Chapter 32 - The King's Arrival

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Kastali Dun

Claire kept herself busy in the days following the Vodar attack. She wasn't the only one. There was a frenzy within the keep. Everyone worried that there would be another assault. Guards had taken to patrolling the corridors moving in small units as they marched throughout the castle. The inhabitants were frightened too. You could see it on their faces as they rushed to and from their obligations at court. They never lingered in the courtyards and always spoke in hushed whispers.

Despite the king's absence, meetings in the throne room continued to take place overseen by the steward and the king's Shields. The keep functioned as it usually did but the strain of the situation was unmistakable; everyone would rest easier once King Talon returned. That return was imminent, for King Talon was set to arrive just three days after the attack.

As was custom for arrivals of important people, the entire keep was set to assemble in the large courtyard just outside the royal garden. Claire had never taken part in a royal greeting before, though she had an idea of what would transpire. Fortunately, Desaree was there to fill in holes in her understanding.

"Everyone dresses in their finest clothes," Des explained. "The ladies cover themselves in their most expensive jewels and arrange their hair in exquisite styles. It really is a sight to see. Even the servants assemble in their finest wares. This is how the keep displays its grandness. It reminds the king of the life he is returning to. After his arrival, there is always a great feast in the dining hall."

It seemed superfluous, but of course there wasn't a choice in the matter. Everyone was at the king's disposal, especially Claire. King Talon had made that perfectly clear on so many occasions: when he threw her in a dungeon cell, when he tried her in front of the court, when he forced her into servitude, when he refused to let her go home. It seemed to her that everyone in the keep was here for him.

Because it was such a big deal, Desaree spent upwards of an hour on Claire's hair, twisting it and braiding it into tight knots. When she appeared finished, Des stepped back grinning from ear to ear.

"You continue to impress me, Desaree, but what's with the mischievous grin?"

"There is one final touch for your hair. Stay here while I run to my room."

A few minutes later Desaree returned with a tiny bundle wrapped in delicate cloth. "I got this for you yesterday in anticipation of the king's return." She looked very proud of herself.

"Des...You did not have to get me anything. You really shouldn't have."

"Oh please! I know more about the capital's latest styles than you do, and I want you to look better than any lady here. This will add exactly what is necessary to set you apart."

Des handed Claire the cloth and she opened it. A fine silver netting covered in tiny deep blue sapphires tumbled onto her lap. She gasped as she eagerly picked it up, untangling it and holding it so that the stones glistened and glittered in the light. "Oh Des! It's stunning. Wherever did you find it?"

"I snuck down to the merchant's district yesterday. Verath escorted me. It was a secret because I wanted to surprise you. Here—" Des took the hair net and delicately placed it over her up-do, pinning it securely. "There. What do you think?" She held a small mirror so that Claire could see the back of her head.

"I'm speechless." She turned her head back and forth to gaze at the net's sparkle in the mirror's reflection.

"Good! I knew you would love it. All that is left is your gown. Quick—over to your dressing area. I will gather your clothes."

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