Courting Amber's Court

Another visit to the somewhat tiny room where the King of Amber holds court, the Chaos Lord finds their king retired for the session already. Nobles and hangers on still swirl and mill about the chamber, though, trading gossip and making connections in the endless political dance. He circulates among the idling nobles for a precisely timed 200 heartbeats, exchanging greetings, introductions, and vague conversation.

Kendall hears of a visitor now within the castle from the Royal Family of the Underwater Kingdom of Rebma; the return of the Princess Deirdre; and a gentleman guest of Princess Sand who has claimed to be from the Courts of Chaos. But as for rumors of he and Lady Louella, nothing can be heard or even revealed with innocent questions that probe like a doctor's knife. He makes note of the news regarding the additional visitors to Eric's Court; if things kept up like this, he might someday be able to think of Amber as cosmopolitan.

The initial rounds finished, he hovers on the sidelines for some heartbeats to see if anyone or anything interesting would occur. And across the room, his eye is drawn to a woman seated upon a couch holding a book in her delicate hands, oblivious to that around her. Maybe a young wife or daughter to one of the nobles about? Escaping the same boredom he is feeling by reading her book… each page a haven till it must be turned to the next.

Something about her draws him in, as if caught by the barest loop of Lord Serpent's tail, and Kendall drifts in her direction through the ebb and flow of the crowd. It takes a little time — the Lord pausing to listen politely to an elderly noblewoman encrusted with jewels, then nodding serenely to a disdainful man in the corner — until he finds himself next to the alluring woman's couch.

"Fair day, good lady," he greets her softly.

"Indeed, Good Sir," she answers without looking up, bringing her right index finger to those full ruby lips. Her tongue gives it a sensual lick before returning the finger back to the book and turning the next page. This mystery woman seems utterly disinterested in him, perhaps so used to men approaching her thus in Court that she dismissed them from her world long ago.

He takes a meditative breath, continuing to stand and watch the nobles eye him and each other. He does not intrude on her space by seating himself without invitation. "Tis a tiring, and none too original dance, is it not?" he remarks after a short pause.

Her eyes rise to look at him, one gold and the other of blue, capturing his gaze and holding it almost against his will. Like a traveler with a map, she passes her eyes over his face to mark each of his characteristics, judging them impassively as one would a road or a river.

"A dance would suppose a thing of grace, or at least, joy," she says with a hint of annoyance. "Both I think are lacking here."

He smiles impulsively at her answer, some instinct telling him not to play coy with her. "So true, and a perspective I had not considered before. Politics steals the joy from so many pursuits, I should not allow it to overshadow such an enjoyable activity."

Her eyes snap back to his, the gold molten and the blue like the sea in the middle of a storm. Her words harsh, unforgiving, like that of a headman's axe. "Cozen me not, Lord Kendall of House Chanicut. I am led to believe politics to your kind is like water to fish."

He stares steadily back into her angry eyes, expression turning thoughtful. "I have been but 10 Turns in Amber, yet have found already that not all Amberites are of a piece. Disturbing, but true. Perhaps tis also the case that not all denizens of Chaos are exactly the same."

"Yet we speak not of all the denizens of Chaos; merely that of Chanicut and its members," she says pointedly, a bit of calm returning to her face and voice. "Indeed when I took this seat, you were across the room observing the Court like a hawk high over a rabbit field."

"You speak the truth," the Lord agrees. "But tisn't necessary for me to enjoy the game of politics. Only to understand the rules and play it well. A fish does not swim in water by choice, but of necessity."

"Most true, yet we speak of men and not of fish," she corrects him again. She frowns, and her eyes with their pools of wonder and daggers for any other man stray back to her book.

A tiny frown draws his eyebrows together as he tries to unravel the woman beside him. "Would you mind enlightening me on another matter?" he inquires.

"If tis not a betrayal of home, or a sharing of a confidence, or of a matter most personal," she answers, proper and prim. "If your question are none of these, I will attempt to answer to your gratification."

"Nothing so dire," he assures her. "Indeed, I wished merely to know by what name I may call you, if you would be so gracious as to extend me that courtesy."

"The Lady Tatienne," she says after a moment, not quite answering his whole question.

"You are most kind, m'lady," Kendall replies. "Are you a native of Amber, or a visitor to this fair land?"

"Touché…" Lady Tatienne responds before waving over a servant for a glass of wine from his tray. She sips from the golden rim of the glass before turning her attention back to him. "Our Line stretches back to the earliest days of Amber and its founding. My House, noble in both blood and honor, stands greater than all others here. Our Fleets, so numerous as to deny the wind to all others."

"I see," he replies, eyes brightening with interest. "Such a noble lineage explains a great many things. Would the Lady be willing to satisfy my curiosity regarding some things in Amber that I have found puzzling?"

Lady Tatienne tips her dainty head in appreciation of his compliment, her sparkling eyes dull for a moment as Kendall again makes his request. "Yes, if they abide by my earlier decrees." She answers quickly.

"How is it that you are sitting here, alone, with no entertainment save a book?" he asks. "I would expect the nobles of Amber to find you as irresistible as I, and flock to your side."

"For these lips give not the shelter most men seek," she answers, quick and without thought as though these words are used overmuch. "For instead of filling their sails, I leave most drooping." Lady Tatienne gives him a most penetrating look, but he — adept at recognizing and deflecting attempted intimidation — merely smiles slightly as he matches her stare for stare.

Tilting her head just a bit, she turns her gaze to a group of noble women gossiping on the other side of the room. "As for the women here," she continues. "It would be perhaps more productive for me to move into the Royal Coops. At least there, I would get a few eggs between pecks."

"Tis never an easy thing to be the object of envy, though tis usually preferred to being the envious," he observes. "Yet you make your presence felt here at Court, rather than hiding away at your estate. Is that a duty?"

"A duty?" She pauses to think, twisting his question as if a rope till its ends become unraveled. "Is your question more about if I have a sense of duty, or is it more… assaying some flaw to exploit?" Lady Tatienne asks, a brow raised.

"Indeed, if the question intended to reveal a flaw, I would hardly admit it to you. I will take that part of your inquiry as rhetorical," he replies, tone light and amused. "As for the other, yes, in a sense. I find myself somewhat at a loss as to the social expectations of the noble born in Amber. At first glance, all appears to be what I might call a free-for-all."

"To disarm someone with honesty is not unknown." Lady Tatienne replies. "If all answers are cloaked in half-truths, the whole becomes a most bitter meal for some. Yet you could be correct, my remark just another part of our free-for-all courtly life. But I've heard the same of your Court from members of castle staff forced to visit in service of the royals."

"No, not at all," Kendall says. "Perhaps to the uninitiated it would appear to be disorganized, but once the rules are understood, they are quite stringently observed. I had considered the same to possibly be true here; thus my question to you. Though some interactions I have had have been unexpected, there may be rules I have not learned that would bring comprehension to the whole."

"Mere understanding…" she says with a half-smile, her brow lowered as if hearing what was expected. "A worthy attempt, one that will not only bring appreciation but also benefit to one's House."

Lady Tatienne merrily chaps her hands in applause till the noise brings them attention. She stares down the curious till the pair is unnoticed once again. "Civil war between your Houses must be a glorious thing to witness."

"Perhaps," Kendall replies, tone indifferent. "I have little interest in war, though I am certain my father's son Cedric could regale you with endless tales of his valor."

"I have no interest in being regaled," Lady Tatienne replies, her eyes only on him for a moment before returning to those in the hall. "This Cedric does sound engaging, but doubtful his tales would be welcomed within Amber."

That brings a full smile to her lips, playful and pure. "All good tales need a villain, yet I find that fit uncomfortable… I believe, I would make a poor foe for your brother's fibs."

"And what, perchance, would spark m'lady's interest then?" he asks curiously, emboldened by her smile.

"Freedom…" she answers.

Kendall's eyes widen in surprise at her answer, which cuts closer to the heart than he would usually admit. Realizing his vulnerability, he looks away, back to the mass of politics swirling about in the middle of the room. "That is quite a large topic of interest," he responds. Though he intends to his tone to be calm and distant, the words come out quiet and serious instead.

"Better to rule in Hell, than serve in Heaven," she replies, her brow raising just a hair in notice of what he had betrayed. "That's what one of the holy books said, found in a Royal's travels. I often wondered about that passage, to rule in pain and flames, but secure in the knowledge that pain was yours alone, inflicted only by your hand."

The Lord stares at the other courtiers in the room for five heartbeats without really seeing them. "Rulers and nobles have responsibilities, as well you undoubtedly know," he answers. He turns back to look at her again, his expression serious and eyes thoughtful. "To rule, even in flames, would not be to experience freedom."

"Then freedom has always been an illusion," Lady Tatienne agrees, recalling once what was said to her. Her eyes get a bit wild, worried now at the possibility that may be true after all.

He watches her for a heartbeat before answering, trying to decide if she would jump up and depart the room, or if she would calm herself. "I would not, myself, call it illusion. Perhaps, instead, fleeting. Momentary. As brief, sometimes, as the single beat of a heart."

"Neither definition gives comfort, yet what choice do we have?" Lady Tatienne replies. She turns toward Kendall. "Do you know I was near the top of the lists of marriageable ladies that could be used to seal any deal between we and Chaos."

"I see. Your heritage is long and honorable, and would be respected in the Courts," he says. "Is such a prospect what causes you distress?"

Before she can answer, a voice calls out. "Tatienne… Child, come here." An old man with a brow of heavy gray curls stands not far away. Cloaked in furs and attired in other finery, wearing a heavy wrought gold pendant of sorts with a house emblem upon it. Upon his belt, besides the trimmings of wealth, hangs a sword forged for Court; a thing of beauty, marked as a gift of the Throne.

Kendall has seen these sorts, but at home. Lords and Ladies wearied by Life yet with many things yet to do before they can rest. Driven to take the events of their lives and weave something better for those that come after.

"Tatienne…" He calls out again, motioning her to him like one would call a hound.

The Lady betrays nothing behind eyes or smiling lips. She merely offers a curtsy to Kendall, with a neutral, "If you please excuse me…" She leaves to join her father.

Kendall bows to her curtsy and watches her go, aware that a certain light had gone out of the room when she had been summoned. Suddenly feeling impatient with the idle venom of the Court, he makes his way out of the room, though more slowly than he would like, again pausing for polite exchanges. Yet he does gain a name before he departs from a young Amber noble with too much enthusiasm for his superior knowledge to know when to keep it and when to give it away: Lord Darren Lavelor, honored guest of Princess Sand.

House Lavelor rings no bells in his memory, nor does the man's name. Once back in the Vigil, Kendall looks in the Guild Record, the book that the Greaters keep of the lessers, finding there that House Lavelor was a Minor House within the Black Zone. No listed allies of any consideration, no listed ties to any of the stronger Houses. Not even the name Darren can be found under the house crest.

Kendall closes the book and sets it aside. Normally he wouldn't even grace this "Lord" Darren with the honor of a second thought. But his own presence in Amber by its very nature constituted abnormal circumstances, plus he has some time and boredom to fill while considering different ways to approach the Louella situation. So, he pens a note to this "Lord" Darren Lavelor and sends it along by Page.

Lord Darren, Lavelor

Please accept my greeting to you as a recent arrival from the most glorious Courts of Chaos, Blessed of the Serpent. Any circumstances being extraordinary that would bring members of a House of Chaos to Amber, I would be pleased to extend my greeting personally and learn of your journey, at your convenience.

Lord Kendallarithan qil Chanicut

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Discovering the Hall of Mirrors

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