Temmin peered into the first room. It held a low, wide Temple couch piled with pillows, a dressing screen, and no other furnishings. A middle-aged woman reclined into the pillows, feet on the floor, Temple skirt rucked up around her waist; all her attention focused on the man in street clothes kneeling before her. The man gave a muffled groan, his face buried so deep in the woman's sex he seemed to be pushing his way inside her. "Can they see us?" he whispered.
Allis took his arm on one side, Issak on the other, and they began their tour, four of the Temple's Own trailing before and behind. Temmin observed politely as they looked into the neat dormitories, the vast library, and the erotic art collection. He wanted to spend more time in the last, but the twins propelled him out the door into the gardens.
The gardens contained many little nooks and niches; tucked away in more than one were passionate couples--or more than couples. Deeply embarrassed, Temmin didn't know whether to stare or look away, but neither Allis nor Issak seemed to care, sometimes ignoring the lovemakers, sometimes stopping to observe and even comment, and then moving on. "Were those Lovers and Beloveds, or...?" asked Temmin.
"Most of them," said Issak absently.
Temmin came to his tour of the Temple on Neyaday. A quiet Jenks helped the Prince dress; Temmin thought it wisest not to ask after his subdued mood, and let him have his way without complaint.
Ellika stayed in her room after the incident at Naister's, and never did send for the new dress. She found an unworn one suited for the occasion in the back of her wardrobe, and insisted on going with Temmin "just to the door if nothing else." Some of her naturally cheerful spirit made its way past the shock of Horn's death, and she came bouncing down the stairs behind her brother to take his arm. She wore a confection of white lace and ribbons against pale pink silk. "You look like a wedding cake," said Temmin, kissing the top of her head.
"Thank you! Put your gloves on, Temmy."
Nerrday, the 29th day of Spring's Beginning
"You're a Princess--why d'you have to fetch your own dresses?" said Temmin as he handed his sister down from the carriage at Mistress Naister's shop, not far off the Temple Promenade. "I should think the dressmaker would come to the Keep."
"Oh, she does, but I like to come into town, see and be seen and all that," Ellika answered, acknowledging the small crowd through the Guards lining their way to the door.
Mistress Naister's shop looked like the inside of a fragile seashell, pink and cream and gold; Temmin kept his knees and elbows in for fear he'd break something, though what he could break in a dressmaker's shop, he wasn't sure. Mistress Naister curtsied so low, Temmin felt compelled to help her stand again. He impulsively kissed her knobby hand; her fingers smelled of beeswax. Mistress Naister swallowed a girlish giggle, sat Temmin down on a spindly chair made for someone much shorter, and clapped twice. A nervous little shopman came from the back carrying a tiny pink and gilt tea set; he served the Prince while Ellika and Mistress Naister exclaimed over one another like old friends. The cup looked like a thimble in Temmin's hand, and he hastily put it down.
Temmin pulled away, shaking with rage and terror, eyes wet. "She wants to kill him. I want to kill him."
"No need. He's long dead," replied Teacher.
"Did she kill him?"
"We'll get to that in time," said Teacher.
Temmin could still feel Hildin's hands all over him--all over Emmae--the Pagg-damned book got him so confused, but then, disgust and desire had overwhelmed and confused poor Emmae. It shocked him how much her plight had stirred him, both to pity, and to deep, uncomfortable arousal.
Once back in his study, Temmin ran his fingers over the old red book. It had been almost a week since he'd been inside its covers, and though he recalled the story perfectly well, its immediacy had faded somewhat--until the image of Prince Hildin's knife slicing through the girl's clothes, her nakedness among the rags, came to mind. It shot a thrill straight down his center, but whether it belonged to Hildin's henchman Gian, or himself, he couldn't tell. If the latter, what did it say about him? Troubling.
Temmin set out on his early morning ride the next day with thoughts of Allis. He saw the multitudes of green in her eyes everywhere: pale, tender new leaves; ferns lacy and bright; the deep moss blanketing the tree trunks. Nothing held him back now but his father, who could only disapprove, not stop him. He said the nobility would be angry. Why would that matter? Who could stand against the royal family? And why should he care about what his father feared? The King didn't care about anything other than molding his son into a copy of himself.
He rode through the King's Woods, already knowing it by rote and absorbed in his thoughts, when he noticed a movement up ahead, not far from where he'd found Arta crying. Had she returned, or was it a deer hiding in the underbrush? As he drew nearer, the figure moved toward him, not away from him; it was no deer, but a man.
Temmin told no one of his plans to visit the Temple--almost no one. He told Jenks that evening, and the happy valet burrowed into the Prince's wardrobe all Paggday to ferret out the proper clothes for a visit to the Temple. Though Jenks was discreet, Temmin himself let it slip to Ellika in the hearing of a footman. It spread through the Keep until it reached the ear of Gram, the King's valet, and thence to the King himself.
"Winmer!" said Harsin as he stomped into his study. "Harla take you, Winmer, I need you now!"
Temmin's face grew hot, as the image rose in his mind: Allis before him, Issak behind him, mouths and hands and-- He rolled over onto the pillows and pulled her atop him. The smile left her face, but she showed no fear. "What if that is what I want?" he said.
"Then you should chase us," she answered.
He gave her a tentative kiss, a brushing of the lips, shy and unsure after all his bravado. He felt his heartbeat, jumpy and fast, and wondered if she felt it too. Allis took his face in her hands and kissed him again, deeper, and he sighed into her mouth. Everywhere she touched him grew warm and shivery. He cradled her head in one hand, smoothing along her jaw with his thumb, and hoped he did it right. She ran her tongue over the roof of his mouth, and he shook violently. She gave an amused little hum, and did it again to the same whimpering reaction. "Very good," she murmured, breaking the kiss. "Now tell me, what have you learned?"
"Learned?" said Temmin, muzzy-brained. "I was supposed to learn something?"
"This is a splendid picnic, Temmin, thank you so very much," she said at last. She wiped her lips, Temmin following the napkin's course with his eyes. "Returning to earlier conversation, as we must," she said, "if your religious fervor is tepid, why are you here with me?"