Continuing on their course, Kendall takes Margot through several ways to places both amazing and mundane. Still, they eventually find themselves once more in a place of mourning. Halls bedecked with black and festooned with dead, spiky vines, the very walls seem to weep for the loss of the sons of Chanicut. The young Lord's expression hardens with determination, and he walks with head held high down the hall and between the mourners who had gathered there, who weep all the more loudly upon sight of him.

Margot wonders if the walls wailed for the elder Lord who was already lost, or in fear of the younger Lord's fate which still hung in the balance. Either way, the echo of suffering is real, and each step leaves Margot feeling drained and hopeless. Her only choice, were she to survive this ordeal, is to follow Kendall's exemplary example. Thus, she too holds her head high as a regal glide swishes the green gown about her feet, proud to be seen with the man at her side.

The hallway is interminable — surely the longest hallway ever created. Relief comes to them both when Kendall turns aside at a point near the middle, where hung a tapestry depicting a stream trickling through a dead land. The tapestry way takes them to a cavern at the top of a set of twisted, silver steps. He steadies Margot's progress as they begin to descend, turning around and around and around through a diffuse, glowing mist that both illuminated and partially obscured stone walls carved with fanciful arabesques.

At any other time, Margot would have instantly fallen in love with this place. She is tempted to run her fingers along the ancient designs, but instead keeps her attention centered on their progress. It is the ultimate game of trust, for she is completely unaware of where he was taking her, and could not have escaped had she needed to. Yet, her palm remains relaxed upon his shoulder, entrusting him with her life now as she had done so many times before.

Down, down, down, the clicking of their feet on the metal steps is the only sound for a very long time. Then gradually the sounds of water begin to rise up through the mist to reach their ears. After that, it is only two more revolutions before they find themselves at the bottom of the stairs and at the entrance to the Hall where the sound of running water beckons them.

Kendall leads Margot through a cleft in the wall into a chamber of stone. Dark walls surround them, carved or naturally formed of rock slices that jut out from all sides at downward angles and loom overhead. Water streams, swirls, trickles, and meanders over every surface, dripping in uneven showers from the ceiling and coursing over the floor to some unknown destination. Sitting on a benchlike rock, gazing into the waters of one restless stream, sits the Lady of Chanicut — Grania, Kendall's mother.

It was a miraculous feat of will that kept Margot from glancing around at every nook and cranny, or staring blatantly at the woman who had lost her eldest son. The princess need not be reminded that they visited on House business. She remains quiet, simply nodding to Kendall to let him know that she would remain still and silent unless called upon. Lowering her gaze did not take away from the young woman's majesty; rather, it seemed to encompass her regrets for a mother's loss while capturing her own fears of losing her lover.

Kendall pauses at the edge of the water that flowed in runnels across the floor, hesitant now that he was here at last. He knew what his heart yearned to do, to go to her side and lay his head in her lap, as he had not done since he was so small the memory was but a whisper in his mind. But that was from a time long past. Instead, he bows to she who was his mother, and waits for her to recognize their presence and give him leave to approach.

She doesn't knowledge him, so Kendall waits, and waits. And that alone, shows Grania's displeasure with her youngest child for the agony he had caused her— an agony that Kendall hopes he will never know. Her eldest dead, the middle having turned her back upon the very House that birthed her, and now her youngest about to leave on a journey from which he would not return. Silently she grieves, yet never shedding a tear. Instead, the waters in this room would be her tears, their endless flow a match a mother's heart broken beyond repair.

Kendall waits… and waits… counting the beats of his heart by habit and not to track time that rightfully belonged to she who had given him everything. 100 beats… 200… 500… 1000…. Yet he could do this for entire Skies. Indeed, on at least one occasion, he had stood before her thus for an entire Turn of the Sky to await her displeasure. Now, as then, nothing in that waiting silence can distract him from the inner circles of his own thoughts, which travel their winding way through defeat and failure and shame and disappointment of the past.

He is loathe to interrupt her before she is ready to acknowledge him, but his time was short. Yet, he waits a little longer, and finally, his diligence is rewarded. A small window remaining before he must depart for his next errand, a mere flick of a finger calls him to her side to present himself and his guest. Yet when he takes the five steps needed to bring him to her side, he sees a sight he never would have imagined. In a tiny pool carved into the bench, he can see her eyes floating in clear water with pupils turned downward.

A heart he had thought dead gives one last painful squeeze before lying lifeless in his chest once more. His own mother had removed her orbs so as not to see him. Whatever she would remember of this audience, it would not be the man who stood before her. His words, perhaps, would remain with her, but the image in her mind would ever be the boy who had shown such promise. The boy who had sat at her feet, pleading for another story. The boy who given her such hope.

Somehow his legs remember how to walk and kneel, no matter the state of his heart. He places himself before her again to gaze up into her eyeless face, memorizing all the details. He knew he needed to remember her this way, no matter what pain it caused him, in case he would never see her again.

"Mother," he manages to say, his voice trembling on the two short syllables. He takes a breath to steady himself before he continues. "I am sorry. I have not measured up to your expectations."

She motions him closer, a hand gently caressing his hair. She leans forward to place her forehead to his. "I will pray you do so yet. Again…"

Then kissing his forehead, she waves a dismissal. He almost gets up and leaves immediately, so accustomed was he to watching and obeying her every cue. He stands, but then hesitates when he remembers of his other obligation.

"My mother, I…" Kendall pauses, briefly at a loss for words. But necessity presses on, so he forces himself to continue. "May I ask one final boon? On behalf of the Princess Margot of Amber, whom you met some time ago."

"I will take your tears…." The answer barely echos on the weeping walls. "But I cannot promise long."

"Only until the outcome of my trial is known," he says.

The pause lengthens, and he realizes he has already lost her attention. His mother had already returned to her thoughts of before. Still, he had her word, so the rest was just details. Only his father would object, so all he need do is keep Margot in his mother's shadow as long as possible. If Dara still lurked nearby and could be returned to her lady's side, she would know when it was time to flee to the Royal Court. Yes, planning the arrangements was easy once he focused on the task. Even the members of the family and staff he could trust lined themselves up in his memory, waiting to be called upon.

He waits for another 10 heartbeats, not for additional words, but to paint a picture in his mind of the way his mother looked as she sat amid stones and water. Then turning to Margot, he gestures for her to come with him as he departs.

Obediently and with silent footfalls, Margot takes her place once more at his side. She can find no way to express her heartbreak for him, so she simply weaves her fingers into his as he leads her between two boulders into darkness once more.

Back to list of Kendall's game threads
In the Halls of Yearning

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