Inside, Harsin was stripping as he hurried into his bedchamber; his valet Gram followed behind, stooping to pick up the discarded riding clothes, and his secretary Winmer brought up the rear. Harsin changed into fresh clothes and washed his face. "This would have to happen when I was at Middlemont. Cancel any appointments for the next three days, Winmer, and send word that while it was a lovely interlude et cetera, I will not be seeing Miss Shelstone in the immediate future. Do not under any circumstances say anything about the Queen's indisposition, to Miss Shelstone or anyone else." Winmer nodded, scribbling in his neat little book, and Harsin stepped through his bedchamber door through the private hallway and into the Queen's bedchamber.
On his return to the Keep, Harsin called for both Winmer and Teacher and informed them of Twenna's condition; he ordered his secretary to draw up papers making Elbig Shelstone a baronet. "Find a holding. Something quite small and quite far away."
"Are you sure, sir?" said Winmer, wrinkling his nose.
"He is a loathsome little toad and a rascal, but it must be done. I will elevate Twenna to an earldom after the baby is born, and her father needs some kind of rank. Ready Middlemont for Miss Shelstone's prolonged stay. Send Hallik and his wife to run things--apologize to old Crookman and give him a sop to make up for Hallik's usurpation--oh, what is it, Winmer?" snapped the King.
Temmin left the book uneasy. "They never leave you alone, do they?"
"Elaborate, please," said Teacher.
"Well, plots and plots and more plots. Is any king ever safe?" He ran his hands through his hair to scratch his scalp; his queue's fastening fell to the floor again. "Pagg damn it, and this thing takes forever to tie. I'm still not used to it, I like my hair shorter."
"The Temples are conservative in all things, sir. And to answer your question, no king is ever completely safe. There are always those vying for power, especially in the days when the Tremontine kings wielded magic directly. Now one might say the competition is for me, as strange as it sounds."
Temmin spent another morning dragging his mother out to ride, and in spite of herself, she almost bloomed in the fresh air and sun. Temmin began to wonder if perhaps he should stay, but after breakfast, alone in his study, his vows to the Temple convinced him otherwise. Donnis would be here any day, and with Neya's Day so close he couldn't ask for further leave. When Donnis came he would be easier in his mind. He would make sure she continued prying Mama from her rooms into the wider world.
No matter how vivid a dream might be, it could never match the book. It immersed Temmin so thoroughly he could not remember being anyone but a miserable pregnant girl running from her own father. The winter cold faded from Temmin's bones as he came back to himself. He shook out his arms to make his shivering stop. "If I were…being…a person in the book, and that person died, would I die too?"
Almost a spoke after Lassa's awkward exchange with Inglatine, An appeared in the bower doorway; behind him came a page carrying a pretty lacquer box. "Gifts for my wife and her ladies to celebrate the blessed event to come." The boy opened the box to reveal several small cases. An opened one; it contained a mirror. The ladies-in-waiting each received one, silver chased with patterns in the Sairish style; the Princess's mirror was the same, though decorated with costly mother-of pearl and rich enamel.
Lassa's mirror outshone the Princess's. It had no case; its back formed a stand. Gems inlaid its gold rim. Inglatine didn't seem to care. She thanked her husband and placidly adjusted her veil. Lassa accepted her mirror, knowing she should not but afraid to refuse. An's attentions and gifts must soon be paid for, a thought both frightening and thrilling.
Temmin came to himself, still feeling Lassa's delight in fashionable clothes and freedom. "She reminds me of Elly," he said.
Teacher echoed his smile. "Lassanna of Whitehorse could be said to be a spiritual sister to the Princess, yes."
"But why is her story important? It's not real history, is it?"
"The History contains the forgotten stories, especially those of the Kingdom's women--your family's women in particular. Did you know anything about Emmae before you heard her story?"
All the kings of Tremont--Temmin had the entire line memorized all the way back to Temmin the Great. But the queens? No, unless they brought substantial holdings or benefit to the Kingdom. Ilhovin the Peacemaker married a princess of Sairland and cemented the final truce between the colonizer and the once-colonized at last, for instance, but he didn't know her name. In marrying Princess Emmae, Warin the Wise secured Litta for his son Gethin the Third, but Temmin hadn't known her name or her story until Teacher told him last year.
"All right," Temmin admitted, "if you say it's important, then we start with her, and I'll find out what her connection is with Temmin the Bastard at some point, I suppose." He closed the book and began to rise from his chair when a thought took him. "Teacher, is there any news about my sister Mattie?"
Words bloomed on the pages, and Temmin's stomach tightened in anticipation. Pictures took the place of words. He looked down as if from a great height at a butte rising high between two rivers converging to its south. The western river sparkled green and light in the sun; the eastern one was wide, and dark as a shadow.
The southern side of the butte sheered off, steep and foreboding; to the north it sloped away into a boundless forest and up into the foothills of a great mountain with three peaks. His viewpoint descended to a stone fortress built into the butte's highest point. It overlooked a bustling settlement crowding the confluence of the two rivers; smoke from its many chimneys made a cloud. Seven tree-covered hills rose in the city, each topped with what looked like temples in various stages of construction; one had a flat white boulder atop it that Temmin recognized as the Father's Rock, an ancient shrine to Pagg. The eighth was the largest, a black rise hulking to the south and west, alone in a forest.
For the first time in almost a year, Temmin found himself at loose ends. His ride with his mother took up part of the morning, but they were back by breakfast. He was not allowed to leave the Keep or its grounds. He might go to the stables. At home, the Estate's stablehands welcomed and then ignored him, treating him as a sort of honored comrade. At the Keep he made the men uncomfortable and formal; it turned a pleasure into a pointless exercise. Given time, he could have won them over, but he didn't have time. He would be at the Keep just a week.
Ansella stumbled against her son, and Temmin grabbed her by the elbows. "Come, Mama, back to your fire." He supported her into the gloomy drawing room and onto the blue tufted couch beside the fire; he propped her feet up on the couch and covered her in a thick shawl draped across the couch's arm. "It's dark as Harla's Hill in here." He made to turn up the nearest lantern and discovered the wick had burned all the way down. He trimmed and relit it, turned up the second lantern on the table opposite, and stoked the fire into a fine blaze again. "You used to sit in the dark and brood at home when you were upset. You haven't eaten, have you?" He didn't wait for her answer but went straight to the bell pull and called for Miss Hanston.