Chapter 6 Part 2 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
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They ran along the gardens' lit paths, until they came to the wide expanse of lawn between the formal gardens and the grove of trees stretching dark and wild toward the river. Lantern-bearers hurried behind the runners, waiting to stake out a path for the worshippers. Behind them, muscular Lovers loitered with sections of a portable dais; the King and Queen attended the Spectacle this year and would be given a proper viewing platform wherever the Lovers happened to fall.
Fall They finally did, on the lawn near the fringe of the forest, but first Neya and Nerr led them all a chase through the trees, whipping rhododendron branches back into Their followers' faces to Temmin's great irritation. When they assembled the guarding circle round the Gods, they were all breathing hard; Justinna Postulant had lost her vest, the flounce on Anda's best skirt had ripped clean off, and Mathanus's blond hair resembled a haystack more than ever.
Nerr-in-Issak and Neya-in-Allis began Their ferocious annual coupling, rolling in the grass teeth bared and snapping at one another. The Supplicants and the two Postulants formed a loose ring around the Lovers. Other Temple staff caught up and reinforced the circle to keep the Gods in and the crowds safe; there had been lethal interactions in the past between the Lovers and Their worshippers during the Chase.
Lanterns formed a path from the Temple to the Gods' writhing bodies. The worshippers filed past to receive the blessing, some of the men already clutching themselves in arousal. Temmin found it less so. He knew Issak and Allis too well, empathized too deeply with their ordeals, found the Gods' incestuous use of their bodies too disturbing. He thought of the all-too-rare times he'd truly made love with the twins. Last Neya's Day and again on Nerr's Day were the only times they had all three been together, but the Gods possessed the Obbys then, as they did now. Some people, atheists or just the cynical, believed the twins were play-acting--or worse, perverted. Temmin knew better, perhaps because he alone among the worshippers could see the glow of possession about them. A rustling and clatter broke out behind him. His parents were ascending the portable dais. My happiness is complete.
Neya was screaming in ecstasy now, Her borrowed breasts bouncing as She straddled Nerr. With no Supplicant to deflower this year, who knew how long They'd be at it. Temmin resigned himself to a long, anxious night on the lawn.
Ansella's attentions were split. She grew agitated watching the Gods coupling and re-coupling on the lawn; she looked away to her son in the Lovers' guard, but that only increased her embarrassment. Where to look? The sooner this night was over, the better.
Harsin, on the other hand, was enjoying himself immensely. Neya's Day was one of his favorite Spectacles.
As a boy he'd waited all year for Eddin's Day as children do, but once he'd started attending the Neya's Day Spectacles at age 14, his enthusiasm for the day of toys and candy had dimmed considerably. Now it was a toss-up between the Farr's Day tournaments and the lovemaking of Neya's Day; he gave himself over to the holiday spirit at them both. He'd missed Neya's Day last year. That Temmin, making a fool of himself and endangering the throne--Harsin couldn't give his approval with his attendance, the commoners be damned. He'd even attempted blackmail by proxy against both Temmin and the Obbys to stop it, at the risk of his soul. No, he would have been allowed in, but he wouldn't have been made welcome. Ansella, on the other hand, had gone against her own inclinations and appeared on the dais last year alone to support her son.
Harsin glanced over at his wife. Her lips pressed tightly together, her eyes searched for somewhere to light, her cheeks were flushed. Would she ever admit to even a fraction of her passion? In their youth they'd suited one another in spite of themselves, and an unexpected yearning came over him. He wanted to lay his head in Ansella's lap again, as he had before she'd moved back to Whithorse and left him to his list. Why couldn't things be different between them?
He glanced into the crowd and found Twenna Shelstone there, younger than he was by more than twenty years--younger than Sedra. Her guileless eyes reflected the lantern light as she shifted from foot to foot; he couldn't see Winmer, but he was surely somewhere nearby. Harsin decided on a different outcome to the evening. He would make it up to the girl another time.
Harsin looked back at his wife. They were the same age. Experience lay in the corners of her eyes. A line between her brows had formed since her arrival at the Keep; he wondered if he were its cause, and how he might smooth it away.
Ansella looked up in time to catch a small smile twitching at his mouth. "My Lord?"
His smile widened. "I was remembering when we first were married."
The Queen blushed and pretended to watch the crowds. "That was long ago. What brought those times to mind?"
"The night, I suppose--we haven't attended a Neya's Day Spectacle together in years. I should never have let you go to Whithorse with the children."
"So you have told me many times."
"Ansella, look at me." She lifted her chin but kept her eyes on the nearby trees. "Were those times so terrible for you? We found a solace with each other, didn't we? More than solace."
"We were not a love match."
"Yet we have three children. Had you stayed, there would have been more." He took her hand in both of his, tracing the lines of her palm; he remembered she liked that.
Ansella curled her fingers around his. "What are you doing?"
"I'm seducing my wife. Be one with me tonight. Tell me you will, say 'Be one with me tonight,' say yes, Ansella."
Her hand stiffened in his, her temper radiating into his palm. "You maneuver your current mistress into the Spectacle, and then you try to seduce me," she growled.
Harsin stooped down. "I am asking you, not her. I have waited years for you, whether you think it or not. Say yes!" he whispered in her ear. His beard brushed against her skin. She shivered; her blush crept over the tops of her breasts. It still worked, he smiled to himself. "If you were not the Queen, I'd have you right here."
Ansella closed her eyes. Was she picturing it? "But I am the Queen."
He cupped her chin in his hand. "Say yes and we will leave right now, you and I, and I will have you the moment we are alone. In the carriage if you will. Say yes, say it, Ansella!"
"Yes," she whispered in a rush. Her voice was awestruck and surprised, her eyes still closed.
He kissed her. "We're leaving." He gave a quick nod to the captain of the Temple's Own, who began parting the crowd. Harsin took Ansella's hand and pulled her down the path to the garden gates. "I wonder if we might secure a room here," he murmured to her as they hurried along.
"Harsin!" How good to hear her say his name with laughter in her voice. "I don't think so, not tonight of all nights!"
"Then it will have to be the carriage!"
Son in Sorrow will end its serialization July 15, 2013.
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