The Morning After

Margot falls into a deep and peaceful sleep in Kendall’s arms, his fingers drawing long lines on the skin of her back and shoulders. Time passes and her slumber hardly stirs, though he lies awake contemplating all that had happened and what would come as a result. Engrossed in his thoughts, he strokes her body and murmurs tenderly in the language of his House when she shifts and snuggles against him.

Hours pass, the light through the windows gradually lightening as morning approaches. All is still quiet when Margot's eyes open, and she sees first light chasing away the night’s blackness. The balcony with its billowy curtains is unfamiliar, and she tenses with heart racing, uncertain as to where she is. And I am naked. With a man’s arm around me.

The arm around her hugs her closer, lips finding her neck in a gentle kiss. "Peace, shayna," Kendall murmurs. "All is well."

Her heart catches at the press of his arm; it isn’t until she hears the gentle endearment that she recognizes the familiar scents of cinnamon and citrus. Slowly her body relaxes. “You wake to a beautiful scene…” she says quietly, turning to face him beneath the blankets.

Kendall lies on his side next to her with head propped on one hand. He shifts a little to let her turn, looking down at her face surrounded by a mass of tangled hair. "This morn, I do indeed," he agrees. Leaning close, he brushes his lips against hers. "Fair Turn, my sweet."

She smiles, a blush coming to her cheeks. Myriad expressions cross Margot's face in the dim morning light — surprise, modesty, peace, affection. Her smile grows at his greeting, and she snuggles against him with a hand resting against his heart. "Fair Turn, My — My Heart." She stumbles on the endearment but her eyes tell him she means it with all her being.

"So." She wets her lips, one arm pillowing her head so she may look up at him with ease. Her eyes follow the line of his neck and shoulder. She could no longer see evidence of their night of loving on his skin. "Last night was not a dream…"

"No," he answers with a smile. The fingers resting at her waist begin tracing her ribs. "Do you wish it were, or are you pleased by the reality?" he asks.

She watches him for several heartbeats, breathing in deeply before exhaling a cleansing breath. She leans in to press a tender kiss to his heart. "Last night, when I prepared to come to dinner, I promised Desrianne I would not do anything I would regret. I kept my promise," she whispers against his skin.

"Though I admit I had not anticipated sleeping in your arms when I arrived last night…" She rests her head back on her arm again to look up at him with trepidation, lower lip captured in her teeth. She swallows nervously. "Are you…inconvenienced? Disappointed to have shared your bed with me?"

"No, shayna," he says quietly, his intense gaze never wavering from her face. "Though I had not planned to bring you to my bed last eve, I am neither disappointed nor inconvenienced. We shall continue with the new path before us, as others have now been closed, and see together where it might lead."

Her expression turns thoughtful, hand sliding down his chest to wrap around his waist. "As one door closes, another opens…" she recalls. "Is that your meaning?"

He visualizes her simile for two heartbeats before nodding. "Yes, the concept is similar," he agrees.

Her eyes betray her desire for that to be the case; for him to want to travel a path with her where time spent together became more than simply duty. Yet, no matter what her heart begged to be uttered, she refused it this. A night of loving does not equate to matters of the heart. It was of no help that her heart had already begun to weave loving feelings around her being before he had even brought her to dinner. Love at first sight is a romantic notion, fiction. It doesn't happen in reality. Even if you do love, he does not. He sees duty, no matter how pleasant his charge is.

Closing her eyes again, she breathes deeply, concentrating on the feel of his body against hers in the morning light, memorizing the sensation. Kendall caresses her chin with his fingers, cupping her cheek in his palm.

"I know not where this path will lead," he says, perhaps in response to her internal struggle. "Nor do I know how far we will walk together. My future here is more malleable than yours, less predictable. I know you desire love, Margot; you have said so, and it may be that you will find it. But remember this: we all create our own meaning and reality. For you, in your future, this will be quite literally true. If you wish to find meaning in our time together, that is for you to decide and create. You should hang your hopes less on others and more on your own heart."

She sighs under his caress. "It is more that my heart and my head are waging war against one another. I own my feelings," she responds, opening her eyes to look into his. "Just as it is for me to determine who I give myself to — mind, body, and soul. I take responsibility for that. I have no expectations, save that our time together be special and enjoyable for us both." Her gaze is intense, impassioned, despite her mere whisper.

She pauses, smiling up at him, and her hand leaves his waist to weave through his hair, circling his ear to stroke his cheek. "I will gladly accept whatever you can afford me in your heart…and will cherish the time we journey together as long as I draw breath." Color once more comes to her cheeks.

Kendall nods, accepting her words. "Very well, we are in agreement then. Is there anything else you wish of me before you must depart?" he asks with a smile.

The word surrounds her like a sudden cold rain that fell to dampen her spirit. Depart. So much of her being wanted to stay, all the complexities of Court and the world beyond shrouded forever in mystery. Departing meant that it was over. Departing meant that she wouldn't know when — or if, her conscience sings out — she would see him again as simply Kendall.

She hated herself for being so selfish, for wanting him; not just physically, but wanting to be with this man who was so gentle, so kindhearted, who made her feel so very alive. Beyond that door, they would be Princess and Chaos Lord. And while others might snicker behind their backs, she knew they would be required to act distant and formal. They would pretend they didn't dance in moonlight.

She tips his head to hers to brush her lips against his, savoring their taste. "Take care, Darling. That is a dangerous question. There are many things I want. Are you certain we cannot just hide today? Or, at least, enjoy this…quiet time in each other's arms?" she asks against his neck when they pause for breath. Her fingers travel in long strokes down his torso. "Loving you again is beyond dreams, but I want the sound of your breathing and the rhythm of your heartbeat to be what I carry with me when I leave."

Part of her wanted to know his love without his wine; to feel him inside her and to look fully upon him without the filters of candlelight, outside on his balcony with the sea breeze chilling their skin while the sun and their passion burned them hot. Color paints her cheeks, spreading down her neck and to her breasts at the thought. Three times was not enough? her conscience pricks at her. Apparently not.

She rests her forehead against his. "Just for a little while longer?"

He answers by lying back and pulling her atop him, his hands traveling over her body under the blanket in gentle, sensuous movements. Long, deep kisses fill the quiet space between them as their bodies mold together.

Finally, though, their lips part. "No, Margot," he says, and his voice is serious. "I have duty to attend to this Turn. And it would be unwise for you to remain so long."

"Of course. I know it's not…appropriate for me to stay," she replies quietly, somberly. She knew it wasn't fair of her to want to dominate his time. She rests a few heartbeats longer with her head under his chin, letting her heart fall into beat with his. "Would you comb my hair?" she asks at length.

"It would be a delight, shayna," he says with a smile. Lifting her chin with a finger, he kisses her again, his hand moving to trace the line of her neck down her arm and across her back. She returns his kiss as if it were for the last time in her life. Then she breathes deeply as she slides off of him and rises from the bed.

Her expression thoughtful, she selects the blue robe lying over the chair nearby, sliding it haphazardly around her form as she walks to the balcony. Once through the curtains, she reaches and stretches to meet the morning and release the night's exertions.

Kendall lets her go, stretching his own body out in a long and luxurious movement before climbing out of the bed. He drapes himself carelessly in a robe as he goes to the door of his suite to order a meal for both of them. That finished, watches her through the curtains without intruding, filling a glass with the remains of last night's wine.

She had shed the heavy robe and now moved with slow and fluid movements, meditative; a private dance between princess and cosmos meant to instill serenity of mind, body, and spirit. The banister becomes a dance partner as she bends over with one leg extended. A shift in her stance, and the leg is now at her side when she bends again. Another shift and the leg is behind her. She reaches for the ground, and much like a balance, the extended leg reaches for the blue above. She repeats the movements to the other leg with careful deliberation. Kendall spies muscles cording and relaxing through each move, her lean body becoming one with the elements around her.

Margot continues to move in fluid motions, oblivious to her audience. Her back arches, arms and hair reaching for the floor below. Her body forms a bridge, connected by the ground beneath her hands and feet while her forearms begin to sink to the floor, followed by her chest and torso until she is finally lying against the floor. Palms and toes press up to hold her body rigid while she breathes deeply, deliberately. She holds the position for several heartbeats before lowering herself to the ground.

Her torso curls toward the sky, pelvis pressed firmly against the marble. Her expression is peaceful, content, with her eyes closed and her face relaxed. Knees bend, and the bottoms of her feet rest upon her head. Another movement, and she is pressed back, crouched and resting her body upon kneeling legs, arms outstretched against the ground. From this position, she rocks into a full standing position, palms and feet firmly on the ground. Rising from the waist, she stretches toward the sky.

She picks up the robe, sliding into it once more and loosely securing it at her waist. Only then does she acknowledge Kendall. Glancing over her shoulder, she asks, "Will you join me out here? It is quite a lovely morning…" She turns, holding a hand out to him.

Walking outside to join her, he takes her hand as he leans over to kiss her forehead. "Feeling better, shayna?" he asks.

"I do," she murmurs, her eyes closing at his press. "Thank you."

Keeping her hand in his, he sits in one of the chairs and guides her around to sit on his lap facing the sea. Producing a comb from his pocket, begins to work through her tangled hair as she had requested earlier. The rising sun was beginning to cast diamonds onto the water, but the Tower held the little balcony firmly in shade. The chilly breeze tugs at their hair.

He chuckles after some heartbeats as he works comb through tangled strands. "It was only in the light of the last sun that I did this the first time for you, and you were skittish as a young kree'la in my arms. Skittish, yet eager," he remarks.

"And how do you find me now, my Heart?"

One hand caresses her shoulder. "Not skittish," he says. "But most definitely still eager."

"That is an interesting observation," she replies with a smile in her voice. "I had hoped for a more…flattering compliment."

"Oh?" He returns to working through a particularly difficult snarl. "Regarding what, my sweet? Your beauty? Your grace? Your curiosity and enthusiasm?"

"All of it, of course. Certainly your vivid command of Thari should not limit you," she returns, enjoying the banter.

"Hmm," he considers. "I see. Demanding, as well, as all the women in my life appear to be. Vanya insists on sweets each time I visit her." Getting through the final knots, he begins brushing through her hair in long, even strokes, smoothing it down her back.

Margot laughs. "I promise not to require sweets each time we are together."

"No?" His voice is dismayed. Leaving her hair for a moment, he pulls her back against his shoulder and leans over to kiss her. "That is unfortunate, for the sweetness of your lips entices me with the slightest quiver — a smile, a word, a gasp or moan of pleasure."

She drinks from his lips, her robe doing little to provide modesty. "I said I would not require it, not that I wouldn't enjoy and savor any given by you."

He caresses the skin of her stomach for a heartbeat before sitting her upright again. "I will bear that in mind for our next meeting, then," he says as he begins dividing her hair into sections. Margot strokes his legs and torso with ginger care as he weaves her hair. Her touch is less for arousal as it is for affection, enjoying the moment of quiet intimacy they share.

A knock at the door in the bedchamber is a brief warning, to which Kendall pays no need. They both can hear the door opening and Margot sees Rory and Sonnagh enter with two trays — one with food and the other with drink — which they put on the table near the doors to the balcony. Rory sets a small bundle on the desk before looking towards the balcony. Kendall shakes his head without missing a move in his skillful plaiting; apparently he had been paying attention after all. The servants depart silently, leaving the two alone again.

Reaching the ends of her hair, he is somewhat at a loss, as no ties are available. He carefully twists the strands together so they won't unravel immediately. "I believe a package has arrived for you," he says as he finishes off, moving the braid around to hang over her shoulder. "Perhaps your clothing? And mayhap an appropriate tie for your hair? Otherwise the effort was for naught."

She turns to kiss him tenderly. "The effort was not for naught," she counters, looking into his eyes with an affectionate smile curling at her lips. "I will look through the parcel, but I'd rather wait to dress until after we've had our repast. Is that alright with you?" she asks, snaking an arm around his neck and playing with his hair.

"As you wish, Margot," he replies with a smile of mischief. "You are my guest, and I am obligated by the hospitality of Chanicut to grant you anything…within my power."

"Obligated?" she questions, with an arched brow and a glint of playfulness. "I shall remember that the next time you honor me with an invitation." She rises from his lap, taking his hands and bringing him to his feet. She kisses him again, wrapping his arms around her so she can enjoy the feel of being enveloped in his warmth. "I am hungry," she admits slowly.

He returns her kiss without demur. "I can see that," he replies to her admission, mischief in his tone hinting at other kinds of hungers than for food. "We have various options here for your enjoyment."

Arm about her waist, he leads her back inside and seats her at the table. Breakfast consists of bread with butter or soft cheese, cut up fruit, boiled eggs, and juice. Everything on display this morning could have come from the castle kitchen. He pours juice first for her and then for himself before joining her at table. There are no plates, apparently the plan being to share the bowls. Small metal utensils sit at their places, the handles carved with intricate care in tiny shapes of fanciful beasts. The ends are rounded points, enough to spear items of food, but not an immediate danger for putting in the mouth.

"Have you plans for the day?" he asks her as he picks up his utensil and selects a piece of purple fruit.

Her fingers trace the lip of the glass. "I will request audience with the Queen," she says quietly, eyes flickering to his for a moment. "I would rather she hear word from my lips than through the scuttlebutts feasting on gossip." He can hear the concern or perhaps foreboding in her voice.

Kendall gives her a sidelong glance as she replies, spreading soft cheese on a piece of the crusty bread. "That is probably the most direct course," he agrees. "Do you fear her reaction?"

"I fear I will have disappointed her, yes," she admits simply. "That after all that I have been educated and groomed to be, I so willingly tossed all of it aside… and with such alacrity. I do not regret… far from it." She looks at him, and her eyes shine with life, joy. "These last several hours have been beyond the wildest of my dreams… and not just the physicality of our time spent."

He takes a meditative breath as he digests her words, picking up an egg and contemplating it before putting it down again. "I suppose it depends on what the education and grooming intended to produce," he finally says. "If the qualities of nobility, then nothing has been lost. If some highly curious idea of chastity and 'virtue' as you call it, perhaps… but I believe that unlikely."

"I… I don't know…" she utters softly, her attention being deeply drawn toward the intricate carvings in one of the utensils. "I don't know the rules here; I can only anticipate a response based on where I grew up." Her shoulders rise and fall slightly, fingers tracing the beast upon the fork. A small chagrined smile forms. "This place is very foreign to me. I haven't learned the rules or how to navigate them yet."

"Ah," he says in enlightenment as she makes her explanation, expression still thoughtful and serious.

She raises the fork, spearing a piece of fruit to sample. "But thank you. For the comment of nobility. It is appreciated."

He nods to her thanks, spearing several pieces of fruit at once on his utensil."I do not wish to…belittle your former experiences. However, the stigmas of Shadow are of little concern in Amber or the Courts. Now eat," he encourages her with a smile.

Reaching for an egg, she taps the fork against the outer shell. Little cracks spiderweb around the egg until the whole vessel was little more than cracks. Setting the fork down, Margot gently peels the shell away, sliding her fingers along the flesh beneath. Once clean, she uses her fork to slice the egg, and places little white and golden rings upon the bread.

Kendall's attention is drawn to her as she begins cracking and peeling the egg with such deliberate care, and he watches the entire process intently with an expression of rapt fascination. Picking up an egg of his own, he taps it with his own utensil. He watches the cracks form and spread with focused attention, carefully creating a network of interrelated lines across the egg. "Why is it that you do not eat the shell?" he asks, turning the egg to inspect his work.

She looks at him, curious. Her jaw begins to move, but no sound emerges from her lips. She stops, takes a sip of her juice. Her expression is one of utter puzzlement. "I. Don't. Know," she finally settles on, giggling. "It's hard and abrasive against the teeth and tongue? It cannot be because of risk to health, for it gets boiled on the outside; the shell is clean. Do you normally eat the shell?"

He nods, still inspecting the egg, tapping here and there as needed to make the cracks uniform. "The shell is normally the best part," he says. "These eggs are less interesting to the palate, but the contrast of soft with crunch is key." Looking over at her, he demonstrates by popping the entire egg into his mouth, chewing, and swallowing. He dabs his mouth with his napkin.

"Perhaps your mouths are too sensitive for the shell," he offers.

She watches with her own fascination. "I don't know that I could chew an entire egg, shell and all, in one bite," she confesses. Timidly, she picks one up, bringing it to her lips. "Just bite into it?" she questions, her expression uncertain.

"You might cut it into smaller pieces for the first try," he suggests. "You may not care for the shell."

Had he not just gobbled an egg in such fashion, she would have been convinced he was teasing her. Setting the egg on her saucer, she lifted a knife and cut the egg, shell cracking under the pressure of blade. Bringing the morsel to her lips, a sheepish grin forms. She chuckles, takes a breath, and pops the bite into her mouth.

Her expression turns to confusion; certainly she could now appreciate the different nuances of white flesh, creamy yolk, and crunchy shell, but it was all a little…odd. She takes another sip of her juice, expression thoughtful, before sampling another chunk of egg with shell. Swallowing the second time, she giggles, covering her mouth with her hand.

"I will confess it adds something to the experience, but I will continue to eat my eggs naked," she explains, her eyes dancing. "Feel free to enjoy them with shell; it was a delightful experiment."

Kendall watches her closely with a faint smile as she conducts her experiment. He chuckles in his restrained way at her pronouncement, picking up his juice to take a sip. "These eggs are mostly flavorless," he acknowledges. "Perhaps peeling and eating one on bread, as you did, would assist with that."

"The shells have flavor in Chaos?" she blurts, then shakes her head, "Of course they do, or you wouldn't eat them…. How do they taste? Are they crunchy like this or softer? There is a type of crab, a sea creature, that you eat the shell… the shells of most of its brethren species are far too difficult to consume." She bites into bread covered with egg and soft cheese, relishing the taste as if she had hardly eaten for a full day.

He cracks and peels another egg as he thinks about her question. He fastidious removes every hint of shell before slicing it and placing it on a piece of bread. Taking a bite of bread with cheese and egg, chewing carefully, he finds it reasonably tasty. He spears two more chunks of fruit before he finally answers.

"The eggs I favor come from the wirthen bird, which is a creature that resides in the Shadow of Chagodesh that my House holds among its lands. They are small, brittle creatures, but their eggs of swirled color are exquisite, so the birds are protected and bred carefully. The flavor can only be appreciated fully by eating one whole, so the experience explodes in the mouth and runs down the throat like wine. It tastes somewhat like your honey and what I think you call caramel, but with an tangy spice to offset the sweetness."

"It sounds wondrous," she says, eyes distant as she imagines what such an experience would be like. She takes another bite of the bread and then selects a a bright orange fruit to sample.

"My all time favorite breakfast food is something called honey cakes, especially when they have just finished baking." Her eyes shine with memory as she thinks of happy times with bread and loving family. "They are these balls of dough seasoned in savory and pungent spices. Inside are dried fruits that have been soaked in wine or brandy, and toasted nuts. They’re topped with delicious icing of orange blossom honey and vanilla. They're quite gooey to eat."

"Perhaps you would be able to bring some for our next breakfast together," he suggests. "I would be delighted to try something from your home."

"I would like that very much. We would eat them when I was small, my father and me, as we rode out to the lake to fish." A fond smile forms as she nibbles another piece of fruit, this one similar to the orange piece, only a faint green color. "It was one of the few things we did together that was just the two of us. There would be honey cakes and cocoa for me. Tea or coffee for him. If it wasn't honey cakes, it was apple fritters."

Margot's eyes return to the present to focus on him with an impish smile. "Equally gooey. These are not foods for the faint of heart, and generally taste the best when had with something astringent to cut the sweetness. Tea or certain juices."

He nods to her tip. "I will make sure the appropriate accompaniments are available," he assures her. "Is there anything else I should plan for breakfast?"

Her expression warms. "Fruits, berries, or citrus are very pleasing. I enjoy a fruit, small and bright orange… tangy at first taste of the tongue but mellows to a clean, sweet flavor. It's called a clementine. I don't know if they have such things here in Amber, but I find them delightful. What is a… normal or traditional breakfast for you when you are home? Is it these wirthen eggs?"

Kendall surveys the spread on the table. "This is somewhat typical," he says. "Though the exact flavors of the foods are different. Different cheeses, different breads, for example. Eggs are not typical for the first meal. Other meats may be served, such as the fragrent flesh of the samarran. It is a… fish, I suppose, and the meat is tender, with a quality or flavor to it that helps to increase alertness. Also not here is the couf, which Brisbane favors. It is a dark, bitter drink, served hot. As we have limited amounts, I have reserved it for him."

"Your couf sounds similar to a brew that Madame favored at the Academy. It had a very… pungent scent, and she always drank it scalding hot. Sometimes she would add cream to her beverage, but not often."

"It should be drunk black, to appreciate its full flavor," he asserts with a smile. He eats some more fruit before venturing anything more.

"Have you been to Forest Arden?" he asks, helping himself to more bread, this time with butter.

She shakes her head, his question coming as she was taking a bit of egged-bread. Bringing a napkin to her mouth, she covers as she chews, then dabs her mouth. "I have not. It is here in Amber, is it not?"

"Yes, some ways from the castle and city," Kendall says. "I may be visiting there soon, and the Queen suggested you may wish to accompany me. The journey may have hazards, but I would…like you to come, if that is something that would please you."

"I would love to join you to this place," she accepts gleefully, eyes shining at thought of a new adventure. She lifts her glass to her lips, but then hesitates with expression changing from delighted to thoughtful. "I came up in a conversation between you and my mother?"

He nods, taking a drink of juice, and then refilling their glasses. "Yes. Two days ago," he says.

"I hope it wasn't too traumatic for you…" she offers lightly with a smile. She's quiet for a few heartbeats, weighing the next question as she fiddles with a berry on her plate. "Are you willing to share with me how I came to be a part of your conversations?"

"I meet with her on regular basis, as part of my duties in Amber. It is nothing about which to be concerned." He smiles to reassure her, stroking her hand. "In the course of my most recent conversation, she suggested that I visit Prince Julian in Forest Arden regarding a topic of interest to me, and observed that you may wish to accompany me to visit him."

"Oh," she replies, feeling better at his assurance. "She was correct. I would love to travel with you to Forest Arden."

"Good. That pleases me," he tells her. "I know your preferred surrounding is the sea, but you may enjoy the forest, even though it was the site of much conflict in the recent war."

Margot's expression falls. "Oh, I see. I know little of the War. Virtually nothing…" She sighs. "I suppose the benefit is I am not influenced by events of the past, but, I feel like I stumble sometimes and dredge up hurt without realizing it. I have yet to find a reliable source of what happened. People are either angry or not interested in sharing."

Kendall nods, turning back to the table to choose another egg. "I know little of the war, myself. It was a conflict between other Houses - Sawall and Hendrake mainly, though others also had a hand. What they had hoped to gain is difficult to say, but also moot at this point as Amber repelled their efforts. Yet it is possible that Prince Julian will not be willing to meet with me at all, since he has great reason for hatred against those of Chaos." He opts not to peel and eat this egg, as much too much effort involved, eating it whole again.

"Was House Chanicut involved in the war?" she asks gently.

He looks into the distance, finishing up the egg before answering. "Marginally. I do not know the details."

Her expression softens, still curious but compassionate. "Surely Prince Julian will not turn you away if you have his niece in tow. He would see that you have taken great care to ensure the Princess's travels to Arden are well managed and that no harm has come to me. Especially at the suggestion of the Queen herself."

Kendall's eyes turn to her, a devious slant to his faint smile. "That had occurred to me. And possibly to your mother," he admits.

The smile fades and his gaze goes distant again. "Tis impossible to say, however. Many here do not draw the necessary distinctions of House that might lead to understanding of Chaos. They see the Courts as a whole, not as many voices. Beyond that, Prince Julian was captured and imprisoned in what we call the Tower of Shame.”

Simply naming the tower causes his face to pale, though his voice remains calm and deliberate. "The wounds of body and spirit from that experience would be dreadful, and his hatred understandable."

It was clear on Margot's face that she didn't understand. Sure, she read of war and tragedy in history books from her shadow; she knew of dreadful things that were done to extract information or torture just for the pleasure of the captors. "But… Chanicut was not involved in his torture and mistreatment, correct?" Her world was still innocent, taking people as individuals rather than a collective.

He is silent for several heartbeats. "I do not know," he finally says, looking back at her. "To my understanding, my House was involved in his capture, but that circumstances… changed after that. I cannot say much more, but I was told he was imprisoned in the Tower against the wishes of Chanicut."

"Well," she starts slowly, rising from her chair and walking around to stand behind Kendall. "We will go to Arden, and meet with Prince Julian together," she speaks to his ear, wrapping her arms around his shoulders.

"I have faith that he will be civil and hospitable. He may choose to not help you, but our travels to Arden will not be for naught," she assures him. "We will get out of the city, we will enjoy each other's company, I will meet another Uncle… and hopefully, you will find the answers you seek." Her breath brushes warmly against his skin, soothing and supportive. She presses a kiss to his cheek; just holding him for a few heartbeats in silence.

He strokes her arm under the sleeve of her robe as she speaks and then smiles again, twisting in his chair to look at her. "You are an optimist, shayna," he says, reaching up to stroke her cheek. "But you are correct. It shall be an experience, one way or another."

She rests her forehead against his cheek for a few heartbeats. "It will be well," she asserts, convinced in her heart. A hand strokes his cheek, sliding down his neck before she returns to her chair.

"What is it that you hope to find out from Prince Julian?" she asks, her expression thoughtful. "Was there no one here who could assist you?"

Kendall finishes up his bread before he replies. "I wish to meet with someone who is… elusive," he says eventually. "Specifically, the Unicorn. The Queen recommended I speak with Prince Julian about making the arrangements, or at least making my desire for a meeting known." He sits back, draining his glass of juice.

Margot's brow furrows. "The Unicorn exists? I thought it was just some…legend or creature of myth. No different than the deities celebrated on my Shadow."

"Oh, yes," he replies, his gaze on her warming as her questions come forth. "I am given to understand that the Unicorn does, in fact, exist. Your cousin, the Prince Devlin, told me of meeting and speaking to Her."

She considers his words carefully. "Are you simply curious to meet this being or is there a purpose beyond an introduction?" she asks, intrigued. "And why would Prince Julian have a special bond with the Unicorn beyond any of his other brothers or sisters?"

"Why I should speak to Prince Julian regarding the matter is as much a mystery to me as you," he says. "However, that is what your mother suggested to me. As for my reasons, they are several and complex, but I will share with you what I am able."

At her nod, he sets his napkin on the table and stands, holding out a hand to help her up as well. Leading her back out to the balcony and the fresh morning air, he sits and then draws her down into his lap again, seating her sideways so she can lay her head on his shoulder. He holds her around the waist with one arm, the other hand slowly caressing the skin of her back.

Once they are settled, he continues with his answer, speaking softly. "Have you ever been in a place, a room or a garden or forest… and you had a full sense of the space where you were?" he asks, voice quiet in her ear. "In your own being, you knew you were safe — or perhaps not — or had some other feeling about the space that could not be articulated, and there was no explanation for such a certainty of feeling?"

Margot contemplates his question. Shifting, she removes her robe and drapes it over herself to give him greater access to her skin under the makeshift blanket. "Twice," she admits, "Once as a child in my labyrinth…and now. With you." The last part comes very quietly as she looks out beyond the horizon.

Kendall's stroking hesitates the barest instant at her last words, and he hugs her closer before continuing. "Then you may know that a place is often… defined, or… ghre'y lasha ven kie'say… hm… characterized, perhaps is the word… characterized by the Being that dominates it," he says, slowly and thoughtfully. "In the case of Amber, the Unicorn is the Being of Power that has blessed this realm and its children. She is a key aspect that helps to define and explain this space, the physical realm, which then influences the people within it. Does that make sense, shayna ne dhassa?"

She nods against his chest. "I know that cultures put great faith in their deities in my home Shadow. Most monotheistic; but some of the polytheistic beliefs still thrived in small pockets. Some it was simply their Way… their Being."

He shakes his head a little. "I am given to understand that She is a Being of Power somewhat akin to the Great Serpent that blesses the Courts and the Houses of Chaos. More than simply a deity. Should you meet the Unicorn, I am certain you will understand."

She hesitates. "You told me shayna. What is 'ne dhassa'?" Her pronunciation is not perfect, but given the time they spent teaching one another, she was slowly learning the nuances of the tongue.

Kendall chuckles, his body rippling against her with the mirth. "It refers to someone who asks many questions," he says, teasing in his voice. "But such a person who is shayna, and whose questions are no burden."

"Oh," she responds, lips pulling to once side. "I'm glad you find my questions amusing. Have you met your Serpent? Is it really a Serpent? Again, I've only heard stories, like fairy tales and things of legend. I know so little of It…"

The amusement fades back into seriousness. He looks beyond her again, and she can feel a faint tremor ripple through his body as her question raises the memory. "Yes," he answers, voice hushed with awe. "I have seen the Serpent. Once only. It is not… something about which it is easy to speak."

He pauses, and then asks, "Do you recall your memory of your mother when she rescued you from the Fey when you were young? The image in your illusion was of a Being of great Power and Presence."

"Yes, that is correct," she replies softly, wrapping her arms inside his robe and around his waist.

He nods, adjusting their seat as she cuddles closer, comforting and being comforted. "Magnify that image in your mind, of Power and Presence, by one hundred fold or more. A Presence that will hold you frozen in space and time by its mere proximity, and will knock you flat if it turns attention to you. It is not…. something I care to experience again," he admits. "The Unicorn may be kinder, or so I have heard."

She squeezes him gently, fingers stroking his skin. "It sounds traumatic… terrifying. Were you young?"

"It was around the time of my Recognition before the Royal Court," Kendall says, relaxing under her touch and as he turns his thoughts away from the memory. "I was perhaps your age in Cycles. All persons of rank go before the King in Thelbane to be recognized and recorded in the Book of Epochs. It is a grand and glorious event. All Houses send representatives to the event, and there is a ball and feast that take place over several full Turns of the Sky."

She breathes deeply. "So, it was similar to the ball that my Mother wishes to host… but only with more participants?" she questions, trying to understand beyond the concept of a gala event. "And your Serpent, IT looked on as you were each introduced?" Her words come gently; seeking understanding without teasing forth terrible memories.

He takes a deep breath, contemplating his answer as he breathes out slowly. "Yes, in the similarity and purpose of the events," he agrees. "It is important to be confirmed into role and position. It is intended to confer respect, but also responsibility and, to a degree, protection. But no to the particulars of my encounter."

Kendall pauses to adjust her on his lap before continuing with his tale. "During the ball, I retreated from the crowd for a time to walk on the plain near the Abyss. This is not something I had done as a child, and I was drawn to the edge. No words can describe the Abyss; it is an experience only, but as I stood there I saw…something. It was merely a heartbeat and distant, and yet…unforgettable." He falls silent again, breathing deep to regain calm.

Margot sits quietly for several heartbeats doing little more than giving Kendall long, soothing strokes to his body. "It sounds like it was quite a trial… a rite of passage…. an overwhelming ordeal." She continues to snuggle with Kendall, perhaps trying to steal some comforts for her own as her heart races slightly at the prospect of looking into any Abyss. Her mind conjured frightening images. "I doubt that any such experience is in my future."

He kisses her forehead. "Such a thing can be a good thing, however," he notes. "It can bring you greater knowledge of yourself."

Again, she is silent for a few heartbeats, "And it is your hope to experience the Presence of the Unicorn as well? Do you have questions for It that no other can answer?"

"Yes," he answers both questions. "That is the general idea."

She nods, not pressing his wish for an audience at the moment. "Like whether you have the mettle to be all that your title suggests?" she sighs. "I'm not certain I would survive your Recognition ceremony."

"Not as you are now, no," he agrees. "But you will grow and strengthen. I was quite different at 16 Cycles than you are now. However, as we are speaking of balls and Recognition, I would like to ask you about the one that approaches to celebrate you."

She sits up to peer curiously into his face. "What is it you would like to know? I will answer as best as I am able… I'm afraid I have not been privy to many of the preparations."

"You need not answer immediately, but I would like for you to consider allowing me the privilege of escorting you to your ball," he says.

Margot's expression changes from puzzlement to surprise bordering on delight. "I would like to answer you now…" she says softly, gazing intently into his eyes. A hand leaves his side to caress his cheek. "I cannot imagine a better way that I would like to formally meet the Lords, Ladies, Princes, and Princesses of Amber, as well as her Allies. It would mean everything to me if you were my escort."

Leaning over, he caresses her lips with his. "You do me a great honor, Margot," he says. "Thank you."

She sighs at his kiss, returning it tenderly. "Was that the only question you had regarding the Ball?"

"For the nonce, yes," he says, pulling her back against him. "I will eventually like to see the gown you plan to wear, to see if it is suitable and flatters you well." He looks down on her with a smile.

"Not only do I get an escort, but a fashion consultant as well?" She arches a brow incredulously before spilling into giggles. "If you see the gown before the night, how will I stun you with my beauty?"

Kendall looks into her bright, happy eyes. "Simply look as you do now," he says softly.

His words wash over her, and once more in mere moments, he has managed to leave her without words. Her eyes remain bright, alive; but her expression — her smile — is only for him. His words touched something deep within; he can see it in her eyes. Her response is to kiss him again, softly, savoring him.

His fingers skate over her arm to encircle her back as he brings her close against him, returning her tender affection, long and deep, telling her without words how he had meant what he had said. Resting his forehead against hers, he takes a deep breath as they break apart. "Do you have more questions for me, shayna?" he asks.

"I always have questions," she demurs. "Some more pressing than others." She snuggles against his chest, enjoying the simplicity of his skin against hers and how her heart tried to keep tempo with his own. "When do you see us departing for Arden? Will it be before or after the Ball?"

"I do not know," he answers, hitching her more comfortably on his lap as she snuggles in again. "I must make the arrangements through the Queen's secretary. I have not an opportunity to meet with her as yet. I will do so today, however." He adjusts her robe, feeling the iciness of her skin, and adds, "You should dress, my sweet. You are getting chilled."

"I will, soon enough," she remarks, holding on to the last few moments of intimacy. "Beyond seeing Lady Genoveve, what else does your day hold for you?"

Some faint, underlying tension comes to his body as he considers her question, though his voice remains calm and even. "Possibly a meeting or two, and I typically visit Court on a regular basis to learn of the latest gossip. The Ambassador may also wish to meet with me."

She notes the tension, but does nothing to bring attention to it. "Would it be…" She stops, struggling to find her words. "I would like to see you, perhaps later, if you can fit it into your schedule. Or will your nerves be at an end after Court and your meetings? I mean—" She breathes again. "Would you be interested in seeing me again?"

"I would be delighted to see you again, Margot," he answers, leaning in to kiss her nose. "I would very much like for you to stay with me again tonight, in fact, but do not believe such a thing would be prudent.”

"Really?" The word falls from her lips before she can clamp her mouth shut. A blush comes to her cheeks, clearly embarrassed by her surprise at his response. "I suspect my mother will be most interested in finding time to see me, sooner rather than later," she thinks aloud. "Especially if the gossip machine is in full force at Court. I would like her to be prepared before she hears how her daughter has wanton desires and behaves with reckless abandon." At this, she reaches for his chin to tip his lips to hers, her joy for him radiating.

“Are you suggesting we arrange for a time and place now, or would you like to send me a message when you have made arrangements to meet with your mother?" he asks when she pulls back from the kiss.

"If it would be most appropriate or convenient, I could send word,” she says. “I don't know… I've never been in such a circumstance." She looks up at him. "You have experience in these matters, what would you prefer?"

Kendall chuckles and then helps her to stand so he can also rise. "Every circumstance is different," he says, taking her hand to escort her back inside. "What is appropriate in one situation often will not suffice in another. It would likely be most simple for you to send me one of your touching letters letting me know when and where you would care to meet today after your conversation with your mother."

"I will do that then."

Margot stands thinking for a few moments when they reach the bedside. "I do not know whether I will see you at Court. I may choose to… avoid the environment entirely today. I suspect that once I have fulfilled my duties, I will need to spend some time studying. There are many Houses that I need to be able to recognize and identify and many more nuances I have to master before the Ball. I will send word by Page."

He nods in understanding as he helps her out of her robe. "Very well. If I am able, I will be pleased to see you. Now it is time to prepare for your massage."

Margot smiles shyly and lies down on the mattress to stretch out on her stomach. "As you command…"

He fetches a small bottle from the wardrobe while she gets settled, and removes his robe before returning to sit next to her on the bed. The unstoppered bottle gives off the subtle scent of something close to cinnamon. He spreads the oil onto his hands and begins to knead her shoulders and arms, back and neck with practiced, careful fingers. Scalp, arms, hands, even feet are given their fair share of attention as he works every part of her into relaxation.

Under his gentle care, muscles begin to relax and breathing becomes meditative; drawing in slowly and releasing with equal deliberation. She responds to his touch with soft murmurs of peaceful enjoyment escaping her lips. "This is the oil you favor…" she observes when the scent of cinnamon reaches her senses. "It is quite…soothing…warming…sensual…intimate. It is a scent for the heart."

Leaning over, he brushes her shoulder with his lips. "Yes it is. Now hush, shayna," he says, amusement in his voice. "Enjoyment, not analysis. Soon you will depart, and you should enjoy as much as possible before then."

He takes care to find every knot in her body and work it out, finally finishing with long caresses from neck to toes and shoulders to fingertips. Lying down next to her, he pulls her close to the warmth of his body while the oil settles into her skin, leaving the scent to linger on the air and in her hair.

Margot slides atop his form, resting comfortably with her chest pressed against his. She was finding that she rather enjoyed the sensation of his heart beating against her skin. She tips his chin to her face, kissing his lips softly. "Thank you," she brushes against his lips. Her smile lazy, she rests her head next to his, blanketing him and taking from his warmth.

Lying in the silence of the room together with the wind moving the curtains at the door in lazy circles, they doze together until a distant clock chimes eight bells. The sound breaks Kendall's tranquility, reminding him of where and when they are. With a sigh, he kisses Margot. "Wake up, shayna," he says softly. "Time presses on."

Margot stirs slowly to wake, stretching against Kendall much like as a cat that had been sleeping in a sunny window sill. This time, however, she does not argue or debate; she simply nods, pressing another tender kiss to his lips before sliding off his body. Another full body stretch follows, all of her muscles stretching and relaxing in one movement. Collecting the parcel lying on the desk, she brings it back to the bed to open it.

Kendall also stretches luxuriously as she gets up, lounging in the bed lazily to watch her get the package and bring it back. He looks over the items she produces with a critical eye, but says nothing about them.

"Desrianne…" she sighs, smiling gratefully. Carefully, Margot begins laying out the items she found inside. First, a high-collared gown of dark green velvet with a modest brooch hanging at the bosom. Golden embroidery details the waistline, traces the center of the arm, and rings the collars and hems. In addition, she finds a small jar of talc, clean undergarments including silk stockings and corset, white chemise with a delicate lace collar to peak out beneath the collar of the dress, and matching slippers. A handful of hairpins and a comb nestle together in a lacquered box.

She looks at Kendall. "I will need some assistance. Would you be so kind?"

"Merely give direction, m'lady, and I shall be yours to serve," he says.

She leans in, pressing a kiss to his nose and then handing him the jar of talc. "Very well. I will need help dusting my back," she smiles, turning so that he may dab her with the puff. By now, the oil had soaked in, leaving a pleasing hint of cinnamon and skin supple to the touch.

He accepts the talc, dusting her slowly and with care. Making the most of the experience, he sits close and kisses her shoulders tenderly as he smooths the powder over her skin. Fingers trail teasingly over her skin as he assists her with the shift, stroking her waist and hips before moving in front of her to tie the corset, then sliding the chemise over all. Sitting her on the bed, he crouches down to slide her panties up her smooth legs, followed by her stockings. His bright eyes stare steadily into hers as the silk slips over her skin and up to her thighs, first one and then the other, attaching their tops to the clips to hold them up.

She watches him, loving his touch and the glint in his eyes. As his fingers attach the last clasp to her stockings, her arms snake around his neck, bringing his lips to hers. She kisses him deeply, showing her appreciation and acknowledging that his little game had its intended response. "Take care, m'Lord," she purrs. "If you continue to assist me with such finesse, I fear it will all be for naught and we will have to start over."

He smiles at her words, all mischief as he caresses her arm. "If you had not so many undergarments, the problem would be moot," he teases back, tugging at her wisp of panties again as he had only hours ago. Pulling from her embrace, he holds up the dress to help her into it. "Perhaps you would care to assist me with my own clothing as well, though mine are not so complicated."

She beams. "Of course…" Once in her dress, she encourages him to tighten the ties so the gown conforms to her petite form. She shifts seams, smoothing the garb along her dips and curves. Last of all, her fingers deftly twist her tresses into a softened bun, held in place by the golden pins Desrianne had provided. Kendall finally slides on a robe as she combs and pulls her hair up.

"Well?" she finally asks.

He looks her over, and though the dress does not suit her and her hair is too severe, he smiles with mischief again as he takes in the complete ensemble. Taking her arm, he leads her over to the tall wardrobe and opens the door wide to reveal a full length mirror. He places her in front of it, him standing behind and looking over her shoulder into the reflection of her eyes. In the wardrobe, she can see hanging a row of green robes for every occasion. "You look like a proper Lady of House Chanicut," he compliments her.

Her eyes widen in surprise for a moment at his compliment, glancing once more to his collection of robes spanning the spectrum of green. Her cheeks redden. "Interesting how Fate chooses to toy with us," she replies, smile growing. Inclining her head to the reflection of her lover behind her, she says, "Thank you, I take that as the highest of compliments." As her head rises, her eyes and smile are only for him.

“As well you should, m’lady,” he replies, all mock formality, eyes still gleaming with humor.

Her hands smooth along her sides, adjusting the flesh trapped in the corset a little so that her natural curves were accentuated by the cut of the gown. Her eyes drift once more to the whole image, and after a few moments to think, she releases her hair from the pins, letting it fall softly to her shoulders. Her fingers work again, this time only sweeping the sides of her hair back into a smaller, softer twist only needing a few pins to secure it. A few wisps continued to hang as tendrils along her cheekbones.

Her eyes return to the man standing behind her. She reaches for his hands, pulling them around her waist. "So, m'Lord," she addresses him while they hold one another. "Which shade of green does today hold for you?"

He turns to take in the contents of the wardrobe. Opening the other door reveals trousers and undershirts and other things. Margot can see the whole is quite carefully organized, with the most ornate of green clothing at one end with almost more embroidery than fabric, moving the spectrum to less formal. The other end is a mirror opposite, with black trousers and shirts hanging paired up and meeting the green in the middle. Hung unobtrusively behind the first row against the back is a smaller collection of other things, mostly in shades of blue, such as the iridescent shirt he had worn the night before. Black boots of every conceivable shape and use stand in a tidy row along the bottom. Belts hang on the opposite door.

He selects a pair of trousers and a long sleeved shirt of heavy black linen, apparently at random, and chooses a robe along the same lines as he had worn when they first met: jewel green with only a tracery of gold embroidery along the edges. "This will do well enough," he says, handing the items to her before shedding his blue bathrobe again.

Margot brings the clothing to his bed and lays it out. As she waits for him to join her, she finds the small gathered stack of her belongings on another chair and begins placing them in the original parcel box. When Kendall joins her, she smiles. "Does m'Lord have a preference as to how he is dressed?"

"Certainly not, my dear. I am yours to do with as you wish." He sits on the edge of the bed, waiting expectantly with mischievous smile still curling his mouth.

Selecting the shirt, she stands between his legs to slide the cloth against his skin. Her hands smooth the fabric against his arms, sliding up his shoulders and around his neck, finding each side of the shirt. Fingers brush against his chest, slipping down his torso and to his lap where the shirt tails and the first button appears. She kneels, and with careful deliberation, her fingers fasten each button by feel alone, gazing deeply into his eyes. When her fingers come to the button closest to his heart, she presses a tender kiss there, her lips against his skin for the count of five heartbeats.

She next plucks the trousers from the bed and lays the garment over her knees. Placing a each foot in each leg, she slowly brings the fabric up against his legs, fingers tracing the path that pants will follow. She urges him to stand, and pauses to look up at him, mischief dancing in her eyes as her hot breath moistens him and his arousal begins to show. But then her hands slide up his thighs and she pulls the fabric around his hips and over his buttocks.

He breathes deeply. "You are quite a tease, my dear," he says as she pointedly leaves him alone.

Rocking to a standing position in one fluid movement, she begins tucking the tails of his shirts inside the waistband of his trousers, barely brushing against him as she secures the front of his shirt. She fastens his pants closed. "Your robe, m'Lord?" she requests, blinking innocently.

He strokes her cheek with the back of his hand, expression turning pensive again. He shakes his head once, a brief movement. "No, shayna," he says. "Not until we have said good-bye."

She leans against his caress, her hand meeting his. Eyes drift close. "As you wish, My Heart." It would be one of the last times she uttered the endearment this morning and that thought saddened her. He made her feel alive; she didn't want to have to pretend that there was nothing between them. She wanted to show her affection openly, not steal furtive glances from across the room.

She leans in, pressing a kiss to his lips, savoring him — every sensation of being close to him committed to memory. She steps away, turning to finish packing all the items from the night before. She takes great care to wrap the parcel in the original silk covering, securing it with its ribbon.

"Would you please have this sent by Page to my chambers?" she asks, turning to look at him. "I promise in the future that I will come more prepared."

"Leave it there, Margot. I will see to it," Kendall replies, an island of stillness in the center of her constant movement.

She smiles at him almost shyly, abruptly finding herself with nothing else to distract herself from the imminent parting. How do you say good-bye? Do you just…walk away? "This is awkward. I really cannot say I want to leave."

She draws a cleansing breath. "I guess this is where someone sees me out, is it not? At what point in Maeve's Vigil do we assume our formal selves? When are we no longer Margot and Kendall? Shayna and My Heart?" her words come quietly, with sincerity. Margot needed to know what the rules were and where the boundaries were drawn. "I do not want to act in a manner that causes you discomfort… especially in the presence of Ambassador Brisbane."

He smiles a little, shaking his head ruefully with a dismissive movement of one hand. "I will see you out," he says. "And we will say a proper farewell as you depart to the bridge. No one here is unaware of what has transpired between us, so there is no point in hiding. But we here are all of Chanicut, so nothing will be said — certainly not to you directly. Do not concern yourself over my discomfort." Stepping over to put an arm around her waist, he begins escorting her to the door.

Her expression turns thoughtful, her arm sliding around his waist as he guides her. "And what happens after I tell my mother that I have claimed you for my lover? By then the whole castle will be abuzz with our affair…"

There is a smile for that admission, even if the question is sincere. Rumors will soon run rampant; how much is ignored, denied? Do they behave as acquaintances in public or as two beginning the dance? Do they hide their attraction or act openly without concern of who may judge? How do you ask these questions and do answers exist? Questions raced in her mind, refusing to quiet. Without thinking, her hand goes to her neck. It would be difficult to hid his brand upon her skin. A smaller, private smile settles as she realizes that she likes that he left his mark upon her; the consequences would be worth it.

"That will depend in part on how the Queen and King react to your discussion," Kendall says, opening the door and leading her into the hall. "Liaisons between Houses can be quite tricky and delicate. Yet even should your parents see no harm in our association, there are many at Court who will have jealousy and hatred, both because they wish for the opportunity to advance their own ambitions with you, and… because I am of Chaos. Discretion is always advised, Margot."

His words, she knows, are pragmatic, but that doesn't ease her heart in the slightest. "It matters not how we feel; we will always be acquaintances in public. Even though our affair will be entertaining Court… it will not be… prudent for us to be seen in public together? Is that correct? Will that change?"

He looks down at her as they walk. The Vigil is surprisingly small, and it takes little time for them to pass through doorways and into the main reception area. The light is brighter with the morning sun filtering through the heavy curtains, the steady ticking of the clock still marring the stillness. Ensigns on the wall and guards at the doors. "Yes, that is correct, and to your other question, I do not know. Possibly, if some agreement is reached between Amber and Chanicut. But that is for the future, and also uncertain."

Margot is silent for several steps, her expression pensive. It is clear that she is unaccustomed to acts of deceit, even if it is more acts of discretion and truthfully for her preservation. "This alliance that your mother talked about, that is what you mean by an agreement between Amber and Chanicut?" And only when or if there has been an official engagement announcement… she leaves unsaid. Until such time, they are living double lives. The thought did little to comfort her.

"Yes, that is one way," Kendall answers. He stops at the top of the small flight of four stairs that lead into the center of the room. Turning, he kisses her forehead. "But until such time that a relationship between us is sanctioned, it would be unwise to… flaunt our… liaison."

"Sanctioned by whom? My parents? Your House? Do both have to approve?" she sighs, trying desperately to understand. Falling in love with someone shouldn't be this complicated, she mused to herself ruefully, before realizing that she had uttered 'falling in love' to herself. The thought brought a flutter of emotions, coloring her cheeks fiercely. "I don't mean to be obtuse, Kendall…" she apologizes slowly. "I just do not want to act in a way that my heart longs for and …" she lets her words trail off.

"Why does it matter? I've offered myself to you… expressing my deep longing to be yours alone. I have given myself to you bodily… and more," the last slips out before she can stop her tongue. Her eyes are sad; holding a passion, a conviction… a desire to understand and to be at peace with their acts. "You've accepted me for all that I am and all that I give. Why must we act as if what we have committed is wrong or never happened?"

She stares in his eyes, "Have we done something that we should regret or feel shame? Because… if so, I simply cannot bring myself to believe it." Another confession in near silence, flowing from her before her conscience tells her to be cautious.

He takes a deep and measured breath, looking beyond her as he lets it out slowly, searching the distance for explanations to things only implicitly understood, never before vocalized. Over her shoulder, his eyes find the green banners of Chanicut and its representatives here in Amber, and his gaze travels the swirls and knots of his House sigil before he finally turns his attention back to her. "It is simply this, Margot. Though there may be rumors and gossip, there are no facts or confirmation. It is not logical or sensible, but that is how it is. You will see that there is much that is unfair or unreasonable in politics, and this is one of them. Though there may be insinuations whispered behind hands and in secret meetings, and such things can be quite damaging by themselves, it is often not until something is brought to the open that it is acted upon. Otherwise, politics proceeds as usual." He hesitates, expression clouding with discomfort as he considers whether to continue.

"Then… my feelings, and any that you may have… we do not own them completely? They are the tools of the political machine…" He had shared his feelings of affection, but she wouldn't dare presume his feelings were a match for hers. "People will use this as a means to advance their agenda because it is something that isn't acceptable… so, we need to keep appearances of disenchantment and passing congeniality." Her eyes drift to the floor, contemplating. "Not growing up in Court, I…" She sighs. "At times I feel like I'm at such a tremendous disadvantage." All she wanted was to express her affection freely, to not have to hide in shadows.

"You had mentioned that this alliance your mother proposed is one way. What are others?" she asks quietly before returning her eyes to his.

"Tis not a matter of acceptability, shayna," Kendall says. A brief frown of frustration passes across his face, and then with an air of decision, he leads her down the stairs and over to a small couch near the empty fireplace. Sitting her down, he joins her so they can talk more comfortably. "Again, there is little that is unacceptable when done in private. But privacy, as you know, is a relative thing, and nothing goes without notice or comment. Servants and pages know all and see all, and it often costs little to buy the information. You are at an advantage, because of your rank. I must tread more cautiously, because I am a guest in your land. I received the Queen's permission to… to "woo" you, if you will, to borrow a term from your book. I did not gain permission to bed you, and there lies a line that you yourself acknowledge. Otherwise you would feel no need to go before your mother this day to acknowledge our liaison and beg her forgiveness."

"I cannot speak with authority regarding the predispositions of the Amber nobles in this situation," he continues. "I can speak only from my own experience, from my home, which we know to be quite different from your Shadow and experience. Amber is different enough again from my home that I feel… for my own sake and the sake of my House's interests, that caution and discretion are warranted." He pauses to look at her, as though perhaps picturing the convoluted and swirling explanation in his mind and finding the shortcut through all the words. "I believe what I am attempting to say is that… I am in a tenuous position, and need you to make this effort. For me."

She listens carefully, patiently, her eyes clouding as he explains. So many things to answer, to question. "You asked my mother to court me?" she asks slowly, again her expression is one of surprise.

His somewhat surprised nod perhaps indicates he thinks such a thing would be assumed.

She reaches for his hand, taking it in hers. "Kendall. I am not going to my mother to beg forgiveness. To beg forgiveness is to admit to wrong doing. We've done nothing wrong." It's the first smile she's given him that is not flavored with sadness since this conversation has begun. "I want to see my mother so I can prepare her for when rumors begin. It is the honorable thing to do so that she is not caught off-guard. It is for her protection… not mine. I will also speak with my father, for the same reasons. They need be aware of my actions by my word… as they happened. Not as conjecture and others creative embellishments paint."

The faint shake of his head and bemused look indicate he still doesn't quite see the distinction, but given his view and experience of sex, it's probably not surprising. He doesn't interrupt her as she continues.

She is silent for a few more heartbeats. "I will do what you require of me. For you. I will keep our … liaisons…" using his word, "In secret. I will not make any attempts to engage you in Court unless you initiate our encounter." She solemnly swears, eyes never leaving his. "Until such time that you feel it is appropriate to do otherwise, I will do nothing untoward to besmirch either of our reputations."

"Thank you," he says, accepting her weighty promise with equal gravity. "You are very kind."

Again, a few more heartbeats pass as she lets him consider what she has said. "Are you certain you wish to meet me later this day? Or, that you want me to return as you have invited this evening? I do not wish to be a chain around your neck… and if my presence is going to make things difficult in the short term for you…" She swallows. "If you wish, I will release you of words spoken in lover's arms… especially if they were spoken hastily. I will not hold you to any obligation to me. No offense will be taken if you choose to retract these things… I will understand," she reassures softly.

Kendall pauses to consider her words, taking her offer with the sincerity that was intended and not dismissing it out of hand. He takes a breath before replying. "I would suggest we take each step one by one," he replies at last. "I would very much like to meet with you later today, to learn of the outcomes of your conversations, as they appear to weigh heavily on your mind. At that point, we will decide on the next step."

"Alright," she agrees. "We will decide together." She is quiet, still thinking. "I will attempt to name a place that will not draw too many eyes. Perhaps we can walk the labyrinth in the North gardens. There is a fountain at its mouth where we can rendezvous. I expect you will have your entourage." She refers to the sentinels that follow him anywhere outside of Maeve's Vigil. "Still it is relatively secluded, certainly quiet enough for a Lord to take a Princess for a walk." Her jaw tightened slightly at the titles being uttered, but she left it alone for the moment.

She considered asking him once more about alternatives that would allow for them to be more affectionate; but decided to let it go for the moment. Perhaps later today, or another day… it did not matter, he needed her to remain silent and keep their affair secret, and she gave her word she would do just that.

He chuckles a little, some of the tension easing, and he traces her jaw with a finger. "I see I must clarify. The Queen has given me leave for us to associate, my dear," he says. "And certainly we were quite close during our first walk in the garden. Unless your mother retracts her permission, we may certainly continue discreetly to continue thus. It is merely in Court and amongst the nobles that the situation may become more… tense."

"I'm starting to feel the fool; fumbling through this…" she bites out quietly. "So, it is alright for us to meet outside of Court…" She sighs exasperated. "But, I cannot control whether there will be other nobles wandering the grounds… and as you say, information is a desired commodity." She breathes deeply, searching his eyes for the simple answer. "I will trust that you will help me manage through this with minimal foibles and some modicum of grace," she finally settles on.

He shakes his head, a trifle bemused still, leaning over to kiss her lightly. "I believe enough words have been exchanged, and enough confusion created. You will learn as we all have: by doing. In my home, there is a small Court where children go to learn the ways and means of the political dance. Even at eight or nine Cycles, the cruelty of children can be unmatched, but the stakes are much lower. You did not have that advantage, so your learning will occur now. But you are not alone, because I am here with you, and you have sufficient rank to survive most anything that may happen."

She nods, leaving her questions at bay for the moment. It warmed her that she was not left to manage this alone; that Kendall would be with her. "We will endure as we are able…" she concedes. She loathed feeling ill equipped for what was to come; if she only knew then she could prepare. A trial by fire was not how she wanted to learn the delicacies of Court.

"I suppose I should leave so that you may finally begin your day," she offers with a sad smile. She would rather sit here and talk and learn; cuddle and kiss. That was not going to be a reality any time soon… as least as it sounded by Kendall's word. She would have to take her cues from him, for the moment, until she learned how to navigate this maze.

"Indeed," Kendall stands, drawing her up with him. "Do not fear overmuch, Margot. I may paint a more fearsome picture than you will find, as I have admitted my ignorance of Amber in this regard. I believe for some, however, it will be an issue simply because of my origins and nothing more. If you chose to associate with someone of Amber, the ramifications would be far more predictable."

She reaches up, stroking his cheek, "Where you are from holds little meaning for me. You are a Lord from a place known as Chaos. Back home, it would be no different than if I was from England, and you France. Two different places with different cultures and customs. Two places that have waged wars against one another for hundreds of years. While it has its place, it should not be the break-point for a relationship to grow and prosper." She draws a cleansing breath. "That may be the greatest lesson learned from my time at the Academy. We all represented different lands, different levels of nobility. We had to grow beyond misconceptions of who people were based on where they were from. We learned to work together and to measure each other by their own merits and flaws. There were people that I liked and respected, and those I didn't care for. But, never once were my opinions based upon lines on a map." Her lips pull to one side. "I get the feeling that the same is not true here."

He listens carefully to her as she spells out a situation that some would consider utopist, his expression taking on that look of intense curiosity and interest for fascinating information. He shakes his head at her final comment, however. "Indeed, while I am certain some here would consider your views… charming… what happens in Shadow bears little weight in Amber or Chaos. In Chaos, loyalty is to one's House, not ideals, not individuals. The House is all, and all are of the House. I am as responsible for my House and its actions as my father, who makes the decisions that move us all, for my decisions and actions are part of the puzzle that links the whole together. I know not what commands loyalty in Amber."

He pauses, and then goes on more slowly and carefully, and very quietly. "Yet I will tell you a thing, though you must understand that this is nothing of which to speak openly, and I am certain no one here would care for me to tell it to you. Once, very long ago, Amber itself was of the Courts, a House like Chanicut. This is not something which is spoken, but the knowledge does reside here. However, for reasons unknown to me, Amber left the Courts behind."

He takes a breath before continuing, as of making the decision to go on. "The war was not so very long ago, Margot, and it was fearsome even by the standards of some in Chaos, involving enchantments and tactics with effects that will linger for much time. It is never easy to recover from death, destruction, and hatred. Whether the grudge of hatred here existed for Chaos before the war, I know not. However, I suspect one reason for the hatred is to distance this place from something that once was quite near."

"A sliver of light is better than to be surrounded in complete darkness." She meets his eyes, and her pensive look returns. "You believe that I have suffered by not being raised here, don't you? I appreciate that you do not hold such failings against me, personally. To say I would mourn our time spent together because I lack awareness or knowledge wouldn't even begin to explain what I would feel."

Turning her hand over, he kisses the palm, eyes steady on hers. "I may have misspoken," is his reply. "You were raised without necessary knowledge and experience. Perhaps… the place matters less. I believe, however, that you would make a beautiful Lady of Chaos, had you spent your youth there."

She smiles again, private for him alone. "That is very sweet of you to say, Kendall." The way she said his name was so intimate… a tender vibration from deep within; tender wisps extending from one heart to another. For those few heartbeats the world faded once more and the two stood enveloped in the sensation of vibrant electricity radiating around them… teasing and enticing them, warming and soothing them. Heartbeats fall in sync, and a light comes to Margot's eyes. It is in this brief moment that Kendall senses how he makes her feel radiant and alive, fearless and beautiful… and his alone.

Drawn into that warm and intimate space, he pulls her into his arms and kisses her, and she returns his affection, arms embracing him around the waist and pulling him close. Her kisses are slow and sensual, warm and loving, much as the radiance encircling them. What her voice will not utter, her being will bring to light; sharing who she is and the tenderness she feels for him at her very core. Here, she is both her most vulnerable and her most empowered… revealing all to him in a single word, a single kiss.

Kendall accepts her tenderness, returning it in kind, allowing her emotions to wash over both of them without demur. He holds her close, a hand weaving into the hair at her shoulder, letting her express the things that she could not speak. They hold each other for many heartbeats within the sheltering sphere of warmth before he breaks from her, giving them both a chance to breathe, still keeping her close.

Her eyes seek his with an almost expectancy about her gaze. Did he understand? she wondered quietly. She wanted him to, but was afraid that uttering something so sentimental and intimate - and premature - would make things awkward… the exact opposite of her intention. Yet, she couldn't overcome the desire to share these things with him. Slowly, she let go of the enchantment enveloping them. She had blessed his name; it wasn't something grand nor was it something she would use often… but at least he could now feel what she was feeling when she was with him.

He meets her gaze, his own gentle and warm. "You have quite a gift for expression," he says quietly.

Her eyes cast away for a heartbeat, before returning to his. "Thank you," she returns almost silently.

"Thank you," he says. "You have given me much, Margot, and I believe it unlikely I will ever be able to match your generosity."

His response warms her form. "It is my pleasure, Kendall," when she speaks his name this time, it is filled with tender adoration, but the Power lacing his name has subsided for the moment.

Kendall continues to hold her, looking into her eyes, unspeaking, and she tips his head to hers, kissing him again. "Leaving isn't supposed to be difficult…" she admits. "I want to … " She gives a slight shake of her head. "One of us has to leave, and since this is your home…"

She swallows. "That's how I feel when I'm with you. You give me that… I just shared it with you." She takes his hands, "Take me to the door…"

Kendall nods, once. "As you say," he replies quietly, leading her to the door and opening it to reveal the sunny bridge leading back to the castle. Stepping through to the other side, he smiles down at her again. "Thank you. It was a delightful evening… and morning. I do hope you will be able to visit again soon." Beneath the empty formality of the expected words, his eyes on hers convey a deeper sincerity.

"Thank you for your hospitality. Your gifts have been beyond any words, no matter the sincerity of the compliment," she replies, with equal formality. She turns to face him, and without hesitation, steps to him to press three kisses to his cheeks. "It would be an honor to visit you again. My time is yours to schedule." Her eyes reflect her own compassion and desires, even if her demeanor is more reserved. Her eyes linger on his for a moment, her smile shines only for him.

He returns the feathery kisses of farewell to her cheeks, then bows when she moves away, kissing her hand. "We shall see what may be arranged," he replies. "Fair Turn, Margot."

Only when she is ready does she turn and cross the glass bridge. He waits until the door at the far end shuts behind her before returning to the Tower to begin his day.

Back to the list of Kendall's game threads
Final Encounter with Lady Louella

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