An Outing on the Beach

Twas half-past nine bells when Margot arrived at the stables. Today she wore heavily woven linen breeches the color of cocoa dust tucked into dark riding boots. Her cotton poet’s blouse hung loose about her shoulders with the tiniest of key-holes revealing the delicate skin of her neck and chest. The creamy lambswool color warmed her porcelain complexion. A pewter knot clasp wrapped around a pearl held a velvet cloak lined with crimson silk on her shoulders.

Her fingers clung to dark riding gloves as she attempted to appear calm. Two guards, lightly armored and bearing the marks of the Elite Royal Guard silently wait by her side. She had already discussed her intentions for the day with them, their expressions blank and unmoved. Not that she didn’t want the protection; it was something to get used to. Yet no one had ever wished her ill before, why would they start now? Beyond that foreign concept, she really wanted to get to know the Chaosian Lord better and feared the careful guard looming over them would create a tenser atmosphere than she preferred.

She attempted to project calm patience as she waited, though her active mind seized every opportunity to remind her of potential pitfalls that lay ahead. She hadn’t actually met her horse, and so on top of being nervous about spending time with a handsome man while supervised by an armed escort, she had to also develop a new relationship with a horse she had only just met. Why do you continue to put yourself in situations where you can only look the fool? she asks herself.

Leaving her conscience to its cruel assessments, she begins thinking through the details once more. She had been assured that her horse would be packed with the picnic lunch she requested, a blanket for them to sit upon, a bundle of wood for a fire should they choose, and two kites. The last made her smile fondly. She only hoped that everything was in order so that the day could start out as wonderful as yesterday had ended.

She continues to draw slow, deep breaths until Lord Kendall relieves her tense anticipation by entering the courtyard with a saddlebag over one shoulder and riding gloves in his other hand. He is garbed again in black and green and flanked as always by the two Amber Knights. The squared neck of the heavy green velvet robe is set against a high-necked black linen shirt underneath. The robe itself is shorter, falling only to the knees and tailored to hang close about the waist cinched with a belt. Heavy black breeches tuck into tall black boots. He seems a bit taller now, without all that obscuring fabric.

Seeing the princess, he approaches her before entering the stable building and gives her a short bow with his faint smile. "Princess Margot, a pleasure to see you again."

“Lord Kendall,” she greets, inclining her head. She steps forward, closing the distance between them. “Yesterday, I parted our company with three wishes. In my home, we greet those with three more. Will you allow me to do so?”

Straightening, he looks at her for a heartbeat before he nods. "As you wish, Princess. I consider it a privilege to learn more of your customs."

Her eyes shine at him, her gaze only for his eyes. Closing distance to nothing but a breath between them, she rises to her toes, hands one more planted on his chest. The first kiss is brushed against the right cheek. "This is to wish you fortune," she whispers. She smiles at him as she moves her head from one side of his face to the other. "This is to wish you fellowship." Another smile, and another press to his right cheek. "This is to wish you fantasy."

Kendall puts a hand to her shoulder, to help steady her as she goes through the ritual again, and he inhales the faint scent of honeysuckle from her skin. Once the rite is complete, she steps back, smiling. "Thank you, Lord Kendall. Should you find my customs pleasing, I would welcome you in participating. The presses are to be placed simultaneously; so as to wish each other well in all aspects."

"Thank you, Princess. I had wondered whether the recipient could also extend the greeting. I wish you to have all those things."

As he speaks, several grooms appear at the stable door leading out eight horses, one each for the Princess, Chaosian, and their escorts. Jangling of harness, the clopping of hooves, and other assorted horse noises interrupt the conversation. The Knights each go to their own horses without prompting, leaving little doubt as to the two intended for the main participants.

Kendall steps away from Margot to inspect his mount. His mare is a tall chestnut with delicate lines and an intelligent eye. She stands politely under the hand of the groom, but her attention is centered on her master, and she pushes her head into his chest when he approaches. He takes several heartbeats to stroke and greet her, producing some small treats from a pocket to offer her, before he looks over her tack carefully to make sure everything is in order.

Another groom leads a long-legged black horse with a distinct metallic sheen to her hair that seems to shimmer and ripple with every movement. Black leather tack sits atop a deep, spicy red blanket decorated with an intricate knotted pattern of gold thread. The groom stops next to Margot and hands the reins to her.

“Her name is Rajani, Princess; it means ‘Night’," he explains. “She’s quick as the wind, but she also can go the distance. She’s got a passionate heart; she’ll take you to the moon and back if you let her.”

Margot reaches inside her cloak for a large, pale-green fruit. Holding it in her hand gently, she extends it to the horse. “Hello, Rajani,” she greets softly. The mare takes the apple, chomping happily on the tart fruit. Margot strokes her nose fondly. “She is beautiful. Thank you. I may just let her take me to the moon.”

She continues to stroke the beast’s neck, admiring her coat and form as the groom touches the brim of his hat and departs.

"She is quite a beauty," comes Kendall's voice from behind Margot. "A match for her rider." He has secured his package behind his saddle and now stands nearby with reins in hand, looking over Rajani with a critical eye.

Margot turns, smiling up at Kendall. "Thank you… thank you," the second coming more as a whisper.

His own horse nudges him with her nose again, and he turns his attention back to her. "But not as beautiful as you, my sweet," he tells her, smiling as he pushes her forelock away from her eyes.

Her eyes follow Kendall as he gives affection to his mare. "She is quite lovely."

His eyes warm at the compliment to something he clearly loves. "And vain, too," he notes. "She is Vanya, and she appreciates your admiration. Vanya, the Princess Margot." The mare nods her head to Margot in greeting. Up close, Margot can make out a fine filigree carved into the mare's tack, a tracery of swirling flames that follows the edges of the black leather. The saddle blanket is unadorned black.

He looks at Margot again. "Will you need a leg up, Princess?" he offers.

At his question, Margot looks up at Rajani and where the stirrup barely reaches low enough to her waist. "Thank you. I would be in your debt if you could assist me, Lord Kendall."

Dropping his horse's reins, confident she would not go wandering, he pulls on his gloves with a nod. "Certainly, it would be no trouble." He squats with his hands laced together for her knee and helps boost her into the saddle, waiting while she gets herself settled in and arranged. Then taking up Vanya's reins, he mounts in a practiced, fluid movement and settles into the saddle with a creak of leather.

She watches him with interest, admiring the grace of his movement and how handsome he was. She casts her eyes to the horizon abruptly with a self-conscious smile, the private admission of appreciation for the beauty of both man and beast making her heart beat faster.

Straightening his robe, Kendall looks around at their escort to make sure that all is ready as he nudges Vanya to move up beside Margot. At her nod of readiness, they proceed out of the stable yard to the castle gate, and from there out onto the road.

Kendall waits until they are away from the noises of the castle before attempting any further conversation, sharing a private smile with Margot as they ride, admiring her seat and the dramatic splash of the cloak behind her. Finally, with only their escort, the horses, and the circling birds overhead as company, he says, "Princess, if I may ask, is there significance in your home of the number three? I am curious to know why the greeting and parting ritual you demonstrated involves three kisses, versus say two, or four?"

"Three is believed to be the number of Fortune," she begins, smiling as she explains. "There were three sisters in Greek Mythology that commanded the fate of mortals, there were three Fates, also from Greek Mythology that acted as the enforcing arm of the Gods when those acted out of malice. It's believed that all good blessings arrive in three's; so, we honor that by wishing those we hold dear in the same fashion." Her eyes hold his for a moment, "As if we are channeling Fortune through each press."

He watches her face as she explains, meeting her eyes when she glances his way. "I see," he replies, voice thoughtful. "And what other things did you learn at your academy, apart from ways to channel Fortune?"

Margot laughs melodiously. "I do spend a great deal of time talking about Time and Fortune, don't I?" She rocks in the saddle, body at ease. "I studied Classical Philosophy, of which you have been subjected to as the Greeks were the dominant civilization. Additionally, I studied numerous languages - all of little use in Amber."

She smiles, breathing in the clean air. "Literature and poetry, etiquette, music, history and politics, and of course, swordplay." Her eyes return to his, "All the things that would make a proper Lady with learning how to skewer things as an added bonus," her eyes twinkled with mirth and mischief.

"What was education like for you back home?" she asks him. "Did you attend an academy?"

Kendall looks out over the horizon as he answers her question. "No," he says after a short pause. "I remained close to the Ways during my youth. I was educated primarily by private tutors, though there were times when sessions included others. In practice, it sounds as if the intended ends were similar, even if the means were different between your world and my House. As with you, there are things that someone in my position are expected to know — politics, fencing, poisons, others."

Margot's eyes widen. "Poisons?"

He looks back at her, expression puzzled. "Yes, Princess. Have you not also had some instruction in narcotics and poisons?"

"Well, no…" she answers confused. "Why would I?"

He stares at her for the space of five heartbeats, the muffled clopping of the horses' hooves marking out their own time. Suddenly feeling very foolish and naive, Margot's expression transforms from confused to embarrassed, color draining from her cheeks. Her lower lip finds itself pinned between her teeth and her eyes turn toward the horizon.

"In my home, poison was considered dishonorable," she explains "The tool of cowards. Based on my station in my shadow, I was never in any danger of being poisoned; and would never implement it to carry out my own agenda." She swallows hard. "There are things I know from studying natural science; things that exist in flora and fauna… but as an art, no. It was not necessary for me to understand its place or usage."

Kendall moves Vanya close to Rajani, so he can reach over and take Margot's hand. "My apologies, Princess," he says. "I intended no disrespect, but there are times when the… differences between Amber and my home are more… surprising than others," he explains.

"Poisons and narcotics are tools," he adds. "Learning of them is as much a matter of self defense as learning the art of the sword." He watches her closely as he answers.

She allows him to take her hand in his, listening to his words with care. "It appears then, that my academic endeavors have been lacking," she admits, giving him a bashful smile. "I hope I did not offend you with my ignorance."

He gives her an answering smile, releasing her hand and allowing the horses to move a more comfortable distance apart again. "You do not offend me, Princess," he says. "Though I am certain any attempts on my part to assist your education in this particular matter, would not be well received." His tone has a gloss of irony on that sentence before he continues, voice becoming smooth and warm again. "Nevertheless, we shall put aside that topic for now in favor of others that one hopes are less distressing."

"I will agree to set it aside for now, Lord Kendall," she returns his smile, "But, I would like it if you would at some point explain this aspect in greater detail… I'd rather prefer not to be a danger to myself and those whose company I enjoy." Her words came pleasantly enough, though behind her dark eyes there was something brushing against determination to know.

Kendall studies her intently, though not in an unfriendly way, a smile hovering about his mouth. "As you wish, Princess," he replies at last. He gives them both two heartbeats to breathe, before venturing anything new. "My preference," he says finally, "has always been for the less martial pursuits. Perhaps you would be willing to enlighten me regarding your fascination for… skewering things?"

"It was something that was… part of my father. And my mother," Margot begins, her eyes far away with a fond memory. The road continues to wind away from the castle, the sound of the ocean growing louder as they approach.

"We would weave stories of adventure and myth and legend… these amazing, wondrous, fantastical tales. We would slay dragons and save maidens, and defeat evil warlords and rescue princes. And my father would dance through the labyrinth with a twig for a blade, defeating hoards of enemies… and it was…" She exhales with a bright smile, taken up by the memory.

"It was beautiful. Magical. The glint in his eye and the joy in his face," she explains. "He moved with a passion and desire that were awe-inspiring. I wanted to know that joy, that love first hand. To find something so completely exhilarating."

Her eyes met his, now filled with their own shine. "So rarely did I see him in such a light. Then, and when he took me fishing."

He listens to her explanation with his own faraway look, turning his head to feel the wind brush across his face. "I see," he says, looking back at her as she finishes, catching her gaze with his own, a gleam of understanding in his eyes. "Perhaps if we have a chance to cross blades, as we discussed during our walk last Turn, you may share with me some of this exhiliration that you feel in the arena."

"I would like that," she slows her horse almost to a stop when she looks to the horizon, taking in the magnificence. Her expression was nothing less than awed, eyes filled with wonder. She breathes deeply, eyes closing and enjoying the feel of the breeze on her skin. Long strands slightly loosen from her braid, floating in the breeze.

“How can anyone look at this and not be moved by its might…?” she whispers quietly.

Kendall follows her look out to the ocean, reining in Vanya to take in the view. He hadn't had many opportunities to enjoy the sights of Amber, and his eyes travel the length of the coast slowly. "Tis a beautiful sight," he agrees after a silence, his voice quiet.

Margot turns, smiling at Kendall, simply watching him enjoying the scenery. The leading guards kept riding, but the ones trailing had reined in to a stop, waiting without expression. "Come on," she says. "The guards are going to start to wonder if we just sit here… they may think we're trying to lose them or something."

She nudges Rajani, maintaining a side-by-side position with Vanya. The pair continue to ride, slowly making progress to the ocean's shore. The closer they got, the more excited Margot got, her smile growing with anticipation of being close to the sand and surf. Flowers lined the cliffs edge, brilliant splashes of gold and indigo wrapped in green with the sky and sea as its backdrop.

"Did you ever discover a childhood game that would be appropriate to teach me?"

He looks at her, shaking his head. "Not as yet," he admits. "My childhood did not involve time for many games, and most of the games I remember require a different… setting than Amber, and certain… talents. However, I will continue to consider it."

It's Margot's turn to look amused, an arched brow and smile teasing at her lips. "You have a gift for piquing my curosity and teasing my imagination," she comments.

"That is certainly not my intention, Princess," Kendall replies. He turns his attention to his riding for a few heartbeats, as Vanya and Rajani begin picking their way through a scattering of rocks. "When we break from riding later, perhaps we can make an attempt at So Says the Serpent, as tis sometimes called."

"I would very much like that, Lord Kendall." she responds softly, brow furrowing a little. They ride in silence for a few heartbeats. Their path winds along the edge of crags.

Surf crashes against rock outcroppings. The front guards begin the long journey leading to the ocean itself, taking the horses down the safest path to the beach. Before making their descent, Margot moves Rajani closer to Kendall, watching him with a look of concern.

“Does something trouble you, Lord? If this is not a good time, we can part ways now and schedule a time that is more convenient for you…” She watches him intently, wondering what was distracting him or if she was the cause for his distant behavior. He is acting so different from yesterday… what could have changed? she wondered, a pit in her stomach growing.

He looks up from the path to Margot's face, but Vanya picks just that moment to shy at some imagined thing, sidling away abruptly with a snort and a whinny. Kendall's attention is taken again back to his riding so he can control and calm her. It takes some heartbeats before he can bring his horse back into line. Margot reins Rajani in, stopping and waiting patiently while Kendall calms his horse.

Finally calmer, he stops so he can pull off his left glove, leaning forward to pat his mare on the neck. Sitting back in his saddle again, he studies Margot's face for five heartbeats before he sighs.

"Tis nothing to do with you, Margot," he says. "I simply find conversation about my childhood… uncomfortable and unpleasant. Mine was not a time of fanciful games of daring deeds or fantastical dreams. The children of the Duke are required at all times to be proper, to be trained in the arts of nobility from a very early age, to always be mindful of our duties."

A sadness filling her eyes. "I…" she breathes, trying to collect her words. She turns Rajani and nudges her over close to the other mare so Margot can face Kendall fully. Her eyes were only for him; a plethora of emotions flickering behind the dark brown; sadness, regret, longing, a desire to comfort, a need to make amends.

"Lord Kendall, I never intended to bring you distress," she assures him. "I will refrain from asking about such things… and will only speak of my own experiences to answer your questions if that will ease your heart and make our time spent together more enjoyable for you."

Pulling on his glove again, he shakes his head, taking up the reins. "Please be at ease," he assures her, his warm smile returning, drawing her back into their own shared space. "As I said, tis nothing to do with you. Indeed, listening to your tales is quite enjoyable, and I do not mind if you continue to share. I merely wished you to understand that the circumstances of our respective youths were quite different. I have been assured that Amber is not so perilous as the Courts, however, so tis that which may offer explanation."

A small smile returns to Margot's lips, content for the moment. "Unfortunately, I am unable to speak of any comparisons between Amber and your Courts… but, I am happy to learn of yours at any depth you are willing to share," she explains, voice soothing, kind. She searches his eyes for a few short heartbeats, finding them just as beautiful as the day before in the gardens. Her smile grows, only for him, before she reins Rajani around and begins the trek to the beach.

The descent was a treacherous path, even if it was the safest one to take. Horses could only traverse single-file. Margot continues to ride in silence until they reach the sand of the beach. In the distance, waves begin to crash against sand and cliff alike, the roar powerful even at this distance.

She waits for Kendall to join her, and together they ride along the sand, water licking at the ankles of the horses. Margot's eyes begin to shine as the powerful sea breaks and abuses the land. Sand curves to a series of outcroppings, with relatively easy access, if one were to climb upon the rocks. The air was moist with spray, salt clinging to the wind. Guards circle the pair, but keep a fair distance.

"Would you like to join me on the rocks?" she calls to him over the noise.

Kendall divides his attention between the crashing waves and Margot's face, watching her eyes light up and shine. "With pleasure," he answer her invitation, pitching his voice to be heard over the noise.

Twining his reins on the saddle to keep them out of the water, he then swings his leg over Vanya's neck and jumps lightly to the sand. Going to Rajani's side, he is ready to assist Margot down from the saddle. By the time he reaches Rajani, Margot had already dealt with the reins and slid her leg over so that she was facing Kendall. Leaning over, she braced herself against his shoulders, his hands finding her waist to help her slide down the side of the horse.

She only waited a few short breaths, looking up at him, her smile growing with delight. It's another few heartbeats before she removes her hands from his form so she can unclasp her cloak, removing it and folding it to rest on Rajani's back. Her riding gloves were tucked into into the saddle blanket. She waits for Kendall to remove any articles he wishes to remain dry; suspecting that they were not going to remain so very long.

Kendall removes his riding gloves, belt, and the green velvet robe, leaving only the heavy black linen shirt with the breeches and boots. He is unhurried, carefully folding the robe precisely so and tucking it with his gloves into the bag behind Vanya's saddle before sending the two horses to drier sands.

Once ready, she leads their path, finding a curving outcropping with a steady climb to the sea. Her enthusiasm and passion is all-consuming, taking his hand in hers and leading him around the bend of beach to where rocks and crags grow. As they wind and approach the sea, surf crashes against surrounding rocks, filling the air with a salty spray.

Rocks beneath their feet become slick, but not unmanageable. Margot's pace slows as it becomes more and more difficult to navigate the rocks. The closer they get, the louder the crash, the more Margot squeals with delight and attempts to slide away from the water's caress.

Finding a quiet place to rest, Margot watches as the water fights to reach them. Winded, and cheeks flushed with exertion and excitement, she turns to Kendall with elation plain in her eyes. He surveys their position on the rocks for the space of five heartbeats before giving Margot another faint smile, though his eyes sparkle with mischief.

Still holding her hand, he leans close to her until he can speak directly in her ear. "We have farther yet to climb, Margot. Are you coming?"

Her smile accepts the challenge. "Lead on." She rises from her perch, fingers secure in his.

Taking the lead now, he holds her hand firmly to help her balance while moving out of the sheltering cleft where they had taken refuge. The rocks are wet and slick, but there are many spaces with room for their feet, and handholds aplenty. The water swirls around the base of the cliffs, and beads of moisture cling to their hair.

The climb takes forever and is less than a heartbeat, smaller waves spraying them with their mist, until they reach the safest end of the point, smaller rocks tumbling into the sea below them. Kendall helps Margot up the final steps into a small depression in the tallest rock, steadying her against the wind with hands settled gently on her waist.

Margot smiles with his assistance, approving of his selection of a vantage point. At the cliff's edge, the wind threatena to carry her off the rocks. The threat of falling didn't deter her, however, taking his hands from her waist and wrapping them around her so that she may look further beyond the crag's edge. She bent away from him for only a few heartbeats before straightening and relaxing a little in his arms. She sighs, trying to regain control of her racing pulse.

Gusts of wind pull damp strands from her braid, swirling it around to tease their faces with dark feather kisses. Once resting in his arms, he can feel her contentment - the awe of the moment, the joy of peace, the comfort of his presence. "Words cannot describe the beauty…" her words vibrate between their forms.

Kendall does not respond, simply giving her the space to watch her fill. When she relaxes against him, he pulls her closer, a spot of warmth against her back in the chilly winds. While the waves roll and splash below them, they stand in a silent space of harmony for some heartbeats until they both spy a much larger wave approaching the rocks on the heels of the smaller ones.

Though they see its approach, there is little they can do except brace themselves. Kendall's arms tighten around Margot as the wave breaks high on the rock in front of them, hitting them with a shocking spray of water. With nowhere to hide and nearly a breath to react, Margot spins in his arms and buries her face into his chest while wrapping her own arms around his form for added stability.

A muffled scream escapes his chest when the ocean's icy kiss finally reaches them. Their pressed forms remain mostly dry save for tops of shoulders; Margot takes most of the sea's passion down her back, while Kendall meets the spray with head held high and eyes closed.

It's several heartbeats before Margot's grasp around him loosens. She turns her face to look up at him, water raining down her face from the wave. Passion, so powerful and magical shines in her eyes, gazing into his. Gently, she untangles one of her arms to reach up and smooth away some of the wave's memory from his face.

In turn, Kendall pushes strands of wet hair back from her face. His bright eyes return her stare and he traces her cold cheek with a finger until it rests under her chin. Gently tipping her head back, he leans down and touches her lips with his own.

Her eyes close as his lips brush against hers. One arm hanging loosely at his waist, her other hand cradles his face tenderly. Her lips are soft, timidly returning his kiss without shying away from the affection. He leans into the kiss when she acquiesces, fingers leaving her chin to trail down her neck and across her shoulder. Pulling her close against him, he caresses her lips with his own, letting the sensations linger before drawing away.

Fingertips leave his cheek, softly tracing down the side of his neck to rest on the warmth of his chest. Lips part a breath as he draws away before she reaches on her toes to press another kiss to his lips, still gentle but more self-assured, catching his bottom lip between hers.

Hardly more than a three quick heartbeats does she hold her lips to his before slowly lowering herself from his lips. Eyes flutter open, brightly shining and searching his for any indication… any sign of what comes next. He smiles into her eyes and then pulls her close for twelve more beats of the heart.

Margot's body molds against his; natural. Her head finds comfort resting upon his chest. Her arms pull him closer to her. She does nothing but breathe him in. This close, he can feel her pulse racing, her breathing slightly ragged. His head dips next to hers, taking in her scent, letting the quiet moment wreath them with its warmth.

"We should return to the shore, Margot," he speaks in her ear. "You are cold." Leaning just a little closer, he brushes her cheek with his lips before he pulls away to begin the return trip.

She nods, arms lingering around him for a few more heartbeats before reluctantly releasing him. Taking his hand, they maneuver the wet rocks together as before. Smaller waves continue to crash against the cliffs, spray showering them on their descent.

By the time they reach the sandy shore, both are all but drenched, resembling drowned rats more than Princess and Lord. Margot's shirt clung to her form, slick with sea water. Realizing how revealing wet linen was, she untucks the shirt so the wind can billow it out; opting for untidy and sloppy in order to maintain a small amount of dignity.

Once they reach the safety of the sand, Kendall whistles for Vanya, who trots over to them with Rajani trailing along. Opening up the saddle bag, he pulls his robe out and drapes it over Margot's shoulders - warmer than her light cloak, and not as apt to blow about.

Margot faced Kendall, placing a hand on his cheek to guide his head down so she could speak in his ear, "Are you ready for a fire and a meal and perhaps a place where we do not have to shout at one another?"

He just nods to her question. Helping her back into the saddle, he also mounts up and allows her to take the lead.

Wheeling Rajani around, Margot takes the horses to a comfortable trot, following the coastline. They pass through a natural archway cut from centuries of water beating against rock. Slowly, as they continue to abandon the outcroppings for calmer waters, the roar of the sea became little more than a whisper. Now, the water gently laps against the sand, washing away hoof prints.

Finding a little alcove close to the cliffs but still in full sunlight, Margot pulls Rajani's reins to a full stop. She turns her mare in a circle, surveying their surroundings.

"I think this will do," she comments, watching how the water lazily comes ashore.

Kendall surveys the scene and nods as well. "Well chosen," he says, dismounting and helping Margot down again.

He pauses there with her between the horses, looking down into her eyes. He brushes her check with the back of his hand, feeling her skin still chilly. "We should start the fire quickly."

Unloading the saddlebags, he proceeds to do just that, frowning a little in thought or concentration as he arranges the wood and puts spark to it, leaving the other arrangements to Margot.

Margot laid a heavy wool blanket out, grey with white and black knots woven into the pattern. It was large enough for four persons to recline comfortably upon it. Kendall looks up, seeing the wool blanket and moves to Vanya, retrieving a lush cloth and bringing it to Margot.

With little more than a flip of his arms, the blanket lays smoothly atop the wool, a swirl of blues, shaded from turquoise and jade to the deepest midnight, shot through with lines of black. Silver fish dance among the blues, shimmering against the darker fabric. Though deceptively light and airy, the fabric itself is soft and fluffy, and when they sit on it, it feels as though they can sink into it like a cloud.

Margot smiles, watching Kendall retrieve the blanket, helping him smooth it over the woolen one. She begins setting their meal out, a variety of little morsels; savory and sweet alike. Little green pillows stuffed with cheese and dried fruits, or rice, meat and spices, waiting in a bowl with wedges of lemon and a cream sauce placed close by. Fleshy fruits poached in wine had their own serving bowl; as did a platter of veined cheeses crumbling with vibrant berries in blues, reds, and blacks. Crusty bread with a delicate pastes of nuts, spices and oils sat prominent on the blanket. Delicate treats, various shades of brown, sat on a plate all of their own.

Margot removes her boots and silk stockings, setting them far away from the blanket but in the sun so as to dry out. Collecting a silver bucket, she walks to the surf to gather some of the iced water, returning and placing a bottle of spiced red wine inside to cool. Shucking out of Kendall's robe, she folded it neatly and rested the robe on the corner of the blanket so that it, too, may dry in the sun. Finally, she grabbed the tail of her braid, unbinding the thong and shaking her hair loose. Her fingers combed through some of the strands, smoothing the waved lockes back from her face.

"Come, sit, be at ease," she welcomes with a smile, sitting with her legs tucked beneath her. "Let me share with you some delights from my home."

Kendall finishes with the fire as she makes her final arrangements, having fed the frail first flames to become a blaze. He shakes his head with another faint smile. "All in its time," he says.

Rajani had been left to the care of the knights, but he addresses Vanya's needs himself. Stripping her of her tack, which he lays carefully on the sand, he scratches her neck right where it itches from the rubbing leather as she lowers her head to his chest. Margot can hear him speaking softly, though the language is foreign, and then with a snort the horse throws up her head again and trots off by herself down the beach.

Brushing horse hairs from his shirt, Kendall reaches again into his saddlebag, producing a cloth, a water flask, and a small wrapped package. Joining Margot on the blanket, he pours some water onto the cloth and wipes his hands carefully, offering it for her use as well. The other package he unwraps turns out to be a half bottle of wine in dark glass with no marking, along with two small cordial glasses. Unstoppering the bottle, he pours the wine and offers her a drink.

She nods her appreciation for the damp rag, washing the salt and sand from her face and hands. "Thank you," she smiles, waiting for Kendall to pour himself a drink. She brings the glass to her nose, enjoying the bouquet, watching Kendall carefully. "You have a loving relationship with Vanya. It is something… pleasing to behold."

The wine smells like frost-kissed sunshine, tastes cool as a stream running through a field of silvery sweet berries, and is smooth and strong. The use of small glasses is no mystery after the first sip. Kendall stops the bottle and sets it somewhere secure, then reclines on one side, leaning on his elbow. He swirls his wine a couple times before taking a small sip. "She was a gift to me when I came of age. I raised her, trained her," he answers, watching Margot sample the wine.

She watches him, stretched out on the blanket, handsome and at ease. He is something out of a dream, she observes silently, her smile growing. Slowly, she tips the glass, sampling the nectar inside. Her eyes close, breathing in deeply, relishing the intricate tastes and complexities of the wine.

She tucks her hair over her shoulders, sliding closer to Kendall to explain the food. "Eating should be a celebration of the senses," she explains. "Everything here is to be sampled with the fingers. These are stuffed grape leaves," she says, pointing one of the tiny green pillows.

"They are filled with spices and dried fruits, cheese and grains. You can eat them with lemon." She holds up a yellow citrus wedge. "Or with this tangy cream sauce." She continues to explain what each of the different selections are, smiling and explaining how each morsel tickles the senses; taste, smell, texture.

"Where would you like to begin?" she asks, smiling down on him when she is done.

Kendall listens to her explanation, eyeing each selection as she comes to it. His bright gaze darts to her eyes at the question, and his faint smile broadens, taking on its mischievous gleam again. Setting his glass aside, he picks up a little green grape leaf roll. He dips an end into the creamy sauce and then lifts it up to her lips.

"You should go first," he invites her, voice soft.

Margot smiles down at him, an impish glint coming to her own eyes. Her fingers cradle his hand, holding it steady. She leans in, taking the morsel into her mouth, lips brushing against his fingers. Her eyes never leaving his, she bites the morsel in half. She retracts slightly to savor the treat, following it with another sip of wine. "Thank you." She smiles. Leaning in once more, Kendall feeds the last bit of the roll to her, watching him watch her.

She shifts her pose so her lap was now turned toward him, giving him her full attention. She returns the sentiment, selecting one of the rolls, dipping it in the cream. "Now, you try…" she whispers.

He accepts the offering, kissing her fingertips, holding her gaze. Shifting around to pick up his wine, he takes a sip, somehow managing to arrange things so that he can lay his head in her lap. He selects another tidbit for her to try, a poached fig. "What other questions do you have for me, Margot?" he asks as she nibbles, lying on his back and smiling up at her.

"I'm wondering if you make it a habit of feeding people you go on picnics with…" she smiles down at him, fingers of her free hand combing through his hair.

His eyes drift almost closed at the caress, and he chuckles. "Only extraordinary people," he answers. "Though I do not picnic often, so the candidate pool is quite small. But come now, Margot, you can do better than that."

He pauses to think a heartbeat, then says, "I will offer you this. In honor of this fine repast, I will grant you free reign to ask more of your many questions. Anything you care to ask me." His smile fades a little. "Anything, until the last morsel is consumed, the last drop of wine is sipped."

"Anything?" she questions, eyes filling with a hint of mischief. "That is awfully generous…" she remarks, plucking a strawberry and bringing it to Kendall's lips. Her fingers continue to comb through his hair, her expression softening while she considers the gift.

"I would like to make the same offer to you…" she replies, watching him nibble at the berry. "Anything you wish to know about me… anything at all… you may ask." He nods in answer to her offer.

She pauses a breath before asking, "Will you tell me about shape-shifting?"

His eyes open again so he can look intently up at her. "Excuse me?" he asks, sounding surprised though not upset.

"I want to know about what it's like to shift your form. Does it hurt? Is that how you experience flying?" she asks, her eyes warm and unafraid. "What is it like to be able to transform yourself into something new… different."

Kendall stares far away into the sky for a timeless pause, considering her question. How does one explain to a rock what it's like to be a wave? Eventually he sits up, turning so he can see her right side up again.

"I will answer your questions, Margot, as promised, but I must ask that we not discuss this topic often or… openly," he says quietly, soberly. "Tis not something looked on favorably in Amber, as I would guess you have already learned."

She nods in agreement, her expression one of contemplation and curiosity. He gestures to the empty space on the blanket beside him. "Now lie down here, close your eyes, and I shall attempt to… enlighten you," he invites her, smiling again.

Lying down beside him on the blanket, he sees once more how petite she is. One arm lays lazily by her body, the other rests comfortably across her abdomen. Closing her eyes, she relaxes; becoming a vision of serenity… one that whispers of trusting him implicitly.

Kendall waits for her to get settled and then reclines again next to her, leaning on one arm so he can speak quietly and she can hear him easily. "Picture to yourself a river, running like molten silver through a wood," his voice is a slow, lulling murmur.

"There are shallows and deeps, rocks, turns and dips, as the water runs its course. The water flows, shaping and twisting, pooling and stretching. It adjusts, it changes. Picture yourself as that water, Margot. You do not see the rocks or the shallows or the fall into darkness. You simply move, you shape, you… adjust… the way water slips on its way."

A faint smile forms at her lips; the only movement is when the fingers of the hand on her abdomen stretch and relax against her body. She breathes, deeply, chest rising and falling slowly.

He is silent for the space of twenty slow heartbeats while the waves lap the beach nearby. A hand pushes the hair back from her cheek, sliding through the strands and twining a lock around his finger. "There is… a song in your veins. It flows through your heart and sings in your mind. You feel the wind rushing past you, around and across your body, a soundless rushing roar. You slip through the water as through silver mist, and dive through fire that thrills along your skin like a current of lightning."

Her eyes remain closed; though her breathing increases slightly at his touch and his words flow over her. The hand resting at her side on the blanket strokes the fabric, fingers circling and grasping the cloth in her hand.

"Now picture, if you will, a still pond," he says, his voice heavier. "Light sparkles on its surface, which is flat and calm. The edge of the pond is regular, unchanging. There is no movement. No waves, no ripples. As always, you are as you are now. No shaping, flowing, twisting. Solid and still. Flat and motionless. As quiet as the moment between heartbeats." He is silent for half a breath before adding. "That is how Amber feels for me."

Fingers clutch fabric; Chaosian luxury in one hand, sea-laden linen in the other. Her expression remains serene; only now it's teased with hints of Margot enjoying how his powerful words paint the landscape in her vivid imagination. Her breathing shallows a touch more; she finding it difficult to maintain the calm meditative state she had been asked to assume. A small smile pulls at her lips, just barely enough to flatten full lips, her lower lip sliding between her teeth. A few quickened heartbeats pass before her lip is released from its captor and her smile transforms from sensual excitement to tranquility once more.

Kendall falls silent again, letting the words and images dance in her mind before saying anything more. "Have I answered your questions, Margot?" he asks finally.

She raises her hand to her face to shield the sun from her eyes. "In a way I could not have ever imagined…" she answers quietly.

"You shared with me…” her breath catches in her chest. “You are so very blessed to have this gift…to…to assume… to become anything your heart desires. You have opportunity to explore, to learn, to grow… to be. To reach beyond yourself…”

Margot releases her grasp on the blanket, raising her hand to tenderly stroke his cheek and jaw with the back of her hand. Her smile was for him alone; their world reduced to the sound of surf and the blanket they rested upon.

“To have something so astonishing… and it's… you. Wonderfully, uniquely, you. Something to be proud of; my heart longs to have something so beautiful a part of my soul. Thank you for your expressive explanation.” She sighs, contented, slowly removing her hand from his face.

He stares into her bright eyes as she replies and considers her words for several heartbeats after she falls silent, testing their feel. Then he shakes his head, reaching to pick up another dark berry and holding it to her lips.

"You are most welcome," he says. "However, shifting is not a unique ability in the Courts. Whether everyone experiences it as I do, I cannot say, but different forms do not bring heart's desires."

Margot accepts the berry, her lips wrapping around the tips of his fingers. She blinks slowly as she enjoys the tart fruit. "Perhaps, but it brings you joy when you fly. I will only be able to dream about that kind of freedom. That elation."

Glancing over, Margot plucks another morsel - poached fig - for Kendall to sample. "What questions do you have for me?"

Kendall traces her cheek and jaw with his thumb as he eats his fig, admiring the fine lines of her bones and the softness of her skin. Thinking. "The book you gave to me has much interesting information," he says at last. "It included descriptions of dancing in your home, and the music. Would you consider showing me some of your dances this evening, perhaps… after dinner?"

Her eyes nearly close at his caress, drinking in his touch. “Nothing would bring me greater pleasure,” she purrs, rolling onto her side, tucking her arm under her head as a pillow.

On her side, there were only a few inches between their forms. Her smile grows. “Is there nothing about me that piques your curiosity about me?”

He pushes her hair back away from her neck and over her shoulder. "I find most Amberites quite curious," he admits. "You, however, are fascinating. So ardent, yet attempting to be restrained. So very innocent, and wishing for much."

His eyes take on a teasing glint but then his expression turns serious again. "Yet your way of viewing life is so very different, tis difficult for me to know exactly about what to ask you. That is not, however, due to some defect of yours, or because I do not find you interesting."

She smiles, enjoying the intimate nature of their exchange. It was personal… give and take… learning about each other without pretense. Real. Reluctantly, she sits up once more, looking down upon him. "Then, perhaps I can show you some of my home… and it will tease questions to your tongue?"

Kendall reaches around for the bottle and pours them both some more wine. "I am delighted to see and learn anything you wish to share with me, Margot. I do find your… world… intriguing."

He uses the word "world" as though it's not exactly what he means, but he has settled on it as a reasonable approximation. He takes a long sip of his wine, and moves the berries closer so they are easier to nibble on.

Margot tucks her hair back over her shoulder, giving Kendall one last smile. Closing her eyes, she begins to concentrate, fingers weaving together in front of her torso. Several slow heartbeats later, Margot extends her left hand, her fingers and wrist moving in delicate circles. Slowly, in the shade, an ethereal image begins to form.

"This, was my home," she begins slowly, the picture forming into a vast estate. "My friends were mostly the servant children… though I did play with others who were of our station." The picture transforms and the mirthful sounds of children giggling echoed from the shadow. The picture transforms again into images of orphanages, soup kitchens, places of poverty. In those images, Kendall saw Morgana, smartly dressed, but not Queen, with a raven-haired child at her side. They were serving food, reading to children, and Margot playing with the others.

"It was important to see that others who were less fortunate were taken care of… that I never took for granted the gift of privilege." A labyrinth appeared, and the same black-haired girl was running through the maze alone, searching for magic, majesty, and mystery. "That was me," her smile grew fondly. "I discovered many wonderful things in that labyrinth… a secret garden, a portal to the Fey…" the last comes quietly, sadly. She drew a shaky breath, covering her sadness with a drink from her glass.

"What happened with the portal?" he asks her quietly. He takes her other hand in his, stroking the back with his thumb.

She hesitates, voice catching in the back of her throat, "I was very, very young. It was before I began primary education with my tutors. It was very late… my mother and father had gone out for the evening. I think they had returned here for a formal event."

She sighs. "Mother was so beautiful; father so handsome. They were like… King and Queen." A small chuckle with a shake of her head follows. "I had no idea who they were at that time…" She gives his hand a gentle squeeze, eyes focusing on the image, it transforming, showing the image of a child's bedroom window at night. A tempting little sprite appears in the window, beckoning a tired Margot out of her bed to follow. The child follows without hesitation, hair and nightdress rumpled from sleep.

"I followed the fairy in the night to this marvelous place. There was a Ball, they told me it was in my honor." Her fingers tightened around Kendall's. The image continued to change, a handsome Fey taking Margot in his arms and swinging her around, dancing and playing and seeing to her every whim.

"I was so tired, so thirsty. I wanted to go back to bed. But, they didn't want me to. They kept trying to convince me to eat and drink with them. I just danced, but then I grew tired. So tired. Finally, I accepted a sip of punch. And then they had me."

The picture morphs into something eerie, bordering on grotesque. What was once a happy, playful environment was transforming into something that reeked of malice. "I demanded they let me go. That I was tired and afraid and wanted to see my Mommy. They said I was theirs now. That I had consumed their gifts and could never return. I cried… I screamed for my mother… A scream that rocked the realm. And my mother came."

Again, the picture transforms to reveal Morgana in all her Might and Magic, no longer Queen of Amber but Mistress of all Fey, punishing those who dared threaten her Pearl.

An embarassed smile forms at Margot's lips. "You would think that I would learn to be less curious…" she drank once more from her glass.

Kendall listens to her story with every evidence of interest, eyes bright and intent, first on the images and then turning to Margot's face. "You learned early in life that not all is as it appears," he observes. "That there is often more beneath the surface, that which is not beautiful or benevolent."

He pauses for two heartbeats, framing his next question carefully, his thumb still slowly stroking the back of her hand. "How is it, then, that you have so easily come to trust me?"

Her eyes fall to their bound hands before searching his eyes. “Because, I also learned that the only way to learn and to judge the heart of another is to allow myself to know them. I do not pass judgment on another simply based upon the loose tongues or opinions of others. I will not allow my actions be dictated by fear… fear is little more than lack of understanding… and you’ve given me no reason to not trust you.”

She’s quiet for a few slow heartbeats, drawn into his eyes. “You will not betray me or harm me intentionally… this I am certain of.” She holds his gaze a few more beats before casting her eyes into the depths of her wine glass. Drinking once more, she draws a calming breath, “Shall I continue?

He shares her look, staring deeply into her eyes, weighing her answer against whatever internal measures he uses. "Your faith in my trustworthiness is… appreciated," he answers. "Please. Do continue."

She nods, smiling. "Alright." She sighs focusing her energy once more. The next image is a different estate; a college or academic institute. "This is where I spent the last few years of my life… away from my family." The image transforms, to a bustling student body, all in uniforms. Young men and women, formally dressed, moving through their days of academics, meals, and swordplay.

"I didn't exactly fit in… I was terribly shy." Forms began forming, boys and girls. "Many of the boys found themselves interested in girls like Evangeline." The girl so identified is a gorgeous, obviously privileged blonde. By appearance and stance, it's clear that she was a person more than accustomed to getting whatever she wanted. "Boys couldn't jump high enough to impress her. There were others in her clique as well."

More faces of beautiful girls, big eyes and full lips with knowing gazes and the disposition that whispered of taking advantage of men and women alike. "She found me a threat, though I'm uncertain why. I did nothing but try to be kind… I didn't compete with her in anything. Not boys or anything. I just tried to do the best that I could in everything that I did."

She sighs. "My two best friends, Elsa and Francesca." A stout strawberry blond and another exotic girl with full curves and lips. "Boys enjoyed Francesca's smile as well." Finally, the image transforms to one Kendall recognized: Margot in her uniform, her hair pulled back in a bun, pale complexion and petite in comparison to many of the other girls and boys.

"Here, I had my first crush. Dominic." She creates a picture of a charming looking boy, athletic, with a dimpled grin and devilish eyes. "He preferred Evangeline." She shrugs and then a redheaded girl appears. A hint of barely managed rage enters her voice. "This person framed me for hurting Evangeline. Poured hot wax on her…. and saw that I was accused. When I was finally cleared of any suspicion… she 'encouraged' that I take advantage of Evangeline's ill fortune and try to steal Dominic back."

Her fingers tremble with anger. "I was weak if I did not seize the moment. I have never been so insulted in all my life. To act without honor…" She let her words die, and after several heartbeats her fingers relax as does her person.

Once more, the image changes. "I spent most of my days helping students. Tutoring. That is where I also met Gerhold. He was clumsy, sweet, and kind." The image transforms to a mountain of a boy, cheeks lightly freckled with warm eyes.

Pictures continued to transform, all they way through the preparations for the Ball. Then, a picture of Margot in a strapless iridescent pink gown that shimmered with each move and hair piled into a delicate nest upon her head. "This was a few days ago. A formal ball. My parents appeared, and introduced me as Princess of Amber. I danced with my father."

The image moves to how father and daughter command the dance floor. "That's where Gerhold told me he loved me. That he wanted to marry me and for me to give him strong sons." Her smile turns bittersweet… perhaps for breaking such an amazing person's heart. "He pressed a chaste kiss to my lips, and then I was brought here without adieu."

Again, her eyes go to Kendall. "Not much of a life. But those were the highlights."

At her final comment, Kendall's intent expression turns to a quiet smile, though his eyes are thoughtful, even pensive. "I am certain there are many other things that you leave out of your description," he says. "Other joys and sorrows that fade behind the ones that burn brighter in your memory at just this time."

He is silent for several more heartbeats before adding anything more, continuing to study her, his eyes playing over her face and hair. When finally he speaks again, his question is slow and deliberate, as though testing each word in its place before uttering it. "Is it because of your understanding of love and heart's desires, that you have told your story so much in terms of the other women with whom you were competing in this arena?"

"My time at the Academy… it was very solitary," Margot begins slowly. "I did not make friends easily. I was shy and many didn't find any value in returning offers of kinship. So I kept mostly to myself, save for Elsa and Francesca. Elsa was very pragmatic, practical. She was very strong of person. Francesca was fiery. We became friends because she needed help with her English and I needed help with Latin. Languages of my world. Neither are of any use here… but Latin is beautiful to listen to and to speak. It is one of the original 'romantic' languages."

"Of course, there were simple pleasures… swordplay," she continues. A picture appears of all the students in white practice gear. "Meals were in the grand hall. Walks in the courtyard. Reading, studying. I helped many students - boys and girls - with their academics. But, without Lady Bear, I would have had very little to ground me."

"I guess… I don't see myself as a competitor with other women… you have to be worthy of competition. It was a simple statement of fact that I was not considered a worthy adversary." She draws a deep breath, fingers weaving into his. "I didn't answer your question, did I?"

He shakes his head. "More details have sprung forth, but the answer to my question has not been one of them," he agrees.

"Let me try again." She looks down at his hand, eyes casting to the apparition hanging in the shadows. She wets her lips. "I went from a life where I was the center of my parents' world, surrounded by love and bearing witness to their magical bond, to a life where I had only me to rely upon. It was different. Ordered. Devoid of emotion at a time when… girls and young women start to have fantasies of being noticed by men. Many girls freely admitted they were enrolled at the academy for the sole purpose to capture the hearts of a noble lad… to become his wife and to live happily-ever-after."

A blush comes to her cheek. "That wasn't the reason for my attendance. The only way my father would agree to teach me the sword was if I attended the academy. But," she pauses, drawing a deep breath. "That doesn't mean that even a girl not interested in finding a husband is immune to the lure of fantasy and longing to be the object of another's affection."

"I had hoped to find something similar to what my parents had… though I knew deep down that it would never compare," she confesses. "I allowed myself to be swept up in the softer fancies of a girl, developing a crush on a boy that knew how to smile to bring a blush to my cheeks. But, Evangeline decided once she discovered that I had an interest in Dominic, that she must have him if for no other reason than so I could not."

She struggles to keep her emotions buried, breathing deeply to calm her voice. "He made his choice, and I learned there is a difference between infatuation and the soul's other half." When her eyes meet his, they contain a sadness, emptiness. "Gerhold was sweet. Clumsy, awkward, and fearless… I was fond of him, and perhaps someday I could have fallen in love with him. But, that is something that I will never know…."

Her eyes cast to their hands for several heartbeats of silence before she returns her gaze to his. "Perhaps I'm just slow to learn lessons… I continue to be curious and hopeful for love," she admits quietly, her smile warming her eyes. "It's a path that will likely only end in pain, but the cause is worth the risk."

He nods slowly, whether in agreement with her assessement, or in acknowlegment of her answer, he doesn't say. He is silent for a time, still studying her face. "And what of your recent adventures, in Amber?" he says. "Would you show me those images?"

"Of course," she smiles, holding his eyes for a breath before returning her attention to the images once more. Another wave of her hand and he sees Margot, first donning a sage gown with a rose-gold belt, hair pulled up similarly to how she wore it when she was at the academy. She walks quietly with an escort, to find her mother, now Queen. She is dainty in comparison to her mother, her mother's glow captivating and illuminating the memory.

She shows him her introduction to Bleys and how Mother and Father love one another dearly; Princess Fiona and how what little color in Margot's face drained, her lips tightening and her facade frigid; how Prince Corwin waltzed in, his eyes languishing her mother and his charm failing to impress Margot.

Her adventures took her to the library, where she settled herself among the books of history and lore. The image transforms, and she was sitting at a piano, the air laced with the delicate melody from the ghostly instrument. Here, she seems at peace, calm, comfortable in her skin. Margot walking alone among the gardens, Greyswandir appearing to her in the rose garden.

"The sword belongs to the Rose Prince, Corwin. She agreed to his wishes to teach me to master the blade as a courtesy to the Queen. My mother seemed less than enthused when I brought the sword to her." Her fingers tighten slightly, her thumb tracing the line of his hand.

He sees her practicing before dawn with the blade, lost in the passion of the dance. She meets Kira and Rosabelle. The Hall of Mirrors and meeting him. He sees how her cheeks redden at his gentleness, how diminutive she feels in his presence. He sees how she stood, terrified inside but refusing to show even the slightest discomfort when meeting his mother, eyes never leaving her gaze. Quiet strength.

He sees how she trembled as he walked her out of the Hall, how she saw him: gentle, tender, brilliant, kind, worldly, handsome. Each of these traits resonated in his image, how his eyes all but glowed in the dark, adding a haunting depth to the images. She reviewed the walk in the Garden, and he could feel her heart race, her breath quicken, how a mere glance from him affected her to her core.

Then he sees events from the day thus far. How they rode companionably. How his smile warmed her heart. How she held onto his kiss for as long as she was able. How she enjoyed feeding him and how she hoped he did as well. The last image shows her kissing him again. "That is what occupies my fantasy now," she admits shyly.

He turns back to her after taking in all the images and listening to her narrative, watching the way her loose hair tumbled over her shoulders and waved in the breeze. He smiles at her, a slow but sweet expression. "Then let me give you this fantasy, Margot," he says, inviting her to make a move with a gentle pull of their joined hands.

She leans in, eyes lidded. Her free hand cups his cheek, tracing his jawline. Her lips barely brush against his, hesitant. She breathes him in, lips catching his tenderly, tasting the wine on his lower lip. He catches her lips with his, teasing hers gently in return, but allowing her to control the contact. With great restraint, she retracts her face, only enough to focus on his eyes.

"Why? Why let me kiss you…?" she asks with wonder.

He smiles. "Why not?" he responds, voice low, almost husky. "Twas something you wanted; it brought a light to your eyes. Tis something I also wanted, and so we are both pleased." He pauses, releasing her hand so that he can stroke her neck with his fingertips. "You are welcome to continue, should you like."

His fingers pick up her pulse quickening at her neck, her head tilting just enough so that he can feel the length of her neck. Her eyes burned, her chest rising and falling with shallow breathing. Leaning in, she samples his lips again, this time with greater confidence. She enjoyed how his spicy scent blended with the sweet sensation of his lips. It was heady, powerful.

Kendall caresses her mouth with his, nibbling gently on her lower lip. His fingers tangle into the hair behind her ear, drawing her into the kiss. He is the one to pull back this time, looking into her eyes. "This would be far more comfortable if you would lie here beside me," he invites her, voice quite soft, almost unheard over the breaking of the swells and the calling of the gulls.

She looks down at him, eyes filled with yearning… it would be so easy to give into the temptation… Her lips return to his, her kisses ardent, her fingers weaving into his hair as she cradled his face to hers. Her mouth accepts his, lips parting slightly. Gentle nibbles dissolve into tender sucks, the tip of her tongue cradling his lower lip in her mouth; a tiny moan escaping the back of her throat. He lets her explore as much as she wants, but he keeps things light and gentle on his end, almost teasing. She sighs, her body longing to relax in his arms.

A small smile forms at her lips; she slowly bringing her kisses to a stop. Her eyes open reflecting the desire burning in her soul. "Let us enjoy a little more of our repast and a few more questions…And see where we end up…?"

He breathes deeply as she pulls away, shifting to lean his head on his hand as she stretches and then crosses her legs. He picks up her wine glass and gives it to her. "Very well, Margot. What else would you care to know?" he asks.

She accepts the glass, drinking from it deeply. The color in her cheeks takes a delightful rose. She puts dish of chocolates between them. "These are something special from my home. Legend claims they are a gift from the Goddess Aphrodite… these are chocolate truffles. Little decadent treats from the Heavens."

She raises one to his lips. "Depending on what a person chooses to believe, it is a lover's dessert or it has healing properties." She lets him sample it from her fingers, rich and smooth, hints of cinnamon and something bittersweet adding to the depth of the flavor. "Do you have something similar?"

Kendall studies the sweet for several heartbeats before accepting it from her, licking the softened chocolate from her fingertips before carefully chewing. His expression turns somewhat dreamy, closing his eyes as he discovers the flavor and texture, fully enjoying the sensual experience even after the last of the chocolate has melted away.

Finally, he opens his eyes. "Luxuriant and rich," he pronounces. "Decadent and quite… delightful." Picking a second truffle up from the plate, he offers it to her, holding it to her lips. "I have not had anything that I would call similar to this," he admits. "Though tis possible I have simply not yet had opportunity."

Margot returns the favor, accepting the treat from his fingers and cleaning his fingertips with her tongue. Her smile is just short of pure delight, savoring the tiny treat. "Chocolate is offered in many forms. One of the more popular ways is to dip fruits like strawberries in the confection. That is a lover's delight." She pauses, considering what to ask next.

Bringing wine to her lips, she marvels at how his heady brew plays with and enhances the richness of the candy. Setting the glass down, she runs a finger along its lip, tracing the mouth of the glass. "You had mentioned that food was a celebration of the senses in your home. Do you have treats, delicacies, that are reserved for intimate dining? Things that are rumored to enhance the… experience… of those sharing the meal?"

An eyebrow quirks at her question, as he tries to decide if she's asking what he thinks she's asking. Reaching for the bottle again, he refreshes both glasses as he answers. "We have foods intended to enhance any experience, yes. Every heartbeat is potentially a time of joy or sorrow, deserving of notice and celebration in its own way. I am certain the menu tonight will include all possible experiences," he says, turning his gaze to her as he sets the bottle down again, and for a heartbeat he unmasks the desire and excitement she had evoked in him earlier.

At the veiled answers, Kendall sees a battle in her eyes; daring and deed or temperance and prudence. Her curiosity made her bold, or was it his presence alone that teased her in such fashion…? Patience trumps curiosity for the moment; and while the color of her cheeks had not changed, nor had the set of her lips as she smiled, Kendall could tell that at least for the moment her will was still her own.

Another berry is selected for Kendall to sample, something sweet and tart to cut the richness of the chocolate. "I can hardly wait to explore those experiences…" she purrs, her eyes answering questions unspoken. She breathes quietly, watching him nibble, how his lips and tongue tease the tips of her fingers, how his eyes close at first sample and shine as he watches her watch him.

Her eyes were the window to her soul; hiding nothing, making everything available to him should he dare pause to look inside. While she lacked experience; he could see she did not lack insight. She understood on some level the dance between them; and while she was aware of the objectives and motives, she allowed herself to be swept up in the intimacy of the moment.

Real or illusion; it didn't matter. She was with him; he with her. She opened the door to be Margot and asked that he leave all titles and preconceived notions outside so that he could join her in the moment as just Kendall. Everything was about the present, the current moment, the immediate experience. She refused to concern herself with the future; the whole world was stripped away to nothing but the two of them on the beach.

She lies down on her back, assuming the position she had when he described shifting to her. Her shirt was now mostly dry, no longer offering teasing glimpses of the form it barely concealed when wet. One arm pillows her head, the other rests once more at her abdomen. Knees bend, giving toes access to the luxurious fabric, and they begin to shift and curl instantly as cloth connects with skin. She smiles, cheeks flushing slightly when she realizes how much she enjoys looking up at him from this vantage. "Are you close with your siblings?" She finally asks, attempting to focus her mind on something less intimately charged.

Kendall takes another drink, staring into her eyes as she responds, both verbally and otherwise. As she settles onto her back again, his gaze sweeps along her body, taking in the fine curves, delicate yet strong hands, the feathery softness of her hair. Setting his glass aside again, he turns to lie on his back next to her, the plate of chocolates still between them.

"By close, I take you to mean having intimate relationships," he says. "The answer is yes, and no. We all have our own interests and pursuits, but we are able to rely on each other to an extent."

He pauses for a breath before continuing, voice becoming quieter and somewhat faraway. "I am reminded of an incident when I was quite young. I was exploring a part of the Ways for which I was… perhaps not prepared. There are areas in the Ways that are not… suitable for younglings, but I found myself in the wing that contains, among other places, the Broken Halls."

He falls silent again, thinking for a bit. "For reasons still unknown to me, the Broken Halls do not maintain the ties of the ways. They unbind from one, and turn to others, apparently at random, altering the paths even as one traverses them. In short, tis a continuously changing maze. There is a cipher, a way of understanding, that will allow one who is within the Halls to navigate them, but at the time, I did not have that knowledge."

Putting his hands together, he rests his head on them, staring up into the sky. "I have little memory of how long I wandered the Halls alone that Turn. I could not see the sky, and the uncounted heartbeats are lost. I remember only that I could not find the way out, turning in endless circles and following unending hallways, before I was finally forced to bring out the Trump of my sister, Diona. I called her, and she came to me, and she showed me the way out."

Margot rises to an elbow, looking down upon Kendall as he told his story. There was the tiniest of nods to herself before she covered the chocolates and moved the container, the only barrier between them. She slides over, looking upon him fully, a hand reaching up to smooth his brow, fingertips drawing down the side of his face.

"That must have been terrifying," she comments softly. "You are blessed to have had a sister to rely upon." The smile on her lips softens her expression; and in a daring move, she rests her head upon his chest, turning her eyes skyward as well. She sighs quietly, silent for several heartbeats before speaking once more. "Did you ever look up at the clouds above and see things in the shapes?" she asks, resting a hand upon his chest.

As before, Kendall allows her to caress him, smiling at the contact to let her know he enjoys her touch. He nods to both of her assessments, about being frightened and having a sister. As she snuggles against him, one hand leaves its place as head pillow, his arm wrapping instead around her shoulders. "We do not have clouds in Chaos," he says. "But I have spent some time in the Shadows of my House, watching the sky. More than that, I have spent time watching the Abyss. The clouds in the sky stay in the sky. The movements of the shadows in the Abyss… somehow move inside you as well."

"What is the Abyss…?" she asks quietly.

Kendall takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly, thinking about the enormity of the question and answer and the necessity of making it smaller. "The Abyss is at the edge of the Courts," he starts out. "Tis a…pit, for lack of a better word, though its presence rises above its edge and can spill over the plains. There are those who believe it the source of everything, while others believe it the end of everything. Either way, tis… depthless, trackless. Nothing that falls in the Abyss returns. There are some who court the risk, skirting the edge and diving its shallows for fortune. But tis a risk, as the Abyss can change from heartbeat to heartbeat, and if one goes too deeply within its… darkness… there is no return."

A shiver captures Margot, sending her trembling without control. His description haunts her mind, of places as empty as the name suggests. She wraps her body against his form, molding around his side, her leg coming to rest atop his. She squeezes gently, more to shake off the shiver than anything else… as if he were an anchor grounding her from fully appreciating such a void.

"It sounds…" he can feel her head shake against his chest, "It sounds like the place of night terrors…"

His arm tightens around her shoulder as she shivers, drawing her closer. "Tis not… frightening. Not exactly," he says. "The Abyss is nothing. To gaze deeply into the Void is to be… emptied of fear. Emptied of everything. Only after one looks away, in the darkness behind your eyelids, that the Everything folds into things that can twist into the mind and bring horror to the heart. Nameless, formless terrors, but nameless and formless delights as well. At times."

Her arm leaves his chest, wrapping completely around his waist so that she may return the squeeze. She is silent, listening to his heart and how its tempo plays against the lapping rhythm of the waves. "So… is it a place of peace…? Of meditation… of sorts… to look into something that is the physical manifestation of Nothingness?" she asks timidly. Afraid, but more interested in understanding than allowing her fears to command her.

Kendall weighs her question for five thoughtful heartbeats. "It could be," he allows at last. "Though that is not my own experience. Before I knew differently, I stood near the edge of the Abyss and looked into its darkness — a darkness that is brighter than the sun above Amber — and twas some time before I was able to look away. Twas a feeling of emptying and filling, though the filling was… not the same. As if water flowed from me, and was replaced with ice."

His words are a blanket over them; her immediate response not words, but to hold him tightly, soothing away the memory, or tempering it to something less cold. Her cheek nuzzles against his chest. She breaths slowly for several heartbeats before releasing him from her bond. Her other arm comes to his chest, meeting its match so that she may rest her chin on them. Her body slides, not quite on top of him fully, but a shield of sorts, leg sliding over his and helping to give her purchase so that she may look into his eyes.

She watches him and his eyes, willing words to come and none finding their path out from her heart. "It sounds like a powerful place… a place that can mark a person's soul forever…" she observes, a sadness in her eyes. A hand leaves his chest to trace his lips. A smile returns to her own. "You have endured so many things…. experiences I can only imagine." Her expression returns to serene, and she rests once more upon his chest.

His eyes were faraway as he spoke of the Abyss, but they come back to her as she moves to meet his gaze. His expression is pensive, but then he smiles at her. "Powerful, moving, yes. But you need not be sad for my sake, Margot."

He continues to look at her, his other hand coming to stroke her hair briefly before settling on her shoulder. Slowly, with gentle pressure, he rolls over, trading positions until she finds herself lying on her back below him on the blanket. Before she can say or do anything, he leans down and covers her lips with his.

She rolls with him, body moving in harmony with his. Her mind only registers that his body is resting above her, legs mingled with hers just before his mouth takes hers. Her body tenses, but only for a few quick heartbeats before relaxing under his weight and his kiss. Hands slide from between their forms to tenderly cup his face.

Kendall takes his time, exploring the fullness of her lips with his, slow and gentle. His chest presses against her, his heartbeat speeding up as their lips meet, the heat of his body enveloping her. He nuzzles her mouth, encouraging her lips to part, nibbling and teasing her with his tongue and teeth. One arm supports him so he doesn't crush her, while the other caresses her shoulder, following the length of her side to rest on her hip.

Margot's first responses are timid, soft and slow; but as his kisses continue to fall upon her mouth, her own interest in exploring his lips, tongue and mouth grow. Her lips part, welcoming his deeper press, allowing him to taste her mouth and probe with his tongue. He moves slowly, savoring the experience and giving her the chance to enjoy and learn as well.

There is no time. The waves and the gulls, trees and sky, even the blanket they are lying on fall away, until the only things in the world are their bodies together, mouths communicating far more than words could alone. She returns affection eagerly, following his pace, returning nibbles and sampling of his lips and tongue as he did hers. The hand on her hip draws her nearer, moving to her back to press her closer to his body.

The smallest of moans escapes from her, her approval audible. Her own hands are uncertain where to call home, one remaining at his face, the other wrapping around his shoulders. As his arm slides beneath her to bring her closer to him her leg rises to keep her from rolling away from his grasp.

Gently, carefully, he pulls back, disengaging from their embrace enough to give them both a chance to breathe, still holding her close. His bright eyes study her face, following the outline of her lips to the line of her jaw, the delicate sweep of her cheek, eventually turning to stare into hers from mere inches away. His quickened breathing and burning eyes share with her the delight he feels at having her in his arms.

Passion blazes in her eyes, cheeks flushed. Her breathing is shallow, chest rising and falling. The firmness of her curves and her excitement at his touch were evident against his chest, her own heart racing to match his driving pulse. Her full lips have taken on a crimson hue from his attention.

Her hand strokes his face, eyes following the trail her fingertips take. “Tis said that the only true language in the world is a kiss…” she whispers huskily. “What are mine telling you?”

His eyes drift shut in pleasure at her caress, but open again slowly at her question. He smiles at her in a satisfied expression, like a cat surveying a whole lake of cream. "That you enjoy wine, chocolate, and berries," he says, his soft voice teasing. "That your passion is a match for the ocean, rising and cresting like waves. That you are young and have strong desires, to learn and experience much in your life. And… that you perhaps would like more?"

"More Wine? Chocolates?" she blinks innocently, lips curling into a playful smile. Her fingers continue to stroke his cheek, reaching to comb though his hair. Her body shifts, and she finds herself nearly centered beneath him. From this vantage, her neck is unadorned, the collar of her blouse falling away, milky skin taking on the faintest of rose hues. With her free hand, she snakes it around to his chest, gently running her fingers down the buttons before resting her hand upon her stomach. Her eyes tell him that it is his lips she'd like to sample further, even if her words play upon the moment to ease their pulses.

Kendall's smile gets wider at her answer, breath catching as she caresses his torso. Looking away from her eyes briefly, he chooses a plump, ripe berry from the nearby bowl. Putting it in his mouth, he leans down and kisses her again, letting the juice mingle in their mouths.

Margot's eyes widen and her smile grows as she watches Kendall secure the berry in his teeth. Giggles and moans bubble from her lips as she samples the juices from his tongue, hand holding his face to hers, fingers carding through his hair. Berry juice slips between their lips, sliding down the corner of her mouth and down his chin. Her tongue leaves his mouth, slowly lapping up the trickle from his chin before it drips on her. Joy and mirth mingle with desire, teasing out an impish beauty in her face.

She can feel his breath catch again as she moves her tongue to his chin, his grip on her tightening even more and a ripple running through his body. His head dips towards her neck, away from her face, and he takes a slow, deep breath, pulling away once more. He's smiling, the movement easy and relaxed, but his arms loosen on her as he gives them both some space.

She watches him withdraw, moving away from her and returning to his side. His arm released her, leaving the small of her back to rest around her waist. Her expression transitions from playful to thoughtful, trying to make sense of what had just happened or changed. She glances to her side, reaching for the water flask and a towel.

Dampening the cloth, she dabbed at Kendall's chin, removing any evidence of their playful exchange. Once clean, she repeats the acts, wiping the drying berry juice from her own lips and cheeks where they had trickled down. She never breaks the physical connection, his arm around her waist; but her actions are tender, gentle. Only when both are cleaned and the cloth and flask are put aside does she make eye contact with Kendall once more.

"Is everything alright?" she asks slowly, searching his eyes.

Kendall retrieves one of the glasses as she tidies up her face, taking a sip and then offering it to her. When she accepts the glass, hitching up on an elbow, he leans over and kisses her forehead. "All is well, Margot," he says, stroking her hair. "All is quite well."

He leans back again, watching her with a smile as she drinks, taking back the glass to have another sip. "I am pleased you were enjoying my kisses, but it seemed prudent for me to… calm myself for a time," he explains.

"Perhaps prudent for both of us…" Margot acknowledges, eyes casting away and a bashful smile appearing on her lips. She sits up, resting on her hip and legs curled under her, and reaches for the bottle of wine to refill the glass that Kendall holds.

Setting the bottle down, she plucks the glass from his hand, drinking from it deeply. Returning the glass to him, she selects a berry this time and offers it to him with trembling fingers. "I promise to not kiss you while you enjoy," she offers, meeting his gaze with hers.

He watches her closely as she attends to the wine, accepting the berry from her fingers. "You have done nothing wrong, Margot," he says after he eats the treat, voice soft and calm. He selects another chocolate, offering it to her.

She leans in, closing her eyes and taking the chocolate from his fingers, cleaning the melted residue from his fingers. Her eyes remain closed as she savors the taste, her hair teasing around her shoulders with the wind.

Her eyes open, and she strokes his cheek, a small smile forming. "No one erred. There was no misstep… " she states, making meaningful eye contact. "All is well."

Kendall nods. "Good," he says, putting a hand up to press hers against his cheek.

She breaths deeply, slowly retracting her hand reluctantly. "You had mentioned a childhood game… 'So says the Serpent'?"

He nods, taking another sip of wine. "Tis a simple game. One person is the Serpent, the others players are followers. The Serpent player gives commands to the followers. The trick tis that only direct commands of the Serpent should be followed. Thus, if I should say, Serpent Says kiss Kendall. You would then do so. Whereas if I merely said, kiss Kendall without identifying myself as the Serpent, you should not follow the command. You would fail the test if you followed a directive given without my saying Serpent Says."

He pauses a heartbeat before asking, "Is that clear?"

Her smile touches her eyes, "Crystal clear. Is there a minimum number of players required to play? she inquires, grin growing and offering him another chocolate.

Kendall accepts the chocolate from her fingers, then shakes his head. "I believe two will be fine for a short demonstration," he says. "Would you care to be the Serpent first?"

Her smile grows, "No. It's your game; you play the Serpent." Her eyes twinkled with daring.

"Indeed. Then we shall begin." He thinks about this for a little while, choosing a bite of cheese this time. "Serpent says stand up," he says.

Margot smiles, stealing one more sip of the wine before rising in one fluid motion.

Kendall watches her stand up. Lying back, he tucks his hands behind his head again, looking up at her for a change. "Serpent Says, stand on one foot and hop three times."

She grins down at him, finding balance and hopping in the warm sand on one foot as commanded. Her balance wobbles only slightly.

"Serpent says… put your foot back down, then spin in a circle, crying like a gull." His smile brightens with mischief.

Margot giggles, complying with the Serpent's wish. She spins, her shirt tails billowing in the wind; her calls almost melancholy were it not for her trying to not giggle. There was no question that she was enjoying the silly display.

"Very good," Kendall compliments her, his smile almost a match for hers. "Serpent says sing for me."

She pauses, almost caught off guard. A question comes to her lips, but she refrains, closing her eyes in search for a song. A few heartbeats pass before she opens her mouth once more. Soft and haunting, Margot begins to sing, the words breathy.

Even without knowing the words, Kendall could feel the song; the longing and loss of love and life lilting and listing on the air. The surf coming to beach, the wind in the greenery, and the melancholy calls of the gulls above wove into a captivating siren's song. She finished, opening her eyes, watching intently for his reaction.

Kendall's eyes are closed, enjoying the song she weaves, his smile more peaceful. When the sound drifts away, his eyes open and he nods to her. "More beautiful than the surf itself," he says. He pauses for five heartbeats to let that thought hover before in a flash the mischief returns, and he sits up.

"Yet the Serpent has not said to stop singing! You must pay the penalty!" Taking her hand, he pulls her down on the blanket with him again.

She squeals, careful not to collapse upon him as she allows herself to be pulled once more to the blanket. Laughing. "And what is the penalty, My Serpent?" she asks, eyes and smile playful.

In answer, his fingers find the sides of her body just above her trousers, and he begins tickling her mercilessly.

She screams and squirms; Kendall is fairly certain she is one of the most ticklish persons he's ever encountered. It was a wonder how when they were pressed so intimately earlier that she hadn't burst into giggles. She struggles and wrestles, finding herself in the most difficult predicament of being way too small against her Serpent. Her laughter rings through the beach front.

He eases the tickling after only a few heartbeats, allowing her to get her breath back. His hands on her waist, staring down at her, Margot can briefly see the battle in his eyes before he releases her, settling back onto his knees. "That is the first penalty, my fair princess," he says. "The others may not be so kind.”

Her expression sobers, but just barely enough to keep her expression neutral. "Of course, My Serpent. I will endeavor to follow your commands with greater vigor and commitment." Her eyes are filled with joy and amusement.

“See that you do so,” he replies with equal solemnity. Picking up the wine glass, he offers it to her. “Serpent says you may drink, to ease your throat after all this activity.”

She accepts the glass, drinking fully from the cup until there is nothing left. "Master Serpent, there is little left; I hope you can find it in your gracious heart to not let loose your wrath for there is nothing left to drink…" she struggles to find the words to link together in a careful, but heartfelt plea. "Perhaps, my Serpent will allow me to refill the cup for his pleasure?"

Kendall cocks his head to the side, regarding her with mock disdain. "The Serpent says you may fill the cup," he agrees.

She bows solemnly, crawling across the blanket to refill his cup with the heady wine.

He takes the glass from her when she is done, drinking a careful sip while he considers her next task. "The Serpent says… come with me to the edge of the water," he commands her, holding out his hand.

She rises, taking his hand, allowing him to lead her to the water's edge.

"Now, kick the water out to the sea four times," Kendall directs.

She thinks, then turns to Kendall, "But my Serpent does not command." Her grin grows, fingers lacing into his.

He smiles down at her. "Very good. You are a worthy follower." Looking out to the water, he considers her next task. "Serpent says, tell me about the image of you with your mother, serving food. You may stop when the explanation is complete."

Margot steps further into the surf, letting the water rush over her bare toes. The stark change in temperature causes her to shiver. "We were privileged with means. I never had want for anything. It was important to my parents for me to understand that what I had was a gift, not a right. Every week, and sometimes twice weekly, when I was young, my mother and I would venture to the city to help those who were not as fortunate." Her expression took her faraway, remembering a harsh reality long ago.

"The charity workers would welcome us and our donations - whether they were food, toys, or clothing. We would help with the food preparations. Sometimes I would help with washing the dishes while my mother dished plates for those who had to accept charity as their meal."

"Once the hungry and poor wound their way through the food lines, I, along with some of the younger volunteers, would walk around the dining hall - usually a church or other place of gathering - with baskets of bread, pitchers of water."

Her expression softened, almost pained, "We would arrive early, see that those in need were fed, and then stay late to help clean up afterwards. Mother believed that it was important - critical - to understand that there were injustices and inequality in the world… and if you have a gift of privilege, you should never forget how your life could be." She breathes, her eyes finally returning to Kendall, indicating her tale was complete.

Kendall listens to her explanation wth his normal look of intense interest, frowning a little in thought. He ponders her explanation for the space of ten quiet heartbeats, beginning to walk down the beach slowly, hand still holding hers. "The Serpent is… not sure he understands," he says at last. "You and your mother… served these others?"

"Yes," she smiles, expression soft and eyes filled with compassion. "We saw to their needs… we fed them with our hands, we clothed them, we read to their children and gave them new toys to play with, we washed their dishes when they were done eating. It was humbling…and taught me a great deal in appreciating all the marvelous little wonders at my disposal." Her cheeks color, wondering if she was explaining herself.

It's clear from Kendall’s expression of blank incomprehension that he is not following.

"My Serpent, what is it that confuses you? If you help me understand, perhaps I can help you appreciate my memory and act," she encourages. "Or, if you will permit me…" she opens, a spark of an idea coming to her mind.

Kendall nods in agreement to whatever she has planned, and she leads him back to the blanket. She gestures for him to sit down, then once more retrieves the towels and water. "Let me see if I can explain…"

She gestures to his feet, and he looks at them, unsure what she wants. She kneels beside him, her hair falling over her shoulders. Slowly, timidly, she removes his boots and stockings and sets them aside for the moment.

Kendall goes along with the operation for the time being, watching her closely, somewhat warily. Margot then retrieves his robe, setting it next to the boots and stockings. Then she retrieves the goblet and wine, and some bread and cheese. Only when she has gathered all the items at her side does she smile once more.

She continues to kneel before him. "Now, close your eyes," she soothes. Though clearly Kendall is tense and ill at ease, he complies for the time being.

"Imagine that you have none of these things I have taken from you… no food, no clothing, no comforts…" she begins softly. “There is nothing to feed your belly, to warm your arms, to protect your feet. There is no means for you to gain an opportunity to put your able body to use… all the fates are against you. You are penniless; beaten down and have nothing that will save you from a torturous life and a painful death."

"You know… that if you could just be given a chance, to put your able hands and strong back to work, you can support yourself," she continues. "Your dream… to be able to provide for your family… if only the fates will take a shine to you, just once. And then there is me… who has every vantage afforded to her. Servants, several meals a day, more clothes and expendables than an entire village can enjoy… all to myself. How is it fair that one child should suffer while another gluttons herself? How does that make a stronger village… a better person?"

Kendall opens his eyes. "Those things are not free," he says with impatience in his tone.

"No, they are not," she agrees softly. "And neither is compassion for your fellow man."

Margot has lost him with compassion. It's not clear if he doesn't understand the word or if he simply does not understand its relevance.

"So, I come to you, and bring you shoes for your feet, and a robe for your arms. A place that is safe for you to rest your head. I teach you to read, and you learn to work." When she sees his frustration and impatience, she smiles. "It is different. Not wrong."

"Tis unnecessary," he replies, voice flat.

"It is unnecessary in your world; it was critical in mine," she corrects gently.

Kendall shakes his head, completely out of patience. "Your shadow may indeed be in need of assistance. But those things you list are available to any in Chanicut."

"Seeing poverty and helping those in need taught me to appreciate my gifts," she answers, standing, "Kendall, I cannot enlighten you if you refuse to see the possibilities," she utters softly. "Never did I say it was a requirement; only that I had learned from the experience. It is simply an aspect where our worlds are different… I do not ask that you understand, but please…" she swallows hard.

He looks up at her as she pauses.

"Do not discount it as being irrelevant. Those experiences make me who I am." Her words come softly, evenly, even though it is clear his dismissal has struck a nerve. Her eyes fill with sadness. "I am sorry I am unable to adequately show you the value of such an experience in terms that hold meaning for you."

She casts her eyes down, and after a shake of her head, she returns to the water's edge, eventually walking along the shore with slow steps. Her hair whips about her, arms crossed in front as she walks, watching her feet play in the wet sand and the way the waves erase her existence. From time to time, she steps farther into the water, letting the surf play against her calves. Periodically, she raises an arm to wipe her face.

He sits silently, absorbing her words for quite some time while she finds solace in the water. Eventually he pulls his boots back on and stands, brushing off his breeches in a sort of habitual movement. It takes quite a long time before he finally sets off along the beach, heading towards Margot with a purposeful stride, intent on overtaking her slow, meandering course.

"Margot," he calls to her when he is finally within hailing distance, to see if she acknowledges him.

She pauses, back to him. He can tell by the movement in her shoulders that she is breathing deeply, calming herself. Eyes tilt toward the sky, and she holds that position for several slow heartbeats. Water slaps against her calves. She reaches one last time to her face before turning slowly and approaching the water's edge to meet Kendall.

He stands just at the edge of the wet sand with hands clasped behind his back, looking out over the ocean rather than at her at first. He waits in silence for her to reach him.

She meets him at the waters edge, a metaphor if one looked at them with an artist's flair: he booted and reserved, she connected to the ocean's power and passion, wet and wild. His hands behind him, hers held close in front of her body. His expression neutral, hers struggling to find peace; eyes rimmed red and swollen, complexion drained of her lively color. If he had questioned whether tears had been shed, the evidence was plain on her face as her fingers had missed some of the tracks; clearly visible from the day of frolicking in the beaches sand.

She watches how he stands so formal, so distant, and her heart aches more still. Her eyes flicker between his chest and his eyes, trying to meet his gaze with the strength of will.She wets her lips, trying to search for words to say. "I do not want to let a misunderstanding due to cultural differences color what has been a most magical of days," she opens quietly, watching him carefully.

Kendall studies her as she struggles with her composure, taking in the wildness and the evidence of tears. His expression shifts from neutral to a slight frown. "I believe misunderstanding is an apt term for what has occurred," he finally agrees, tone calm and even, cadence measured.

His eyes finally find hers and he steps forward half a pace. "I am sorry, Margot, for hurting you," he says more gently, bringing a hand up to trace the tracks of her tears.

Her eyes close at his touch, head tipping to his fingers. She closes the distance with her own step forward. She is silent for several heart beats, arms leaving her waist and timidly resting her hands on his chest. "I do not expect you to understand the whys or the motives, Kendall," she explains softly, eyes remaining closed.

"My home is different from yours. We are bound to have different appreciations for what is appropriate, just, and socially acceptable. That is what makes each of us unique. And that unique quality is what I want to learn from you… and I want you to see in me."

She looks up at him, eyes storming with emotions. "I shared something very intimate to me… a very private expression of who I am. I just didn't expect you to dismiss it as being insignificant. I—" She pauses to breathe deeply. "Perhaps I over-reacted and should not take personal injury to something that is foreign to you. I would like to try again… and continue our day. Will you try to look past the emotional tantrums of a young woman?"

Kendall puts his arms around her, hugging her close, resting his head on hers. "I will agree to your terms, Margot," he says, "if you will agree to overlook my insensitivity?"

She nods into his chest, arms wrapping around his torso. She breathes him in, drinking in his warmth. "Agreed," she whispers. "There is much food and drink and as I recall, a promise to answer any question uttered until it's gone." Her eyes begin to regain much of the life that had shone all day; her demeanor indicating the past is past.

"We should return, then, for time continues whether we eat our picnic or not," he replies. Letting her go, he steps out of reach of the water. Gesturing for her to accompany him, he returns along the beach to their little camping spot, brow furrowed in thought as he walks.

Margot follows, reaching for his hand. "What troubles you?" she asks, hoping things had been put to rest.

He clasps her hand, giving her a sidelong look. "I am not troubled," he says. "Merely thinking on what you were explaining before." Once they reach the blanket, the small water flask and cloth he brought is again employed after they sit, this time to wipe away the evidence of tears on her face. He moistens a corner without berry juice on it, reaching over to wipe the dusty tracks from her cheeks, his expression darkening even more.

She lets him clean her face, watching his expression change. "Will you tell me, then, why your expression is so dark?" Her concern colors her voice, brows beginning to furrow.

Kendall finishes with his gentle ministrations, sitting back to look at her. He sighs, folding the cloth with careful precision as he answers. "You ought not allow your emotions such free reign in your heart, Margot," he says. "Passion is… enjoyable, but temperance is key to survival in Court."

"Thank you, for your wisdom, Kendall. But if I were going to conduct myself as I would at Court with you, down here away from civilization, I would not have asked to have you join me for this day," she responds gently. Her cheeks begin to flush, her words come earnestly. "I am passionate. But passion comes in many forms, not just in press of lips or touch of skin. Emotions, experiencing the full spectrum and all the joys and trials is who I am… and the person I want you to know… if you want to know me."

She draws his face to hers, so that she can take his gaze fully. "Kendall, I do not get to be free spirited up there. I don't get to play children's games, and laugh and be tickled on a blanket on the beach. I don't get to feast on delicacies and share intimate stories." She breathes, silent for a few heartbeats for him to process the depth of what she is sharing. "Up there, there is no one but me. I have to be guarded and reserved and very quickly learn the dance of court intrigues. Every action must be perfectly scripted. Every glance has a specific meaning. Up there, I am bound, imprisoned."

"You have given me a tremendous gift, today. You have let me be myself and share who I am unfiltered and unafraid. I have shared with you openly; everything uttered a truth… even if it is foreign to your ears." Her eyes soften, and her fingers trace his jaw. "I would not have kissed you, or done any of the things today that I've wanted to do were we among the confines of castle walls." A small smile forms at her lips. "It's something I hope will happen again… if you allow it," she confesses honestly, hoping the man she was enjoying would once more return to her side.

Kendall is quiet throughout her answer, watching her face and eyes light up as she speaks, taking in everything he can in her expression and posture. Some un-nameable tension seems to seep into his body as he thinks on her words. He takes a meditative breath before replying, combing hair back from her face with one hand.

"Thank you, Margot," he says at last. "For your explanation, and for… giving me an opportunity to learn of you." He pauses again, taking another breath before continuing. "What I have learned thus far has been fascinating and delightful. You have given me a great gift, and I appreciate your generosity. I hope I am able to bestow on you a gift of equal value."

Her fingers linger at his cheek, tracing down to his chin. "You have already given me so many things I would have never dreamed of… things I will cherish and never forget." She watches his eyes. "I'm not asking you to be vulnerable to me… nor am I asking you to reveal anything that you do not wish to. The gift is mine to give, and I do so freely, with no expectations of you and no strings attached to trap you."

"It would go a long way, though, if I could see your smile and your eyes shine once more…" she smiles softly, "Your eyes remind me of the sea just after a storm. They are so beautiful… much like the man they belong to."

He nods in acceptance and smiles slowly, eyes warm and gentle, the tension leaving his body like a ripple of waves. "Thank you once more, Margot," he says quietly. Combing his fingers into her hair again, he draws her to him. "You are a gift," is all he says before he kisses her.

She accepts his kiss, lips relaxed and welcoming. She lets him tease her lips open, eager for his kisses to grow and deepen. He complies without hesitation, drinking deeply of her lips. Bringing an arm up to pull her close even as he lies back into the blanket, he twists so that they are lying together as before, her body sheltered below him as he traces kisses across her cheek and jaw, the fingers of one hand stroking the soft skin of her waist. In the periphery of awareness, a wine glass tips and squares of cheese tumble as they settle back, Margot's head finding a home on one of the saddlebags.

She moves with his body easily, almost flowing over his form and then beneath him, like water moving and swirling around boulders and riverbeds. Her own fingers cradle his face, keeping his close to hers. She gasps silently as his lips move to cover her face with kisses; she stifles a giggle and a squirm at the feel of his fingers on the bare skin of her waist.

Kendall pulls back at her giggle to look into her eyes, the smile he gives her impish and full of amusement. Taking one of her hands from his face, he places it against his side. Moving his hand back to her waist, he slowly strokes her skin, up to the shoulder and across the back, watching her face for her reaction.

Her eyes smile as she watches him untangle her hand and put it at his side. Fingers stretch and relax, feeling the lean muscles of his torso just beneath his shirt. As his hand ventures along her side and back, there's a flash of uncertainty in her eyes, body tensing slightly, breath catching. She continues to watch him, watch her, until her eyes close as she succumbs to relishing the warmth of his skin on hers. Her fingers at his side tense, bundling the fabric in her fingers. She brings his lips to hers, kissing him again. There is the sensation of his shirt loosening from his form.

He returns readily to the kissing, making no move to stop her exploration, pulling her onto her side and cradling her against him. His hand on her back continues with slow, sensuous strokes.

Her fingers find the edge of his shirt and timidly slide between cloth and skin. Her touch is delicate, the sense of a hundred butterfly kisses against his skin. Her lips leave his so that she may watch his expression as her fingers gently brush against his skin, venturing along his side to trace lean muscles along his side and back.

Kendall's breath catches as she touches his skin, eyes closing in pleasure. She feels him shiver, a ripple of the skin. He returns to the kissing, caressing her cheeks and eyes with his lips.

Her fingers caress his skin, confidence growing with his response. Hands meet on his back, tracing the muscles to his shoulders. She shivers at the warmth he radiates, fingers trembling against his skin. When his lips leave hers, he can feel her breath on his neck, warm and moist, breathing raspy with desire.

Gently, he begins to ease off, his kisses slowing, pulling back. Not suddenly or abruptly as before, but slowly and with care he begins to bring them both back down. One hand rests quietly against the warm skin of her back, while the other comes up to cup her face and stroke her hair in a quieting gesture. Reclining onto his back, he draws her into his embrace, until after a timeless interlude, they find themselves again lying quietly on the blanket.

She snuggles in, leaving a hand against his skin at his side. Fingers now play, drawing imaginary circles against his skin, slowly. She rests her head against his heart, listening how he slows it, calming himself, and in doing so, calming her. She tries to match her breathing with his, hoping that in doing so, she will find a place of peace and her desire can find temperance. It is countless heartbeats later before she shifts, one leg flopped over his. Pressing up, she looks down at him, studying his face. Her eyes show many things; he knowing now that she hides nothing - serenity, desire, patience, pleasure. A smile forms, and she rests her head once more at his chest.

Kendall breathes deeply, teasing her back with his fingertips as they lie still. His eyes open when she moves to look down at him. He pulls the saddlebag closer without bothering to look around, propping his head on it. He appears content, relaxed and satisfied for the time being, and he smiles lazily into her eyes.

After she relaxes against him again, his fingers begin teasing her shoulders, almost out of habit, kneading and working the muscles. Sliding out from under her, he settles her face down on the blanket, sitting up next to her to give her a massage through her shirt. His fingers are strong and assured with much practice. He kneads and strokes every bit of tension away, saying nothing at first.

Margot sighs, melting under his touch. Reaching up, she pulls her hair up and away, winding it out of his immediate reach and exposing her neck to his attentions. She rests her cheek on her hands eyes closed. Little sounds of pleasure bubble out, moans and sighs; her muscles happily drinking in his touch. She shifts, coming up onto her elbows to loosen the ties at her neck securing her blouse closed. A few more adjustments, and Kendall has full access to the skin at her neck and shoulders. She glances over her shoulder up at him before settling down on her stomach once more, pulling her hair over her shoulder.

He chuckles, reaching over to pull her hair back over within reach, running his fingers through it slowly before turning his attention back to her neck and shoulders. "Your book tells me I should be concerned for your virtue, dear Margot," he says quietly.

Even without looking, she can hear the amusement in his voice. "I should worry that a dangerous and ungentlemanly sort will come sweep you off your feet, take your pearl, and leave you with nothing. And that, indeed, the dangerous and ungentlemanly person apparently is me."

Margot's laugh is rich, throaty. "You are not dangerous. Were you really that much of threat, you would not have calmed us when desire was taking control…" she purrs. "You are gentle and considerate," she counters. "Teaching a young woman the dance of intimacy without pressure or expectation."

She sighs under his hands. "Did you know that my name means 'Pearl'?"

"I did not," he says. "It fits." He falls silent again for a time, working his way up to rub her scalp, and then down again to her lower back. "I would like to ask you about… children," he says at length. "Your mother the Queen appears to have a degree of… interest in the subject. Is that something you share?"

Margot lies quietly for several heartbeats, contemplating his question. "Children are treasures. They should be cared for and loved. It is through them that we carry on our legacy," she answers slowly, carefully. "But even children have responsibility and need to learn the Ways. It is the parent's role to see that the child is prepared for their entry into adulthood…."

Her words carry a hint of melancholy; perhaps a nod to her own lack of preparedness for her role here in Amber. "Perhaps, someday, I will entertain the thought of having children. I would like to; but it will not be my decision alone… and the circumstance will need to be one that makes it viable to have children." Her expression softens, her thoughts drifting to someplace else for the moment.

She breathes deeply, focusing on his touch or pushing her own feelings aside. "Do you have opinions or aspirations regarding children? I mean… well, is it something that you contemplate being a part of your life someday?"

Kendall's hands move once again to her shoulders. "Yes. Tis my expectation that at some point in my lifetime, I will sire at least one child," he answers, his voice matter of fact. "Such a thing is the will of the House, however, and not something I dwell on."

She nods, hearing what he has said. A question rests at her lips, but she lets it fade away for the moment. Instead, a smile forms at her lips and she utters something in a language unfamiliar to Kendall's ears. She turns to face him, "Love can do much, only duty can do more," she quotes, pleased. "It's an old proverb; the translation is close enough for understanding."

She pauses again, her expression transforming again. "Would you… allow me to return the gift… I mean, I've never given a massage, but I would like to try."

Kendall removes his hands as she turns, sitting back on his knees to contemplate her face. He combs his fingers through her hair, watching the strands separate and fall, catching the sun. He nods slowly. "I think that would be enjoyable," he answers her request at last. Leaving her to get herself organized, he turns to lie down, first pulling his shirt over his head. He tries to take a sip of wine, and that's when he notices the glass that had tumbled its few remaining drops into a bowl of berries. Righting it, he tidies the cheese and then pours the last of the wine into the glass.

Margot rolls up to sit. Her hair cascades down her front, mostly covering her exposed chest. Her fingers fumble with the tiny strands, slowly closing the widened gap in her blouse. When she looks up, Kendall has removed his shirt, sitting reclined and sipping at the glass of wine as he waits. Her breath catches at the sight of his bare form, and she is barely able to keep her appreciation of him private as her body warms and a strange wetness visits her nether region.

She accepts the glass when he offers it to her, hoping to cover some of the blush when she drinks. She sets the glass aside while Kendall gets comfortable on his stomach with his eyes closed. She takes the opportunity to admire his lean body in the light of the sun even while she breathes deeply to control the energy that sight of him aroused in her.

"You will have to tell me what you want… or how you want me to massage you," she explains quietly before bringing her fingers to his skin. At first, her touch is gentle, stroking and almost caressing the individual muscles in his back, becoming familiar with the sensation of his skin against her finger tips.

Kendall sighs as she begins stroking his skin. "Tis a simple thing," he says, closing his eyes and relaxing. "You felt how I pressed into your muscles, so begin by trying to mimic that motion. The shoulders are often an easy place to start, but what you are doing now is also… very good," he adds, voice warming on the last two words. As she begins to work on his back, he coaches her on the different techniques and pressure as she works.

It takes little time before Margot has adapted to the idea of her hands running against his bare skin. Fingers slowly work the muscles of his lower back, fingers and hands stroking from the far side of his skin to the side closest to her. She works slowly, climbing his body, with one slow stroke after another, hands and arms dragging against his skin, alternating. Her hair brushes against his skin, tiny kisses falling after each stroke. She continues to repeat this from the small of his back to his shoulder, then returning back to the small of his back.

Once her arms return to the small of his back, she slides her legs around his waist, straddling him, but not putting her weight upon his form. Fingers begin to knead the muscles of his shoulders, each finger stretching and working into the muscles. Fingers work from the nape of his neck to the edges of his shoulders, down his biceps, to his hands. Her hair tents around them as she slowly massages his arms before retracing her steps back to his shoulders.

She either picks up very quickly, or Kendall feels little need to instruct after a short while, except for periodically requesting more attention be given to a particular spot. For the most part, he lies with his eyes closed, his faint smile showing as his head is turned to one side, resting his cheek on his hands. He almost seems to purr when she touches especially sensitive places, breathing deeply and relaxing. Scenting the sea in her hair as she leans over him, he opens his eyes to watch her face as she works his arms, saying very little but enjoying very much.

Her face is one of concentration, not only enjoying how he feels but how he enjoys her touching him. Her eye catches his, watching her, and her smile grows. Her hands keep working, but she leans in, pressing a kiss to his temple, lips lingering for a few heartbeats. She returns to resting on his hips, fingers working nooks and crannies in his back. Fingers widen, and she slowly slides her hands down his sides, fingers dragging along his ribcage, down to his waist, and then back again. Her hands move slowly, deliberately, with great patience. Quietly, she begins to hum, something wordless, playing off the sounds around them.

Her fingers continue to explore and play, discovering all the individual ridges of muscles and bone. Fingers curl around to his abdomen, not quite to the point of enbracing him, more letting her fingers roam and enjoy the different textures of his body. She continues to massage and knead. She leaves his sides, fingers moving up his sides to find his shoulders once more. She leans over him, fingers now giving close attention to his neck and scalp. Once more, her hair tents around them, shutting out the world. She continues to hum, only softer, a private melody for only their ears. She finishes massaging his scalp, fingers tracing lightly along his neck to his shoulders. Her palms rest on his shoulder blades, resting her chin upon them, her body gently resting on top of his. He can feel her breath on his skin, her sighing to his neck. Palms part and she presses her lips to the place where neck meets shoulders. She hums for a few more heartbeats before pressing a tender kiss to his skin.

He seems content to bask under her attentions, allowing her to explore as though he is a large unfurry teddy bear, humming with her as he picks up the melody, until she relaxes against him. The sounds of the sea and land blur together, all the tension and worries seeming to wash away with the waves.

"Well, my dear," Kendall says after quite a long pause. His voice is quiet, reaching only to her, and gentle as the caress of the breeze. "Horses have been ridden, surf explored, food and drink enjoyed. Harmony has been broken and restored, games played, and the Knight escort entertained beyond expectation."

He sighs contentedly, opening an eye to regard her again without moving. "Have you any other plans for this outing that you would like to make known?"

"I had brought another childhood experience to share with you, but I have found that I am contented to lie here with you… tasting your lips and feeling your skin in my hands," she confesses, a whisper between them. "I suppose that is not reason enough to continue to enjoy your warmth and your patience for my curosity and pleasure…"

He moves his arm around to touch her hand, stroking hers with his fingers. "Tis my pleasure to grant my dear princess anything she desires," he replies. "Tell me what it is you wish for next."

She is silent for several heartbeats, Kendall able to feel her pulse beginning to race once more. He senses her eyes close against his skin, before she speaks. "I wish to watch your eyes while I touch your skin…" another confession whispered.

"As you wish," he says, and waits while she moves from atop him, her weight lifting from his back like a warm blanket being pulled away.

She lies down on her side, facing him with only a few breaths of space between them. Her legs curl, resting against his, but not forcing them to be intertwined. One arm pillows her head. Her eyes search his, and in them Kendall sees uncertainty, curiosity, desire. Her fingers rest at his heart, feeling his pulse at her palm. She almost has to remind herself to breathe, touching his skin alone exciting her, encouraging her to continue. She begins to trace the muscles of his chest, tenderly, not massaging so much as exploring, eyes flickering between her fingers and his expression.

Kendall is calm, breathing deeply and evenly, but his smile and his eyes show her his enjoyment of her delicate touch, desire and passion currently controlled but easily seen. Through tiny reactions - a sharper breath, flash of the eyes, a small tensing of muscles - he lets her know what he likes. As she becomes bolder in her caresses, he in turn begins to explore her, his fingers finding their way under her shirt once more, traveling her skin, tracing the lines of her shoulders and arms, avoiding the ticklish zone at her waist.

Her eyes close at his touch, her breath catching. Kendall can feel goose pimples rise on her skin as his fingers move along her body. Her smile grows, body tightening and relaxing as he explores her. Margot's eyes open, and he can see her uncertainty melting away. Her hands trace his ribs, fingers smoothing the grooves between muscle and bone. Her thumb strokes the lean muscles of his abdomen. Fingers slide to his waist, hand flipping so as to stroke the area of his belly with a gentle stroke of the back of the hand.

His breathing speeds up slightly as she works her own special magic. His hand travels across her hip, caressing her stomach, moving higher but not quite invading her space just yet, tracing a line up the center of her torso while he watches her closely. Her shoulders and neck are teased and stroked, the fingers finding their way along her side again to her back.

Her body trembles as his hands roam higher on her torso with anticipation and anxiety, but she doesn't pull away from his touch. Rather, she watches him watch her, her eyes lidded with pleasure. Her lips move, longing; she closes distance and presses a feather kiss to his heart.

Kendall draws her against him when she moves close, pulling her shirt down in back and kissing the top of her head. "Thus are the benefits of a relaxing massage lost," he says teasingly in her ear. "I believe tis time for us to return to the castle."

His arm leaves her back to tip her face up to his. "Let us leave the continuation of these pleasures for after dinner." His eyes leave no doubt as to what he means by that.

She reaches for his lips, drinking him in once more, savoring the sensation of his mouth to hers. Several heart beats pass, skin to skin, lips engaged deeply, before she finally retracts and sits up. She hands him his shirt and then begins tightening her blouse strings a little more, tucking the shirt into her breeches, and smoothing her clothing. He pulls the black linen back over his shoulders and secures the buttons, staring out to the sea as he stands and combs his fingers through his hair.

She sits and begins the arduous task of pulling wind blown hair through her comb.

Already dressed, Kendall begins to tidy up the lunch items, but he change his mind when he catches sight of her combing her hair. Kneeling behind her, he plucks the comb from her and pulls her long hair back away from her face so he can begin working through the knots with careful strokes. He has worked with hair before, apparently, moving with patience and care to minimize the tugs and pains.

"Have you any more questions before we depart this place?" he asks her as he works.

She almost purrs as he combs through her tresses, body relaxed and at peace. At his question, though, she tenses slightly. "I always have questions…" she teases a little, hesitating. "I know that my behavior has not been the ideal image of a princess… hardly becoming. And yet, you have been gentle and patient…"

"There were times that you could have easily taken my pearl." A smile warms the words he had used. "And yet you did not. You let me touch you, kiss you, explore you. And there was no pressure from you to act beyond my comforts… even though everything was a new experience. You encouraged and teased intimacy, not sex. Why? I mean, do you not find me pleasing?" She is clearly appreciative, but also clearly confused.

The comb continues in its steady course as she asks her questions, though he takes several heartbeats to consider his answer before he speaks. His free hand soothes the tension from her shoulders. "To answer your last question first," he begins, "I find you greatly pleasing and desirable. I believe it would be most enjoyable for both of us if you would allow me to bed you, and I would make every effort to ensure your first time is as pleasurable as possible. As for your other questions… they are less simple to answer, except to say it is as it is."

He pauses to take a breath before adding, "You are not ready. Perhaps after dinner you will be… perhaps not. Either way, you will be ready eventually, and when you are, I will welcome you into my bedchamber. Until then, our frolics have been enjoyable for both of us, and when you are ready, we will already have trust." His confident tone borders on arrogance.

Margot seems satisfied with his answer, relaxing a little. "And… you would spend another day with me, like this… should your schedule permit? Or, is today something that will only live in my dreams from this day forward?"

Kendall chuckles, taking a brief break from his work to kiss her neck. A small hum approves of his lips pressed to her neck. "I would be quite pleased to spend more time with you, Margot, either similar to here or elsewhere. I find your company most enjoyable, and it has been a delightful experience to learn more of you."

He adds in his teasing tone, "However, I would suggest that sex is more comfortable in a bed most times, so if you would like for me to bed you, we should stay within the castle for a time." Separating her hair into five sections, he begins to twine them into a tidy braid, deftly managing the tricky feat of pulling it securely taut without having it too tight.

When he brings up bedding opportunities, he can see the color come to her cheeks and neck where his lips had just left. "I will keep that under advisement," she musters, wetting her lips and smiling bashfully. "Perhaps your assistant can take it upon themselves to ensure preparations for such circumstances are made should opportunity present itself." She struggles to keep her tone even, her voice cracking with embarrassment and amusement.

"I believe that can be arranged. I will take it up with Rory," he answers, answering amusement in his voice. He finishes the last twist and ties off the braid. "There. As neat as if you had not left the castle at all." Margot can be sure her hair is quite tidy, pulled back and braided exactly so, perhaps even more so than when she left the castle in the first place. He stands and comes around to help her up.

She slides her boots on before rising, wiping her hands on a dampened towel before reaching for him. Rising, she takes his hands and pulls them around her, her arms pulled behind her back. "I know that in a very few moments we will have to pretend nothing happened," she starts, staring into his eyes. "I just want a moment to look at you this close with the surf rolling in. To see the man I've spent my afternoon with before he must be put away." She watches him, and again he sees so much of her just by her eyes, appreciation, affection, gratitude; only the hints of regret that things - as always - must come to a close.

She rises to her toes to kiss him tenderly, for a few more heartbeats, lips lingering at his. Kendall wraps his arms around her without hesitation, kissing her as though they would never kiss again and he wanted to make sure the experience was memorable for both of them. Only when she has had her fill does she release him. "Thank you." She whispers, eyes aglow. Reluctantly, she lets his arms fall away from her, and she returns to cleaning up their picnic.

"You are welcome," he says with a quiet, genuine smile. "Thank you for a very memorable outing."

Between the two of them, it takes little time to dismantle the picnic site, the Knights in the distance realizing the show was over and beginning their own preparations. After the food is stowed away, Kendall whistles for his mare, who though not in sight, appears shortly after as he folds the blanket and puts it in his saddlebag. It takes some heartbeats to greet Vanya when she returns, though she appears happier for the brief freedom, and Kendall arranges her tack as one of the solemn Knights brings Margot's filly over.

The last thing Kendall does after he takes care of his gear is pull the green velvet robe on. Turning his back to the bustle from the rest of the group, he takes several solitary heartbeats to settle the garment on his shoulders, secure the buttons, tighten the belt. Everything is arranged with precision and care, and once complete, he returns to where Margot waits to mount up.

As before, he offers to help her to her saddle, and she accepts graciously. Once he is astride Vanya, she allows him to lead their path away from the beach front. She is careful to not steal too many glances in his direction; instead casting her eyes over to survey the entire horizon.

It takes some time for them to retrace their path, the horses laboring up the trail to the top of the cliffs. Their progress is slow and unhurried, as both are somewhat loathe to leave behind the beach. Eventually, though, they arrive back at the castle, the Knights giving their signals of recognition to gain admittance. The courtyard is as bustling as before, a glance at the great clock in the tower showing just before three.

They ride on to the stables without incident. As before, Margot waits for Kendall to assist her down from her horse, sliding down and not quite into his arms. She steps back slightly, so as not to crowd him in public. Her eyes cast away for a moment, willing herself to not notice his hand at her waist. "Thank you, Lord Kendall. I assure you I've never had an afternoon such as this one. Time spent with you passes like the wind and I appreciate the generosity you've shown me with yours." She pauses. "I also thank you for your gracious invitation for this evening. Please send word as to when it would be appropriate for me to arrive," she smiles, eyes shining.

"You are again… most welcome, Princess," he answers, giving her his reserved smile, though his bright eyes are warm as they rest on her. "Tis rare for me to enjoy interludes outside the confines of the castle. You have given me a much greater appreciation of Amber's more enchanting assets." Margot can be fairly certain he's not talking about the ocean. Stepping back, he accepts his saddlebag from a groom and gives Vanya a pat as she is led away.

A small blush comes to her cheeks at the compliment, but she says nothing.

"Dinner is set to begin at…" and now he pauses to consider the time conversion. "Seven chimes of the clock," he finally decides. "But you are welcome to arrive any time before then."

"If I may…?" she asks, approaching him to press kisses to his cheek. As he let her earlier this day when they met, and yesterday when they parted, she did not think he would refuse her now. She removes her gloves as she steps near, placing them in a pocket inside her cloak. Her hands rest on his chest, fingers pressed against the green fabric.

Upon her toes she presses three kisses, right-left-right. None but Kendall and Margot would notice how her body is just a breath closer to his, how her fingers enjoy the lush fabric, how her lips linger just a half-heartbeat longer at each press. Once the ritual is complete, she smiles, giving the Chaosian his space.

Kendall steadies her with a hand to her elbow, and Margot feels his lips brush her cheeks as she proceeds with the ritual, as she had told him earlier that he may participate. He steps back when she is done, keeping hold of her hand and bowing over it with a kiss. "I look forward to your arrival at Maeve's Vigil with great anticipation, Princess."

She inclines her head. "Time cannot pass swiftly enough for me to hear seven chimes, Lord Kendall. I look forward to enjoying Chaosian hospitality. If you will excuse me then, I must attend to some business before we meet again." Her eyes meet his one last time before she turns and departs.

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Preparing to Dine

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