Chapter 21 - Of Handmaidens and Deals

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Kastali Dun

Claire savored the company of her breakfast guests. She sat at her dining table with Desaree and Saffra. Since their trip to the market, they had become nearly inseparable. The challenge was thinking up excuses to keep Desaree from her duties. Fortunately, Tess was lenient where Des was concerned. 

This morning, Lord Verath was was a popular topic. It was obvious to both Claire and Saffra that something was going on between Lord Verath and Desaree, though Des refused to admit it. "We are merely good friends."

"He cares about you. He told me so." Claire was referring to the day in the market when she insisted on purchasing Desaree's shawl.

Desaree blushed. "I have already said—I doubt he meant it like that. You misinterpreted his words."

Claire looked over at Saffra and they both shared a knowing smile. Desaree was in denial—that much was clear. "Has he requested your company lately?"

Desaree frowned. "No. I have not been alone with him since..."

Claire raised her eyebrows.

"Since the evening when I was upset, after you attacked Lady Caterina. He..."

Claire and Saffra both looked at each other before insisting that Desaree reveal her secrets.

"He took me in his arms and comforted me."

"And you question his loyalty? Des, he cares about you."

"Friends are allowed to comfort too," Des argued.

Claire snorted. "Right...I think he's got more than friendship on his mind."

Perhaps Desaree was afraid to entertain the idea that Lord Verath cared for her as more than a friend. It would not have been the first time she expressed that kind of fear. Claire had heard Desaree's reservations before.

At last Claire gave up and sighed. "Well, I imagine when you came to the keep you never expected a great lord like Verath to single you out."

Desaree afforded them a nervous laugh. "I had very different expectations when I began working in the keep. I had different hopes—different aspirations. I quickly learned to hope for nothing."

"Des!" Saffra cried, looking appalled. "You always seem so happy. Why didn't you come to me?"

"I..." Desaree shrank down in her chair.

Claire quickly salvaged the situation: She did not want Des feeling guilty or ashamed. "What sort of aspirations did you have, Desaree?"

Desaree began chewing on the skin of her lower lip before she spoke, "When I came here, I wanted to become a handmaiden."

"A—a handmaiden? Seriously?"

"Serving as handmaiden is a prestigious job," said Saffra. "In Kastali Dun people in the middle class train their daughters for such."

Claire had not realized this. She had no handmaiden, so she was unfamiliar with these things. She knew that Saffra had one, but she had never realized that Desaree wished to become one.

"It was my mother's wish first, before it was my own."

"But I don't understand," Claire said, looking from Desaree to Saffra. "Wouldn't those of the middle class be better off working rather than serving? Wouldn't they rather have careers of their own? Look at Madame Rosanne."

"Madame Rosanne was trained as a Mage," said Saffra. "Besides, being a handmaiden is a job of its own, no different from any other, merely more prestigious. Look at Jocelyn. She has done quite well for herself."

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