Temmin and Teacher crouched down beside him. The man's face grew gray; he reached out for Temmin's hand, and said, "Your Highness, I've been loyal all my life. I'd as soon kill myself as hurt you. But they took my son and my two little girls last night. Sent me one of the baby's fingers--" He choked. "I told them I was no fighter, but they said you were too well-guarded...they had to take every chance from now on...and that if I didn't kill you when you came today, they'd send all three back in pieces."
Nerrday, the 29th day of Spring's Beginning
"You're a Princess--why d'you have to fetch your own dresses?" said Temmin as he handed his sister down from the carriage at Mistress Naister's shop, not far off the Temple Promenade. "I should think the dressmaker would come to the Keep."
"Oh, she does, but I like to come into town, see and be seen and all that," Ellika answered, acknowledging the small crowd through the Guards lining their way to the door.
Mistress Naister's shop looked like the inside of a fragile seashell, pink and cream and gold; Temmin kept his knees and elbows in for fear he'd break something, though what he could break in a dressmaker's shop, he wasn't sure. Mistress Naister curtsied so low, Temmin felt compelled to help her stand again. He impulsively kissed her knobby hand; her fingers smelled of beeswax. Mistress Naister swallowed a girlish giggle, sat Temmin down on a spindly chair made for someone much shorter, and clapped twice. A nervous little shopman came from the back carrying a tiny pink and gilt tea set; he served the Prince while Ellika and Mistress Naister exclaimed over one another like old friends. The cup looked like a thimble in Temmin's hand, and he hastily put it down.
Temmin pulled away, shaking with rage and terror, eyes wet. "She wants to kill him. I want to kill him."
"No need. He's long dead," replied Teacher.
"Did she kill him?"
"We'll get to that in time," said Teacher.
Temmin could still feel Hildin's hands all over him--all over Emmae--the Pagg-damned book got him so confused, but then, disgust and desire had overwhelmed and confused poor Emmae. It shocked him how much her plight had stirred him, both to pity, and to deep, uncomfortable arousal.
Once back in his study, Temmin ran his fingers over the old red book. It had been almost a week since he'd been inside its covers, and though he recalled the story perfectly well, its immediacy had faded somewhat--until the image of Prince Hildin's knife slicing through the girl's clothes, her nakedness among the rags, came to mind. It shot a thrill straight down his center, but whether it belonged to Hildin's henchman Gian, or himself, he couldn't tell. If the latter, what did it say about him? Troubling.
Temmin withdrew his hands from the book, and struggled to free himself from its spell; pain had called him out of the story. "I can't sit any more," he groaned. "I have to stand up!"
"We can discuss things standing up," said Teacher, rising in sympathy.
Temmin took his meals that day standing up in his rooms. He slept on his stomach, and in the morning, skipped his ride. He made it through breakfast with the aid of a fat cushion; Jenks had discreetly tipped off Affton, and between the two of them, they'd gotten the Prince settled in the morning room without anyone in the family noticing. When he returned to his rooms, Teacher already waited, perched just outside the arc of light that crossed the wide library table. "And how was your ride this morning, Your Highness?"
The next day, Temmin wore his riding clothes to breakfast, going straight to the morning room from the stables and returning there straight after, as Jenks discovered too late. "He's gone, Mr Jenks, sir," said the Riding Master when the valet searched for his errant charge. "He wore the chestnut oot this morning an took another horse--Inchari mare, a rare fine un. T'was odd for him to be goin back oot, but it's not fer me to decide what a Prince should do, eh? We'll tell him you want him, sir."
"I'll tell him more than that when I see him, Pagg damn him for a headstrong boy," rumbled Jenks to himself on the way back to Temmin's rooms. "Tempted to chase him down and turn him over my knee."
The "headstrong boy," however, was in fine spirits, and not in the least repentant. Whatever admonition he might receive for skipping his studies was worth getting out of the Keep, and away from Fennows. He couldn't avoid the lordling at breakfast, and Fennows's endless fawning over Ellika enraged him; it was all Temmin could do not to vault across the toast rack and throttle him.
Temmin left the book, desperately aroused. He couldn't say what provoked him more: Warin and Emmae's lovemaking, or the strange scene at the end. He gripped the table's edge and reached for quelling thoughts, anything to dull the book's effects. He turned to the story. "So it's Hildin the Usurper," he stammered.
"Still Prince Regent. King Gethin had slipped into senility by this time," answered Teacher.
"He had magic too? How many people held it?"
Temmin sat silent for some time. The smoke of the fire still lingered in his nose, Emmae's skin smooth on his fingertips. He shook the feeling from his hands, and sneezed. If only he could shake Warin's shame off as easily; it clung tight to him, guilt mixed with erotic satisfaction. "I am Temmin of Tremont, not Warin the woodsman," he said to himself, "and I have not just finished making passionate love to a beautiful woman I've discovered is enchanted to desire me whether she wants me or not. A stunning woman I found naked in a clearing outside my lonely hut. A woman I want to make love to over and over and can't stop thinking about... Jenks in his underwear, Jenks in his underwear..." Aloud, he said, "Am I right in thinking this is Warin the Wise we're discussing?"
"You are," nodded Teacher.
When they returned to the Keep, much earlier than Ellika would have liked, Temmin found himself summoned to the King's study, despite the late hour. Teacher stood leaning against the mantelpiece, such a habitual position that Temmin wondered if the advisor weren't glued to it by the elbow.
"You're all right?" said Harsin. "A glass of wine? No? Very well. I've received a preliminary report from Brother Mardus. Needless to say, the Royal Guard will be under extreme scrutiny for this security breach. Mardus says in his note you acquitted yourself well."