Dinner on the Rhercyn: Meeting Countess Anira

The lack of guards at the Florid Door is surprising. Instead, thorns part as the pair and their escort near to reveal the Blood Court and Kendall's uncle climbing to his feet while making apologies. The Ambassador's servant Siorys clears up a mess of spilt Rim Wine while the Qur behind the approaching guests begin crooning for the loss of a litter-mate.

Kendall's sharp eyes see a shivering in one of Brisbane's pockets signifying this hidden death and the silverware about the Elder Chanicut's plate speaks of danger in the hidden language of their shared House.

Margot's less experienced eyes behold only the beauty of a room floored in golden wood with flowering vine walls interwoven so densely that one could taste love there and few would know. A wide window overlooks the purple sea, covered only with a protective weave of white spider threads to keep those within safe.

A low table surrounded by colorful cushions displays bowls and platters holding an array of items both beautiful and grotesque. At the table's head sits a litter enclosed in a gossamer white curtain emblazoned with the clawed serpent of House Tinor. Within the litter a feminine shape moves behind the curtain in a most unnatural way as she accepts the words of her guest with a sweet giggle to show all was forgiven — nay, even the cost, for Rim Wine is drawn from the very veins of the Rim Divers when the Abyss finally claims their lives.

Kendall and Margot sweep in with all the expected pomp and dignity, graceful like a dance without audible music. The Lord leads his Lady around the trickling tendrils of wine still escaping from the servant's efforts to clean them, and over to the empty space at the table near the Countess' screen.

At their places, he gives the screen a polite nod, an acknowledgement and greeting, while also maintaining station. The young Chaosian immediately discerns from the awkward and continuous movements behind the curtain that the Countess Anira seemed to be in a fit of shape-craze, a state when it becomes difficult to hold any single shape for longer then a few heartbeats.

"Tis nothing, Milord… let me pour another cup for you," the angelic voice from behind the curtain answers Brisbane's apology as the younger pair arrives.

"I would accept, but best not waste any more on bones this old," he replies with a smile that would welcome the Night to come and chase the light away. "Tis a drink for the young, after all."

"If that is your wish, then my hospitality will allow no less." A gurgling shriek emerges from behind the curtain and a light spray of scarlet stains the white gossamer. Those of Timor eat nothing which is dead if they can help it. Margot's hand tightens on Kendall's arm at the sound but she maintains her gracious smile.

"Countess Anira, a pleasure to finally meet you," Kendallarithan speaks into the opening. "I would also like to present my lover and companion, the Lady Annaliese, Baroness of Cescil."

"You have my gratitude for the honor of sharing this time with you, Countess," the princess adds smoothly, inclining her head to the silhouette behind the screen. "I look forward to an evening of entertainment and enlightenment."

"Sit, sit…" The Countess invites them with good cheer. "Lord Brisbane was telling a most excellent story about those ridiculous Amberites." The curtain rises several inches as a hand gestures to nearby cushions. More specks of blood appear on the white screen as some crunching is heard.

Kendall helps Margot to sit on the cushion farther away from the gauzy screen, placing himself between Countess and Princess. As she sits, he stands behind with one hand held securely in his and the other offering support against her waist as needed. That done, he moves to the other cushion and kneels on it after first making sure his Elder had already been re-seated.

"I won't go that far, Countess… yet they do have their moments," the older Lord replies. "In fact, my nephew himself has many stories he could tell that would amuse any Court for hours."

"Is that so, Lord Kendallarithan?" the Countess asks, her voice full of intrigued interest. She raises a hand to stop the pouring of wine and the faceless servants step back in silent response to her wishes. The Qur already in their laps hiss at the dark wine decanters when near.

He gives Brisbane a nod and then turns his attention back to the Countess. "Oh, Amberites," he says dismissively, but with a smile for their host. "I had hoped to turn the conversation to more pleasant topics. Giving over our dinner conversation to the topic of Amberites only reinforces their inflated self-importance."

His comment teases a smile out of Margot, perhaps because in many ways she shared it. But she remains quiet and docile for now, simply observing the activities around her.

"Then after?" The Countess asks like a eager child on her birthday. "I so much wanted to meet one, but wasn't allowed. So much wanted just a nibble to see how they tasted. But nothing! Just this boring boat!"

A fit takes her and Anira pounds her fists upon her wooden platform. Blood grooves carved on its surface show trickles of the lifeblood staining the bottom edge of her curtain, the mark of her hunger.

"I hoped for a cure, to sip and lick…" she croons once the fit passes. "Could you be it, young Lord of Chanicut? Tell me of the wonders in the place once called Amber."

Kendall ponders this entreaty while a servant sets a plate of unrecognizable foods before him. The wine was already known to be unhealthy so he gives the Qur a chance to make its verdict while he answers. "Has my uncle mentioned yet these devices the Amberites use to measure Time?"

"They are called clocks, and are almost deities themselves, considering the attention and deference given to their assorted noises and symbols. Chimes could mean many things — a meal, a ceremony, a change of the guards. But oft as not, the chimes merely sound to announce arbitrary divisions in Time dreamed up in someone's imagination. Breaking their lives into smaller and smaller increments while also binding them to Time as though She was a taskmistress who must march them along in predetermined regiments, step by step into frozen paralysis."

"How horrid!" the Countess cries, aghast and repelled by the very idea. In fact, she loses her hold on her meal and a frog-like creature comes hopping out beneath the curtain to face a frantic rush of silent servants.

"Indeed," Brisbane agrees before taking a sip of water that only the truly uncivilized would attempt to poison.

The Qur in Kendall's lap indicates a variety of foods that would be worthy and safe for their Lord's mouth and only one poisonous to him; a soup of sorts, the floating eyeballs within staring back as a Qur hisses again at the terrible smell coming from it. The soup's exclusion is unfortunate, as the eyes did look tender and tempting to Kendall.

The bowl of beetles is especially interesting to two, the scent coming from their crunching is sweet and exotic. The Qur in Margot's lap is wary to all since it has gained a sense of her vulnerability to the foods of the Courts. But with a fury of chirping, it eventually deems four dishes safe enough for the woman.

The young Lord selects a large beetle from the bowl. "I can only guess this obsession is due to the the environment," he agrees, snapping the body in two and popping half into his mouth. "They only have two Skies, blue and black, and they last for an exceeding amount of time. A bit dull, really."

Margot only half listened to the conversation between Kendall and the Countess, her eyes focused upon what the Qur chirped or hissed at and what Brisbane confirmed with the slightest of facial expressions. She didn't know how to interpret what the Qur was saying, but happy versus agitated seemed simple enough.

Lifting a delicate wrist, she reaches for the tongs next to a bowl that held palm sized succulent spiked paddles that reminded Margot of the sweet red decadence that Kendall tormented her with. It also reminded her, she thought, stifling a shiver, of the fresh blood spilled at the edge of the Countess' curtain.

Placing the singular vegetable-like cake upon her plate, she notices little buds of black and orange flowering around the spikes that hid deadly tips from an unsuspecting person. With knife and fork, she slices a thin morsel from the plant and took her first bite.

It was far spicier than she anticipated and the bitterness was enough to draw all the moisture from her body. With as much grace as she could muster without rushing, she set her tableware down and claims her water goblet, drinking deeply from it.

Kendall offers the other half of the beetle to Margot to share. "Tis unfortunate you were unable to spend time in the Court of Amber… such as it was," he tells the Countess, putting some sympathy into his tone. "But as fortune would have it, my companion Lady Annaliese hails from Order's shores. Perhaps we might trade tales, you of Tinor and experiences in Amber for our part. She craves to learn all she may of the Houses and denizens of Chaos."

Margot accepts the beetle, nibbling on the exoskeleton and finding the sweet marinade provided a nice counter to the spiced vegetable she had on her plate. There was no way she could consume the entire cactus piece so she cuts it in half and slides some in Kendall's general direction before selecting a few choice beetles.

Having observed Margot's reaction to the cactus thing, Kendall chooses a different delicacy by plucking a tentacled creature from a bowl of brine. The tentacles curl and wriggle as it struggles to free itself while he puts it on his plate. He spears the eye with his knife, killing it and releasing the sweet blood within. He then picks up the twitching carcass and allows the blood to ooze down over the tentacles before bringing the ends to mouth to slurp like spaghetti.

"A trade?" The Countess seems intrigued, pausing in her meal. "All those lovely secrets imparted, all that sweet betrayal. A delicacy only I would enjoy." Giggling, she twists and coils with delight.

"Yes, that is a game we can play!" she exclaims. "So does she know many secrets of Amber? How would we choose who would start, and what's House Chanicut willing to wager?"

With what could only be a purr, the Countess goes back to her meal, a screech emerging as whatever she is eating dies and adds its own to growing upward creeping wave of scarlet upon her screen.

The Princess hopes her reaction is as composed outwardly as she pictured herself in her mind. She struggles to keep her heart rate even, her breathing controlled, and her body relaxed as she is first asked to come up with gossip — of which she had none to offer — and then to watch her lover dispatch something akin to a baby squid only to slurp the tentacles up like a delicate and savory pasta.

Longingly she glances to the carafe of wine, knowing it was forbidden — poisoned, the horrid bitch. Instead, she nibbles another slice of her red-colored vegetable and now that she was prepared for the taste, Margot was able to enjoy the nuance of taste and texture. Crunchy and fresh, it reminded her vaguely of a cucumber.

Fastidiously dabbing some errant blood from his lips with a napkin, Kendall thinks about the Countess' question as Margot continues to feign calm next to him. "I have very little to offer except… perhaps this would be of interest to you." He holds out a hand so the Countess can see the crystal that rested on his palm.

This time, Margot brings her napkin to her lips to cover the clenching of her jaw; her eyes fall in a demure act to hide her nervousness and irritation. This was hardly how she believed things were supposed to play out and with each utterance from her lover's lips, she was feeling more and more out of her depths, drowning in a black pit without rescue in sight.

"Does it contain… a touch of an Amberite's lifeforce?" the Countess almost breathes her question, a bit impressed by the nerve of this Chanicut.

His penetrating gaze drops to the crystal in his hand, a smile once more curling his mouth in a chilling expression. "Oh, that is a fine thought indeed," he agrees. "But consider, if it did, its price would be beyond your means."

"Nephew…" Brisbane says sharply, for while it may be true, no one likes being reminded while in their own house.

Kendall trades a look with his uncle, a brief lowering of his eyes acknowledgement and acceptance of the rebuke. No doubt some Amberite crassness had rubbed off on him during his stay.

Turning his gaze back to the screen and the vague form hidden behind it, he adds, "Though I almost feel some slight twinge of… conscience, I believe the Amberites call it. To offer payment in such underhanded currency as this…"

"My Lord," Margot interrupts softly. "As I understand, our game revolves around sharing tales and secrets of Amber's treasures, of which you know many exist… often hidden in plain view. Displaying such baubles will only distract the mind and tangle the tongue."

Kendall's head turns quickly as Margot intervenes, one eyebrow arching with imperfectly hidden surprise at her impertinence. Irritation chills his gaze as he evaluates the words spoken by the young woman next to him. But irritation was possible to control, pushing the emotion away in order to consider the new situation with as impartial an eye as he could.

"Agreed, Child of Order," the Countess purrs into the pause, her anger at the young Lord's rudeness diminishing. "For if the storage crystal is empty, it holds no interest to me."

His mouth presses into a thin line and he takes a breath, shunting the anger away with his exhale. If this was how Margot wished to play the game, then he could play along. For now.

"My apologies, m'lady. I had forgotten how easily the fairer sex is blinded by the sight of glittering baubles," he murmurs in a cool voice to match his gaze. He sits back a little more, giving Margot clear line of sight to the Countess' screen and looks to their host for her reply.

Margot's smile remains steady in the face of his obvious disapproval. "Countess, I am most eager to exchange tales with you; but it would help me greatly to know how long you were in Amber during this voyage. I would hate to bore you with intrigues that you were already aware of. And perhaps in return, you would be willing to share insights into some of the customs of House Tinor that are well known and acceptable for public knowledge."

"Intrigue is never boring; 'tis our lifeblood in the Courts," the Countess shares. "Yet I'm surprised you have interest in Tinor, for I have no doubt your lover informed you of our lesser status. For we are a House of Conflict, like our patron House Hendrake. We as a House move forward through conflict even if only within our own ranks. That was what attracted me to those Amberites so that I agreed to this journey… the amount of blood they had spilt."

"Knowledge is never boring and while you may name yourself lesser, I see nothing that proves so. Your placement in the political arena and your potential are two very different things. While intrigue tempts your appetite, information is what I crave."

In an act of gracious honor and almost solidarity, she inclines her head and salutes with her glass. "We enjoy similar delicacies, Countess. Let us simply indulge."

The younger Chaosian turns his attention back to his plate, currently empty. The soup still tempted, but he suspects the renewed craving stems from disgruntlement with Margot's interference. Instead, he plucks another squid creature from the bowl and kills it with dispatch, again holding it up on his knife and watching with utter absorption as the blood trickles down to coat the tentacles.

And he listens. If the Countess was willing to forego recompense from him, it was just as well.

"So you are going to Thelbane," Anira says after a laugh, beginning to pace her cage like a cat. "Very good. We do applaud. One as young and exotic as you will have no difficulty gaining help. But be warned, I would kill the first male you meet in Thelbane. Dance in his blood, and that would bring the notice you most desire."

Dark eyes meet the silhouette, a slight smile returning as the water remains close to her lips. "I will take that under advisement as you are now the second woman to share that counsel. I am starting to wonder why your males are considered with such little regard that you are so quick to dispatch them?"

Kendall suppresses a sneer of disdain by dint of eating the bloody squid, though still taking care to keep the juices from staining fingers or clothing. Setting down the knife, he evaluates the other foods on the table while wiping his hands and letting the womenfolk talk.

"They can be so…scatterbrained at times," the Countess replies. "And that wasn't my attempt to insult my guests, for never would I even consider for such potent Lords as you." She leaves the rest unsaid, yet it's said House Tinor does respect males more than Hendrake does.

"Then I'll take care to observe wisely to ensure that any male worth the effort of spilling blood over is of lesser quality than the present company," Margot says. Her eyes dance over both Lords in turn with a genuine smile for each, hoping they realize her words merely banter. Kendall at least could surely guess how unsettled were her nerves as she continues to portray a seasoned courtesan.

The younger Chaosian Lord's only response to that exchange is a sort of amused snort. Tinor's — and for that matter Hendrake's — opinions about the scatterbrained nature of males had nothing to do with Chanicut. They liked their males pliant and stupid, breeding them that way. Eyes roaming the table settle on skewers laden with long ribbons of what look like intestines covered with pale gold glaze and broiled to a delicate bubbly brown.

He slides the heart from the tip of the skewer and then pulls the main portion off in one long, rubbery ribbon. He sucks the golden ribbon into his mouth, eating it properly — all in one motion rather than cutting it into pieces — and then topping it off with the tiny purplish heart.

"But, much as I find the delicacies exciting to the palate, I hunger for understanding of Tinor's customs and Ways," the princess continues. Especially those which the Countess finds most engaging of her attention."

The Countess pauses in her meal. "Tis said, to know of the Abyss one needs to stand upon its edge," the Countess purrs, excited about something. "If you desire, I could host you at Aquum for as long as you wish. There, all the knowledge you wish about we of House Tinor would be within reach… like a kiss, to any you choose."

Kendall looks up from his plate, staring intently the Countess as though trying to figure out if she's serious. Brisbane, older and wiser, only raises an eyebrow at possibly the worst seduction attempt he has ever seen at any of the tables where he has sat. But then, thinking back, he does remember one that came very close when he took a certain nephew who would remain nameless to the Royal Court for the first time.

"That is not the first time I have heard such claims, Countess. Your invitation is quite generous and it would be a lie to say that I was not intrigued about the uniqueness of Aquum; for it offers enchanting and alluring nobility." Margot had managed a blush, eyes falling from the Countess to her plate as she places the water glass down and rests her hands in her lap. The graceful gesture allows her to display her demure qualities while making eye contact with Brisbane and her lover, wondering when or if, either would step in to take control of the conversation.

"Is there no way I could persuade you to share some of your tales; feats of grandeur or legends of phenomenal finesse by patrons of House Tinor? I do enjoy hearing such things…"

"You wish to hear of Tinor, our founder?" The Countess asks with thrill, excited to share the hours-long story with anyone willing to listen. Unlike other Houses, the members of Tinor have never been shy with that story.

"She was once the last in a line of 999 wives married to a beast of a Lord of what is now a Lost House — Cassicur, dragged to ruin by Sawall for the slightest of slights. Yet in our story, House Cassicur was at the height of its power, controlling dozens of Ways and countless worlds in the Dark Zone."

So excited to tell this tale, the Countess sits down again and gestures for fresh wine to be brought. "Tinor was just as young as you, my guest, with beauty beyond a mere word and the passion of youth. While anxious when she heard of this marriage, one does not go against their House, for it would be chaos. Yet to be the the last of 1,000 brides…well, of course we women can only understand the outrage of Lady Tinor."

Kendall sits back as the tale is spun, giving the Countess his attention rather than the plate in front of him. Though when the fresh wine is poured, he pays heed to the Qur to see if the new would be drinkable, or just as deadly as the last. The furry little creature gives it a lick, then another, before going back to a dessert… after a sneeze! But then, this line of grapes do always cause some sneezing in the Qur. A nuisance that one of these cycles should be bred out of their furry little sentries.

"1000 Wives?" Margot asks, astonished. "And how did so many wives come to see one another, I wonder? As sisters there to console? Or rivals to be eliminated at first opportunity? Was it common, in the days of which you speak, for a Lord to take so many wives? Lovers, I can fathom, but to name legally as wives so many and to incur the burden of their welfare? Is Tinor still a House dominated by men?"

"There is no common in Chaos, unless we speak of Thelbane," the Countess answers. "Yet generally, no; most Houses would consider it remarkably wasteful to hold so much for just one. But I could not, would not, speak to House Chanicut and their opinion on this matter." Anira bows towards her male guests.

"One thousand may seem an excessive number," Kendall agrees, with the disinterested tone of someone who is generally unconcerned about the administration of other Houses.

Then he smiles unexpectedly and quirks an eyebrow at Margot. "What is unclear from the tale is whether the Lord in question had 1000 wives all at the same time. If indeed he was beastly, he may have used up his wives the way some would use up a coarse napkin, but those details are of little relevance to the story, I suspect."

"Insightful as always, Lord Chanicut," the Countess says with a bow of her head. "I could have said, he was a beast and be done. Yet men have always been beasts to such as us, have always sought to dig in their claws or pierce us deep with their fangs. We in Tinor do respect that… but prevent the deepest of these wounds upon our members."

"But, you spoke of his Lady being displeased with the last being taken, so does that mean the other 999 were harem or morsels to be consumed? Was she more displeased with being the last than all the others?" Margot pressed, curious. "And if so, why? How was this last bride so different that all the rest that came before?"

"What does it matter, if you are one of two or one of two thousand?" Kendall tosses in. "Quantity is only one part of any equation."

"Indeed," Margot agrees, not rising to the bait. "If the lovers have an understanding or if the union was a political alliance and dalliances were welcomed or even encouraged. Or indiscretions are managed quietly and through the loyalty of servants. So, just because he was public and open about his taking a harem… why did his Lady not entertain her passions with consorts, be they male or female? With a stable of nearly a 1000 at the ready, surely she could have found someone to her tastes and proclivities?"

"You will do well in Chanicut," the Countess says amused.

"Thank you, Countess," Margot inclines her head. "I intend to do well within all of Chaos and its Majestic Courts."

Kendall's eyebrows arch and his restrained smile reappears as he selects another beetle from the bowl and begins to pull the legs from it. "Do the women of Tinor practice monogamy, in honor of the great Lady Tinor your founder?" he inquires of the Countess, leaving the legs on his plate and eating only the main body and head.

"Yes, we can only have one lover until his or her death," Anira replies. "Tis rare for any party to not have at least one death due to that."

Kendall picks up the wine his Qur had shown him was safe and takes a drink to keep from laughing out loud at the Countess' answer. That would be terribly rude. The Qur gives another sneeze as he drinks.

"Can have or choose to have?" Margot asks, intrigued. "Is this inscribed in law or merely custom in honor of the Lady Tinor? What would come of a person that dared to be so bold to enjoy polyamory?"

The Countess laughs to the lady's questions. "In Chaos, there can be no laws…. only traditions. But what death is better than to die because of love? As to your last question, that person would be killed by one or the other, or perhaps both. In fact, our House even has a story about one such as that. Tis said within the Tomes of Blood by the Blind Sisters that our lines did touch upon that very pair who fell in love after slaying one who dared to be so bold."

"There is sacrifice, Countess, and there is waste," Margot disagrees softly. "To be slaughtered in the arms of another through the crimson rage of jealousy is not perishing because of love. Is there is no more pride in counting the heads you've placed on pikes over stains upon satin sheets? If Tinor is truly a House that prides itself upon its Chastity, Commitment, Dedication, Affection, and Love… then should not Tolerance and Forgiveness also be evident rather than Vengeance, Hatred, and Jealousy?"

Margot lifts her glass of water once more but pauses to add, "I mean no disrespect, Countess, but it seems an extraordinary contradiction to have on one hand this Utopic House of Love and the other a Bloody Dagger aching for opportunity, knowing that Love is a falsehood. Not romantic, but tragic; to imagine all the potential lost due to the portents of Love you yourself proclaim."

Kendall sets his glass down and coaxes the sneezing Qur to his lap, offering it one of the beetle legs he had discarded. He was pretty sure he hadn't heard anything yet about a utopic house of love, much less chastity, commitment, or any other virtue. But these were terms that Margot saw the world in, so he wasn't surprised. He simply waits to see what the Countess might reply to Margot's question.

"There is no jealousy in House Tinor. We do tolerate and we do forgive, but there is no House in Chaos that doesn't share our thirst for vengeance and hatred." Her voice remains relaxed and pleasant even as the form behind the curtain begins to writhe in a frenzy. "The Courts are unforgiving towards the weak, the stupid, and occasionally, the unfortunate. But before you judge House Tinor, best you look towards Hendrake or Chanicut first. Our bloodsport is a mere drop when you compare it to them."

Dara gives a snort of amusement before going back to watching the entertainment.

"Thank you, Countess," Kendall replies with a gracious nod of someone accepting a compliment. "Tinor is still young. No doubt Time yet will see your House's accomplishments multiply."

"Tis a harsh world you are traveling to, child," the Countess confesses. "And as its mirror, so too, are we. But tis also a beautiful place."

"One can only be truly appreciated with the other," Margot returns. Her gaze falls to the Qur in her lap, her fingers finding comfort in its delicate fur.

Kendall takes advantage of the ensuing pause. "And the Lady Tinor?" he asks, politely attentive as a proper guest would be. "You have yet to enlighten us as to how the least of the Cassicur Lord's wives came to found her own House."

"Our Lady escaped," Anira shares. "And within a single step of escaping her pursuers, the Serpent did appear and held her gaze for an instant. And there did her chains break. Picking-up their wafts and bones she brought them to Thelbane and the Throne, cast both before the King, and demanded her House."

Kendall raises an eyebrow at this reply. "She must truly have been extraordinary, to earn the Serpent's regard so easily. No doubt the Lord cursed himself greatly for not discerning his new wife's potential."

"She gained no boon, like Chanicut or Hendrake, yet we still are proud of our Founder," the Countess agrees with a graceful bow of her head for his kindness. "As to the Lord, he had a war to attend to so his loss went unnoticed as House Tinor gained more of her Ways."

"No doubt, the Hendrake saw in your early House much promise and much akin, which is how you came to ally yourselves to them?" he inquires, inviting her to speak more on their ties to the Greater House, which will hopefully lead to topics of more pressing interest.

Margot listens and observes, quietly stepping away from the light of attention to allow Kendall to again direct the conversation as he desired.

"Yes, a debt acquired at our founding. Yet not all their ways are ours."

"They pamper their males," Dara says with distaste.

"And believe in balance with our pairing," the Countess continues.

"Every minor house has its faults."

"And every major, its excesses…"

Dara shrugs, bored enough to return to her wine, the two women once more studiously ignoring each other.

Margot watches with interest as the two women traded barbs in what seemed to be an endless cycle, like Winter following Summer following Winter. A bemused smile curls the corners of her lips at the thought of a place that held its fluidity upon a pedestal could still be so rigid. Why this was more amusing now than when she witnessed it in Kendall's quirks when they were alone, she wasn't certain; perhaps because it was more like a play unfolding rather than a cultural break in communication or misunderstanding. Each were wrong and yet each were correct.

"Be careful of the Major Houses of Chaos, child," the Countess advises. "Their concerns are not ours."

Brisbane smiles at this; few so small would dare roar to the heavens. And Dara gives a slight salute of her glass to Anira, which brings a rush of movement behind the curtain.

Kendall tips his head a little, looking from Brisbane to Dara, and back to Anira. "How are the concerns of the Lesser so much different than the Greater, do you think?" he asks. He chooses a choffa egg, the top of the shell already peeled away to reveal the bird cooked in its own membrane. Movement out of the corner of his eye catches his attention, though, as the princess' hand goes to wineglass. Several things jump into his mind simultaneously: previous poison and the Qur's persistent reaction. Suspicion not completely allayed.

He offers the egg to Margot instead, purposely presenting it to her with the partially feathered cooked baby inside visible, blue-veined lid lying across the lifeless eye. She gives him a questioning look, moving her hand from the glass to the small egg, about the size of a robin's egg on her home Shadow.

"And how does one eat … this … delicacy?" she whispers.

He blinks at her. "All at once," he says, also very quiet. Then he thinks of something and adds, "The bones are softened before the egg is cooked."

As more choffa eggs are brought forward, the Countess answers the Lord's question.

"Every Minor House has concerns towards its survival, like a Rim Slave to their meals. Shattered fingers scraping the the tiniest morsels, for just a little more. For more may bring them back alive in the next Cycle for another bowl. So you ask for different, I would say this: we hunger, yet you never do."

He takes another egg from the bowl as Margot eats hers but holds it in his fingers to study it instead of eating it right away. The Countess' answer is not surprising. "Yet even the largest House can be brought to its demise," he points out. "It may take longer, require more cunning, but survival is never assured."

Margot maintains a quiet demure, her eyes flickering across the table to Brisbane for the briefest of moments for a hint of warmth or support before returning to the Qur. To those unaware of her curiosity, she simply looked like a cowed lover, knowing her place; to not involve herself in the political discussion of Houses. But her ears were perked, seeking any bit if information and trying to hear the message beneath the words and the true conversation being had.

"Love as well…" the Countess adds, perhaps looking to the pair behind her screen.

His eyes move from the egg cupped in fingers to the shadowy figure behind the screen, though his head barely turns. "Certainly. But tis love not assured? Or is it the happiness and satisfaction from that love? Emotions are fleeting things, unpredictable and very often unsustainable."

Anira's attention flows to Margot, as her form flows under the curtain. Her words, a future mercy. "As is power."

Margot felt the eyes of the Countess upon her, and perhaps the first sense of being the true prey in the room. Regardless of how the sudden attention claimed hers to participate once more, she refused to give an ounce of outward fear; much as she did with her first meeting with Dara. Contemptible and stubborn, foolish even; but with everyone in the room so much more indomitable, all she had was her ability to prove herself unshakable, no matter how much of it was a bluff.

"Power alone is easily misguided," the princess interjects. "You dismiss emotion and yet, is determination and will what focuses us upon our goals; no matter how small or grand they may be? And then of course, there is the necessity of surrounding oneself with talented and trustworthy … allies. Power is only one side of a tripod that is the pedestal to whatever you desire. Will and Skill are also equally important… what you are willing to do, to whom, and what is the cost of your desires."

"But of course, Annaliese, individual desires and ambitions are as nothing next to the greater duty to the House," Kendall observes to his companion. His tone is not so much prim reminder as bored recitation as though he says the words simply to have them said. This gambit would be a far simpler matter were Brisbane and Dara not present, and for the first time, he considers the idea of speaking to the Countess alone.

"Whether for love, power, or some other motivation, the House tempers our passions and drives, directs our energies," he notes. "It leads us beyond our simple and individual existences to serve something that is far more solid and enduring than love, desire, or even power."

For what he would count as a heartbeat, Margot's eyes flash with passion as she readies herself to take up the foolish argument. But remembering herself and her role, her long lashes lower to obscure her momentary lapse. "You share an interesting notion and curious philosophy," is all she says softly in response.

Like ringing bells, the Countess' mad giggles rise in pitch till only pets and perhaps Kendall could hear.

"Best watch that one, she might just start her own House on you," the Countess says amused, catching her breath after such an excess.

The Countess' observation or compliment — Margot wasn't certain — left her skin crawling. "A bold notion, Countess… based on a child's observation looking from the outside in," she dismisses the suggestion, her cheeks flushing with embarrassment at the accusatory attention.

"May the Serpent decide…" Anira purrs, happier now than she has been for long time. She tears into her food, her appetite revived, and her dinner's shrieks and whimpers herald the climbing scarlet of her curtain.

"How would one dress for the Serpent?" the Countess asks suddenly, excited at the very idea. "Or naked, bathed in tears and blood."

"Why would you dress for the Serpent?" Margot answers. "Why would you not approach your Patriarch in your most natural state, whatever that may be? Eyes wide open to that with which He chooses to share with his Child?"

Kendall gives the Countess a look, not for the first time wondering at what level of madness she resided. "For a true Lord or Lady, the only way to face destiny in the gaze of the Serpent would be in true form," he responds. "Have you plans that require the blessing of the Serpent to carry out?"

"I? Never, for I'm happy in my House," the Countess replies. "I was thinking more of your Annailese. It would be ever so lovely to see her stand at the edge of the Abyss and see if she could draw the Serpent's gaze. As to how to dress, tis for us of course. For while the Serpent may not understand fashion, it doesn't mean we can't be fashionable."

Kendall gives a sniff of disdain at the idea of even taking fashion under consideration in that situation. "Yes, calling the gaze of the Serpent is a proposition with great risk," he agrees. "Not something for the faint of heart. Most appetites and aspirations can be filled much more directly."

"Thank you for your confidence in my abilities to capture the Serpent's attention, Countess, but I'm quite certain it'is misplaced," Margot interjects. "While curiosity is bound to cause me innumerable mischief, I doubt sincerely that anyone here need concern themselves with whether the Serpent will even notice my existence among your Ways."

"Tis always a concern," the Countess asserts. "And you are certainly exotic enough that Lord Serpent could notice you. And if mere survival is enough to warrant starting your own House, it shall be interesting if it does happen."

"You appear to imply Chanicut has not the wherewithal to ensure her survival," Kendall observes.

"Against Lord Serpent? Please." Countess Anira responds, almost mocking. Then she turns thoughtful, enjoying this new prey. "Unless that was your Boon, the one your Founder did secure."

The joy is evident in her voice as her form stills behind the curtain. "I always did wonder about the Boons of the Great Houses. So few are known and Thelbane can be so boring. These Amberites have been the only color in some time."

"Your… reasoning has me at a disadvantage, Countess," Kendall replies. "Certainly if my companion stood on the Abyss and called for the Serpent's notice, her fate would be outside the hands of Chanicut or any House. How is it that you rate this confrontation necessary to her survival?"

"Not if it was your House Boon," Anira purrs. "Not the promise of notice, just the promise of living past that moment." By her tone, the Countess seems impressed by it all. "While He is blinded to Shadow, Lord Serpent still has vast knowledge that any House could polish to a gem. A master stroke I must say, worthy of Chanicut."

Margot clears her throat. "While all of this supposition is extraordinarily fascinating, I grow tired of listening to speculation whether your Lord Serpent will find me enchanting or a tasty morsel to gobble up. I travel with House Chanicut at my own will and desire and by their blessing and support through sponsorship. Certainly, there are far more interesting topics to speak of than the trivial actions and impacts of my life in Chaos where I am merely a speck of dust within an Empire whose borders extend beyond the imagination."

Her temper was getting the best of her, and that sense of authority and entitlement that Kendall and Dara had worked so hard to draw out of her was beginning to peek through. Her tone remains pleasant but firm, her eyes mostly focused upon the ethereal curtain and the form behind it.

A smile curls her lips. "I have had enough of my well-being and future being the topic of conversation. Perhaps something else sparks someone's interest and assists in digestion?" Her eyes circled those gathered, awaiting Kendall or Brisbane to take control of the conversation once more.

Kendall may have taken a heartbeat or two to mull an answer to the Countess, but his train of thought is thoroughly derailed by Margot's reply. The outburst wasn't unexpected, all things considered. Several possible interventions pass through his mind, but ultimately he remains silent for a space of time. His companion had addressed the Countess. It was up to their host to either be amused or outraged, and to dictate the next topic of conversation. If any. He turns his gaze to the blood-stained curtain, the picture of calm interest.

"Then you would never fit in, for in the Courts we all strive against being forgettable," Anira replies. "So many kin against so little new to forge just for yourself. That was one of the reasons we found Amber so exciting. Even with doing nothing, I gain by going there. My name will be spoken in countless dinners and between exhausted lovers before sleep. I have no desire for the Halls of L'o to enwrap me in their darkness. If my betters spoke of my name upon the same page they spoke of the Serpent, I would be thrilled beyond imagination. Tis honor we give you, Child. Honor."

"Is it?" Margot says. "It seems to me there are far more nuances and ramifications and weaving of webs that have very little to do with whether the Lord Serpent finds me a fascinating inspiration. Would I feel honored — blessed, even — should He look upon me fondly? That goes without question. But we have discussed my future to the point of exhaustion; or rather, to the point that I as the the focus of the topic, no longer wish to be discussed. My request to move on to other topics that are of interest is hardly a difficult one to fulfill."

"Enough, Annaliese," Kendall breaks in, holding up a hand to interrupt the flow of words. "We all have our own motivations and obligations."

Turning to Anira, he says, "Please excuse her impertinence, Countess. She has the manners of Amber, still."

"She is young, so forgiven…" The Countess says.

Kendall nods his thanks.

"But I do find it interesting that she believes we speak only of her, for I could be easily speaking of you as well, Lord Kendallarithan." She giggles, amused by tonight's dinner. "Ah, to be young again and see the world so simply. To think if I was just so, the world would fall before my feet and the Serpent arise to grant me any gift!"

A bloodstained talon caked with gore and feathers thrusts itself through a break in the curtains, and like a doting grandmother she shakes her finger at both of them. "Tck, tck, tck… but the World doesn't care, and only the smallest number ever survive even seeing the Serpent. Shadow, the Courts, are harsh places to all no matter how we might feel."

The finger points to Kendall. "He could name at least one hundred of his close kin, their ranks and duties within the House. I could easily do ten times that, Lord Brisbane… a thousand times that!" The claw withdraws. "So ask me now again, what of you?"

"Lady Annaliese is, as I said, my lover and companion on my return journey to Chaos," Kendall answers, his voice and manner dismissive. His eyes rove the table once more. He selects several rather inoffensive looking fuzzy white balls this time, setting three onto his plate as he talks. "Her lineage is no account, though as you have already discerned, she possesses potential for a great many things."

Margot's expression takes on an almost passive expression as he answers for her, not quite extending to boredom but certainly flirting with aloofness. Being silenced like a servant had not been her expectation, especially after all this talk of self-empowerment and carriage. Her eyes dance around the table's offerings as she breathes deeply, releasing it slowly, and with it her ire. She picks up her goblet of water to wet her lips.

"She very entertaining, I give you that," the Countress agrees. "As to the rest, knowing what I know of Chanicut, I expect no less of her worth to you and yours."

A humorless smile flickers across Kendall's face as he prods one of the little balls with a knife, letting inky dark liquid ooze out to stain the white and pool on the plate.

The Countess' words draws Margot's attention but no response. In lieu of a verbal acknowledgement, the Princess raises the goblet in toast to the veil. She lowers her eyes before taking another sip.

"You think I'm being cruel, but I'm not," Anira continues. "We of Tinor do call ourselves the House of Love once we've drunk enough at any party. But in truth, love has less value in the Counts than that ghastly little beast you hold. It will give you very little protection once in Thelbane, sister."

"Love leads to a great many things, but from what I have seen, happiness is not one of them," Kendall observes.

"I believe you only measure its worth at the end," the Countess suggests. "Better to think of Love like the wine in your cup. Sip and enjoy it, lift praise to whatever of its forms you most cherish. But know, sooner or later, it will end and you will be looking just to the cup."

She takes a sip behind her own curtain before going on. "So be sure your cup is polished and adorned, worthy of the wine you pour into it."

"I said nothing regarding love's value to me," is Kendall's reply. "Merely its ultimate return. I did not ask for advice on love."

Margot maintains her silence; feeling each lash given by his hand to a concept she not only cherishes. Rather than act out, she simply lets her eyes wander their environs, seeking distraction from callous comment and thoughtless attacks. It's only then she notices Lord Brisbane feeding a strange fish a little of his blood. Bolted to the plate, still alive by the flexing of its gills. But why the Chaos Lord would feed it his own blood from a slit on his wrist is indeed an unanswerable question.

"Making such a statement invites discussion," the Countess corrects. "Yet I do see your point, for in many things we only look to its end to gauge the value. Like the act, we judge skills and beauty only when our lusts are satiated. Yet I've found love over a dozen times, so I believe I do know a little more about it than you."

She lets the words hang for a few seconds before adding. "But as your Host, I will bow low to your wisdom."

The young Chaos Lord's eyes narrow at the Countess' answer, glittering with anger. That little voice in the back of his mind was trying to regain his attention, and for several heartbeats, it seems as though Time lingers close to give him the needed space to rein himself in. The unexpected, swift fury rising within him was difficult to harness but so much easier to bear than the pain of a heart scraped raw and bleeding.

As much as I wish it wasn't so, I think those Cycles are long gone for us…

"I see you still prefer to attach your own meaning to my words," he says at last, his voice taking on a distant chill as he pushes the turbulent emotions away so that he could think. "You observed that love holds little value in the Courts. The Unicorn of Amber, in her words to me, spoke of leaving the Courts because of her love for her children. In the endless courtly games of advancement and sabotage, one must look at love with a critical eye. Its ultimate demise does not mean tis of no value; only that its value must be carefully weighed against the consequences. One cannot schedule a broken heart."

"Incorrect, one certainly can schedule a broken heart. Indeed you might be surprised how many do," Anira counters.

"Of course," he agrees in a tone of someone agreeing merely for politeness' sake.

Margot sets her empty goblet down and focuses again on the fish at Brisbane's wrist as a welcome distraction from the conversation. The old man smiles at the attention, placing the flat of the blade upon the cut as he goes back to watching the fish turn to a nice cherry color. Then with a flick of his wrist, Brisbane brings the blade down hard on its head to kill it. Picking up his fork, he resumes his meal by slicing the flesh off in thin slivers.

"But I am impressed that you not only met the Horned One but survived," the Countess adds. "I was under the impression that meetings with Her always went unfavorably."

"She may be less capricious than the Serpent, or perhaps I had not yet had opportunity to greatly annoy her. In any event, we spoke twice, about several matters, but she dealt swift punishment to others."

"I believe you do our Lord a disservice by comparing she to Him," the Countess says with a bit of distress. "Having not met her myself, I must only accept some of your opinion. Yet there are those who are less forgiving in the Courts. So perhaps it's unwise to phrase it in such a way that invites misunderstandings, Lord Kendallarithan."

Kendall gives a little hmph; a contemptuous sound. "I suspect the concern centers on the nature of the comparison. While the Unicorn may now be a Being of Power, she was once merely a denizen of Chaos who fled the Serpent rather than face Him, and hid herself and her people away in Shadow after stealing His Eye so He could not find them. I appreciate your caution, Countess, and will guard my words more carefully, but I assure you the comparison was only in passing."

Dara, for her part, is both surprised and concerned to hear Kendall's admission.

"If what you are saying is true, and as your Host I can only accept it as so… these Amberites should have been wiped out long ago." The blood soaked curtains sway as her form within goes into some violent contortions. "I have only hate for thieves."

Margot stiffens before picking up her wine goblet. Comparing Amberites to thieves — while probably true to some degree — still felt offensive. Yet, Kendall had command of the conversation and the Countess' full attention, something Margot was glad to give over, regardless of how rudely it was taken. A bread-like product catches her attention. She chooses a piece and begins nibbling upon the corners. The Qur starts to purr, approving of her choice.

Instinct pricks and he pauses almost involuntarily to collect himself before continuing, a reflex programmed in from long habit. "Indeed," he agrees after three heartbeats. He redirects his thoughts along a different vector. "Then it would be a shame to discover the presence of thieves on your own ship."

"Shame on them! And whatever spot of sea I will throw them in!" the Countess declares, her form writhing riotously behind the curtain. A long pause ensues before she can recover from her emotional outburst enough to continue. He waits politely, taking a sip of wine.

"Lord Kendallarithan, I can only think you have more to tell me?"

He nods, sets the goblet down, and once more produces the crystal he had displayed to the Countess earlier in the dinner. "As I had planned to explain earlier, Countess, I did not bring this crystal on board your vessel. I did, however, regain it from the creature who stole it from your hold. A brine demon." He stops there, to see in what direction the Countess would take that information.

"Awful beasts, even for demons," Countess Anira sneers. "And unless the Captain has failed to understand my orders, I find it hard to accept one was aboard my ship. Let alone, steal from my House… yet I see I must embrace it as truth since a lie would easily be found."

Her tone softens. "But tis your youth I judge mostly against these claims, for while possible, being mistaken isn't probable for a Chanicut."

He accepts her avowal of confidence with a grave nod of the head, meeting her gaze through the curtain. "I would not bring this to your attention were it not a matter of mutual concern. I appreciate your hospitality in transporting us home to Chaos, and have no desire to bring ill events to you or your ship by our presence. Equally, we of Chanicut would be remiss in our gratitude should we turn our backs on our gracious hosts and leave you to discover the plot behind the theft on your own."

"And once this matter is resolved, will House Chanicut wish a place at their judgement?" the Countess asks, her tone proper for addressing a Minor to a Major. "Tis traditional to give such consideration to our younger members so they might learn what not to do."

He resists the reflex to look at his superior, as Brisbane had stayed very quiet thus far and left things to him. "If the matter is contained by Tinor and Her concerns, though Chanicut is willing to assist our Host, the judgment is of no concern to us," Kendall replies. "If the plot centers around Chanicut, however, the matter would be left to our own resolution, of course."

"Agreed, as long as the accused does not rise beyond the rank of T'a." The Countess replies. "While tis certainly possible we can still surrender those higher, House Tinor would want some guarantees first."

"Very well. We shall see what the investigation yields," is his answer. He sets the crystal down on the table next to him, idly turning it around and around on the cloth. Candlelight glitters and flashes from the facets. "With whom shall I speak to begin the search? I would not want this to be widely known among the crew…"

The Qur dances about the table before coming back to Margot with what looks like a round, glowing pear. Under the luminous fur, this fruit is honeycombed with dark seeds that look like almonds. Each touch causes the pear to glow brighter or dim as the furry little food taster rolls it onto her plate with happy chirping. Margot smiles with delight at the Qur, amazed at the curious piece of fruit. Uncertain how one was to eat it, she found herself simply playing with the delicacy, watching it glow and fade.

"Who would you trust more?" the Countess asks, a bit unhappy about the ruined mood.

"From an old man's advice, I would suggest your younger sister Kali would be the best choice," Lord Brisbane finally speaks up. "She certainly doesn't seem to be keeping her daughter under control, so she does have the time."

"I have no foreseeable concerns with Kali being picked, besides her homeliness," the Countess agrees. "And if Lord Kendall can tolerate her annoyances, who am I to say no?"

Dara, for whatever reason, becomes more alert.

The mention of another woman and her looks and time spent with Kendall draws Margot's attention, perhaps more quickly than she wished to admit. Of course she didn't want another monopolizing his time; regardless of her looks. Her eyes move to Dara, noting her change in posture as well. Suddenly, Margot goes from being irritated and distant to being watchful and concerned; paying close attention to what was transpiring between Countess and Kendall.

"Personal quirks are no matter," he says to the Countess. "I have certainty that she and I will come to agreement on our priorities in this case. Thank you, Countess." He nods to her.

"I had hoped to get rid of her this trip, since she disgraced our House by snacking on her mate in public," Anira says with a sigh. "He was valued enough that his death caused our family unwelcome conflict, and only there being a daughter kept her from becoming a doll for some young Tinor boy."

"I'm sure an accord can be reached," he says to the Countess. "As long as she knows enough of crew and cargo to be of use."

"I believe she does at least have those talents," Brisbane answers.

"Forgive my interruption," Margot interjects softly. "But Countess, you've used a turn of phrase I do not understand. Kept her from becoming a doll for some young Tinor boy? I thought Tinor was a Matriarchy. Would you please clarify?"

"Unlike many other Houses, we in Tinor treat our disappointments, the guilty and disgraced, with a kinder fate. They are bound and given to our youngest members to do with as the darlings wish. In Amber, I heard of what are called dolls — wondrous things, even if they're just clay and cloth. In Tinor, we have living dolls that our children can play with, dress or undress, and other things till they're broken or forgotten. Just like yours!"

She takes a moment to sip some wine. "But I will admit, likely my sister would have been given to an older boy to increase her chances of survival. Most, girls included, learn control and limits by that age so you see less of the mess you see with the younger ones."

"Tinor's methods for…rehabilitation are…truly unique and inspired," Margot manages to reply after taking a long sip from her wine. Her voice isn't entirely steady. Yet her expression remains thoughtful through the Countess' explanation, revealing very little of how revolting she found the whole of it as she nods in a noncommittal fashion. "I am able to say with all honesty that I have never heard of such a practice before this moment."

She sets her goblet down with great care. "I apologize for the distraction. Please continue." Her eyes flickered to Dara, then to Brisbane, before she returned her attention once more to the Qur, bringing it to her lap for comfort and companionship.

"I'm afraid most do not last," the Countess continues. "Children can be so wayward at times, I myself broke my first three when I was my niece's age. I even snacked on one, a lovely boy a bit younger then Lord Kendallarithan here. He had very beautiful eyes as I remember, and my mother was most displeased when I chewed his arm off in a fit of hunger."

"Have you met the Countess' niece?" Kendall asks Margot suddenly. "A young girl, looking quite underfed."

"I am not certain," Margot answers, blinking with surprise at the unexpected question. "There was a child on the ship's deck earlier. In many ways she reminded me of a girl I once knew. Our exchange was very brief. Would she have been your niece, Countess?"

"Yes, a sweet child," the Countess remarks. "I have high hopes for her, even with her mother being brutish. Do you have children?"

Kendall remains quiet again, letting Margot handle this once more, though he watches her closely. Thinking.

"At present, no; but it's something that I desire for the future," Margot says. "These are curious and interesting times, Countess; travelling to new lands… I have only acquired sponsorship for myself and my retinue. A child would complicate matters. But someday I will know the joys of bearing children and nurturing them."

"Nurturing?" The Countess sounds a bit perplexed. "You just hand them off to the servants, and once old enough to walk… you just toss them out on their own. In fact, it was much more effort to find the right father."

"Amber, and Chanicut, have different expectations of child rearing," Kendall observes, his voice mild.

Margot doesn't know what to make of Kendall's answer; so she focuses on replying to the Countess instead. She smiles at the Chaos Lady. "Of course there will be servants; however, I intend to take a more active role in my children's lives as my parent's did mine. I have fond memories of shared moments with each my mother and my father and it's important to me that my children have similar feelings when they look back upon their childhood."

She glances to Kendall. "I understand this may be a foreign and illogical concept to appreciate, as it's emotionally driven by desires rather than goals, but, as a mother, that is my choice."

"I think my daughters would agree I was a wonderful mother by allowing them such room to grow," the Countess comments, unsure how to take her guest's remarks. "As I understand Chanicut, if you take my niece as an example, she would already be in charge of a number of servants and duties."

"Every culture has its customs and beliefs as to what is the best way to live a fulfilling life, including how one believes a child should be reared. One is not necessarily better than the other; simply different. I suspect my traditions are far more foreign to you than, say, those of Chanicut and I would venture to say my beliefs are unique even among my own kind. There is likely no other who carries the same virtues and convictions in their heart as I do."

Kendall's expression seems a mix of bemusement and appreciation of Margot's answer. There was nothing quite so bold as claiming for one's self uniqueness in all the Multiverse. "It may be that each child benefits from a particular approach differently," he offers.

"You should have been a Got'hu. Their house females have litters…or so I'm told," the Countess remarks. "It would be thrilling to think of such motherhood being imposed on five or six at once. How would you measure their worth, their accomplishments, even their use to the House?"

"Litters?" Margot returned, wondering if she was misunderstanding. "Our females can carry multiple babes simultaneously; it is not uncommon to have twins. Though, having three or more at once is rare. Again, I would suspect each House has its own practices and places its own values upon what is vital to its foundation."

"It would not be appropriate of me to judge without knowledge of their history or culture as to how in the grand scheme of the House's endeavors, alliances, and maneuvers, large families are of benefit," she adds. "I would suspect, however, given the abilities of Chaosians that if House Got'hu felt it was a detriment or deterrent to continue to have these litters, they would have taken steps to reduce the number of children their females bore in a single birth."

Kendall turns back to the table, realizing the conversation would not stray from motherhood and birthing babies any time soon. It seemed a preoccupation unique to women. He spears the head of another squid, waiting while it bleeds and twitches before consuming it. Truly the best thing on the table.

"House Got'hu is a minor house in service to Helgram, so their birth rate is essential to their survival," the Countess explains. Seeing that Kendall is enjoying the squid, she gestures for more to be brought to the table. "House Helgram is quite different to their servants, or so the rumors say at Thelbane. Of course, I never did see anything that suggested that. But then, Helgram would never be so vulgar to do so in public."

"So, those of Got'hu serve Helgram, literally?" Margot asks for clarification.

"As their servants, yes I do believe." What might be a shrug ripples behind the curtain. "But there may be more to their service, even the House goal. But tis rare for a Minor to switch Majors unless conflict is involved, which is why Tinor is now allied with Hendrake. Our former house patron, now Twilight for several millennia."

Kendall returns to the conversation, looking at the Countess with interest. "And who was your previous patron?" he asks curiously.

"Tis mostly a Lost House now, so no longer matters," the Countess replies with caution, her attention going to Dara.

He follows the Countess' uneasy glance. "Ah. It would seem your fortunes were improved with the change," he says.

Margot, having nothing to add, watches quietly the exchange between Countess, Lord and Lady.

"Yes, House Hendrake has been a most worthy patron for us," Anira agrees, reassured. "They've allowed us to keep true to our traditions, and have yet to interfere worth mentioning."

Which to Kendall's courtly ear means: indeed they have interfered and caused Tinor to do things against its own traditions enough that the Countess feels the need to complain to an outsider.

Margot can't help but steal a glance towards Dara to watch how she responds.

"I congratulate you on such an agreeable relationship with your patron House," Kendall continues. "Good relations are always to be sought after and appreciated." Himself the scion of a Greater House, he was well aware they achieved "good relations" simply by virtue of superior might.

The Countess Anira's next words are lost as Dara's form flickers black for a moment… then she is gone!

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