Treacherous Tango: Margot Meets Dara

In the Hyacinth Room, sunlight filters through curtains and divides the floor into pale golden squares when the red-haired Chanicut servant opens the door to admit Princess Margot accompanied by the younger Chanicut Lord, with whom Dara had already toyed. Dara is seated with a smile upon her lips as she enjoys the wit of Ambassador Brisbane, who was himself seated next to her.

"Then Lord Elrumir stood up and pulled the Guuk from his backside, and I said, 'That wasn't where you wanted it?'" Brisbane finishes with twinkling eyes.

Lady Dara laughs like tiny Fil-Galinde bells as she pats the old man's hand in applause to the jest. Both appear at ease in this merriment, in sharp contrast to the two Chanicut guards standing watch over their Lord's safety. Seeing the younger duo arrive, both elder Chaosians stand slowly, each displaying stiffness of limb due to age or long confinement. Brisbane's relaxed smile is much more welcoming than Dara's keen, almost predatory gaze as she appraises the princess.

Kendall bows to his superior and then turns to give Dara a respectful nod. "Lady Dara of Hendrake, Ambassador Brisbane, may I present Margot Zofia Simone Annaliese Kataryna Barimen, Princess of Amber, daughter of King Eric and Queen Morgana, Duchess of Asius, Countess of Egyra, Baroness of Cesicul, Lady of Trorand."

Margot offers Kendall a small smile before retrieving her hand from his arm so she can fold hers together at her waist in a formal and respectful posture. "Thank you, Lord Kendallarithan," she replies with a small nod of her head before turning her attention to both before her. She inclines her head to the elder statesman and shares a warm smile with him as well. "Ambassador Brisbane. I believe our paths crossed briefly at the formal debut."

"Yes, a most pleasant affair till later… and you did look charming."

"Thank you, Ambassador, that is kind of you to say." She turns her attention then to the Lady of Chaos, meeting the War Mistress's eyes with an unwavering gaze. Dara takes the edge of her cloak in hand to perform a Hendrake curtsy as fierce as it is graceful. The lady's thinness gives evidence of her uncomfortable stay in Amber, yet it hardly lessens her beauty and strong features.

"Dara of Hendrake, once War Mistress of the Armies of Chaos, granted the task of destroying Amber." She stands upright, herself only a tad taller then Margot herself, and grants the Ambassador a smile. "A task even House Chanicut agreed with once."

"Thank you for your introduction, Lady Dara."

The Ambassador gives her a kindly smile like a favorite uncle. "Indeed that may have been true at one time, Lady Dara. But not now. No, I have found these Amberites as charming and as beautiful as my nephew has." He gives a nod to the Princess, before continuing. "And if matters are as dire in Amber as some believe, I would advise Chanicut to give whatever aid requested by the Court of Amber."

Kendall maintains his inscrutable expression even at that surprising admission. The Princess, however, blushes and casts her eyes down bashfully. Her smile offered gratitude to the Ambassador for the generosity of his compliment. "It is my desire and hope that our diplomatic relations will continue to grow and strengthen," she says.

Dara smirks at Brisbane words. "And surely whenever that Cycle comes, Amber will welcome the help of House Chanicut out of whatever dark cellar they find themselves in, fighting whatever is gnawing at the last door." She gives a bow to both of Chanicut. "Praise indeed, and something I'm sure Milady will take up with your Head once in the Ways of Chanicut."

Margot shares her attention between the Lady and the Ambassador, giving both their respectful due. "As our relations strengthen, if House Chanicut is able to support Amber in Her current challenges, I am confident She will welcome the resources Chanicut is able to provide." Her tone remains pleasant, her smile soft and her eyes bright and warm. Clearly choosing her words with great care, the princess continues to present a calm, reserved demeanor.

"Indeed, and such a pass to come by tactics and scheming that surely could never grace a Hendrake's palette. The Children dangled as bait to bring the might of the Houses together as one to finish a minor task some found… insurmountable," Kendall observes to Dara.

"Betrayed, we were!" Dara snaps back with a warrior's pride, her eyes suddenly blazing with anger. But the emotion drains as quickly as it arose. "But at least Chanicut's oversight prevented their Black Zone Retainers from amusing us with their bumbling." She again tips her head to Brisbane. "Which, I believe, you had some part in Ambassador."

"The Nizel would have been ill-suited to help at such a critical stage," the old man explains. "And per our agreement, we declined to use our House Troops in any point. Yet I've heard that Hendrake has made its interest known to the Amber King for Prince Brin, and any offspring produced."

"I have not heard that, myself," Dara says with a dismissive wave of her hand. "But, of the males, he would be the most yielding to our mating rituals and traditions. Being yet young."

"Unlike your own grandfather," Brisbane notes.

"Yes, and without the cost of my grandmother's life," Dara agrees.

It was educational and…fascinating to see Dara and Brisbane in such a talkative mood. The younger Chaosian remains quiet so as not to interrupt the flow of one-upmanship on display.

"You may not know it, Princess," Brisbane says, "but Hendrake is a matriarchal house that accepts any who can survival their trials. Mostly women, of course, but also men who prove their value in other parts and…bloodline."

His tone becomes sorrowful. "In Chanicut, tis considered a fate most horrible to be forced into a arranged marriage with a Hendrake. To pass their blood red walls, never to be seen again."

Dara smiles at this like a wolf, enjoying the fear.

"I must admit, this is a new revelation to me, Ambassador," Margot replies. "The Hendrake reputation is legendary for their savage grace and lethal beauty; yet the delicate nuances of their House structure remains shrouded in mystery. I am interested in developing greater knowledge." A nod of acknowledgement is directed to the Lady Dara before the Princess returns to amicable silence and observance.

Even for a Prince of Amber, the fate of being consigned to the Hendrake is one worthy of pity, and Kendall frowns a little with sympathy before changing the subject to something much more interesting. "And of what betrayal do you speak?" he inquires of Dara with the sort of bored curiosity that one might use to inquire after the weather in a Shadow you had no intention of visiting.

"From their Red Prince and his Sister, Sawall, Helgram, those fools in Court who panicked after Corwin killed the king," Dara answers. "Pale cowards in the Black Fleet, and even worse, those whores who once I called Sisters. They heeded Oberon's lies, seeing within them their own desires. So with only a push, what I built came tumbling down." But even in failure, she doesn't look broken or humbled. "I fought a demi-god, your Horned One, the Unicorn, so no self-reproaches. That, I refuse to give her!"

Kendall bows a little in acknowledgement of her accomplishments. Fear her? Definitely. Trust her? Unlikely. But respect her? Surely. This formidable Lady had accomplished much, even if victory had been denied her. "The Unicorn may see her realm fall in truth now, however," he notes. "Will you then see your objective achieved?"

The Princess remains quietly engaged while the others continued to discuss history she knew nothing of. Briefly, she spares a glance to the Ambassador, her expression warm and radiant in silent invitation for him to offer his insight to the current dialog.

"I believe, Lady Dara, there was more to the situation. Other considerations, polities, and various shortcomings," Brisbane points out. "As well, your own failure to summon the Serpent." This last observation used like a knife to pierce ego.

"I am surprised," Dara confesses. "I hadn't thought Chanicut knew of that attempt."

"Tis far more difficult to kill a Priest of the Serpent," the elder Chanicut observes.

"But he did die on you in the end, didn't he?" Dara replies, her voice like honey laced with poison. "Or surely Hendrake would have been dragged before the Royal Court. Or, what's left of it."

"He did return to the Abyss in the end," Brisbane confesses. Dara simply smiles.

"If destruction of the renegade House was your only objective, however, that achievement may still be savored," Kendall interjects. "Even if this required unification of all the Houses to achieve. Although perhaps… there was more to your plans than mere destruction."

Margot keeps her expression calm with some effort as the conversation swirls about her. Outwardly, she continued to hold fast her pleasant demeanor, quietly attempting to file away as much information spilled as possible. However, she could feel the continued reference of Amber's destruction — and more importantly, savoring their demise — beginning to weigh heavily on her. Gently, her fingers slightly tighten around his arm, the slight change in her grip lost beneath the heavy formal sleeve. Her thumb, hidden behind his arm, moved little more than its breath back and forth, taking comfort from the decadent texture beneath her skin.

"It would certainly strengthen your own position if I or Hendrake did decide…to savor," Dara replies, amused. "But with my confinement, I have little idea to my own House's plans or that of the other Houses. Yet if any do desire that which you spoke, tis Sawall."

Brisbane nods in agreement, to that and others things. "Yes, that would indeed secure the Throne for their choice."

"Yes, a pity, that," Kendall muses. "Your confinement, that is, as you so delicately put it. Yet even that has not caused permanent damage, as it appears. Hale and healthy, and now free of Amber's bondage."

Margot stands patiently, privately wondering whether this nonsense would ever come to a close at anytime soon. Even so, her thumb continued to smooth the luxurious fabric on Kendall’s arm, the only comfort she indulged herself. Margot vows silently to ask Kendall in private to explain what all was said and help her find her way out of the shadows she was forced to stumble in.

"Milady," Dara speaks up suddenly, her tone softer, like a mother's. "We three are born to the nature of our Houses. In mine, conflict is seen as the means to arise above…not others, but ourselves. The first boy, the only one I have ever had any affection for, I was forced to kill. For reliance breeds weakness, and love beyond mere pleasure brings mercy and forgiveness. Those get you killed on the battlefield."

She smiles, having told this tale many times to women who showed desire to join the House of Hendrake. "Tis not judgment I fear from you, Milady. Tis only I ask that judgment be fair."

"Yours is a tale that deserves more time and attention than a few strokes of a brush to fully appreciate the depth of meaning," the princess replies. "Lessons of conscious and conscience often come at the highest of prices and should be cherished for the enlightenment they bestow."

Margot returns the Lady’s smile, her tone mirroring the other’s soothing melody. "As I said before, it would be fascinating to learn more of your House and of Chaosian History, Lady Dara."

Once more her eyes shone for the three gathered before returning her attention to the Hendrake. "Judgment is reserved for the individual and while the past is something that cannot be ignored; I am far more interested in the acts of the present and future. Honor, loyalty to one’s word. A person’s deeds and how they perform under strife. Whether they possess compassion or conviction or if it is only rage and vengeance that keeps their spirit alive. These are qualities that I value and trust."

The Princess pauses, letting her words hang in the air for a moment as a smile finds her lips. Margot's tone remains respectful and warm. "I have no interest in condemning an individual without first learning of that individual, preferably from that individual. I would be quite intrigued to find you fearing anything that I could bring to bear upon you, Lady Dara, given the songs of legendary proportions dedicated to you alone. Still, perhaps I may offer some small comfort in sharing that it is you, the Lady present, I wish to know and develop greater appreciation fo. And to that end, what it is you have to offer and not the Demon Hell Maiden of rumors, night terrors, or tales.”

"Tis the same, Milady," Dara replies, a tad impressed by the young princess. "The giggling girl, the maiden who tended to the blood roses in her off-times, the famished lover who prowled the Halls for the foolish, the Mistress who held tears walking amongst her dead, and She who you call Demon, hands so slick with gore I could do little but add more. Innocents, women, children, even babes…killed and left in the Feeding Pits. Men, captured and abused, raped and tortured till only a sliver of their minds were left."

Her eyes draw Margot in, offering no excuses, no explanations, or even pride at the list of slaughter. "I am no tale to cause fear upon the children, or rumor to excite the bored. Few Hell Maidens are granted the title of War Mistress; you could be as old as your father to see that title given again."

"I've only known one other," Brisbane volunteers. "As a boy, not much older then Kendall here. In the Royal Court, a small little thing, scars on most of her body. Pretty, if you could look past the bodies she left in her wake on the way to see the King. No Chanicut man, however insane, would lust for a Hendrake Maiden. But we did, for she was glorious in her madness, to stride before the King and demand…" He laughs. "Demand, that the King would concede!"

"My grandmother was impressive," Dara agrees. "Her quiet death caused a great shock to Hendrake. In bed, no less, without a mark or wound."

"But it did clear the way for you, didn't it?" the old man comments, off-hand and little concerned by its answer as he looks to the view.

"Hers wasn't the only death that moved my army forward," Dara retorts. "Even in your own House, I counted three."

"Lady Dara, I've been in the Blood Halls. I've seen what's left after one of your disagreements," Brisbane warns. "It is said, you even killed your own lover when the Treacherous Prince washed upon our shores and first spoke of invasion."

Dara turns back to Margot, eyes as sad as her smile. "Some of us would never have your choices, Princess. So take comfort in that, for no other will. They may approve, but never will they take comfort like we who do."

"Was that, then, what gave you passage for the strike against Amber?" Kendall asks, glance trading between Brisbane and Dara. "A traitor of Amber who would sacrifice his own for the sake of ambition?"

"Mine?" Dara bites back with, her tone lacking the respect she gave his uncle. "I wasn't even a baby when he came. Others from many Houses were seduced by his tales and promises. Shadow, Amber, neither words held meaning except to the old or those stuck in their books. But in the end, he got his road. And I, a grandfather…Prince Benedict of Amber with my dazzling grandmother."

Dara returns her attention to Margot. "But you saw his reward, what this Amber's treasonous son did gain, burnt and scarred by holy fire at your ball."

Margot's eyes fall briefly before she returns her attention to the other woman once more. "Indeed, it was an interesting indoctrination; hardly what one would expect at a debut. Yet, it would seem the only constant among us is the exception to convention."

The princess senses her lover tense as the Hellmaiden steps closer — much too close for comfort — though he makes no movement and merely continues to watch Dara closely. She herself feels the urge to shrink away, to become again the wilting flower that was so easily ignored. But, how could she? If she could not face someone pressed into her service, how could she possibly survive alone in Chaos.

"And my reward could be much, much worse if you don't accept me into your service," Dara's voice is almost a murmur as she shares that vision with the young Amberite.

Margot smiles and her expression reveals curiosity even as her tone remains politely calm. "Lady Dara, am I to understand that you will suffer torments beyond what my uncle Prince Brand endured should I not accept your service, which comes with the blessing of the King and Queen of Amber?”

"I do not fear Amber, your Horned Goddess, Concerned King, Worried Queen, the snares of the Grandfather, the hopes of your Grandmothers," Dara answers. "But in the Courts, we aren't so kind to traitors or those without a House. My fate would be counted in breaths should I return, a race for each of the Houses to capture me with each providing a different torture leading to a different means of death. Even Chanicut, in one of their Silent Rooms so my screams don't disturb their tea; chained and lowered into the Abyss to be eaten alive is how I would imagine my ending by the hands of Chanicut. And others, far worse, not only a torture to body but to mind as well. Forced merging with another, our forms corrupted till even my mind would break under the strain."

This smile next, comes from dark part of her soul. Her eyes go to Kendall. "The Courts, like your home, have ugliness to hide. Has monsters, liars, and corruptors of the weak and foolish. And that is why your mother, the Queen, asked me to accompany you. We are tied with blood, you and I, and tied by gender and youth. We could become Sisters of the Pillows, where we whisper secrets and advice. That is what I can give you — words without lies, words without hidden intents. I will hold your fears, those tears, guard your back from friend or foe."

The smile returns, chilling in its savagely. "I will avenge you, defend you, till you find your place within the Courts or return to Amber."

Slowly, Margot releases a breath she had not known she held tight in her chest, her lashes fluttering as if to banish the sadistically perverse gaze attempting to pierce her soul. "Forgive my lack of awareness, Lady Dara, for my questions are not out of impudence but are born out of your very own explanations. The more you expound; the more riddles I discover. I beg your indulgence and patience while I continue to assemble the pieces you place before me so that I may develop my own appreciation for how our Paths may be entwined."

Her eyes move to the Ambassador once more, a smile for him warmed her expression. “You are quite knowledgeable, Lady Dara; and that you have shared many interesting facts regarding Chanicut has not gone unnoticed.”

Margot’s throat was getting dry. Maybe it was simply nerves. She contemplated moving, taking Kendall along in a slow promenade to simply put some space between them. Would that seem rude? Wasn’t the fact that this woman was invading her personal space on purpose to make her uncomfortable equally rude?

The distraction was infinitesimal. "So, we are related; but I do not believe that is what you mean when you say we are ‘tied by blood’. What does that mean? If you do not give Amber or any of her strength a second thought, why agree to enter into my service as my Lady in Waiting? How does such a role, one that seems so ill-suited for a warrior of your gifts of strategy and ferocity, serve you and keep you safe from this terrible fate you speak of with such conviction? Help me understand the whats, hows, and whys."

"All interesting questions," Kendall breaks in, his tone almost bored. "Questions whose answers may be long in the telling."

He turns a little, nodding to both the Princess and then to the Lady with equal gravity. "Surely you will speak at greater ease in comfort, Princess? May I escort you to a seat?" Ever polite, now playing the gracious host, to make his guests at ease.

The smile remains small, but kisses her eyes, her gaze softening as she turned to answer the Chaosian's query. "Thank you, Lord Kendallarithan. That would be most lovely." With a proper excuse, Margot brought her second hand to his forearm, still formal in stature during their parade but cherishing the few stolen comforting moments. Against his strength, she could feel her hands trembling; she only hoped she did not appear as disquieted as she felt inside.

Kendall takes Margot to a comfortable chair and assists her while Dara and Brisbane settle back into their original seats. He meets her eyes when she looks up, giving her a nod and a faint answering smile that is gone almost before it registers on his lips. Immediately upon her sitting, Siorys appears at her elbow bearing a goblet of wine, which he sets upon the table next to her chair. The younger Chaos Lord then takes a seat on the other side of the small table so that Dara and Margot are nearest each other and can speak comfortably, with he and Brisbane across from each other.

A soft offering of gratitude is whispered to Siorys as he gifts the Princess with the wine, the goblet almost immediately finding comfort resting against her lips. Words were eloquently woven together into a glorious tapestry, yet, designs still remained absent from the final masterpiece. She waited until all were seated and comforted, her thoughts churning in her mind. So many questions longed to be set free, yet she wondered how far she could test the patience of those gathered. Her innocence would only grant her only so much latitude; a truth she well understood.

Dara trades smiles with Brisbane, veterans both, yet Dara's seems more of a dare, causing the old man to speak up as the Hellmaiden raises her wine glass for a sip.

"Tied by blood can mean many things, Princess," Brisbane explains. "If I remember correctly, in Hendrake's…Hmm, a life-debt, or sharing an important victory in the kill. A close sibling, or a lover you've shared blood with in a bonding ritual. Or even one who is a close reflection to one's self."

Brisbane pauses, looking to his guests. "It could mean all of the above, even if you discount the bed rituals that bespeak of future desire."

Dara nods, impressed by the old man's knowledge.

"As to why she would enter your service, you are a means to allow her time to reclaim that which she lost," he continues. "That I will not condemn her for, for even in Chanicut you see that behavior at times."

To this, Dara gives a giggle.

"As to the last, while my nephew may have spoken the truth to you, its form has changed somewhat as new events unfold," Brisbane adds. "Even with Lord Brand's injures, he has gained allies within the Court. So in a way, you do have a House in Chaos to protect you. And as your servant, Dara gains some protection from those that wish her harm. By attacking her, they insult you, and in insulting you… Devlin, I believe, your mother's half-brother, may take offense, and so could your Uncle."

His eyes go hard, not liking what this line of thought could lead to. "Which means she wasn't as isolated as we all believed. Someone has kept her up on the events in the Courts, even in Amber, perhaps setting this solution for your mother."

"I would think, if all of that was true… Princess Margot would be even wiser to allow me to join her service," Dara says with that dazzling smile.

"That would be one conclusion, certainly,” Margot agrees, though remaining uncommitted in her response. "Your ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit should be commended, Lady Dara. That is, if the Ambassador’s suppositions are indeed correct. For if your stay in Amber has been one of solitude where you were left to commune with Shades, Specters, and Shadows; then the acquaintances you cultivated and the favors curried far exceeded any loyalties these Whispers due their sovereigns.”

Dara inclines her head to the compliment, her eyes bright like stars in the night sky.

"But prudence is a virtue that I am ever vigilant in my attempts to master, and in doing so, my questions do continue to flow and I must continue to beg forgiveness and offer gratitude in advance." Margot smiles at those gathered, taking another small sip to calm her nerves. "

"By your response, the Ambassador explained this concept of ‘tied in blood’ aptly," she goes on. "But, as I understand his explanation, he described in general terms. I am at a loss to see to which of these categories applies to our relationship specifically? Or is it that the relationship is with the Queen, and I am merely the duty that is binding the relationship? What is the specific nature of our ‘blood ties’, Lady Dara? I would know to what end the foundation of our relationship is meant to be built upon."

"At the basic, even a child could understand… I am here to help you, advise you, and protect you," is Dara's reply. "All else will come as it did with your lover — with time — unless you wish me to become a Seer and a-fix the Serpent's Tooth upon a fate."

She gives a shrug that sets off the scars on her shoulders. "For nothing in Court will give you the same. Tis water under your feet, and their words are the wind to your sails. But to build, for this first stone you need me more than you will ever know. If you desire a place within Chanicut, or the Royal Throne, or return to Amber — all of these I can give, or at least help better than any other."

She smiles, giving a playful nip. "But your fears of my desires may be a snake wrapped about your neck and arms. To the poison with my words, leading you to failure and doom. Yet at least, they will be my own words. Mine, not a House or Lord's or even, say, a Queen's."

A third sip follows before Margot sets the glass down, far enough away so that she does not fidget with the stemware. Both hands rest in her lap. “Again, Ambassador Brisbane explained his assessment as to why our destinies would be linked; how you serving me would aid your preservation through connections to my family; Devlin, Brand. But, what of Hendrake? Will they not stand in your aid? And how long am I of value to you, Lady Dara? At what point will you feel your ‘blood bond’ has been fulfilled and you no longer are required to aid me navigate the treacherous waters of Chaos?”

"I am a failure in my House's eyes, fit now only for breeding," Dara admits. "With Cycles, I may change a few minds on my return or regain enough honor that another House may wish me for one of their own." She waves a hand, as if to dismiss the speculation.

"As to the rest, I do not know… not even a clue. Yet would it matter if I could answer? For how can I say for sure when you, yourself, can not give any more reason than desire and him." Her eyes go to Kendall. "Milady, you seek from me what even your own heart can not give. For Fate is like the Abyss, and you never know what is at its bottom until you fall there."

Margot's eyes flicker between the elder Chaosians. “Pardon my curious tongue. There is a magnificent tapestry being woven before me, one that wishes to tell a great tale, but it misses some of its exquisite silk thread to help complete the image. I require all the information before I simply pluck answers from the sky without proper analysis and consideration. Recklessness such as that only ends in rash and painful consequence.”

"Is that's today's standard, Milady?" Dara asks. "For you are young, inexperienced, rash, and even foolish at times. But then, so was I, and am so again today. I take as much risk as you. For each question you ask, I could return the same."

She gives her smile again, honest of the fact. "So we are sisters traveling upon a Way that neither knows how twill end. For in Chaos, only you and I will be alone… without a House. And that is why you should allow me to accompany you."

"There is much of truth to the Lady Dara's words," Kendall speaks at last, slowly and with thought. "There are few guarantees in the Courts, no matter if the Court of which you speak is one in Chaos or one in Amber. I suspect there is nothing the Lady Dara could say in this room that would bring total ease to your heart and mind. But, remember that this would be a relationship involving both you and the Lady Dara and you both would have the ability to effect the outcome. It may be that you could come to be strong allies, or that you will begin to plot against each other at first opportunity. Think hard on how you would begin this relationship, to what end you would like to see it lead should you decide to accept her into your service."

Kendall’s interjection provided the needed pause for Margot to regain mastery of her emotions. She hated feeling manipulated, toyed with; like some child being shuffled around from adult to adult, being coaxed into taking her medicine with promise of some meaningless bauble should she comply. Where none could bear witness, tiny hands ball into fists, knuckles white with unspent frustration. Her expression, however, remains unchanged from its appreciative demeanor while she gifts the younger Lord with her full attention.

“Thank you for your counsel, Lord Kendallarithan. I am ever appreciative of the insights you share with me.” The smile is small, brief, and warm. Her eyes sweep to the Ambassador in silent invitation for his own advisement before she continues with her interview.

"I have little doubt in the validity in what you say, Lady Dara, regarding the dangers of the Courts and the advantages of a strong mutually beneficial relationship between us," she replies to the other Lady. "You are correct in your assessment in me; I am young, inexperienced and at times foolish and naïve. To have someone of your notoriety with your skills and experience at my side… that would be a gift of the Gods, without question."

Margot reaches for her glass, drinking from it slowly. “But questions still linger. This letter—”

She places the parchment on the table with the seal visible toward the War Mistress. "Who was the originator of the concept for you to be pressed into my service? To become my Lady in Waiting? Was it yours or the Queen's? What was the alternative if you refused the offer? What happens if I refuse to accept your service? Do you remain in Amber, returned to the dungeons? Are you returned to Chaos? We’ve discussed that there are those who wish you ill, so please, do not repeat that. And to whom will you ultimately answer to… The Queen? The Princess? Or your own Heart?"

"Did you ask the same when Prince Corwin gifted you his sword?" Dara asks. "I doubt even your Lord Kendallarithan could answer those questions, or even your father. What mine did the ore come, who swung the pickaxe or worked the bellows? What hand shaped the hot steel, what tree acted as fuel? Who polished the blade, even its edge? And at the end, who held it to the light, inspected its blade, and said, this sword was fit for a princess?"

She gives a bow, respectful yet still her choice. "You do none of these things when a battle is just beyond the door. You draw the blade, test its edge, then kill your foes." Again the smile, much too often. "And if it breaks, or turns within your hand… then find another is advice I would give."

"What I have asked my uncle, the King, or Lord Kendallarithan is not what we are discussing, Lady Dara," Margot returns, gaze not wavering from the other woman. "You present valuable skills, and your story appeals to my gentleness, of which you are undoubtedly well-aware. However, what we are discussing is the plausibility of a relationship between us. You are asking me to trust you, someone who wished to see Amber in ruins and my family destroyed. That trust comes at a price; answers that meet my satisfaction."

Throughout her response, the Princess remains calm and her voice soft, though a edge of authority had started to sharpen her tongue and harden her gaze. She could feel her patience waning; a place she did not wish to be in. "The questions are simple and straight forward, delivered with the purest of intentions. I wish to know what it is I am agreeing to, should **I **choose to agree, with my eyes wide open. I do not expect a perfect sisterhood, but I do expect a level of confidence."

"I expect to be your sword, Milady," Dara replies. "Used to threaten, or be drawn, even bloodied at times. And whatever deal I made with your mother shouldn't infringe upon that, nor would any with House Chanicut I care to make in the future. I am a sword, and you are the hand that will guide me. If I break, discard me… if I turn within your hand, and bite, then do as you must as with any sword. For I can offer no other words, make no other promises, whisper no other lies. I am as dangerous as your uncle's sword, yet as beneficial too."

She stands, ready to leave now if Margot decides against her. "Draw me, and faithful I will be to point. Leave me sheathed upon a lonely wall, then who knows where fates may flow next? For there could be heartache for you in Shadow, your mother could even send a note to her brother in Chaos asking to watch over you. Your father, the same, but with another House." She gives a wave of her hand. "For all my horror, I am a known. But for the rest…"

Kendall sips at his wine throughout all this talk. His gaze travels from Margot, her expression serious and becoming almost stern, to Dara, before landing on Brisbane. Curious to see if his mentor had anything else to offer, or if he also was attempting at this point to let the women resolve their differences.

"I'm sure some type of agreement could be reached," Brisbane comments, his mind in other dark waters. "A temporary acceptance till the Black Zone."

A satisfied smile slowly forms on Margot's face as Dara answers, dark orbs only abandoning the lithe woman at the sound of the elder statesman's voice. "I am certain of it, Ambassador," she answers before turning her attention to the warrior.

"Lady Dara, all that I require is that you speak plainly and as honestly as your honor will allow. You speak of yourself as a weapon; a blade of destruction… I believe there is more of you and there can be more of this." She gestures with her hand open, drawing a circle between them.

Margot's expression softens to match her voice, though her poise still remains strong. "Many forces will wish to take advantage of my inexperience and naiveté. If you are to be my Lady in Waiting, I need to know that I can trust you and your counsel. You are strong, impassioned, knowledgeable, poised, and confident. The Queen felt you were an ideal selection to enter into service, whether for altruistic or mercenary reasons. I suppose the motives are immaterial."

The princess lifts her glass and finishes the contents. "There are details that will need to be discussed further, but they may be addressed another time. For now, if the Ambassador would allow me to be so bold—"

Margot rises, causing Kendall to set his wineglass down and also come to his feet with alacrity, as was only polite.

"Please enjoy the wine and refreshments provided," she finishes her statement. "I welcome you, Lady Dara, and thank you for accepting the role of Lady in Waiting and joining me on this journey to Chaos."

Dara rises to give a deep Hendrake curtsy. She waits till a servant fills her glass, and raises the glass to toast her Lady. She gives a nod to the Ambassador, appreciative of his words, yet neither are foolish enough to accept anything at face value or given by a charitable heart.

Taking her seat again, Dara can only ask, "So only the journey, and not the stay?"

A nod in acknowledgement, perhaps a touch deeper than necessary to show her respect for the other woman. "Forgive my inclarity, Lady Dara. I welcome you into my retinue for the journey and the stay, with the finer nuances to be discussed in the near future. But for now, I believe the vow to avenge and defend until my place is found within the Courts or I am safely returned to Amber will suffice. For as you say: we are tied with blood, you and I, tied by the nature of gender and youth. Sisters of the Pillows, to whispers secrets and give advice."

The smile remains and is turned toward Kendall in thanks. "Please forgive me, but there are some things that I must yet attend to, so I must excuse myself if only for a moment. I would appreciate the opportunity to share a meal with you, Lady Dara, should our gracious hosts grant such a request. Perhaps, we could all dine together?" Her eyes drift once more to the Ambassador, giving deference to the Statesman.

Kendall bows in acknowledgement of her words and also looks inquiringly to Brisbane.

"I would be happy to entertain Lady Dara till the time of your need summons," Brisbane volunteers. "My old bones would just get in the way with the packing and such. That's a younger man's sport!"

He smiles to the Hendrake. "We could even start the journey to the docks, get a jump on all the traffic."

"Very well, sir," Kendall agrees with the Ambassador's suggestion. "Siorys will inform you when all is in readiness for us to proceed to the docks."

Margot could not hide her surprise at Brisbane's reference to leaving Amber so soon, her eyes widening and her lips parting. Quickly, she closes her mouth and turns to the elder Chanicut with a question in her eyes, perhaps simply seeking confirmation. The wheels seem already be set in motion; there was little she could do to delay the machine much longer.

"You have my gratitude, Ambassador," she inclines her head, her composure recaptured and her tone far more at ease than she had appeared a moment before. "Your hospitality seems endless. I must impose upon you and accept your generous offer to entertain Lady Dara for a little longer."

She turns her attention to the other woman, her gaze and tone warm as she continues. "Dara, I admit I have no appreciation for how your needs have been met since your release. It is my hope that we can leave the past where it belongs and begin anew, looking forward. As the Ambassador has continued to gift us with his benevolence; please join him in his journey."

Kendall extends his arm so that he can escort Margot's departure, as he had escorted her to the meeting earlier.

The Princess accepts the proffered arm without another word, allowing the Lord to lead her away and to a place of solitude.

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