Chapter 49 - Preparing for Court (BONUS!!!)

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My friends, we are in the final stretch. I'm going to try and marathon these final six chapters and just post them as I edit them. So there MIGHT be more bonus chapters to come!

Kastali Dun

Desaree woke the following morning when Claire's guards delivered her wakeup call. It came in the form of a loud knock at her door. "Two hours before dawn," a muffled voice called. Silence fell again. Her stomach was already in knots by the time she left the comfort of her bed. She envied Verath, who groaned and turned over before going back to sleep. Lucky for him—he did not have to display himself before the kingdom to ask for an investigation.

She rushed to get ready for the day. When she applied the final touches to her hair and gown, she permitted herself another glance at her bed. Verath was sleeping soundly, tangled beneath the covers. Her cheeks warmed when she recalled his comforting arms from the night before. They had not yet made love, but she hadn't the strength to deny his company. His presence had especially helped last night, when all she could think of were her nerves.

She sighed, giving her appearance a final evaluation in her looking glass. Getting Claire to her first training session would be a real challenge; she had better get moving. Grabbing her beaded purse, she leaned over her bed and gave Verath a kiss on his forehead. She was about to stand and depart when his hand shot from beneath the covers and pulled her down onto the bed. There he wrapped her in his arms and gave her a proper kiss before helping her to her feet. "I will see you in the throne room this morning," he said. Her stomach tightened in nervousness. "Remember everything we discussed." Verath looked her up and down and smiled. "You look especially lovely today, Desaree. Off with you now. Go wake Claire for her lessons."

She gave Verath a tender glance over her shoulder before shutting her bedroom door. If only she could stay with him forever, locked in her room. Instead, she crossed the hall to Claire's room. The guards let her in and shut the door behind her. She went through the tedious task of illuminating the large interior of Claire's quarters. Once the main room was well lit, she found a note on the floor of the entryway. Someone must have slipped it under the door while Claire slept. When she saw the king's seal, she rushed to Claire's sleeping chamber to wake her.

Waking her charge was another task altogether. Because it was dark outside, she could not throw the curtains open and utilize daylight. She was forced to shake Claire until she was coherent.

"Okay...okay. I'm up," Claire managed to slur.

She analyzed Claire's disheveled appearance. "You look as if you hardly slept."

"I hardly did."

"Bad dreams again?"

Claire nodded before flopping back onto her bed.

If she allowed it, if she so much as turned her back, Claire would go right back to sleep. "Don't even think about it," she said, to keep that from happening. "Look, the king has sent you a letter." Her words worked. Claire vaulted from the bed and snatched the note from her, disappearing with it. She chased after her, screeching, "Oh no! We haven't the time!"

"Come on, Des," Claire groaned. "It's going to drive me crazy if I don't read it now."

"It can wait. Now, set it down and march straight into the bathing chamber for your bath." Desaree put one hand on her hip while the other pointed at the bathing room. Claire, in true Claire fashion, feigned a scowl before following orders. She set the note down upon her writing desk and sulked away.

When she emerged, Desaree helped her dress in clothing appropriate for swordplay. After she was happy with her efforts, she took a step back and appraised her charge. Claire sported a pair of trousers, a light blue tunic, which she tucked into her pants, and a wide belt to hold everything together.

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