Chapter 33 - A Walk Through the Garden With the King

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Kastali Dun

Claire kept her hand hooked around the crook of King Talon's elbow. She tried to ignore her emotions. Before today, she and King Talon had never physically touched. Even when he tried to kill her, it was his dagger blade that kissed her neck, nothing more. Now she had her hand against his arm. She did not fail to notice his strength as he guided her away from the crowd to the privacy of the royal garden.

The royal garden—which sat just within the courtyard of the lowest level of the keep—was a vast network of stone pathways weaving through beds of exotic flowers, shrubberies, and trees. It was a popular place for lovers and private conversations, as it granted secrecy to those who entered its midst.

Today the garden was empty because all those living in the keep were still gathered in the courtyard. As she and King Talon made their way, several minutes passed quietly, exemplifying the sounds of the garden. Branches rustled in the breeze, bugs chirruped, birds fluttered about in song. It was a magical place whose quiet she usually enjoyed. This time the quiet was too much. She wished King Talon would say something—anything.

Perhaps he had brought her here to apologize; it was about time. She hoped that he would. She wanted so badly to repair their relationship and work together on good terms. She also knew deep inside that in order to move on, she needed to know that he was sorry. She couldn't simply forget the matter—not without closure.

She stole a glance at him. His silver, brooding eyes were focused on the path ahead of them. There was no telling what his mood was from the impassive expression he wore.

The silence continued as they moved deeper into the garden. She could have asked him about his journey, or how things had gone in Lincastle, but she refused to make his job easier. Instead she held her tongue.

When he did finally speak, she was hardly prepared for his words. "Your gown is very pretty," he said, glancing down at her before turning his gaze away.

She wanted to croak, and her eyes wanted to bulge like a frog's. Had he...? She quickly composed her thoughts and schooled her features before he noticed. "I'm glad you like it, Your Grace. I thought the color would look wonderful on me."

"The color suits you well."

She kept her face forward to disguise her surprise. His reaction was far from expected. She almost preferred a scenario where he might have said something less complimentary. Then she would have had a reason to be angry with him. Now she had no reason at all...

A new and curious silence ensued. When they came upon a bench, he led her to it then sat down beside her, still avoiding her gaze. It seemed he was intent on looking anywhere except her.

The silence grew awkward before she perceived a faint sigh. There was a hint of frustration in the king's actions. She continued to steal glances at him in an effort to understand their meeting. At last he turned to her and spoke, "I was upset when I discovered what happened in my absence. I would like to hear your version of the story."

His words brought everything into clarity. Disappointment clawed at her insides. Just when she had hoped for an apology, his intentions became clear. He simply wanted a direct account of what had happened.

"I have heard strange variations to the same story," he added in her silence. "Please explain the truth."

"As you wish." Her voice was hollow.

She explained what happened the night of the Vodar attack, beginning with Saffra's vision, and ending with her plummet into the sea. She told him everything except for how the secret passages were used. She wanted to keep that a secret—for now.

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