Basking Baths

By the time Desrianne reaches the bath, Margot had stripped out of her robe, placed it near the brazier, and climbed into the soothing waters. The delicate scents of wild honeysuckle infused with notes of lilac and lavender filled the chamber as steam rose to the ceiling.

The matron shuts the door firmly and stands at the dressing area with her face still set in a scowl for several seconds while Margot settles comfortably in the water. She breathes slowly and deeply, trying to find calm. Surely, my Poppy's indiscretions are no different than her mother's? a small, inner voice asks. Surely.

Teeth grit in resistance. Morgana had never bedded a Chaosian. Probably. And though the matron could (privately!) appreciate the attraction, she could also still clearly see the creature had only one thing on his mind. Her Poppy's radiant glow only confirmed all suspicions, but the matron was determined to continue with her duty. If that meant biting her tongue off so as not to embarrass Margot in front of her Lordling, so be it. Obviously the only way to ensure that Margot would drink the tea to prevent pregnancy was if Desrianne was there to insist. Therefore, she would have to make sure she was there to do so.

The matronly maid straightens her shoulders and releases her breath in a sound of determination. Climbing the steps to the bath, she kneels on the tile near the princess and picks up loofah and soap. "How are you feeling this morning, Poppy?" she asks. Benign inquiry turns to tender concern as she adds, "Better than last night, I do hope."

"Oh yes, Caresse. Because of you, and Master Rory, and Kendall," Margot answers readily, her face glowing with a rapturous smile. She sighs, contented, her eyes becoming dreamy. "When I was disquieted, you comforted me; when I was fevered, you cooled me; when I was restless, you calmed me; when I would not eat, you coaxed me; and when I needed sleep, you protected me from monsters real and imagined."

Margot's beautiful words and glowing countenance coax a smile from the older woman. Her Poppy had a good heart. One that should be cherished and protected like a fragile bloom. It was inconceivable to her that the Chaos Lord could see how precious her young ward was.

Margot leans forward, exposing her back for scrubbing. "And it was so peaceful to my heart to wake up this morning and find myself securely wrapped in Kendall's arms. I don't remember much about when he came to bed beyond him asking me if it was alright if he joined me…"

She swoons at the memory, eyes closing in blissful memory as she continues in an earnest tone. "You were right, Caresse, about so many things about him and me and our relationship and misunderstandings. Thank you for your wonderful advice! Because of you, we talked about things that I don't think we would have ever spoken of. Matters of the heart."

Loofa gently scrapes skin, leaving a healthy pinkness while soap and warm water soothe. The matron's jaw works for several seconds before she manages to reply. She swallows, grateful Margot's eyes remained closed so the girl did not see expression reflected in mirrors. With a careful breath, she answers with great care to keep her tone light, though good intentions can only go so far. "Matters of the heart, Poppy?" she asks, an encouragement to the young woman to elaborate, as she clearly desired.

"Yes," Margot assents. "We spoke of our fight yesterday and where the miscommunication came to be and how his ire was not with me but himself. We talked about why and how to manage in the future should times of distress or duress be upon us as they will surely be. We agreed to ask questions rather than make assumptions… on both sides. He expects certain things because of his rearing and experiences, things that I wouldn't know how to even begin to manipulate, so he sees those phantasms. I read more into words and behaviors than are there. We both agreed to work on our first instincts. He will attempt to be less suspicious of my motives, or at least to stop trying to categorize every little thing that I do, and I will try not to look for secret meanings in words that have none."

Back thoroughly scrubbed, the maid begins work on arms and hands. She is a silent sounding board for the princess' thoughts and feelings, which bubble forth like a spring gushing from the ground. Here in the quiet sanctuary of the bath, with buttery tiles bringing warmth and light to the room, it was almost possible to pretend the princess spoke softly with ardent whispers of a youth she met at her academy, or a Lord of her father's Court.

Margot smiles, feeling victorious, and releases another contented sigh. "Caresse, he spoke freely. Freely." She emphasizes the word in a hushed whisper. "He's never done that. That he trusted me enough to lay down his defenses like that… for me…" her voice cracks, and she licks her lips before continuing.

"He spoke of how he feels and what matters to him as a person. Of how I matter to him. Is it the same as love?" She shrugs. "I don't know. But, I do know that his world is very different from Amber, and even more strange than where I was raised. I'm not certain love is even a concept that is taught or encouraged, but there is more than lust for me in his heart. Its desire. He enjoys me, Caresse. My companionship. We talk, we play, we learn from one another, and we grow as individuals. Not all of our time is spent in bed."

"That is good to hear," Desrianne replies, hoping the strain in her voice would be lost in the lapping and splashing of the waters as she bathed the princess. Certainly this time, the young woman bore no cruel marks on fair skin as she had after her first night with the Lordling. A thought springs, and though she knew she shouldn't go there, should just let it be, her tongue would not heed the instructions of her mind. "Perhaps… if indeed the joy is in companionship of the spirit, Poppy, then perhaps one could suggest a… a restraint on the companionship of the body? So that you would not be forced to continue to drink the tea you so dislike, of course."

"Oh, but Caresse… I can cease to drink the tea at any time," Margot explains, excitement vibrating in her soft voice. "Kendall is being very conscientious. Because of his unique physiology, he has the ability to manage his seed and his level of fertility. We have talked at length about this."

Eyes widen in consternation at first, but then lips press together in a thin line of determination. Her answer is a muted hiss, the sound barely traveling beyond the tub. "Speak that to the Lady Knight who was once in your mother's service!"

"That had magicks involved beyond anyone's control," Margot reasons. "Who knows what control is available to an individual in the Veil?"

"You would be wise to heed the warning granted by another's misfortune," Desrianne says, resignation and restraint temporarily losing the battle with indignation. "You are still in Amber, Poppy, and while you're here and I'm here, we are both still bound by the Queen's orders. Beyond Amber, you would do well to remember your mother's wisdom, but until we depart Amber, you will still take the medicine as directed. Who knows if his… abilities… were hindered by the Veil or by effect of Amber's clean air in his body? Certainly not I, and you should be more cautious!"

"Be at peace, Caresse," Margot dismisses, her voice flat with disappointment. "I loathe the tea, but though I said I could cease drinking it at anytime, I didn't say I would cease drinking it."

The princess turns to look at her maid with wide eyes, shaking her head in bewilderment. "I know it may be hard for you to believe, but I am aware of some things and I am not so blinded by love as to not want to take precautions. I do not wish to make my first introductions to Chaos with child. The tea makes me ill. It's counter intuitive to yours and Kendall's wishes for me to eat more because it makes everything taste foul, rotting. Everything. I am on the constant verge of vomiting for hours afterwards. But, I have not stopped drinking it because regardless of what you or my mother may believe, I am still a responsible person."

Desrianne tries, but she cannot hold fast to her outrage in the face of her Poppy's calm assertion. A body at first tensed to weather a storm of emotion, now deflates in defeat instead. A hand comes up to cup the young woman's cheek, patting the tender skin there. "You're right, Margot," she says, sighing. "I overstepped myself. I should… I need to trust you more and scold you less. You are no longer a child."

"I do not claim to have all the answers. I don't even pretend to know half of them," Margot explains. "And I value your guidance and your counsel and your wisdom. I do understand that you are just trying to protect me and look out for my best interest, truly I do. But I need to have the opportunity to experience things, love and even heartache and heartbreak should it come, first hand. I cannot be shielded from these things and still claim to have lived. I just wish you could find it in your heart to be happy for me because I'm happy. It's not nearly as fun to be filled with joy and to not have someone to share it with."

She sighs and then smiles affectionately at the crone. "But, I know you do not care for my Kendall; not do you approve of my affair with him. So, as such, if it will ease your heart and mind and if it is your wish, I will refrain from blathering on about such things to you."

The matron exhales and shakes her head, rubbing her forehead to soothe the beginnings of a headache. "No, Poppy," she says. "I said last night that you should feel free to tell me anything, and I would prefer to hear it from you than to be left in the dark with my own suppositions. But remember, I also asked you to have patience with me, since habits are hard to break." The smile that finds its way to her face is wry.

She looks at Margot, who had been glowingly happy all morning, but who now was serious and sad. The girl would no doubt need her Caresse more and more the farther they went from Amber. "I will do better," she decides with a firm tone of determination. "For you, dearling. And I do very much appreciate that you will continue taking the medicine."

Margot nods and then falls quiet for a while, trying to relax as Desrianne scrubs her arms and back for her, and then begins to massage her scalp. The princess had always been fond of having her hair washed; it was one of those little indulgences she could not help but enjoy. "I know you don't like him, but… can't you find any small joy in my own happiness?"

Desrianne thinks on the question for a little while. After all, Margot was happy and content, and though the future was grim from where the maid sat, that didn't mean the current moment couldn't have some joy. Sometimes all it takes is a little work to see things from a slightly different perspective. Would Desrianne have enjoyed being with Pietre more or less had she known his fate?

"Yes, I suppose I can, dearling," she replies after a while, rubbing the suds into the princess' hair with gentle care. "You are a vision of radiance in your happiness. It's hard not to feel an answering joy when you smile."

Margot's smile returns. "Thank you, Caresse."

+++++

Left to his own preparations, the Chaos Lord follows his servant through the empty and silent halls of the tower to the other bathing room. Though much larger and less inviting, it nonetheless would serve its purpose.

Shedding his robe, Kendall lowers himself into the water and rests for a time in the relaxing heat. The room was soothingly silent and free of tension, with only Rory there to see to his needs with his reassuring equanimity. The Lord ducks his head under the water to wet himself completely, and then allows the red-haired servant to do his work while musing on recent events.

"The princess' maid…" he begins eventually while soap is worked into the skin of his back.

"Siorys and I will see to her adjustment, m'lord," comes the reassuring reply.

"She must not distress Brisbane."

"Of course not, m'lord."

Kendall nods and relaxes again, leaving it to his servant's capable hands.

It does not take long for body to be thoroughly washed, but he lingers in the bath for some heartbeats after, attending to the calming of mind and spirit. One thing regarding himself of which he was keenly aware was a periodic need for solitude — a space in which to balance his thoughts and bring order to his mind. Much had occurred that morning which warranted thought and consideration, and he takes time now to let things settle in his mind.

"Rory…"

"Yes, m'lord?"

"What think you of the princess?"

A startled silence, and Kendall smiles a little at his servant's surprise. It came very seldom after the many Cycles of service he had given the Lord.

"She is… sweet, m'lord."

Kendall nods. "And?"

"Delicate."

Kendall lifts an arm from the water, watching as the liquid beads and trails in rivulets across his skin. "Anything else?"

"Should there be, m'lord?"

"Not necessarily. She will also need assistance to adjust, and I will not always be available," the Lord says. "Consider yourself at her disposal as well."

"Of course, m'lord. Is there anything else?"

"No, you may leave me for now. I will require 1000 more heartbeats at the least."

"As you wish," comes the reply. Bowing, the servant departs, leaving nothing but silence and solitude.

+++++

Meticulously scrubbed clean, Margot rises from the steaming pool so that Desrianne can wrap her with a warmed towel. "I know your feelings of Kendall, but what of Rory?" the girl asks. "Have you spoken with him?"

The matron looks surprised at the question, eyes round and eyebrows arching, but then she shrugs. "He appears to be competent and well-suited to his Lord," she says diplomatically. "But we have spoken very little apart from attending to your care."

A second towel is produced for wringing the princess' hair of excess water, squeezing gently without vigorous rubbing that would make for tangles and knots. Once her body is dry, the heavy blue robe warmed by the tiny brazier is laid again over her shoulders. Desrianne makes mental note to retrieve Margot's warmer robe from her luggage, as supplement to the silken one.

"He is quite knowledgeable and kind," Margot agrees. "I just thought… perhaps… Well, maybe he could help increase your awareness of what is to be expected in Chaos. Not duties — I don't mean that. Just, you know… too much information cannot be a bad thing, can it? He has always treated me with kindness every time our paths have crossed. I'm sure he would treat you with the same civility."

"Yes, of course, Poppy. You're right," the maid answers after some thought.

With robe tightly secured, Margot selects a tub of perfumed cream from the shelves of supplies before making her way back to the bedchamber.

Back to list of Kendall's game threads
Setting the Stage

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