A Secret Rendezvous

It is late in the afternoon when Captain of the Guard Briar makes her way to the door of the Chanicut tower of Maeve's Vigil and summons the young Chaos Lord to an unplanned and unexpected meeting. Not only that, but leaving his normal escort behind, she takes sole responsibility for the safety of the Lord as they traverse narrow back hallways and dim staircases, avoiding the main halls with crowds gathering for the young princess' debut. Briar keeps the conversation short, unwilling or unable to give details, and so the young Lord is forced to speculate in silence on their destination, the nature of this meeting, and whether he would still live afterwards.

His frayed nerves remain unsoothed when they arrive at a ruined tower far to the edge of the Castle, its grey stones softened with age and decorated with creeping wildflowers. They step through an opening in one crumbling wall to find tumbled stones and stubborn grass inside. Lovely in a way, if a bit stark and melancholy. Briar gestures to a pair of colorful cushions upon large stones before going to a new ladder that leaned against the wall. She swings it over to the opening above, climbs, and pulls it up behind her before doing the same at the next floor. Until finally she rests at the opening two floors above — out of earshot, but well within sight and within reach, if necessary.

Thus Kendall is left standing in the center of the ruined tower to study the broken walls and stubborn flowers alone and without comment. He still pondered the puzzle of why he had been brought here, turning the possibilities around in his mind more as an exercise to occupy his thoughts than any real expectation that he would discover an answer. It wasn't the first place he would have considered for an execution, and the presence of cushions indicate this was intended as some sort of social call perhaps? Briar's presence high above was even more a mystery. But then the sounds of approaching footsteps catch his attention, and he looks up to see Margot dressed in a crimson gown that eclipses even the wildflowers.

And so the mystery is revealed, and Kendall is faced with a choice.

Margot's heart leaps at sight of him, then squeezes tight at the pained realization that this may very well be the last time she would ever see him again. And yet, for all the turmoil that twists heart and stomach into knots, her carriage is nothing short of elegance personified. She steps carefully amidst the rubble, holding the luxurious red skirt high so as not to trip or turn an ankle. A package wrapped in a rough silk the color of House Chanicut occupies her other hand.

The gown mirrored the vision he had asked her to paint in the air as they had lain together in his bed, describing to her the beauty he saw before he claimed her as his own. So long ago. Her hair is up swept, elegantly adorned, her only jewelry a pair of ruby and diamond earrings. Her lips are stained the same luscious color as her gown.

The Lord hesitates to acknowledge her, remaining still with a blank expression. But he steps forward swiftly as the young princess stumbles on a loose rock, extending his hand without a word to steady her steps as she joins him in the clear space near the cushions. Margot accepts his hand, wanting more but not pressing the issue. She knew they were being watched, and after all, was uncertain if he would appreciate affection gifted to him at this time. It would take all of her will to keep her emotions at bay. Tears would not change their fate.

"Thank you," she says simply, whether for helping her across the stones or just being here, she did not say.

"You are most welcome, Princess," he answers, voice soft. Once she is steady on her feet, he releases her hand and steps back to put some space between them. She breathes deeply and a hint of remorse flashes in her eyes as he retrieves his hand and steps away from her.

His eyes search the near distance a few heartbeats before coming back to her. Apparently she was alone, or close to it.

"How do you fare?" he inquires.

"I am well. Thank you, Lord Kendall, for asking. I appreciate you meeting with me, even if it is a chaperoned clandestine meeting." Her smirk carries a bit of irony to it.

She hesitates, revealing uncertainty before plunging on. "I do not know if you are aware, but today is a celebration of sorts." She pauses, not wanting to force guilt upon him by sharing it was her natal day.

"I would appreciate it a great deal if you would call me Margot for the short while we are granted the treasure of each others' company." With a bashful smile, she holds out the parcel for him to accept.

He looks from her to the gift and then back into her eyes. "I am uncertain whether to accept," he says seriously without moving to take it from her. "In point of fact, I was given explicit instruction to have nothing whatsoever to do with you."

"Those instructions do not apply for this moment, by word of the King." The words catch in her throat, the first sense of her struggle to maintain her composure. "Please…" she gestures with the package, her words a hushed whisper. "After all, I am Queen for the Day." This brings a sad smile to her lips, her eyes going to the parcel to keep from shedding any tears.

The pause this time is longer, his measuring gaze steady on her downcast eyes as he weighs the young woman's words. Then with a nod, he relents, allowing himself to smile as he takes the gift from her. Untying the silk, he pulls it away from the contents to reveal a small book bound in leather with gilded pages. A strap secures it with a bronze lock, the key dangling from the strap. The top of the key resembles the stylized infinity brooch she had gifted him. So long ago.

Inside, the book has no title. Each turn of the page captured words, thoughts, moments in time that they had shared. On one page, the memory of their dance in the grotto springs into life, much as the dancers had in the first book she gave. On another, the wave crashes against them. Another, the image of her dancing for him upon his balcony. Then came their embrace as she prepared to leave and the sensation of how she had enchanted his name with the essence of her heart.

The last page was simply titled, From here until… On it, she stands as she is dressed now: regal and composed, an image captured in time.

He takes his time looking through the book, expression curious and pleased as he takes in the images. She holds back any further comment as long as she can as he peruses the pages, but then finds she had to break the unendurable silence. "I do not expect you to keep it, but if you would simply do me the grace to not dispose of it in my presence…"

Again, words are hard to form as she fought to keep her emotions intact. She had been warned she should not utter her true feelings. She had been cautioned of consequences should she wrap her arms around him — though at this moment he needed to only look at her and she would forfeit it all for that one sensation.

"I would not consider disposing of it, Margot," he says as he closes the cover. His eyes return to hers and a small movement shrinks the distance between them.

"You have gifted me with yourself," he observes, his voice so soft it could be lost within the call of a bird. "Thank you."

"You are welcome, Kendall," she whispers, her words but a faint apparition. She gestures for them to sit, afraid she would begin to fidget awkwardly if she continued to stand. That was not the image she wished to leave him with; some gawky, shy girl with a broken heart. A heart she doubted would ever heal. She wanted him to remember a woman of grace, of courage… to remember what he had seen in her that no one else had dared discover.

Taking her arm, he assists her over to the makeshift seats and hands her down before joining her. His gaze ranges around the environs again. "You have asked your father for permission to speak to me, against your mother's wishes," he observes. "Though apparently this is not to be openly known."

Giving her his attention again, he asks her gently, "What is it you wish of me, Margot?"

"What I wish and what is possible are not one in the same, Kendall," she returns, a chagrined expression landing upon her face. "Of all the things gifted — all those extravagant baubles on this day — all I wanted today, or any other… was to have a few moments with you. I wanted you to know that you would be missed and never forgotten, Kendall."

She couldn't help it; the mere utterance of his name once more opens the portal to her soul to share her most secret and intimate feelings. And though revealing so much that she casts her gaze away from him, the portal closes nearly as quickly as it had been summoned. "Beyond that, I cannot ask anything of you… I will not ask anything of you that you will not freely offer of yourself."

Setting the book down on the ground next to the rock on which he sits, he turns to face her and reaches out to take her hands. Her fingers are cool against his warm skin. He could feel her fingers trembling in his hands, something she fought to cease with little success.

"That is very kind of you, Margot," he says. He pauses, considering his next words carefully. "I was…displeased when your mother decreed we would not be permitted to speak again."

"What will you do now, Kendall?"

"Do?" he asks, his mouth quirking into an ironic half smile. Then the smile falters and his expression turns serious again. "I do not know. I will wait in my quarters in the Vigil while Amber celebrates the rise of their lovely new princess, and consider my options." He falls silent, though it feels more as though a pause in thought got drawn out unexpectedly, rather than an actual end to his answer.

"I was asked what my personal decree would be," she says, breaking the suddenly awkward pause. "I stated that I wished all to set aside their conflicts and come together in peace on this day… in hopes that you would be granted permission to attend. It pains me deeply that you are not allowed to participate."

Margot's shoulders rise and fall with a heavy sigh. She wets her lips, glancing to their surroundings as she contemplates the wisdom of speaking the words so heavy on her mind. She draws a cleansing breath. "I…do not expect you to confide in me. I have simply not earned that privilege. But, you should know that I have not passed judgment on what happened when you…"

Her hands shake in his so much that she tightens her grip around his fingers to stop the trembling. "I cannot without knowing your tale. There are always at least two sides to any event, and that which is the easiest to believe is not always that which occurred. This is something that I endured first hand."

"Ahh." The simple sound is realization, as though he had puzzled over something which had now come clear. "I presume you speak of the events involving the Queen's Knight. What have you been told?"

"Very little. My mother was enraged. She spat declarations and accusations without telling me what happened. She refused to hear questions on the subject." Margot's head shakes slightly and she swallows hard.

"She said you had killed one of her elite guard, but I think she was more upset at the loss of life within the Knight's womb…and her inability to save the babe. I don't know any of the events that led to the death of the Knight."

He sits silently for some time after her reply, looking beyond Margot at the wildflowers framing the opening in the tower wall. But his gaze is focused inward as he ponders how to answer her unspoken questions. One thumb lightly strokes the top of her hand, and another deep breath signals a decision made.

His blue eyes come back to Margot when he finally speaks. "Tis true I hold responsibility for causing the death of Lady Louella de Adriel, who was, at the time, a most honored Knight in the Queen's household. Her death was…unfortunate. And unintended for my part. Tis my belief, however, the Knight brought about her own death through honorable combat, as the Queen would not permit her to commit suicide."

Margot nods slightly as she attempts to pull understanding out of all the chaos. "…Because she was with child…" she suggests. Whether her words are an observation, or merely a deep understanding of her mother's motives, it isn't clear. "Do you know why she wished to end her life?"

"Because she was unable to endure the thought of bearing a Chaosian child," is his answer, tone calm and even. He sits very still, staring at her intently to see if she puts the pieces together.

Margot's eyes close and she wets her lips. Her mother had made a passing comment about the child's lineage, but she hadn't been certain. Silent, she considers her next words carefully. Her face reflects the heartache she feels, but rather than pull away from his touch, her fingers curl around his tighter.

It takes several heartbeats before her eyes open once more to gaze into his with compassion and sympathy. "I am truly, truly sorry for your loss," she finally utters softly.

His jaw tightens and his eyes harden at her statement. "Thank you, but tis the way of it," he replies after another brief silence, his tone almost brisk in its matter-of-factness. "The Queen had indicated an interest in keeping the babe in Amber after its birth. Provided, of course, it was carried to term. I…hoped to convince the Lady Louella to carry the child, and give it to me after its birth."

Has Mother not adopted enough children already that she felt compelled to separate a father from his own? Even if the father was willing to take responsibility for the child's well being…?! Bitter thoughts race in her mind. Matriarch or not, lineage had to maintain respect lest all of this that surrounded her now was nothing more than a tired charade! There was a great deal she didn't understand, wasn't privy to, and still… the sheer grotesqueness of it all churns her stomach raw.

Her complexion turns ashen and her already chilled fingers turn frigid as blood drains from her cheeks and extremities. To say she was mortified was a morbid understatement. "For what it is worth, I am…" she begins, her voice shaking, but hesitates, struggling to find the words to articulate that which she felt.

"Words cannot express the remorse or shame I feel from the actions that you have endured at the hand of my family," she finally manages to say. "I will not pretend to understand the logic or purpose of the decisions made—"

Kendall loosens one hand and places his fingers over her lips, silencing her. A small sort of wry smile returns to his face and warms his eyes as he looks at her. "Peace, Margot," he says softly. "Tis the way of politics and conflict between Houses. I would have preferred for the events to have unfolded differently, but now they are done, and I am left with the question of how to improve relations between myself and your parents."

Her eyes drift close at his touch. His fingers were so warm; the delightful spicy scent of his skin teases and torments her. She knew that if she met his gaze at this moment, he would see how much she wanted to kiss his fingertips…how much she wanted to sample his lips again…how much she wanted to be consumed with their fire once more.

Instead, her head tips to the side, inviting his fingers to caress her cheek. Her heart skips a beat when he accepts the invitation, fingers trailing across her face, down her neck, and along her shoulder before returning to his lap. The tenderness of his caress summons a radiant aura about her. That she would very much like more is obvious, but under the watchful eye of Briar above, and with the memory fresh in his mind of the Queen's unknown magical working while he had been detained, he restrains himself.

"Your concern for my welfare is… touching, Margot." She opens her eyes when he breaks the long silence. "And appreciated. But what of you? Tis the day to celebrate your recognition before the Court of Amber, a day that you greet with dazzling beauty." Even without touching her, he allows his eyes to rove across her body with an obvious, even crude, appreciation.

Lips part in a coy smile, but his words coupled with salacious survey fuel her yearnings. Her eyes spark with the passionate pyre he had conjured in her during their night of love-making. "With the entire family assembled, trust that my presence is hardly noticed," she demurs. "Or missed."

He chuckles a little, understanding the sensation she expressed. He had attended many functions where it seemed as though only an additional body was needed, not an actual identity.

She slides closer to him, pulling his hand into her lap, and he does not pull away. Barely contained desire smolders in her eyes. “Thank you for the compliment.”

"You are welcome, Margot," he says, with a nod. His gaze rests on her face with that familiar faint smile, one that seems to border on smugness. "Is there anything else you wish to know?" he asks then. "About the Knight or other topics?"

Lips curl into a delightfully mischievous nymph's smile. "There are many things I wish of you, Kendall."

He shakes his head, his eyes brightening in amusement, and he tweaks her nose with a finger. "So I gather," is his reply, laced with wry humor.

Her eyes widen and then narrow at his tap. Squaring her shoulders, her mind contemplates the variables around them. Mischief lurks within her eyes. "As you have observed, it is my day today. What gift do you have for me?"

Kendall shakes his head. "I have brought nothing here with me, Margot. I had no knowledge that we were to meet. But perhaps… there is something you would like that is less tangible?"

She rises, a finger tipping his chin to gaze up at her. "A dance."

He stares into her eyes for five heartbeats, his gaze intense, before he nods. "As you wish," he replies, standing as well. Taking her hand, he leads her back to a clearer space in the ruin, small but adequate for a short dance. Taking her into his arms, he begins to lead her through the movements of the dance he taught her in the grotto, slow and deliberate, taking his time.

Kendall moves her through the yearning and seeking movements of the dance, bypassing the ending as Margot's feet remember it, instead returning to the beginning for a second rendition. His low hum is only loud enough to reach her ears as they sway and spin together. Unlike in the grotto, Margot glides now without hesitation, her body responding to the slightest guidance. She leans against him and allows him to completely envelope her with his presence. She didn't dare rush this moment, hoping it would last an eternity. Her eyes drift closed as she commits every aspect of him to memory.

Their steps slow as they approach the end of the dance the second time, moving more and more deliberately through the final forms, and at the end, he twirls her into his arms once more, her back pressed close against his chest. They stand that way for long heartbeats, allowing the peace of the moment to settle around them, their heads close. His lips brush her neck.

Margot's breath catch at the sensation of his feather press. Her fingers run up his arms, pulling him tightly against her, no longer caring what their chaperone saw. This close, the spice that encircled him is intoxicating; a heady aroma that made her heart race. "A few moments with you is the only gift I could ever want. Thank you."

"You are most welcome," he answers, a whisper in her ear. He takes a deep breath of jasmine scented air. "You are here to say good-bye, are you not?"

She had to be strong, and yet her resolve all but crumbles in his simple statement. "I'm here to … " She turns in his arms and cups his face between her hands. "I'm here to tell you …"

Her eyes glisten with emotion as her thumbs trace his cheekbone. She rises on her toes to meet his lips with hers and he returns her brief kiss, pulling her near, though he allows it to end all too quickly.

"I love you," she breathes against his lips when they part. She thought she would be trembling more with her admission, but in his arms, she felt utterly safe and secure; the only place where she felt at ease, natural. That she belonged.

Lowering back to the ground, she continues in a hushed tone. "I'm not so foolish to believe you feel…but I couldn't bear to not say the words to you. When we part from here, I am forbidden to see you lest I be exiled for as long as I live. I just…I needed for you to know what you mean to me and how very sorry I am that things are this way."

As her words trail off, he pulls her close and holds her quietly in his arms, giving her time to relax and compose herself, and also time to compose his own words as well. "I am…unsure what to say, Margot," he admits. A deep breath exhales in a sigh. "I cannot say what may have happened had our paths taken a different turn. But tis possible I may have come to feel for you as you do for me. In time. Perhaps. I hope that you will understand my meaning."

I could do it, she realizes there in his arms. She could leave with him right then and never care about returning to this place.

"You need only ask…" The words slip out without conscious decision. Then she shakes her head slightly against him, bitter words following. "But you won't, will you?"

"Ask what?" he says. Hands move to her shoulders and press her back so he can stare down into her face again, expression intense as he tries to divine her meaning. Or confirm it. "For what are you searching, Margot?"

Her eyes meet his with like intensity, a miasma of emotions flickering in the passionate flames. "My place, Kendall. I want to know where I belong…" And it is not here; it is at your side if you will have me… She did not finish the sentence the way she wanted to. Longed to.

Margot's eyes rove over his face. One hand rests against his heart, enjoying the drumming she felt beneath her fingers. Even now, hidden beneath layers of cloth, she could sense the beat as well as she had when her fingers drew pictures across his bare flesh. The other hand follows her eyes to smooth a lock of his hair and trace along his jaw to stroke the supple flesh of his lower lip. Her eyes linger there for several heartbeats before returning her gaze to his.

"I would leave here. With you. For you." Her fingers leave his face to tenderly stroke his neck before joining its match upon his chest. They were the first words she had uttered that carried the weight of her conviction. Warm and unafraid, her hushed whisper reveals the simple truth.

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