Chapter 25 - A Crack in the Wall

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Kastali Dun

Claire was relieved with the king gone to Lincastle. His absence made everything feel more relaxed. Even the Great Keep seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. His presence shouldn't have bothered her, but she wasn't yet at ease with him, and bumping into him accidently always made for awkward moments. The only thing she missed was her time with Reyr.

Desaree made things better. Her new handmaiden was there for her every need, not that she was needy. Desaree insisted on doing everything for her, even though she had managed all right before. She tried not to protest too much because she was so happy to have a constant companion, and even happier that Des took such pride in her work.

As her handmaiden, Desaree went everywhere with her except for her magic lessons, which was a blessing for more than one reason. She wanted to keep Des as far as possible from Miss Witch. But she also wanted Desaree to have some time for herself.

On the fourth evening of the king's absence, a great storm struck Kastali Dun. Since Claire's arrival, it rained often to break the humidity, but nothing like this. After dinner she and Des went out onto her balcony to enjoy the torrential sheets of rain and screaming wind, laughing and spinning with outstretched arms until they were drenched and dizzy. Despite the late summer's heat, they both required a hot bath afterward.

Once Claire was comfortably settled in front of her fireplace, Des took her leave, mentioning something offhand about reading a new book Verath had lent her. With Desaree's departure, Claire sat alone, watching the fire crackle as she took in its warmth, glass of wine in hand. Outside the storm raged on. It was so cozy, and she thoroughly enjoyed the calm brought on by the flames.

She sat for a long time, lost in her thoughts until something strange caught her attention—a brief movement near the wall next to the bookcase—yet nothing appeared to be there. After studying the wall for several minutes, slowly sipping her wine, she saw another movement. It was so subtle, she would have missed it had her eyes not been looking for it. When she saw it for a second time, her gaze narrowed and her forehead creased. It appeared as if the wall had moved, but that was silly because the walls of the castle were made of stone. What she had actually seen was a ripple of the wall's fabric belonging to a giant wall hanging spanning the ceiling to the floor.

The walls of her living quarters were covered with these decorative hangings and tapestries. Most of the walls in the keep's nicer accommodations were outfitted the same way. The presence of the fabric warmed an otherwise cold-feeling dwelling.

Claire continued to watch this strange effect, subtle as it was. Every so often, just in one place between her bookcase and fireplace, the cloth fluttered slightly. More than once she laughed inwardly at the thought of ghosts in Dragonwall. Had the timing of the movements been any different than they were, she might have explained it away as something supernatural, but the timing was everything, for each time a particularly fierce howl of wind sounded outside, she saw the fabric flutter. It was then that a brilliant idea struck her.

Rising, she set her goblet down and went over to the wall, running her hands along the fabric. Beneath it she felt the cold, hard stones. She ran her hands along until she reached the edge of the wall hanging. Nothing felt amiss, but she wasn't convinced.

Taking hold of the edge of the fabric, she pulled it back. The stonework beneath looked normal enough. She studied it harder, looking at the seams where the mortar had been placed. Only then did she see what she expected to see: Near the area where she had first seen the disturbance, the pattern of stonework was different. The stones lined up perfectly without a staggered arrangement. There was a crack in the wall. This wasn't the kind of crack that comes with aging stone and mortar. This was a seam, even in width, traveling from the floor up towards the ceiling.

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