Never Look Back

A small distance away from the Black Road on a gentle rise between the Road and a bleak forest sits a camp, one that appears to have been there for several days. A handful of dark green canvas tents cluster together like a club sharing secrets. Guardsmen dressed in uniforms of green and black are posted about at intervals, keeping sharp watch over the company of Amberite cavalry camped a discreet distance away, who in turn watch the Chaosians uneasily.

Within the Chaosian camp, apart from the military discipline maintained by the perimeter guards, a certain tense and guarded boredom reigns. Six servants sit dicing behind the largest of the tents, separate from the off-duty guards and other military personnel who lounge by the cook tent talking and drinking cider. Stillness hovers over the Chaosian camp like mist, no wind or sounds coming from either the Road or the bare forest behind them, voices a murmur. Only the occasional bird's cry or horse's whinny breaks the deceptive peace that lies over the two groups.

A Chaosian perimeter guard is stifling a yawn, shifting from one foot to the other trying to keep alert, when movement from the Amberite camp catches her attention. She stands up straighter, peering closely, then calls for a runner at sight of a messenger approaching her camp. A subdued cry precedes the runner's progress, and the Captain appears from one of the tents quickly, holding his helm and with a hand on his sword. The runner jogs up to him to relay the news of the approaching Amberite, and the Captain nods, looking relieved.

Summoning another soldier to accompany him, Captain Lendan approaches the largest tent and is greeted at the flap by an older, distinguished-looking man wearing a simple tunic, trousers, and boots. He is looking curiously out towards the messenger who has almost reached the perimeter of the camp. "Ambassador Brisbane," Captain Lendan says with a bow. "Please join me in greeting our guest." He gestures vaguely in the direction of the messenger.

The Ambassador nods in response to the Captain's bow. "One moment," he answers, and then ducks back into the tent. The Captain hears a low-voiced discussion and when the flap opens again, the Ambassador now wears a long-sleeved robe of green and black silk with elaborate gold embroidered trim. Behind Brisbane stands a younger man, dressed similarly though with a less ornamentation.

The Captain's eyes go from Brisbane to the younger man, looking for a moment as though he is about to say something. Instead, he greets the younger man with a nod, addressing him simply as, "t'wYr Kendall," Lendan looks back to Brisbane. "Please come with me." He leads the two towards the periphery of the camp where a single Knight waits, his armor of a style popular in the Courts some 10,000 years ago. His pennant is a whale on a sea of blue-green waves. His visor opens, to show a stern, clean-shaven face with a large hook nose. His mount is rust red, with strong lines of the ancient breeds of Chaosian warhorses. Stopping at the outer edge of the camp, he waits for permission to enter.

"How in the Abyss did that one get a Bloodmare?" Brisbane exclaims, almost speechless at what he is seeing.

Lendan scowls at the question and at the messenger indiscriminately, muttering something under his breath about Amberites and their pretensions. Kendall raises his eyebrows at Lendan's remark but suggests instead, "Perhaps he stole it during one of the battles. " He drops his voice as they approach within speaking distance of the knight.

"Possible," returns Lendan. "Considering that he hasn't been able to buy new armor recently, he may not be able to afford to buy a horse," he growls softly, and the other soldier guffaws. Kendall keeps his expression blank, although a spark in his aquamarine eyes gives away his amusement, so he is spared the glare leveled at their other escort by Lendan. The other guard quickly schools his expression back to neutrality.

"Doubtful, Bloodmares were rare in the days when Swayvill was a young king. They became all but extinct due to abuse by House Hendrake, because of Hendrake's consistent desire to use them in battle. Pure foolishness…" Brisbane mutters. "There is lesson to learn there, Kendall."

Kendall nods to Brisbane's words, looking thoughtfully acquisitive for a moment before his expression becomes again neutral. Two Chanicut perimeter guards had moved to intercept the messenger and now stood within easy striking distance, watching the Amberite in silence, weapons still sheathed but the air humming with tension. The three ranked Chaosians finally finish their approach to the invisible line that marked the edge of the Chanicut camp.

The Amber Knight simply waits, watching everything with a dispassionate gaze. Only once everyone is in place does he finally speak. "Hail to the camp. King Eric of Amber, in his great wisdom and mercy has invited House Chanicut to the Royal Castle and his table. I and my men are to be your escort."

The four Chaosians nod almost as one, and there is a momentary pause before Kendall replies in the same tongue. "We are deeply grateful for King Eric's graciousness in allowing us to enter his fine kingdom, so soon after the tragic events of the war. We are indeed honored by King Eric's consideration, and look forward to meeting him and congratulating him in person. I believe we can be ready to leave quite shortly."

The Amber Knight waits a dozen seconds, before speaking. "I will wait till then." He bows his head respectfully, turning his horse around and riding out.

"You can be ready to leave within a half Turning—" Lendan confirms, giving Kendall an inscrutable look before turning to Brisbane. "Ambassador."

"A half Turning will be more then enough for me." Brisbane answers. "And Kendall, never be afraid to speak your mind when you know the words. But only when you know that they are the right words."

Kendall looks faintly chastened, and simply nods. "Yes sir," he answers, quietly. "I'll keep it in mind." They all head back into the camp and part ways to attend to their various tasks. Inside the tents, servants had already begun to work feverishly, packing up what little is scattered about. They had all brought precious little, and therefore take little time to put all in order.

Outside, the camp becomes abuzz with activity; with the departure of the delegation the rest of the Chaosians there could finally go home. Most of the off-duty soldiers were wasting no time making preparations for both departures, though security around the camp remained alert. Immediately outside of his tent Kendall is almost run over by a soldier overly laden with a large chest, having to step backwards quickly to avoid a collision. He doesn't bother saying anything to the offender, since the other is gone almost instantly around the tent to points unknown. Instead Kendall weaves carefully through traffic over to the group assembling at the edge of camp on the far side of Brisbane's tent. Their horses have already been saddled and brought over, attesting to the speed and keen interest of all those present to get the Ambassador on his way.

Finally making it over to the group, he waits patiently for Brisbane to finish what he's doing. "I'm all ready to go," he remarks diffidently, then adds with a spark of humor, "I cannot say I'll be sorry to give up living in a tent. That's definitely not for me."

"After a few days in Amber, I'm sure you will be wishing to be back once again in that tent," Brisbane answers before having to deal with some last minute problems.

Kendall looks curiously at Brisbane at that comment, but doesn't have a chance to pursue the topic before the other man is called away. At loose ends, he heads over to his horse, trying to stay out of the way of the bustle, already resigned to being coated with dust within an hour. Leaning against the saddle, he scratches Vanya absently while staring out over towards the Amber camp, watching the renewed signs of activity there, thinking over all the advice and admonitions that he had been given just before departing Chanicutways. 'Watch your back' had been the most obvious, but also the most polite. He grins privately, hiding it in his sleeves, remembering Cedric's remarks.

Finally ready, Brisbane gives the signal to mount up. Soon the camp is in motion, like an Abyssal lizard snapping itself in half with rear quarters retreating and the head attacking. The two parts of the camp go their separate ways, but whatever imagery it brings to Kendall's mind appears lost on Brisbane as he gets their half underway. His face is unreadable as he watches the double line of Amber Knights waiting for them over the hill, twelve to a side. A lone Knight in scarlet stays in the center of the column, holding the much hated Unicorn Banner. Near to Kendall, a guard mutters, "The Way is Open, under thunderous hoofs. The Way is open, under the gleam of steel. The Way is open, to trample the White One underfoot."

The procession of Chaosians meets up with the line of Amberites, who flank them on either side, keeping a reasonably respectable distance, but still a lot nearer than Kendall had ever thought to be to any Amberite ever. He feels a chill as he stares closely at the Knights from under his eyelashes, although there is little to be seen besides armor. Trying to ignore their escorts, he knees his horse to get nearer to Brisbane's position and attempts to engage the older man in idle conversation; an almost impossible task but one that would be distracting at least. "When do you think we'll get to Amber?" Kendall inquires casually, in the language of his House, though his body is tense under the casual attitude.

"From reports, we will be passing into its gates at sunrise. But that's only if nothing goes wrong, and no one hinders us," the Ambassador answers. "I have heard stories of Arden, the great forest of Amber. And what is just beyond its borders." He looks over at the nearest Amber knight. "Not all will welcome us, so be careful. They dare not harm us, but neither do they have to step in to save us from our own foolishness."

With an effort, Kendall restrains his reaction to that, keeping his expression calm. It was something he had practiced for many years, but his control was not complete, especially when he was very amused as now. 'Be careful' indeed! He waits for a few heartbeats to control the smirk threatening to break free, then answers lightly, though still quietly, "I believe that would be a given." He falls thoughtfully silent for some heartbeats, mesmerized by the steady movement of his horse and the noise generated by the sounds of numerous animals moving. Then several of the horses ahead step into a deeper pocket of dust, kicking up a thick cloud of fine grains that hang in the still air like a swarm of gnats.

Kendall is brought out of his thoughts by a cough, and squints around in the dust in distaste, considering that this means of travel really left a lot to be desired. He was at this point thoroughly coated with dust, felt gritty and out-of-sorts, and they hadn't even been riding half a Turning. Disgruntled, he turns his attention back to Brisbane. "We'll be traveling through it during the night, too. What stories have you heard? Is there anything I should know about before we reach this… forest?" he inquires.

"Besides the fact that its earth is soaked with Chaosian blood?" the other man returns pointedly. "That both sides used tactics and foul enchantments that shame and will come back to haunt them? That is the trouble with war - you soon lose sight of all but the war itself. If you wish to know more about Arden, I do have some briefings that you can read once we are secure. Arden is not our problem as much as the one who rules it. Prince Julian was in our care for a short time, and against our House wishes… they imprisoned him in the Tower of Shame."

Kendall shudders involuntarily at mention of the Tower, but does not answer right away. Granted the Tower not easily dismissed, but still… "The Tower is a fearsome punishment, but… it's not like we're talking about a Chaosian here," he points out dismissively. He watches Brisbane out of the corner of his eye for the other's reaction.

Brisbane remains cool, detached. "While an enemy, he is a man." Kendall frowns uncomfortably at Brisbane's reply.

Kendall frowns uncomfortably at Brisbane's reply"When you say 'our care' do you mean Chanicut specifically, or just in Chaos?" he inquires. "And why was Julian captured? Is there any particular crime he was guilty of that warranted imprisonment in the Tower, or was there something else going on?"

"At first it was to weaken the enemy, but it took a far darker purpose," Brisbane answers. "Yes, we helped in his capture and transportation back to the Royal Court. But we were betrayed, outmaneuvered by Sawall. They hijacked him for their own purposes, and were able to obtain royal support for their madness. They had the desire to use him as a blood sacrifice to break the enchantments within Arden. Pure foolishness… It was that which caused us to be forced back to our borders. A heart burning with rage is a powerful thing. An army of such hearts can rip the heavens asunder. Sawall did not understand that, blinded by their own desires."

Kendall is again silent for a time, weighing all the implications. He begins toying with the buttons on his robe restlessly as he thinks. "Their desire for what?" he finally inquires. "What does Sawall want? Simple conquest? Destruction? Or something more?"

"Those are questions you could have answered yourself, if it wasn't for your mother. Sawall did inquire about you a Cycle ago while you were away; they seemed to have learned of your gift." Kendall's horse snorts and sidles, reacting to sudden tension in her rider's hands and legs. Kendall, caught off-guard, brings his attention back to riding, forcing himself to relax, calming and bringing the animal back into line while Brisbane continues. "While some did consider it, your mother stepped in and ended the discussion in her usual way. Her argument became very convincing after the second death." He pauses here, as a servant rides up to hand him a wine flask. He takes a drink, then passes it to Kendall. "I am glad, myself. I would have hated to see you disappear forever behind their walls."

Kendall has his horse and himself under control before accepting the wine from Brisbane and taking a quick drink. With a purely internal shudder at the thought of going to Sawall, he sends a silent thanks to the Serpent as he drinks. He shares a small, ironic smile with Brisbane as he hands the flask back. "Thank you. That makes two of us." He shakes his head. "I'd just as soon not find out that way. And I would have missed out on this delightful journey," he points out. Brisbane doesn't answer, though, lost in his own thoughts.

Kendall looks around at the surrounding forest, mulling over his mentor's words. Time felt like it was passing quickly, though it was hard for him to gauge it with a sky that stayed all one color. Around them the forest was still too quiet, stripped and desolate, but Kendall muses silently that the place nevertheless had a certain stark beauty, untouched by pity or sorrow. Occasional glimpses of small animals staring fearfully out of the shadows of the broken trees and underbrush hinted that all was not dead here.

After a time, the dust kicked up by the horses decreases as the texture of the road changes to dead leaf- and grass-covered. The air becomes damp, as from a recent rain. The noise of their horses' hooves becomes muffled, and those sounds along with the occasional jingle of harness and the quiet murmur of some other conversation behind the two Chaos Lords are the only sounds to break the stillness.

Kendall, accustomed to busy Ways and sounds of people, finds the continued silence eerie and disquieting. He accepts the flask for another drink, enjoying the smooth flavor that took the grit out of his mouth, thinking longingly about a bath, and the chance to wash the dust of travel out of his hair for a good long time. He fastidiously brushes his sleeves in a vain attempt to remove the grey film that had coated the entire party by now, then continues the conversation.

"So who died?" Kendall inquires casually. "I presume we're talking about someone in Chanicut. And how did Julian end up back in Arden?" He offers the flask to the older man again, but Brisbane waves it off.

"Keep it. The dust will only become worse. The first was Eamon, an aide to your uncle Seonaidh from the Mor Branch of the House. He was found half way in a wall in the Rooms of Dust. The other one was one of your cousins, Sir Dermot from the Caleb Branch. Murcared poison in his bloodwine." He shakes his head in disapproval. "A very messy death. As for the Amberite, he was rescued by his kin during the attack on the Royal Court."

Kendall grimaces in distaste at the methods used against those in his House. The answer about Julian was about what he expected. "Did we ever find out who was behind the deaths?" he inquires curiously. It seemed strange to him that anyone would take that much interest in the matter. "I also wonder what Father hoped to get from Sawall for me." His tone is carefully neutral.

"No… those deaths are still unsolved." Brisbane answers. "As for what our House would receive in this bonding, it was never discussed, the talks never getting past the informal stage with all those deaths. Support dried up soon after, and the idea just died on the vine."

Kendall snorts. "Interesting," he observes dryly. He considers for a time who could possibly be behind the deaths, and whether they were actually related to the issue at all, taking another drink of wine and then stoppering the flask. Grania might have simply taken advantage of the timing. She may also have arranged it all. Regardless, that was all back in Chanicut and as he was on his way to Amber, Kendall turns his attention to that instead. "What enchantments and tactics were you referring to earlier?" he inquires. "In the forest. What sort of enchantments did Sawall need a blood sacrifice to break?"

"Fell enchantments, poisons and disease that should have never left the labs. The use of terror, giving in to the base instincts of the Beast. Hatred has no place on the battlefield or the negotiation table. It will be hard for us to show these Amberites that we of House Chanicut did not and do not wish their destruction or enslavement. And I fear it's not yet over, for once you release the Darkness…" He licks his lips. "Let's just say that it's easier to release, than to stuff back into its box. Never call up something you can't put down."

Kendall listens to Brisbane's words closely, turning to look at his superior fully for the first time, gaze intense. He resists the urge to say the first thing that comes into his head for a moment, but his expression darkens perceptively. "Darkness?" he inquires, a chill just touching his spine at Brisbane's obvious discomfort, clearly hearing the capital D in his words. "To what Darkness are you referring?" he asks, voice dropping unconsciously.

"There are cults within Chaos better left unnamed. Fools that would be better off if they just cut their own throats. Lovers of Death, those that are deluded in the belief that we should return to the seas of raw chaos. Fools…" Brisbane repeats. "All of them. Lost souls who have surrendered their faith in their Houses." He looks at Kendall. "We of House Chanicut stand on the edge of the Abyss. Unlike House Calinuir, we will not simply be content with putting pen to paper and recording history. House Chanicut makes history."

Kendall nods agreement. "The greatest Houses are the ones who will take risks and move forward. Which is why we are going to Amber, after all. I have no doubt that Chanicut will succeed," he adds with complete conviction, "even against those within Chaos." He rides for a bit then, thinking, listening to the sounds of those around them, before turning to his elder again. "I must wonder, though, if we know how to protect ourselves against such activities, enchantments, and other dangers that may come from those places. In Amber, we will be at risk from the Houses as well as Amber."

"Risk can be controlled, modified… and overanalyzed. The enemies are at the gate, but then they have always been at our gates, in the deepest of Nights, when the Blackness is at its height and its power is at its most potent. You would be surprised what one candle can do. We are that Candle, who fights the Night. Put aside your fears, Kendall. They do you no honor." Kendall lowers his eyes at Brisbane's rebuke, while his superior pauses to wet his lips, eyes searching about. "Yes, there are dangers in Amber, but there would be greater risk for you in the Courts."

"I am not afraid," Kendall protests, faintly defensive. "It is a far different thing to express a valid concern than to harbor fear over that concern," he points out. "The Courts are dangerous to all, Chaoian and Outlander alike." He unstops the wine flask and takes another drink, his motions quick and nervous, then offers it to Brisbane again. " What do you expect to occur in Amber?" he asks casually.

Brisbane waves off the offer of the flask, as he says. "I'm unsure… I do not want to commit to a course of action to only find the rug pulled out from under my feet. We will do what we are best at, we will adapt. Change the outer, yet stay true to our inner purpose. We will follow our road, stay true to our values. In Chaos, in Amber, or the Abyss itself. For we are Chanicut."

The forests begin getting thinner, and both can see the wounds of war upon the land. Here and there, folks with baskets are planting seedlings in the gray dirt. The Amber knights seem to be more alert now, as they gaze outwards. One of the Knights near the front raises a second pennant, bright red with a gold crown. As the new pennant is raised, the Knights draw their swords as if they where a single creature. Brisbane drops his hand to his sword hilt at that, casting a quick glance at his guards, and Kendall also reaches reflexively for his sword. Heartbeats pass, yet the Knights of Amber seem not to exhibit any other hostile action towards the Chaosians. "Any ideas?" Brisbane murmurs to his attaché.

Kendall darts a sharp glance at the Knights surrounding them, and at the rest of their own party to see if the Chaosian escort had drawn their weapons. He looks around past the Amber escort, trying to see if someone was approaching. "I wonder if we're going to acquire some more escorts?" he muses just as quietly. "It looks like some sort of signal, and the Knights may be getting ready to salute someone they expect to meet soon. It may pertain to being granted safe passage through this forest… assuming we are." He looks down as his boot unexpectedly rubs against something, and his horse snorts; he had reflexively pulled his horse closer to Brisbane, defensively drawing together, though the other man pays the collision no heed. Kendall moves away again but remains tense, watching for enemies to attack from the very air itself, not even noticing that the wine flask had tumbled to the ground some ways back when he reached for his sword. His hand remains on the hilt at his side.

The Amber Knights seem more concerned about what is on either side of the road than their guests. Almost as if they expect a attack from the forest, a fear that soon becomes much more real as dark dog-like shapes in the forest start to parallel them as they travel along the road. Brisbane frowns, giving the bodyguard a few battle signals to calm down and wait. Turning back to Kendall, he addresses his protégé. "Be prepared, Kendall. This could easily be an attack from our enemies in Chaos, for they would have little to lose in such an action. So you must flee if it this turns out to be true, and get word back to your father about my failure."

Kendall gives Brisbane a shocked look. "Flee?!" he asks incredulously. "I wouldn't abandon you here. We would have to go together. If it is an attack from another House, our escort from Amber will have to fight for their own lives as well. The odds might be better than we think. But I-I'm not going to just run, sir." That last is stated firmly, Kendall gripping his swordhilt firmly

Brisbane's rebuke is sharp and to the point. "Your honor is nothing when compared to that of our House. The future of Chanicut should be the only thing in your mind. We are not as Hendrake that thinks of personal glory, or as Sawall with their quest for personal power. We do what is best for our House, as all sane people should."

Kendall's eyes widen with surprise, not accustomed to such sharp words from his mentor. His mouth tightens against a hasty response, and he pauses a full five heartbeats as he struggles between obedience and individuality. Finally, he lowers his eyes in submission, hiding his inner turmoil. "You're right, sir," he acknowledges meekly. He pauses for a breath before repeating the age-old ritual in a more normal tone, "I beg your forgiveness, Elder. I will do my Duty."

Brisbane nods, adding more quietly, "If they do attack… another sword would likely not save us. But I go to my death better, safe in the knowledge that our fate was known."

The hound shape creatures appear to be what is putting the Amber Knights on their guard, keeping just out of view. Kendall considers the situation for several heartbeats before saying to Brisbane, "We could always ask our escort. It's amazing the amount of information one can get if one simply asks." He looks up, pulling his dignity back together and meeting his superior's eyes. "You never know, he may even tell us." With that, he begins moving his horse forward to try to catch up with the Knight with the red pennant….

Back to the list of Kendall's threads.
Chilly Conversation

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License