Journey's Beginning: Departing Amber

The carriage granted for their trip to the docks is one used by the Royal Family itself, standing ready and waiting to carry their guests on the first leg of their journey to Chaos. A footman and driver wait patiently, a trusted pair who have driven this way till gray. The footman assists the Ambassador up the steps into the carriage, but the younger Chaos Lord hands the princess up the step next. He offers a hand to Dara as well, though her position now as Lady in Waiting does not require such courtesies from one of his station, and he is unsurprised when she disdains his and the servant's assistance.

But the young Lord pauses before following, the last of Chanicut to stand on the soil of Amber Castle. He looks around, taking in the stone and sky of this place for 10 heartbeats. There is no fanfare, no cheering, no farewell words, even though many eyes watch and many lips whisper speculations on the whys and the ifs. Most already know of the Princess's leaving, the Queen not known for her quiet when in a fury. Others thank the Unicorn that the two-legged murderous rodents were finally departing, leaving their air clean once more. For himself, Kendall isn't sure what he should be feeling as he finally leaves this wretched place behind, but it's time. Finally, he accepts the hand of the footman so he can join the others in the carriage. It was done.

Some wine, cheeses, fruit, in a basket with a flowers woven about its handle. A decanter of water, its sides damp, with the ice within. The coachmen wait as the Stable Staff go about the last check and place the step for those coming.

Inside, Brisbane and Margot sit opposite each other on the far side of the compartment, with Dara next to her Lady leaving the last seat for Kendall next to his uncle. The Lady in Waiting already had in hand the basket of wine and edibles, inspecting the contents. The carriage was well appointed and sumptuous, with cubbyholes in the walls for books, cards, and even a small fold-out table. Once the door is closed securely from the outside, drapes could be lowered on all the windows, shutting out everything.

A distant clucking sound and the sound of a whip, and immediately the carriage begins its swaying progress, passing out of the courtyard and through the gates. Leaving Castle Amber.

"Most enjoyable," Brisbane remarks. The road curves, giving him a view of the mountains to admire along with the youthful beauty sitting across from him.

Margot shifts slightly, adjusting her cloak and skirts until all is smooth with her gloved fingers rested in her lap. She could not help but avert her eyes bashfully, a smile betraying her discomfort with the attention from the older man. She allows her gaze to be shared with all present, lingering upon Kendall the longest before moving to the bounty held in the basket. and then to the landscape just beyond the portal.

"We have few mountains in Chaos, only in the Black Zone and the Serpent's Coils," he adds for the benefit of the princess. He smiles. "And none of us would ever think about building a home upon one."

"The Fortresses Isen, Laen, and Elrion," Dara corrects.

Brisbane raises a brow. "The Three Widows. They be cold comfort for any who call those places home. Dreary with a chill that soaks into your bones. If it wasn't for the fall of the Towers, we would have never reestablished ourselves in those Serpent forsaken places."

"Yet in the mountains, home to many."

"From what I've heard, even your sisters have fallen into savagery if left there for too long," the old man shares, disapproving.

"What do they find so compelling in such miserable places, so that they insist on calling them home?" Kendall inquires of Dara.

"I could ask the same of you, Lord Kendall."

"You could, indeed," he replies to Dara agreeably. "But I already know my own thoughts on the question. Yours are the ones about which I am more curious."

"So its my own opinion, not of my Sisters," Dara notes, taking a moment to consider it. "You need to ask them personally, but for me, home is not a known word."

He thinks on that answer for some heartbeats while the carriage and everyone in it sways and rocks. "A pity," he finally asserts, but leaves it at that. Falling silent, he leans into the corner of the carriage and turns to look out the window at the passing scenery. The gentle motion of the carriage lulls him into deep thoughts that were far away from the here and now.

Margot's expression settles into serenity. It was a peaceful journey and while she didn't dare admit it aloud, so much was new. For a few moments, she longed to be next to Kendall, the thought of snuggling next to him while enjoying the ride deliciously romantic. So much so, that she felt the warmth of her cheeks return.

"Ambassador," the princess addresses the older man softly. "What is it you look forward to most upon your return home?" her smile broadened, clearly enchanted by the elderly man.

"My wife, of course, and our children," Brisbane replies, putting his book back on his lap. "A proper meal, and to sit in my garden." He taps a finger on the cover of his Amber romance with a thoughtful expression. "Yet matters of my trip, my nephew and you, will make me have to postpone that for a bit. At least a half a dozen cycles to be sure…"

Margot's expression falls. "I am sorry that my arrival will keep you from loved ones and much earned peace and proper sustenance," she manages, her voice pained. "Is it not an imposition that could be delegated to another?"

Dara, unlike the younger Lord, listens to all with interest. Long in the dark, and alone, even this chat was a treasure to her ears.

"And if I was one of your Amber Knights, would you apologize for the dragon I had to slay to free you?" the old man asks of the girl with a smile like a trusted uncle.

Her eyes moved to the scenery for a moment, choosing to speak from the heart rather than riddles of the head. "I would feel unworthy of such risk, dedication, and loyalty," she admits. "A Princess by title I may be, but even your short time in Amber far exceeds my own, as well as my experience with wearing the crown upon my brow or any of the perks and perils that come with station."

Her eyes return to the Ambassador. "Were you one of my Amber Knights who risked your life for no other reason than because of what I was rather than who I was to you, personally, I would be awed and humbled. I would feel indebted to you, not the Knight, but the person who dared to face certain doom for the insignificant life of one."

Brisbane takes all of this in, with a nod of comprehending.

"If you were so insignificant, then why would the dragon keep you?" he asks. "Little Kendall here doesn't have a habit of collecting meaningless things, or dallying with those who are insignificant. If you place no worth in yourself, how can you expect others to do so?"

The younger Lord's attention is caught by the term "Little Kendall." Returning to the conversation, he sits up straight and gives his uncle a tolerant smile with an eyebrow quirked before looking expectantly at Margot to see what she might have to say to the old man's words this time.

A smile of concession curls the young Princess' lips. "You remind me of my Grandfather, Ambassador, in your gentleness and your generosity," she admits. "That is a compliment, I promise. But there is a difference between believing in one's worth and weighing the consequences of action … sacrifice and the value of one versus the value of many."

The old man waits, knowing the young lady has more to speak, and her eyes drift to her lover for a moment as she ponders what would come next. "I suspect you and the Lady Dara know far more of me than I you, placing me at a slight disadvantage. So, forgive me if my words are repetitive and tiresome. You asked how I would feel if as an Amber Knight you risked your life to slay a dragon for me. My answer could have been political and aloof, speaking of duty and expectations."

Her eyes return to the Statesmen as she continues. "I chose to answer from my heart, as the person that sits before you and how I would feel were it you or anyone else, even the Lady Dara, harmed in my name. I understand collateral damage and calculated risk, but it was my choice to share more of who I am with you; not the Princess Emissary, but the young woman traveling with your entourage and your permission."

"Yet you and this Princess are one and the same," he points out. "Tis not a hat or a crown to be removed at a whim. Why would someone wish to lessen herself?"

Her eyes fell as the grandfatherly figure spoke. "I only meant that there are many aspects of who I am. Privately and Publicly. I understand that the title and role remain even, as you say, the Crown does not always physically rest upon my brow. I make no apologies for my youth or my sensitive heart; I believe these are assets to care about the outcomes and the end results, including acceptable losses. Compassion does not exclude decisive action, whether it be in negotiating trade, peace or declaring war; it is only the understanding of what one is willing to sacrifice for the good of the cause."

"I would do so, milady, just to fight the dragon," Dara speaks up.

Brisbane nods, in agreement. "So you see Princess, we each have our tasks and desires. You needn't wear the crown, or the shoes, wedging your feet within…"

He pauses a heartbeat, unsure with the unfamiliar phrase. "I never did understand your Mother, with shoes and such and walking," he adds. "Yet it has a point perhaps we in Chaos fail to see. But you need not put on our shoes to gain our respect."

"Are you referring to 'Walking in Another's Shoes'?" Margot asks.

At the old man's nod, she elaborates. "It is only meant to show that it's better to understand all sides before decisions are made, knowing all the circumstances that drew the individual to that moment, that action. It would be no different than making a critical political decision - say an alliance - without having all the intelligence gathered first. It would be like…"

Her gaze drifts to Dara. "For example, if I had to endure a part of Dara's sentence in the Amber Dungeons, I would have an appreciation, an understanding on a visceral level, of what she had endured and therefore may have some inkling as to why she would choose her next path."

Brisbane in alarm, glances to his nephew in hopes he can explain what this strange girl just said, though Kendall is just as mystified.

Her expression turns contrite. "It's a poor example, I admit. And I mean no disrespect for the trials you endured, Dara. I was just trying to put the phrase in context. Perhaps I should just …"

Her lips pressed thin and she looks down at her hands. "I only wish you could see your loved ones, Ambassador, sooner rather than later. They must miss you terribly," Margot concludes. "I believe I would… I mean… as I said… You remind me of my grandfather."

"I do miss my wife, and my children…. yet they do not miss me," the old man clarifies. "I am sort of a odd beast in Chanicut. An ambassador must be able to step beyond the normal House ways. Not this walking, that you speak of, nor the shoes." Brisbane rubs his chin in thought before going on.

"We must merely understand another's viewpoint. And that gets me in trouble with the narrower members of our House." He looks to his nephew, a tad sad now. "So my wife and children are happy when I'm away, so they need not suffer the shame of what I am."

Kendall meets his gaze as Brisbane explains, mouth turning down into a frown. "That is not true, sir," he objects, his quiet voice dismayed that his uncle should voice such a thing, but firm in its conviction. "Though your place and viewpoints may cause others discomfort, we feel shame only in not sharing your wisdom."

Timidly, she touched the Ambassador's hand with hers, curling her fingers around his for a moment. "You have enlightened me with your wisdom and we have only just met. I cannot fathom how much more I will grow in the time we will share between now and our arrival." The smile for him was soft, genuine; filled with compassion and respect. And with the same amount of shy reverence, she withdrew, her eyes flickering to Kendall for the briefest of moments before falling to her hands once more.

"Both touching…" Brisbane remarks. "But how true, we shall see in the coming Cycles."

He looks to Kendall, changing the subject completely. "I take it, its your intention to present Princess Margot to the Royal Court?

"Not immediately. I had intended to…" The young Lord looks from Brisbane to Margot briefly before turning back to his mentor. "To ease her transition into the ways of the Courts first. One of the Shadows in the Black Zone held by Chanicut would suit."

Margot listened though made no apparent response one way or the other, her eyes drifting back to the window. This seemed to be something that they would need to manage to best suit their purpose and her personal feelings on the matter, whatever they may be, would matter little. Besides, she sighed inwardly, she would ultimately prefer to do whatever would put all in the best light - she and her entourage, Kendall and of course, Brisbane. If it was determined that she needed tutelege in shadow by those who were natives, then so be it.

It's this, this disinterest, that brings Dara into the conversation with a roar. "I believe my Lady wishes to visit House Chanicut as soon as possible after establishing her residence. As to location, if the Lady allows… I believe some apartments in the Royal Court be best."

And so the game begins.

"We could never tolerate Princess Margot with a mere apartment, even the splendid ones available at Court," Brisbane replies. "Not when we
have worlds we could give, like the Fire Courts of Anil-Gal, or the Estate of Legambor. A Lady must be given time to relax after a journey."

"Indeed, my own former House could give the same," Dara counters. "Yet I have no doubt Milady wishes to the see the whole of Chaos, and visit
the various Houses, which a residence within the Royal Courts would allow."

"Lady Dara, this is not about parading the princess before the Lords of Chaos like some exotic pet," Kendall cuts in, an edge of tension in his tone. He does not look at the Hendrake as he speaks, however, focusing his gaze on Margot. "Nor of impressing her with the countless wonders of the Courts. Those wonders are unlikely to disappear, and the princess is unlikely to age and die before having an opportunity to experience them. My judgment is that Margot would benefit from some… coaching before being presented and taking up the mantle of House Amber. In truth, that she will sit here silently whilst we discuss her fate, as though she were a prize mare and not the scion of a noble House, concerns me."

Oh, Hell, Margot cursed in her head. They hadn't even yet left the looming shadow of the castle walls, and she was being passed around like some favored doll. Kendall's comments earned an arched brow, her lips tugging into a smirk though something else far more private swirled in those deep emotional pools - appreciation for his coming to her defense.

"A prized mare? A mare has strength, power, endurance. A future of producing mighty steeds and ferocious war stallions," she interjects. "Would not comparing me to a decorative vase or piece of crystal from a faraway land be more fitting? Delicate and fragile to the harsh realities of Chaos? However, Kendall speaks true. I have no desire to be dandled from a golden leash, nor do I care to perch in a gilded cage. I wish to learn of Chaos; but the last thing I wish to do is present a anything less than perfection before the Royal Court. Tutelage is not a request, but an expectation. One that I would see fulfilled not under the weight of prying eyes. It was my understanding that accommodations would be provided with House Chanicut.”

Her eyes rest upon Kendall. “Is that not correct?”

"That was my intention, yes," he replies. Having nothing else to add to that just now, he pauses to see what Dara or Brisbane might have to say. His initial reply had been much more tense than he had intended, and he takes the time during Margot's response and now to regain his calm. There was little doubt that Dara could irritate him often in the future, but it would serve nothing to allow the Hendrake to keep him off balance.

"Milady, while you may infer whatever you wish about my meaning, my intent was not to insult, condemn, or even point to a lack of experience even I once had early in my stay at the Royal Court." Dara eyes go to Brisbane, who looks amused. "Yet you need to be aware that appearances still do matter. As in being too close to House Chanicut, among other things."

"And still, is it not House Chanicut that sponsors my arrival? Publicly approves? How would it appear if my respect was so carelessly drawn away like a butterfly flitting from vibrant blossom to succulent bloom?" Margot inquired, not defensively, but with genuine curosity. "It would seem to me, were I on the receiving end, that if I had invested resources and reputation to support a prominent guest, to offer my name and word as their shield, I would wish to have some … compensation for that. Am I incorrect in my understanding?"

Kendall in turn looks at Brisbane to see what the older Lord might have to offer. He had already spoken of his intentions to his mentor, who had offered advice but had not counseled against his plans. However, in truth Brisbane had far more knowledge and experience than Kendall with the nuances of life at the Royal Court and the delicate situation that the princess found herself in.

"No you are not, Princess," Brisbane speaks up. "Yet neither is Lady Dara. At this moment, you are the guest of House Chanicut. That could change, since this matter will be brought before our Lord when we arrive. Others will become involved, various factions and old foes of my nephew, and me. Understandings could be realigned due to this, and it may not be so beneficial to your interests. I believe that was Lady Dara's warning, at least part of it. And the other, while unpleasant, is that one of our enemies may choose to harm you because of that very reason."

He looks to the view moving past their windows. "And while disheartening, I somewhat agree with your servant. Kendall alone could gain you a suite within Thelbane, employ the necessary help if it was your one desire to reinstate your former House."

"Minor Houses are either destroyed or chained," Dara adds. "Many in Chanicut will not look favorably on your arrival if that is your goal."

Once more, it was reaching a point of too much information swirling around the Princess. "Forgive my blunt ignorance, but what are you talking about? Reinstate my own House? What would give you the belief that I would want to do such a thing?"

Her last question brings her eyes to her servant before turning to the men, landing last on her lover. "Is such a thing even possible? Why would I want to do such a thing? That seems like such a betrayal of trust, an invasion of Chaos. I don't understand. Please. Explain," she entreats.

"I am sorry, Princess," the old man says, his words gentle and calming. "I was of the impression you planned to reclaim House Barimen before your uncle could."

"I, as War Mistress, was made aware of House Barimen," Dara shares. "I assumed because, though still in ruins, it still does have a place within Thelbane."

"She had not yet been made aware," Kendall murmurs for Brisbane's benefit.

Her eyes pleaded with Kendall for the briefest of moments before her resolve returned. "As you can see, I know nothing of this," she replies calmly, though her discomfort is still evident in the tautness of her shoulders and the way her fingers knotted together in her lap.

The younger Chaosian sighs quietly to himself before addressing Margot's reply. "I spoke previously to you of the fact that House Amber was once of the Courts, though the circumstances of its departure were unknown to me at that time. At your ball, I spoke also to the child Amber, in some way also the Unicorn or its avatar. She indicated that she had departed from Chaos so that her children could flourish. She also indicated to me that she is renowned for her motherly instincts, so one may view all her words in that light."

Storms rage in the princess' eyes at the idea of associating motherly instincts to Amber, but he merely flicks his fingers in a dismissive gesture before abandoning his irony and returning to the topic at hand. "In our conversation, she mentioned that the House Pact for Amber, or Barimen, is still intact, and thus still holds value in the Courts. We - you and I - merely had not yet had opportunity to speak of this, as our time since your ball has been consumed by other conversations."

"Interesting," Margot replies, her voice icy. "There has been a tremendous amount of information shared. Too much. I'm afraid I'm feeling a little overwhelmed and require a few moments of quiet contemplation. Dara, would you be so kind as to exchange seats with Kendall? This way, you and the Ambassador may continue quiet discussion without any interruption." And though phrased as a question, there was no doubt her suggestion was a politely issued order.

Dara stands, keeping her balance in the moving carriage easily. "Milady, it wasn't my intent to distress you or engender an action. I simply thought you knew, and it was your strategy once in the Courts. If I knew it hadn't been, I would not have mentioned it so openly." She looks to Brisbane, adding. "And I promise you, tis not mine to do so behind your back either."

Kendall also rises, moving around the lady and sitting down on the seat next to the princess. He remains silent, having no interest at this time in getting between the two ladies. He adjusts his robe after he sits, nearer to Margot's side than Dara had been, but still maintaining a respectful separation.

"My reasons are as I have stated previously," Margot began with forced calm. "There is no hidden agenda within." Dainty hands had worked themselves into tight fists, the implication of nefarious motives boiling her from within.

Kendall lays a calming hand on one of hers. "Peace, Margot," he says softly, soothing. "The pursuit of position and influence in the Courts is commonplace. Most any lord or lady of Chaos has some secret - or at least private - agenda that they pursue with some degree of interest much of the time."

As the younger folk speak, Brisbane goes back to the view, taking an old hand to trace the mountain tops as if painting. Dara produces a small book from a pocket that explained the Pattern, how to walk it and survive. A book that till recently had resided in Margot's room and shared only with members of the family.

"Either I am unique to the Courts or I am no different," she returns, her voice calm but icy. "Culling me from the group only to force me into their collective when it suits the moment leaves those in audience to wonder whether I am who I am or whether my sponsors truly know whom it is they speak for. From where I sit, it cannot cut both ways."

"That was not my point," he says, with equal patience. "My point is that such assumptions are to be expected, and no reflection on you."

Oh, her head was beginning to hurt. She rested it against the back of the carriage, her ire at its peak. But her boiling raged turned cold when her eyes fell upon that which Dara retrieved for her pleasure. "Where did you get that book, Dara?" The simple question could have sliced the Hellmaiden to ribbons, so sharp the edge upon the soft, frigid tone.

"Your mother, the Queen, Milady," the Hellmaiden answers in a tone both formal and open. "A token of welcome into the Royal Family by way of my grandfather Benedict. It was hinted, at least I assumed, that I would never be able to walk the Pattern. Yet I must say, it has been a most interesting read so far."

Fingers tighten around Kendall's. "The Queen bestowed a generous gift the Queen. When last my eyes rested upon that cover, it was upon my nightstand. How fortuitous that it will be so close should I wish to read something familiar while in Chaos." Her tone remained calm, though it lost some of its edge.

She felt as though she was being goaded at every turn, kept off balance by these topics. "Please, Kendall," she entreats him more quietly. "Explain it to me again, slowly, what it is I'm supposed to glean from all of this."

"From all of what, exactly?" he asks, still patient. "There has been a great deal of discussion over a number of topics. Tis understandable that one may feel overburdened temporarily. Perhaps taking some time to ponder will give you specific questions you would like to ask."

"I would like to—" And she pauses, at a loss. He was correct that she knew not where to begin This was so much easier when it was just the two of them, so she could ask as she pleased without feeling judged. His patience knew no bounds it seemed. Her fingers loosened her death grip, though she wanted desperately to simply put her head against his shoulder.

"I would like to take advantage of your wise counsel as I contemplate some of what has been discussed and try to find a single thread to follow before I begin launching a barrage of questions that will only confuse me further," she finally decides.

"Do you refer specifically to your goals upon reaching Chaos, where you shall be staying whilst there, or some other topic?" he returns.

She smiles, weary and uncertain. "Where I will be staying is a good place to start," she says in a soft tone, only meant to be shared with him.

"As noted, the two are related, but it was my thought that your arrival in Chaos need not be heralded immediately," is Kendall's answer, spoken calmly and almost encouragingly, as well as loud enough that the other occupants in the carriage could hear if they were of a mind to. His gaze falls to their joined hands. "Tis near impossible to keep secrets in the Courts, of course, though tis possible to employ some misdirection as needed."

"Go on," she encourages cautiously, her eyes also falling to their hands, though her stomach is filled with dread.

He thinks on that. "Your identity, for instance," he says. "It may be that you would be better off not being identified as a princess of Amber for a time. Tis always possible I could have taken a fancy to some low-born Amber trollop and decided to carry her off to Chaos with me." His lips quirk a little, amused by the thought.

"Trollop?!" Margot feels flabbergasted, exasperated, and hurt all at once. Her jaw hangs slack before her bruised ego starts to boil once more and her jaw clenches tight, eyes narrowing. She was just about to level an explosive assault at him when she notes the amused curl on his lips.

"Oh, honestly, Kendall!" she exclaims under her breath, her free hand rubbing her eyes. Still, behind the cover of her hand, he could see the hint of a smile forming as she shook her head. "What a terrible thing to say." Her hand finally fell to her lap so that she may gift him with a sidelong glance.

Kendall chuckles quietly, lifting their joined hands and pressing a kiss to the back of hers. "My sincerest apologies, princess. No doubt my extended stay in Amber has had only a deleterious effect on my manners."

He leans back against the side of the swaying carriage and watches Brisbane and Dara at their individual pursuits for a few heartbeats before saying anything more. When he does, he sort of changes the subject.

"The power and influence in Chaos is held within the Houses," he remarks. "The King, when one occupies the throne, holds the Houses together, but exerts little influence of himself. Thus, if you would seek or pursue power or influence in the Courts, one way to do that would be to raise the banner of your House and reconstitute its holdings."

"Assuming I had any desire to seek either," she interjects, in sort of a confirmation-like query. "But that is predicated on my interest to do so, correct? No one could attempt to breathe life into the Banner under Barimen without someone with a direct link to the bloodline giving their blessing, correct? Which is why it has remained in ashes all these years?"

"That is how I understand it," he confirms. "Though the ways and means of reviving a House differ from creating one whole cloth. I am not familiar with the nuances. But two others of your House of which I am aware have spent time in Chaos, and may have nurtured allies to such a cause. Those allies may approach you with bargains. Those others of your House may also have nurtured enemies, of which you would have need to be wary. Your lady will no doubt be able to assist you with those."

Dara looks up from her book, yet keeps quiet till given leave by her mistress to speak.

"My uncle Devlin on my mother's side and my uncle Brand on my father's side, correct?" she asks, again seeking confirmation from those in the carriage. Margot had not met either. She would have met Brand except the child-avatar Amber, mad with power, saw to that not happening. "Were they to revive the House, would they have not done so already?"

"Somewhat, Milady," Dara answers. "Brand is gathering support, with Devlin's assistance according to my sources. Yet the same has informed me that all of the Greater Houses have kept them at Serpent's length due to past treacheries. So perhaps, tis too early for them to do so without the solid support of one of the Greater Houses." She looks to Kendall, before adding. "Even with it, it will not be a easy task."

"It will upset the balance of power, and as with any upset, there will be some who benefit and some who will suffer," Kendall notes. "The question is whether or not the benefits would outweigh the risks and effort required of such an endeavor. The House Barimen claims to have once been the Royal House of Chaos. Perhaps it was because of Amber's betrayal that much of the power was then stripped from those who would sit on the Throne in Chaos?" He quirks an eyebrow in inquiry to Dara.

"Among other reasons," Dara replies. "Many believe, at least in Hendrake, that Brand will use this fable to back his claim to the throne."

Margot wasn't certain there was enough of Brand remaining to do much of anything after the punishment leveled during her debut. The memory sent her body into a deep, uncontrollable convulsion. "He would need more than to simply claim that, would he not? Otherwise, anyone from the blood line with enough resources could simply bully their way to the Throne, correct?"

"If we were to do it, I would first secure the support of House Chanicut by marriage, then House Hendrake by the promise of war," Dara agrees. "Next would be hundreds of Minors as cover, the Priest of the Serpent to secure support upon the bloodlines and Serpent's favor. Then stand upon the Abyss, and summon the Serpent to reaffirm the ancient pact, perhaps ask for a token to impress. Secure support in the Royal Court, even an extra lover or two in the bureaucracy to kept informed."

She nods as she reaches the end of her tally. "Difficult but not impossible. Barely a billion or two dead."

First, red comes to the Princess's creamy complexion. Then eyes widen as the plan unfolds. By the time Dara finishes revealing her master plan, any color Margot had taken on had drained from her flushed cheeks. "You make it sound so simple. So clear," she manages to say past a chest tight with horror, fingers tightening around her lover's once more. "Is this something you dreamed up this moment or a vision you've cultivated over time?"

"You asked, and I answered as a Hendrake War Mistress would… I will not apologize for that, nor for planning responses to possible futures or events," Dara returns, calm and dignified. "Even now, I know how I would kill the man beside me, across from me, our driver and escort, if required. I do not take your safety lightly, nor should you, for once in Chaos you are without House! The only security you will have is what others care to grant you. To many, the word Amber will mean almost nothing, and to their eyes, you will be nothing more than a pathetic child to tease and torture, to carry off to have their way with, or to kill to satisfy some blood-lust."

"Perhaps it would behoove us at this point to speak less on what you do not desire, and more of what you do intend, Margot," Kendall says, interrupting the exchange between the two woman. He glances to Dara, and then returns his gaze to the princess. "You do not come to Chaos with intent to take on power and influence in the Courts. For the benefit of your lady, then, perhaps instead you may be willing to explain what you desire to accomplish while in Chaos."

Margot searched his eyes, not understanding what it was he wanted her to say beyond what she had already said.

"An education," she finally answers, though there were so many more private desires that went unsaid in that pause. Margot returns her attention to Dara. "While representing Amber, I wish to learn of Chaos. No one in Amber is willing to give me a proper education so that I may better understand Chaosian ways, so the only logical step is to travel to Chaos under the sponsor of a powerful House. In this case, House Chanicut has been gracious enough to extend its hospitality. During this time, I will be their guest until such time that I am either established in Chaos or choose to leave by my own accord. At this time, I have no desires nor do I have any inclinations to acquire a position of power or challenge any who are seeking it. Nor do I wish to insult House Chanicut by treating their sponsorship with disregard and ungraciousness."

The young Chaos Lord listens with interest as the princess formulates her answer, a faint smile seeming to hover just at the edge of his expression. When it becomes clear she is finished, he nods to acknowledge her last words, then turns his attention back to the other Lady riding in the carriage. Clearly, he has no comment on the answer just then, and is content to first see what Dara might have to say.

Dara looks to Kendall, annoyed to what he hasn't told Margot. "Our Houses are everything to us. More than just family, they are our life. With faithfulness, we are given a measure of protection. As a guest of House Chanicut, you gain a part of this shielding, as do I as your servant. Its no different then what you would find in wild tribes out in Shadow."

Taking a breath, deep and pure, Dara goes on. "Yet you need to recognize that these two men are not the heads of the House. Once we arrive, there will be limits to their influence, and you could suffer due to this. Innocence and Love will not protect you. Nor will even the best of intentions. That is why I advised the Royal Court, so even if Chanicut withdraws their protection or made demands you could refuse, we might secure another patron."

Her eyes go to her mistress, hard and cunning. "And your Uncle, I dare say he won't allow you to lock yourself away to study some dull books when he could marry you away to some Lord with tastes in the exotic. Have no doubt, for I know of his dealings in the past in Chaos. Your Uncle is a threat to you, the same with Prince Devlin… for he was the one that freed our prisoner and prolonged the war between our people."

There is respect in her voice, but also hate. "As to your wishes, I will respect them…yet Chaos is vast, with thousands of Houses and their allies. You could study five lifetimes and not gain the whole of what Chaos is. Chanicut itself could take years to learn with all their outlandish ways. The Royal Court, the same.. Hendrake, less for we favor strength of arm and spirit, yet I doubt you would approve of our ways or take a sister as your lover." And there, in Dara's voice… a tone of sadness.

"I am not asking for your apology, Dara," Margot returned softly. "I am asking for your patience. In this short ride I have had more thrust upon me than the short stay in Amber. My questions are naive and there is too much to process. You speak of manipulations and ways to claim the throne and I have yet to wrap my mind around what I am to say upon first stepping into the Royal Courts. Or when I meet the Duke of Chanicut. I know this is your role. And I realize that the learning curve is impossible. I promise you that I will learn far more if the dots are connected without the constant pressure of claiming the throne as being the final objective. We are suffering a severe culture shock; or rather I am. I need you, Dara, to help ease and prepare me for Chaos. But, this will require an iron fist and the grace of a delicate touch."

"I am your cousin by blood, so have some responsibility towards your welfare, but I can not change who I am," Dara replies. "I will always plan for the future and how to attain more power for my Mistress to wield as I did when I rode with my sister to attack Amber. And in time you would find the even most delicate touches can become like poison, so I will ever be honest. Margot, Princess of Amber, these shocks you speak of are nothing to what will be coming."

"And as such, Cousin, I look to you for advisement and patience," the princess responds. "These are games you grew up with and that I am only first coming to know. I am a babe that has to learn how to sprint, rather than crawl. However, a barrage of information so devastating that leaves me lost that is almost as deadly as no information at all."

Margot pauses to breathe deeply. "Here is what I propose. May we direct our attention and our energies on one topic at a time? And when I have grasped a basic understanding of what is being shared to a confidence that I feel acceptable, we move on? This topic jumping and dashing between here and there and whyfor this or that only adds to my confusion. I am not asking that you cease your passion nor am I asking that you discontinue your conviction, Dara. Only that you temper it slightly and slow your pace until I have become accustom to your style of communication."

"I am going slow, and dealing with a single topic," Dara objects. "For once on the ship, our Host will start to feel out your reasons in coming. They will not at first, accept what you have said to me. It's not in their nature, so will begin the Dance of Houses in your regard. If we don't discourage those opinions, the Court could be ripe with rumors by the time we get there due to Trumps." She looks to Brisbane, thinking how he will react to what is said next. "A sword without focus, without the steady hand, will deliver the weakest of blows. The Throne, need not be your target… but you must needs decide your target as soon as possible."

A chuckle filled with irony spills from the young woman's lips. "Please, Cousin. There are no secrets here." She gestured with her hand. "Target? Focus? You spoke with the Queen. You know exactly why I travel to Chaos. As does Kendall as undoubtedly his uncle and by now his staff. Do you wish for me to confess my heart fully in public before these gentlemen? To have further witness of ALL the reasons and purposes for my travels? Personal and Duty-bound?" Her eyes drifted to the men present. "The Queen does not believe Amber will survive this onslaught. Best scatter those capable of preserving it to the winds while they still have the capacity to spread wings."

"No… Your mother shared nothing like that with me." Dara rebukes. "Nor would I have believed her if she had, so perhaps that's why." Her eyes slide to the old man to her side, artful and menacing. "As for hearing confessions, only one here would be a risk."

Brisbane finally takes his eyes from the scenery to give a nod. "Yes, as a representative of my House… I should share what I heard here with Kendall's father and his advisers. And indeed I would, if anything said had interest to Chanicut. Yet I find nothing worth sharing about a young lady finding refuge, nor with my nephew helping." Dara tips her head in respect.

"So if I understand the conversation, and your real desires to this moment, a Princess of Amber is not needed as yet," Brisbane says with a kindly look for Margot, smiling like an old uncle. "So perhaps a lesser title would do. I doubt any within the family would find it odd for my nephew to come home with a lovesick Baroness from Amber or one of its Zones."

"And it may be, if subterfuge is the princess' choice, that the Lady Dara may be able to assist with those of House Tinor who may recognize her or raise questions," Kendall remarks, looking from Brisbane to Dara, and then back to Margot.

Dismay, penitence, uncertainty are writ plainly on her delicate features. She was every bit the young woman seeking refuge that the uncle described, as well as the lovesick Baroness. Yet Brisbane’s kindness in promising to keep her confidence in this regard allowed her to release a breath she had not realized she was holding. He had been so kind, she never would have thought… her eyes fell to the hands in her lap, her free one tracing the joined hands. She could feel tears welling, and though she willed them not to fall, she could feel already the pain of living life where trust was a weakness.

The younger lord speaks into the growing silence. "My intention is to help you acclimate to the things you will need to know before you can make these decisions, Margot. That is why I believed waiting a short while before presenting you to my father or to the Royal Court to be to your benefit. As you will be sheltered during that time by my House, some agreement will need to be reached, of course. I suspect the time you will remain unrecognized will be shorter than ideal, so haste will still be needed. But all such decisions need not be made during a single carriage ride."

Slowly, Margot turns her head to reveal eyes brimming with emotions that nonetheless had not broken free. Again, she nods her understanding, the gesture this time little stronger and more confident. When she finally speaks, her words barely carried over the ruckus of the carriage. “I have other titles, lesser titles. There would be no deception if I was introduced with any of those rather than the title of Princess.”

"Only to Kendall's parents need we be careful, or of others near those ranks," Brisbane comments. "Yet if the Princess of Amber makes no demands, then why must we use said title?"

"As to Tinor, I think with the proper encouragement, we could keep them quiet long enough that it won't matter," Dara adds.

"Is that your preference, Margot?" Kendall asks.

Margot stares into Kendall's eyes. How could she possibly answer this question with a simple yes or no? He knew what she wanted. KNEW. If she admitted she wanted to be hidden and agreed to a lesser title, did that mean that she would be kept away from him and forced to endure someone else when she only wanted him? Yet it was clear that she was not ready to be introduced as the Princess and forced to deal with all the intricacies and nuances there. She couldn't even handle the theoretical mental masturbation spewing in the carriage ride.

"I want to make sure that my formal introduction as Princess of Amber is delayed until I am better prepared for the challenges that come with such an honor," she answers slowly. Her eyes never leave Kendall as she speaks, perhaps because she found strength or courage in his eyes.

"My preference would be to keep things as discreet as possible while employing as little deception as possible," she continues in an effort to clarify. She draws a deep breath, struggling to speak clearly and honestly. "Kendall, you are currently my only life line. The only one I know aside from Desrianne and now Dara. I do not wish to have my access to you… restricted or removed entirely because I am believed to be unimportant. If what you propose is plausible, that I assume the identity of a lovesick Baroness, what are the chances that she would still be able to see you without difficulty?"

Kendall makes a dismissive gesture with his free hand, though the one nearest Margot still clasps hers reassuringly. "The son of the Duke is free to engage in whatever trifling flings he cares to," he asserts. "As long as the woman is of no consequence, there should be no issue. But bear in mind, Margot, the tradeoff for this arrangement is that this is what you will be assumed to be. A lovesick Baronness, in your own words, willing to accept whatever scraps might be tossed to you."

"You make it sound little more than a courtesan… a harlot painted up to prance about Court," she retorts. She withdraws her hand, wounded by his assertion, and turns her gaze to the window. "My dignity of who I am as a person is worth more than the incidental foibles and insults I may deliver as a Princess. I am many things, but I am not a whore and I will not portray one to hide who I am."

He stares at her profile, eyes narrowing and jaw tightening in annoyance. "Very well, Margot," he says after a heartbeat's pause. His tone remains even, yet chilly with displeasure. He settles back into the carriage seat and tucks his hands into the sleeves of his green robe. He closes his eyes as though to doze the rest of the trip. "It may be that you can have it both ways, to be both princess and yet also not. Lady Dara or my uncle may have better counsel for you in this regard."

Margot stares out the window. "I am not a whore." She mutters under her breath, tears welling. The Princess was finding it increasingly difficult to breathe. It was stuffy in the carriage. Too warm. Too enclosed. Trapped. How could he think such things of her? Had he felt that way all along?

"Could we stop please? I think I'd like to ride above? I'm not feeling well. Don't you think it's hot in here?" Her words are raspy and breathless between gulps of air. Her heart was racing and she could feel her head swimming. Faster and faster she tried to grab air, but none of it seemed to be going into her lungs. Panic started to set in as she couldn't figure out why she couldn't breathe, why was she going to place where everyone either hated her or simply wanted her dead, why she even existed, how she was going to make it through, should she just fall on her sword now and save everyone the headache?

But before anyone else could respond to Margot's distress — or even take note of it — Dara reaches across the coach and slaps Margot's cheek with the back of her hand. The sound of hand meeting cheek makes Kendall take notice, and his eyes open wide with surprise to find Dara still leaning across the carriage after hitting her mistress.

"What is this about?" he demands. He directs the question to Dara as the one who had done the hitting, though clearly the Hellmaiden hadn't intended to do real harm to Margot.

"Do not dare raise a hand to me again, Dara. Ever." Margot grits out between her teeth, her tone low, controlled, and frigid. Tears slid down her cheeks as the crimson mark painted her creamy complexion. She could feel the tingling of her lip wanting to swell from where she bit the inside upon collision with Dara's hand. Trembling with emotion, she turned back to the window.

"I treated my Mistress as she had requested," is Dara's answer. "Not as a child, to coddle and be lied to. I've done the same to my Maidens, when they let fears take control and forgot who they were. I understand more than she knows, for I shared many of the same when I was captured by Amber. I know fear, and despair, and loneliness. But I blame much of what just happened on you, Lord Kendall."

She raises a hand to pause Brisbane's protest in defense of his favorite nephew.

"Yet tis not my place, as I am not in command here," she continues, her stare returning to Margot. "If your wish isn't to be a Rose of Amber, then you must let us help you without jumping off the first ledge into the Abyss just because we upset you a little. You did make that choice, ordered us not to treat you like a child."

Dara spreads her hands, to encompass the whole of the carriage. "So here we are, discussing matters that may weigh upon your feelings or sensibilities. Or mine. Or his, or even your other servant. But discussing isn't like what my hand just did. Tis not action! They're merely words, and words have only the power that you yourself give them."

Eyes return to Dara, and there is no mistaking the tempest of emotion swirling there or the strain in her jaw as her teeth ground tightly together. She sits silently for several moments. "No one here is to blame," Margot states softly, her anger on a slow simmer. "Just as no one is responsible for my actions, save for me."

Margot stands and pulls the ties for the curtains on the far side of the carriage, where Kendall and Dara sat. The light immediately dampens when, leaving them all in a gentle twilight. "I cannot keep all of these benefits and detriments straight," she says by way of explanation. She closes her eyes and focuses her power to create a glowing grid of gold against the dark velvet. Above one side read 'Princess', above the other read 'Baroness'. She returns to her seat, brow furrowing as she stares at the grid.

"If I understand correctly, a Baroness will only be granted access as it amuses the son of the Duke. If the perception is this Baroness is merely a plaything at the Lord's fingertips to savor at his whims, what is the reality? Do I ever see you Kendall outside of the bedchamber? Is it impossible to spend time together in a social setting on a regular basis? Or are these those 'table scraps' you referred to?" She kept her eyes on the grid, for she knew if she looked directly at him, she would cry. "Explain further."

That is the point when Kendall realizes he soon would find the end of his patience, when it requires conscious effort to deflect irritation inspired by Margot's imperious command on top of Dara's slurs. Teeth grit, and he breathes in and out through his nose before he feels able to answer.

"Tis not complicated, Margot," he says finally, and his voice still emerges more clipped than he intends in spite of his best efforts. The woman next to him winces at the rigid sound of his voice.

He looks at the glowing grid she had constructed, rather than anyone else in the carriage. "If you present yourself as a princess of Amber, you will enjoy the benefits of an honored guest of high rank and quality. You will be courted and wooed for alliance, or schemed against as a potential threat. Most likely, both of those things would occur at the same time, often by the same people. Introduced properly, you would move in the proper social circles and meet all the best people. To make that happen, it would be helpful to you to have the backing of a powerful House — like Hendrake, for example — to assist you with said introduction. Some sort of agreement would be expected between you and the House that will be presenting you, since you are asking them to take some risk in associating themselves with you. I have offered to sponsor you to my own House in an effort to gain the assistance of Chanicut in this regard, though it would be necessary for you to meet either my father or my mother at some point to make the final arrangements."

The metallic taste of blood continued to taint Margot's mouth. With a slight gesture, gold words began to write themselves against the dark background under the column 'Princess': Station, Recognition, Social Network, House Sponsorship, Popularity/Notoriety, Exposure, Allies/Enemies.

"In short," he attempts to make it simpler, "once you are introduced and accepted as someone of consequence, you would be socially received and could interact with anyone whom you wish. The only exceptions would be if there were restrictions agreed upon in your arrangement with your sponsoring House, or if other Houses have their own restrictions about you. Tis possible, for example, that minor House Carlak would view you as a threat to negotiations with House Chanicut, and require the their own members to avoid you. Just as an example, as I have no idea whether Carlak is currently in negotiation with Chanicut."

He pauses in his explanation, looking at Brisbane to see if his uncle had anything to add, clarify, or dispute with this portion of the explanation, before continuing. But before any more words can be spoken, Margot lays a trembling hand on Kendall's shoulder and leans close enough to speak close to his ear. She did not know if the others in the carriage knew the language of her Shadow, but she had spoken it to Kendall on a number of occasions and he had a good ear. She hoped he had recalled enough of it to understand her meaning.

"Veuillez me pardonner. J'ai parlé avec un coeur blessé. Je ne me suis pas rendu compte que vos mots ont parlé des aspects extérieurs," she whispers, the words barely audible. "Je n'ai pas entendu la signification vraie de ce que vous avez dit. Je t'aime avec tous que je suis. Demandez, et je vous suivrai à la fin du temps. La fin de l'existence. Vous me donnez la vie. Si vous plait, permettez-moi cette transgression et acceptez ma promesse d'essayer de ne pas parler dans la colère ou la douleur encore. Kendall, Je suis juste ainsi terrifié. Absolument, assurément tellement incroyablement effrayé que je ne sais pas I'm allant survivre. Je prie de vous, svp, une peu de patience. Je respire en raison de vous. Mes battements de coeur en raison de vous. Je souris en raison de vous. Je chante en raison de vous. Vous m'inspirez. Vous m'enchantez. Svp… svp, ayez juste la foi dans moi. Soutenez-moi. Croyez en moi."

Kendall listens to Margot's words, whispered urgently into his ear, with the resigned expression of a man who is about to be rolled up like a rug and pounded against a tree. But he does listen, even if he doesn't have enough knowledge of the language to translate everything precisely, as the tone speaks where words do not. But before he can even consider formulating a reply, if indeed a reply was even possible, Brisbane speaks up with a wise suggestion, given the circumstances.

"Lady Dara, I do believe it's best we leave these two alone." Brisbane says as he raises a hand to give two sharp raps on the roof. The coach immediately slows, bringing the entire train to a halt with it. "Traveling in the second coach could do these old bones some good," he admits, tossing one of the many pillows back onto the seat.

"With my Mistress's permission, I would be glad to join you," Dara replies, with a polite tip of her head. "We can speak of Thelbane and shared acquaintances."

"Of course, Dara. Please enjoy the Ambassador's hospitality and company," Margot manages to say with a pleasant yet controlled tone, though the warmth of her sincerity is present. Nothing made any sense to her and all that she was certain of was that whatever she felt was apparently wrong no matter what and there was seemingly no possible way to have this cut in a manner where she will be pleased with the outcome.

Kendall offers a bow to the older man. A torrent of words wants to break free, but he holds them back as he waits patiently for the others leave. He would have private conversation with his uncle as soon as could be arranged later, and his words would have to wait until then. In the meantime, the footman appears at the door to help the others out.

Once Dara has exited, Brisbane remarks on his own way out, "We will have to do this again — this changing of coaches once within the city. I think gender this time, instead of age. So you youngsters enjoy the hours you have till then."

Margot looked to the elder statesman "Thank you, Ambassador." She tries to smile, but it seemed more saddened than appreciative.

"Thank you, sir," Kendall answers as well, not quite able to summon any levity into his voice. He closes his eyes but remains tense and unmoving.

Meanwhile, Margot's thoughts continue to circle as the arrangements for the exchange are executed with all possible haste. Space must be made for them, so other members of the party must also move and adjustments made to the troop deployment. This all took time, which clearly would not be filled with conversation with her companion.

She did not want to bring shame to Chanicut. She did not want to be separated from Kendall. She did not want to be alone. She did not want to be dependent on Dara for everything. She wanted to survive. She wanted to live. She wanted to be Kendall's lover and companion. And she didn't understand why this had to be so damned complicated!!

Margot felt the panic rising once more. But rather than allow Dara to raise her hand to her face once more, she closed her eyes and faced the wall, trying not to cower or show her distress. Teeth and hands clenched, she forced herself to breathe, her only thoughts focusing upon breathing exercises, ignoring the renewed tears.

If she would be a Princess, she could be denied exclusivity of his time. If she would be a Baroness, she could be denied the same. Why was this such a damned mess?! And if she answered with her heart to these people, if she declared all of her desires before Dara and his uncle… revealed every last notion of her true desires for following Kendall… how would that change anything? Would they care more? Less? Would it make the Hellmaiden any more sympathetic toward the plight of a woman in love? She, who had slaughtered her own lover because she was told to?

The carriage begins to move once more and the tension remained suffocating. Kendall remains silent and Margot does not know what to say or do. She is completely at a loss, and had been since this damned carriage ride had begun. She should just relent… have them tell her what she needed to be, how to behave, what the rules were, what to do when, how to do it, and be done with it. Miserable as it would be, at least she would know what she as allowed to do and how not create disasters in her wake wherever she roamed.

Her face stung. Her head hurt. Her lip throbbed and felt as big as her nose. Her first impulse was to lash out in return. Of course, that wouldn't do and Dara, well, Dara could kill her simply by blinking. This was all so confusing. Of course, it wasn't for anyone else in the carriage. They all grew up with this. Cut their teeth on it. It is as plain as the tip of their nose.

Margot's eyes drift to Kendall, but he had not yet emerged from his pout. Sighing heavily, she moves to the bench across from him. This way, he wouldn't have to feel crowded and if he decided he wished to talk, they would be facing one another. She lifts the basket of refreshments to inspect the contents. Though she wasn't really hungry or thirsty, she thought perhaps a glass of wine would take the sting out of her lip.

Bottle. Corkscrew. It should be simple enough to manage. With the bottle between her legs, she starts twisting the tool, but it did not go into the stopper. She tries the other direction, and then again, harder, but it skitters off the top. She tries stabbing the top of the bottle with the tip of the device, and each failed attempt becomes metaphor for this ride and her trip — the angrier and more frustrated she got, the less successful she was.

Though Kendall has obviously withdrawn into his own thoughts, looking away into the invisible distance while the carriage sways and creaks around them, his gaze and attention are drawn inevitably to Margot's efforts to retrieve some wine.

Her last stab glances off the bottle and grazes her hand. "Damn!" she curses, bringing her hand to her mouth as tears well once more. Tears of frustration, tears of pain, tears of sadness, love, heartache, and rage. Margot drops the tool into her lap, defeated. "I just want a glass of wine."

Reaching across the intervening space, elegant fingers pluck the corkscrew and bottle from her lap, and he opens the bottle for her. A glass is filled and presented to her. "You make me feel as though I embody the very essence of Cruelty itself," he murmurs.

Her gaze remains abashed, focused primarily on her lap or the puncture in her hand. "That is not what I feel. That is not what I believe," she objects. "You are none of those things. I spoke out of turn…"

Finally accepting the glass, she attempts to make eye contact but her eyes fall once more after a mere moment. "Just when I think I have things to where I understand them, layers get dumped on and things become convoluted and no matter how I asked for clarification, I couldn't direct things the way I wanted, and…"

She pauses and shakes her head. "It doesn't matter. I'm sorry. I feel dreadful. Terrible. I'm just…terrified." Her breath chuffs out in defeat and her eyes close. "And people keep asking me what I want and I try to tell them but still I'm counseled not to be honest and forthright and I don't understand why all of this has to be so damned complicated!"

Margot swallows hard. "May I have my bag please?" she gestured with her hand. "Or, if you would retrieve my kerchief… that is all I want out of it." Bringing the glass to her lips, she swallows a tiny sip before taking a healthy draw from the glass.

He plucks her bag from the seat and hands it over to her before leaning against the back of the carriage seat once more. "No," he says on the tail end of his own sigh as he folds his hands into his sleeves. "Tis not complicated, Margot. Tis simply… fluid. I cannot explain exactly how to proceed because circumstances change. Expectations are different based on the individual, the situation, and how they interact. Things that my father would allow would not be permissible in the eyes of my mother. Your own mother's rules are not the same as your father's. There is no one answer that will allow you to navigate the Courts, Margot, and I wonder if my asking you to try is… cruel."

"It's not cruel. It's just … foreign. I will learn, I swear. It's just—" She struggles with both bag and glass for some seconds, her attention drawn on her task until she retrieves her kerchief and wraps it around her palm. "Dara flusters me. Intimidates me. Everything she says makes me feel like she's trying to maneuver me away from you. Maybe I'm paranoid. Maybe she's supposed to. I don't know. I know that's not what I want and if people truly want to help me achieve what I want… as they claim they do…"

Her uninjured hand moves to her eyes to massage away the stress. "When I talk with you alone, I feel like I understand what is required and what is at stake. When she enters into the scene, all becomes a jumbled mess and I don't know what to believe."

Kendall frowns. "Yet even when I tell you what you want to know, what you demand to know, it appears to be of no help," he says irritably.

Margot falls quiet for some moments as the carriage continues to rock and sway around them. "I deserved that," she admits at last. "But, that is not true. There is something being lost here in this exchange. Several things, and the three of you grew up on this. You all speak the same language, for lack of a better word. I took something you said personally without hearing what you were explaining. Not that you were describing me as such, but that it would be an assassination of my character. The words you chose to describe how our encounters would be… it was not that I believed you saw me as a lesser person that bothered me, but how others would perceive the one you chose to spend your time with. It is with pride and dignity that I want to be seen in a better light."

She drains her glass. "I trust you implicitly. Tell me now how you believe I should approach this and I will follow your advisement. I.." She breaks off, looked at her hands as a heavy sigh breaks free. "My wants are simple and you are the only one I will confess them to completely. I want to be with you. I want to love you. I want to honor you. I want to honor the sponsorship you have graciously offered and not bring shame to House Chanicut. I want to survive. I want to learn. I want to grow as a person and a good-will ambassador. If possible, I would like to some how show my gratitude to you for all the risks you have taken for me… though, beyond giving you all that I am, I don't know what else there is to offer."

"There is not enough time for me to listen to arguments and counter arguments regarding the pros and cons of Baroness versus Princess. Just … help guide me to which one of these will allow me the best chance to enjoy some of my wants some of the time, and I'll consider it tremendous fortune. I don't want to fight, I don't want to debate. I just want to have a path determined."

Kendall thinks on that for a while, staring at the white-knuckled hands that grasped the empty wineglass across from him. But at length, he shakes his head. Turning in his seat, he lies down across the bench and puts his feet up on the side.

"No, I think not," he says as he adjusts his robe. Even in such a graceless pose, he somehow manages to get his clothing to drape just so with only a few practiced twitches here and there. "You have already heard my recommendation, as well as that of the Lady Dara, and have asked questions of Brisbane. All the information you need is either in your head or in your heart. I shall give you time to ponder it, and you will come to your own conclusions."

Weaving the fingers of both hands together, he rests them under his head, closing his eyes. Silence reigns again for a while, and eventually Margot lowers the other window curtain. Dimness descends on both of them, isolating them from each other for a time. Kendall breathes deeply as Margot thinks, concentrating on stilling his thoughts and centering his mind.

Princess. Baroness. House Chanicut. Royal Courts. Delayed Introductions. Immediate Introductions. Honesty. Subterfuge. Transparancy. Obfuscation. Love. Loyalty. Survival. Trust. Duty. Personal. House. Wants. Needs. Desires. Obligations. Debts. Vows. Bonds. All of these concepts swirled in the young woman's mind at a dizzying pace. All she longed for was to string them together in a fashion that would please everyone and still deliver her what she desired: Kendall.

"We are not obligated to travel directly to the Royal Courts or to House Chanicut? We may take respite at one of the Zones for a time?" she asks at length, seeking confirmation.

"Yes," he replies, voice much more relaxed by now. "My House holds Shadows as territories that lie outside the Courts proper, as most Houses do."

More silence settles between them. Not even can her breathing be heard. "And," her voices breaks through after countless moments, "does time flow differently in these Shadows, as they do with Amber? Some faster than the Kingdom, while others move slower?"

"Time…. Yes, more or less," he answers.

Again, she leaves a great space of quiet before she finds her voice once more. Each question is spoken softly, yet firm. "How long would it take for word to be received by your House that we had arrived at one of these holdings? If you required discretion, would it be honored? What consequences would there be if you and your uncle did not immediately return to Chanicut?"

"Those questions are irrelevant," Kendall says. "Brisbane and I will need to see my father soon after arrival, but travel within the Ways is not limited by time or distance. If my request to my parents on your behalf is met with refusal, you are no worse off than you are now, but will have at the very least gained transport most of the way to the Royal Court."

"They are not irrelevant to me," she objects softly. "When what I choose may have an impact on others, it is something…" She exhales, leaving the rest unsaid. Different worlds, different perspectives. "Then your plan would be to arrive at one of these holdings, part ways if it was my choice to not arrive formally initially, so that you would meet with your father. Is that correct?" Again, she sought confirmation.

"My thought was to take you to a secluded Ways at first. Brisbane will do as he sees fit, but I may need to accompany him to the main Ways after you are settled in. His welfare is also my responsibility. The exact details would be arranged during the trip, since I have not conferred with him as yet. You would have your own apartments, and I would come and go as needed. Having the Lady Dara present to assist with teaching you what you need to know, will speed up the process."

"So, you would return when you were able?" she asks after some time of silence, her voice breaking. "Because right now, I don't know what I find more terrifying, trying to please your family and the Royal Courts or being left alone with her for good and endure." By the time she finishes her confession, her words are a breathy, emotional whisper. She pauses to regain control over her emotions, drawing a ragged breath.

"I … I realize I cannot cling to you, but something… or someone constant in a world of confusion… a safe haven…" She allows her words die on her lips, hoping he would feel the rest in the sharing of her heart.

Eyes still closed, Kendall's expression wrinkles into a scowl. Though he does not move, tension comes back to his body. "I have told you how I felt about you and our relationship, Margot. That is something you demanded of me earlier today — to explain to you, to bare myself to you. If that is not enough reassurance of my intentions, there is nothing more I can possibly say to please you."

"That is not what I meant!" she objects, dismayed. "Do you choose not to understand that something as simple as answering 'Yes' to a question would span worlds in comforting me? I come to you because I am scared. Terrified. Must everything be a battle of wills?" She slides from the bench, falling to her knees beside him. "Must I beg for comfort when I am panicked? She scares me more than walking the Pattern, more than scaling the cliff, more than throwing myself from the balcony. I don't know what will happen when you return to your father and what freedoms you will be granted. How am I to talk of such things in front of her and show her my fear?"

Shoulders slump, and she covers her face with her hands, exhausted. "I know your feelings, Kendall; I hold them very close to my heart. I am not asking you to prove them, just to display a little compassion and sympathy. I am sorry for the irritation and stress that I have created for you, but what more can I say?"

He grunts irritably and sits up, glaring at her with cold eyes and lips pressed tightly together in a frown. "Tis that you do not think, Margot," he answers, his voice again clipped and terse. "You feel. You react. There are times when it seems you have the inner resources to do what must be done to gain your desires. Times when I see the promise of greatness. And then I must contend with situations like what happened earlier in this carriage. You have no control of your emotions, and so they debilitate you. I fear anything I do or say might break you."

"And what will you have me do, Kendall?" she asks, though her voice remains quiet and bewildered. She stares up at him through the dimness with her bewilderment writ plainly on her face. "I feel. It is who I am. Do you wish for me to stop that? Become someone else? Grow a tougher skin I can do, and I can pretend that I am not afraid and maybe even do it so well that eventually I will believe it myself. But, shall I become cold and uncaring, worry for none other but myself and my own agenda? Will your feelings for me remain if I were to feel less and think more?"

"Again you do not listen to my words," he complains. "I said you have no control over your emotions, though mayhap I should beg for consistency instead. I cannot predict which Margot I will be dealing with. Tis maddening. And I can no more predict the future at this heartbeat than I could the last time we spoke of what might be."

She breathes slowly, deeply. "I don't want to argue with you. I have apologized. I have acknowledged that I behaved poorly and handled the circumstance wrong. I have been slapped, my cheek is tender, my lips are split and swelling, my hand is punctured and sore. And now you are angry with me, enough to leave me to my own devices so that I may do… whatever it is that I cannot comprehend and no one will explain."

She shrugs, feeling defeated. There were no more tears. She had nothing left but numb emptiness. She would have to simply accept the fact that she could only rely on herself and that harsh words will come from anywhere, even those she held closest to her heart. That pained her more than anything. She wanted to be able to confide in Kendall and be weak with him, but she wasn't certain that was something he would welcome. Especially if he was afraid he would break her. "I have told you that I love you and have begged forgiveness and patience and understanding. I don't know what else I can do to please you."

Eyes closed, she continues to kneel on the smooth wooden floor, thinking of her options and bracing for yet another tirade. Then words start flowing from her in a smooth cadence, almost melodic in their flow.

"I want to go to Shadow. I don't want to go to the Royal Courts. I don't want to go to the House. I want to learn what I need to so that I may be properly presented when the time is appropriate. I don't want to pretend to be someone I'm not. I don't want to be bullied into a path that doesn't feel right. I want to learn the social and cultural nuances as quickly as possible so that I may conduct myself properly as I am. I want to be confident and proud of what I represent, both in my Kingdom but also in you and your Sponsorship. I want to love you, and be named your lover. I want to make you proud and I want to regain your trust and confidence. I do not believe any of this is possible with the distractions of Court or at House Chanicut. And as much as she frightens me… I will work with Dara and will have to remember that she is my servant and not let her intimidate me. Perhaps in all of this I will find the balance between a tougher skin, emotions, and logic. It will be something I will strive for."

Her eyes open then, slowly turning up to Kendall. "You asked. That is what I want."

He nods. "I did. Thank you. Tis settled, then," he answers. His tone remains cold and flat, though he maintains civility even while still awash in ill-temper. "Now get up off of your knees."

Margot stands, smoothing her skirts as she contemplated which spot to take — next to Kendall or opposite him. He was in a mood, and she was distraught. If she sat opposite it could please or upset him further; the odds just the same if she sat next to him. Sliding the basket over, she took the place next to him.

Kendall seems neither pleased nor displeased by her choice of seat, busy as he was thinking back over recent events in an attempt to discern how the current discord could have been averted. It gave him something to think about besides the anger that still simmered within, waiting for more opportunities to break loose.

Selecting a second glass, she pours a fresh glass of wine and offers it to him without saying a word. He looks at the cup for some heartbeats as though deciding whether to accept, but then he takes it from her and tips it back for a long draught quite unlike his usual delicate sip. He sets the empty glass down a mere five heartbeats later.

Margot refills her own glass, contented to remain quiet for the moment despite how stifling the silence was. The best course of action seemed like leaving Kendall to his thoughts and his feelings. She had made all of her apologies, her promises, her vows. All that was left was to follow through and act as she had swore to do. Prove that she could. He would speak when he was ready, if he was ready.

Setting her glass down on the table, she refreshes Kendall's once more before replacing the bottle in the basket. Then she begins collecting some treats on a plate. The dried berries and the bones he favored with the marrow intact, those eggs that had the shells you chewed through. She was pleased to find the Shrenka leaves as she liked those, and some of the spicy sausage links.

She prepares a nice small platter and sets it between them on the table. Though Margot was in no mood to pull the curtains back and fully embrace the bright light outside, her curiosity for a land she had never seen occasionally beckons her to draw the velvet aside just enough for her to peek out without allowing anyone to spy them inside.

It is quite some time before Kendall finds his way back from his inner world — a world he populates with all the things that could not or should not be said and done. He is uninterested in the food, and after the first glass, sips sparingly at the wine. Eventually, as the tension eases, the Chaosian shifts over so he can lean into the corner of the carriage.

Kendall's readiness to finally speak is heralded only by a preparatory breath. "Words cannot express the shame I feel that my uncle felt the need to leave us alone, and went to join the servants in the other carriage," is how he reopens the discussion. His tone is calm and smooth without the brittle edge of before, yet carefully controlled tension still underlay the matter-of-fact veneer.

"No," he interjects quickly before she could even consider how to respond. "Do not speak in answer yet. Instead, please listen." He exhales, and when he speaks again he still does not look directly at her. He appears instead fascinated by the way the wine in his glass jostles and shivers with the motion of the carriage.

"I find myself at a loss, Margot," he continues quietly. "Wondering if, indeed, bringing you to Chaos will serve us with anything positive, and if there is any hope of accord in the future. Wondering, too, if I will be able to stomach everything that bringing you to Chaos may necessitate. You are correct. It is quite possible that if you changed enough to become a proper Lady of Chaos, that I would no longer be able to care for you as I do now. If you became a creature like Dara, or Louella — a creature of hatred and cruelty — there would be no room for tender feeling. You would come to despise me for my weaknesses, for my sentimentality, and I would despise you in return. You would be the creature in the mirror that so terrified you, and I would be the one who brought you to such a pass."

Another pause, yet he is clearly not yet finished. He merely waits until the next words form themselves. She remains still, listening as he had requested. Drawing deep breaths to calm her racing heart, she drew her shoulders back and forced herself to meet his expression with her soft gaze.

"I have warned you against trusting, even me," Kendall goes on. "I have said that no one may be taken at face value. There are always ulterior motives, plans, schemes, and plots in the background." A humorless smile twitches his lips. "We all plan and plot and scheme to get what we want, even if what we want will benefit someone else. Even if our wishes are expressly for the benefit of someone we care about, tis all about setting goals and attempting to achieve them."

He sighs, looking up from his wine and into her face, and then he huffs a breath out as though making a decision. "As you likely know on some level, I have been evaluating you since our first meeting in the Hall of Mirrors," he begins anew, voice again conversational. "My mother indicated some interest in having you and I joined, and so it behooved me to assess the possibilities. Even if my mother had not spoken of such an idea, I would have considered other potential ways you could benefit me and my House. However, her proposal gave me some guidelines early on."

"Such an arrangement turned out not to be feasible, at least in terms of alliance between our two Houses. I must go before my mother once I return to Chaos and admit to her that these failures were in great part due to my carelessness. I have not conducted myself with due care and prudence in regards to you."

He shakes his head, face taking on an expression of chagrin, but Margot's brow furrowed, not understanding why it was not feasible. How was he careless? As she saw it, he had acted with kindness, warmth, and wisdom, and with greater caring and compassion than any of her own family. Kendall takes a sip of wine during the pause, savoring the flavor on his tongue while he thinks. Finally he swallows, taking another breath.

"The truth is…" he says, once more staring into the middle distance rather than at her directly. "The truth is that you beguiled me instead, and that made it nearly impossible for me to think objectively about you. And so, I began scheming a way to keep you with me, even unto Chaos itself."

He glances at her, but then looks away, almost as though he found it difficult to meet her eyes. "What I ultimately had planned to do is use you, Margot, to further the agenda of my House. I was told, as one of my objectives in Amber, to look for a spark, something that could move my House and our Bloodline to the next level. I know not what this spark might be, nor how it would manifest, but tis possible you possess it, being of the blood of Amber. Siring a child on you, if necessary, seemed a small enough price to pay."

"But then… I learned of Amber's history, the status of House Barimen," he continues. "Tis possible that you could claim the bloodline of the ancient Royal House of Chaos. With you on the throne, and me at your side, my House would gain a measure of the influence and control that my father seeks. And so… I had thought to bring you to Chaos and help you learn all you need, all while also maintaining my influence over you. But now….."

He sighs again, helplessly.

Margot's heart broke for him. It wasn't that she felt betrayed, though there was a small sting in the words he confessed. There was a plan. She knew there would be. She was not surprised; she even used that for her justification for why she wanted to be with him to her parents. God, the irony of it all! To have it confessed, out in the open, that did leave a small ache. But, he also confessed that he got involved, became beguiled, and things changed… for him.

She would have given him a child. She would even attempt to claim that stupid throne for what it's worth, if it meant he was at her side and he would gain favor and the respect of his family. None of this had to be held in confidence away from her. Did he not know that? That all he had to do was talk with her and together they could have figured out how to make this work? Timidly, she slid a little closer to him to allow their knees to touch.

Kendall finishes his wine and then sets the glass on the table where the bottom of the stem nestled into a depression so that it wouldn't tip over easily. His gaze falls to where she had moved so that they were touching before rising to rest on her face again. It's clear he is still struggling with something, and now he turns to face her. One leg comes up to the bench to rest beneath him, and he reaches to take her hand in his. Removing the kerchief, he lifts the wounded hand to his lips, pressing a kiss to the marred flesh.

"What I want you to understand, Margot, is that… if I could discern a way for you to remain as you are and also remain with me, I would do it. Tis possible that there are things of which I am not aware, things that would bring leverage to your bargaining so that I could keep you. In the absence of that, I have conceived of my own bargain, to use as needed. And yet—"

He pauses, takes a breath, and releases it carefully, as though the words that waited on the tip of his tongue were skittish and required encouragement to emerge. "I fear for you, Margot, my sweet," he admits. "I fear what you will become, in my world. And I wonder if, perhaps it would be best for you not to come to Chaos."

Her eyes roll away from watching his lips at her hands, blinking away tears that had been so dry until that moment. A rueful chuckle escaped, "Certain death a better alternative? That is not the sort of endorsement one looks for when traveling to an exotic land." She sniffles, her smile apologizing for being possessed by dark humor.

"I do not believe the image is real," she insists. "I do not believe that I will become that entity, nor do I believe that what is seen is the truth. It may be laced with inklings, but it is not entirely guaranteed. I will be more guarded, more controlled, more … thick-skinned and armored. I will do my best not to take things personally, even if they besmirch my character. Especially if they besmirch my character. I will be strong. I will do so for me. I will do so for you. For Us. I swear. But, please do not ask me to not trust you… and do not ask me not to feel. Both will continue, I will just choose different ways of expressing myself so as not to cause a situation."

She sighs heavily. "I made a mistake. A dreadful, horrible, mistake. I cannot promise I won't make more, but I will try to not make one so severe and to keep them few and far between. I will do my very best because I have to. There is no alternative other than to make this work, and I'd rather it be a pleasant experience than not."

Margot's free than rises to gently stroke his cheek, a sad smile coming to her lips. "That there was a plan to use me does not surprise me. That was the main justification for why I should be allowed to continue my relations with you. Anyone who claimed to be a suitor would have other motives. No one wants the daughter of a King for who she is but for what she is and what she brings. I did not have to grow up in Amber to know that. I just demanded free will to choose who would benefit from that boon. I love you and want to be with you. That you have affections in return…" It was more than she had hoped for, dreamed of.

Quiet fills the space as she contemplates her next words with care, wondering if the confession was necessary. "I would have given you a child. I still would, though I would hope it would not be seen as a sacrifice or a price paid but as a joyous moment. But that is neither here nor there. What I don't understand is, why didn't you tell me of these things? There is no reason for me not to support you in your efforts, not that I can see. It makes sense that your family would want to advance politically. It makes sense to take advantage of what you have available at your disposal. But, Kendall, what would make you think that I would not be a part of your plans that you believed you couldn't talk to me about this?" She searches his eyes for the answer to what seemed to be an absence of trust.

His lips twist into a rueful smile and he shakes his head in amazement. "Such a question! Margot, speaking of plans and plots and schemes is risky. The only way to keep a secret is to keep it. Revealing secrets requires either great trust, or a reasonable certainty about the outcome. That is, either the outcome is assured, or something has occurred to render one's secrets moot."

Margot feels his words weighing heavily upon her. "And … our outcome is not assured, is it?" she asks softly. Her wounded fingers curled around his hand as her eyes close, her head resting against the back of the carriage. "I know there are risks. I accept that. I … don't know what I can do to prove to you, to convince you, that what I want is to be with you. To support you and to be at your side. And if that means pursuing House Barimen and the throne, I will do it. I will do it for you. For us. For House Chanicut. And … I know there are no certainties. No guarantees. But, I will take a chance at happiness over certain misery."

She draws a deep breath while her thumb caresses his hand. "I will leave Chaos before I hurt you. And if my traveling there with you now will cause you distress… No matter how much I want to be with you, no matter what I am willing to do, no matter how much I believe in my heart that we belong together and we will survive this…and succeed…I will not follow you to Chaos. I cannot be any more honest or open or vulnerable. I will do everything within my power to make this work and still be who I am. I have faith. I believe. But… you need to believe as well."

It wasn't until now that she realized that she had lied earlier. This was the scariest moment of her life. Her fingers were turning to ice in his hand as she waited anxiously for his blessing or dismissal. She couldn't in clear conscience bring him more trouble. It was never her dream to be a burden, and at every turn, that was all she was seeing herself as. Love and Loyalty. Was it enough?

"I simply do not know, Margot. I was reasonably certain that I could do this, could help you to learn what you needed, to become… how you will need to be. If Dara terrifies you, imagine what else you have in store. But, though my words were spoken earlier in anger, they were still truth as I see it," he continues. His expression darkens, earnest and serious.

"You will need to think more and react less to what is said to you and about you. Think more on the words, and their nuances. You are… delicate. I do not say weak, but you are fragile. You are hurt easily, take wounds into your heart. And you will have to become accustomed to proceeding with incomplete information."

He pauses, frowning a little again as he tries to think about how to explain something in words that for him is intuitive. As Margot said, he had been born into this so his knowledge rested below consciousness. "You cannot always plan or understand your way through interactions," he says. "You have to… to… Know your way. You have to believe your way." He shakes his head, not happy with those words, but not coming up with anything better at the moment.

"She does scare me, but the only way to master a fear is to confront it," Margot responds slowly. "You are correct on all of your criticisms. I have nothing but apologies for past transgressions. I offer little more than determination and will and passion and desire. I will not fail you, Kendall. I will make mistakes, but with each mistake I will learn. My life has been reared around interactions… even if that isn't how Amber's Court functions. I didn't spend time there, either." Gods, why did her parents do this to her? Leave her so ignorant and unprepared? She knew it was out of love, misguided though well intended, but now she was drowning and there was no one to teach her to swim.

"I can't explain what Dara does to me." She felt equal parts disappointed and exasperated. "I feel confident and self-aware and in control, and then she says something and I'm reminded of how little I know and it feels like she's purposely trying to drive a wedge between us and make sure that I have nothing to do with House Chanicut or you and I… I… never having a Lady before and not knowing anything about Chaos…"

She sighs heavily. "I don't trust her. And by not trusting her, I begin to second guess myself in trying to figure out what her angle is in the advice she is giving. I don't know if what she's telling me is sound advice or just something to complicate matters. I feel bullied because I'm unaware and ignorant. And I don't know how to manage that."

Dark eyes reveal themselves, seeking blue pools for solace. "How am I to establish control of a woman of her notoriety? More so, maintain it?"

Kendall is quiet for a fair bit of time as he ponders her question, before he ventures anything resembling a response. "From what I have observed, her advice has been reasonable. At least, from her perspective. She knows nothing of you, yet much about Chaos, and so her view is skewed in that way. Yet she could be an invaluable resource to you, Margot. Her pride and honor should ensure her usefulness for a while, but you will need to establish respect as well. I cannot tell you how to establish respect between you and she. I can say only that she will value strength and vision. You made a favorable impression on her during your first meeting. You will need to draw upon that in order to overcome more recent events."

"As for attempting to drive a wedge between us, she is Hendrake. I am Chanicut," he says, as though that explains everything.

Margot sits very still, replaying what he has said in her head, forcing herself to slow down and try to listen to the meaning, not just the words. "And so… her counsel is not necessarily an attempt to confuse and deceive, as I perceive it to be because that is how it feels to me given her delivery and her strong, aggressive persona. Though, I should not presume that all advice is given without ulterior motives, no matter how noble the intent may be."

She pauses for thought, and it was painfully obvious that she was trying to suss out the meaning, trying to understand and comprehend. "But listening and accepting counsel is not the same as following counsel. There could be much to be learned from her regarding Chaos and in that alone, I should embrace her service and take full advantage of that resource. Yet, I cannot be student and child, no matter how ignorant and frightened I may feel. Outwardly, it is imperative that I possess confidence and patience and not react with impulse. I have to always be mentally and emotionally strong, no matter how weak and vulnerable I may feel. Respect is earned; not gifted."

"And while learning from her carries its own risks," she adds. "It is in my power and strength of character to choose to overcome, survive and succeed without losing who I am in the process. The potential for the future is uncertain and could hold great power for whomever may claim legitimate right to the Throne. Houses will conspire against one another… even against allies… if it is to their advantage. So, if there is any chance of breathing life into House Barimen — especially under my leadership — it is in her best interest to keep us apart so that House Chanicut does not gain any political advantage. By bringing me to the Royal Courts and not having me connected to House Chanicut… it puts distance between us and therefore makes it easier for any plans Chanicut may hatch to be thwarted, either by making access to me more difficult or by attempting to taunt me with other opportunities. Either way, it makes things far less cut-and-dried."

A crease pinches her brows together. "Does that about sum it up? Am I even close?"

He smiles to himself as she talks things through, looking almost nostalgic. "Yes, Margot. That is an admirable start," he says when she is finished, obviously pleased. It's likely this sort of thought process passes through his mind, in full or abbreviated form, every time he pauses before choosing what to say.

He turns his head to look at her. "Make no mistake, however. Dara has been quite aggressive. She is testing boundaries. You must be firm yet flexible in establishing them. This is not something that can be explained. She does not trust Chanicut, or anyone from my House, any more than I trust her or Hendrake. Or Tinor, or Sawall, or any of the other Houses. Yet even if trust is an uncertain thing, alliances can still be made and common causes be pursued."

"I think I understand that, now," Margot replies. "Not the alliances, but Dara testing boundaries. Pushing. She didn't upset me with innuendo earlier, so another way was discovered. Being named your lover… even the whispers and disparaging comments that follow, despite my outburst… that wasn't the root of my dismay. Would I care that people would think lesser of me, yes. A little. But, I would not hang my head in shame."

She sighs, staring deep into the floor boards. "My responses turned petulant and illogical because… it was easier to pin my wounds on the obvious. Deep down, if I am truly honest with myself, she was threatening to remove you from me. Despite your assurances. Despite your confessions of your feelings that came with such difficulty. I believed she could and would do it and that I did not have the power to refuse her.

Another heavy exhalation. "I panicked and I lashed out at the only one that I love and I trust, handling everything in the worst possible way. There are no words to describe how mortified and ashamed I feel right now. It is a difficult, wretched lesson learned; one that will never need repeating. I will simply have to not let her smell my fear so easily. I don't know how, but I will have to learn. Quickly. Along with how to politely and firmly tell her to let it be." The last part she did not look forward to, not one bit. Gingerly, her tongue probed her lips and the pain summons a small wince and whimper.

"She is your servant now," Kendall observes. He looks at the plate of snacks she had assembled as though seeing it for the first time, and chooses one of the delectable bones. "She is, no doubt, unaccustomed to such a position. She is accustomed to leading, not following. The transition is likely to be just as difficult from her position as from yours."

He pauses, considering some more. "Also, she is from a martial House, one more given to direct action. Thus striking you is expedient, and served her purpose much more directly than talking. She is correct that it will not always be possible to spare your feelings and delicacy." The bone crunches.

Firm. Flexible. Understanding. Compassionate. Callous. Hard. The diachotomies and juxtapositions were beginning to make Margot's head hurt. Or maybe it was the lingering throbs from the slap followed by the outlet of emotion. Weariness set in around her eyes, though the rest of her face maintained its neutrality. Slowly, she nodded her acceptance of what he said. Truly, she had nothing to offer, complimentary or contrary to his observation. No promises or vows, no brilliant insight, no cosmic clarity.

Guarded. Guarded, guarded, guarded. Outwardly cold, or at the very least neutral. She didn't think she could do cold. Her way was so gentle, so passionate, so emotive. Dara seemed to be her polar opposite. It was like looking into a distorted mirror, one that mangled and molested the reflection into something that was nothing like reality. Lifting the glass to her lips, she sips slowly before cradling the crystal to her chest, eyes drifting closed. She wanted to put her head against him, to feel his arms around her, but she feared this was not the time and did not dare ask. Several slow breaths came and went before another sip, finishing the contents, and she placed the glass in its home on the table.

"Then it is decided. We will arrive to a place in Shadow best suited for tutelage. At which point, Dara, Desrianne and I will remain while you and your uncle return to Chanicut. My education will begin while you tend to business with the Duke and your family. In the meantime, I will be spending my time learning of Chaosian culture, society, history and language while awaiting your return. I will also be developing my listening and interpreting skills and my thicker hide. When it is deemed appropriate, we will travel together to Chanicut for formal introductions… Should the fates smile fondly upon us."

"During that time, any number of plots, schemes, contrivances and conspiracies may be spun, tangled and unraveled. It is a very serious, very dangerous enterprise." She hesitates, her hand resting at her stomach as if to settle it. "I don't know who the players are or what the rules are or what the objectives are. But, I suspect morsels will be revealed soon enough… just enough to tempt the unwitting Princess."

She shakes her head slightly, a rueful smile forming. "We'll just have to make sure I am not so unaware and naive as everyone would like me to be. It's the only way of it… isn't it…?"

"Tis a way," Kendall replies. "In my view, tis the best way to help you adjust."

She feels the brush of gentle fingers at her temple pushing aside errant strands of hair. Her face tips toward his touch. "But I will not be so distant as you appear to believe," he adds. "The veils between Shadows in Chaos are not the same as in Amber. There are… paths, for lack of a better word, called ways, that tie many of our holdings together. It is likely best to leave more details for the experiencing, but I had planned to see you frequently."

"My entire life has been lived in seclusion. It is the one thing I do know well." While it was his intention to see her frequently, he had already alluded to the fact that there were forces beyond his vision and beyond his control. Sequestering her made her most comfortable, even if it was seen as cowardly by Dara. Solace to study and practice without distraction or the weight of too many prying eyes; of course there would be some and word would travel back to Chaos, but perhaps in whispers and not in bellows. It was her hope, at least.

Whether he was manipulating her, one thing was certain, he did know her. She would not be comfortable pretending to be something she wasn't or being paraded around, trying to fake her way through the pomp and circumstance. He had watched her stumble and fumble through that in her own kingdom and how miserable she was. Margot did appreciate how he was trying to shield her, protect her, as best as he knew how.

"I will very much look forward to your visits," she answers with the first warm smile for him since they had last had privacy at Vigil. "And I will come to loathe the time between them."

Kendall nods, then quirks an eyebrow. "It may be that you find yourself far too busy with your own affairs to even notice my presence or absence," he says, his faint smile this time teasing. The hand at her temple moves around her shoulders, pulling her against his side.

A soft chuckle fills the coach. Margot leaned gratefully against him, wanting very much to be held. Her head rested against his shoulder. "I think that … I feel … we should invite your uncle and Dara to return. I … owe your uncle an apology. I don't want to leave this between the four of us."

"Truthfully, I was considering the idea of having you speak to Dara alone," he says.

"That needs to be addressed as well, I admit." Margot sighs heavily. "Your uncle needs to travel in here. I must insist. Kendall, I feel… I have to make amends somehow." She is clearly distraught, though her emotions were well in hand.

"It may be best to let the issue rest for now," he suggests slowly, as though testing out the idea as he speaks it. "You will be able to apologize on the ship later."

"I don't want him to think I'm not aware of my transgression or how mortified I am. It is bad enough that I behaved poorly; I don't want him to see me incapable for taking ownership for my transgressions as well. Will you at least allow me to forfeit my seat here so that your Uncle may travel in comfort?"

"If you insist," he says. "You and he can trade positions, and then you and the Lady Dara may have an opportunity to get better acquainted."

Margot nodded, not necessarily pleased, but not displeased either. "Then… are there other things you wish to discuss or would you rather…?" She lets the sentence taper off, allowing Kendall to determine the mood of the ride for the moment.

Kendall takes a deep breath, letting it out in a thoughtful sigh. This would be challenging, but it was probably necessary. Taking firm hold of his emotions, he nods. "Yes, there is one more thing," he begins. "Your words to me, in the language of your Shadow. What… motivated you to speak thusly to me at that particular time, Margot?"

Margot's eyes focus across the carriage. "It was another mistake, I suppose. A blunder. A grasping for something familiar. I was … trying to express myself quickly, succinctly, and privately. I was not necessarily thinking in a formal tongue, I wasn't thinking in any tongue. It seemed like the best way to communicate what I wanted to, in the manner I wanted to. I don't know why. Maybe it was … because you were not familiar with that language initially, there was some hope that the others didn't know it and I could express myself fully, openly, without judgment of Dara or your uncle. I don't know. I was not in my mind… I said things very quickly, very boldly."

He ponders her answer for a bit. Eventually, he says, "Tis generally considered ill-mannered to speak in a foreign tongue when not all can understand the words. That is the first thing you should know. The second is that… your timing was poor. That pause was intended for my uncle to provide information that you claimed to seek, and you filled it instead." He speaks calmly, explaining her missteps without harsh criticisms as much as was feasible.

"I know, I know… about the language… " She shakes her head, clearly irritated with herself. Her hands come to her face in a failing attempt to scrub away the tension. "Believe me, Kendall, no one is more aware of how poorly I managed the moment than I am. I failed a simple task of keeping my temper and emotions in check. I am frustrated and disappointed in myself. I have insulted your uncle and you. I feel smaller than an ant. I am trying very hard not to beat myself up further…"

She let her hands fall to her lap. Her tone wasn't exasperated, surprisingly, nor was it defeated. Tired, yes. She was emotionally wrung out, having expended a tremendous amount of energy berating herself internally. She remains silent for some heartbeats before venturing anything else. "I will endeavor to learn to appreciate silence more and learn to listen. I cannot promise more than that. The moment has past…"

"Very well," he says. "Are you resolved to speak with Brisbane now, rather than waiting until we reach the ship?" he says, picking up a small cane to knock against the side of the carriage.

"No, I'll abide your counsel," she answers, solemnly.

"Ah!" he says, pleased. "Then you will agree to talk with the Lady Dara?"

She sighs, feeling her frustration was growing once more. Lifting the bottle of wine she refilled both glasses, starting with Kendall's.

"Of course I will talk to her. For this to work has to be discovered, boundaries must be set. I … I wish I would have had a pet or three before having a Lady! A dog, perhaps. Something that I could have trained and learned how to develop such … dynamics with. I am dreadful at all of this!"

She leans forward, propping her forehead against her hand, elbow anchored to the table. "By the Gods, please let there be something in all of this that celebrates a characteristic that I possess… some thing that doesn't require learning or retraining or undoing. I would hate to think I'm going to end up being awful at everything."

"You are not awful at everything, my sweet," he states. "You are merely ignorant, naive, and inexperienced. We were all that way at one time."

Margot blinks in surprise, snickering before she can catch herself. He was right. As backhanded as the compliment might be, he was correct on all accounts. It just rolled off his tongue in such a manner that seemed so at ease, insignificant, and unimportant. He could be talking of the weather. Oh, the ridiculousness of it all!

"The Lady Dara may have maternal instincts that rival only the child Amber's, but it is possible some bargain may be struck where you are given some leeway for a set period of time," he finishes. He helps himself to some sausage from the plate, as though just then remembering that it was there.

"I am not certain I understand what you mean by leeway," she admits. "But, upon all else I concede to you wisdom and wit." A smile, genuine and relaxed found its way upon her lips as she turns to look at him. Leaning over, she presses a small kiss to the corner of his mouth.

"We shall see about that," he answers. He brings a hand up to smooth back the hair from her face, pressing a kiss to her forehead and then to her lips. "Wisdom is often… not exactly my strong suit, either," he admits.

She loved the taste of him, how his lips caressed hers. A smile curled against his mouth. "Your knowledge and experience is vast. And I learn from you eagerly. I have enjoyed your wisdom and your insight.

"I only wish it was so vast as all that," Kendall replies when they break apart, voice heavy, almost brooding. "I would give much for greater insight into… a great many things."

He sighs, and then the faint smile returns as he looks down on her, hand cupping her cheek and thumb tracing her lips. Margot captures the pad of his thumb between her lips, running the tip of her tongue along the soft flesh. Her eyes close as her affections continue down the digit to his palm.

"Even so, I will share what little knowledge and experience as I can with you," he adds.

"I know," she agrees softly against his wrist. Turning her torso toward him, she rests her head against his shoulder, nestling against the crook of his neck.

Kendall's faint smile turns affectionate as she snuggles against him. His arm goes around her shoulders and rests against her back, smoothing the fabric that stood between his hand and her skin. He picks up his wine glass and offers it to her, then takes a sip himself, a comfortable silence falling for a time between them.

"Would you let me…" She didn't know how to phrase her request. "I'd like to massage your neck and shoulders. Would you remove your robe so that I may do so?"

He blinks, a little surprised by the request, then assents with a nod. "If that is your wish, Margot, I should certainly not turn away such an offer," he says, a little teasing. He sets the glass down again, then waits for her to move before unbuttoning the heavy green velvet fabric. The seat on the opposite side of the carriage is a good place to lay the fabric, and he does so with care so it would not wrinkle. Once done with that, he gives her an inquiring look, not sure if she had a plan or not.

A smile blossoms, growing more sheepish once he returns to her side with his look of inquiry. "I suppose this is an awkward request in an unusual location… hardly a sanctuary of serenity. But I'd like to try to help release some of the stress and tension I've caused you." Her dark eyes find his, filled with earnest.

He begins to shake his head and deny any such thing, but then stops himself and instead nods. "You are very kind, Margot."

Her eyes swept the dark shirt, pristine in how it clung to his form. Teeth captured her lower lip as she contemplates what she needed. Her hands reach for his buttons, but pause before beginning to slip the fastens from their holes "I think… it may be easier for me to deliver and for you to enjoy if there wasn't fabric trapped between muscle and hand."

Kendall nods in understanding, but glances about for two heartbeats to decide how best to proceed. He begins unbuttoning the black shirt he still wore, standing up and moving around Margot. "It would likely also be easiest in this circumstance if I sit here on the floor in front of you," he suggests.

He suits actions to words, folding his legs up and dropping to the floor between her legs without any further ado. Finished with his shirt, he slides the silky fabric from his shoulders and arms, laying the shirt with the green robe. Tipping his head back, she begins working his temples, her fingers combing through his thick locks. Lovingly, her fingers massage his head, finding little points where tension had knotted in the scalp, around his ears, and along his neck before moving her hands to his face.

He makes an appreciative murmur in the back of his throat as she works, resting his head against her belly with his eyes shut. His legs are crossed in front of him, hands resting on his knees. Peace reigns in the carriage for a time until her hands move close to his face. He captures her left with his own in a quick move and presses a kiss to the palm. Opening his eyes again, he looks at her upside down, still holding her wrist trapped in his fingers. "You are remarkably quiet, shayna. Have you something on your mind, or should I leave you to your meditations?"

She leans over to press a soft kiss between his eyes. "I was taking pleasure in comforting you." Her right hand slips forward to stroke the length of his breastbone with the tips of her fingers. "You have given me much to ponder and it is weighing heavily on my mind and heart. Caressing you and giving pleasure also soothes my restless spirit while the tangled web slowly finds pattern and with the pattern, understanding and finally, peace."

"Ah," he says, drawing the single syllable out for a couple beats. He closes his eyes once more. "I will leave you to your ponderings, then. Tis good sometimes to rest, think, and plan." He kisses the back of her hand this time before releasing her and letting silence rest between them again.

She leans further over, tasting the wine on his lips before sitting back up. Her fingers returned to their ministrations. After his scalp and his face had been thoroughly tended to, her fingers slide along the underside of his jaw, working out the tension found there before working all the hidden places in his neck, both sides and down the spine.

Softly, Margot's ethereal hum filled their intimate space. The song's name was lost to her, but it was imbued with the tenderness she felt for the man sitting before her and the desires she held for him alone. Her attention soon moved to his shoulders and the tender places along his collar bones and the tight places of his upper chest. Periodically, her lips would follow her hands and brush along his skin, offering random gifts of affection. Periodically, she would stop to pull her hair away, the cascading waterfall of black spilling over the both of them and deterring her from her task.

Kendall has no objection to being tended to. Indeed, his general opinion on the matter, were he to be asked, was that he had been born for it. He sits quietly, leaving her to her own thoughts, and only moving as appropriate to give her access to his back, shoulders, arms, neck. He doesn't think much, preferring to lose himself for a while in sensation. The feel of her fingers against his skin, soothing away tension and annoyance, brings peace and relaxation for a little while. Periodically, a particularly pleasurable sensation would elicit a sigh or another murmur of appreciation. Even the tickling caresses of her hair only added to the experience.

Arms envelope Kendall, lips brush against the nape of his neck. She is still, her lips soft against his skin as her breath spilled over his flesh. He smiles a little when she leans over him, stirring just enough to take one of her hands in his. Long eyelashes ghost against the back of his earlobe as she affectionately nuzzles against him, a soft murmur hums against his skin just behind his ear. Eventually, her head tips against his, severing the connection of her lips to his warmth. "Where will we be retiring to while I undergo my studies?" she breathed at last.

It takes the space of 10 heartbeats for him to answer her question. "My family maintains a small manor in a Shadow that the denizens sometimes call Silver. Tis no larger than the castle of Amber in size, and so there will be fewer people and places for you to learn immediately. We use this manor on occasion when we desire a respite from the atmosphere in the Royal Court."

"No larger?" she repeats, as if she hadn't heard correctly. He could feel her head shake as a soft chuckle escapes her lips. "Exactly…. how much larger is Chanicut than Amber?" she asks with unfathomable curiosity. Knowing it wasn't intentional, his comment inadvertently reminded her of exactly what people had been sneering at… that she was from an insignificant, backwater place of unimportance.

He gives a little grunt of thought. "It depends on what measure you use," he answers. "Tis difficult to measure the holdings of an individual House, since they are often scattered across several Shadows in the Zone, and much is hidden from common knowledge. The lands of Amber, however, would constitute only a portion of the Holdings of my House."

Blue eyes open again and he turns his head to look at her. "Though tis possible that in terms of personnel, armies and the like, the potential of Amber is greater, since the Blood of Amber has greater access to Shadow."

"Through bastards, both unknown or secreted away by the Royal by necessity? And the potential for the bloodline to be carried through via propagation of progeny for generations beyond that?" Margot asks after some thought, her brow creasing slightly. She was born of wedlock, but even her bloodline was not pure. Mostly Amberite, but she was also one-quarter Fey. Think if every uncle, aunt, cousin, second cousin, etcetera moved through shadow, taking lovers and bearing children… some openly acknowledged while others were abandoned either out of love or indifference…

"Not exactly," Kendall says. "I mean in terms of going into Shadow and gathering needed resources and armies, recruiting or creating them for one's cause. Amber is still young by the measure of the Courts. Tis possible that maturation and growth to the level of one of the Minor Houses would have been possible, given enough time."

Lips pull to one side as she frowns in confusion. "But… if Shadow is nothing more than fabrications of the Royals' imagination… alternate realities across the vast multiverse, don't those that are created in Shadow and are of no real substance… those that aren't 'real' like you or me… don't they just … end if taken out of their realm of existence?"

The look he gives her is unmistakably one of worried amazement, sort of frowning and staring at her closely as though to measure the seriousness of her inquiry. "No, Margot," he says after five heartbeats' pause. "Either because of contact with Reality, or because all stuff of Shadow has some underpinnings of Reality, denizens and creatures of Shadow can be transported from Shadow to Shadow. Tis not always easy, and very often tisn't worth the effort, but it is very possible. Those of Amber have greater access to Shadow, and thus greater potential for the gathering of resources. There is a point of diminishing returns, however, that limits anyone who would attempt to gain unchecked power thus."

"OH." Her eyes fall, abashed, and she swallows hard. "That's good to know…" But she wondered, truly, was that better? She had hoped — maybe hope was the wrong word — that if the simplistic cast-off answer was all there was to it, her friends really didn't exist in Shadow. They were just imaginary friends that had taken corporeal form. All playing along in some intricate theatrical display. Maybe it made it easier to mourn and move on. Elsie. Franscesca. Gerhard.

"I guess… no matter how much I understand, I know nothing at all. I … my questions were answered quite… simply."

"Undoubtedly," he agrees, his tone becoming more soothing. "It may be that I will have need to arrange tutors on some subjects in which I am less… knowledgeable. I fear I was not as ardent a student as I might have been at times." Lips quirk in a smile of memory.

"Only if they are sworn to secrecy, held by punishment of death for uttering how dim-witted of a prize you return with," she cautions him, though her soul was truly too gentle for such a harsh mandate to be upheld. Yet, such a simple statement carried the weight of her embarrassment and dismay. Her arms withdraw from him so that her hands could cover her face.

He chuckles quietly, standing up so he could move around to sit next to her on the seat. "Dim-witted only if you refuse learning. Ignorance is curable," he remarks, taking her hands and pulling them away from her face so he could peer into her eyes.

Margot shifts, allowing him to remove her hands. Behind them were more tears that longed to be shed in her own shame. Tears that she refused to let fall. At this moment she felt nothing like a princess. Not even like much of a baroness or a woman, let alone one to have earned the right to claim the title of a Lord's lover. A girl. A girl who was so incredibly out of her depth.

Kendall leans over and lays his lips over hers, gentle and sensuous, attempting to avoid aggravating her sore lip, then he presses kisses to each of her eyes, removing the moisture that had gathered in her lashes. Pulling away again, he leans his forehead against hers so that he can look into her eyes, his stare intense and glittering. "And now, you have stumbled again. What shall you do?"

She sits still while he tends to her wounded soul. "Learn," she whispers, eyes closed. "And not admit my weakness or ignorance in public."

Leaning back again, fingers tuck under her chin so he can lift not just her head, but continue the motion until her back has straightened and she mirrors his upright carriage. "But before then, you must lift yourself up," he explains. "You are ignorant, but you are still of the House of Amber. You are still Margot."

A smile curls her lips, self-depreciating. "This is also true. I was focusing more on the immediate transgressions." Her eyes fall from his for only a moment before returning once more to his gaze. "I am still a representative of a House. And that should be taken seriously and portrayed nobly. And I have to believe it, not just behave it."

"True to the first point, but the second is debatable," he says, folding his hands in his lap, completely at ease with being shirtless. "Behavior can also bring belief, not just the reverse. Living a lie long enough will often lead the liar to believe his lies, and live them as though they are truth. And once belief is ingrained, the question becomes, what is truth?"

Margot is quiet for a moment or three. "Is that a rhetorical question?"

One eyebrow rises, and he smirks. "Ah… yes, Margot. You do not need to engage in philosophical meanderings with me right now. My point was merely that belief is slippery, and can be approached from many angles."

He pauses a heartbeat, then changes the subject. "Thank you for the massage. It was quite delightful. I will return the favor once we are in a more comfortable locale."

"You are welcome. It was my pleasure." In a moment of impulse, Margot plucks the pillow from the bench at her side and places it in his lap, then reclines on the bench so she can rest her head on the pillow and look at the ceiling. Her eyes turn up to him as she moves one of his hands to her abdomen, hers cradling it there. "Where is your favorite place? Where is it you prefer to visit and take your respite when you are home? What is it like?"

Kendall cants his head to look down at her almost right side up as she asks her question, but he looks up and off into the middle distance as he thinks on his answer. There were a number of ways to respond, some less appropriate than others. The fingers of his other hand idly caress her hair and trace the contours of her face.

"Much changes in Chaos, some things are random and some predictable. The sky, for example, changes in a predictable pattern, since the colors remain in the same order even though there is cause to wonder whether the individual periods remain consistent," he opens. "The Ways of Chanicut within Thelbane are large and well populated, much as the castle in Amber has its share of guardsmen, servants, couriers, ministers, hangers-on… Yet I discovered when I was young a small area that is often vacant, perhaps because tis challenging to get to. A small courtyard with a fountain of blue flame. From there, I can watch the turning of the sky and listen to the calls of the kr'ell as they swoop and dive above the Abyss."

Margot finds it difficult to keep her eyes open as his fingers play with her face and hair. "It sounds … peaceful. A place of solace. But, this is not … this 'Silver'. Is this a private a place for you alone? Your private lands?"

"Tis not private for me personally, as in a place reserved for me alone. But tis within the manor or main ways of Chanicut," he answers, looking down at her again. "I have never encountered anyone else there, either because no one else knows of it, or because of good timing."

"Then… maybe the place has claimed you." She smiles, eyes opening to stare up at him. "And it has become your private haven without you realizing it." It was a romantic notion, though not entirely implausible, given how Shadow works. Longing, desire, walking to a place in one's mind, anything was possible. Perhaps Kendall sought a place where he could simply meditate and find his balance. A safe place for him to be vulnerable… it seemed something that was so rare in his life, something to be treasured and coveted.

He smiles a little, charmed by the thought. "Tis possible," he says. "Chaos is malleable. But for you, my sweet, I should ensure that your retreat overlooks the sea."

Her eyes close once more. "I would like that. The sea is so powerful and still so peaceful. It reminds us how … it puts our existence into perspective with the rest of our environment."

Kendall falls silent for a time, listening to the creak of the carriage, clopping of horses' hooves, jingle of harness. "Have you regained your equilibrium, Margot?" he asks eventually.

"Are you…" eyes open, "I suppose." She sighed, rising from his lap.

The hand on her stomach restrains her from rising, unless she really feels the need. "I was merely wondering how you are feeling now," he says. "Not that you needed to sit up."

Margot's body relaxes, returning to his lap. Once more her fingers stroke the fingers at her stomach, tracing their long length. "Yes."

And silence falls once more as they both ride to their next destination.

Back to list of Kendall's game threads
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