A Stroll in the Garden

It is is still early morning when the young Page passes along the fragile bridge between the Castle and the tower that housed the fearsome Chaosians who were currently guests of King Eric of Amber. The youngster shivers with apprehension as he walks closer and closer to the door, away from the comforting presence of the Knights who stood sentinel at the other end. He himself had never so much as passed a Chaosian in the hallway, and wondered what terrifying apparitions might be hiding behind the silver-bound door. His steps move more and more slowly as his imagination runs rampant, and it is hard to say whether he would have gotten up the nerve to knock on the door.

The burden is taken from him, however, when the door opens before he reaches it, revealing a red-haired man wearing green and black. The page freezes for two quick breaths, eyes wide in surprise, as the servant studies him in turn. "Good morning," he greets the child, his voice neither friendly nor dismissive. "Have you a message to deliver?" He looks pointedly at the envelope still clutched in the youngster's hand.

The child bows. "I have a message for Lord Kendall— Lord Kendallarithan. From Princess Margot." He extends the envelope, which the servant accepts.

"You may go," the red-haired man dismisses the page, who bobs another bow before hurrying back to the castle end of the bridge as quickly as his childish grasp of dignity would allow.

It is only a short while before the envelope is placed the Lord's hand. He is standing in front of the open doors of the massive wardrobe when Rory enters the bedchamber, staring at the carefully organized clothing therein with a brooding expression. The empty wineglass from the balcony dangles from the fingers of one hand.

Rory bows and extends the note. "This has just arrived from the Princess Margot.”

Kendall accepts the missive and breaks the seal, walking slowly to the desk as he reads while Rory checks that nothing has been put into disarray before closing the wardrobe doors. As before, ‘Lord Kendall’ is delicately written on the envelope. This time the envelope is laced with a sweet, delicate aroma, almost undetectable unless it was expected. Inside, a simple response:

Lord Kendall~

Delighted does not begin to describe how I felt with the answer I received from you last night to accept my invitation. As you so generously offered your time, it is my hope that you will be available today. I wish I was able to suggest a time by the cycle in the sky, but until you share with me the secrets of how to do such things, I will have to rely on the clock in your tower.

When the clock chimes ten times, I will be awaiting you at the veranda overlooking the courtyard.

If this time is unacceptable, please send word with a more appropriate time that meets your convenience.

Kindest regards~

Princess Margot

The Chaos Lord chuckles quietly to himself, raising the paper to inhale the soft scent. "I'll need my…" He trails off as Rory places the box of writing supplies on the desk, and then nods. "Very good."

He sits, and then stares at nothing for the space of 20 heartbeats before putting pen to paper, writing his response while Rory prepares the wax for the seal. "I'll be meeting the Princess for a walk in the gardens when the clocks ring 10," he says when he is finished. "Let Brisbane know when the time is right. I will take my first meal here," he adds, folding and sealing the letter and then addressing its outside.

"As you wish, m'lord," Rory answers as Kendall hands him the finished letter for delivery. The servant bows himself out and takes the letter to the far end of the bridge, where it is handed off to a page.


Less than an hour later, another cherubic page taps at Princess Margot's door, delivering another folded and sealed missive. Once more, the Princess' name on the outside is underscored with a delicate tracery.

Margot smiles fondly at the child, giving the lad a small curtsey with her words of thanks. Her stomach began to knot as she returned to her quarters, daring not to open it before she was safe in her bedchamber. Silly girl, it is only a confirmation letter. Stop being so moved by simple acts of courtesy.

She tries to remind herself that this was little more than a continuation from the previous day’s tea. Her thoughts raced of all the motives that could allow this encounter to happen, and opted to settle upon him being just as curious about her as she was of him. Nothing more, she pointedly reminds herself.

Not until she had returned to the fire did she dare crack the seal and reveal the contents of the letter.

Princess Margot,

Thank you for your kind note and thoughtful offer to observe time as in my home. I appreciate the challenges of such an endeavor, however, and am pleased to observe the local conventions while staying in Amber.

In regards to your requested time of meeting, I await 10 bells with anticipation and pleasure.

Fondly,

Lord Kendall qil Chanicut

Her pulse quickens at the sight of his closing. Fondly. Her eyes hung on the word for a few heartbeats. Perhaps it is nothing more than a standard way to close communications, she wonders. Her cheeks betray her as color flushes to a charming rose. She smiles, enjoying how his hand moved across the paper with a flowing, artistic line. Returning note to envelope, she tucked it with the letter she received the night before.

Desriann watches Margot as she enters her wardrobe with a perplexed expression upon her brow. The maid follows, awaiting the cue to assist the young Princess. Margot says nothing for several minutes as she takes several passes around the room, not finding what she wants… not knowing what she wants. Her lips pull to one side in consternation.

“Desriann?” she opens at last, turning to look at her servant. “I will be meeting Lord Kendall for a walk in the gardens this morning, but I am… uncertain what would be appropriate to wear under such circumstances.”

"Perhaps the Princess—” Desriann begins, but Margot holds up a hand to interrupt.

“We are alone, Desriann. Please. Let me be just Margot here,” she entreats, eyes pleading to be without title in the privacy of her room.

“Perhaps…” the princess' maid hesitates. “Perhaps you would like to wear something that will flatter your form?”

Margot’s only response is a bashful nod of the head.

“Come, child. Sit. We will find something that will be acceptable,” Desriann reassures, voice warm and comforting.

Together, they come to decide on a gown of dusky rose the exact color of the sun's descent. Desriann helps Margot into her clothing, making all the necessary adjustments to bring all the elements together to display the princess' perfection. Turning to the looking glass, Margot smiles bashfully at the image in the reflection. “You are quite a vision, Child.” Desriann compliments.

Guiding the girl to her seat in front of the dressing table, Desriann set to the task of fixing her hair. She pools Margot's hair down her back in soft curls with pins of glittering pink stones to hold the long locks from her face.

“There,” Desriann when she steps back with a smile visible in the mirror. "I doubt he will notice a single petal.”

Margot’s cheeks redden. “I… I…” she stammers.

Desriann’s hand smooths the hair down Margot’s back. “There is no shame in wanting to be attractive when meeting a young man, Margot. Now, You should eat.”

“I cannot,” Margot admits, placing her hands over her queasy stomach. Her insides were already in knots and she had not even left her chambers.

Desriann leads her out into the sitting room and places a warm cup of tea and a honey cake in her hands, knowing that these treats were her favorite. Margot smiles, though she felt unable to appreciate even these delicacies. Nonetheless, she appreciated the thought.

“Thank you…” Margot says with sincerity. She sits by the fire, picking pieces from the cake as she waits for time to pass. But when her clock rings half-past nine bells, she finds she cannot wait any longer, and departs to find her meeting place.


Lord Kendall pants with exhaustion as the confinement ring of the Harness Golem flickers off, releasing him from the center of the practice mat. His servant immediately approaches with a towel and a glass, which he trades gratefully for his sword and dagger. Wiping the sweat from his face and neck, he walks slowly around the room while his heart rate slows and his breathing calms. He sips carefully of the chaw’a fruit juice in the glass, cautious of the bitter liquid that burned the mouth, yet cooled the throat. It would take a little time before its restorative energy would begin to flow through him.

“Your bath is prepared, m’lord,” Rory says upon his return from putting away the weapons, and Kendall nods wearily. The servant helps him out of the harness and then takes the glass, leaving the Lord to make his own way to the bathing room. Somewhere in the castle, the clocks toll nine times.

Shedding his clothes, Kendall sinks into the cool water to rest while waiting for the chaw’a fruit to begin its work. He waits, unmoving, a full 200 heartbeats before feeling the energy begin to return to his limbs. At length, though, he finishes his bath, and Rory appears with a towel and a robe as Kendall leaves the water.

Back in his private chamber, a light breakfast sits on the table by the balcony door. The windows had been shut and the curtains drawn against the sunlight, as all things Amber had seemed irritating to the Chaos Lord when he had risen earlier. It was then that Rory had tactfully reminded his master that it had been several Turns since he had faced the trials of the ring.

Kendall sits at the table and eats slowly, lost in his thoughts, while Rory lays out and brushes down his clothes. After that, it takes no time at all for him to don black trousers, high-necked tunic, and soft boots. He raises an eyebrow when Rory presents him with the flowing green robe made of senna silk, but the servant’s expression is bland and unreadable. At length he nods, and is helped into the robe, which falls in shimmering green folds to his calves and chimes faintly like windbells with every movement.

Several heartbeats more are required for him to adjust everything to his liking — smoothing his hair just so, straightening the sleeves of his tunic and robe, adjusting his collar. One last detail, and he is ready. Beyond the bridge, he nods briefly to the escort of two Knights who join him like clanking shadows as he strides through the castle, to arrive at the appointed place at precisely the correct time.

Kendall spies the princess as he comes down the hall, pausing in his approach to watch her for 10 heartbeats and memorize the tableau with the eye of an artist. Margot sits upon a marble bench on the veranda with her back to the hall, arm draped over the rail. Long hair hangs softly to her waist with little pins of pink gems glittering in the morning sun. So distracted is she that that she fails to notice even the noisy entourage of the Chaosian Lord approach.

Moving several more steps closer, he hails her quietly, in hopes of not startling her. "Fair day, Princess Margot."

If she is startled, she recovers quickly as she stands and turns to face him. “Fair day, Lord Kendall,” she replies, sinking into a graceful curtsey with one hand holding up the hem of her dress. He bows in answer to her curtsey, one arm to the side with the other crossed over his waist. His robe chimes like a hundred tiny bells as he moves, and the light glints from a brooch pinned to his collar.

She rises with water’s fluidity, and her smile kisses her eyes as she shares her pleasure that he has agreed to visit with her. The sun is most kind, illuminating her eyes and bringing a healthy glow to the rose in her cheeks. “I am given to understand that the loveliest specimens on the grounds are to be found in the East gardens.” Her head tips slightly in the proper direction. “Would you care to explore those?”

His smile is warm as he meets her eyes, as though she is the only other person in the world. "That sounds delightful, Princess. Thank you." Stepping out into the sun, he waits for her to join him.

She easily falls into step with him, her fingers woven comfortably against her waist, directing him toward the long staircase that leads to the various garden paths. She smiles at the top of the stairs, bashful bordering on apologetic. With a delicate wrist extending, “Would you be so kind?” she asks, her other hand collecting the hem of her gown so as not to trip down the stairs.

"Certainly, Princess," he replies, taking her hand and accompanying her down the stairs. His hand is smooth and warm.

She moves quietly at his side down the stairs, careful not to fall. Her fingers wrap comfortably around his hand. Once they reach the bottom, she turns toward the guards closely following behind. Her brow furrows slightly, grateful for the chaperones, vexed with the jarring discord their clattering had on the lovely moment. She turns toward Kendall, “Thank you,” she smiles.

Kendall smiles into her eyes and nods. "It is my privilege."

Glancing once more at the sentinels standing nearly atop of them, she turns once more to her companion, her smile serene. “Lord Kendall, I am awed with the level of protection you are gifted with.” Her eyes met his once more, “And while I find their presence a comfort, I would prefer that it were not so… immediate.” She hesitates only a moment more, “You have my word, no harm will come to you while you are in my company,” she oaths with sincerity.

"I appreciate your kindness, Princess, and am grateful for your assurances," he replies, and nods to the two Knights, indicating he permits them to stand back.

Margot's fingers remain in Kendall's hand, hers slightly chilled within his warm grasp. She smiles her appreciation to the Lord, before she nods her thanks to the sentinels agreeing to remain a few steps behind. They take a few more steps before they encounter another series of stairs, these much closer and steeper than the previous set they had just descended. Colorful branches create a natural trellis, shading the Lord and Princess from the direct sunbeams. She walks by his side in comfortable silence, thankful that the clank of armor had yet to follow them in their descent toward the East Gardens.

Kendall's hand tightens around her fingers in anticipation of keeping her balance on the steeper stairs. "I would like to thank you for the marvelous gift," he says as they walk.

Margot stops, with Kendall a step lower. She finds that she is almost eye level with him when standing upon the raised step. "You are welcome," she smiles, enjoying how the shade plays on the color of his eyes. "I hope you found the book to your liking," she offers, pleasantly.

The smile he offers is hers alone. "It is enchanting. Educational and beautiful. I will treasure it," he replies. "Did you create it?"

"The book? Aspects of it, yes. The music, the dancing, those were my creations. The bookmark was completely made by my hand," she admits shyly.

He lifts her hand to his lips, the kiss feather light. "The whole of the gift reflects the charm of the giver," he says.

Her eyes never leaves his, save for the breath at which his lips brush her skin. Her face brightens with a smile, a color coming to her cheeks, matching the hue of her gown. Words hung on her lips, but Margot could not seem to bring them alive. "I am elated that the gift pleases you. I enjoyed thinking of…" she hesitates, eyes casting away. Fingers tremble in his hand, ever so slightly. A few heartbeats pass, "You are most welcome," she completes finally, eyes returning to his, composure returns.

Kendall's smile widens as the color rises to her cheeks. He guides her down the remaining steps. "I am curious to know what significance the symbol in this brooch has," he continues. He indicates the delicate decoration attached to his robe with a gesture, a subtle chiming heard with each movement in the relative stillness of the garden. It stands out against unembellished green of his robe.

She hesitates, reluctant to reclaim her hand now that they were at the end of the their descent. “The symbol is called a Lemniscate. It is derived from the Latin word lemniscus, meaning ‘ribbon’,” she explains slowly, the delicate nuances of a word from a language other than Thari present while he listens with great interest to her explanation, staring down into her eyes with an intent expression on his face.

She turns and faces him, fingers timidly reaching for the brooch, tracing its shape. “It also is the symbol of infinity; a cycle ever turning and changing but never-ending. It is,” she smiles up at him, “Much like Caerus is the gift of fortune, the ribbon, is another representation of the magic and mystery of time itself.”

Her words hang between them, birdsong gilding the silence. His stare intensifies, and for a heartbeat, he almost seems to lean closer before he turns and gestures for her to walk with him again. "I was fascinated by your explanation of time during our tea yesterday," he says. "I did not wish to dwell unduly on the subject then, but now again you evidence an appreciation for the nuances of time's flow that I have rarely encountered." He folds his arms across his chest as they walk, tucking his hands into the sleeves of his robe.

“Thank you, Lord Kendall. Time is something of a fascination… something that fills a child’s fantasies of what is possible and what is mysterious,” she tries to explain. “It is fluid, ever-changing… beautiful and boastful, tender and tumultuous. Time can be a tender master or a harsh mistress. Fortune, Opportunity…” she pauses to examine the petals of a nearby flower. “These are gifts that Time allow if we only open our eyes to see and our hearts to accept.”

He leans close to see which flower has captured her interest, and so his reply is spoken close to her ear. "In Chaos, time is counted by the beating of the heart. They may run faster, or more slowly, as the situation changes its meaning. I believe some of the confusion arises from the dictation of an external second, always steady, always constant. Time is not a constant. For one person, Bluesky could encompass a lifetime, while for another, its passing may be measured by a single heartbeat."

Her fingers trace the wide delicate petals, her free hand cradling the blossom so as not to escape her touch. She senses him close distance between them, his body hardly more than a few breaths from hers. As he speaks, she could feel the words falling upon her cheek as they travelled to her ear; and while she fights to listen to his words, she finds herself drawn to the alluring spice upon him.

Another glance over her shoulder confirms how close he really is. A flash to her cheeks, and her eyes cast away, resuming their place upon the flower. Her pulse quickens slightly as she fights to find her words. “You… you have the gift of a Poet’s tongue,” she compliments, bending slightly to take in the blossom’s aroma. Rising, she once more finds his presence distracting, though not unpleasant. “With such a description, it is a wonder why we all do not measure time by the beats of the heart.” She steals a glance, only to be met with his eyes. “I hope….” she hesitates, “I would like to see these colored skies and experience how your time passes,” she demurs.

Realizing he had flustered her yet again, Kendall stands back and away to give her some space, his expression calm and serene. He watches a nearby hovering bird gathering nectar while she composes herself. "You have clearly not truly appreciated the beautiful words that have been falling from your own lips," he returns.

Her immediate answer to the compliment is a glorious smile, eyes falling from his. "Thank you," she utters quietly, at peace for the moment. Resuming her place at his side, she continues to guide Kendall along the winding, cobble-stoned path. Colors explode with blossoms of indigo and salmon, fuschia and lime. Some plants were tall with whisps of blooms, others were squat with succulent leaves of deep green and violet. Trees laden with delicate blossoms seasoned the air. The path seemed to have plenty of natural cover from the sun without detracting from the beauty of the sanctuary. They walk in peaceful silence for a few moments, taking in the view around them. Periodically, she brings his attention to a particular flower of interest, sharing something of herself as a memory is brought to light, and Kendall seems content to wander as quickly or as slowly as she, apparently enjoying the leisurely time.

"When I was very young," she begins, "We had gardens, similar but not nearly as expansive. We had mazes and all these wonderful nooks and crannies where I could hide." She smiles, pausing at a marbled bench to sit and inviting him to join her. He does so, though not without first brushing the dust off the bench with a few passes of one hand. When he sits, the silk of his robe gathers in liquid folds that catch the glints of sunlight through the foliage.

The bench rests quietly in the shade of a tree with large white blossoms hanging low. The view of the gardens from their perch was awesome. "The gardens were a magical place… a place where anything could happen." She met his eyes with hers, "And dreams came true." Some of her hair had slid over her shoulder, hanging across it and pooling close to her seated lap. "Sometimes I would play with my mother, other times with the servant children, but oftentimes by myself." She cupped her hands together, blowing gently into them, opened them up to reveal little orbs floating in the air. The translucent quality had almost a prism effect, capturing the sunbeans and casting marvelous rainbows. She watched the orbs glistening for a moment, an almost sadness in her eyes. "It's little more than a parlour trick… at least it is certainly nothing impressive; but I would spend hours laying among the flowers, floating these above my head and watching how the sunlight danced through these beads and how the clouds morphed into mystical creatures from legend."

He is silent as she speaks, watching the bubbles float effortlessly through the air. "You are missing your home," he observes. "Would you prefer to return there, rather than living here?"

She is silent for several heartbeats, her expression far away as she contemplates the answer carefully. “My home was a beautiful place. I was very fortunate to live a life of privilege; but I learned the value of courtesy, charity, kindness,” she begins slowly. “There, I was a daughter of a family of decent status; part of the aristocracy… high enough nobility to correctly bear the title Lady; but not so far high as to be governed by certain protocol and socio-political obligations.”

“There, I would have likely been able to marry for love; or at least have the opportunity to know the suitor that would become my husband. I would have had children, and likely raised them in the kind of loving home that my parents had raised me in. There, my parents did not rule a realm. There, we played and laughed and fought and most importantly, we loved,” she explains with melancholy.

“I would have championed charities and assisted with social causes that were dear to my heart. I would have used my station and reputation to instill change and remove some of the social injustices that plagued some parts of the population. I would have been expected to manage the household, see to our children’s education, and host social gathering for others of equal or higher social standing. I would have been expected to know culture and the arts, music and language, history, hierarchy, and politics. And I would be expected to know how to dance to the social protocols as deemed appropriate by my station.”

She blows gently in the direction of the bubbles, sending them off into the gardens, freeing them of their obligation to entertain her and him. “There, I knew what was expected of me and who I was supposed to be,” she confesses quietly, more whispers in her lap than spoken word.

“But, that is not how I am. I am not Margot Barimen… at least not that Margot Barimen,” she smiles sadly at Kendall. “I am Princess Margot, Daughter to King Eric and Queen Morgana, rulers of Amber. I have a duty to serve my people, my realm, and my King and Queen.” She exhales slowly, “I will serve them in all manner that I am able and to the best of my ability…” she hesitates a few heartbeats, eyes falling upon the lovely green of his silk and enjoying how the color contrasts against the natural flora around them. “Despite what attachments I have to that place, this is where I am to be. I will not be returning there,” there is a hint of mourning in her voice.

Her smile returns, somber, “I suspect my greatest contribution will be to whom it is my hand is given…” Her eyes rise from the hem of his robe to meet his. The blue seems to illuminate the shaded space they enjoy. A number of heartbeats pass before she realizes she’s staring in his eyes. “Is it the same for you, the obligation of duty?"

He is silent throughout her explanation, letting her vent her thoughts and absorbing everything she says. "It is," he answers her question, his bright eyes holding her gaze steadily. A gentle breeze wafts around them, teasing the leaves and their hair, blowing a trio of fluffy seeds past in erratic flight. "My first obligation is to the wishes of my House."

Margot nods in understanding. She finds it difficult to leave his captive stare; a small frown forming. “Then am I correct in my understanding that if your House had deemed it in its best interest, that you would enter into a union that would advance their cause without question?” she inquires gently, expression thoughtful, hoping to understand.

"You are correct," Kendall answers, still staring steadily into her eyes, waiting calmly for the inevitable next question.

"And then, is it safe to say that the…" she draws a deep breath, "That our encounter yesterday allowed House Chanicut to articulate their wishes?" It was as close as she could bring herself to question Lady Grania's direct proposal to Margot the day before.

"Yes," he says.

She nods, contemplating his answer and where the logic takes his answer. A smile comes to her lips, though with a hint of sadness in her eyes. "Thank you. I appreciate your candor. And I hope that you find our time spent together less of a burden and more of a…winding journey." She glances out to the garden before them.

"That is a poetic image," he says, his voice soft and musing.

Her head tilts toward the blossoms above, eyes closing as she breathes in their delicate scent. Her smile returns to her eyes as she looks at him once more. "You have the most vibrant, amazing eyes I have ever had the pleasure of looking into." Her smile widens, cheeks flushing. "I apologize for being so, forward, but surely their ability to captivate has not gone unnoticed."

Kendall blinks at the sudden topic change. "Thank you," he says, a bemused sort of smile on his face. "I believe that is supposed to be my line, however."

Margot laughs, rich and at ease. "I did not mean…" she continued to laugh softly. Calming herself, "You're welcome." she replies, sincerely. A few moments pass. "Shall we continue our walk?" she finally asks.

He does not agree to that suggestion immediately, smile fading as he continues to contemplate her for five more heartbeats. He turns his gaze again to the garden around them. "You wish to ask me about my feelings regarding this topic. Perhaps my feelings about you, or how such a relationship could proceed," he says. "Do you fear the answers to those questions, Princess, or… perhaps it is me that you fear?"

She observes him for a few heartbeats, his manner and demeanor by which he speaks. Her expression softens, words coming forth tenderly, “Why should I fear a man who has done nothing but treat me with the utmost kindness and generosity?” Her eyes cast to the garden, “No, Lord Kendall, I do not fear you.”

This earns her an inscrutable glance, but then he looks back out to the garden, as if he doesn't wish to distress her by staring at her too long.

She sits silently next to him for a few heartbeats longer, listening to how the wind tickles his robe to chime. “I will not lie and tell you I am not curious of such things. I am. And if you are willing to disclose the answers, it is a gesture that will be cherished.” She sighs quietly. “But, I suspect that at least part of the answer is that you will do what your House requires regardless of personal feeling. That is what Duty is.”

Another few heartbeats pass, and she returns her eyes to the form next to her. “So, rather than a question, perhaps you would allow me to make a recommendation based upon a question you just asked. There is little doubt that I wish to know your feelings about me or your opinions on how such a relationship may proceed given that it is based upon duty rather than an emotional connection. There is no doubt I wonder whether you find me pleasing and our visits enjoyable. But—"

Here she smiles at her companion, hoping that she’s not upsetting him. And indeed, the Lord's expression throughout her speech remains calm, revealing nothing as she delicately dances around her true intent. “Our time together has been very short, and I understand you may not yet have enough knowledge of me to give a satisfying answer. Therefore, I suggest that we approach our Duty with an open heart and mind, and expend our energies on learning more about one another and dwelling less on the reasons.”

His eyes reveal an intense thought process as she makes her suggestion, narrowing slightly in thought like someone doing complex mathematics without the aid of paper. He takes a breath, measuring out his response carefully before he turns his head to look at her. "I appreciate your sentiments, Princess, and I believe your suggestion has merit. How would you recommend we proceed with learning more about each other?" he asks, his voice soft and almost gentle.

She watches, fascinated, at the way he works through with careful deliberation what she shared. "There was a game from my home," she begins with an encouraging smile. Her eyes shine with pleasure that he is willing to hear her out. "One that allows freedom of words and expression. If I explain how the game is played to you, perhaps we could play it and come to learn more about one another in a fashion that is more enjoyable and less awkward?"

He cocks his head at her suggestion. "A game, Princess?" His faint smile reappears, and he nods. "I accept."

Margot’s smile widens. “Then I shall explain. As a child, we played a game called ‘Truth.’ We would gather in a circle and ask questions of one another, and the person to whom the question was posed would have to answer truthfully. If not, the penalty for dishonesty was to perform an act of folly.” Her eyes sparkle as fond memories come to mind, and the thrill also of engaging the Lord in an act of playfulness.

“The rules of questions are simple," she continues. "The players determine how many rounds, say for example, 20 questions; as well as determining how many ‘free passes’ they get for questions they wish to pass one. For 20 questions, the typical number is 3 questions that you may decline to answer. Questions cannot be answered simply yes or no, and any topic is available for discussion. No one is to take offense at the questions asked, or insult at the answers given.”

“Those who do not comply are dismissed from the game. To win, you are the last one remaining; all other players eliminated.” Her eyes find his once more. There was no doubt she enjoyed them. “As there is only the two of us engaging in this game, though we may eliminate the ‘Command’ portion of the game, if that is your wish.”

Kendall listens to her explanation all the way through, again with that aspect of intense interest and concentration. Yet when he answers, he address what he perceives is the substance of her request, rather than the explanation given. "If I understand the intent of this game, as you said it is to be a venue for asking questions of each other without causing offense," he says in a relaxed and musing voice. "You are remembering the events of yesterday, perhaps, and wish to avoid bringing anger or strife to our conversation?"

He pauses to see if he had hit the mark, but she shakes her head. "The intent of the game is to create opportunities of dialogue and exchange. But you are correct, Lord Kendall. This is to be an enjoyable exercise; an exploration and playful exchange. I do not wish to cause you any grave distress. If there are topics you wish to be firmly removed from access, I am happy to oblige you. Do you still wish to play?”

He tilts his head up in an unconscious gesture of noble pride, as of one accepting a challenge. "Very well, Princess. It is agreed. No topics are off limits to you, no offense will be taken or anger displayed, and as much of the truth as can be expressed will be spoken throughout the game," he says. "I propose a limit of 20 questions."

Her head tilts, taking him in. “And as you have spoken, so shall I. No topic is off limits to you, no offense will be taken or anger displayed, and I will speak truthfully to any question you pose.”

Margot smiles then, her expression becoming encouraging again. “But this is to be a source of enjoyment, Lord Kendall, so please be at ease. All answers we utter will remain between you and me. I give you my word."

He nods in understanding, and with that, the game commences. Her eyes narrow playfully and she thinks for some seconds as she examines the Lord carefully. “Do you have siblings?”

He leans back as he speaks, opening the space between them again and tucking his hands back into his sleeves, though his faint smile returns. He has the aspect of someone in a dueling arena, staring at an opponent over the blade of a sword. "Yes," he says. "Two. One brother, Cedric, and one sister, Diona," he answers in a matter-of-fact tone. "Of course, I am aware of your siblings already present in Amber Court. Do you have knowledge of any others that the King and Queen may have stashed away in Shadow?"

Something flashes behind her playful eyes, observing and working towards anticipating his strategy. "I have two adopted here, Manly and Barabel. There is Erin, the baby. I have heard that my father had a child by another woman before he and my mother had married, and that my half-sister serves as a Captain.” He nods in confirmation.

“I have yet to meet her,” Margot adds. “As far as other siblings squirreled away in Shadow, I am the only one that I know of who was raised away from here."

She pauses for a moment of thought before asking her next question. "What is your favorite scent and could you describe it?"

He blinks, but answers without a hitch in his tone. "T'en'sin oil. It is often used in cooking, as well as for other things, and is…" He trails off, having to pause in thought.

"The closest I have encountered here is what I believe is called cinnamon," he finally finishes before asking his next question with barely a break. "Did I understand you correctly when we spoke earlier about music, that you are a composer?"

“Enough to entertain myself, certainly nothing worthy of the audience of the King and Queen,” Margot explains. “I have always loved the piano and the sounds that may be coaxed from it if you are patient and willing to discover its magic. Composing is a way of bringing emotions to life; to take what is buried inside and free you from the burden of locking those feelings deep within.”

As she speaks, her eyes begin to sparkle with a passion that has yet to be reflected in her demeanor. “I play and compose for my own comforts. On rare occasion, I will play for others, but never a formal audience. Are there any arts that you enjoy?” she asks

Kendall watches her closely as she speaks, nodding affirmative to her question. "I have skill with drawing and music. I play several instruments, and have some talent for singing," he replies without missing a beat. "I also find entertainment in dancing."

He pauses a heartbeat for thought this time, though, before returning the volley. "What do you miss most about your home?"

Her smile softens, as do her eyes. "This is a freebie, since I've already answered it. As I shared with you already, Lord Kendall, I miss knowing who I am and… I miss understanding the rules." Her shoulders move upwards in a graceful shrug while her gaze finally leaves his to focus instead on a small flower just past his shoulder as she regains her composure.

Margot's lips curve upwards again after a few beats and she meets his eyes once more. "So perhaps, if you could be more specific as to what you're looking for, I can answer the question with something new about me."

The Lord shakes his head. "There is nothing free in this arena, Princess. I asked the question, and received the information I sought. It is now your turn," he asserts.

She nods, contemplating her next play. "When you introduced yourself in the Hall of Mirrors, you gave a title and name that was… very delicate, and yet complex." She pauses there, rising from her seat and inviting him to join her with a gesture. "What is your full name and does it have an underlying meaning — like the tale of Caerus?"

Kendall uncrosses his arms and stands at her invitation. Once she chooses a direction, he then walks slowly beside her with his hands clasped behind his back.

"My full name and title, for all practical purposes, is Lord Kendallarithan Jaron Efammel Baldasarre qil Chanicut riq Ulrich fon Grania, Second Son, Baron of the Lesser Walls, Kin of the Three Winds, Lord of Protocol and Minister of Friendship to the Court of Amber from House Chanicut of Chaos," he says, ticking off the words like clockwork, his voice distant. Margot's eyes widen at the length and breadth of his title, and suddenly she felt very foolish not even knowing her own title other than that of Princess.

He pauses for a heartbeat, and then adds less mechanically, "There is more, but that will do well enough. As for my name, Kendallarithan is a figure in the history of my House, a great military hero, statesman, leader, fabled originator of Chanicut who raised our banner over the Abyss for the Serpent's blessing."

"Where would you like to be?" he asks her next.

The cobblestones lead the pair on a winding path around the grounds. As they come upon some stones that have turned and twisted along the path, Margot pauses to bring the hem of her skirt up so as not to trip or twist an ankle. The touch of his hand at her elbow to help steady her brings a rosy glow to her cheeks, and she feels almost grateful for the rubble, so she can keep her eyes on the ground and not meet his.

“At this moment? Here, walking the gardens, finding out more about you," she answers. "I cannot think of a better place to be. But sometime I would like to venture beyond the castle walls and explore… perhaps to the City itself. And what is your fantasy?" she asks.

Kendall's brow furrows in puzzlement. "I have no fantasies, Princess," he answers. "Have you?"

"I'm sorry—" she begins, completely out of proper demeanor, looking up quickly to search his eyes to see if he's teasing her. In doing so, she misses her next step, twisting her ankle and stumbling toward the ground.

Kendall is prepared for such an eventuality, however. With a swift movement, he steps in front of her, his right arm encircling her so that she falls against him while he supports and steadies her.

"Oh!" she squeals as she slams into the Lord's form. Both hands land firmly upon his chest and he feels her weight sag into his supportive arms while dark hair tosses everywhere. But he remains steady, holding her up until she regains her balance.

Once more stable, she looks up with wide eyes to search his face. Surprise and embarrassment war for dominance on her face, and her lips part in another involuntary, "Oh…" Suddenly acutely aware of their closeness, no other words immediately come to mind. Held encircled by green-clad arms, she can now smell the faint aroma of cinnamon and feel the heat radiating from him.

She realizes she's staring into his mesmerizing eyes, and color returns to her cheeks and travels down her neck. However, this time, she doesn't look away. "Thank you." She almost whispers the words.

Now no longer occupied with preventing her from falling, his eyes brighten with amusement as her cheeks stain pink. He smiles down at her. "You are welcome, Princess," he replies softly. "Perhaps we should find a different route."

She slides her arms from his chest as he steps back, wrapping her fingers around his biceps to steady herself as she gingerly attempts to put weight upon her foot. Pain lances through her ankle at the pressure.

"Bloody Hell!" she mutters under her breath before realizing what escaped her lips. Wide eyes jump back upward to meet his again, dismayed at such an uncouth slip. "Oh! Forgive me, I am so sorry!" she exclaims.

"There is no apology necessary," he says. "I am at your service."

"I welcome your service, and I promise I have more grace on the dance floor," she responds with a chagrined smile, trying to make light of the situation. She winces she shifts additional weight to her injured ankle so she can balance on both feet. Several heartbeats pass as she evaluates her injury.

"Will you be able to continue, or shall we find a place for you to sit?" he inquires.

"I think I will be alright, if you're willing to give me a little added support in the short-term," she answers. "I would really rather not end… I would prefer to continue our game, if that is acceptable to you?"

Her eyes flash a hint of playfulness. "It would just mean that if you found an answer I gave to be less than acceptable, you would have to be kind in the folly you commanded me to perform."

Kendall nods assent, and his fingers brush her cheek as he pushes an errant lock of hair away from her face. "If you feel able, I am pleased to continue our game. It would seem my answer to your previous question surprised you," he observes. "Why is that?"

As his fingers brush against her cheek, Margot's breath catches. Her gaze returns to his chest, blinking almost coming to a stop as if casting the sensation to memory. His words return her to the present. "Because I've never known anyone to not have any dreams or fantasies or anything to pass their time with idle imagination… I thought that maybe we…" she glances back to him, "We were abutting against a language barrier." Her eyes search his, "Do you not have dreams or fantasies or anything that captivates your imagination?" she asks, no longer attending to her foot.

Carefully, he steps back, steadying her as he does so until she is standing more or less on her own. He waits until she has regained her balance before he replies.

"There is nothing to dream or fantasize about," he finally says, his voice again indicating he found this concept unremarkable. "That is not to say there is no imagination in Chaos or in Chanicut. In a way, every Turn in Chaos is an act of imagination. Reality is a matter of perspective. It bends and twists, showing a new side from heartbeat to heartbeat. I do not mean that there is no stability or comprehension to the whole, however. It is simply… difficult to describe," he finally finishes.

Margot's expression is one of concentration, trying to suss out the meaning in his explanation. "So," she begins slowly, "you do not look beyond your existence or pass your time contemplating what ifs and…" she struggles to find a descriptive, "happily ever afters? You don't imagine what could be and what possibilities are? Not even to acquire a contract or a treaty or a lover or anything?" she tries to clarify her meaning, attempting to wrap her mind around his answer.

He stares at her, brows furrowed again in puzzlement. "There is what is, and what is not," he says slowly, carefully, as though feeling his way through this answer. "There are possibilities and potentialities. There are plans and desires. One evaluates all these to decide upon the most advantageous path, and then proceeds along that path. Is that the information for which you are searching?"

A smile of reassurance pulls at her lips. "It will do. You have such an amazing way of describing things; much like how I would imagine a painter sees a blank canvas. This is where our worlds I think are considerably different. While I don't fully appreciate the depth of your answer, I enjoy the images it conjures in my mind."

Holding the hem of her skirt out of the way of the tender foot, she tests it once more. There is a tiny limp and her wince is almost unnoticeable. "I believe it is your turn to ask a question."

"On the contrary, Princess, my question has been asked and answered," he says, smiling at her again. "If you recall, I asked if you had obtained the information you desired."

Her eyes narrow, lips pulling to one side. She was measuring him, playfully, but measuring him nonetheless. "Thank you for correcting me, Lord Kendall. I had made a grave error in my explanation of the game and I can see that you are taking the rules to the full, literal sense of the description," while she tried to keep a neutral expression, mirth danced in her eyes and amusement lingered in her voice.

Kendall gives her his arm and begins walking, slowly, leading her along to see how well she is able to go. "The next time we play, we will be better able to establish more flexible parameters perhaps," he says.

"What makes you laugh? Not merely amusing in the polite sort of way, but what makes you absolutely find joy in the moment?" She arches a brow. "That counts as one question."

His faint smile fades back into seriousness as he considers that question. "Flying," he says finally, softly. His soft response almost catches her off guard. She smiles, watching his expression. Turning back to her with a quizzically curious expression, he says, "What does 'bloody hell' mean?"

She laughs melodiously, mostly at herself. "The polite answer is that the phrase 'Bloody Hell' is an expression of dismay, misfortune, wonderment, shock or anger. It is something that a Lady — no matter her station — should utter, and certainly not in mixed company!" she exclaims. A cheeky expression lights up her face. "It's an obscenity, an expletive, a curse used universally when a person stubs a toe or rages on about another. Men use it quite frequently; however, it is not something that tends to fall from the lips of women. Which is exactly why I apologized as soon as I realized I had uttered it."

"Ah," he answers with a nod of understanding.

She takes a few more steps as she contemplates what to ask next. "You had mentioned that you sing. Will you share a song with me now… ?"

Without answering, he comes to a stop in a patch of sunlight and turns to face her. He thinks for five heartbeats, and then he sings a short song, melodious and soothing. The words are not in Thari, but it is clear the song is simple, and his tenor voice is smooth and rich, surrounding and drenching each note like honey.

Margot stands quietly, listening. She watches his gaze as he stares into the distance, admiring how the sun's rays play off his eyes without his notice. Clearly awed, she remains silent for a few breaths when he finishes, waiting for him to return to the present. He closes his eyes, as though to hold onto something for just a heartbeat more, and then he turns back to her again.

Her fingers squeeze around his arm and then relax. “You have a beautiful gift, Lord Kendall,” she compliments softly. “I am without words to describe the beauty you just conjured."

"Thank you," he says, his eyes brightening with pleasure. "My skills are meager, but some have expressed appreciation for them." He takes a breath, letting it out slowly, and then invites her to continue their walk.

"Now," he says, looking at her steadily. "What setting do you prefer the most? Sea? Forest? Tumbled mountains? Something else?"

"The Sea," she admits without hesitation. Her eyes are distant, holding onto some memory. "Admittedly, I've not seen tumbled mountains, or colored deserts. Forests have their own majesty, but nothing is like the turbulence of the sea. I could have stood in your glass bridge for hours and done nothing but watch how the water crashed against the crags below with the mist catching the sun's light. I'm hoping that there is a way to ride to where that location is below your glass bridge to experience it firsthand. You would be welcome to join me."

A few heartbeats pass, and she smiles. "Are you ticklish?"

His eyebrows twitch at the unusual question. "No," he says without hesitation. "Though you are welcome to test the truth of that answer." He pauses to let that sink in before asking his own question.

Margot's smile turns coquettish. "I'd be wary, Lord Kendall… I may take you up on your challenge," she warns with a glint in her eyes. She looks to the ground, oddly amused with her reply.

He raises his eyebrows at that, but continues with his question, voice still calm and deliberate. "From what do you hide?"

She draws a long breath, contemplating his question. The playfulness disappears, her expression turns somber. "I hide from nothing. Every challenge I have endured, I have faced regardless of fear." Her expression is almost humble; certainly not boastful. Hers is just a simple statement of fact. She walks in silence at his side, fingers continuing to cling to his arm.

"How do you feel about relationships that are built on a foundation of duty; how do you begin such a relationship and how does it proceed?" she asks quietly, watching his expression.

Kendall leads her to a small footbridge with a gentle arc over a tiny stream. Willows hang low nearby, and the water sings softly as it wends its way between rocks and water grasses. A breath of coolness rises from the stream, freshening the air in the shadows. He considers her question as they walk to the center of the bridge, expression thoughtful and serious.

Stopping on the bridge, he faces her again, looking steadily into her eyes as he answers. His voice is quiet, almost gentle, the words chosen with care. "In Chanicut, we accept that personal feelings are secondary or unrelated to the wishes of the House. Moreover, romantic love of which you speak is not held as an idealized goal to be pursued above all others."

He pauses for thought, phrasing the rest of his reply. "I have observed that relationships based upon duty rather than love are more apt to be stable and lasting," he continues. "An understanding exists between partners, and that understanding brings about collaboration and compromise. Duty keeps the individuals strong, builds their commitment to do what is required. Love is fragile. Duty endures. Such is the way of my House."

Margot's eyes never waver from his. Her lips press together, the lower one finding itself caught between her teeth. She breathes slowly, trying to maintain her calm. Several heartbeats of silence pass before she speaks again. "Is there no room for Love to take root and grow?" she asks faintly.

He sighs, smiling a little. "Love is a possibility," he acknowledges. "It is not forbidden. And love can be a boon when one's desires and one's task are in symmetry. But… it can also be a burden."

She nods, slowly, somber. "Have you… have you known love?"

Kendall lifts his head to stare at a point above her head, looking perhaps into the past. "Yes," he says, voice quiet. He turns his gaze back to Margot again and continues in his normal, even tone. "It was not politically feasible for us to be joined. She returned to her House, and I have not seen her since."

"I… I am… sorry," she utters, her eyes filling with sadness at such a tragic tale. She glances away, and her eyes follow the gentle meandering of the stream as gentle sounds surround her — the soft song of her companion's robe moving in the faint breeze, water whispering through the reeds below, the rhythm of his breathing.

Lifting a hand to her face, he allows the silence to stretch as he weaves his fingers into the loose wisps of hair that had drifted over her cheek, tucking it carefully behind her ear. They brush her neck lightly as he draws them slowly through the strands, and her eyes close at his touch, savoring the sensation.

"I had always hoped to enter into a union like my parents," she admits wistfully after a bit, her lips pulling into a sad smile. "I don't know their story. Not exactly. I know only that when they look in each others' eyes, the world melts away. That could be considered a fantasy. But… I believe I owe you some answers."

Kendall allows his hand fall once to his side. "What is it about love that you find so very alluring?"

Margot looks up into his face, her eyes illuminating as passion infuses her. "Love is… It is the sensation of being whole, of being completely vulnerable and utterly empowered in a single heartbeat. Where decades pass in a breath, and an instant in their eyes lasts a lifetime. Love is the ultimate sacrifice and the ultimate reward. Duty is of little consequence because you would do and serve your Heart without hesitation, as they would you. You survive all trials and tribulations, and you celebrate wonders and joys. Together."

Kendall observes her as she answers with eyes flashing and color rising to her face in passionate belief. "And yet," he replies in a voice still even and calm. "When you have made that ultimate sacrifice, and gained the ultimate reward, where will you be? To what purpose does this ultimate love strive? What will stand if it fades?"

"Who's to say that love must fade? Why can it not evolve… be ever-changing?" Her eyes return to his chest, reaching to up to touch the brooch upon his chest. "Love does not have to falter. It does not have to be frail…"

She traces his brooch with her fingertips, her eyes following its unending circuit. "Where I am from, there is a belief that when you have found your Heart—" She breaks off, blinking, and then starts over. "Let me share a tale. When the world began, Earth was complete, contented, and peaceful. But Heaven was overwhelmed with jealousy and split the Earth, casting one half of the soul to one end of the Universe and the other to the opposite end. The tale is, when you find Love — True Love — you are reunited with the missing half of your Soul."

Her eyes return to his, the expression on her face equal parts triumph and pleading. "Why would you allow half of your being to fade away and die?"

He watches her, unmoving, and his gaze remains steady throughout her fidgeting. As her passion burns more brightly, he seems somehow to draw back — a coolness in answer to her fire. "You tell a moving tale, Princess, but you did not answer my question," he observes. "However, I will answer yours. While one half of my soul might fade, as you say, the other half may still be nourished and sustained. It may be there are tasks and goals that require only half a soul, that there are tasks and goals that stand greater than half an individual soul."

"You are correct," she concedes softly, the passion seeming to drain from her. "On many accounts. But that is why it is called fantasy and why it is so seductive. I cannot answer your question any better than I have because I…"

She hesitates, searching his eyes. "I have not experienced love to appreciate the risk of loss. I only have what my heart tells me love should be, and what I've seen with my eyes. I don't know what remains if love fades. I can only hope that it never does." She begins to retract her hand from his chest, but he reaches up to clasp it before she can completely reclaim it. He is silent for the space of ten heartbeats, allowing the emotions to fade somewhat.

"You paint a pretty picture," he finally says, leaning forward to look into her eyes with an intensity of his own. "I have felt love, and it is an exhilarating feeling, with the potential to take you to the pinnacles of ecstasy, followed by the plummets of despair. Those are amazing experiences, and for your sake, I hope you find them fulfilling if you discover them."

He pauses again, stepping back to give them both some space. "But my duty is to my House, and that stands before love," he finishes. "It is… a presence, a knowledge, an… understanding. If Lady Rosabelle was of Chaos, she would not be alone. If you were of Chaos, you would have a place."

Margot's fingers tighten around his hand, while she reaches up to tenderly trace the line of his jaw. The tips of her fingers barely brush his skin. He allows her to caress him, moving his face to give her fingers greater contact. His faint smile returns and his bright eyes stare into hers when she looks back up.

She retracts her hand from his face with the same gentleness as it had arrived. "I just… I just wanted to… enjoy your eyes in this moment." Her bashful smile returns. "I hope you do not mind too much. Do you have another question?"

"No," he almost whispers. "I do not mind." He takes a deep breath, and then turns to place her again at his side. Returning her hand to his arm, he gestures towards a tiny gazebo in the midst of a rose garden near by.

"What pastime do you most enjoy?" he asks, apparently deciding to give the heavier topics a little rest.

"Appreciating nature and her majesty," she responds, her composure slowly returning. "Walks like this, horseback riding, the ocean… I love watching the ocean. It's so vast and powerful and breathtaking, but I already mentioned my love of the sea. As a child, we would go to the beach, and the sand was so warm and soft between your toes and the water was so cold. But no matter how covered in sand you got, the waves would crash against you and kiss you clean."

Kendall thinks about that, imagining the pictures she was describing with her words. "I would be pleased to join you in a ride to the beach or the cliffs here," he says in answer. "You invited me earlier and I had not yet given you an answer."

"I would like that very much," she replies. Her lips pull to one side and her brow furrows, seeking a topic that he had yet to answer. "Do you practice any Martial Arts? Sword play, or anything along those lines?"

"I am reasonably skilled with a blade," he answers, his voice almost casual. "And you? I remember that you wore an impressive sword when we first met, so I presume you can use it."

"As a child, I constantly followed my father around, begging him to play imaginary swords when I was little. And then when I was the same age as what a Page would be, I begged for him to teach me the blade. For years, my requests were denied. Then one day, he agreed to allow me to learn as long as he was not my sword master. He said that if I wished to learn, I would have to attend a formal school and receive formal training in many aspects, not just the blade."

"So, I studied the ways of the blade while at the Academy I attended," she concludes. "I am well versed in the formal stances of saber and rapier, and am slowly learning other forms now that I am here. The blade I wore yesterday was…a gift of sorts, on loan to me from Prince Corwin. He believes that it will assist in my learning."

He absorbs that information with a thoughtful look, but does not offer any comment. As they reach the gazebo, Margot takes a seat, encouraging Kendall to join her. She reaches down to the sore ankle and removes her slipper, attempting to discern if the ankle is swollen or merely sore. She stretches the foot, pointing the toes, rolling the ankle in circles and wincing. Curling the leg up beneath her on the gazebo bench, she carefully pokes at the areas around the bone.

Kendall sits nearby with hands tucked once more into his sleeves, watching her face while she tests her ankle. "Does your injury require attention, Princess?" he asks at her wince.

“I think it will be alright,” she assess carefully, brows showing her uncertainty. “Nothing that a soak and massage shouldn’t cure. The ankle is slightly swollen, and if I touch it in this area…”

She winces again during the exploration and gives him a sheepish look. “There will be a bruise. Back home, dress shoes for ladies were…different. We were expected to wear heels raising my stance to the balls of my feet or toes when I walked, but the shoes themselves laced like riding boots. They provided a lot more ankle support. It would not have necessarily prevented the stumble, but I would have been saved the turned ankle.”

He nods in understanding and a silence falls between them for several seconds. The Lord observes the flora surrounding the gazebe with interest. "What do you miss most from home?" She follows Kendall's lead to move toward safer topics.

He thinks for five heartbeats, listening to the peace of the garden. "There is a constancy of movement, of flux, that is difficult to describe," he answers at last, slowly and thoughtfully. "Here in Amber, much is static. I find it…unsettling. Similar to an itch that cannot be relieved. Nevertheless, there are places with a measure of constancy. In my home Ways, for example, there is a grotto with a tiny fountain that chimes like bells. It is always there, no matter the color of the Sky, and that place I miss."

She listens carefully, expression reflecting her wonder as she hangs on each word of his description. “There is a grotto close by, along this path a little further on. I will show you if you are interested,” she offers quietly.

"I would like that," he says, his smile reappearing.

He pauses again. "Would you care to cross blades with me in the practice arena?" he inquires of her next, expression curious.

She nods. “I would like that very much. I would love to learn of your forms and how the dance moves differently in Chaos than in my home…Shadow.”

She waits a few more heartbeats, becoming accustomed to the pauses between their questions. Her head tilts in curiosity. “What is Chaosian cuisine like and what is your favorite food?”

He is silent for quite some time, thinking this one through, and then he turns his gaze back to her face when he answers. "The food of my home is nothing like the food here, and yet… they are strikingly similar. What appears most different is that, in Chanicut, the goal of the eating should be as much about the experience as the necessity of nourishment. Foods enhance a scene, a mood, or a feeling, while not overpowering it. The flavors are subtle, and most often, two competing sensations can be brought together harmoniously, such as sweet and sour, bitter and soothing."

He pauses again before addressing the second portion of her question, eyes becoming distant. "As for the food I most favor…when I was very young, I first had spiced n'eve'll cake for a celebration hosted by my mother. It is not normally intended for children, but I had my kr'lell bring some to me. It is… like eating a cloud — airy and moist, with the flavor of rain in fields of spice. That is a flavor that I shall never forget."

"If you keep describing your home with such exotic majesty, I may be forced to ask for a tour some day," she admits freely with a smile. "You conjure reflections that make me long for your home."

"I do not know if that would be possible," he says, his attention coming back to her. "But should the opportunity present itself, I would be pleased to be your host."

He thinks for two heartbeats before he interjects, "Be cautious, Princess, the number of our questions has almost been exhausted. We both will have only three more after this one." She nods, impressed that he had been keeping track of the questions as she had long lost count.

With that said, he continues with his own question, head cocking to the side, expression curious. "In your fantasies about love, how do you see your mate?"

She blinks several times, obviously caught off guard by the question. Her eyes hold his for a moment before casting beyond him. She is silent for several heartbeats before she speaks again. “I will answer your question, but not before we journey to the grotto,” she concedes slowly. “A grotto is considered a sacred place, and if I am to utter my heart’s desire, I would prefer that it be under the canopy of peace and serenity.”

"As you wish, Princess," he agrees with a bemused smile.

She reaches for her slipper from the floor of the gazebo. Carefully tucking her skirts, she crossed one leg over the other so as to reach the foot and return the shoe to its place. He is quicker, however, and picks up the slipper and hands it to so she has no fear of falling off the bench. Her struggle to replace it on her foot is minimal, closing her eyes through the irritating discomfort. He helps her stand, and offers her his arm again, in case her ankle has stiffened.

As they walk with her fingers around his arm, there is little question of her flustered state. Color rides high in her cheeks, giving the Princess a healthy glow in the sun, and her fingers continued to flex and relax against his arm. Occasionally, as they followed the path, she would steal glimpses of him before returning her gaze forward on the path. Yet he remains serene and unmoved, observing the scenic surroundings once more.

Before long, they approach a grand archway of white marble with a delicate wrought iron gate. Beyond, steep stairs shrouded in a canopy of low hanging branches show the way forward. Crossing the grotto's threshold, the change in temperature is almost instantaneous as the sun has no hope of casting its warmth through the branches. The steps are slick, and the delicate fragrance of flowers competes with the heavy essence of moist earth.

At the bottom of the stairs, they are met with the sounds of a gentle waterfall trickling over a rock face and dancing in a small pool. Everything here is green and lush. A gentle breeze shivers the leaves of the trees and plays with the reeds in the water. This is a place of meditation and contemplation.

Margot continues to lead him in silence, walking a few paces farther to a bridge of marble that crossed the tiny stream near the waterfall. They watch the waterfall together for several heartbeats, but then Margot turns and slides between Kendall and the view. She leans her back against the marble railing so she can facing him fully, and he takes a small step backward to give them both more space. A quizzical eyebrow quirks at her curious preparations. She says nothing at first, though her chest raises and falls as her breath quickens, and she struggles to return her breathing to normal as she meets his eyes.

"You asked me who my lover is in my fantasies…" she begins slowly. "He is both strong and gentle. He is someone who finds me beautiful in mind, body, and spirit."

Her eyes close as she brings this man to life in her mind's eye, and her words are little more than a whisper between their forms. "He values my opinion and respects who I am. With merely a glance, he knows all that I am, and I know his heart as well. He is my greatest hero and my biggest devotee; someone who trusts me with his life and I with his. He sees me as his equal, both publicly and privately. He is my teacher, my friend, my lover."

Her arms wrap about her torso, one at her waist while the other crosses her chest with hand resting against her neck. Color rises in her cheeks as her body responds to the trend of her thoughts. "His kisses are tender; his caresses, intoxicating. He shows me the ways of passion and love and all the things that I have yet to learn. And I reciprocate with eagerness and enthusiasm. He is not afraid to show me his emotions, his inner thoughts; to be vulnerable in my arms. He is someone who teases me to long for him with a smile, and I him with little more than a glance. He is someone who challenges me and I him. And because of this, we grow and evolve and become something more. We complete one another in mind, body, and soul."

Her eyes slowly open, burning with passion; porthole to a soul that dreams to be awakened. She finds him staring into the distance with his hands tucked into his sleeves in his habitual, closed pose. Her own hands at her sides, meanwhile, ball into involuntary fists as her body tries to decide to stay or flee, yearning to close the small distance between them and press against his warm strength while the proper voices of her upbringing insist she maintain a proper distance from him.

Bringing his attention back to her, he studies her face and feverishly bright eyes, his expression holding a softness that was hard to define. "You have presented an astonishing vision, Princess," he says quietly, his voice measured and calm. "It will be a challenge to find this lover."

She bites her lower lip and blinks slowly before casting her gaze once more to the brooch on his chest as if seeking answers from the ribbon. Her pent up breath releases with a sigh. “If he were simply anyone, then he wouldn’t be worthy of my fantasy locked deep in my heart,” she murmurs. “And… now… shared with another.”

Her eyes close as her head tips to the ground, her hair falling forward to conceal her face so as to not display the wave of emotions felt. Before she can hide very long, though, he lifts a hand to trace her jaw with a finger, lifting her head so she would look up once more. She smiles at his touch, wondering if he was always so tender. She shivers, and feels grateful for the grotto's cool; she didn't have to admit that it may be the Lord that was having this affect on her.

"I wish you good fortune in your search," he says. "But now it is your turn to ask a question."

"You have a gentleness about you, in voice and in touch. I find it… pleasing," she admits, watching his eyes. "How do you find me?"

He thinks on her question, smiling down at her and cupping her cheek. Margot's skin drinks in his touch and the warmth of his skin against hers. He can feel how the chill of the grotto has cooled her skin.

"You are quite unlike anyone I have met before. Passionate and bold in ways that are not often seen in Chanicut. Strong, yet vulnerable." He pauses, clasping his hands behind his back again. "You are also lovely, Princess, a delight to behold in all your moods. Would you grant me permission to create a painting of you?"

She smiles warmly. "I would like that very much, Lord Kendall."

For the first time in uncountable heartbeats, she glances around and takes in her surroundings beyond the magnetic presence of the Chaos Lord. The width of the bridge spanned perhaps three yards, and the ambient sounds of waterfall and wind created a wonderful natural melody. Her eyes return to his, her smile turning playful once more. "Will you take me through a traditional dance from your home, one that requires a dance partner?"

"It would be a pleasure, Princess," he replies. He takes a step back, bows, and holds out a hand. Leading her to the center of the bridge, he shows her the first pose and then slowly leads her through a dance for courtship. The partners meet, part, yearn, and meet again while the steps bring them near, but never too close. It is not complex, but artistry permeates each form he demonstrates for her. He moves to a pose, helps her make the proper response, then pauses for a beat or two before flowing to the next.

Margot is an ardent student, drinking in each nuance of movement. Her eyes follow his form in deep concentration, and he is patient as he shows her how to stand and move, taking care not to intrude on her space. He leads her through the cycle of steps twice, his face a study in concentration as he focuses on executing the movements while showing her the responses. Her movements in this impromptu dance gave a glimpse as to the graceful command of her body she possesses.

The third time through, they dance through the whole without pause. He hums the music as they move together — a flowing and melodious tune in keeping with the elegance of the dance itself. Margot no longer studied her form or his; rather her eyes follow his. She moves like the water that swirled around them and swept below the bridge, while he dances with the same elegance and grace, balance and poise as a hawk in flight, floating on the breeze and awaiting the perfect moment to dive.

When the last moves are complete, Margot finds herself wrapped in his arms, her back pressed against his chest with her hands comfortably held in his. She leans back, resting her head against his shoulder for a moment while she caught her breath. It isn't but a few slow breaths, however, before she finds herself drinking in his warmth and spicy scent. This close, he catches the faintest scent of white jasmine from her hair.

Kendall holds her lightly for the space of twenty heartbeats, letting the exhilaration of the dance linger and enjoying the feel of her in his arms. He allows his head to dip slightly, enjoying her scent but catching himself before he goes any further. "Magnificent, Princess," he murmurs in her ear, breath teasing her hair. "You have been a joy to partner with."

Her eyes close and a smile pulls at her lips as she feels his head dip closer to hers. I will have to remind myself to be appropriately embarrassed at my behavior later… is the only vague chiding her conscience can make. Her pulse quickens as his breath brushes her cheek, fully aware of how close he really is, and she has to summon all her will to resist the urge to pull his arms around her tighter.

Rather than turn in his arms, she simply tips her head and slides it away along his shoulder so she can capture his gaze in hers. "Margot," she encourages gently, holding his eyes in her intense stare. "I would like it if in private, you called me Margot."

"Margot," he answers, meeting her gaze with his, bright and warm, making the name a caress. "It would be my privilege, and I would be flattered if you would do the same by calling me Kendall."

She watches his eyes for a few more heartbeats before turning her head once more to the waterfall. "I have a patient master to learn from," she answers his compliment softly though her heart was threatening to beat its way right out of her chest. "Thank you… Kendall… for the lovely dance.”

Her eyes sparkle as her lips slowly form his name, tasting its intimacy on her tongue. Then slowly she untangles from his arms so as to turn to face him fully. "I will long for the chance to dance with you again."

"I, too, look forward to a dance at your upcoming ball," he says. "It may be that I will have an opportunity to instruct you in more dances from my home before then."

Margot smiles. "I would like that very much, Kendall, should your schedule permit.”

Holding her hands and feeling their chill, he suggests. "Perhaps we should continue our walk in the warmth of the sun… Margot."

Her eyes cast to their joined hands, already regretting the need to leave this glorious sanctuary where she could be Margot, a young woman in the company of an amazing man. No titles, no pretense. Just Margot. It pleased her greatly that he honored her request, dropping her title in the grotto. She breathes slowly several heartbeats before returning her eyes to his. "I suppose that would be wise," she agrees.

She takes her place at his side but neglects to release his hand, presumably so that she may have his continued assistance to climb the steep stairs. Her fingers fit comfortably in his hand, the thought bringing a shy smile to her face while watching her footfalls. "I believe you owe me another question."

"Indeed," he agrees. "And after this, you will ask your final question." He pauses for thought, allowing her to continue holding his hand and assisting her with the stairs. "Would you like to have Caerus?"

Margot stops their ascent, only to climb a single stair so she can turn to meet him eye to eye. "Kendall…" she begins, brows furrowing in confusion. "Caerus is your pet, a part of you and your family here in Amber…" She gives a slight shake of her head, not knowing what to say. "Will you not miss him nor he you?"

"The Qur are not pets to us, Margot. They are servants of the House," he answers. "Yet you took such great enjoyment of his company, I would be pleased to present him to you as a gift. If for no other reason than to see again the way you smiled when you were holding him."

What little remaining formal behavior disappeared in her eyes at that moment; the facade melting away. It was little more than an impulse, but in a breath she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, pulling him into a hugging embrace. His arms come up automatically to return the embrace, if for no other reason than to help keep their balance on the steep stairs. Yet he also stiffens, startled by the unexpected action, almost beginning to… dodge or twist away… before her words reassure him, and he calms himself again.

"I don't know what to say…" she whispers into his ear. "I will treat him with the utmost gentleness and kindness. He will be a constant reminder of this wondrous day I've spent with you. Thank you so very much, Kendall."

"You are… quite welcome, Margot," he answers. His voice emerges a little rougher than usual, and his breathing quickened. She can feel the beating of his heart thrumming through their clothes.

Her arms remain wrapped around his shoulders for only a few heartbeats; her own heart beating in syncopation with his. Her breath quickens, even as she slowly releases his neck from her custody, her hands sliding around his shoulders and down his arms. Warm and sweet, Kendall feels her breath against the collar of his robe, her cheek slowly sliding against his. By the sense, her head is tipped down slightly, the feather kisses of her eyelashes tracing the bone of his cheek. Attempting to step back, she finds herself trapped against the riser of the stair, her only option to brace or stumble on her skirts once more.

His arms still about her, he holds steady against her stumble, keeping both of them upright. She can feel him take a deep breath, letting it out slowly, staying very still for the space of eight quick heartbeats to make sure they both are secure.

"I— I am sorry, Kendall… if my exuberance has caused you any distress," she offers softly, suddenly feeling very awkward and finding no place to put her arms.

Moving his hands to her waist, he sets her upright on the stair, letting his hands remain there in case she might stumble again. "It is of no account, Margot," he answers. He tips his head to catch her eye, smiling to show no harm done. "It makes me glad that you are happy with the gift. I will see to it, and instruct you on his care."

She steadies herself with the help of his arms, her hands grasping his biceps to help with orientation. She listens to his words, nodding. A hand cups his cheek. "Kendall," his name is soft, "I…" a long heartbeat passes, her eyes leaving his, a slight glance to his lips. Fingertips retract gingerly, the backs of the fingers sliding the length of his jaw. A few more blinks in silence, and her smile returns. "I appreciate… I appreciate you, Kendall," she finally settles on.

Turning his head slightly, he bestows a kiss to the palm of her hand, eyes never leaving hers. Her eyes close at the press of lips on the inside of her hand, thumb smoothing the side of his jaw. Her breath catches for a heartbeat as she fights an overwhelming urge to sample their tenderness against her own. Her hand continues to return to her side, almost reluctantly.

"You are welcome again," he says, his voice finding its smooth, calm timbre. Releasing her waist, he offers her his hand. "We have yet to find the sun, Margot, and you have one last question for me."

She draws a cleansing breath, exhaling slowly. The pleasant smile that has warmed her expression all day returns, and she accepts his hand willingly. "You are correct on all accounts." She stands aside, allowing him to join her on the walk up the stairs, and when they continue on their way, her fingers remaining in his.

"After this day, and you had the opportunity to ask me or ask of me anything at this moment… what would it be?"

Kendall frowns in puzzlement. "I fear I do not exactly understand your question," he says. "We have already agreed during this time that either of us may ask the other anything without fear of distress."

She smiles, turning to face him so she can watch his eyes. "We did. We have spent some time together, I would like to think enjoying each other's company," she explains gently. "I am asking you to tell me if there is anything else you wish to know about me… is there anything you… want from me at this moment. Ask, and I will grant your wish."

It's merely a flash of the eyes, so hard to completely contain, and Margot can guess at least one thing he'd like from her. He blinks, the momentary fire extinguished, and looks up and into the distance over her head, thinking on her question.

She watches him silently, wondering what he could be pondering. She may have even granted the wish that lurked behind his eyes, had he acted on it. As if may was an option… her conscience remarked from deep within. She wasn't half as gifted at concealing her thoughts as he was.

It takes him a relatively few five heartbeats to turn his gaze back to hers. "I would be greatly honored, Margot, if you would join me for dinner in Maeve's Vigil," he says at last, giving her a half bow and a smile, voice warm.

Her fingers squeeze around his once more, her free hand stopped just short of reaching for him; instead, pulling at her hem to drop into a curtsey. Looking up at him from her lowered stance, she smiles, sun catching her eyes. "I cannot think of anything I would rather do," she replies, her voice rich and smooth. As he rises, so does she; a ballet of graceful movements among the blossoms and sunbeams. "My time is yours to schedule."

"Splendid. You shall relish as many of the delicacies of my home as we are able to provide, as we are far and supplies are limited," Kendall replies. His smile widens, and he suddenly looks… young… and perhaps even happy, and his voice warms with enthusiasm as he continues. "We shall attend to it as soon as arrangements can be made. I must find out when would be the most advantageous time to host you."

"I can hardly wait for the invitation to arrive," she returns, excited at the opportunity to join him for a meal. A Chaosian meal. To learn from him the things that delighted him so much to shine in his face. To spend an evening with him. The thought brought a quickness to her pulse. His eyes were beautiful; but his happiness was breath-taking. It pleased her to see him as such.

She returns to his side, strolling along the cobble-stone paths admiring the blossoms. Again, if a particular one caught her eye, she would pause to admire the color or shape or scent it possessed. This time, as they retrace their path, she is far more careful when they approach overturned stones. A smile comes to her lip. "So, you survived your first game of Truth… I hope it wasn't too troublesome for you."

He tucks her hand under his arm again as they begin walking again. His expression and demeanor return to their typical restraint, but he covers the fingers on his arm with his other hand. "Far from it," he answers, pausing to pluck a delicate lily, shaded pale peach at the edges of its petals deepening to a rich brown in its center - an exact match for her eyes. "But lest you forget, I still have my final question." He presents the flower to her.

She smiles at the gift, accepting it and bringing it to her face to appreciate. Eyes close, she breathes in its gentle aroma, allowing the softness of the petals to brush along her skin.

Looking down at her, his expression that of one considering his question and her carefully, he says, "What information did you truly wish to discover through this game?"

She turns, giving Kendall her undivided attention. It is only a few heartbeats before she begins her reply. "I wanted to learn about you. Not as the Minister of Friendship, or even the duty that swirls around you as the Second Son of House Chanicut. These are things that help cultivate who you are; but they are not you. I wanted to discover what makes your eyes shine, what turns your expression thoughtful. I wanted to give you a chance to learn about who I am; not as a Princess, but as a woman." The warm intensity returns in her eyes. "I wanted to meet Kendall, the man. Even if it was little more than a glimpse."

Kendall stares at her, his small, puzzled frown speaking volumes. "You are very flattering," he says at last, rather slowly. He pauses for a heartbeat, and then adds. "I hope that what you have discovered is satisfactory.” He nods to her.

She searches his eyes, trying to suss out why seems displeased. "You are welcome…" she starts slowly, watching intently, "I have found our exchanges delightful and enlightening. I hope that you are not offended by this game and think it some ruse…" She doesn't know how to respond, she spoke true and somehow feels like she's fumbled once more. "You are a very interesting person. You." she holds his gaze in hers. "I have learned so much about many things that I've never known existed… all because of a silly game."

She continued to watch him, drawing a deep breath, "Mostly, I learned that I very much enjoy spending time with you… and would like to do it again… whether it's watching your waves from your glass bridge, or riding to the beach and feeling the spray of the surf, or visiting the city… or whatever…. walking another part of the estate playing another game of Truth or perhaps one from your childhood." she sighs, "I. I wanted to get to know you." she utters quietly. "That shouldn't be a cause of confusion or distress… if it has, I apologize."

"I hope that you will honor me with future… encounters," she finally asks, watching his expression.

He watches the uncertainty and disappointment come over her face, taking the light from her expression and clouding her eyes. It was rather like the unpredictable feeling of falling that occurred when the floor dropped away in the Room of Feathered Knives.

"Be at ease, Margot. I have not forgotten the rules so quickly," he replies, smiling at her reassuringly, though his eyes are still thoughtful. His voice is soft, and he brushes her cheek with his left hand, fingers teasing the hair that wisps about her face. "I am not offended or upset. I have very much enjoyed learning about you, and would be… pleased… if we may spend more time together, in any or all of the activities you have named."

She stands still, unmoving, listening to his words with care. Her eyes remain with his until his hand brushes her cheek, where her eyes cast to the right then finally resting on the flower in her hand. Slowly, she brings the flower to her face once more, breathing deeply. Lowering the blossom slightly, her eyes finally return to his. The soft peach of the petals draws some of the golden flecks in her eyes out. She smiles at him, and in that moment, all is well. She breathes slowly, even though his touch almost commands her pulse to quicken. “I would like that very much,” she murmurs, eyes refusing to leave his.

"Good," he replies simply, and his warm smile is for her alone. Offering her his arm again, he continues to escort her back towards the stairs leading back up into the Castle, though not walking with any hurry. "As for games from my home, I shall think on that, to discover if there are any that would be suitable for this environment."

They continue meandering back to where their journey began some time previously. Margot continues to point out unique flowers, asking about how blossoms in Amber are different than his home, describing how they are different in hers. Their conversations remain social and pleasant, abandoning the depths that they had explored earlier in their walk.

Once more, Margot finds herself standing where Kendall had first met her, overlooking the expansive view of the castle gardens. She turns to face him fully, studying his eyes for a long moment as if contemplating something deep within her own thoughts. There is the slightest of nods, and her smile blossoms, lighting her whole face. “There is a custom when two people part ways…” she begins slowly, carefully selecting her words. “At the Academy I attended before coming here, there were many of us from different lands… different city-states. Some were ruled by government; others ruled by monarchy. Borders abutted borders. At times, there were language barriers, but we muddled through and learned from one another. However, despite cultural differences and an individual’s need for personal space, we greeted and departed each other in the same fashion.”

She took a deep breath, searching his eyes for approval, or any sign of interest. “I would like to share this custom with you. Will you allow me to do so?” she asks softly.

He listens carefully to her explanation intently, eyes bright with interest and concentration. He hardly pauses at the end of her request, nodding. "Please do, Princess," he says, falling back on formality now that they were back at the Castle.

She smiles, almost relieved at his response. She closes the distance between them, leaving only one or two breaths between their forms. Rising upon her toes, she rests a hand on his chest for balance. She leans in, pressing a gentle kiss, hardly more than a brush of the lips against his right cheek. “This is to wish the person health,” she explains to his ear. Pressing a kiss to his left, she explains, “This is to wish the person happiness.” A third kiss is pressed once more to his right cheek. “This is to wish the person harmony.”

Stepping back, she looks into his eyes, not knowing how he will respond. “Lord Kendall, I wish you all of these and much more until our paths cross again,” she wishes sincerely.

He holds very still throughout the process, listening to her breathy voice in his ear, feeling her hair tickle his neck. He leaves his hands hanging loosely at his sides, not entirely certain what his role in this was to be, but he is smiling when she finishes, meeting her eyes as she settles back on her feet again. "You have my thanks, Princess Margot," he replies. "For the well wishes, and for the enchanting visit. I have learned much, and look forward to enjoying more time with you." "May all the Colors of the Sky illumine your path and bring joy to your journey."

Her expression changes, softens and yet brightens in her eyes and her smile. "That is a beautiful sentiment," she responds, clearly moved, her words breathy. "Thank you, Lord Kendall."

Kendall watches her light up, his expression warming. Taking her hand, he bows to her, eyes still locked with hers. The kiss he lays on her hand is almost no more than a breath on the skin. "I shall send you word regarding our next meeting, Princess." He stands again. "Until then, fare well."

She watches, breath catching in her chest. It's only for a few short heartbeats, but she allows herself to be lost in his eyes one last time. "Fare well," she murmurs, allowing her fingers to linger in his palm for a few breaths. Retracting her hand, she shares one last, small, private smile with Kendall before turning and walking away.

Kendall watches her until she is completely out of sight, before moving along to his next activity, turning to walk briskly through the castle back towards Maeve's Vigil.

Back to list of Kendall's game threads
Meeting with "Lord" Darren of House Levalin

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