House Call

It is after the gonging of eight chimes in the evening, when Briar passes through the massive iron doors, across the glass bridge over the sea, to the lonely tower and the door of the Chanicut delegation's quarters. She has traded in her dress blues this evening for a fluffy off-the-shoulders white peasant blouse, dark blue jeans, and knee-high soft black leather boots. Her only adornment is a dull silver heart locket on a slender chain about her neck.

A pause of several moments follows her knock, until the door is opened to reveal a slender man with sleek red hair and catlike eyes, clothed in a flowing green and black uniform. He stares at her for two heartbeats before bowing. One guard is visible standing at attention inside the door, also dressed in green and black with gold trim.

"Fair Turn," the servant greets her, stepping aside to allow her access to the entry hall. "To what do we of Chanicut owe the honor of this call?"

Stepping inside, she smiles and replies, "Good evening. I am Captain Briar. I had received a message earlier that Lord Kendall wishes to speak with me."

"Ah." The servant nods, closing the door behind her. Not surprisingly, a matching guard stands on the other side. "M'lord Kendall left word that you may be calling. Please come this way."

He leads Briar through the well-appointed tower — an entrance hall, receiving room, a couple other rooms here and there, with other guards dotting the landscape — up some stairs and through a room to a balcony. He stops at the door. "M'lord," he says quietly, "Captain Briar is here to see you."

Kendall's voice floats from the balcony. "Thank you, Rory." The servant beckons Briar forward and, with a nod of thanks to him, she walks out and glances around.

At her first steps around the doorway, she sees that Kendall was apparently sitting on the balcony railing rather than in one of the chairs scattered about. His feet hit the the floor as she appears, and he strides over to greet her with a slight smile warming his pale eyes. He wears unadorned black from head to foot: trousers, a long sleeved shirt with a high neck, indoor boots. His gold-trimmed green outer robe is draped neatly over the back of one of the chairs. "Fair Turning, Captain. Tis a pleasure to see you again."

He reaches to take her hand and she permits him to do so, mirroring his smile with a slightly lopsided one of her own. "Likewise, Professor. I do hope the hour is not inconveniently late. I've only just come off duty."

"Tis no inconvenience. I usually keep longer time than the Ambassador, and had not yet retired." He bows at the waist and kisses her hand, then gestures her to a seat before taking one himself. "Tis a pity so much of your time is taken by duties that you must make calls so late in the Turn."

"Too true." She seats herself and crosses her legs gracefully. "Though things have been more than usually busy, recently. Calling late seems preferable to calling unreasonably early; my only other option." She makes a wry face.

"Unreasonable is a relative term," Kendall says, looking beyond her to the door of the balcony. He nods at Rory who had reappeared with a tray, and waits in silence as the servant places a plate of small treats on the low table and then pours the wine. Leaving the bottle, the servant then withdraws as silently as he arrived, Briar offering a quiet thank you to his retreating back.

"I must say that I could become accustomed to your, ah, 'night' I believe is the term," Kendall continues, picking up a glass. "This time has a restful quality very conducive to meditation."

"It does," she agrees. "Although I'll have to take your word about the meditation. I'm usually either doing something else at night, or asleep."

Kendall raises his glass in a salute to Briar and takes a sip before venturing a response. "Are there typical activities conducted during the night?" he inquires. "We of Chanicut have some activities that are held during specific Turnings. Bluesky is typically a time for martial training, for example…"

The question evokes a slight smirk as Briar returns the salute and tastes her own wine. It has a vaguely fruity flavor, rather dry like citrus, which is pleasantly subtle and light until the alcohol content hits a second later.

"Early night time, evening, is usually set aside for restful or enjoyable activities," she replies. "The ball we attended last evening, for example. It is also taken as the natural order of things that one sleeps at night. So beyond a certain hour — perhaps nine o'clock or so — one's time is generally one's own, and it is considered somewhat discourteous to call unexpectedly, except perhaps between close familiars."

She pauses momentarily. "As might be expected, night is often considered the ideal time for activities of a clandestine or merely… private nature."

"Ah," he responds, a sound conveying shades of understanding. He stares at her over the rim of his cup as he takes another drink. "Is there something which you would like to discuss privately with me?" he finally inquires.

"Possibly… but I'm here at your request, if you'll recall. What was it you wished to speak to me about?" She sips sparingly at the wine, her expression pleasant enough, but quite neutral at the moment.

He doesn't answer immediately, obviously thinking back, but then memory returns and his thoughtful frown fades. "Oh, that," he says, to himself more than to Briar. He smiles wryly.

"I merely wished to discuss the potential schedule for the tour we had discussed earlier." He sets his glass down and picks up a small sweetbread from the tray, tearing it in half and eating one tiny bite at a time.

"Well, when have you got the time? I can probably work around your schedule, within reason, since the whole thing was more or less a Royal mandate, and therefore an official part of my duties." This seems to amuse Briar for some reason. She has not touched the hors d'oeuvres as yet.

"The only event I have on my schedule is a meeting with the Queen… tomorrow?" he seems to be inquiring about the terminology. "During Tea. Otherwise I am left to my own devices, within the boundaries that your people have determined."

She nods. "All right then, what about tomorrow afternoon? I'll work out a likely itinerary of some of the local points of interest, and we can take along a picnic lunch. Perhaps give the horses some exercise."

"That sounds like a delightful plan," he answers, looking pleased. "I must say an outing will be welcome. I mean no insult, but the constant company of your guard contingent is… uncomfortable."

"I can understand that, and I'm sure that they do, as well." She cautiously tries one of the snacks, which turns out to be a sweet but subtle confection of nuts and honey, choosing her next words carefully. "I trust that they've been performing their duties in an appropriate and respectful manner?"

Kendall quirks an eyebrow at her question. "I am uncertain what level of respect to expect," he replies evenly, completely deadpan. "I am an Abyssal Creature, after all."

"Has someone called you such?" she says, a trifle sharply, scowling. "You are a guest of the King, and if you've encountered slurs or any other form of abuse since you arrived, someone will answer for it, I assure you." Then she flushes slightly, her gaze dropping. "Actually, part of the reason I came out here was to apologize. I've been given to understand that one of my subordinates was less than courteous earlier today."

He raises his eyebrows at her reaction, but holds up a hand. "No apology is necessary, Captain. Having the individual in question flogged should be sufficient." He calmly sips his wine, eyes glinting above the rim of his glass.

She looks up with a startled blink. "Flogging is not one of our standard disciplinary measures, Professor, but if the offense was serious enough, I might consider it. My second-in-command seemed reluctant to repeat exactly what was said. Perhaps you'd fill me in on the details?"

Kendall flashes her another smile, putting down his glass. "Tis my turn to apologize now, Captain, for the tasteless jest. Flogging is reserved for far more special cases than that of your subordinate." He pauses, as though considering his answer, while Briar blinks again and her look of surprised consternation is replaced with a slightly incredulous smile.

"I shall endeavor to explain the nature of his offense, though I believe it likely the result of a cultural rift rather than specific disrespect on his part," Kendall continues. "I inquired as to your availability for a meeting, and he in turn inquired as to whether it is an urgent matter."

He pauses to takes a breath, clearly not finished, as though deciding how to phrase the next part. He toys absently with his wineglass as he thinks. "It would be expected, in House Chanicut, that a subordinate presented with such a situation would not question the urgency of the superior's request, but would leave it to the requestor's discretion to decide whether or not to pursue the matter at that time."

"Ahhh… I think I begin to understand," she murmurs.

"I have had some time this… evening to ponder several interactions I had during my explorations this Turn."

"And what conclusions have you drawn?" she asks, still smiling though a faint shadow of concern lingers in her eyes.

The Chaos Lord starts to answer, but stops and waits to think instead. "I have reached no strict conclusions as yet, having been here a very short time," he replies at last. "Long enough for an assassination attempt, to be sure, but still less than two full Turns. Your world is fascinating and confusing, to say the least, but I dare say I am unable to truly appreciate it, as a Chanicut. There are too many… restrictions." He frowns to himself.

She nods, not entirely understanding perhaps, but recognizing that he finds himself in some form of dilemna. "I am sure things will clarify, with time. As to the assassination attempt, that is one of the other things I wanted to speak to you about."

Sitting back with one arm draped over the back of her chair, she regards him with an air of bemused speculation. "Perhaps I'm being obtuse, but I find it difficult to fathom why you did not mention the incident to your escort when they rejoined you."

"Mention… the incident…" He cocks his head to one side as he considers the question. He pauses to refresh his wine and then offers with a gesture to pour more for Briar, who nods in assent.

"Twas a very poor assassination attempt," he replies at last, setting the bottle down with care. "Hardly worth noting. Crossbow bolts from that distance are very easy to see, and the length of time needed to reload allows the target to easily prepare for the next volley… That is not what you are asking, is it?"

She shakes her head at his explanation, quite perplexed. "No, not precisely… are assassinations really so prevalent in the Courts that they can be dismissed so easily? Around here, they are considered a fairly serious matter, even if poorly executed." She chuckles softly. "The rationale being, I suppose, that even an inept assassin may learn from his mistakes and get it right the next time around."

"Hm. Tis a way of life, or a way of thinking, rather than a matter of prevalence." He hesitates, but then apparently decides something. He watches her intently as he continues, "To mention the attempt would have meant drawing attention to the fact that I was not exactly where I was 'supposed' to be at the time. Given the reactions of my… escorts… I deemed that not preferable." He sips his wine.

"It would have drawn a good bit of attention, as well as some fairly spectacular reactions, if you'd been found stuck full of crossbow bolts," she points out mildly. "As a personal favor, I'd appreciate it if you'd say something — to me, if not to your assigned escorts — should you find yourself the target of any further attempts." She pauses, her eyes gleaming wickedly while he thinks about her request.

"Indulge me in this," she adds as he nods his agreement, "and I'll even promise not to chastise you, much, for subverting Amber's youth so that you could go sneaking off alone." She picks up her glass and takes a sip to hide something that falls between a smirk and a grin.

His eyebrows go up in bemused surprise. "I was not sneaking," he counters with great dignity. "I believe that was also merely the result of miscommunication. The original, empty, practice ring to which I was shown would have provided little distraction for either Vanya or I, which had been the point of visiting the stable. I simply was looking for some place with challenge."

He pauses a heartbeat, then adds, "I was interested in the procession of Knights I observed while out riding."

"Procession? Oh, the funeral. Yes. Quite a dazzling display of pageantry they put on for poor Lorraine… now that she's dead." The last comes out not quite under her breath, and not quite as coolly neutral as she might have preferred. Some distaste, if not out-and-out disgust, is evident in her expression.

"A pity…" Kendall murmurs, then rises and goes over to Briar's chair. He holds out his hand, inviting her to stand. "Are you displeased because she is dead, or because she was not accorded respect while alive?"

She gives her hand to him, and also rises. "I take no joy in her death, though I didn't know her well. It displeases me to watch them try to honor her now when it does her no good, and to know that they will conveniently forget their remorse when another appears in a situation like hers." She laughs bitterly. "I believe I mentioned before that I despise pretenses… pretenses of humble piety are perhaps the most difficult to swallow."

Kendall leads her over to the balcony railing, overlooking the sea far below with the wind tugging at their hair. "Pretense oftentimes is all that exists in courts," he says. "What situation is it that caused such consternation?"

"Lorraine was… well, a nobody, at least as such things are accounted at court. My uncle, Prince Corwin, brought her in from Shadow and made her his Lady, much to the disapproval of those who see people strictly in terms of their bloodlines."

She sighs. "I've gotten most of this third-hand, you understand; my path rarely crossed Lorraine's. But I'm given to understand she was treated dismissively, perhaps downright unkindly. And then she died bearing Corwin's child. Both he and his younger brother Gérard seem to have gone a bit out of their heads over it. And suddenly everyone and his brother has turned out with a tearjerking ballad or a solemn, elegantly constructed eulogy, and a freshly-polished conscience to go with it."

Briar shakes her head. "I think the only person around here who really tried to be a friend to Lorraine was Lady Vialle, Prince Random's wife. You should arrange to meet her, if you haven't already. She's lovely, and extremely welcoming of newcomers." She smiles wanly. "Just don't stand too close while Random is around; to say he's fiercely protective of her is a profound understatement."

Briar stops for several moments, staring moodily out at the Sea. "Anyway… perhaps I'm just too cynical. And I believe I talk too much. I'm really in no position judge anyone here. The gods alone know what they say about me behind my back."

He chuckles quietly, staring out to the distance rather than directly at her. "Most likely that you are far too friendly with Chaosians," he answers. "Though you have far more reason to interact with me than others at your Court." He glances at her out of the corner of his eye, then turns to look at her directly. "You may be suspected of being in league with us," he says seriously. He looks like he might say something more, but stops himself.

"In league with you to do what? Assassinate the King and take over the place?" She snorts quietly, though with little humor. "Yes, that has to be it. I've spent thousands of years out of contact, plotting with a Chaosian House to overthrow my own father just as he finally achieves his lifetime's dream. If they do suspect I'm 'in league' with you," she mutters, "they must think I'm a pretty lousy strategist as well as a traitor, to have waited until after Amber won the war to make my move."

She glances at him, and for the first time since their introduction, her eyes show her true age. 'Thousands of years' is no exaggeration, and the unutterable weariness of that accumulated time can be clearly read behind the facade of businesslike alertness. "Did someone say something to that effect, or are you just speculating?"

"Speculating," he answers. "I think from what you spoke of earlier, your Court is still not as different from mine as either of our people might wish." He sighs, searching her eyes closely, his own not nearly as old in age, but still containing an experienced cynicism. He pushes a few strands of her hair back from her face in an impulsive motion, then pulls his hand back, frowning. "You make it very easy to forget our differences," he murmurs.

"Yeah. You, too. Not quite easy enough, though, is it?" She sighs ruefully, resting her chin in her hands and her elbows on the railing. "Have you ever fought in a war, Professor?" she asks after a moment.

Kendall goes over to the table to retrieve their wine as he answers. "No, I have not. I gather from your apparent experience that you have, however." He hands her a full glass. "And I believe you fought near the end of Amber's most recent war?"

"I spent a very long time sojourning in Shadow, mostly as a professional soldier." She accepts her glass with a nod of thanks. "And yes, I did come in near the tail end of this last one. It was particularly nasty, but then, I have yet to encounter a war that could be termed pleasant."

She smiles mirthlessly. "I've learned quite a few things about war over the years. The biggest one is that if I were to go on hating everyone I ever had reason to call an enemy, I'd have no room in my life for anything except hatred. That seems to me a good enough reason to go looking for common ground." She gazes thoughtfully at nothing in particular for a moment, then looks squarely at him and raises her eyebrows. "I seem to be rather unique in that attitude, around here. Would it surprise you very much to learn that in some ways, I'm nearly as much a stranger in Amber as you are?"

Kendall quirks an eyebrow at the last question, then sets his wine on the wide stone railing. "No," he answers. "You appear possessed with a feeling of disassociation from this place. Yet… why did you leave?" he asks curiously. "And more importantly, why did you feel the need to return?"

Briar takes a long time to answer that one. Kendall continues to sip his wine and watch the clouds scuttle across the sky, waiting with a relaxed posture though he does not lean against the railing.

"I suppose I left because I wanted to see whether anyone would notice," she finally replies. "I stayed away, waiting at first for some sign one way or the other, and then I just lost track of the time and stopped thinking about it." Her voice drops. "And I came back because… I got my sign. I don't want to go into that. Suffice it to say, I realized I was never going to hear from anyone in Amber. But I was curious as to what the place was like after all this time… and contrary enough to come back just because it seemed nobody wanted me here."

Briar shrugs stiffly, turning back toward the sea, fingering her locket absently. "Childish, I suppose, but then I was barely more than a child when I left. You remember I said how nice it sounded, to know exactly where you fit in and what was expected of you?" She smiles wistfully as Kendall nods. "I was the bastard daughter of a bastard son, and nobody knew quite what to do with me. I didn't get on with Queen Clarissa, and Grandfather — that is, King Oberon — finally lost patience with our ongoing feud. With my half of it, I should say. He eventually sent Clarissa packing as well, but for all I knew when I started back here a few months ago, she would still be ruling beside him, and nothing would have changed."

Her smile twists painfully but Kendall remains silent, waiting for her to continue. "Things have changed, all right… only they haven't. The faces are different, some of 'em, but they still have no idea what to do with me. Morgana put me in this job because I appeared at a convenient time to fill it, and I accepted out of a desire to be useful. But if I walked away tomorrow, it would amount to nothing more than a help-wanted ad in the local papers. Or so I often find myself thinking. Have I mentioned I have a very prominent cynical streak?"

She stops, shakes her head, and gives a forced laugh in a deliberate attempt to shake off the ugly mood she's gotten into. "Ye gods, listen to me! I beg your pardon, Kendall, I didn't mean to dump all of this on you this evening. Or at all." Some of the clouds clear from her eyes. "You're shockingly easy to talk to, has anyone ever told you that?"

"Not in so many words," he replies, smiling at her. "However, it might be expected, considering my position. Or… might you say 'it comes with the job?'" He chuckles in his restrained way.

Turning, he hitches himself up to sit on the railing with his legs crossed, heedless of the drop. "I asked because… I cannot fathom leaving my House. Being away for so long. However, I am also in a far different position in the ah, hierarchy."

"Well, you have my envy. Mind you, being away wasn't all bad. I have some very fond memories of my time in Shadow. Though it's true what they say, there is no place quite like Amber." She leans out slightly, trying to judge the distance to the rocks below. "Are you sure that's a wise way to perch up here? I think you make a much better Minister of Friendship than you would an abstract beach mosaic."

Kendall follows her look down to the sea below with a bemused expression on his face. "I am fond of heights," he says, turning back to her. He is quiet for three heartbeats, watching her face before finally he suggests, "Perhaps you need a break. Now, while you are finished with your duties. Perhaps we could… go somewhere?" He raises an eyebrow. "Begin your tour early?"

She folds her arms on the railing and looks up at him, a trace of a smirk stealing onto her face. "Perhaps," she says slowly, trying to sound skeptical, but it comes out sounding more amused. "Was there someplace in particular you wished to see, Professor, or are you thinking more along the lines of anywhere except these bloody towers I've been holed up in?"

"More in the second vein than the first," Kendall admits. "I have seen some of the Castle, as much as I expect to be permitted to see. I do not wish to compromise your position here, so will not ask you to show me the forbidden parts… Perhaps a walk outside of the castle would… assist with your perspective."

"Sounds like a plan to me. Now I just need to figure out how to get out of the castle without convincing the entire population we're up to no good. Give me a moment…"

"Why, of course you wish to conduct your own investigation of the area of the assassination attempt, with me along to provide any details that I may have overlooked before," Kendall answers her ingenuously, jumping lightly down from the railing. He looks himself over, musing thoughtfully, "Such a diversion would require my formal attire…"

"I like the way you think." She grins. "Wish I'd worn my uniform, but never mind… this is spur of the moment, after all."

Kendall goes over to the chair and picks up the folded green robe still draped there. As he shakes it open and begins to don it, he remarks, "There was a time, when I was much younger, my father's son Cedric experienced some difficulties with certain other individuals in the House. As a result, he… left the main Ways for a time. I believed he wished to be alone, and so did not disturb him. It was much later that I found he wished someone would have spoken to him during that time."

She nods. "Perverse, isn't it… it's usually when one needs people the most that one finds it hardest to admit it, or do anything about it."

Kendall quirks an eyebrow at that. "Have you had an opportunity to speak to those you wish would have contacted you, to inquire why they did not?" he asks her, settling his robe over his shoulders and buttoning it in place.

"Of course. And no, I haven't asked." She looks away, uncomfortable, then draws a deep breath and meets his gaze squarely. "I'm scared to," she says simply. And having finally articulated in three painfully honest words to a total stranger the single most defining fact of her very long, rather empty life… Briar turns and heads for the door.

"You ready to go?"

Kendall stands rooted to the spot for ten entire heartbeats after she answers, expression blank with astonishment. But then he shakes off his reaction in time to follow her before she could reach the door to the suite. "As ready as I shall expect to be," he murmurs to her retreating back.

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