dragon archives 04 - dance with a dragon

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Authors: linda k hopkins
Rupert was swarthy and well-built. Alfred was charming, Rupert was brooding. When Alfred smiled, Rupert glowered. Alfred loved pleasant society, talking, dancing and feasting, whereas Rupert wanted nothing more than to leave the palace and go hunting. He had a hunting lodge a day’s ride from the palace, and he would retreat there with only one or two servants for company. Alfred’s caution and restraint were well-known, but Rupert’s resolute decision-making was praised. Alfred had been overheard more than once complaining that Rupert cared nothing about the loyal subjects of the land, whereas it was known that Rupert considered his brother dull and witless, his love of clothes and dancing an indication of his simplemindedness. The only thing the brothers seemed to have in common was a love for women. Both men had mistresses and lovers scattered around the countryside, but whereas the whole court gossiped about Alfred’s affairs, the names of Rupert’s lovers were only mentioned in quiet whispers. But that did not stop the women loving him, and Anna could hear his name being whispered as the women in the crowd strained to catch a glimpse of the darkly handsome prince.
    He was standing in the shadows behind the king, but the look of boredom in his countenance was clearly evident. He wore his hair short, unusual for men at court, and his clothes, while fine, did not display the bright hues so many other noblemen paraded. His glance fell on Alfred’s back, and his eyes narrowed slightly, but when his gaze moved to his nephew, John, his features softened, and a slight smile tugged at his lips.
    Anna’s gaze returned to the royal couple as King Alfred and Queen Matilda stepped out from the doorway while the crowd parted to make way. The women sunk into low curtseys while the men bowed. Rupert stepped out behind them, his arms crossed over his chest, followed by an entourage of royal courtiers. His eyes swept over the crowd, lingering for a slight moment on Anna before moving on.
    “Isn’t he handsome?” Kathleen whispered next to her.
    “He’s all right, I suppose,” Anna said with a shrug. There was only one man Anna considered truly handsome, but he was gone forever. From where Anna stood, she could see Aaron and Keira, and she watched as the king drew close to the Dragon Master. Aaron nodded briefly, his eyes meeting Alfred’s, and Alfred nodded in return before moving on. She could hear people whispering around her, surprised at Aaron’s lack of homage.
    “Who is that man?” Kathleen whispered, nodding in Aaron’s direction.
    “Aaron Drake,” Anna replied.
    “He didn’t bow to the king.”
    “No. He’s a …” Anna paused. “He’s a good friend of the king’s.”
    As the royal couple made their way across the courtyard to the lawns, the musicians, who had stopped playing at the royal appearance, started once more. A group of women trailed after the queen, and from time to time she turned to say something to them.
    “Who do you think those women are?” Anna said to Kathleen.
    “Probably her ladies-in-waiting,” Kathleen replied. “My grandmother served the last queen.”
    As Anna and Kathleen walked behind the crowds, Anna saw Aaron just a short way up ahead, towering over the rest of the crowd. “Aaron,” she said softly, knowing he could easily hear her above the hubbub. He turned with a smile and a quick word to Keira.
    Anna led Kathleen towards them. “I was wondering what had happened to you,” Keira said.
    “I found a friend,” Anna said. “This is Mistress Kathleen Hobart.”
    “Mistress Hobart,” Keira said with a smile. Kathleen smiled back, but the smile fled a moment later when she looked at Aaron.
    “Mistress Hobart? Daughter of Richard Hobart? Earl of Riverton?” Aaron said. Kathleen looked down at the ground and nodded slightly. “I know your grandmother, my lady,” Aaron continued, his tone softer. “She’s a good woman.” Kathleen glanced up with a shy

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