Dryden ignored the stares as he charged into the ballroom only to find Lord Caewyn leading the red-haired woman to the dance floor.
Perhaps the young elf lord wasn’t a fool, or he recognized the benefits of Lady Escadia’s title, wealth, and connections.
The archmage doubted Caewyn could appreciate her magic.
Even now, Dryden felt the whisper of it across his flesh. More seductive than the finest courtesan and more alluring than a book of arcane secrets.
Jealousy pricked him as the red-haired elf smiled up at Caewyn. Dryden frowned. Such emotion was unworthy of an archmage, especially in response to someone he was considering as an apprentice.
Yet, there it was. Foolish to deny it, but more foolish to embrace it.
He had to tread carefully. Escadia’s mother was an archmage in her own right, and while she’d married into the Lockheart line, it was well known that she had plans for her daughter. Plans many suspected that included a royal marriage.
Dryden paid little attention to politics, but he knew the woman dancing with Caewyn deserved better than anything Melisandre had planned.
He had to learn more, to gauge if her magic was as strong as it felt.
The archmage crossed his arms and waited until the music ended before approaching Caewyn and his dance partner.
“Mage Lord Dryden,” Caewyn said and dipped his head. “My family is honored you’ve joined us this evening.”
“I thank you for the invitation.” Dryden barely glanced at Caewyn as his gaze fixed on the young woman beside the elven lord.
“Allow me to present Aenwyn Dawnsky.”
A frown creased Dryden’s brow. “Aenwyn Dawnsky? You’re not Lady Escadia?”
“She’s up there,” Aenwyn said, motioning towards a beautiful raven-haired elf that had a large circle of gentlemen around her. “Would you like me to introduce you to her?”
Caewyn stiffened, but Dryden waved away the offer. “I will leave her to Lord Caewyn and his ilk. It’s you I wish to see.”
Her hand trembled on Caewyn’s sleeve, and the young lord laid his over top of hers. “Aenwyn is needed to chaperone Lady Escadia.”
“Lady Escadia is quite capable of chaperoning herself. But if you insist, than you can introduce me to the duchess. I’m sure she’ll be less-than-pleased to spend the evening with me, but I’ll tolerate her for Aenwyn’s company.”
Aenwyn smiled up at Lord Oakenvale. “Go see Escadia, and remember what I told you.”
“I can’t leave you alone with him.”
“You can, and you will.”
“He’s an archmage.”
“I’m Escadia’s companion.” She squeezed Caewyn’s hand. “I’ve dealt with worse than him. Besides, you need to work on what we discussed.”
Caewyn frowned. “If you’re sure…”
“I am. Now please, before he draws any more attention to us.”
Caewyn glared at Dryden. “You will, of course, be a gentleman. I’ll consider it a personal offense if you’re anything less.”
Dryden’s brows winged up, but he nodded once.
Caewyn sucked in a breath, squeezed Aenwyn’s hand, then disappeared into the crowd.
Dryden stared after the elven lord a moment then up at Escadia. “Fool’s in love with her.”
“He’s not a fool,” Aenwyn said.
“I suppose she’s beautiful, wealthy, and has a modicum of magic. Not entirely a poor choice.”
“And she doesn’t care a whit what society thinks of her, can be generous to a fault, and would stand up for someone she cares about, even against an archmage.”
“Love has no place in noble marriages.”
“You sound like Escadia.”
“Perhaps she’s more intelligent than I thought.”
Aenwyn’s eyes narrowed. “Or you’re both wrong.”
“You believe in love?”
“The twin goddesses of love are just real as Ionex or Dracor. Perhaps if more elves believed in Them, we wouldn’t be faced with a rapidly declining population.”
Dryden arched a brow at her, and a smile curved his lips, one that reached his eyes. “Walk with me in the gardens. We need to discuss your apprenticeship.”