would use the most mercilessly. His suffering increased his beauty, and Temmin fought the urge to take that length in his mouth and give Issak the release his body wanted, though Issak himself wasn't there any more.
Putting Issak through all this pain still made Temmin nauseous, but at least this time he was prepared for it. Mathanus was not. He wandered into the fumes of the censer at the frame's foot, the smoke's dream-inducing poison disguised in rich amber and woods; Temmin dragged him back, but between the drugged incense and the Embodiment's condition, Mathanus became violently ill. "Never worry, Mathanus Postulant," Barik told him as the big man rinsed his mouth. "It's why we have a basin here. Someone's bound to need it at some point."
Temmin doused the incense at a sign from Barik. The doors to the next room opened, letting in a whiff of Neya's tuberose-and-gardenia incense, and there was Allis, bound, blindfolded and clamped with diamonds. She was weeping, sagging against her restraints. Justinna Postulant and Anda stood at each side of the frame; Glaes knelt between Allis's legs. Barik sent Mathanus to open the doors to the gardens, and the men took up their positions around Issak: Temmin and Mathanus to each side, Barik kneeling between his legs.
At a signal, all six whipped off the clamps and pressed down hard on the tortured flesh with fingers or tongues as the twins screamed and bucked. Then, silence.
Barik and Glaes removed the blindfolds. Suffering fell from the two sculpted figures hanging on the frames. A rosy glow began in the twins' green eyes, growing until it enveloped their bodies. The Gods had arrived.
"Hello, Sister," said Nerr-in-Issak.
"Hello, Brother," said Neya-in-Allis.
They exchanged Their ritual taunts:
"Will this be the year You simply give Yourself to Me, Neya?"
"Why, are You afraid I'll outrun You this year?"
Back and forth, until Neya screamed at the mortals to release Her. Unfettered, She ran into the gardens to the gathered worshippers' roar. Nerr followed close behind Her, Temmin, Anda and the two Postulants after them both.