Departure: Aboard the Good Ship Rhercyn

The carriages continue to the docks with no further stops, passing through curious crowds that gather to see the royal carriages even if the observers knew not who rode within. Indeed, speculation on their identities would lead to far more gossip, suggestions and suppositions that would grow all the more fantastical over the coming days until some newer event began the cycle anew. The same fathers, wives, sisters, and sons who would curse any Chaosian with catastrophe had they known who rode inside, instead wave as they pass since the carriages might as easily be carrying one of the Royals or one of their many allies from within the Golden Circle.

Yet no one cheers at their arrival at the docks. Instead, a circle of armed men with tall shields stand guard at the walkway leading to a most unusual ship made of vines and living wood. Three flags fly from its living mast — that of House Tinor, of Hendrake, and the banner of the Courts. Men wearing leather hoods and very little else go about loading the last of the wares purchased by their captain, while women veiled in layers of white silk sing a haunting song of waiting as they pull up buckets of harbor water to bathe the deck. But no flowers blossom yet, for this unusual vessel misses the familiar silver waves of her home seas near the Black Zone.

The captain is the only woman wearing green rather than a milky veil, a green that matches the colors of the foliage near where she stands overseeing the work of her crew. She opens the carriage doors herself when the rattling and creaking vehicles finally come to a halt near the gangplank. "I am Adele, Captain of the Rhercyn," she announces through the doorway. "We, and She, welcome you. May the Lord Serpent bless our return, and grant us a safe journey."

Kendall inclines his head politely to the captain's greeting. "Thank you, Captain, both for your greeting and for passage on your fine ship." He exits the carriage first, stepping out into the bright day once more. A fitful breeze from the sea tugs at his hair and clothes, swirling the salty tang and scent of seaweed around and making him feel somewhat ill right from the get-go.

"I am Lord Kendallarithan, attache to Ambassador Brisbane." He holds out a hand to invite Margot to join him, assisting her down from the carriage. "And this is Baroness Annaliese of Cesicul, my companion on the journey to Chaos."

Margot tips her head slightly lower than his to the Captain, though her eyes never leave the woman. "It is a privilege to meet you, Captain. Thank you for your hospitality and service."

"The Countess Anira Tinor welcomes you, and apologizes for not greeting you personally," Captain Adele says, giving each the proper bow of respect and servitude. "The climate here has become so disagreeable, she has retired to her cabin due to concerns with her health. But as her servant, may I provide an escort to your cabins?"

Across the way, Brisbane, Dara, Rory and Siorys also emerge from the second carriage, the two servants performing their duties as expected. Captain Adele tenses in surprise upon seeing Dara, since she is well-known to those who are allied with House Hendrake, and a wave of stillness sweeps across the ship as all of the crew take notice. The sounds of gulls and sploshing sea become unnaturally loud as everything else goes suddenly quiet, and the hair on the back of Margot's neck prickles with uneasiness.

Kendall doesn't even have to follow the captain's gaze to know what had caught everyone's attention. "The Ambassador's needs and comforts shall take priority at all times," he says with that air of authority he simply takes for granted, moving a half step to one side to interrupt the captain's line of sight as he reclaims her attention.

"As for all else, the Baroness and I have no need of separate cabins, thank you," he continues. "And as you can see, the Lady Dara has joined our party as well. My compliments to the Countess for the lack of forewarning; the Lady was a late addition. She should be housed near my cabin as well, if feasible," he finishes.

Margot feels greatly relieved when Kendall answers for both of them, taking a tremendous amount of pressure off of her. Still smiling, she nods as Captain Adele gives another slight bow to acknowledge the Lord's commands. A hand signal summons a pair of hooded men to their group, who receive their orders through another series of gestures.

"These males will escort you to your compartment," she says. Then with a nod, Adele leaves them to extend greeting to Brisbane. Her much lower and grander bow for the elder dignitary suggests some time well-spent in Thelbane.

The two hooded men smell of oil, sweat, and green things. They motion towards the gangplank of living wood with a branch of leaves acting like a rail, then one leads the younger duo aboard while the second follows behind. Kendall easily recognizes the general type of this ship, since more than a hundred similar vessels still served his own House. Even though other types of ship had surpassed them a thousand years ago, low maintenance, a proven design, and the ability to become an island if wrecked ensured even older vessels such as the Rhercyn were still actively used, especially among the Minor Houses.

But it was near impossible for Margot not to gape and gawk as the hooded creature guided them from the deck to their cabin. This had to have been one of the most fantastical things she had ever seen! Wide eyes filled with wonder, she can only absorb so much at once as they walk along passages festooned with bushy vines. Colorful winged creatures like butterflies flitter among the leaves while tiny, scuttling animals attend mysterious errands. She barely manages to avoid embarrassing herself, keeping her mouth shut and her footfalls steady until they arrive at a dead end.

Their guide breaks off the key and hands the twig to Kendall as branches untangle themselves, revealing that in reality they served as a decorative door to their cabin. A soft gasp escapes the princess at the astonishing sight, but a hand at the small of her back prods her gently forward to enter the room first while Kendall gestures a dismissal to both men. Color stains the young woman's cheeks at the loss of her composure, but her embarrassment is immediately forgotten once more at the wonders she discovered within.

Inside the small cabin, chairs, a table, and canopied bed grew from the ship itself. All held a warm look and feel of life, of being fully a part of the room and vessel in a way that normal furniture could never be. Curtains of woven brown branches covered with silvery white leaves surround the bed and hang over the portal windows, giving the cabin a muted glow. While Margot stands rooted near the door, staring around what seemed like a Fairy Kingdom, Kendall immediately moves over to the windows to sweep aside the curtains and give them more light. He then moves quietly about the cabin to briefly touch each piece of wood, caressing the furniture as though acquainting himself with new friends.

Margot's eyes search every line and detail, curious to see what vine led where, what root began where. Timidly she touches parts of the decor, not knowing what to expect, and enthralled by the humming feel of life under her fingertips. The shimmering curtain that keps the world away from the sanctuary of the bed catches her eyes, and she slowly moves toward it. "I've never seen something so… incredible," she whispers, unable to think of a more suitable descriptor. "This is beautiful."

Her words bring Kendall back to the present, and he focuses on Margot again as she also explores the room. He smiles, looking around the room again as though with new eyes, as though he had never encountered something like this before. It was beautiful, and almost like home.

"I remember a journey on a ship very like this when I was small," he says, then pauses with surprise at how easily the words had sprung from him. He joins her by the side of the bed, lifting the soft blanket and sheets to show her the nest of fibers that served as mattress. Like corn silk in texture, thickly matted and springy like a field of grasses, the fibers give off a fresh earthy scent as though they sat near a clear flowing stream. Delicate flowers of gold and orange climbed the posts of the bed and the struts of the ship, meeting and crossing overhead.

With gentle exploration, Margot brought her fingers to the mattress, caressing the delicate fibers before he lies the sheet and blanket back down. They were surprisingly soft and yet strong; it reminded her of the silk cords from her shadow that were woven with such care. But, she doubted that the silk, even woven this dense, would support bodies at rest. Bending to the flowers, she breathed in their delicate aroma; it was familiar, but she could not name where she knew the scent. She only knew that it was soothing to the mind and body, and she turns to sit on the bed to enjoy the delicate perfume.

"Where was this journey taking you?" she asks.

"My mother was visiting relatives in her House, and took my sister and me along on the voyage," Kendall answers. He lifts a finger to invite a stray butterfly to land. "The trip was long, or so I remember, especially since I was not permitted to explore the ship. My mother did not wish us to cause trouble, you see, or fall overboard into the Howling Sea, which is often turbulent. Except, of course, that I was disobedient, and found a way from my cabin through a break in the roots. Or… it might be the hole through which I slipped was created for me by the ship itself, in service to my desire."

The princess' eyes widen again with wonder as a butterfly settles on his extended finger. "And you weren't frightened?" she asks. "Did you discover what it was you were searching for?"

The smile that turns up one corner of his mouth is ironic. "I cannot say for sure what I was searching for," he answers. "Adventure? Knowledge? Merely a surcease from boredom?"

He chuckles, and the light puff of his breath blows the tiny creature from his finger, sending it fluttering to land in Margot's hair. Dark eyes follows the flight until it finds its home just above her ear. Margot tenses, not knowing exactly what to do, since she didn't want to harm or frighten the delight. Her spine shivers as its tiny antennae tickle her ear.

"What I found, ultimately, was the bilge. My mother was incensed when she discovered my ruined clothing. But before then… No, I believe these ships are incapable of inspiring fear. They are far too wondrous, and I explored nearly half of it before I was discovered."

"I have to confess, this is hardly what I imagined," she answers as the butterfly returns to the air and flutters back up to join its fellows above. Her eyes follow the little creatures flight, and then wander around the cabin once more, completely enchanted.

"I guess I envisioned… Something out of an adventurer's book. Something of wild escapades, pirates, and treasures. You know — 'Yo, ho ho, and a bottle of rum!' Or, maybe you don't." Her soft laughter fills their tiny space, adding to the warmth of the chamber. "But, this… This is tranquility."

"Have you ever been on board ship?" he asks curiously. He takes the two steps necessary to move over to a nearby chair, removing his green outer robe and laying it over the back. "In your Shadow or Amber?"

"You have been with me to the extent of my travels around Amber," she answers with a smile. "I was kept on a short tether there, but when I was at the Academy, I visited one of my classmates' homes and went out on their yacht with her family. It was an exhilarating experience. Terrifying, too, but that didn't stop me from trying to learn as much as I could about the rigging or anything else."

Kendall nods as he sits down next to her. "Sailing seems to evoke extreme responses, either of great love or great hatred of the experience. I know very few who are indifferent."

He turns to lean his back against the sturdy post that rose from the end of the bed, which is fully as wide in diameter as both of his arms together. "I suspect it is wise to wait here, out of the way, while the crew prepares to make weigh, but then we shall go on deck to watch the water pass and Amber disappear. If you are amenable, that is."

"And how long do you think that will take?" she asks, rising to remove her cloak to hang on a unique piece of wood that resembled a coat rack, though she had never seen one that had sprouted button-sized blossoms. She removes her slippers next, leaving them beneath the cloak. She walks slowly about the room in her stockings then, learning the different feel of the surface.

"An Amber hour, perhaps two," he estimates as she paces back and forth from portal to doorway. "It may take no time at all to stow the remaining luggage, or it could take much time to rearrange all to achieve balance. So we shall have need to entertain ourselves."

He pauses for thought as she returns to sit opposite him on the bed, leaning against the headboard so they face each other. He tickles the sole of one foot with a finger. "I could begin teaching you a lesser language of the Courts, if you like," he offers.

Her foot twitches beneath his mischievous caress, though she does not to remove it from his reach. Margot's eyes fall to where his hand plays, enjoying the simple moment of privacy. "Yes, I think I would like that."

And so that's what they do for a time. Kendall's never taught a language to anyone, so he doesn't really know how best to go about this. It helps that they can already communicate in formal Thari, though. They begin by going over some basic words, then move on to some general phrases. Margot is an ardent student with a keen ear. Before long, she is trying to string different words and phrases together, sometimes with amusing results.

Bed, window, flower, chair, foot, ocean, laugh. Hello. A pleasure to meet you. I will honor you with a dance. Though he undoubtedly takes this seriously, some of Margot's missteps still cause Kendall's lips to twitch with amusement. While they trade words and phrases back and forth, the rising and fading song above keep him apprised of the state of the ship's preparations.

There then comes a loud thump on the deck. And another, followed by a third. The sound of many men stomping as one upon the deck above continues, rhythmic and primal. The thumping interrupts the lesson, both feeling the vibrations through the wood of the ship as though the vessel itself shivered with excitement at the prospect of a new voyage. The singing swells and their cabin sways as the ship begins to swim out of the harbor.

Margot sits up, alert and eager. "Is it time for us to wave goodbye to Amber?" she asks her companion.

Kendall nods and stands up, holding out a hand to her. "Yes, the sea will pass quickly beneath us, but some view should remain long enough for us to go on deck."

"Is the stomping normal?" she asks as he helps her back into her cloak in anticipation of a brisk breeze on deck.

A smile flickers across his face as he dons his formal robe. Normal was a challenging concept to pin down in Chaos. "It is integral to the voyage's beginning, yes, as well as other events," he answers.

He tucks her hand around his arm and then leads her through the doorway into the dim passage. She pauses again to watch the branches knit themselves back together. "Amazing," she murmurs before following him. She is glad he could lead her out of the bowels of the ship, since she had been so entranced earlier that she had not paid much heed to their path.

He helps her on the stairs once more as they climb upwards this time. "You need not feel as though you must hide your interest," he says as they reach the deck level. "Why else do you think the Lady Dara wished to show you all the wonders of Chaos? Because we feel they are wondrous, as well. Terrible, sometimes, and frightening at others. But wondrous, all the same."

Once on deck, Margot and Kendall maneuver past the crew as they sang, stomped, and worked at more recognizable tasks. The sea is restless near the land, with conflicting currents attempting to dictate destiny for the ships that dared cross them. The Rhercyn pitches and sways with the conflict between sea and the will of those she carried, and the Lord stays close to his charge to see to her safety. He helps her up the short flight of steps to the aft deck and the point of highest safe vantage. The wind streams through their hair and furls Margot's cloak, the sparkling sea a foamy wake behind them as the land moves away into the distance.

He directs them to a niche at the rail where they can remain out of the way and undisturbed by the bustle on deck, and then stands windward to buffer the gale that drove ship away from land. He remains silent for a time as Margot looks out over the sea towards Amber — her homeland though she might not have felt connected to it. She felt so tiny it almost seemed as though the gale could pick her up and snatch her away, and her cheeks quickly reddened in the sun and wind.

Something told her that she should feel sad or excitement or trepidation, and to say she didn't would be untrue. Yet, by the same token, those emotions felt muted and distant. She could concede that Amber presented a beautiful skyline, far more enchanting and alien than her home Shadow. It seemed bizarre to think this was tame and rigid, perhaps even dull in comparison to where they were heading. And she felt disappointed, in a way, that the most she would ever see of Amber would be in departing it.

She draws her hood up in hopes that it would keep her hair from swirling around her in an angry tempest, feeling as though she wanted to pull a protective shell all around herself. Everything seemed so large, so tremendous… and here she was, so small and meaningless. It wasn't a feeling of pity, but of amazement. She had suddenly caught a glimpse of the vastness of the multiverse and realized her place as a tiny entity granted the privilege of enjoying its wonders for only a minuscule moment in time.

One hand occupied with steadying his balance with the rail, Kendall uses the other to brush the wavy tendrils of her hair behind her ear in a pointless caress; the wind tears the locks free almost before he finishes the tiny gesture. Talking is almost impossible over the wind, the waves, the creak of rigging, the shouts and singing. Nevertheless, he leans closer to speak into her ear so his words would not be lost.

"We can stay on deck as long as you wish, but you appear weary. I would not care for you to become ill or fall overboard in a moment of weakness."

The suggestion, not fully spoken, is well appreciated. With a nod, Margot weaves her hand around his arm so he can guide her away from the rail and out of the elements. As they retire to the relative warmth of the cabins below, she cannot escape a feeling of finality, as though she would never see this place again.

Back to list of Kendall's game threads
An Unexpected Promise

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