Temmin came from the book laughing for the first time: a delirious happiness, a yearning sated. The lovemaking's intensity left him out of breath, aroused but somehow satisfied. "They were happy," said Temmin. "They married happily! Were they always happy? Please tell me they were."
An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom
Two days before Farr's Day. Hendas of Holset was making pointed remarks to the Dowager now, and several Leutan lords gave up their wooing and were preparing to return to Leute: time to raise their armies. The day was warm and pleasant, and Warin took Edmerka out into the gardens for what he feared might be the last time. He'd made it clear that he waited only for word from her, but she had done nothing more than walk with him. Though they usually spoke in general pleasantries, today they spoke of past times, even the time in the cottage. There was a wistfulness in Edmerka's voice that struck both dread and hope into the King's heart; on the one hand, she might finally be reconciling past love with present, but on the other, she might be taking her leave, though with a certain sadness.
As for Edmerka, she had made up her mind.
"A bird?" said Edmerka to her maidservant the next morning. "He sent me a bird?" She peered into the cage in the maid's hands.
"A nightingale, Your Majesty," beamed the maid. She hung the cage near a window. "They sing, oh, it's so beautiful! It'll break your heart, it will. They say they sing for their lost loves."
"We have nightingales in Leute," Edmerka snapped. She stomped out of her bower, down the stairs to the upper hall where the King met with his counselors, and demanded entrance.
Inside, Warin and several Tremontine lords bent low over a map. "Should civil war come to Leute," the King was saying, "we must be on guard against attempts to take these castles along our borders--" He straightened as Edmerka burst through the door, a protesting servant at her heels. Her eyes were bright with anger; he might have expected this.
"Explain yourself, sir!" she said, stuttering on the words.
From that day, Edmerka rejoined the daily life of the Keep. She walked more often in the garden, ate in the Great Hall, and dressed in colors, if drab ones, but she rebuffed every attempt Warin made to engage her in conversation. "I am not inclined to speak privately with you, Your Majesty," was all she would say, until finally Hendas of Holset came to her in frustration.
"Lady, I am here to tell you that you will either marry King Warin, or you will marry the Leutan lord of your choosing," he said, settling his thick frame into an equally thick chair in her bower.
"And if I choose none?" she said.
"Then you bring civil war to your kingdom, or worse. The lords ruling in your name will only do it for so long before their ambition overtakes them. And if you reject him, the King may decide to take Leute by force in his anger. Either way, you will destroy your people. Thousands will die, either by the sword or from the starvation and sickness that always follow war."
The next day, Warin waited at a hidden intersection in the garden among the late season flowers; Edmerka had taken to walking there alone, and when she passed, he fell in step beside her. She stiffened, but did not run. "How long do you intend to stay in mourning, sister queen?" he said.
"Until I am done, brother king," she answered. "It is tradition."
"Did you love your husband so very much?"
Her startling blue eyes pinned him through the veil. "I despised him even as I loved my father."
"Your father was a lighthearted man. I am sure he would have you put aside mourning. I myself look forward to seeing you in colors again."
"Do you," she said. She pulled a little curved knife from the tasseled belt at her hips, and began to cut the asters, white and violet, that spilled onto the graveled pathway.
Warin struggled for words. He couldn't see her face through the veil, though he recognized the way she stood, the slight tremble of frustration and temper that used to run through her at the cottage. "Emmae--"
"Don't call me that!"
In the aftermath of his ascension, Warin weeded out the faithful from the traitorous. To everyone's shock, he spared the Duke of Valleysmouth and his family, who had raised Hildin and Gian, and gave Old Meg an honorable entry to the Hill, but he tracked down the family of the archer who'd killed Fredrik of Leute and slew all its men. Even so, the hooks above Marketgate went largely empty; few had stood with the Usurper.
The rest of the Travelers caught up with their Queen, making camp at the edge of the King's Woods; their caravans flickered bright among the cool green leaves of late spring. "Will you not let me entertain you at the Keep?" said Warin.
"No Traveler may spend the night beneath a solid roof, Your Majesty," said the Traveler Queen, "but thank you."
"Well then, take the freedom of these Woods as a reward for your service, now and always."
"Thank you, cousin," said Connin with a bow, his leg extended just into mockery.
The letter was folded and sealed, and pressed into Fen's hands early the next day at the train station. "Give this to my groom, Alvo Nollson--only him, d'you understand? You can trust him. He will help you," said Temmin. "He's my best friend."
"Must be some groom if he's your best friend, sir," said Fen.
"Friend and groom, the best of both. Crokker should be expecting you. He's fierce, but don't let him frighten you."
"Never worry, sir, we worked for Mr Affton," said Arta; she smiled, though her pale face and trembling hands betrayed her.
For appearance's sake, Temmin kissed Arta on the forehead and Fen on one cheek. Though the kisses were innocent, he'd grown increasingly fond of both of them, he thought absently as they waved from their compartment window through the steam of the train's departure. He was responsible for them now, the first time he'd felt responsible for someone else's well-being, and it frightened him somewhat.
When the room finally contained no one but himself, Temmin slumped onto the stool at his writing desk and pulled out a sheet of paper; he would write a letter to Alvo for Fen to deliver. He dipped his pen.
Dear Mr Nollson,
I have the pleasure of introducing to you--
He started again.
Please make these two friends of mine welcome.
"How can I serve you, Your Highness?" said Teacher, surveying the crying couple on the floor.
"You can do things for me, yes?" said Temmin. "You're not forbidden to help me?"
"I may do whatever is in my power for you, save in that one matter."
Temmin laid out the situation, with interruptions from both Arta and Fen until he ordered them to be quiet. "I want to send them to Whithorse. Take them through the mirror."
"No," said Teacher.
"No? What d'you mean, no? You said you'd help!"
"Taking them through the mirror will not help. The King will suspect something if they suddenly disappear, and then I will just have to bring them back. You must send them in plain sight. Let everyone believe what they already believe, and that you are sending your new lovers to take up residence near your home."
"But how can I send Fen with her?"
"Sir," said Teacher, "let them believe what they already believe."
"Oh. Oh!" said Temmin.
He was the Duke of Whithorse; his word there was law now that he'd come of age. He would send them to the Estate. He would send them to Alvo. "Don't go away. Here--finish your brandy."
He sprinted to the door, and called for a footman. When the young man ran up, a discreet smirk on his face, Temmin realized that Arta was right: her reputation was already ruined. "Does something amuse you, Caid?" barked Temmin. A more sober expression quickly took up residence on Caid's face. "Find that footman Wallek, and bring him here. Then go fetch Teacher. I need him."