Mathanus vomited on his own feet; Justinna huddled on the floor in incoherent shrieks. Temmin would have begged for Allis's life, but the stickiness filled his mouth; all he could do was cry. Nerr was going to kill her, to whip her to death, and it was his fault--beat me, kill me, Lord! he begged silently. "She bears responsibility too, never doubt it," said Nerr, raising the strap and bringing it down again. "She must bear the pain alone if she's to be of any use to My Sister."
Though it was not Malla's intent, Temmin closed his face to the world. He spent more time in the less-senior clergy's beds and gave Allis no more than his polite, rather stoic regard. He declined any assignment that might lead to physical intimacy between them--indeed, any assignment that might lead to them being alone. Supplicants were not allowed to pick and choose, but now the senior clergy let him.
As he withdrew, Allis did her best to let Temmin go. He would leave at Nerr's Day anyway, and here it was almost Neya's Day. But he stuck to her heart like a burr, a ball of tiny hooks she could never remove no matter how hard she tried. She'd done quite well at hiding the depth of her love from Issak and the Most Highs, but to herself she despaired. He would be gone soon, she would stay behind in a beautiful, pink, plush prison, and they'd rarely see one another for at least ten more years.
Temmin stood before the Most High Beloved. "Am I excused as well, Most High?"
She studied him coolly. "You are excused. While I know you don't need to practice the Eight, I may say there are other disciplines you must work at more diligently--as you have been reminded before. I trust you are clear now on this matter, Temmin Supplicant?"
"Very, Most High," he bit off, all pretense at calm abandoned. He kissed her hand and retrieved his crumpled tunic from the couch, where Allis wiped the sweat from her body. He bowed. "Forgive me if I don't give the customary kiss." She gave him a serene, disinterested nod; he turned on his heel and stalked from the room. Perhaps it hadn't all been Malla's idea.
This section is NSFW.
Winter's Ending turned into Spring's Beginning. Temmin's twentieth birthday came and went on the ninth of the spoke with little fanfare; the country was still in mourning, and he was in no mood to celebrate.
The Temple kept Temmin quite busy. Helping petitioners soothed his grief somewhat, but between sessions he walked through the rose marble halls seeing nothing but gray. His duties ran the gamut from coaching petitioners through the acts of love to helping heal emotional wounds. What he so often had in common with the petitioners was not eroticism but pain, now more than ever. "Does suffering always come with sex and emotions?" Temmin asked Barik Lover one day.
"It doesn't have to," he answered, "but it often does."
A week after the Queen's funeral, Allis handed cups of tea to the Most High Beloved and Most High Lover. The two high priests and the two Embodiments sat together in a room warmer than most Tremontine rooms, but the two old ones held the handleless winter ceramic cups close to their bodies, letting the heat sink in. Allis wondered if she would be cold all the time when she grew old. She dropped a sugar in one cup for Issak and passed it to him. "What are we going to do about Temmin?" she said.
Temmin returned to the Temple reluctantly. Though his mother appeared healthier than ever before, he still worried. The first fulfilled prophecy frightened him, but continued good news from the Keep and Nerr's Day preparations occupied his time and mind. He let himself be reassured that the Traveler Queen had performed one of her vaunted miracles; Mama and the baby would be well.
The twins' twice-annual ordeal began again this evening, a necessary suffering that sickened Temmin every time. Issak and Allis stood at the doors to the Gods' Chambers, the senior staff gathered around them. Allis smoothed Temmin's wrinkled brow. "Never worry. Nerr and Neya will be here and gone in a short while, and then we can all rest until next Neya's Day."
The First Day of Spring's Beginning, 991 KY
Twenna Shelstone stepped down from her father's carriage into the throngs crowding the Lovers' Temple for the Neya's Day Spectacle. An orderly procession flowed from the Promenade to the Temple garden gates, where the Spectacle would be held. Postulants and servants bore hundreds of bright lanterns through the crowded gardens until every leaf seemed illuminated. Twenna fretted to be without even a footman to look after her, but she reassured herself. Harsin had said Winmer would find her there and protect her from unwanted advances.
Issak's rooms reflected the forests he'd dreamed about as a little boy. Navigating Ouve's stinking back alleys and bustling marketplaces as he carried and fetched for Mistress, he'd imagine himself in the fairy tale forests from the books Maman read to them when she could. "I bet Tremont has lots of forest," he'd said to Allis once after Maman died. "I want to ride the whole country, all the way from Ouve to Greenvale. How far d'you think that is?" She'd always replied that when they'd paid Maman's debt, she'd buy him a horse and he could find out. "Only if you go with me," he'd answer. Issak thus chose greens and browns for his rooms: moss, sage, leaf; bark, rosewood, the amber of sap. He found it restful to the eye after the Temple's relentless parade of pinks and roses.
Allis woke up slowly, her head pillowed on Temmin's shoulder. Just past her nose she could see long strands of her black hair laced among the curly gold ones furring Temmin's chest; she'd neglected to braid her hair the night before. She would have tangles to brush out.
She slipped from Temmin's grasp; he burbled in his sleep and turned over. She smiled at his broad, white back and frowned at his now just-as-white neck. The tan he'd always had from life spent more in the stables and hills than in fashionable drawing rooms had faded in his year at the Temple. It saddened her. The color gave him a common touch; it humanized him. While everyone respected his father King Harsin, few loved him. Temmin would be a king people both respected and loved, she was sure of it. When he ended his Supplicancy next year, she hoped the tan returned. She didn't want to think about next year.