Chapter 52 - Dinner with Talon (BONUS!!!)

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Kastali Dun

Claire made her way to King Talon's tower at dusk. His guards let her through for a second time that day. This time, she looked more presentable. Desaree had insisted she swap her day gown for something evening appropriate. She settled on a soft, dusty blue silk brocade with gold embroidery that buckled like a robe, covering most of her chest and shoulders. The embellishments covering the trim at her neck, sleeves, and hem, really set it apart.

"Good evening, Lady Claire." Talon bowed respectfully to her when she entered. He stood waiting in the large entryway. She returned the greeting before glancing around. Unlike earlier, his packing was complete and his main chamber looked tidy again. With his departure so close, she wasn't sure how she felt about him leaving.

"I finished packing just before you arrived," he said, as if reading her mind.

"Who will I send letters to once you are gone?" The words were out before she could censor them. She clenched her jaw to keep from saying anything else stupid.

Talon chuckled. For a brief instant, his face turned radiant. "You may still send me letters once I am gone. I believe the Sprites are familiar with parchment and ink."

"That isn't what I meant and you know it."

His only response was a smirk.

They sat down to a quiet meal at his large dining table. She was well acquainted with his dining room by now, though this time she would be on her best behavior. Just like the last time, the king's servants waited on them before fading away to become statuesque. It wasn't until they had their plates loaded and began eating that Talon broke the silence. "I was proud of you today," he said. "That is the second time you have held your ground in my throne room. You stood beside Desaree with evident intent."

Her chest swelled but instead of showing her elation, she shrugged nonchalantly. "Desaree is my handmaiden, after all. She's my responsibility."

He bowed his head in agreement. "Most ladies of the court would not have supported a handmaiden's decision to go against a court lady, let alone stand beside her. When you said it was a matter of honor, now I truly understand."

His praise left her heart fluttering. In the past she wouldn't have cared if he disagreed with her behavior, but now that there was peace between them, now that she knew him better, she longed for his approval. "Thank you," she said at last. It was all she could think of.

He took a bite of food, chewed, then swallowed and said, "Do you still wish to know more about the pirate raids?"

Renewed excitement clutched her. "I was hoping to, yes."

"Good." He appeared eager to grant her this wish. "I am glad that is still the case."

Talon began with background information before moving into current events. Over the past five years, Dragonwall had seen an increase in the number of pirate raids along the coasts. Pirate ships were usually solitary operators. They looted for their own benefit, and often blew their loot when they docked in other cities and or countries.

As Talon explained this, she took small, polite bites and listened carefully.

"But in this case," Talon said, "these raids are coordinated, indicating that the pirates are working together."

The raids often took place along the southern shores. Some were mild, with stolen goods and destroyed dwellings. Others caused death and devastation. "In the first few years, I attributed these raids to increasing costs of merchandise transport. If only I would have known then..." He shook his head as if at a loss. "It has been difficult to predict their movements. It is obvious that they are working together, but impossible to know where they will strike next. Their latest target was an island village, relatively isolated, in the Scattered Islands. They stole a majority of women and children for the slave trade."

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