An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom

Chapter 17 Part 4 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

After a trip to the bath crowded with lethargic men and women, and a soak in the hot pool until they were all the color of well-done lobsters, Temmin and Anda helped put the twins to bed, each in their separate rooms with attendants nearby if needed. "Now what?" said Temmin.

"Now nothing," yawned Anda, plucking a candy off one of the huge piles of offering sweets distributed among the clergy. "I'm clean, I'm brushed, I've tucked the Holy Ones in, I'm done. No one who worked last night does anything today. The lay servants run the place, the petitioners' rooms are closed, and there's no real offering traffic the day after a Spectacle. I am going back to bed for a nap. Aren't you tired?" Temmin shook his head, still wet and shaggy from the bath. "Well, you may do whatever you like, but don't expect me to do it with you." She rose from the couch they were sharing, dropped into her bed, and was asleep in five minutes, her odd, musical snoring muffled in the crook of her arm.

Chapter 17 Part 3 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

Temmin woke up, unsure whether he'd been dreaming or if the lovemaking really had gone on all night after the visions. He remembered slipping into Neya over and over, holding Her in his arms as Nerr took Her, kisses that left him blind, breasts and hands and mouths and cocks, but a film overlayed it all, turning it indistinct and hallucinatory: a terrifying, ecstatic fever dream. Again, there were no windows in the room, and he couldn't gauge the time.

Chapter 17 Part 2 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

Nerr slipped behind Temmin and put His arms around him, stroking him until his head rolled back against His broad shoulder.

Neya pinched his nipple. "Pay attention." Temmin brought his head up with a start. "Better." She straddled his lap and brought his hands to her breasts. They were heavy and full, perfect as his hands had always known they would be. Every time he'd ever looked at Allis, he had imagined her breasts, just like this.

A knife cut through his arousal. This was not Allis. He touched Allis's body, but the Lady was not Allis. He had wanted his first to be her. "I am Allis," said Neya. "But then, I am every woman who desires a man. I know your thoughts. I am a Goddess. Allis is far away, but she feels this, and she will remember this. We are both your first, and you will have her many times before your service is through. Now, please Me."

Chapter 17 Part 1 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

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.

Chapter 16 Part 9 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

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."

Chapter 16 Part 8 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

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!"

Chapter 16 Part 7 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

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.

Chapter 16 Part 6 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

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.

Chapter 16 Part 5 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

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:

Chapter 16 Part 4 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

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.

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