Chapter 36 - A Blunder of Words

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Kastali Dun

Claire's eyes widened in awe when she looked at contents of the box King Talon had given her as a truce gift. "It belonged to my mother, Queen Ahlessa." His voice sounded far away. While he spoke, her gazed fixed upon the box's contents. "I want you to have it now."

A diamond and sapphire necklace lay upon folds of black silk, gazing up at her. Each sapphire was the size of a coin, a quarter perhaps, with perfectly cut facets that glistened with the dark blue shadows of her face's reflection. The sapphires were held in place with a pave of diamonds. She counted six of them, each the color of the royal monarchy.

She ran her fingertip over the kingly gift, completely unsure of what to make of it; it was ten, maybe even twenty, heck, it was thousands of times more extravagant and valuable than any piece of jewelry she had ever owned. Part of her felt unable to accept something so lavish, so superfluous, yet, how could she refuse when he looked at her like he was now? His gaze was eager and his body tense. She caught the way his arms were held tightly to his sides, as if this moment created undue suspense. Besides, this was more than simply a piece of expensive jewelry.

For a moment longer she studied her gift, then she managed to find her voice. "I—I hardly know what to say. I can't imagine what it was like to lose your mother...I know she meant a great deal to you. I will cherish it. Thank you."

"It is to your liking, then?" There was the same suspense, the same eagerness in his voice, as what she saw in his posture.

"I'm smitten...Thank you," she whispered offering him a kind smile.

He exhaled and leaned back against his chair. "Good. I thought it would look regal with the blue gown you wore. There were no jewels of any kind about your neck. A gown like that ought to be worn with jewels—with those jewels." He glanced at the necklace before his eyes returned to hers.

She let her breath out slowly, turning chaos into order as she got a grip on her emotions. "It's an incredibly thoughtful gift. You impress me. You could have merely gone to a jeweler and purchased whatever you liked. Instead, you picked something that holds great meaning."

Her words earned a flicker of a smile. It was obvious that he was proud of himself, perhaps in a bashful way, since he appeared so shy about it. That alone was unlike him.

A stray thought occurred to her. "So, just so I am certain, you weren't angry that I wore that gown the other day? You and I do not share blood..."

"I have taken you under my protection, Lady Claire." His formalness was beginning to return. "You are my royal ward. You may wear whatever color you like. But I do admit: I took pleasure in seeing you wear that color specifically."

"Then you would not mind more of the same?"

"Hardly." The side of his mouth turned up. "Now, we ought to eat before the food gets cold. I have already taken up enough of your time."

King Talon he was once more. He stood and began to carve the large bird in front of them, the size of a small turkey. He placed a chunk of meat on her plate and then set about getting some for himself. She began dishing up several items: sweet potatoes, mushrooms in a cream sauce, caramelized carrots, and golden buns. It almost felt like Thanksgiving. Thoughts of the holiday reminded her of her family. For a moment her face fell, but King Talon's voice immediately drew her mind away from her melancholy thoughts.

He began by telling her about his time in Lincastle and what progress had been made with the Gobelin raids. She was immediately surprised by his willingness to involve her after so many weeks of being left out. One of her biggest frustrations after first coming to the keep was the fact that Reyr was the only one who kept her in the loop. Everyone else saw her lessons as the most important thing for her to spend her time on, forcing her out of nearly all opportunities to attend court, or be involved with anything.

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