Keep Moving Forward

Margot sits and observes as the Lord engages his servant, as Rory and Desrianne exchanged glances. His lips were ambrosia, even with a tender, chaste press, and her eyes close to savor the experience of his touch and taste. "Of course, Kendall. I will join you directly," she replies with serenity.

Once more, she witnesses the frigid exchange between the two that she loves so dearly, one leaving while the other stood rigid as if she were carved of marble. And then she and Desrianne were once more alone.

Sliding from the bed, Margot tightens her belt as she pads over to Desrianne. "Caresse…? Why the scowl? Honestly-" she questions in hushed whispers, exasperated.

"For someone who is concerned for your health, Poppy, there are gentler ways to tend to your needs," she returns stiffly.

"Not that, again, Caresse," Margot groans. "We talked, we worked through our misunderstandings, we … " Margot's expression softens as she trails off. "There was a great deal shared… beyond lust and bodily fluids," she finally finishes.

"Margot!" the matron snaps, shocked.

"Well, that seems to be all that you're concerned about!" Margot returns, a hint of anger lacing her hiss. "Why is it so impossible for you to believe that he may have real emotion for me? Real affection. Last night you told me that it was possible, and this morn, it is not? What could change in the matter of the moon crossing the sky?"

"The placement of your pajamas," Desrianne returns coolly.

"Caresse," Margot answers with strained patience. "I removed my pajamas long before loving began. We spent most of the morning talking. Talking," she repeats for emphasis. "I wanted to be on even ground… metaphorically. He was bare, and we were talking about very vulnerable, intimate things. To be clothed seemed like I was … I don't know, guarded by comparison."

She pauses for breath. "Now, I know you do not favor my choice, nor do you fancy my lying with Kendall, but you need to accept the fact that this is our bed," she continues with a gesture to take in the vast bed where so much had transpired. "Not his, but ours by his own naming. He chooses to offer it to me, to share it with me, rather than claiming ownership and granting me permission to be in it. Can't you see beyond your prejudice of Chaosians and see the difference between a lustful frolic and something more?"

Grey eyes soften, if only a touch. "You are young and in love. I fear for your heart when the seasons change, Poppy," Desrianne says with sadness in her tone.

"Please, unless you feel it necessary to tend to my bath and dress, which we both know I'm more than capable of managing on my own, see to your affairs in preparation for our journey. And find peace. Please," Margot entreats, her eyes begging for the other to let the ice melt from her heart.

"I will see to your morning routine," Desrianne asserts, pride stiffening her back. "I'll not have some … male servant pour your bath and dress you and plait your hair. The Unicorn only knows what kind of folly that will produce."

"Thank you, Caresse," Margot responds with a smile, not daring to tell her matron that Rory had been most attentive and she had no doubt he would see to her needs perfectly. "I love you, Caresse. Truly, I do." She presses a kiss softly to the woman's temple. "Please, try to be civil… for me? It will make everyone's time together far easier in the end."

"Hmph," Desrianne grunts. "I will act as is required of a personal attendant to a Princess. You cannot blame me for being protective of you, Poppy. You are a beautiful girl with a gentle heart, which I don't want to see broken."

Margot opens the door. "I know, Caresse. I know."

Desrianne departs, the soft click of the door seeming to echo in the hollow silence surrounding Margot. Pulling her thin robe about her shoulders, she walks toward the balcony, detouring only far enough to pluck her wine from the end table.

The Chaos Lord sits in one of the wire chairs on the balcony with wineglass resting on a low table nearby. The balcony is still swathed in morning shade, and the breeze tugs at his tousled hair and the dark blue robe he wore. He did not hear the conclusion of the quiet argument between Margot and her maid so much as the cessation of its discord, and he turns his head a little to see her approach.

Some of the tension in her shoulders dissipates at the sight of him with the wind playing in his hair. Margot can remember another morning, not so long previous, when the two of them had sat in that chair together. He holds out an arm, inviting her to again rest in his lap and a relieved smile tugs blossoms. Before finding comfort in his lap, she leans in to kiss his lips.

"I apologize for Desrianne's demeanor," she says in a soft voice. Her eyes are sad and her expression reflects her embarrassment as she sits in his lap. "She is protective. She was my Nanny and I fear that I am very much like her very own. I know my own affection for her runs deep, and I think she still sees a child when she looks upon me…"

Aquamarine eyes still contain some measure of coldness as she explains, though one hand comes up to comb the hair back from her other temple in a calming gesture. "I can be forgiving to a point, shayna, but disrespect to the Ambassador will be dealt with swiftly," he warns.

Margot's gaze moves to the horizon, one hand tucking her hair behind her ear. "She will learn respect and pay it accordingly," she promises, though with a hint of sadness and regret at the prospect of having to change their loving relationship into something different. Lifting the glass to her lips, she takes a deep drink.

"Tis as I have said to you previously: I am Chaosian, Margot. She will never be content while you choose to share my bed, nor will your mother or anyone else here in Amber," he says in his matter-of-fact tone. "Tis something you will either learn to accept and relinquish, or you will be quite unhappy."

He did not need to see her face to know the crushing reality of his words weighing heavily on her. No, she could not condone such behavior, and she truly could not fathom what had turned her beloved Caresse so feral. Plus she knew there would be other challenges as well; they seemed to be everywhere, amidst the shadows, waiting to derail their happiness. But his statement about being Chaosian and not being received in Amber made her think about her own reception by his family.

"I suspect we will meet similar challenges once we arrive at our destination," she observes, her lips pinching together uneasily. There was nothing to be done for it unless Kendall chose to hide their relationship from his family, which would hurt terribly. But, as he had told her, his world was very different than hers.

"Will you formally introduce me to your Ambassador given we are departing with you?" She hesitates before asking, "He is aware of that, is he not?"

"Yes. We have spoken of it," he confirms. He picks up his own glass from the table and swirls the liquid for a heartbeat. "Though that does indirectly lead back to the matter of Lady Dara."

"Yes, I suppose it does," she agrees. "Do you know what her purpose is and why she would claim such a wild thing as being my Lady?" Margot asks.

Kendall takes a sip of wine as he contemplates his answer, and a knock at the hallway door fills the brief silence. The door opens immediately afterwards, and Margot from her vantage sees Rory and Siorys bring in breakfast, much as they had the other morning she spent with the Chaosian. She shares a warm smile, acknowledging their presence though she does not call to them from the balcony. Reaching up, she gathers her hair together and tucks it out of reach of the wind into the back of her robe.

For his part, Kendall remains silent as the servants do their work, sipping his wine again with his gaze on her face. Kendall's gaze warmed her, so much so that it compelled her to sample his lips affectionately. He returns her caress while dishes are set upon table, but the breeze was chilly against skin protected only with a thin layer of silk, and he felt Margot shiver against him.

Setting down his glass, he helps her to her feet and leads her indoors again as Siorys departs through the door. Rory lingers, but bows and departs at his lord's dismissing gesture. Kendall leads the princess to the table but before he seats her, he pulls off his robe and drapes it over her chilled shoulders. Leaving her to survey the spread of food, he goes to the wardrobe to fetch his spare robe.

"This is all so amazing. Do they always put out enough food for a half-dozen people?" Margot asks. She marvels at all the vibrant colors and textures placed before them, and then her eyes widen with delight at the sight of honey cakes. The scent of spice and sugar rises from still-warm bread, as if they had just come out of the fires.

"Do you remember when I told you of my favorite treat? It was this," she says with the excited smile of a child given a present.

Kendall smiles at her enthusiasm as he ties the belt on his new robe and closes the wardobe. "I may have mentioned it to Rory after your first visit," he remarks casually.

"Did you really?" Genuine surprise colors her voice, touched by the gesture. There was even a tub of whipped orange-butter waiting to be spread upon the hot confections.

"Mmm-hmm." His response sounds distracted as he pauses at the desk to open the drawer and remove an envelope. Back at the table, he extends to her an envelope of creamy parchment adorned with a pair of crowns in golden wax — the official seal of the King and Queen of Amber twined with its purple ribbon.

Margot's excitement changes to puzzlement when she accepts it. She examines the envelope with a furrowed brow, her fingers tracing the wax seal with a delicate touch. "What is this?"

He sits when she takes the envelope from her. "I received that from Lady Dara when I met with her during Blacksky," he explains. "She brought it as explanation. For you."

She sets the envelope down next to her plate. "Well there is little use spoiling our appetites with this bounty set before us," she offers with a weak smile. "You are already displeased with how little I eat… and still you have made me give my word that I will eat properly."

She gestures to the envelope. "If I read this first, I assure you, nothing will pass through these lips. So let us enjoy the repast first, and if you are comfortable, perhaps you can tell me of your exchange with the Lady Dara. It seems she has proven herself quite adept… acting as courier and auditioning for the role of Lady in Waiting."

He makes a noncommittal sound to her last observation as he spreads some smoked fish paste on a slab of bread and sprinkles it with small dried berries of bright orange. "If you would prefer to wait to read the letter, that is your choice of course," he says. "I would prefer that you eat well, which will help you recover your strength. However, I would also prefer to wait upon discussion of Lady Dara until you have read it."

Kendall returns his gaze to her face, giving her a smile probably intended for reassurance. "I know not what that letter contains, but it may give explanation for her presence here." He takes a bite of his bread, choosing also a handful of nuts to eat in between.

Not questioning his preference, Margot simply agrees with his assessment, happy to dismiss the topic altogether until after the meal came to its natural conclusion. Selecting one of the honey-cakes, she splits the warm bread open and slathers a thin sheen of buttercream along the steaming pillow. She nibbles happily, her eyes alight with the simple pleasure of her favorite breakfast. The only thing that would be better would be hot coffee infused with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Together, they exchange pleasantries between eating in moments of contented silence. Berries and cheese, boiled eggs and dried meats. There are a number of more exotic choices at table this morning, in addition to the honey cakes, which Kendall explains to her with his customary patience. He tries her sweet confection, which has a surprisingly delicate flavor with a hint of caramel and spice and dried fruits and nuts baked into the bread. He admits that it would take some adjustment for him to prefer it for first meal, though. Indeed, he seems to show greater interest in more savory flavors upon waking.

Margot finishes first, conversation dying as her eyes alight on the sealed missive. Belly full and no further excuse to delay, she rises from the table with the envelope in hand. She takes one last sip from her glass before she wanders away, her eyes fixated on the wax seal. Fingers trace the purple and gold and she twines the ribbon between her fingers while her feet carry slowly and without volition toward the balcony.

Kendall remains at table when she rises. He had saved several special items for last, and he now savors the delicious crunch of fragile bone with its accompanying tangy sweet sauce within. He watches Margot drift toward the balcony as he eats, though he says nothing to draw her attention away from whatever thoughts held her attention.

Several things troubled her about this envelope… who delivered it, the formality of the seal. Surely, if her mother wished to communicate with her, a summons or her private seal and personal stationery would have sufficed. Kendall need not see her expression to know she was troubled, her small frame in his large robe tense with shoulders hunched forward over the letter.

He wipes his mouth and fingers with pristine linen when she finally stops to lean against the banister in a slice of early sunlight peeking through a break in the roof line. He also leaves the table, but does not intrude into her space. Instead he remains by the door as she draws a deep breath and then cracks the seal.

Stiff parchment crackles as she pulls letter from envelope and unfolds the missive within. The note is short, perhaps surprisingly so considering the circumstances, and it takes her no time to take in the contents. She stares at the letter for a full minute, reading and rereading the words. In parts of it she could hear her mother's voice, in others it sounded formal, cold, distant. What did all this mean?

Questions flood into her brain as she attempts to evaluate and analyze the letter in ways she never would have expected to, making her head hurt. The first two sentences sounded … forced, businesslike. What machinations were planned for her of which she was unaware? And why would her parents present her with someone who nearly destroyed Amber? What did Dara owe her parents? Or — better question — what power did her parents possess over her that they would place their daughter's safety in the Chaos Lady's hands?

Spending time with Kendall was making her paranoid.

From his vantage just inside the door, the young Lord could see that the letter had not provided ready answers to Margot's questions. The hand holding the letter falls to her side and her other arm wraps around her waist. Her eyes rise to search for something far beyond the horizon, something she'd likely never find.

Several minutes pass in silence with Margot coming to no true resolution. If the letter was authentic, then it seemed that Lady Dara had somehow been pressed into service at her side. The thought turned her stomach something fierce. These were not the sorts of surprises she fancied; honeycakes provided by Rory, that was delightful. This…

She sighs and a glance over her shoulder eventually brings Kendall back into her thoughts. One side of her mouth attempts to curl as she extends the letter towards him. As one well versed in intrigues, perhaps he could suss out that which she cannot fathom.

Taking a step nearer, he accepts the parchment and scans the letter with a quick flick of the eyes. It does not take long at all with a note that pithy.

Our Dearest Pearl,

We are so proud of you and your successful walk of the Pattern. You have risen above our expectations and hopes. We love you, Margot and seek that your days be happy and safe.

To that end we present you with Dara of Thelbane. Consider her at your reasonable disposable. She will not leave your side.

Momma and Papa

Moving close behind her, he sets note on banister weighted by wineglass, and then puts hands to her shoulders and massages gently before pulling her back to lean against his chest with arms about her shoulders.

"In my meeting with her, Lady Dara claimed the title of Lady in Waiting at the request of your mother, a claim supported by this note," he confirms.

She rests against him, her eyes closing and her hands wrapping around his arms at her chest. "I don't understand," she confesses. "Some of this… missive… It sounds so much like my mother. And some of it is so foreign."

She sighs. "I mean, I have always been her Dearest Pearl. Or simply her Pearl. That it is signed off Momma and Papa, well, that is what I call them… at least when we're not fighting. And when I was a child, that was all they were to me. And for there to be mention of their love and wishing for my safety and happiness… That sounds like the mother I once knew."

Her eyes open to take in the vast expanse of ocean. "But, there are many oddities and unanswered questions lurking in the back of my mind… Niggling little irritants that make my stomach churn and my skin crawl. I don't know why… just that … I'm doubtful."

He does not answer right away, weighing her words carefully. Lips lay kiss to her temple as he thinks. "I cannot assist with verifying the will of the Queen of Amber," he says at last. "I can offer only considerations in terms of the Lady Dara of Hendrake."

"I would like that," she admits, smiling at the press of his lips at her temple. "We have not yet left Amber and there may be ways for me to discern the authenticity of this without disturbing the Queen."

A frown tugs at her brows. "I am most troubled by the line, She will not leave your side. Especially if she is even half as dangerous as Desrianne portrayed her to be."

Kendall presses another kiss to her temple, feeling the coolness of her skin against his fingertips. It would not take long for the chill to once again permeate her whole body.

"Come, my sweet," he invites her, moving to put arm about her waist and lead her indoors. "Let us return to the warmth inside, where we can speak more on this sitting comfortably rather than with longing gazes to search the far horizon of doubt."

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