The Mothers soon gathered. Ardunn knelt before the King at the feet of Amma's image; his hands clasped his sword hilt and his new lord wrapped his hands round them both. In a strong voice, Ardunn swore his allegiance to Temmin of Tremont, swore away the name of Ulvyn, and placed his life at the King's disposal. He rose, saying, "I never considered anyone but you King at any event, let alone myself."
Gwynna ar Gwyrfal
The King seemed to settle in to the same calm surrounding the younger man; he joined his hands loosely before him. "What else have you been told?"
"That I am the son of a man you hated for good reason," Ardunn answered. "I never knew him nor any of his kin--as far as I'm aware, I'm the only Ulvyn left, am I not?" At Tennoc's grim nod, he continued, "I know my grandfather was your stepfather and that he loved you until he went mad. And I know you grew up under a cloud, as I have."
The King cast a shrewd glance at Gwynna, who raised her eyebrows in acknowledgement. "You are also the heir of the last King of Kellen," he said.
Gwynna covered her mouth with both hands. Tennoc was coming, and his own wife said he still loved her. Shivers began deep in her chest, spreading out to her fingertips like tiny cramps. Fear, excitement, hatred, love--they all shook her at once, and instead of the strong woman she'd been since Ardunn's birth she was a tree hit by lightning, its bark ripped open and its heartwood exposed. The door opened again and the King stepped through.
Several days passed with no sign from the King, until a messenger arrived. The Temple was to expect a visitor the next day. Would it be some emisssary, or King Temmin himself? That morning, a nervous young Mother came to fetch Gwynna down to the emptied Worship Hall: the visitor stood just outside the doors.
A sharp pang stabbed at Gwynna; life had beaten most of whatever vanity she'd possessed out of her, but she had been beautiful eighteen years ago. Work had roughened her hands, for no one could afford to be idle in the Mother's House. She wore the simple undyed wool habit of a lay Mother, a blue linen veil over her head; it had been long since she'd dressed in fine clothes. She didn't have a mirror to see how she'd aged, and wondered how she would appear in her visitor's eyes. There was nothing to be done for it. She walked to the Worship Hall and stood as she had when Ardunn was a baby, at the feet of the Mother's great statue.
Winter turned to spring and still Gwynna and the baby could not leave the Temple. Soldiers kept watch day and night in sun, rain and snow. The Brothers also kept watch to prevent the soldiers from entering, but they were protecting the sanctity of the Mother's Temple, not Ardunn; they would kill the baby themselves if Gwynna and Ardunn left their holy shelter.
Some days King Temmin stood among them--she could not call the man who'd spoken with her at the feet of the Mother that day "Tennoc." Sometimes he called to her, and sometimes she heard him. Sometimes he even sounded like Tennoc. The day came when the Mothers told her the new King had finally left Gwyrfal to turn his attention to conquering the rest of Kellen. Cror ar Crymavon was left behind with instructions to continue the watch.
"He's here, Lady," the Kellish Little Mother murmured.
Gwynna stood up, the baby in her arms. "Where?"
"In the Worship Hall. He is alone," added the old priestess. "He wished to bring his men inside, but the Brothers would not allow it--they are ringing the Temple even now. Quite the argument he made, too. The Eldest Brother said he understood and even sympathized with the new King's…aims…but you'd taken shelter here and they could not break Pagg's Law. Do not be deceived--if you leave the Temple, the Brothers themselves will kill the child on the new King's orders. But they will not enter these walls on such an errand."
This section is NSFW.
His arm was already beneath her; he slid his free hand down her back's curve, around her hip and up her side. His hand was warm and gentle, and would stop every few inches as if asking a question; her body would answer, and the hand would continue on until it asked for permission again. She gave it over and over without a word until his hand reached her milk-filled breasts. She moved it away to her belly, still loose from Ardunn's birth; Tennoc didn't seem to notice or care. A tautness crept over her.
"Gwynna," he murmured, "if we are not to go on, I must leave you."
This section is NSFW.
Gwynna kept Hanni's words in mind as she waited for Tennoc that night in her bower. When he came to her, he'd taken his armor off, as well as Dunnoc's crown. He wore simple clothes and looked like her own Tennoc instead of the frightening Tremontine stranger in the Great Hall. They exchanged formal pleasantries until Gwynna excused her attendants and they were alone. "Oh, Tennoc, I am so very happy to see you well," she began, but before she'd taken more than a step toward him he'd crossed the space between them and seized her.
He had never touched her like this, never touched her at all apart from a surreptitious clasp of her hand as he helped her dismount and the like. His grip hurt her arms. She had time for one gasp before he pressed his mouth to hers as if he needed her breath as well as his own. She thought of drowning men who took their rescuers down with them, but she opened her mouth to him; he whimpered into it. "Gwynna," he choked as he kissed her neck, her cheeks, her eyes. "Oh, my Gwynna." Tennoc lifted her up in his arms and hurried into her bedchamber, where he set her on her feet and began forcing open the fastenings of her dress.
"What will you do, Lady?" said one of Gwynna's attendants as they looked out over the Tremontine armies gathered before the city. It seemed to Gwynna they went on past the horizon. Daevys must be dead, or else his forces so broken up that he could not regroup. If Daevys lived, Tennoc would hunt him down. She was or would soon be a widow, free to make her own choices.
She could not see the march into the city, but she knew Tennoc would come to claim her father's throne, and possibly herself. Nothing stopped them from marrying now--in fact, everything was in favor of it. But would it still be his wish? It had been a little over a spoke since she'd birthed another man's child, after all. Had he heard? Perhaps he'd already married Cariodas, if she'd lived to reach Tremont City. She'd always been his intended, after all. Cariodas, riding out of Gwyrfal dragging her father behind her: perhaps a girl as brave as that would make him a better wife. "I will prepare to meet our conqueror, is what I shall do," Gwynna said in the end.