The Ball: Stableside Stroll

On the way out the ballroom door, Briar impatiently shakes her head and wipes at her eyes, muttering something about "Damned fairy dust. I think I'm allergic." She detours (via a dizzying series of side passages and back routes, used mostly by the servants, but of little strategic importance) to the kitchens, to pick up a few carrots and apples for the horses. As she's filling up a small sack with horse-goodies, she stops and asks suddenly, "Or is there something else yours would like? Did it come from Chaos with you?"

Kendall glances about the kitchen with interest, accepting several carrots and a few apples, not entirely certain what they are but not wanting to ask just yet. He nods at her question. "Yes," he answers simply. "I am sure she will enjoy these, if this is what your horses will like. Do you have any…" he thinks for a moment, then ventures, "sugar… about?"

"Aha. Excellent notion…" She rummages around in a cupboard (the cook will have an absolute fit in the morning) and triumphantly produces a box of sugar cubes, adding several of those to her booty. "That ought to make them happy. C'mon, let's get out of here. I need some fresh air." Away from the stuffiness of the ball room and the crowd of people, Briar seems a great deal more relaxed than before. It's obvious that she just isn't used to or comfortable with high occasions of state.

Kendall follows her outside into the cool air, stopping outside the door to inhale deeply, looking up at the sky with its bright stars blinking.

She pauses, following his gaze, and points out a couple of constellations…

He is silent for a couple moments, then says quietly, "The sky could almost be in Chaos. It is changing, but it does not seem to change. It does not turn." He falls silent, and shakes his head briefly.

"Actually, it does. But very slowly. You can only perceive the change if you come out here several nights running, and see how the positions of the stars have shifted. I take it the sky in Chaos…revolves, visibly?" she says with interest.

His gaze drops to her, and he nods. "Yes. Tis… difficult to explain. But it would seem, if I am remembering correctly, that your, ah, 'days' are measured by the sun. Our 'days,' or Turns as we call them, are measured by the sky. It revolves, changing colors on a regular schedule. We have no need of," he frowns, thinking of the word. "Clocks?"

"The whole sky, a giant rainbow clock…" She smiles at the thought. "I imagine you don't see too many people running late, then." She starts off toward the stable at an easy lope, inviting him along with a gesture.

Kendall shakes his head. "I think such tendencies depend on a person's temperament rather than any external time-keeping method," he answers. He follows her, his eyes active in watching everything about them as they travel, expression brimming with curiosity in the light.

"I suppose. It's rather unsettling, is it not, coming to a place where even the sky doesn't behave as you expect." It's a statement, not a question — as though she's speaking from experience, oddly enough.

Kendall gives her a sidelong look. "Tis very strange," he admits. "Though my House holds lands in many Shadows, this is the first time I have been so far from Chaos. I find it… unsettling. I look to the sky and wonder why it hasn't changed color. By now it should have changed color several times, but it has not. And then I hear a gong of a clock. They are also unnerving."

"You'll get used to them. Eventually the only time you'll really notice is when you're running late, or if you're unable to sleep at night and counting the hours until dawn."

"Does that happen often?" he inquires curiously.

She is silent for a moment, then says, "Well, for some of us."

He nods, continuing on along the path. "You speak of unsettling experiences as though you are quite familiar with them," he observes after several heartbeats.

She smiles humorlessly. "I spent… gods, I couldn't begin to tell you how long… living out in the Shadows. I've seen more kinds of skies than I can count. Beautiful, some of them, and others terrifying… some both at once. Even small differences in something that fundamental can make the whole place seem wrong, though…I remember spending several years in a place where the sun crossed the sky from West to East instead of East to West, and I never did quite get my bearings there."

Kendall thinks about that for a while, then nods. "I understand," he says. "It was the strangest sensation waking up this afternoon…" He pauses, then abruptly changes the subject. "Dance functions seem to be quite similar between Chaos and Amber, though" he observes.

"Do they? Perhaps there's a common origin. Or such things could evolve along similar lines in any place where they exist," she muses. "I can't say I'm familiar with a lot of dance customs outside of Amber."

"But you dance with such skill and grace," Kendall objects, turning to smile at her. "Tis indeed a pity if you do not engage in the activity more often."

That seems to catch her by surprise, though it's hard to see by the starlight whether she blushes or not. "Well…thanks. It's been a long time, but I suppose some things you don't forget. Anyway, you're not half bad yourself."

"Of course," he answers, accepting the compliment. "Nothing less would be acceptable." He pauses a moment, then he adds, "Thank you as well."

"Don't mention it. Hey, you just intuited a colloquialism from context. See, you're getting the hang of things around here already." She grins.

Kendall looks startled at her reply. He has to think back to what she said. "Not half bad. It is a strange remark. But fairly straight-forward in direct meaning," he answers after a moment. "Your language appears to be quite full of such… colloquialisms."

"Well, we see a lot of travel into and out of a lot of Shadows…or do you mean me specifically?" She smirks. "Why limit one's self to only a few ways of expressing a thought, when there are an infinite number of effective turns of phrase to choose from?" They're probably approaching the stables by this point.

Kendall looks momentarily aggrieved. "From which to choose," he remarks. Then he shakes his head. "I had no idea what to expect when I came here, except what I have been told about Amber. You are not what I was expecting."

"Ahh…your pardon, Professor," Briar says, clearly amused at the correction. "I will go misplacing my prepositions, all my tutors' efforts to the contrary. So what were you expecting?" Briar unlatches the door, swinging it open and gesturing Kendall inside.

"I am not certain," he admits. "Although most likely, something very similar to Chaos."

"Mmm. Why would you think that, though? We come from opposite ends of the Universe, after all. There are bound to be significant differences." She approaches the stall of a big black stallion, who whinnies a soft greeting as she draws near. "Though I suspect once you get past the superficial, they'll be outnumbered by the similarities. Hullo, Horse." She pats the animal's nose affectionately.

Kendall gives her a look like she just said something completely beyond any sanity he understands, but then turns to the horse, looking the animal over with the eye of a trained horseman. "He is a fine animal," he compliments the stallion, not approaching the stall right away.

"Aye, he'll do," she says simply, pulling out a carrot and offering it to the horse, who accepts it with grave dignity, eyeing Kendall speculatively as he crunches the treat. Apparently, he is not the least bit put out at having been saddled (so to speak) with such an ignominious name.

Kendall looks down the row, his eyes scanning the other stalls. Then he whistles softly, a trilling call. A low answering whinny sounds from farther down the row, and Kendall visibly relaxes, smiling with pleasure. It is probably the first completely open expression all evening.

Briar glances over at him and smiles also, genuinely pleased to see this strange but fascinating fellow finally unwinding a bit. She places a couple more carrots and an apple in the horse's feed box, patting his neck and murmuring a few soft words in a strange tongue, then offers the sack and its remaining contents to Kendall. "And what is your friend's name?" she inquires, looking down the row toward the sound.

Kendall accepts the bag with a nod and then heads down the row towards the head sticking out over the top of the stall, obviously looking for him. "Vanya," he answers simply, stopping a little ways away from the mare, and saying something softly in his own language. Her ears flicker, and she sniffs hard at both of them before Kendall steps up next to her, running his hand down her neck and scratching behind her ears.

Eventually he digs out an apple, looking at it dubiously. He turns back to Briar. "What is this called?" he inquires.

"It's an apple," she says with a lopsided smile, venturing to pet Vanya's nose briefly. "The fruit of a tree, very popular among humans as well as horses." Horse appears to be enjoying his own apple blissfully as she speaks.

Kendall holds it up for Vanya, who sniffs at it a bit before accepting it, chomping at the fruit happily. She turns to snuffle Briar, and Kendall address the animal quietly again in his own language, though Briar hears her name. Kendall pulls a carrot out and hands it to the horse and then turns to Briar. "Thank you for bringing me out here," he says with a formal nod. "I will sleep better knowing she has been well cared for."

"You wouldn't find better care for her this side of…well, your own stables," she assures him.

"So I have been told before. May I ask you a question?" he asks. She nods.

He pauses a moment. "If it would not be too bold, I have noticed your manner has changed somewhat over the course of the evening…." he trails off as though he isn't sure what to add to that.

"You mean since we got out of the ballroom?" she smiles halfheartedly. "Big formal gatherings like that make me crazy. Or, crazier than I already am, I guess. I can't stand all the pomp and circumstance, the grandstanding…" She sighs, pulling a couple of lumps of sugar out of her pockets, one for each horse.

"It's so… artificial. People going so far out of their way to construct a tiny little world, so beautiful and orderly and civilized. And rotten to the core underneath it all, more often than not." She shakes her head, then grimaces, belatedly remembering who she's talking to. "I'm sorry… maybe in Chaos it's different. But here, these big gala parties are really just business as usual, only gilded and jeweled and draped with silk. I find myself wanting to stand up on a table in the middle of the room and shout, Would you people all please just drop the facade? You're not fooling anyone, you know.'"

She shakes her head. "But then, I have a reputation as a cynic. You probably shouldn't take what I say about it too seriously. Try talking to Morgana… she revels in the whole fairy-tale routine."

Kendall watches her closely as she answers, eyes bright and knowing. He smiles slightly. "No, such events are quite similar in Chaos. A time of politicking and dealing, mostly a celebration of the art of intrigue and attempting to get the better of one's peers. Tis quite popular in the Courts, and very few who are not accomplished in the game can be found in intra-House social gatherings."

"Which is your excruciatingly polite and circumspect way of asking me why the hell I hang around here, correct?" She smiles more genuinely. "It's a long story. But I never said I couldn't play the game. Given the choice, I decline to do so. That's all."

Kendall shakes his head. "Not at all," he answers. "Such an implication was not my intention. You give every indication of being skilled in more than obvious ways." He continues to stroke the mare, and it might seem he finds some comfort in her familiarity.

She pauses for a long moment at that, her mouth curling up in an almost fiendish way as she ponders several possible responses to that. Finally she settles for, "I get along. So, if it's not the undercurrents of intrigue, then what's so different about formal occasions in the Courts of Chaos?"

Kendall stares at her for a heartbeat before turning to look at the mare, probably for something to look at besides her. He looks the animal over carefully, making sure she has everything she could possibly want or need. "The, ah… the small differences are often the ones that loom largest," he murmurs, and then a briefly frustrated expression passes over his face before it goes back to his customary perpetually puzzled blandness.

"You mentioned proprieties earlier, I recall…is something the matter?" She looks around the horse's stall, wondering if the stable hands have gotten bone-headed and forgotten something.

Kendall looks back at Briar, looking a bit surprised. There is nothing out of the ordinary in the stall that she can see. "Something the matter with what?" he asks, following her gaze. Then his expression clears. "With Vanya? Not that I have seen. Your grooms appear to be quite satisfactory."

"Ahh, then it must have been something I said. You looked quite put out for a moment there."

Kendall looks puzzled again, looking like he wants to say something, but he waits a moment. He thinks over what she said, then ventures, "Put out. I gather that would mean… upset? Annoyed? With you? Not at all. With myself, on occasion." Vanya snuffles at his hair for a moment, ruffling it, and he reaches up with an automatic motion to smooth it back into order.

Watching them play, Briar smiles. "All right then. But you still haven't answered my question. Or is this the part where I should play diplomat and tactfully change the subject?"

Kendall smiles suddenly again, shaking his head. "Your pardon. No. I am finding it quite easy to speak with you. Tis… unexpected. I am uncertain what to say."

His glance moves away from her briefly, a meditative expression coming to his face as he frames his reply. "As I believe I mentioned to someone else tonight, tis difficult to speak in generalities about what is different when all is so…different. In your speech, in your taythen, in some practices. Tis… dizzying."

"Culture shock," she observes sagely. "No cure for that except to hang around and become acclimatized, I'm afraid. What does 'taythen' mean?"

Kendall's gaze comes back at her response. "Taythen. Hm." He has to think. "Tis an old word meaning…nonverbal communication? I believe that would be close."

"Oh! You mean body language. I see."

Kendall nods. "Yes." He pushes Vanya's head aside and straightens his clothes, brushing some horse hairs off of the fabric. She snorts and goes to check her feed bin again.

"Perhaps my expectations were unfounded," he continues, stepping slightly closer to her now that the horse had gone back rustle around in the straw. "In Chaos, there are certain protocols observed between members of different Houses. I am confused whether the guests here this Turn were all of House Amber or if they were from different Houses."

"Good heavens, no… only a handful were of the Royal Family. Most of them were members of the nobility. Some weren't even from Amber, just visiting dignitaries."

Kendall nods. "Such a gathering as this, in Chaos, could conceivably include only members of one House. The Royal Balls are quite larger."

"Seriously?" She looks impressed. "I'm not sure this would qualify as one of the largest gatherings ever seen here, but it could be called sizeable at the least. How do you keep track of all those people?"

Kendall shakes his head at the impossibility of explaining. "We do," he says simply. "Tis a matter of survival."

"Let me guess… it's a mortal insult to fail to recognize someone of importance from a highly-ranked House. Or is it just that you have to know which ones not to turn your backs on?" She smiles, but doesn't look particularly amused. Sympathetic, perhaps, if such a thing is possible.

Kendall thinks on that. "A combination of those things," he agrees. "Gatherings can prove quite dangerous, both physically as well as to one's status and reputation." He becomes, if possible, even more serious. "To shame one's House is…" he trails off, not able to find the proper word. He breathes out sharply, meditatively, then his gaze becomes more intense.

"To understand Chaos one must understand the Houses," he says abruptly. "Chaos does not move, nor does Chaos act, except through the Houses."

Briar nods, hitching herself up to sit on the edge of a railing, listening without interruption.

He looks away again, searching for the words. "This does not seem the case here in Amber. I must ask your pardon if I offend, but I simply cannot… comprehend… Here your King declared Brisbane and I his guests. As Head, his word is all. Yet there are those who do not… appear… to hold his word as their own, though they claim his House."

"Those, meaning Kiara?" She sighs. "Well, first of all, you don't offend. I'm not easily offended, even by personal insults, so relax. But as for Kiara's attitude…" She frowns.

"In Amber, one's House — we don't generally apply that term to the Royal Family in everyday conversation, incidentally — is… I don't want to say of no importance. A family can be, and sometimes is, embarrassed by or culpable for the actions of one of its own. That tends to vary according to each House's custom and the specific circumstances. But most often, except in the gravest matters, a person is judged by his own actions alone, and bears the brunt of the consequences without dragging his relatives into it."

To say that Kendall is floored by that concept is an understatement. He stares at her for the space of several long moments, trying to understand a concept beyond any reality he understands. He nods, hesitantly at first, but he quickly regains his composure.

"Without House, one is not," he says after a time.

"So to be cast out of one's House would be the ultimate punishment? To become a non-person?" She looks dismayed. "Good gods, what a burden that must be. Here, it's distressing and damned inconvenient to be at odds with one's family. But it doesn't necessarily mean you're an outcast…though in some cases it can, especially if you're talking about the Royal Family. The rules are a little more stringent for us, I think."

Kendall nods at her assessment. "Why is that, do you suppose?"

"Probably because our actions take place on a public stage, and our relations with outsiders can hinge on what we do." She smiles wryly. "So I suppose I'd better pass on to my father to have a word with Kiara about her attitude. But rest assured that she doesn't speak for the King, let alone for all of us."

Kendall does not look concerned. "She will do as she will," he answers with some disdain. "According to your custom, her dishonor is her own." He ponders that for a moment, and then he frowns a little at a sudden thought. "May I ask a question regarding something that occurred earlier with…the Queen?" he asks.

"Certainly, though I don't promise I'll be able to offer a satisfactory explanation," Briar says. "I have trouble understanding Morgana myself, sometimes."

Kendall nods. "She did something most… unexpected earlier. I was not certain, am not certain, what to make of it. She… she kissed me. On the cheek." He seems to be experiencing equal parts puzzlement and outrage. "Is such a thing customary?"

Briar's eyebrows disappear into her bangs, and then — despite an obviously desperate effort not to — she laughs. Quietly, but hard. "Oh, you poor thing. I'm sorry, please forgive me. I'm not laughing at you, I promise," she gasps, almost falling off the railing, then hastily dropping back to her feet and leaning on it as she convulses with laughter for several seconds.

Kendall stares at Briar, fascinated, and his lips twitch a little at her laughter. He moves a little closer to her without appearing to notice.

She hiccups, pulling herself together a bit and wiping her eyes. "It's not really customary at all, though as far as I know, there's no prohibition against it. It's just Morgana. She's convinced the entire Universe is one big friendly happy love-filled place, or should be, and that she can make everything all right just by being her own sweet self." She shakes her head. "She wasn't making improper advances, if that's what you're thinking. She just wanted to be welcoming. Maybe she thought it'd put you at ease — there's an irony, if you please."

Though he relaxes somewhat at her reassurances, he still seems nonplussed. "I am not certain," he says again. "Though she told me repeatedly that I should…relax." He shakes his head. "As a member of another House, and one of the Heads of that House, it was most… unexpected." The last word is slightly strangled, as though he might be having trouble being polite about it.

"If it upset you, then I apologize on her behalf," Briar says, finally getting herself under control. "Take my advice: chalk it up to a cultural misunderstanding and quit worrying about it. If she tries it again, turn on the taythen to let her know you're not comfortable with it, and she'll most likely stop."

"Brisbane was most disturbed as well," he adds. "But t'would appear no harm was done. Tis not customary for members of different Houses who are strangers to do such things. And knowing a member of another House well is not common. Similarly, you were quite… unusual. I was uncertain whether I should take your attitude to be flirtatious or not." He quirks an eyebrow interrogatively, another slight smile appearing.

"Oh, so you do have flirtation in Chaos? I was starting to wonder." She smirks. "But since you asked, yes, I was flirting, or trying to. Is that a bad thing?" She leans on the rail, grinning unselfconsciously at him.

"Yes, flirtation does exist. Most often only those who are reckless or young engage in the activity, however. Tis… dangerous sport." His eyes glint speculatively, but he falls silent.

"Of course it is," she answers promptly. "That's half the fun…though there's danger, and then there's danger, of course. So tell me, Professor, are you the reckless type?" She raises her eyebrows with an air of feigned indifference.

A pause. "I am Second Son," he answers simply. "Recklessness is not permitted." He sighs and reaches up to touch her cheek with just the tips of his fingers.

She looks at him wistfully, tilting her head slightly in acceptance of his touch, a complex mix of emotions playing behind her dark eyes. "It must be nice," she says softly. "Comforting. To know exactly where you fit in, and what's expected of you." She seems almost envious, but perhaps also a little sad for him.

"Tis difficult to conceive of things differently, yet… I have occasionally felt the desire for freedom," he admits, his fingers finding their way into her hair. Grief and regret move through his gaze, and he is silent a moment before he lets his hand drop. "Perhaps we should walk some more," he suggests, his voice a little rougher than before.

"If you like." Briar stays put for half a heartbeat longer, then moves off to say good night to Horse before heading for the exit.

Kendall bids Vanya farewell also, she coming back over to play with the folds of his robe. Finished with that, he walks over to join Briar, straightening his clothes again. He follows her back out into the coolness outdoors without saying anything, stopping again to look at the sky. It hasn't changed yet.

She also remains quiet, letting him pull himself together. Apparently she understands his dilemma, or at any rate isn't going to push the issue. But even standing at a short difference from her, he can sense a current of attraction radiating in his direction.

After a time, Kendall clears his throat a little. "Thank you," he offers. "I can see she is being well cared-for. And I saw Brisbane's horse is there as well. I will tell him."

"No trouble at all." She starts back up toward the castle. "I'll get someone to show you back to your chamber, unless there's anything else you wanted to see this evening."

Briar may at first think she's mishearing, but Kendall actually chuckles. "That statement may be considered inviting even to a Chaosian," he observes wryly. "Would you please explain to me the joke about a… 'stroll in the hay'?"

The discussion this question engenders keeps them occupied all the way back to the castle, where they pause again in the shadows near the door to the kitchen. The party is dying, the noise of talking, laughter, and music dimming. Kendall looks at Briar and bows slightly before they head back inside. "I would be most pleased to accompany you on our next tour, if you are also still amenable. You are a… pleasant companion. Thank you again."

"Likewise, and I'd be happy to show you around further. Give me a day or two to pick out some appropriate destinations and rearrange my schedule — oh, and you'd better send someone to let me know when you'll be available to sight-see. I imagine you'll have other things to occupy your attention as well." She smiles ruefully.

Kendall nods. "Very true. I shall see to it as soon as I am able." He stares at her for a pregnant pause, debating something within those few heartbeats before suddenly closing the distance between them. His eyes catch the soft light, glowing like a cat's, and his expression is of someone whose curiosity has finally gotten the better of him as he leans in to kiss her lightly on the lips.

Caught by surprise, Briar freezes for half a heartbeat; then she willingly leans into the kiss, returning it rather more boldly. Her hands stay clasped behind her back, however, for the moment — perhaps she doesn't trust them to behave themselves. The fine hairs on her forearms and at the back of her neck stand on end, as though charged with a mild electric current.

When she doesn't pull away, he deepens the kiss, his fingers trailing lightly up her arm and tickling her neck before running down her back. She actually giggles a little, arching her back and nestling closer, sliding her hands around his waist and slowly up toward his shoulder blades. As they press closer to each other, Briar can feel the heat of his body radiating through the thick robe.

He moves his kisses down to her neck, nibbling lightly before he begins to pull away. They're both breathing heavily, and his pupils are dilated, though that could be put to the dim light. Kendall's expression betrays inner turmoil for a moment, though he might have more of the aspect of a scientist conducting an experiment rather than someone caught up in passion. Yet his skin is definitely flushed.

Though she doesn't try to stop him from drawing away, her manner makes it clear that he would have been welcome to carry on if he had cared to. She blinks a couple of times, fanning herself and panting softly. "Well. It seems some things do bridge the cultural divide. Fancy that," she remarks breathlessly, but there's no sign of levity in her expression. Just an intensity of gaze that speaks volumes.

The fingers of one hand tangle in her hair, his other hand massaging her waist and lower back in sensuous caresses. He nods in agreement to her statement. "Perhaps some recklessness still resides in Chanicut after all," he remarks quietly, and a faint smile turns his lips up ever so slightly.

"What's life without a little risk now and then?" She keeps still for a moment, shutting her eyes and apparently very appreciative of the massage. "Mmmm. That's nice. But maybe we'd better head back inside," she says, reluctantly. "Before we go from reckless to downright rash…" Something about the way she says it seems to invite him to contradict her, but it seems she's leaving the ball in his court.

For just a few seconds, it seems he's going to accept her unspoken invitation. The pressure of his body against hers increases as he leans towards her, hands tightening on her to draw her back into his embrace. But then, a thought flashes across his eyes. Clear as day, Briar can see something — a memory or a warning perhaps — go through his head, and he stiffens up again, letting go and then stepping completely away from her. His skin has gone from flushed to pale, and he folds his hands into his robes again, abruptly, tension apparent in his stance.

"Your… pardon," he manages, pulling his distance back around him. "Such was not my intent."

Not entirely surprised, though perhaps a trifle disappointed, Briar exhales slowly, letting her own excitement drain away. It seems she must have had some practice at such things. Rearranging her expression into something more appropriate, she steps toward the door, letting him re-establish his personal space without interference.

Kendall remains still for a time, turned partly away with his face shadowed, thoughts distant as he slowly calms. Then coming out of his broodings, he almost compulsively straightens his clothes and runs his fingers through his hair, becoming once again the completely neat and collected representative from Chanicut.

"I make it a rule never to pardon people who haven't done anything wrong," she says firmly when he finally turns back to her. She pulls the door open and gestures to him to enter. "It sets a bad precedent. C'mon, Professor. I'll get someone to see you back to the festivities."

He nods. "I appreciate all of your efforts on my behalf," he answers as he precedes her inside. He seems disinclined to talk as they return through the castle halls, instead studying his surroundings — and particularly Briar, as she walks slightly ahead of him — with his characteristic intensity.

And Briar, once more the coolly efficient Captain of the Guard, quickly locates someone who can escort the Chaosian back to the ballroom. "By your leave, Lord Kendall, I'll be returning to my duties now," she says briskly, standing more or less at parade rest at a properly respectful distance. "Rest well; I look forward to our next meeting."

Kendall bows deeply to her. "Pleasant Turning, Captain Briar," he answers, returning her formality. "T'laya qin sal'tharen dal peth'han. May you sleep in the Serpent's embrace."

She cocks one eyebrow slightly at this not-entirely-appealing prospect, but forebears to comment; instead nodding politely in acknowledgement before striding purposefully away down the corridor.

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The Ball: One Last Dance

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