Chapter 8 Part 9 | Son in Sorrow | IHGK Book 2
Sedra let her horse pick its way down the steep trail back to the main road through the King's Woods, but on the clearer track she urged the mare to a faster pace. Once on the King's Road itself, she tore away at a run, giving free rein to LeiLei's spirits and her own rage.
The King's favorite child, kept in the dark about her own impending marriage! How much worse could it be were she his least favorite? She was the firstborn, she should be the one to rule Tremont, she was better suited than her feckless brother!
Sedra sensed the horse's flagging energy between her legs and eased into a walk, her initial anger dissipated for now. Temmin wasn't feckless, she admitted to herself. He wouldn't be a bad king, but she would have been the better. A woman king. "When Nerr gets the Heir," she muttered before remembering He had indeed gotten the Heir. Well, never mind, it still wouldn't happen.
Sedra was by no means ready to return to the Keep; her body still jangled, and she hated to be seen displaying anything other than a cool, intellectual cordiality in public. When a promising side road presented itself, she took it.
The further she walked LeiLei up the unfamiliar road the closer grew the trees, forming walls green and brown on either side. The great canopy of leaves overhead choked out the underbrush. She was far from her usual haunts. She had no fear; these were the King's Woods, after all. No one came here other than her own family…and the Travelers.
An uncomfortable suspicion eyes watched her pricked at her neck and forearms. Sedra brought her horse to a stop, uncertain whether she should continue on. She had just decided to start for home when a tall, rusty-haired, well-built young man stepped from the cover of the trees. His eyes were a sharp blue, and he dressed as a Traveler: sturdy, mud-colored pants tucked into dusty brown boots, a cheap brocade vest in deep gold, and an old linen shirt, its sleeves rolled up and a bandana at the open neck. A gold ring flashed in one ear. She couldn't decide if his handsome face reminded her more of a fox or more of a wolf. "I thought it was time I said hello, Princess. Hello!" A broad grin split his neat beard.
"Time you said 'hello'?" echoed Sedra.
"I know it's hardly a proper introduction, but Travelers can't expect proper anything, can we?"
Already angry, Sedra indulged in a rare display of rank. "Who are you to speak to me?"
"Oh, I've been watching you ramble about in these woods for years. My name is Connin. Your family and my family--let's just say we go back a few centuries."
Sedra blinked as a blush rose to her face. She knew the name, and now recognized the man. "I know who you are."
"Teacher read you a story from the History, eh? Which one, I wonder?" Connin came closer. "How many have you heard?"
"Just the one. That was enough to tell me everything about you. Good day."
Sedra gathered her reins, but Connin caught LeiLei's bridle before she could turn. "What did it tell you?"
"That you're a rapist. Let go my bridle!"
"Ah, Teacher read you Emmae's story! Never worry, despite appearances I don't take maidens against their will. I never really have that problem."
Connin looked just as he had in Teacher's book; his rusty beard was neatly trimmed, but his hair was neither short in the modern style nor long in the conservative style, and it ruffled round his face. She became quite aware how handsome he was, and Emmae's experiences in the book tumbled into her head. Sedra shifted in her saddle and gave herself a tiny shake. "What do you call what you did to Emmae?"
"She was under an enchantment to return anyone's desire. What man could resist a woman so beautiful and so outwardly willing?"
"Warin the Wise did."
"After he used her himself. Tell me, was that king really a better man than I? We both knew what we did. He lied to himself until he finished. At least I was honest, and I was under a greater compulsion than Emmae ever was. I still am."
"What do you mean?"
He'd come round to her left side so stealthily she didn't notice until his hand slipped up her divided skirt to caress her calf. "You say you know everything about me worth knowing. What you know about me is what Emmae knew. True, she knew…a great deal about me," he grinned. Sedra slashed at him with her riding crop; he dropped LeiLei's reins and stepped out of range, laughing. "When you want to make some memories of your own before a loveless marriage, Princess, I'm easy to find and quite discreet."
Sedra wheeled the mare around and tore back down the path to the War Road. Did everyone know about her marriage but her? No, everyone knew her future as a royal bargaining chip; Connin's taunt was a goad, not specific knowledge. How dare some Traveler accost her? True, he was no ordinary Traveler--the son of their Queen, as immortal as his mother, and as Teacher. Still insolent, still insinuating, still as seductive as he'd been in Emmae's day, some 700 years before.
She trotted LeiLei into the stable yards, threw the nearest groom the reins, stalked back through the mudroom to the family's staircase to the Residence Wing, and climbed the stairs as fast as she could without running. Once in her apartments, she began peeling off her suddenly constricting riding clothes. "A wrapper will suffice," she told her ladies maid. "I'm not feeling well, Camma, and wish to spend the day in my rooms."
"Shall I send for a Sister, Your Highness? Or perhaps Her Majesty?" said Miss Sinsett, her round face creased in worry.
"No, just find something to do elsewhere for a while, dear. I need to be alone." She stayed curled up on the chaise in her bedchamber until Miss Sinsett finished straightening up and left, casting a dubious look over her shoulder as she closed the door.
Sedra picked up her current book beside the chaise, but Emmae's experiences would not leave her, as vivid as the day Teacher "read" them to her: overwhelming desire; Connin's hands and mouth on her breasts; his cock slowly pushing inside her, bringing her to orgasm over and over; humiliation as her bespelled body betrayed her unwilling mind. Sedra reminded herself over and over that these were Emmae's memories, not her own. She'd been so confused and overwhelmed every time she left the story, struggling with desire. Teacher had been so near, an alluring combination of mystery, a dancer's grace and a mind so sharp…but those thoughts led to nothing but bitterness.
Her hand brushed her breast as she considered Connin's offer. Making memories of her own? What good would it do? At best they would haunt her as she lived trapped in Bannig's court, and in his bed. At worst she might be discovered. What would her father do then?
When the King discovered Teacher's illicit lessons, he shut her in her rooms for an entire spoke, meals included. No visitors were allowed apart from the King himself, Ellika and Miss Sinsett; Mama and Temmin still lived at Whithorse. No long walks, no newspapers, no reading more taxing to the mind than books written for the "improvement of unmarried girls," though Ellika smuggled novels in to her. "Here's to fashion crazes," she'd said, pulling two or three volumes from their hiding place among the yards and yards of muslin making up her skirts. "You'll have something good to read for a change!" Sedra had to agree Ellika's "thrilling romances" beat anything written for the improvement of unmarried girls, but longed for her prohibited studies. Over time, Harsin looked the other way as Sedra crept back to her old reading habits, but Teacher's lessons remained forbidden.
It was just as well. She closed her eyes and fell into a doze in which the unknown Bannig's coming inspection, Connin's lovemaking and her own frustrated pursuit of Teacher ran together.