The Clock Chimes

The next Amber days pass by slowly, though with relative peace for the solitary Chaos Lord. Excitement builds throughout the kingdom as the the highly anticipated ball to welcome Princess Margot nears hour by hour. But he remains apart from the excitement, forbidden to leave Maeve's Vigil until summoned by King Eric himself.

And yet, the King does not summon him. And so the young Lord whiles away the days and evenings with books and music and sparring and other activities intended to calm his mind and ease his spirits. Time provides endless opportunities to ponder his sister's words, the ordeal with the Knight Louella, the Queen's edict, and his future options. Even the cold stares and whispers of Court would have been preferable.

The big day's arrival is sweet relief, an optimist's hope for an end to a boredom that threatened all sanity. Brisbane dresses early and departs, leaving his young protege sitting on the balcony with the breeze playing across his face while the sun treks toward the Amber horizon. All is quiet in the Vigil apart from the incessant sound of waves and birds.

At length, he abandons the se'lar balcony to return to his own chamber with a book selected from the pile Brisbane had ordered from the castle library. But as he passes the giant clock in the entry, his sharp ears unexpectedly hear it tick once and then again in the exact same way.

Startled, he stops to stare at it, feeling a choking tightness grip his chest. The clock's relentless noise had insinuated itself into his existence for so many Turnings of the Amber Sky that he could now identify the hands' locations solely by the subtle variations in turning gears and clicking switches. And yet he could swear he had just been placed within the same second, this…single beat of his heart: again and again.

Tearing his gaze away, he looks about the tower, almost expecting to see a bird frozen in place in the air through the window. But no, he tells himself, breathing deeply to ease the tension in his chest. Time does not hold Her Breath so frivolously. He is merely fatigued. Thus reassured, he turns to continue on to his chamber and an entire evening of peace and quiet.

"Is it a good book?"

Startled at the sudden, unfamiliar voice from behind him, Kendall spins and raises the book in an instinctual defensive gesture. A small girl-child with long silvery blond hair stands studying the clock face as the second ticks again. A smile plays about her lips, as if discovering a new toy.

Kendall blinks in surprise and gives the tower another searching glance, but all is still ordinary and silent save the clock's ticking — over and over, the same second and heartbeat holding steady.

"I expect not," he answers after some thought. His voice betrays nothing of his puzzlement or unease. "I expect more self-righteous drivel celebrating the rise of Amber's power…but one can never tell for sure from the cover."

"Arrogant as always, Lord of Chanicut," the child says with a smile. Her eyes sparkle as though recalling a fond memory from long ago. "But couldn't the same be said about any book? Or person?"

"I believe I have heard a saying to that effect," he agrees.

He takes a step nearer to her, his eyes narrowing in his own study. He is wary, of course, at the circumstances of this child's sudden appearance, but also curious. And so he engages in conversation simply to see what would happen next.

"Did you ask Time to hold Her Breath just so you could admire the workings of that clock?"

"No, I merely requested a moment so I could be both here and there," the child explains. "I could have performed the same trick one of my children does, but I would find the discontinuity chafing. Time was just a finicky child when last I wore flesh like this, yet I am pleased to see her maturement."

She looks away from the clock to return his stare. A smile still plays upon her small lips, yet her golden eyes hold nothing but wariness and distrust. "And I think right now, you do require my full attention. What are your intentions towards my grand-daughter?"

Kendall raises an eyebrow. This… Person? He wasn't certain how to categorize this Being, but she — since he may as well go by current appearances — made as little sense as any of the Amberites he had met. And so he temporizes.

"I have no intentions apart from relaxing here in the Tower and reading this latest tale of Amber's greatness. As for your grand-daughter," he adds. "I have met many women in my short life. You must be more specific."

The girl giggles, perhaps at Kendall's roguish ways or something else he is oblivious to in this mixed-up world called Amber. "The child Margot," she clarifies.

"Ahhh…" Nodding mostly to himself, he bows formally to the creature. "Tis a pleasure to make your acquaintance, though I do not know the proper form of address to use in this circumstance."

As he speaks, Kendall notices that the child responds as one would while having another conversation at the same time, perhaps through Trump or something more disturbing. Then her attention focuses back to him and a frown touches a corner as she mulls over the young Lord's words. "The pleasure is mostly one-sided I would say, yet you can address me by my given name in this form: Amber."

"Many thanks," he says, standing up again. "Are you here for Princess Margot's ball of Recognition?"

"Insignificant and inconsequential," Amber replies dismissively. "And my question still endures the need for a answer. What are your intentions toward Margot?"

"Indeed." He pauses before venturing anything else. "I must ask your pardon, however. I'm not familiar with the appropriate responses in this realm."

"Then put it in the appropriate responses within the understanding of Chanicut," the child puts forth. "I am familiar with the Courts. In fact, likely I know them better than you."

"Well, then. The Princess Margot is a delightful child who has potential, given time and opportunity, to mature into a fine Lady. Assuming she receives the proper guidance and education, of course," Kendall answers. "As for my personal intentions, I learned a new phrase when I first arrived in Amber. I believe it was something to the effect of 'roll in the hay'."

His crude response reveals displeasure with the presumption this creature has to come into Maeve's Vigil — the home granted to those of Chanicut who were consigned to serve in the backwater Amber and his only refuge — and pry into his personal thoughts and feelings as though he was nothing more than a servant.

"Child, do not become obstreperous with me; it will not end well," Amber retorts, a child herself at least in form. "I have no fear of your House, nor even the Courts themselves, and I am angry at them for what they've done to this place."

She pauses in her ire to take a deep breath. "But let's not have that sully our discussion or today's diversion. I am considering the option of allowing you to escort Margot back to Chaos."

An eyebrow quirks. "To what purpose?" he asks without missing a beat.

"Banishment," Amber replies in a tone like his mother when Kendall disappointed her.

Kendall frowns at the unexpected and puzzling answer. "It was always my understanding that banishment is punishment," he says. "What is her offense?"

"Which, I believe, is why you are here," Amber points out.

"But I know my offense," Kendall says. "Has the Princess gone against the wishes of her father in some fashion of which I am unaware?"

"If she did, would it matter to you?" she asks.

"Not particularly," he replies to the first question with complete indifference. "My inquiry sought to discover what offense would lead to her banishment. Such a detail has bearing on whether Chanicut would open its doors to her."

"We have become disappointed in her," Amber reveals. "If she remained here, Margot would become rebellious and troublesome."

A faint smile touches his lips at the irony in Amber's words. "Chanicut is not a House of riff-raff composed of others' rejects," he observes calmly. "However… tis likely we could take the young princess off your hands for the proper recompense."

"Recompense?" The child's eyes light up with humor and she thinks for a moment, considering all the factors. "I would think receiving such a tool to help restore our ancient House would be fair value. The House Pact is still intact with the Serpent, so it's not without standing in the Courts."

"And why would you wish to reestablish the House of Barimen in Chaos?" he questions.

"I have no desire for such, but I am renowned for my motherly instinct," Amber says. "If Margot isn't accepted by a satisfactory House, then what choice would I have?"

"So you are saying that you would consider re-establishing your House in Chaos just to find a suitable place for one errant child?" Kendall's expression manages to be both skeptical and puzzled.

"Yes I would," the child remarks, pleased with herself. "And once Margot's eyes are opened, she might do justice to the blood that flows in her veins."

He sniffs in disdain at the idea that any would consider Amber superior after learning of the glories of Chaos. "Alright then," he agrees, taking up the challenge.

Amber smiles at his agreement. Then with a nod, she disappears. The clock's tick slips forward to the next second, and it chimes the hour as if Time had never waned during their talk.

Kendall mutters a mild curse for the damn clock before continuing on his way to enjoy his solitary evening while the rest of Amber made merry.

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A Secret Rendezvous

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