Interlude: A New Normal

It's much later before Kendall returns to the cabin where Margot rests. In the meantime, both her maid and his servant had come and gone, bringing clothes, food, drink, and other amenities to the princess. The waters of the deeps pass by outside the portal, with fish and other sea life her only occasional companions. All is strangely quiet after the constant bustle and noise of the ship above water.

As much as she wanted to study the precious book about the Pattern, she could not focus while wondering what else was happening beyond her confined world. Caresse, of course, found the concept of her Poppy encased barbaric. Margot tried, but in the end let the matron grumble and rant, in hopes to get it out of her system. Now alone, she found herself leaning against the vine-covered wall staring out the portal as the underwater world passed her by. She clung to the book as if it were her Lady Bear, close to breast, with her mind lost in thoughts significant and unimportant.

Footsteps on the stairs above herald Kendall's arrival, and he hails Margot when he spots her. "Fair Turn, my sweet. How do you fare?"

A smile blossoms on her lips, warming the entire room as he approaches and takes her hand to kiss the back. He had changed before Rory brought his clothes to his new cabin, the damaged and draggled outfit he had worn to dinner replaced now with a robe aswirl with green and gold.

"Distracted, I'm afraid," she confesses, caressing his skin with her hand. She turns away only long enough to gently toss the book onto the bed. "But, Rhercyn has been kind enough to show me wonders, and patient with my curiosity. And, despite all of your new responsibilities, you appear refreshed and at ease. How do you fare?" her question followed softly, the affectionate concern that she seemed to possess for him a blanket enveloping the couple.

"More at ease, perhaps," he admits. "But refreshed? Not as yet, but mayhap…" His face scrunches into an expression of critical thought for a heartbeat, and then he tugs her hand to bring her close to kiss her on the lips, a kiss that lingers long and races with passion. Margot slips an arm around his shoulders, drawing him tight against her as she returns his affection with enthusiastic ardor. The taste of him was enough for her to lose herself in the moment, forgetting all worries or concerns. In those brief moments, all that exists is the complete surrender to the kiss.

Arms curl around her back, pressing her tightly against him, feeling the dual sensations of her soft body against breast and on deck planks. He knew immediate desire to feel her bare skin sliding on his like flowing water and breathy wind, and releases her lips only long enough for breath before renewing the embrace. Heartbeats pass uncounted and blithely ignored before he draws away again, inhaling the scent of her skin before gracing the tip of her nose with a feather-light caress of his lips.

He smiles at her, held so close that focusing was difficult, and his eyes dance with mischief. "I am beginning to feel somewhat more refreshed now," he murmurs.

"Mmmm," she purrs, nuzzling against the skin of his neck. "And is it relaxation or refreshment that you seek?" she teases, tempting his lips into another kiss.

"Must one come without the other?" he returns. Arms uncurl from her body so he can lower her feet back to the deck and they can stand apart. He takes her hand. "Come lie with me, and you can tell me what thoughts brought such a serious expression to your face."

"Serious expression?" she inquires, following him to the bed and waiting for him to become comfortable before joining him on the soft surface. He drapes his outer robe carelessly over the desk before he reclines on the bed in his thin blouse and trousers of silky black. She curls up against his side, her diaphanous bedgown pooling around them both in shimmering folds.

"I was just marveling at the beauty and majesty of Rhercyn cutting through the water so… swiftly and still peacefully," Margot explains. "She is both sensual and fierce."

Lying together on the soft bed, they can both easily feel each others' heartbeats. He props himself up just enough with a pillow so that he can look at her as she cuddles against him. They already fit together easily, comfortably, as though they had practiced this hundreds of times. One arm encircles and pulls her close while he caresses her thigh and arm with the other, his fingers finding their way upwards to tickle her breast through the fabric before combing into her hair. She squirms as he playfully torments her, a hand slipping beneath black silk to enjoy the temptations of his warm skin.

"And when I was not contemplating the mysteries of the ocean, I was contemplating how I … fit in this realm," she adds. "And how I will have to find a way to be helpful and resourceful without also being inadvertently destructive. Or, how … my line was once Chaosian, born to a powerful entity that came from Chaos and how … in the few steps from the source, our make-up is so different."

She ticks her count on fingers against her chest. "Unicorn, Oberon, Eric, Me… I am only the fourth generation removed from Chaos. How is it possible that so much evolution, or transformation, or… I don't know what to call it. It seems like much more had to have happened that I can be a danger to those I hold close to my heart."

"The Pattern is what happened," he says after some thought. "The power of the Pattern, the Power of Order, is fundamentally different from anything in the Courts."

"But, was it not the mad creation of Dworkin and the Unicorn? How is there Order from madness?" she questions. "These, I suspect, are arguments that I could waste an eternity chasing in circles and never truly be satisfied with the answers. There is a union of both — somewhere and somehow — where all coexist and blend to form a single, separate experience altogether. It's just a matter of molding that which is into what will be," she finishes, speaking with a certainty that borders on the spiritual, her voice soft and contented.

He shakes his head. "I don't know the answers to your questions," he agrees. "Nor do I know if such blending and merging is what I would wish for. I know only what is — that your body thrums with a completely different Power than mine. Were I to traverse the Logrus, it could very well be that our compatibility would be sorely tested."

She continues to caress his skin. "What if I were to traverse the Logrus?" she asks. "What would come of that? Has any other Amberite attempted that feat? Dara has both blood, but those are probably more riddles for the Madman and the Unicorn and the Serpent and I doubt any would grant audience to a curious child." She shakes her head with a sigh.

Imposing her slight form upon him, Margot presses him back and slides atop him, leaving their legs to tangle together. "And those were the thoughts that plagued me so, stealing time from me when I should be studying. That…and my longing for you to return." Once more she claims his lips; she had little doubt that he was aware of her preoccupation and desires even as he tended to other things. He had said he would be.

Hands and arms adjust to her changed position, sliding over her back and buttocks and tugging higher the filmy fabric which had already hitched at thighs with her movement. Having her pressed against him earlier by the wall, then cuddled against him on the bed, had both been distracting enough. Now, though… Now he could feel her all around him, pressing against his chest and back with silky softness that belied the fiery desires that swam in her veins, desires he had shared in even from a distance. Her breath puffed against his cheek and coated his mouth even before her lips touched him, her scent and the blood pounding in his ears drowning everything else out.

A hand behind her head invites her lips against his again, suddenly hungry — no, starving for her — and the other moves to free himself from the confines of his clothing. She accedes to his unspoken invitation, loosening his buttons on her own. Her fingers had become far more nimble since he had first taken her as a lover, and one-by-one buttons lost their security, baring his chest to her.

It was a completely different experience for him, tasting and feeling her as both ship and man; an experience he was completely unprepared for. In spite of the many heartbeats he had spent away from their bed — time that had been spent learning of the Rhercyn and establishing their relationship — passion still at times had tugged at his body. The princess had lingered ever in the back of his awareness, and he could take the odd heartbeat away from what engaged him to caress her as she leaned against the wall, inhale her scent as she passed near vines, hear her voice as she spoke near portholes.

His lust is high after entire Turnings of titillation and stimulation, and the Rhercyn's curiosity prickled at him, goaded him as the female ship sought an experience of her male master's physicality. He could smell Margot's yearning, hear her love for him singing in his ears, and the joy she felt when they joined fell on him like starlight. There was only enough self-awareness to prevent the changes from overcoming him, remaining steadfastly in his human shape to protect her delicate body. Beyond that, her cries filled his ears and soaked through his fingertips, her gasping breath coated him and warmed him in icy waters, driving him faster and deeper into the depths.

Time is lost in the haze of passion, later leaving him with only a vague idea of how many times they tumbled and churned together like the waters his vessel traversed. This loving carried with it an exhilarating power barely held in check each time they joined and found pleasure's release. Margot's body adapted to her lover's demands, her delight in their primal drives providing an exuberant chorus that filled their private world. Her body trembled beneath him, adrenaline and orgasm fighting for dominance, leaving her breathless only until his mouth reclaimed hers and once more brought her spirit to life. Until finally, after a period Margot might measure as hours, Kendall collapses bonelessly atop her as his body finally reaches satiation and satisfaction.

Trembling, sweat-soaked, and panting for breath, full sense returns slowly to the Chaos Lord. He could not remember experiencing such intense lovemaking before, and his exhaustion was in part a measure of the effort required to keep body held in check. Margot's ecstasy had surged through him like a drug, shared through the Rhercyn's enhanced senses, and he had brought the princess to peak again and again just so he could feel the rush of pleasure explode within his own body. His own peaks had goaded the Rhercyn to new speeds, the trembling of the ship perhaps later attributed to the currents of the watery depths she traversed.

Kendall pushes sweat-soaked hair back from her face, kissing her lips gently. They felt tender against his, like seaweed fronds that had been rubbed by passing ships, though they remained unbroken. Both lovers bore the marks of passion on their skin, the abraded flesh sounding a lower hum in the air currents to his ears. All sense of time had been lost from the heartbeat he had returned to Margot's sanctuary and touched her lips with his. He had no sense of how long they had made love, and memory of the particulars of their activities were… muzzy. Now, as they lay still together with their racing hearts slowing, he could still taste her with his whole body as he rested between her legs and within her hot depths; her sweat, her saliva, her nectar all coated him with her most intimate essence, and her scent was heady.

Her kisses are tender in return, almost nurturing in their expression while still that of a lover's touch. If there was a way she could caress his body, she found it; between running her toes along the lengths of his powerful legs, to stroking his back in long sweeps of her fingertips, the pads dancing in the wetness collected at the small of his back and between his shoulders. Her lover had taken her to places she had never experienced, his passion wild and unchained. The more he drove her, the more she wanted for him to surge at her bidding, and even now, she shared the soothing touch to calm him.

It seemed like words might be needed soon, but nothing was coalescing in his mind. Her touch along back and legs was soothing now, restful, and he lies his head next to hers. Eyes drift closed while he listens to the sounds of life below him: her breath and the drum of her heart, the distant river sound of the blood rushing through her veins. Slowly he separated his own senses from that of Rhercyn in an effort to return to his own self.

"I do not know about feeling refreshed…" Margot begins with a languid smile. "But, I no longer feel disconnected."

"Mmm… Disconnected?" The question is spoken in a slow, almost dreamy tone.

Margot kisses his warm cheeks, suckling his mouth while her fingers combed away dampened locks. "I feel… at peace." This he knew, easily, without the words uttered. Her entire body is a singular expression of love, loyalty, and reunion.

"Yes, but—" he has to make an effort to push away somnolence. "From what were you disconnected? What does that mean?"

"Empty, alone, uncertain. Without balance and perspective," she tries to elaborate. "Lost. Without a tether to the world around me."

"Mm." He doesn't really know what else to say to that, because he doesn't feel sure he understands what she's saying. He slides over to lie next to her on the bed. The cool, bracing water that caressed the hull felt refreshing, and he thought idly of a bath of seawater. Later, perhaps. He props himself up on one elbow, lying on one side facing the princess, touching her hair, shoulder, ribs, stomach. Stroking her cooling skin.

"What holds your thoughts and attention?" Margot asks, watching him with half-lidded eyes. A chill claims her, and she snuggles in closer to steal his heat.

His head falls back to the pillow as she snuggles close, and he uses first a foot and then a hand to pull up the gossamer sheet to cover them against the cool air. "A bath… wine… food… sleep." A lazy smile stretches his lips as he recites all the physical pleasures that came with the indolence after satisfying sex.

"A bath will be challenging, given our current accommodations," Margot smiles against his skin. "But, food and wine could be acquired."

He nods, still feeling utterly disinclined to move. That wasn't new, and it seemed as though Margot shared the feeling. His eyes go to her injured shoulder, which was developing a bruise from the joint moving in ways it wasn't designed to. He didn't remember seeing it before, though he had been rather distracted. "What is it that you want for yourself, Margot?" he asks.

Margot studies his expression. "I'm not certain I understand your question…"

Kendall doesn't elaborate right way, not being in a hurry to do much of anything right now. After a time, he says, "You have said many things about what you want. In love, in your lover, in some parts of your duty. I am unsure whether you have decided what you desire for yourself, how you see yourself in the future."

"Do you mean … 'what do I want to be when I grow up'?" she asks with a bemused expression. "I don't suppose that has any sort of reference for you."

"You are correct, in the sense that my future and goals have more boundaries, but there is still room for individual ambition. As always, the question is: how much does one want a thing, and what is one willing to do to get it?" he replies.

Her gaze becomes distant as she rolls onto her back to stare up at the vegetative ceiling. "How do I see myself? I am not certain I see myself in any way… taking your words at face value. I wish to learn and grow in your world. When I dream, I see myself at your side. But you keep reminding me repeatedly that this is … a challenging goal to fulfill to the capacity that I desire. But, that is what I see for myself - as a lover and ally to you. Someone that you are able to know and trust to the ability that you are able or allow yourself."

"Political ambition was never something that was nurtured in my upbringing," she continues after a sigh. "I fear my parents would have rather seen me under the thumb of someone they could manage than for me to have any strength of will or personality of my own. And yet, I find myself … angered at many of family… for a number of reasons. Is it enough to make me reclaim House Barimen and steal that from my uncle?"

She shakes her head. "I don't know. I had not considered it seriously, even when the Countess dangled it beneath my nose. But that was before the explosions."

He mirrors her movement to lie back onto the bed and look at the same ceiling, though in his sight, the wood glows with colors and whispers of secrets. "I was just considering… your mention of groundedness. I am uncertain… how that fits into your current circumstances, how it relates to me, and what that has to do with sex."

She props herself up on one elbow. "Well, when we are loving, there is this… " She gestures with her hand, as if the movement would be the answer to everything. "This connection. Like the infinity ribbon. It is an ebb and flow, a transference of energy that blends with and transcends the corporeal world. There is a feeling of completion, not just at orgasm, but through the whole ritual of love-making. There is no… distraction. No future. No past. Just the moment. It is both liberating and binding. Like the hand cannot grasp without fingers. I just experience this … clarity of Being."

One hand comes up to cushion his head while he ponders this answer. He is quiet for quite some time, simply staring at the ceiling.

"Would you like me to summon food and wine?" she asks after what seemed an eternity of silence.

Drawn away from his thoughts, his head turns to look at Margot instead. "Yes, thank you."

He watches her lithe body as she rises from the bed and then bends to retrieve some covering before ringing for the servant. Rory arrives, which was a sensible choice considering Margot's maid's continued distress about her charge's sexual activities. As she gives orders to his servant, Kendall also rises and begins to gather wayward pillows that had escaped from the bed whilst he and Margot had tumbled together. He piles them against the headboard to create a comfortable backrest.

"He will not be long. I asked for—" Her eyes narrow in thought as Margot returns to the bed. "Some of those spiced sausages and those eggs that you eat the shells. And the Krinth leaves. I'm sure he will bring whatever else he believes is your craving."

She studies him before taking her place, though, a question upon her lips. "Are you well?" she finally asks.

"Mm," he assents with a nod. "I was just thinking. Perhaps you would do well to investigate sexual magic while you are in the Courts. Much power and energy can be harnessed from this to be used for many purposes."

"What would bring you to such a conclusion?" she asks slowly.

"Your description in regards to your experience of sex," he replies, serious and matter of fact. "There is almost a mystical sense to your words."

"Is that an odd thing?" she asks, placing her hip on the edge of the bed. "Is it not like this for others?"

"Each person's experiences are, of course, unique. I would not personally describe the act of sex in quite those terms, but I believe your experience is not confined just to you," Kendall says.

Margot contemplates what he was saying. "I do not wish to engage others intimately," she finally asserts, her words flowing awkwardly, not clearly understanding what Kendall was proposing. She shrugs and blushes as she adds, "Tantric love is something that was spoken of in shadow, that some indigenous peoples believed in. But, it was never something I… experienced… first-hand. Obviously."

Though not familiar with the word 'tantric' it's easy to place into this context. "One of the crystals your uncle gifted us with was placed beneath our bed. Over time, given our enthusiasm, it would have been filled to capacity and exploded," he remarks. A faint smile comes to his face at that. "One hopes such a thing would happen at the appropriate moment of peak, to provide the proper amount of drama."

He brings both hands up to comb through his drying hair, relaxing backward with a sigh. "In any event, twas merely a thought."

Margot sits very still as Kendall explains himself, becoming a living statue. He spoke this revelation with such a cavalier attitude, and yet the thought of such an experience had her terrified and enraged at the same time. Wordless, her eyes drift to the mattress as she tries to appreciate the gravity of what he had shared.

The door opens to admit Rory with a tray of dishes and carafe of wine. The servant nods wordlessly to both the princess and his master before carrying everything to the desk and beginning to uncover dishes.

"What ails you, Margot?" Kendall asks, looking at her with a puzzled frown. He extends both arms up and arches his back in a luxurious stretch, groaning at the release of tension.

"Nothing. Everything." She rises from the bed and returns to the portal to watch the water and creatures pass by on the other side of the membrane, arms wrapping her sides. "The placements of the crystals. My uncle. The ease with which you state such things, seemingly unconcerned or at the least unbothered. I am not accustomed to people seeing the multiverse a better place without my presence, nor am I accustomed to being found a threat when I cannot fathom how I would be. I do not like feeling threatened and I do not like my loved ones threatened."

"I know you do not, Margot," he says patiently. "You have said so, but what would you have me do? Pretend as if such things were not so, to spare your feelings?"

"No, of course not," she returns impatiently, resting her forehead against the wall. "I just… I don't understand how you can be so passionate one breath and so detached the next. Was it our powerful lovemaking that led to your suggestion? Or… was this all a preamble to sharing with me what a terrible existence you're leading me to?" She is weary, emotionally, and it never ceased to amaze her how quickly he could just flip the switch.

He blinks at her, confused by her confusion. "I am not…unbothered by your uncle's attempt to kill me. And you. And Brisbane. I am quite pleased he did not succeed, as a matter of fact."

Kendall's response summons a wistful smile. "I never suspected otherwise. I just… I… Your capacity for slipping along, connecting logical dots that I don't see. It staggers me at times."

Rory pauses long enough to make sure that nothing else was needed, and Kendall waves his fingers in dismissal. The servant bows to both before taking himself out again.

"I assure you, Margot, the paths of your thoughts can seem impossibly circuitous to me, as well," he replies, his mouth quirking up on one side in a lopsided smile. "I am merely attempting to gain… greater understanding of you."

He sits up, turning to climb out of the bed. "And the suggestion to harness your sexual energy was simply a random thought that occurred to me while I was thinking on other things."

She chuckles and glances over her shoulder before returning her attention to the outside world. "Is there so much energy worth harnessing? I do appreciate your attempts at gaining greater understanding. Perhaps we will one day unravel the mysteries of each other's minds."

Yet, there was no hiding a lurking dark spot in her light mood. Was she really going to be thrust into mortal combat with her uncle? As long as he continued to threaten those she loved, was there any other alternative? How did you defend, conquer, or at the very least stalemate someone with eons of experience and power when you had barely even come into your own?

Kendall retrieves a robe from where it had been set on a hook near the bed, draping it over himself as he walks over to the table to inspect the goodies arrayed there. He picks up one of the goblets Rory had already filled, swirling the liquid and breathing in the bouquet.

"You have a great deal of energy, for a great many things," he says with amusement. "I do not know how this Fae magic of yours might work, but tis possible that gathering and storing energy may assist with that, as well. Particularly in the Courts, where the use of Pattern would be problematical." He picks up some krinth and pops it into his mouth, and then begins to eat in earnest.

"Then it is a good thing that I will be tucked away in a remote Way so that I can bring no serious harm to anyone while I try to master that aspect of my being with minimal influence from the Pattern." She lets her breath out in another sigh. "I have so much to learn, but my uncle can no longer be allowed to be a threat. I do not know that this is a path for me, but I know that I will not have Brand interfering with my life in such a fashion that I am jumping at shadows and watching over my shoulder for his next attempt."

Kendall sits in a chair and sips his wine, savoring the subtle floral flavors. "From what my uncle has said, Brand is not much loved in the Courts, either, though he has found some support for his ambitions. Whatever those might be. You may find many allies willing to assist with his defeat."

"I am not a politician and I do not know the first thing about currying favor. I am as I present myself to be," she confesses. Turning away from the portal at last, she lets her feet find a slow and circuitous path to where Kendall sat.

"All that is required, really, is to talk to people," he tells her. He selects a small piece of bread and dabs it into a green paste. "As many different people as possible. This is one reason for your lady's interest in setting you up in the Royal Court, rather than beginning with clear ties to Chanicut. You will start right from the beginning, and you will know very little at first. But as you talk and gather information, your knowledge will increase. You will learn what assets others have that interest you, that could be useful. You will learn what interests them, and whether you have anything to offer."

She claims a piece of sausage and holds it up for inspection as she answers. "Oh, but it is far more complicated than you make it sound, My Heart. You've had a lifetime to hone the skills of listening, speaking, cajoling, sifting, and negotiating. My space for learning and mastery is very, very small." She smiles down at him, stroking his cheek, and finally eats the sausage piece.

One eyebrow quirks. "Why do you suppose that?" he asks. "Time treads a different path in the Courts, and the lives of those with the Blood of Power are long."

"With an uncle that has tried to kill us and we haven't even touched Chaosian shores? With the potential to revive the House that left Chaos to begin with?" She stares at him, disbelieving, and then chuckles. "I suspect that this was only the beginning of a family feud that I didn't invite, but will become an active player in whether I desire it or not. He's had immeasurable amount of time to gather resources, allies, favors, energy… and has proven that he is eager to expend them, even if it is little more than an elaborate attempt to show the power he's amassed."

Kendall makes a dismissive gesture with the hand holding the wine goblet, sloshing the liquid perilously close to the rim. "One attempt is nothing of true concern," he says. "During my journey to Amber and time spent there, I can count four separate attempts on my life, five if one adds this most recent scheme. Obviously care must be taken, notice given, but you must not allow others to dictate your schedule."

Margot stares, blinking several times. A wash of different expressions claim her face, from dumbfounded to incredulous, before finally settling on a broad grin. Taking his wine goblet, she invites herself into his lap and then leans over to kiss his lips. "It really is that simple for you, isn't it? And what is that spicy green stuff I taste?"

"Acani," he answers, adjusting his posture as she sits. One arm wraps around her back to steady her against him. "Simple how?"

"That people will try to kill you and that is sort of the way it is. Just like that," she snaps as she sips from his cup.

"Well… yes. I realize this is not familiar to you, but I am equally at a loss as to what your upbringing was like," he says, his tone and expression speculative, as though trying to picture a world of sweetness and light, love and simple happiness.

Margot samples the acani on the krinth, finding it to her liking. The Chanicut cellars seemed created for the purpose of drawing out the nuances of each flavor that her tongue became acquainted with. "And I suppose in time I, too, will become accustomed to such encounters."

"As you are resolved to journey to Chaos, this attempt is not likely to be the only one made against you," Kendall agrees, his demeanor serious. "You do have the option, of course, of resisting. Of not becoming accustomed to this. I cannot say which approach would be more beneficial, though." He continues to eat with a great deal of enthusiasm as they talk, replenishing energy lost in healing the ship and other active endeavors.

"Yes, that may be," she watches him eat, nibbling here and there as the whim struck, but not really feeeling hungry. "But I was hoping to at least get to the shores of Chaos before I had to keep my head down and find constant cover." There is a smile to her mood, regardless of how serious the conversation had turned. She seemed most at ease when they spoke in this setting.

He nods in sympathy as he licks fruit juice from his fingers. "We all desire rest and calm at some times. What else were you hoping for before reaching the shores of Chaos?" he asks. Clean fingers find their way to twine themselves into locks of her hair.

Again, the Princess found herself trying to suss out what her lover was asking. "This trip has been nothing if not filled with surprises," she begins, thinking of all that had transpired. "Many things have happened that … have given me a great deal to reflect on. I have seen and tasted things both marvelous and horrendous. I am very appreciative that I am here. With you. And Rory and Brisbane and Caresse. But what do I want?"

She shrugs. "I had hoped to begin my studies, but I am not as far as I would like. I had hoped to see and experience things that I had never done before… which I have. Some pleasant, and others less so. I had no personal agenda than to try and maintain the role you had set for my alias. It seems that all of that is moot or a failure or less than perfect at any rate."

"Things beyond one's control are always liable to crop up," he agrees.

"What would you recommend I invest my energies in while I am well protected?" Margot inquired, glancing to where Rhercyn refused passage. "You will be away and while I can entertain myself with thoughts of you to the point of distraction, that is hardly productive." She gives him a playful smile.

"Hm. If one assumes you remain hale and suffer no ill effects of the Black Road, how would you normally pass time?" he inquires curiously. "Would you care for a sword to practice your stabbing? Have you any skill with playing instruments? Perhaps you might compose music?"

"At home? Reading, writing, perhaps a ride into the countryside. Practicing my forms would be wise, but I did not think anyone on this vessel would care to find me with blade in hand. I have no desire or gift for needlepointing, and never have."

Kendall chuckles. "A ride in the countryside is unlikely, but there would be no harm in your practicing with a sword," he assures her. "Whatever materials you may wish, you will have," he adds with a smile and the magnanimous attitude of someone willing and able to bestow any gift.

"Would you like to spar with me?" Margot asks.

He blinks and swallows an olive. "Now?"

"Do you have other things that require your immediate attention?"

"Not at present. My time is yours for the nonce," he answers. "We had spoken of sparring before… Are you not tired?" he asks, his expression trying to decide between puzzlement and wonder that she had the wherewithal to suggest anything involving physical activity after… well… he couldn't really remember what all had occurred in their bed or how long had passed, but he was feeling very well satisfied and lazy.

"Well, we spend time talking, we spend time loving. It seems that finding something else we could share with enthusiasm and vigor would do well. Or you could show me hand-to-hand combat…. though I fear that wrestling would lead to more loving. Which, I rarely disapprove of." She smiles at him, popping an olive in her mouth.

From what he knew of her, he realized he shouldn't be surprised. He takes a drink of wine while she answers, and nods as he sets down the goblet. "Very well, Margot, I will send for weapons. Though I cannot guarantee very much vigor," he adds, only half teasing.

"Somehow, I think you will discover energy reserves. I have confidence," she returns.

It took a little time for all to be made ready, but eventually they are both outfitted with proper attire and wooden practice swords, which were probably wise when two people who probably had vastly differing styles would cross blades for the first time. Kendall eats more while the preparations are being taken care of, finding that his body was demanding more to replenish the stores he had already used during this very long Turn that had already involved an argument, a poisoning, a hunt, shifting into his Chaos form, an explosive dinner, merging with a living ship, and astounding lovemaking. His body would soon simply demand that he stop and rest.

Eventually, though, the two stood facing each other in a cleared space of the cabin, not overly large. Margot takes up a formal fencing stance that would have made Madame proud. Slender to almost a non-existent target, she signals En Garde, blade in her left hand.

Kendall matches her stance, with sword in left hand while a smaller piece of wood in his off hand served the place of the dagger he would normally hold. Unblinking blue eyes stare across the space between them as the bout begins, letting her make the first move.

She is quick; whomever taught her — really taught her — had not been a Shadow person. He had expected skill, based on what she had told him, and he gives her plenty of opportunity to show it off, remaining mostly on the defensive. She displays an unusual fighting style, well suited for her petite form, that took advantage of her fluidity and flexibility while she advanced.

Her eyes never waver, she never flinches; an unsurprisingly competitive side of his lover reveals itself as she fights to relieve him of his secondary weapon. But while he does not give up the "dagger" easily, he has no problem using it as a distraction while he focuses on her directly in an effort to achieve his first touch. He is not competitive, merely careful, but also tired and willing to let her expend her excess energy.

Margot spars with the same enthusiasm and vigor as when they tumbled between sheets. Distractions faded away, leaving her focused, determined, and a fierce opponent. The young woman seems tireless though her skin glistens from expenditure; pressing and taunting with blade to seek new openings and weaknesses in the far more experienced swordsman. But though he might appear somewhat… relaxed (if that was the right word) next to her fierce enthusiasm, she learns quickly of a lightning riposte that makes her backpedal several times.

Each parry turned away, she continues to press, trying to keep him from maneuvering in the tight space. He is difficult to pin down, however, managing to glide just beyond reach or turn back her offensive in time to avoid getting trapped. Even so, her sword does find purchase against the fabric of his clothes a couple times as he slides out of the way of her attacks. In fact, it might seem to the princess either that he wasn't nearly as good as she might expect, or… he simply wasn't giving this match his all.

"Are you distracted?" she asks as they continue to dance around each other.

"What? No," Kendall answers. He draws her in, then executes a ballustra that clearly demonstrates his facility as fencer and dancer, putting him in position for a quick lunge and a touch if she doesn't parry or retreat.

Parry she does, pressing the attack further. "Are you toying with me?" she asks with a smile.

"Is that not the purpose of this sort of sparring?" he returns.

"What I mean is, you're not challenged at the moment, are you?" she asks, just as he manages once more to elude her blade.

"On the contrary, you are keeping me on my guard quite effectively," Kendall says.

He parries a quick series of attacks, but then with a twist she sends his little "dagger" clattering across the room. They break apart again, he awaiting her next move, but with the dagger falling, Margot steps back and signals the end of the match. His surprise is obvious, his head tilting with that puzzled frown appearing. Margot can see that his hand and forearm had already shifted, probably without his conscious thought, to create a chitinous dagger ending in a cruel barbed point.

"Thank you for the match," she offers softly, a little out of breath as she sets the practice sword down. Taking up a cool towel scented with something akin to peppermint and camphor, she dabs her face and neck to remove the excess moisture while breathing in the invigorating aroma. "You had many opportunities to tag me, why did you not?" she asked, not accusatory, but curious.

"Are you certain you are finished?" he asks instead of answering her right away. "You appeared to be enjoying yourself."

"I was. But you were not," she observes. Her response is pleasant, affectionate, and understanding."And while I am very grateful that you entertained my request, I do not wish you to be … obligated to do something that does not levitate the spirit. I will ask Dara to spar with me in the future. It is just… more revealing of my own weaknesses if I spar with someone rather than work through my forms alone."

"I was curious to know how crossing blades with you would be, since you clearly have a greater fascination than I do," Kendall admits. He walks over to the desk to exchange sword for goblet. He looks down at his right arm as it flows back to its accustomed shape.

"But the martial arts have never been what lift my spirit, as you put it," he adds. "They are necessity. I know the use of a sword because if I did not, I would be long dead. Killing does not entertain me, and practicing its arts only serve to remind me of my inadequacies. But… perhaps I am simply not in the proper frame of mind at this time." He takes a healthy drink of wine.

"I do not think you are inadequate. You could have bested me with ease," Margot answers softly. "I… I was curious and perhaps more competitive than required. I apologize for summoning distasteful recollections. Forgiveness?"

He stares into the middle distance as she replies, listening and sipping at his wine. "Have you ever found yourself at the tip of a blade and known your life hung in the balance?" he asks quietly. His voice is even but with a contemplative tone, as though his thoughts are far away.

"Yes … and no. When my grandfather first came to me, I was in my nightgown and I was certain he'd have me dead. When I later learned him to be an ally and not an assassin, that fear was gone. There was a particular student at the academy that despised me and before I found my confidence and ability to concentrate, had me at the tip of her blade. Her gaze and grin were nothing short of predatory; had Madame not been there, I have little doubt she would have sent her blade through my throat."

"Then you know what it is to look into the face of Death. Good." Memories stir of more than simply staring down the length of a blade, but the way it felt as it cut into his body. He tosses the last of the wine off in another gulp and sets the goblet down. "You will train with the Lady Dara, of course. She will give you a great deal of instruction."

"And undoubtedly more wounds than I care to count," Margot replies, a hint of dread in her voice. It seemed that Kendall's morose mood was infectious, sobering the exhilaration she had felt moments before.

The door opens to admit both Rory and Desrianne, as the manservant had surmised both occupants might want to be refreshed after sparring and other activities. The redhead nods to both occupants before walking over to his master and beginning to help him undress. Clothes peel away from skin and a light robe is hung over the Lord's shoulders until the servant prepares a washbasin and cloth.

Resigned, Desrianne followed Rory's example, peeling away the soaked articles from her Lady's form. Wandering eyes of curiosity plagued the elder woman, much to her extreme irritation; and she clucks to herself as she caught herself peeking. A robe drapes over Margot's shoulders as she, too, prepared a basin, using some of the cinnamon-scented oils that Rory made available to her.

Kendall idly makes his way around the cabin as he waits, pausing in front of the portal that led to the Rhercyn's heartroot — the small alcove where the link he now shared with the ship had been forged. He lays his hand against the membrane, lost in whatever dark thoughts or memories that plagued him.

Margot follows, moving close to lay a kiss to his shoulder. He twitches at the touch, though he surely knew she was near. "Kendall, what troubles you?" she asks softly, concern ringing in her voice.

He remains still, trying to wrestle his thoughts back into line. The question was so simple on its surface, but the words to answer seemed to elude him. "I think I am… tired," he says after a long pause, though the words felt false even as he spoke them.

"You have taken on a great deal," she observes gently. "What may I do to ease your mind and heart and offer you some relief?"

At her question, she signals a dismissal to Desrianne. Where the Lord may feel comfortable speaking openly in front of his own servant, Margot felt sure the maid's disapproving presence was nothing but an irritant that might prevent him from answering. And though she cannot hide a scowl, the matron still sets aside basin and sponge and disappears quietly and quickly without argument, pausing only long enough to make meaningful eye contact with her colleague.

Rory stands only a step away from the lovers, waiting with watchful eyes for the clues he needed to make his next move — either to come forward and continue with his tasks, or to relinquish his place to the princess. To his experienced eye, it was still equally possible his master would emerge from the darkness his mind often contained, or disappear completely as he sometimes did. The manservent felt sure the latter circumstance would lead to the young woman's tender emotions being bruised.

Kendall takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. His back still turned to Margot, he bows his head to look at the smooth flesh of his torso under the untied robe. A breath emerges in a humorless chuckle. "My last duel was with a woman," he observes, his soft voice barely audible. "I looked into the face of Death, and nearly felt Her Kiss."

Rory hands the moistened towel to Margot before helping the Lord out of his robe. The servant then retreats with the garment to the other side of the cabin, ready to supply anything else that might be needed. Kendall leans against the portal again after the robe slides from his arms. He appears at first to be unmoved by Margot's ministrations when she begins to wipe his body with the moist towel. That, or his thoughts were still too far away to notice her.

"Would it ease your spirit to give that memory flight and expel it from your heart? Or, would you prefer to keep this locked deep within?" she asks in an intimate whisper, hoping her concern and compassion would envelope and protect him from the world beyond, if only for a few quiet moments. "I will not take offense if you do not wish to speak of your duel, but… please know that my offer for you to speak in confidence will never be withdrawn."

He turns his gaze to the hand resting against the wall with slender vine twisting around his forearm like a snake. "You and I may face each other across naked blades at some future moment, with hatred, malice, and death all that remains to be shared between us," he murmurs, mostly to himself.

"No," she utters emphatically, her voice shaking with emphasis. "I will not raise a blade against you, Kendall. Nor commit any other act of aggression. I wish I knew how to prove that to be true. I give you my blood, my body, my spirit… You will never find hatred in my heart for you. Not as long as I draw breath."

Her words carry sadness for more than her inability to convince him. Her vow was one sided, she knew, and Margot found herself understanding that the promise could never be reciprocated. She sighs, closing her eyes against the pain that clutched at her heart.

Kendall's arm falls away from the wall and he turns to face her. His hands rest on her shoulders and he looks down at her with a sober expression. "I am young, Margot, and already I have seen too much to deny any possibility," he says softly, but with conviction.

She opens her eyes to peer into his with a beseeching expression. "What do you require as proof of my conviction?" she asks, her own whisper barely audible. "If my own parents could not turn me away from you… loyalty to my family, my kingdom, my reality… what more is there to convince you otherwise?"

His expression does not hold anger or distrust. Rather, his eyes reflect sadness and inner pain. "It may be that proof of your conviction is not what I seek," he answers in a stronger voice, though still quiet and gentle. "But to answer your earlier question, I do not know. I do not know what you might say or do to ease my mind and spirit, Margot."

His left hand leaves her shoulder to trail down her arm before clasping her hand, which he lifts to lay over his heart. "This is veiled by much darkness. No matter my efforts, I still remain a captive to pain and anger and fear. Your journey to my heart is fraught with these things."

Slight movement, and Margot's head indicates understanding. Leaning forward, she kisses the place beneath her fingers, her lips lingering there for several moments to feel the thrum of his heartbeat. "I know," she answers, her breath painting the words against his skin.

Slowly, her eyes turn upward to meet his. "If I could break those chains, ease your heart … I would without a second's hesitation. There is no reason for apology; only understanding and acceptance. My offer will always be there to you. Utter the words, and I will be here at your side. Ask, and I will be your shield. Rest and be at ease, Kendall. I will watch over you and protect you as best as I am able. I cannot promise no harm will come to you, but I will swear that it will do what I am able to limit your suffering."

He breathes out, closing his eyes. "Thank you, Margot. But my son is dead by my own hand, because of my mistakes," his tight voice shivers with controlled emotion. "Nothing can be said or done to change that."

"No, nothing can be done to erase the past. But we are fortunate to learn from those experiences… and we can remember the value of the lesson. You have the opportunity to someday be a great father." She smiles softly, bringing her lips to his. "This I know in my heart. You are a caring, honorable man, and your children will know that."

Kendall's eyes open, and he stares at her with an almost perplexed smile. "In this, I find myself echoing the sentiment you spoke a short while ago. To wit: is it really that simple for you?"

Her smile blossoms, lighting her face and warming her eyes. "Yes. As simple as drawing air or tasting your lips."

He curls his arms around her back, embracing her and pressing her against him. One more, he becomes aware of her body and scent in a deeper way as his own dark shadows began to lift away…for now. He rests his cheek atop her head. "And your love for me is also a simplicity to you?"

"Yes," she breathes without hesitation. "Why is it so hard for you to believe? Each day my love for you grows, and my appreciation for your experience and knowledge blossoms. You are the most astounding, enchanting, beautiful person I've ever known. Even when we are at odds, that does not change. You are very easy to love, and very difficult to resist or refuse."

A quiet chuckle shakes him. "Hmmm, yes. I can agree that being in love is a simple enough thing," he says.

"Then… is it difficult to believe because you are the focus of that love?" she inquires, standing back to look up at him. "You are worthy and deserving…"

"Not exactly. I—" He sighs, his gaze finding refuge in the view of cold waters passing the cabin porthole as he put together his words. Would his answer hurt, anger, or merely confuse her?

"I appreciate your sentiment, Margot," he says eventually. Turning back to her, he stares into her eyes with an intense expression, as though to bore his words and the emotions behind them directly into her brain. "I have no words that can express to you the pleasure you bring me, or the gratitude I feel for your wholehearted affection. Tis true that I feel at ease with you, and enjoy your company. But… those things you feel for me change nothing of who I am, or what I have seen, or experienced, and done."

Hands cup his face, smoothing away the lines that formed around his eyes. "Kendall… I do not expect to change or mold you. You are your own person. What I feel for you, I offer freely. If it gives you strength when you feel weak, then it has served you well. If it grants you freedom from shackles around your heart and mind due to fear, then it has served you well. If it spurs you to action, to become more than what you are now, then it has served you well. It is not some … idealized vision of what I believe you to be; it is the man that stands before me now."

A smile quirks the corner of her mouth. "Beautiful, obstinate, willful, proud, cautious, brilliant, exceptional, and flawed. I take you as you are and hope to grow with you. Much like the vine within your arm, we have the pleasure of entwining one another, feeding one another, caring for and nurturing one another. And together, we will grow in our own identities… but in a complimentary, loving existence."

Kendall weaves the fingers of one hand into the hair curling near her jaw, touching her cheek. The other arm with snakelike vine circles her waist and presses her close to him again. He stares down at her with a faint smile as he ponders her words. "I am trying to… envision your world, Margot," he says. "It must be a place of warmth and happiness."

A shadow darkens his face for a heartbeat, but then he regains the smile. "But it would seem I am continually thanking you, Margot. I know not what I could possibly offer in return for such tender sentiments. Except that to the best of my ability, I will strive to give you the same care."

Her smile brightens her eyes. "I ask for nothing more than that. I never have," she replies. Margot's fingers once more dance along the vine, less timid and more welcoming, accepting that which was a part of him at the moment and embracing the transformation rather than recoiling from it in doubt and confusion. Her other hand tipped his head to hers, a soft sampling of his mouth as if to seal her vows upon his lips.

"And yes, it is a warm, wonderful place…" she adds in response to his musings. She hesitates, still stroking his arm. "I am happy to continue to see to your refreshment, if you like."

He takes a breath, dispelling dark thoughts and dark mood with the exhalation. "Thank you again, Margot. That would be enjoyable."

Nodding, Margot turns away long enough to soak the towel again and then washes him with great tenderness, turning an ordinary task into an intimate rite. She is patient in her task, not hurrying and not prolonging the journey to cleanliness longer than necessary. Once he is refreshed, she holds the robe for him once more, tying it around his waist to maintain his warmth. Then moving to the table where Desrianne had set her own basin, Margot puts a foot upon a stool and begins to wash her own skin from toes to hips.

Once Margot is done and moves away to begin her own toilette, Kendall paces around the room, deep in thought while listening to things she could not hear. Rory, still lingering in the cabin, approaches the princess instead. "May I assist you, m'lady?" he asks very quietly.

Margot hesitates, but there was no sense in being modest. And, were she to ever become with child, it was possible Rory would tend to her just as readily as Desrianne. Steeling herself and smiling with a hint of bashfulness, she nods. "If that is your wish, your assistance would be appreciated, Rory. Thank you."

"Of course," he agrees, taking the soft cloth from her and dipping it into the water. He wrings it out, leaving the cloth on the sodden side of damp; holding enough water to leave a sheen of softly scented moisture on her skin. Standing behind her, he helps her out of the robe and lays the soft fabric aside. Kendall, meanwhile, makes his way to the bed, shedding his robe and reclining against pillows with a book, a sheet covering his lower half.

"You may wish to keep Desrianne nearby," he adds as he begins to wash her back. "If you would prefer to be served by a woman."

"I find comfort in your presence, Rory. To have your attention is … a new experience, but, there may be times when it is your service that will be preferred to Caresse's. She struggles at times with everything completed so openly; it adds stress to an environment that should never feel strain. A bedroom is a sanctuary; the negative energy should be left at the door… otherwise, how will anyone — master or mistress — ever find solace?" she questions.

Rory nods in understanding of her words, but says, "Such an arrangement would wound her deeply. Is there some way that I might help?" He carefully gauges Margot's comfort, cleansing her back but only approaching other areas if it would not cause her embarrassment. Indeed, it was only her back that would prove troublesome, since she could reach everything else herself.

"I am not suggesting that be a permanent arrangement. And yes, if you could help her … adapt … perhaps, she too, will find comfort in your words and presence. Ideally, I would love to have Caresse tend to me, but I need her to be at peace with realities of circumstance. And, my words alone do not seem to bring her ease. Will you help me help her understand?"

"I have… tried," he admits, his voice very quiet. "I'm not sure that approach is proving effective, but it may be, as you suggest, that time is what is needed."

"Let's work on helping her understand, together. Would that be satisfactory to you, Rory?"

"Understand what, exactly?" he asks, looking for clarification in unfamiliar terrain. He could not predict needs and desires for Margot nearly so well yet.

"Understand that as with the fluidity of Chaos, so must we learn to be pliable and accepting of new ways." She glances to Kendall, her expression contemplative.

"What if she assisted you with tending to Kendall, and you assisted her tending to me? This so she may learn the ways of Chaos and how one must behave in public and presumed privacy." Margot was not so naive as to believe that they would indeed know true privacy ever again.

"It is very different than when we were in Amber. She is willful, but she is loyal and loving," she adds.

Rory also looks to his master, but Kendall doesn't even look up from his book. "No." He is succinct.

"I am open to other suggestions, Rory," Margot invites.

"I have none at this time, princess," he says regretfully. "I'm sorry for my failure in this." His gaze falls in shame.

"Leave Rory be, Margot," Kendall speaks again though he still does not look up. "Tisn't his duty to resolve disciplinary problems between you and your maid."

"I am not suggesting anything of the sort, Kendall," she returns. "I am asking for suggestions on how to ease her discomfort from someone who is her colleague and a cultural guide. It is still acceptable to seek advice and counsel, is it not?"

Margot returns her attention to the servant. "You have not failed, Rory. I would never suggest such a thing. But, I believe with your guidance, you will be able to assist me in acclimating her to her new life."

Kendall finally looks up. "You may go, Rory."

"Yes, m'lord." The manservant bows to his master and nods to the princess. He gathers the towels and basin and departs.

Kendall turns his attention back to his book.

Margot joins Kendall on the bed. "What are you reading?" she asks, staring over his shoulder.

"The captain's log," he answers. The script in the book is, unsurprisingly, unintelligible to Margot.

"Is it interesting fare?" she continued, staring at the markings with pursed lips and a brow of concentration.

He makes a so-so sort of hum. "Not terribly so. Some troubles, but the captain was able to avoid most difficulties during the trip to Amber."

"Oh," she responds. She picks up her primer on the Pattern, mimicking Kendall's visage of 'stern concentration.'

Silence reigns between them, with only the relaxing background noises of the ship to distract them from their tasks. Kendall pages through the log book quickly, only skimming most of the entries, until finally he reaches the end. He shuts the book and sets it aside on the table, and then lies down on his back. "Rest well, Margot," he wishes her.

Margot leans over, kissing his temple before sliding out of the covers and covering him up. She moves with great care to where she could dim the internal illumination before going back to the portal to watch how water and life flowed past Rhercyn. Her weary lover falls asleep quickly, leaving Margot to her own private musings.

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Barrier to Chaos: Sargasso Sea

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