The kiss edged away the misery of the day, mixing with the port that suddenly made itself evident in the languor of his limbs, a drowsiness that shifted to arousal as she opened her mouth to him. He remembered kissing her before; he'd brought himself, more than once, remembering that kiss and her slim waist in his arms. He slipped his arms around her now, and kissed her down against the cushions. She was here for him, his consolation. She was the girl who would open the road to Allis and Issak in the most delightful way possible.
An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom
"Arta, what are you doing here? Why are you dressed like that? Not that you don't look nice--you look wonderful, actually, quite beautiful...Gods, really, really, quite, quite beautiful." She stood now, very straight and rigid, her small, shaking hand still in his. She was blushing, and she wouldn't meet his eyes. "Arta," he said more forcefully, "what are you doing here?"
"I...I am bid to say--that is, no, not bid to say..." She blinked rapidly, and began again, her voice stronger, working hard if not successfully to overcome her northern Valmouth accent. "I am here to comfort you in your disappointment, Your Highness. They--I mean, I thought you mightn' want to be alone tonight, an as you an I are friends...we might be better friends," she finished, daring a guilty glance up at his face before fixing her eyes on his shoes again.
Temmin woke to a gentle clatter of dishes, and a savory smell of roast beef, potatoes, warm bread, and a bit of a cabbage-y smell that might be broccoli. He must have slept through tea. Did he have lunch? His stomach seemed to think he hadn't. "Jenks?" he said. He sat up and pushed the hair out of his puffy eyes.
"Harbis, Your Highness," said the valet in his irritating, melodious tenor, nothing at all like Jenks's gravel-filled baritone.
"Oh, it's you," grumbled Temmin.
"It is me, to be sure, sir," said Harbis. "If you please, sir, your dinner has been sent up. You seemed ill-disposed to dine with your family." He had perfectly appointed the little table; its damask cloth shone clean and white, and the valet's elegant, slender hands fluttered among the dishes, removing silver covers with unfamiliar gestures Temmin found annoyingly graceful.
Yellow and blue banners flying from Lord Valmouth’s city residence proclaimed His Grace was in town. The crest of the City’s social season began next week at Neya’s Day, and lasted until the season ended on Nerr’s Day, the first day of Summer’s Beginning; everyone of note in the Kingdom would be in the City for that last spoke of gaiety.
Temmin came out of the book sobbing. Her years of loneliness, her yearning for love: her father broke her heart, and when she finally thought she'd mended it, Warin broke it again. He felt every ache of it, but unlike Emmae, he knew what Warin had gone through, and why. "Warin loved her! Why didn't she know? She was so lonely and unhappy, how could she turn him away?"
"A handkerchief, Your Highness," Teacher said, handing it over. "You have seen this story through her eyes. Is it not possible he did betray her? Is it not possible he expected too much, too soon?"
Teacher was at Hildin's side then, ineffectually trying to stanch the bleeding, pale white fingers dyed red and shaking. "I cannot stop it. I was not fast enough to stop her. Your Majesty, I cannot stop it!"
"Let him finish dying, Teacher," said Warin, running up the altar stairs. "You can't save him, and I don't want you to."
Suddenly, Brothers swarmed past Warin, their armor shining in the sunlight now streaming in; beside him, an absence of light but for pale skin, appeared a figure in black. The Guardsmen hesitated, taken aback at the Brothers' strange allegiance, the presence of the Black Man, and the sheer number of their opponents, until Hildin gave a flicker of a signal to the high gallery of the Temple. A hidden archer sent an arrow into King Fredrik's throat; he crumpled at Emmae's feet, his blood spattering Hildin's mantle. "They've killed King Fredrik!" yelled Hildin.
Emmae's eyes flew to the gallery. An archer in the red and gold uniform of the Guard stood hidden in the shadows; he looked not at her face but at her heart, and she knew the next arrow was meant for her. She closed her eyes.
A gasp went up from the crowd. The Father's Rock predated the Temple itself--in fact, it could be said it was the original Temple. Sacrifices to the Father had bled down the sides of the Rock until Temmin the Great built the white marble Temple sanctuary nearly two hundred years ago. Warin strode up to it and placed his good hand on the dull white stone, surprisingly warm against his skin. How much magic could he muster, with his broken bone, and still have enough left to see the day through? He closed his eyes and focused his newly-inherited, still-unfamiliar power around the rock. He gathered it up, and pushed with his mind.
The Rock shifted under his hand. He opened his eyes and stood back as it rose from the stones around it. Up, and up, until it hovered in the air at the height of a man. His control wavered, new power and his injury combined against him. "Enough," he said brusquely, and let the Rock drop as if he'd meant to do that all along. The Rock struck the stones beneath it with such force that it split in two. Stillness, then murmurings of astonishment, until a roar broke out from every Guard, Brother and townsman.
Scores of men lay still or groaning on the steps at the forefront of Warin's impromptu army: among them, Warin himself. Calls for Sisters filled the air.
"I failed you," said Teacher. "I did not see him."
"I didn't see him, either, and I hardly thought he'd waste such a goodly amount of power this far down the hill," said Warin. "You and I took the brunt of it, but I couldn't get my defense up fast enough to protect all of the Brothers."
Brother Cor gently prodded Warin's shoulder; Warin paled and choked down a heave. "Broken collarbone," said the Brother. "Your Majesty, you cannot stay. We must find you a Sister."
"Would you let a broken bone stop you?" said Warin, dragging himself to his feet. "No, not as long as you could walk. Sling it. How many hurt?"