Chapter 6 Part 3 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
This section is NSFW.
Twenna watched them leave in horror. He'd cut her. He'd cut her in front of his wife and hadn't given her a backward glance. It couldn't mean what it appeared to mean. This had to be something about appearances, but why had he gone to so much trouble to have her admitted if he'd intended to leave with his wife? There must be a reason, a reason she wasn't clever enough to understand. He loved her; she took comfort in that certainty. He would send for her later, surely.
The swaying lanterns planted in the lawn took on a cold look, less like soft yellow moons and more like predatory eyes. What would she do now? She knew no one in the crowd who might protect her, no man she might trust not to take advantage of the Neya's Day festivities. She stayed close to the fierce-looking Lovers in armor still standing beside the royal dais, in hopes one of them might have been given instructions to escort her, but the workers disassembled the dais and took it away, along with the Temple's Own and her hopes.
Screams and cries of a less divine origin had long since filled the wood and gardens when the Lovers finally stood, sated for the time being. "Glaes! And Anda!" hooted Nerr, tweaking a nipple on first the one, then the other. "How are two of My favorite mortals? Well, here's someone new!" the God said to Mathanus, and kissed him until his lip bled. The huge young man stumbled unconscious into the arms of his fellows, who came close to dropping him.
"Temmin Heir of Tremont," Neya said, slipping her arms around his waist. The rosy halo around Her seemed to pulse, and Temmin realized She hadn't spoken aloud. "My darling boy, My King, kiss Me." She wrapped herself around him, pressing Allis's breasts against his chest. His discomfort and near-boredom vanished, replaced with the crushing lust She'd drawn from him a year ago. He kissed Her, matching Her moods from gentle to probing to violent, until She reached into his trousers and took hold of him. He closed his eyes and whined into Her mouth. "Look at Me," said the voice in his head, and he obeyed.
A year ago She had shown him many things in Allis's deep green eyes: his mother bloody-handed; Jenks riding hell-bent from Whithorse Estate sword in hand; his father in battle; Sedra protecting a child; Ellika facing down soldiers; finally, Teacher and the Traveler Queen, wreathed in flames.
This time, a woman appeared. Her figure curved in lush abundance, but her huge blue eyes were those of a child. She grew more real until he could even smell her--sweet honeysuckle like the flowers he'd eaten as a boy, crushed dandelions like the ones his sister Ellika used to make into chains, and the soft, musky desire of a woman. "She is yours," said the Goddess. "You will find her tonight. You and no other will have her, and I will give you this." Her fingers closed on him in a single stroke.
The woman in his mind dissolved into fierce white light as he spasmed in Neya's hand. He thought he might be screaming but the light muffled his hearing, obscured everything. He'd spent like this a year ago in Her bed, over and over, and now it pierced him in a spike from his crown down his spine through his cock into the ground. He hung on it transfixed until he crumpled in a heap at Her feet.
The lantern-bearers followed the Gods as they moved back toward the Temple; Twenna did as well, not knowing what else to do.
In the darkness, a man pulled at her arm. "Be one with me tonight, beauty!" He couldn't be Harsin, nor did he sound like Mr Winmer. Was the man angry? Cajoling? She murmured a polite refusal and tried to shake his hand away, but he persisted. "Come now, you wouldn't be here if you weren't looking for someone for the night. You're here all alone, come be one with me, you won't regret it! If you don't like me, I have some friends--you can have any of us--all of us! We'll keep you warm all night!" He pulled her close enough to get an arm around her waist. Twenna cried out, knowing no one would pay any attention to her. So many cries echoed through the garden.
Another set of hands brushed against her, the gentle touch striking her like a blow. His friends must have found them, and now she was lost. The hands moved; they fastened onto the first man's wrists and not her own. "Let her go, son," said a deep voice.
"I saw her first. There are plenty of women here, go find your own! OW!" The man dropped Twenna's arm. "Pagg damn you, you nearly broke my wrist--oh! Oh, I'm sorry, Senior Lover, I didn't realize...I'm sorry, I'll just..."
Twenna watched him back away into the night and turned to her rescuer. All she could see in the dark was that he was short and stocky, and he wore Temple garb. "Thank you."
"Never worry, I'm a Lover. No one will hurt you or make you do anything you don't wish to do. May I lead you back to the Temple?" He offered his arm, she put her hand upon it, and they walked back across the wide lawn. "Neya's Day is not about force," continued the priest. "Some celebrants forget that. It's why a good number of the Lovers' clergy--the men, mostly--don't celebrate the holiday until late in the evening."
"For instance, you?"
"For instance, me," he said in an amused, resigned tone. "I've been a Lover for more than thirty-five years now, and for half of them I've patrolled at the Neya's Day Spectacle. I don't mind. Much." She laughed and slipped her arm through his, a burly arm, well-muscled and comforting--fatherly. "Truth be told, I rather like it. Especially when I can help an inexperienced woman left behind to fend for herself." He paused. "I didn't think the King would do that."
"You--you know who I am?" said Twenna in a small voice. The priest nodded. She hadn't thought beyond her pain at Harsin's faithlessness. The King had cut her not just in front of his wife but in public. Word would travel, and when her father heard--oh, she was in more than romantic trouble. "I imagine people saw what happened, didn't they?"
"Not everyone knows you on sight."
"Not everyone has to." The lanterns bobbed ahead of them. They'd almost caught up, and she slowed her pace; on this man's arm, the dark seemed safer. "I wish...I wish life weren't so complicated."
The Lover slipped his arm around her and hugged her against his side. "We have the strength within us to face almost anything, and when we don't, the Gods carry us if we ask them to. If you are confused and heartsore, make the rounds and leave offerings. Go to the Hill and visit your dead--sometimes going there clears my head more than anything. Yes, even as a priest of Nerr."