Journey to Amber: Final Road

Hot light shining from a cloudless sky welcomes them as they emerge from a sheer wall of fog. The young Chaos Lord breathes a deep sigh of relief as he takes in the bland countryside and then he drops Vanya's reins so he can untie the strap binding him to Louella as quickly as possible. Once separated, Louella drops to one knee to thank the Blessed Mother while Kendall slicks wet hair back with his fingers and sends up his own silent thanks to the Serpent.

After giving thanks, they both take some time to get properly dressed — as in the case of Louella — and make their clothes as presentable as possible — as in the case of Kendall. It takes him far less time to accept the limitations on his appearance and give up than for her to finish buckling her armor. He watches her struggle for some heartbeats before his heart gets the better of him.

Politely, though coolly, he says, "I would be willing to assist you into your armor, if you would like. I pledge not to bite or take any, ah…liberties? By my honor on the name of Chanicut."

Louella scowls at his words and shakes her head. "Please don't take this personally, but I never again want to feel your hands on my body."

Kendall shivers involuntarily as he thinks back to their frolics in the Veil, the physical reaction too sudden to suppress completely. But his eyes flash in irritation as his patience falls short. "Tis difficult not to take your statement personally when I imagine I am the only one of my 'kind' with whom you have had intercourse," he retorts. "Though you certainly gave every evidence of enjoyment."

Finishing the last few buckles, Louella begins peering around, searching for something. "True, but that moment of pleasure will forever weigh heavy on my soul. I make no apologies for my feelings or myself. We are enemies, pure and simple. I have already fought and lost many friends and kin to your kind and we know this is just a moment of calm before the next storm. Once you have your new king or queen, you will launch the next attack."

Not finding what she's looking for, Louella strikes off down the hill, angling toward a nearby animal track. She combs her fingers through her hair as she walks and then slips on her helmet, leaving the visor up. "But I am just a servant of the King's will, no matter my personal feelings. So I will get you to the royal castle, even at the cost of my life."

She stops to look at him over her shoulder, pointing toward the rising sun. "That is where the Royal Road should be. Likely we will meet a rearguard there too. I will lead you on foot till we find Laoiseach. He is likely not far from us, knowing that stallion." She smiles, one that is both warm and brief. "Just waiting till my feet get sore before showing up."

Kendall's swings up into Vanya's saddle and settles himself comfortably, arranging his robes with his customary precision. "Suit yourself. Lead on…m'lady," he says, his smooth tone making the appellation an insult.

Nudging his mare forward, he allows her to pick her own careful way as they follow Louella down the hill. After only a few steps, he turns in the saddle to look at the Veil as they move away, wondering briefly if he would have to go through it again to go home. Home. He shakes his head, turning back to face the front and swallowing a weary sigh. He had never missed anything as much as he missed Chanicutways right that heartbeat.

They follow the faint trail to a grassy field, a long silence surrounding them before he feels able to talk again. "Things appear very simple for you here," he observes out of nowhere. "'Us' and 'Them.' Do you always know who your enemies and allies are?" The expression he turns to her is quizzical, as though he can't quite conceive of such a notion.

"Simple? No. But we of the Ten Thousand serve the Royal Throne, so some choices are out of our hands," Louella replies. She looks up at him again, the hatred dimmer but not gone from her eyes. "I, too, understand…choices can weigh heavily at times. This mare and I share much in the way of choices in our lives." She pats Vanya on the neck.

Passing a stand of trees, they both note a warhorse in armor grazing near the road far ahead. "And there he is at last," she remarks, changing course and picking up the pace. Silence returns for several horse lengths as Kendall ponders her words and Louella watches her footing over some rocks.

"The Houses in the Courts will do what they will," the Chaosian comments eventually, addressing one of her earlier statements with a matter of fact tone. "The presence or absence of a Monarch is immaterial. Hendrake will always make war; it is what they do. If they did not make war in Shadow, then they would make war amongst the other Houses. Are you saying that your Amber has never waged war on others for the sake of conquest?"

"No, we have little use for conquest," Louella answers. Kendall's expression turns skeptical, but he does not reply right away.

"It's best you stop this war, Son of Chaos," she continues. "Our Lord has returned, and it would be better for us all if he had no need to raise his sword again." The warhorse finally notices the group and starts galloping towards them.

Kendall looks puzzled. "To what Lord are you referring?" he inquires. "From where did he return?"

"His name was Prince Nigel. Now he is still without a proper name. His mother died in childbirth, the sad price of…" Louella mutters the rest under her breath.

Kendall leans over, trying to hear her muttering, but gives up as the sound of hoofbeats arrives and drown out her words. The stallion approaches within yards before coming to a quick stop and assuming an attitude of submission. He bows his head and places his muzzle in Louella's outstretched hand.

"What's wrong, Laoiseach?" Louella asks, checking her mount and noting a bite mark on his hindquarters. "You should have known better. We both know the First Sire doesn't tolerate your games." She pats his neck. "But I forgive you. Just don't leave my side ever again."

The black stallion nods his head up and down much as Vanya would to a similar directive from Kendall. Mounting up, Louella returns to their conversation as though she had never been interrupted. "My Lord Nigel was in a dark place, a place between life and death. Waiting for the promised time and his rebirth."

Kendall's puzzled expression returns at her answer, and he shakes his head. "I must confess I do not understand," he answers. "I was under the impression that Eric is your King? If this Nigel is but an unnamed babe, how is it that so much of this mythology is known about him?"

"Because I was there when they brought my Lord's body back…I, like the others, wanted to end my life then. Only the hand of our Princess stopped us, and her promise that her brother would return. We have waited for a very long time, even by your standards."

Louella runs a hand along her mount's neck. "But that is all in the past. He has returned." She turns to Kendall with a sober expression. "For your own safety and your Houses, make lasting peace with us."

Kendall frowns in total confusion. "I believe you misunderstand my purpose for being here, as well as attributing to me far more influence than I can claim," he says. His expression clears to calm neutrality and his manner assumes a more formal distance as he continues.

"However, you appear to consider this a topic of some weight. It would be beneficial in my report to the Ambassador if you would start from the beginning. If I am to convince Ambassador Brisbane of anything, I will need to be convinced first. If you would be so kind to at least tell me why I should be concerned about this Lord Nigel, why you wanted to end your lives, what Princess was involved, and any other relevant information, that would be most helpful," he finishes politely with an encouraging smile.

"I can't… for you are the enemy still," she answers, and Kendall grunts in annoyance.

Louella halts Laoiseach, and the stallion paws at the ground in frustration at their slow pace while the Chaos Lord pulls up his own mare. He turns to look at the Knight, who frowns in return.

"Lord Nigel was there when they discovered the concept of war in the Early Times," she explains. "If you can call anyone an avatar of war, it is he. But Lord Nigel always held himself back, never doing more than forcing your armies back in the early days of Amber. He will not do that now. That is his promise to us, that this war will end soon."

Louella looks up toward the royal castle on the mountain before them. "Either our home will be in flames, or yours will."

He follows her gaze to the castle, staring at it for five heartbeats before snorting derisively. "Well, it will not be Chanicut," he retorts with conviction as he turns back to her. "Your concern for 'the enemy' is touching, but ultimately misplaced. Were all the Houses of Chaos to rally behind one banner, Amber would be crushed beyond all memory." An eyebrow arches. "No matter how old her warriors may be."

Noting a rear guard waiting for them ahead on the road, Louella does not reply directly. "Wait here," she says instead, putting heels to Laoiseach.

She raises a hand in greeting and her fellow Knights ride out to meet her. After sign and counter-sign, the Knight before Louella draws his sword and holds the razor-sharp edge upward before her. Taking off her gauntlet, Louella runs her bare palm along the blade then holds it up, unharmed, showing that indeed she is who she says she is. She motions Kendall in as the Knights break camp. More then a few start stripping off their armor to lighten their load. Kendall can see that these men are the fastest riders within his escort. Likely they will be riding hard to reach the castle on the heels of the rest of the party.

Kendall nudges Vanya forward until he comes somewhat next to Louella, then sits stiffly and formally in the saddle to wait. He watches with feigned disinterest as the Amber Knights prepare for travel, feeling anxiety beginning to rise up and squeeze his chest again. He fidgets with the reins in his hands and then pulls off one of his gloves to stroke Vanya's neck, reassuring her as she responds to his nerves and begins to fidget as well.

He had hoped the rest of the party would wait for him, as he would have insisted they wait for Brisbane. He knew it would not have been practical for the Ambassador to wait, but still, there it was. Turning to Louella, he clears his throat. "Will you be accompanying my group or staying behind?"

"Need you ask?" she says. "My duty lies with seeing you to the castle."

A squire runs out with a green pennant with a white unicorn on it, placing it some 100 yards down the road. As soon as the post is set firmly in the ground, and the squire is out of the way, two Knights put spurs to their mounts, racing for the pennant and the honor that goes with carrying it. It ends with the young brown haired girl on a red mare snatching it up with some fancy footwork at the last moment. Then she's down the road at a full gallop.

"Vivian will alert any patrols or watchgates to our presence, letting them know that we are on King's business and will not tolerate any delays," Louella explains. "Poppy will be lucky if she doesn't collapse at the City Gate in exhaustion. Both know it, yet she races with all her heart for the honor that it will bestow on them." She shakes her head at Vivian's foolishness.

She looks around at the other gathered Knights, seeing they are ready, and then turns back to the Chaos Lord. "Are you ready, Honored Guest?"

Kendall's eyebrows arch in surprise at the title and eagerness shines in his eyes as nods, pulling his gloves back on. After the long and grueling journey from Chanicut, he was almost in Amber. The uncertainty of what would occur there could not completely dim the excitement of being near his destination and anticipation for all the new things he would see. But before all that, he could think of nothing better than a hot bath and meal, probably in that order.

Nudging his mare, he tries to quell the chills down his spine from being surrounded again with Amberites as he takes his place in the center of their formation. "I am quite ready, Lady Louella," he answers with a formal bow, settling into the saddle and gathering up his reins. Vanya shakes her head with anticipation, ready to be off. It takes only the Knight hoisting up another pennant for the little group to break out in a gallop, their hooves digging deep into grass still wet with morning dew. From that point on, the landscape becomes a blur as Kendall and his escort race down the King's Road to the City of Amber.

Trees, cottages, crossroads, people — all pass with little notice, other riders and walkers already forewarned of their approach. Farmers and townsfolk alike stand aside as they gallop past, craning their necks to watch the magnificent beasts and make guesses about their urgent errand. Children race next to the road, shouting and laughing with excitement at the passing Knights. But even forewarning cannot clear all roadblocks and the Knights' have opportunity to display their horsemanship when they come upon an overturned wagon.

Oxen bay their indignation as their handlers try to pull the rest of the wagon train to the side of the road. Most of the Knights do some fast, sharp turns and weave their way through. Louella and her stallion Laoiseach simply jump over them, a feat that no normal horse could accomplish and one that even Vanya would have trouble doing more than once at these close quarters. For their part, though not as showy as Louella, Vanya and Kendall do not slow for the roadblock either, weaving effortlessly around the hazards and regrouping on the other side with a certain understated aplomb.

The wagons and their spilt grain fall behind as they near the first watchtower. The gate doors are wide open, a Sergeant putting the boot to one of his men just inside. The young soldier whimpers in pain as the group rides by, his broken crossbow nearby. Scenery continues to whip past, momentary snapshots both common and curious noted only on the periphery of vision and memory. Nothing could be heard over the thud of hooves and the horses' panting, but the wind smells sweetly of damp earth, fresh plants, and hints of sea-tang.

The second watchtower appears, gates again wide open, the soldiers aligned on each side throwing the Knights a respectful salute as they press onward toward the True City. Soon the city comes into view, its golden roofs and pure white towers appearing just as they conquer the last hill and enter the low lands. A gradual slowing on the last hill, and Kendall breathes a mental sigh of relief when they finally reach the crest, pulling Vanya up to pause briefly and take in the view below that leads to the shining city in the distance.

It reminded him somewhat of Thelbane the first time he had attended the Royal Court at the time of his Recognition. The excited apprehension he felt then was almost an exact match of the way he felt now. Vanya pauses, breathing strong but still easily, her wind not labored for all the distance they had covered. She shakes her head, ready for more, ears pricked forward at the other horses, but also patiently waiting her rider's signal. His survey takes a mere three heartbeats, and then a light movement of the reins gives the mare the go-ahead. With a snort and a leaping stride, she jumps back into the race, putting on a fresh burst of speed to catch up with the knot of riders who had drawn ahead, running more easily as the road slopes gently downward.

Only 100 more heartbeats pass before the riders are near the city, the white walls brilliantly imposing as they rise from the soft hills. A quick turn brings them to the Royal Gate that guards the bottom of the road leading to the royal castle. The guards there pay no attention to them, as they and medics are trying to help poor Sir Vivian who lies in the grass with a crossbow bolt sticking out of her side. Poppy stands nearby, looking ready to drop from exhaustion. The young wounded knight has only enough time to say, "I told you…. I told you I could do it!" before passing out.

Louella frowns, dismounting as she addresses Kendall. "You will ride a carriage from here out. Vanya can rest here till she is ready to make the trip up the mountain." She leads them into a small courtyard with a large stable to one side and barracks stand to the other. The arches of the gate overhead block out the sun. Laoiseach walks himself into the stables as Louella shouts for the carriage.

An open carriage pulls up within seconds, the driver obviously from the city and not part of the military. He wipes sweat off his fat face and gives a respectful bow to Louella before jumping down to open the carriage door. "My Lady, excuse me… I just got the word less then a span ago, but I will get you there in no time. These are my best horses. Only the wind is faster," the driver says with the biggest grin Kendall has seen so far.

The Lord simply nods to the driver as he climbs into the carriage and settles into the seat. He finds a basket inside packed with fresh fruit, sausages, cheeses and bottles of wine and water. Hawks above are his only escort apart from the driver, who starts in with a few good jokes. But Kendall hardly notes the punch lines, interested instead in using one of the napkins and the water to thoroughly wash his hands and face of the grit and grime of the past Turnings.

He looks over the unfamiliar food as the carriage jostles its way up the mountain trail, but he has no appetite even though he could not count the heartbeats since last he had eaten. He pushes the basket aside and simply sits back to take in the scenery, staring with a wondering gaze over the shining city with the ocean beyond and forgetting his troubles for a time. Occasionally, he nods and makes noises at appropriate places during the drivers' chatter, though afterwards he would never be able to say what the man actually said.

Once past the iron gates and in the castle courtyard, Kendall's expression resumes its more guarded neutrality. He steps gracefully down from the carriage, muscles complaining that they hadn't rested enough. He had stiffened up, but refuses to limp or otherwise even grimace from the aches. Four soldiers seem to swoop out of nowhere and take him into close custody. Though he tries to memorize the route they take, he is soon lost in the maze of unfamiliar corridors and wondering where he would ultimately end up: in a guest room or a prison cell.

Back to list of Kendall's game threads
Journey to Amber: Meeting the Queen

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License