Segue to a Soiree

Dinner continues, Eric speaking to his guests less and less… till at last raising a hand to drop his napkin onto the table. Like a theater curtain dropping, this simple act brings the room to silence. Like a temple dove, the napkin flutters down onto the table, a watchful servant catching it as the napkin bounces on the table edge, its course being the floor now. Looking at his wife, Eric stands to offer his hand to her. A clatter of silverware fills the room, as Eric waits for his Queen. Once her delicate hand is in his, he says to the guests of honor, "Please join us."

Ambassador Brisbane answers with, "My pleasure, King Eric." His chair is pulled out as both he and his attaché rise, the King waiting just long enough before exiting from behind the royal table.

As the King and Queen near, Bahiya rises to curtsy as the royal couple passes. Taking Manley's hand in hers, she falls in behind the Chaosians, leaving Bleys opened-mouthed and alone, standing there dumbstruck. Julian stands, giving a respectful tip of his head as his brother and niece walk by. Offering his arm to Kiara, he watches the others pass and waits his turn to fall into line behind the King and Queen.

Kiara takes Julian's arm and ushers Juliette and Hannah into the line in front of them when it's their turn. The girls trade whispers about the handsome young man in front of them. Then Devlin rises, taking Maddy's arm, and follows his sister and her husband from the room, winking at the newcomers.

Brin smiles as he speaks to Moon. "It seems that we will have to finish our talk later, for now it's time for the Royal Ball."

Moon smiles as she also stands. "I look forward to talking to you again."

Brin stands and offers his arm to his date, Lady Emylynne. For her part Emylynne smiles and takes his arm, standing very close to him as they bow and curtsy to the royal family before falling in line.

Briar waits a few moments, observing the recessional with a slight smile that looks as though it hurts her mouth. Then she sighs quietly, gets up, and walks around the table to stand next to the stranded Bleys. Wearing no particular expression, she clears her throat, leans in his direction without taking her eyes off the line, and remarks as though making an observation on the weather, "It appears that this exit line is in danger of becoming lopsided."

Bleys is surprised by his niece's voice, almost automatically offering his arm to her. Then the million-dollar smile snaps back into the place, and he says cheerfully. "Yes… yes it does. Good thing we’re here to take care of it." Briar accepts his arm, and at the appropriate moment, walks with him after the others.

Moon watches and copies the whole standing and curtseying thing. She considers approaching the lone Bleys, but then sees the woman called Briar step up next to him, talking to him in quiet tones. Whatever Moon is about to think, those thoughts are interrupted by a voice. "My Lady, if you wish I can escort you into the Ballroom," Sir Marc says, as he offers his arm to her. "I too, am a stranger in many ways in this Court." Moon takes his arm and is escorted into the room.

Esther looks at Charity for explanation, but before the young girl can say anything, Corwin steps forward to offer his arm. Esther accepts Corwin's arm after a half second's hesitation. Her quick glance at the other couples around them makes it clear to those watching that the hesitation has more to do with uncertainty about exactly what she's supposed to do than who's offering. She smiles at him, nods her thanks and uses her other hand to urge Charity to follow her. Anyone who can see Charity's face is absolutely certain that she has no intention of being left behind.

The King and Queen proceed to the center of the great ballroom, the nobles flowing about the royal couple in two great circles, women on the inner and men on the outer. Once in place, the women clasp the folds of their gowns to perform the most formal of curtsies as the men behind them bow. The King, his eyes still on his lovely Queen and the music soaring in volume, begins the dance, his court joining him and their Queen in a ritual that is as old as Amber Herself.

Kendall follows the flow of the crowd of people stepping away from the floor to give the dancers room, ending up near a small knot of newcomers to Amber it would seem, all watching the pomp and circumstance involved in the opening of the Ball. The Chaos Lord appears a bit more relaxed now, his hands tucked into the sleeves of his robes, simply standing back and watching the movements of the dance as well as those around him. He stays near the Ambassador at the moment, hovering behind and to the other man's right.

Moon looks over to Kendall and smiles, as she realizes he has ended up near her. "Looks like I crashed quite the party," she murmurs.

Kendall starts at the voice near him, apparently not expecting to be addressed. He hesitates just slightly, and then nods to her, his aquamarine eyes searching hers. He steps backwards, opening a space for conversation. "Indeed," he answers. "King Eric is most gracious in his welcome to his guests."

He pauses a moment, then introduces himself with a bow. "I am Kendall of House Chanicut in Chaos, Lord of Protocol and Minister of Friendship sent here with Ambassador Brisbane," a nod of his head indicates the other man dressed in similar robes who seems still to be watching the dancing. "We are here to open relations between our House and Amber. I, too, have just arrived in Amber." His expression is very intent and earnest.

She laughs. "I am glad to know that I am not the only person who is new here. I feel like everyone else has the script for the play except for me. My name is Moon, and I also come from far away places." She watches the group in front of her. "The dancing is amazing. Not something I've seen before."

Kendall follows her gaze back to the dance following the movements with his eyes for a time. He nods, "It is… adequate," he manages after a moment. He seems about to say something more, then stops himself, letting his breath out quietly before turning back to look at Moon. "If I may ask, from what distant place are you?" he inquires. His Thari has something of an accent, but more of a regional one rather than someone speaking a foreign language, as one who has simply learned the language elsewhere. His enunciation is very precise and formal.

"Originally, I lived in a shadow world called Earth. I lived in a pretty neat city called San Francisco. It was… is full of hills and there was always something going on or something to do. Then I got pulled out of that world," she says.

Kendall nods. "Of what House are - or were - you a part?" he inquires. "Do you have any family still there?"

"My mother is still there and my half-brother; she does not miss me. I miss my little brother though," she smiles sadly. "I came here through a complicated process. As far as I can tell the goddess brought me here." She looks at him with curious interest, "Where are you from?" she asks.

Kendall blinks. "Chaos," he answers, as though she should know where and what that is.

"Oh," she says. It is obvious that it does not carry the stigma that it does for others, "From what little I know about it, it seemed like a really neat place to live. What is it like?"

Kendall relaxes still more, but looks briefly askance, perhaps at the idea that she doesn't know anything about Chaos. "A 'neat' place?" he answers. "I am uncertain of your exact meaning, but indeed Chaos is the pinnacle of all reality." He states it as an unquestionable fact, then pauses a heartbeat.

"Neat, cool, fantastic…" she says be way of explanation.

Moon's explanation has not cleared up all the confusion, but Kendall lets it pass without comment, saying instead, "It is difficult to speak of the whole of Chaos except in the broadest terms. I am Chanicut. I may speak only for my House."

"Tell me about your house," she invites him.

"What do you wish to know?"

"What does it look like? Do things really change all the time?" She shrugs. "I hope I'm not being rude, I just don't quite understand what living in Chaos is like."

Kendall looks around at their surroundings for a moment, gesturing to indicate not just the ballroom, but everything. "May I presume that you have lived in an environment similar to this? For instance, in Chaos we do not have…" he frowns a moment, searching for the word, "clocks." His expression clears, and he nods. His pronunciation indicates that the word 'clock' is new and has no real meaning behind it. "We may always tell time by the color of the sky, which is ever-changing. The Ways, however, are fairly stable."

She watches the dancing for the moment, "My home is not much like this. We do have clocks. But we also have electricity and the dancing is much faster."

"Faster?" Kendall asks, some stiffness diminishing as curiosity emerges. He nods to the formal dancing. "Is it like this, only done at a faster pace? We do very similar dancing to this, but far more complex." There is a hint of disdain or arrogance in that observation.

She tilts her head trying to think how to describe it, "The beat is much faster. Actually the beat is louder than anything else and people match their movements to the beat. Small groups of people dance together, or just two people. There is more passion more craziness and well… more chaos." She watches his reaction to see how he responds to this description.

Kendall listens intently to her description, and something gleams in his eyes - something of interest, perhaps fascination. "Would you be willing to demonstrate this for me at some point?" he asks with carefully contained eagerness.

She grins delightedly. "I'd be happy too." She gets a hint of cleverness in her eyes. "I'll trade, I'll show you my type of dancing, if perhaps you would show me how to do this," she says gesturing to the spectacle in front of her.

Kendall considers this for a few heartbeats, and then nods. "I am unable to teach you how to do… that," he answers, gesturing a little to the King's Dance still going on. He is still faintly disapproving. "However, I may be able to show you - generally - how it is done in Chaos."

"I don't think we're invited to do that," she says looking at the assemblage. "I think we have to wait till after this dance is over. But when it is, I'd be happy to learn how it is done in Chaos." Her enthusiasm is shining in her eyes.

"I believe you misunderstand," he answers. "But it is of small account. We shall have to meet at some point to have our lessons. I am afraid I may be unable to this evening." Some of the excitement in his eyes dims and he seems disappointed. "I would be pleased to tell you more of Chanicut. That is why I am here. I am simply uncertain where to begin."

She looks extremely disappointed, like the high school girl turned down at the dance, but she shakes the look off quickly, "Tell me whatever you like. What do you when you are home?"

Esther strolls over to Moon and Kendall. "My interpreter has abandoned me for a charming older man!" she says to Moon in her native tongue. Charity can be seen on the outer edges of the dance with Bleys, and the smile on Esther’s face makes light of the complaint.

Moon replies in the same language, “And a cute one at that.”

Esther turns to Kendall and says in Thari, "Esther I." She extends a hand to shake and then hesitates as if not certain that this is appropriate greeting etiquette. She shrugs slightly and will continue to hold the hand out for a few moments to see how Kendall responds.

Lucky for both of them, Kendall has already encountered this situation. He looks at the hand with the briefest of hesitations, and then an ‘ah ha’ expression appears. He pulls his right hand out of his sleeve to take Ester's hand. He shakes it a few times, but it is clear he doesn't know exactly how long to shake, or how hard, or anything really. His hand is smooth and strong, and after shaking a few times he pulls it away, tucking it back into his robe.

Esther has a firm grip, and her hand is heavily callused. She seems to realize that Kendall's not quite sure about the handshake and lets her grip go just a little slack at the point when her culture dictates disengagement. She doesn't however pull back until Kendall releases her hand.

Moon tells Esther in English, "This is Lord Kendall. He's an ambassador from Chaos, House Chanicut."

In Thari, she introduces Esther, "Kendall, this is my friend Lady Esther."

Kendall bows graciously. "Fair Turn, Lady Esther," he says in Thari. "You appear to be a newcomer to Amber as well."

Esther sighs just a little at the bow and attempts a curtsey. "Lord Kendall," she says. She looks apologetically at Moon and Kendall. "Damn language barriers! I'm sorry; it's just awkward, and I don't like making it harder for you to talk to each other."

"No problem," Moon says, explaining to Kendall that Esther is frustrated with the language barrier. "We were discussing dancing," she says.

"Ah." Esther nods understanding. "I'm impressed. We don't do anything nearly so elaborate back home. Of course, we also never got this many people together in one place. At least not after the rains stopped."

She looks at Kendall and gives him a kind of half grin. "I am indeed new to Amber, all of about two days in the city. My cousin Moon's had less, but I think she started off a bit better in some ways. Please pardon me, but where is Chaos?"

Kendall looks a little blank for a moment, and then looks at Moon and back to Esther, nodding. "While it may previously have seemed astonishing to me that people have not heard of Chaos, I have learned much since arriving here in Amber," he answers seriously. "Chaos is many Turns away, although how many exactly I am not certain. We arrived earlier this Turn, traveling the Black Road at King Eric's invitation, to establish new relations and agreements between the Houses of Chanicut and Amber."

"How long did it take to get between there and here?" Moon asks.

"What was the trip like? My own journeys gave me no sense of scale or distance." Esther seems to be keeping about half of her attention on the dance floor, probably on Charity.

Kendall nods to Esther's first observation. "It is difficult for me to translate how long it took, as it would appear that our ways of telling time are not the same. I believe the term Queen Morgana used was—" he searches his memory for two heartbeats, gaze going distant. "Day," he finally finishes. "Amber uses the sun to tell time, which is not the way it is done in Chaos. However, the time of a day may be equivalent to a Turn in Chaos. It took us 20 Turns to travel the Black Road to Amber."

"I understand,” Esther says. She watches Charity dance with Bleys for a moment before continuing. “Although I've heard the term several times since arriving in Amber, I'm afraid I have no concept of what a 'house' is. From context, I've been guessing at some sort of family unit like a clan or perhaps a mutual protection organization like a union." She cocks her head inquisitively, looking at Kendall. There's something of the scholar in her tone, as if the answer actually matters to her as more than simply a polite topic of conversation.

"A House is indeed most often an organizational structure based upon familial ties," he answers. "In Chaos, Houses may number several hundred members, all at least loosely related to one another. The Greater Houses may number more. However, when counting members, one does not usually consider the attendant extra personnel, such as soldiers, servants, demons, etc. In Chaos, the Houses are ruled or overseen by a Duke or a Duchess. Here in Amber, it would seem they have elevated their House status so that their Head of House is a King. In the Courts, our King oversees many Houses. Here, I believe there is only one major House."

Moon follows, "I can't even begin to describe the way my world runs…." She goes into a fairly good but brief description of the United States. Kendall, at least, clearly gets lost fairly early into the explanation, not necessarily because he doesn't understand it, but as his first question indicates, "Those in power are chosen by commoners?" He is aghast.

Esther laughs a little. "My world had no aristocracy and no real government. Different communities had different traditions and rules, but there wasn't anything connecting them with each other." She looks at Kendall. "With regard to your comment about houses in Amber, my impression is that there are houses that are considered major in terms of the influence they wield in the city and surrounding countryside. Whether or not they fit your criteria…" She shrugs. "Moon, your world sounds fascinating. Do you think we might visit it some time?"

"Kendall was asking the same thing just a moment ago, I have offered to take him dancing in my world. Although truth be told, I was not often happy there," she says.

Esther looks a little sad. "I'm sorry for that." She extends a hand and almost touches Moons arm but pulls back. "I was very happy in my world," she adds softly.

"I am afraid something of a misunderstanding may have occurred," Kendall offers somewhat tentatively after a momentary pause. "I was suggesting that you might instruct me in your style of dance while here in Amber. I am not certain when I will be able to travel elsewhere, as my assignment is here. If you are uncomfortable returning there, then I certainly would not require it."

"It will be a matter of finding the music and if so, I'd be happy to teach you here or there." She pauses, studying him. "I think you would like it there if we were allowed to leave. I don't like my mother there or my living arrangements, but I love the city," she answers.

Kendall turns his attention back to Esther. "I believe the arrangement here in Amber may be construed as somewhat similar to in Chaos. There, each Great House also has several allied Minor Houses. These form a group with the Head of the Greater House indirectly controlling the allied Houses. Internal affairs are, of course, handled internally. But the allies are usually formed of Houses who have the most to gain from a particular cooperation."

"I think I understand," Esther replies, "and I'm sure I'll have plenty of opportunity to see for myself. At the very least, looking after Charity will require dealing with the rest of her House." She scowls just a little. "Of course, I wouldn't be here tonight if I hadn't needed to get official custody."

"Might I inquire as to why that is of such grave importance?" he asks.

"Baroness Mima's Will will be read at her memorial service. According to House Fardriel's librarian, she left the child a legacy of some sort that other members of the house will covet. What exactly, I don't know…" Esther trails off and mutters, "Bastards."

She jerks her chin toward the dance floor. "Part of the reason I'm paying such close attention is that I spotted her uncle out there. She's scared to death of him, and he's greedy enough that he demanded I hire a servant and a bodyguard for the child because he wanted the kickbacks they'd pay him. He won't do anything in front of witnesses, but…" Esther looks genuinely angry for just a second; then her face goes still. "The only adult that child had loved and trusted killed herself two nights ago. I will not have her hurt further."

Moon has an odd look on her face as Esther relates this story. Perhaps it is of admiration, tinged with a little jealousy. She looks to Kendall for his response.

Kendall listens politely to Esther's answer, but marks Moon's reactions with occasional glances. "Am I to understand that you wish to protect the child, as well as see to her best interests? Most admirable," he remarks, apparently unfazed by her remarks about House politicking or double-dealing. He nods to a passing servant, detaining the man long enough to select a glass of wine from his tray. He gives the women an inquiring glance, offering some to them, before letting the man go on.

"The death of her previous guardian is unfortunate," he continues after a moment, "but I would suggest that you are not completely accurate in your assessment of her feelings, since she obviously holds you in very high regard."

Esther also takes a glass of wine. "Given that she's known me only three days, I take her reaction more as a mark of desperation." She sighs. "Children were becoming increasingly rare in my home world. I remember when it was not so, but that memory does not make it easier for me to see a child unwanted."

"It's odd on my world, some children are wanted, some people go to great lengths to adopt children, and others are abused and mistreated," Moon says.

"Children are the future of the House," Kendall remarks simply. "It is our duty to protect our own. Would it not behoove her or you to consider the wishes of the Head of her House?" he inquires.

"From what I gather," Esther responds, "The head of House Fardriel is elderly and finds decisions a burden. Besides, my impression is that my patronage might benefit the house a great deal in the future. Assuming we all handle matters with courtesy, of course."

Kendall nods, sipping his wine with a gleam of perception in his eyes. She is speaking a language he understands. "Of course," he agrees when she is done. He looks at Moon. "And you are…” he pauses to search for a word, “estranged from your Family? That is most unfortunate."

"Yes, that is a good word for it. Although Esther and I believe we are distant cousins so I seem to have found a new one," she says.

Esther smiles at Moon and places a hand on her arm for a moment, just fingertips resting lightly. "I've been most pleased at getting to know you." There's warm sincerity in her tone, and Moon smiles at Esther, pleased.

Kendall nods, then glances at the dance that is finally beginning to break up. He turns back at the two women. "It has been a pleasure speaking with you both. I hope to learn more about your homes at some later date, perhaps."

Esther smiles and nods back with a very, very slight bow. She shows no inclination to stop Kendall's departure. "Thank you for speaking to us,” Moon says.

"You are most gracious," he replies. He bows and begins to move away, but then stops. "Your pardon, but I may have misunderstood something. Do neither of you have experience with formal dancing such as this? Or were you referring specifically to the Dance of Houses?"

Moon replies, "I do not know the Dance of Houses. I have a little experience with formal dancing, enough to follow someone's lead but not enough to hope I won't step on his toes."

Kendall nods slightly, then actually smiles again. "I would be pleased to lead you in one of the simpler dances this evening, if you would like," he says.

"I have no experience with formal dancing at all," Esther responds. "Where I come from, dancing is theatrical, very individual or very… um… intimate."

Moon raises one eyebrow, surprised at the description. "I would be very pleased to dance with you tonight."

"I shall inquire after you then," he answers Moon. He puts his empty wine glass down and his hands disappear into his sleeves. With another bow, he departs.

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In Amber: First Amber Dance

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