His words weren’t a request. Aenwyn sucked in a breath. While she and most of the Empire knew of Mage Lord Dryden, what was said about him wasn’t complimentary. She almost regretted letting Caewyn go.
Almost. She wanted to see her friend happy more than anything.
Gathering up her courage, she walked to the edge of the dance floor then turned to face Dryden. “My apprenticeship? I’m the duchess’s companion, nothing more.”
“I can protect you from Lady Melisandra better than a half-trained wizard can, duchess or not.”
Aenwyn swallowed, and her eyes darted to the crowd.
“Come, let’s talk. I promised to be a gentleman, and I will be.” Dryden offered her his arm, and Aenwyn bit her lip but took it, forcing her hand to remain still despite the fluttering in her stomach.
The sea of guests parted before the mage lord, and he swept her outside and along the paths of the garden.
She could feel the change in him, feel him relax under her fingers as a whisper of his magic seeped through his wards. Sky magic, she was almost certain of it. Sky mages were some of the most powerful, though the title of archmage meant he’d mastered all schools of magic.
No small feat, and it was a testament to his tenacity as well as his intelligence and skill.
They were deep in the gardens when he took a deep breath and let it out. His magic flowed over her like the quiet blanket of night.
“You don’t like the crowds.”
Dryden lifted his shoulders. “Do you?”
“I’ve learned to deal with them.”
“To be Lady Escadia’s companion?”
“A companion is of little use if she never leaves her rooms.”
“And a mage of great potential is of little use if she spends her time as a companion.”
Straightening her spine, Aenwyn glared up at the haughty archmage. “How can someone as offensive as you have such serene magic?”
“The truth is seldom flattering.” He paused then looked at her. “You can feel my magic even through my wards.”
“It leaks. Less so inside than out here. Probably because you’re back under the sky.”
“Gifted and observant. You’re squandering your potential.”
“Not all of us have the birthright to get to do as we choose.”
“A failing of a crumbling empire.”
“I do what I must.”
“Which is why you’re hiding behind Escadia. Listening to her tutors and doing her work for her.”
“You can’t prove that.”
“I don’t have to.” Dryden paused beside a flowering shrub. “Can you turn the blossoms yellow?”
“Because I want to know if you can.”
“I never learned that spell.”
“You are an elven wizard. Can you do it anyway?”
Aenwyn frowned, but she accepted his challenge.