The chanting of Temmin's name glided under the Chambers' closed doors to the gardens; inside, it was still. Temmin floated lightheaded, as he had near the incense smoke. The idea that perhaps he'd been enchanted flitted through his mind until Neya took his hand and led him to the low, enormous bed in the middle of the room. His mind emptied into the shifting present of animals: no past, no future, only now, as it had been in that brief moment in the chapel, the now-wordless, soundless voice singing all around him, no longer small.
A few paces ahead, Temmin had fallen in step with Anda. "I don't know if I can do this," he muttered.
"You'll be all right," she said. "I survived it. You will, too."
"Be truthful with me. Do They scare you?"
"They're Gods, of course they scare me--did Senik tell you about the time 500 years ago? If he weren't so pretty, I'd kill that man," scowled Anda. "You'll be with Neya anyway. I don't think She's fucked anyone to death, ever. I hope if it ever happens it's Senik, but he'd probably die happy."
Temmin, Senik, Anda and Evra pelted after him, Barik and Glaes following behind at a more dignified pace. The gardens were packed with people on both sides of many wide paths lined with lanterns; Neya might have gone down any of them, but Nerr seemed to know Her path.
Through the flowers, the sculpture garden, almost into the Temple and out onto the street Neya-in-Allis led them, until they were far out onto the grassy lawns, where there were no people or lanterns; Temmin followed Senik's back, the only thing his still-unaccustomed eyes could clearly see. Two screams came piercing from the darkness ahead, one triumphant, one enraged. "He's caught Her," said Senik. "Lights!"
Temmin took Barik's position behind the frame, and wrapped Issak's hair timidly around his hand. "Temmin, please," crooned Issak, lips searching. His voice held the same frantic, bare desperation Temmin heard in countless voices in the petitioning rooms--the young man begging for the release of a spanking, the muffled pleading of the woman tied to the couch--though he sensed Issak feared release as much as needed it. "Please..."
Temmin fisted the hand in Issak's hair, Issak, so composed and in control and now begging and needy. Temmin yanked him back and kissed him, a fierce, sloppy, imperfect kiss that brought Temmin more into the present, but took Issak further away.
Senik led Temmin down a long corridor that ran parallel to the gardens. Temmin carried a basket full of little muslin bags, Senik two small but heavy caskets. "Barik Lover will lead, we will assist," said Senik. "Have you met Barik?"
He had; he'd met all the senior clergy. The biggest thing about Barik Lover that he'd seen were his eyes: soft, sympathetic brown pools often lit with some unheard, inner joke. Otherwise, Barik's balding, close-cropped head came only to Temmin's shoulder. He was middle-aged, and beyond good looks in Temmin's estimation--a long nose, square-set mouth, and rather well-furred forearms. They entered the anteroom of the Gods' Chamber, a long oblong with two doors. One was red and led to Nerr's side of the Chamber; the other was white and led to Neya's.
Despite Anda's light, musical snoring in the alcove bed across the room from him, Temmin slept late on Neya's Day. Or at least, he assumed he had; the Supplicants Chamber had no windows. Anda's bed was now empty and made, and his only gauge of time was his roaring appetite. With his breakfast, he learned that he had in fact slept until lunch, "A good thing on the whole, as it'll be a long night, with little sleep for anyone and much exercise for everyone," smirked Senik.
All Temmin knew about the upcoming ritual was this:
Steel glinted against Arta's throat, and in Temmin's imagination red bloomed against the white of her skin. But here and now, the steel wavered ever so slightly. He cast about for anything he could draw upon for guidance. He thought of Jenks: "Who are you more afraid of? The Gods, or your father?" Now that he feared for two innocents, not for himself, he wasn't sure.
Freshly bathed, Temmin pulled on his new Temple garb--red, the color of the postulant Lovers, a happier, somehow less serious shade than the official Tremontine red garb he wore the last time he was at the Temple. "Will I see the Holy Ones again before tomorrow?" he asked over a late supper with Anda in the Supplicants Chamber.
She put her wine glass down and replied, "No. You won't be seeing them until it's time to draw down the Gods tomorrow night. It's not at all an easy thing, you know, Tem."
"Allis says it's something like being a puppet."
The urgent conversation appeared to be one-sided from a distance, but on closer inspection, both parties were fully involved, a small pulse in the King's jaw the only sign of increasing tension. "Master yourself, Corland. What do you mean, Temmin's lovers are a sham?" said Harsin, keeping the smile on his face.
"I mean, he's pulled the wool over your eyes!" hissed Corland. "He still qualifies! Your son means to take Supplicancy!"
The Keep's servants slept little the week before Neya's Day. All the rooms, even the bedrooms in the Old Residence Wing, were turned out and prepared for guests who might or might not be staying. As they did at the turning of every spoke, the maids received new pinafores, and the footmen new shirtfronts. The maids beat every carpet, brushed every curtain and tapestry; the footmen, under Affton's hypercritical eye, polished every piece of silver, every candlestick, every brass doorknob, grand entrance and mudroom alike, even though their sheen already blinded the onlooker.