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Bound by a dragon, p.1
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       Bound by a Dragon, p.1

           Linda K Hopkins
 
Bound by a Dragon


  Bound by a Dragon

  Book I of The Dragon Archives

  Linda K. Hopkins

 

  Published by Linda K. Hopkins

  2nd Edition, Revised and Updated

  Copyright 2014, 2016 by Linda K. Hopkins

  Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.

  Table of Contents

  Dedication

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Except from Loved by a Dragon

  Glossary of Terms

  Acknowledgements

  About the Author

  Dedication

  This book is dedicated to all those readers who know that you are never too old to enjoy a fairy tale with a dash of romance (or is a romance with a bit of the fantastic?).

  Prologue

  Keira watched as the great beast circled slowly through the sky, blocking the sunlight for a few seconds on each turn. Fire spewed from its mouth and dissipated in the cool air before the flames reached the ground. All around her people shouted as they grabbed their children and ran for their homes. Doors slammed shut, and locks slid into place as buildings were barred from within. Keira shook her head in amusement – a mere door wouldn’t stop a dragon!

  “Come,” Anna yelled, tugging on Keira’s arm, but Keira shrugged her off and stared at the monstrous beast flying above the village.

  The dragon had taken up residence in the mountains some six weeks back, but it had yet to kidnap and devour a single innocent maiden. But people had long memories, and the stories about the last dragon that had lived in the area were not easily forgotten. For many years it had peacefully inhabited its mountain lair, until one day it had suddenly turned on the village. Half the homes had been destroyed by flame before the creature was killed by some brave soul. The only questionable thing this dragon had done, however, was to take a few head of cattle and a couple of sheep. And since the dragon always left some form of payment for the animal taken – a small bag of gold or a few precious stones – the villagers didn’t complain too loudly, despite their fears of a grisly death. After all, the payments always exceeded the worth of the animal. But the villagers remained convinced that it was just a matter of time before the dragon set the village alight and snatched the village girls.

  “Come on, Keira.” Anna’s words broke through Keira’s thoughts, reminding her that her parents shared the same fears as the other villagers. “Mother’ll be furious if we don’t return to the house now.”

  “Stop pulling me. I’m coming!” said Keira. She glanced at the sky once more, admiring the way the scales of the dragon caught the late afternoon light and threw a thousand rainbows against the sky. The creature was heading away from the village, but before Keira turned away, it twisted its long neck and looked at her. Keira pulled her arm out of Anna’s as she met the dragon’s golden gaze, then watched as it turned its enormous body in a slow, fluid motion and lazily flew towards the mountains.

  Chapter 1

  The day was sweltering as Keira sat on her low stool, watching the crowds milling between the narrow lanes. The awning over her table provided little relief from the sun’s burning rays, and she pulled the damp fabric of her bodice from her skin in an effort to find some relief. It was market day in the village, an event that occurred every Wednesday and Saturday, come rain or shine, and Keira was minding the table that held her father’s carved wooden tableware. It was a task she shared with her mother, but as her mother had gone home to have her morning meal, Keira was at the table alone. She glanced around the marketplace and wondered, not for the first time, what her younger sister was up to. She saw no sign of her, but that was hardly surprising. Just that morning she’d suggested that Anna should help out more at the stall, but their mother was adamant in her refusal.

  “Anna is too young to mind the table,” Mother had replied. She hadn’t noticed Anna standing in the corner where she made a face at her sister.

  “Too young? She’s sixteen, Mother. Old enough to be married. I started working at the stall when I was twelve.”

  “Now Keira!” her mother responded sharply. “Don’t be impertinent. I’ve said that Anna is too young, and that is the end of the discussion.”

  Keira sighed. Anna did not have a grain of responsibility, so it was probably better if she didn’t mind the market stall. But Keira could not quash the rebellious thought that if Anna was not so spoilt, she would probably be more responsible.

  Keira rose from her seat, and surreptitiously lifted her skirts in an effort to cool her ankles as she walked to the front of the table that displayed her father’s carved wooden tableware. He was a Master Craftsman, and the pieces reflected both his skill and the pride that he took in his work. Each one had been sanded to a surface so smooth, it felt almost soft to the touch, inviting customers to run their fingers over the different items. His wares were sought out by the wealthier families in the surrounding towns and villages, and they even graced the altar of the closest cathedral. The items had been displayed to show off the quality workmanship, and Keira rearranged some of the plates to exhibit the natural beauty of the wood. She glanced around the marketplace as she worked – it was a riotous assault on the senses, where colors, smells and sounds competed for notice. Sellers shouted their wares, adding to the cacophony made by animals penned at the back of the square, while customers raised their voices above the din as they strove to negotiate the best prices. Merchants displayed their goods in every available corner of the square, leaving shoppers only a few feet to negotiate between the stalls as they pushed and shoved past each other. Keira always felt a moment of relief when the market closed for the day and she could escape to the solitude of the forest.

  As Keira returned to her stool, she noticed that something had caught the attention of the other merchants, and she turned to see a stranger making his way between the stalls. That in itself was not a cause for comment, as the village was on a busy road that brought pilgrims, traveling bands of mummers and other wayfarers, but this stranger was not like those who usually passed through. He was tall, well built and clean – unlike the others, who were often scraggly and unkempt – and he was well dressed. Very well dressed, actually. He wore a blue velvet doublet over a shirt of silk, with finely woven woolen hose that disappeared into heeled boots that reached to his knees. His hat, perched neatly over one ear, was also made of velvet, with a feather that curled over his other ear; and a sword hung at his side, the sheath studded with jewels. The man was clean shaven and his tanned skin washed – clearly a man of noble breeding. He continued to browse the stalls as he made his way slowly along the narrow path, pausing to examine the different wares on display. Occasionally he would pull out a small
leather purse, and Keira could see how the contents weighed down the soft skin. Some of the merchants called out to him, willing him to spread his coin at their stalls, and he stopped to banter with them as they pointed out their wares.

  As he made his way closer, Keira guessed that he was about thirty years of age. At twenty-two, Keira was already considered an old maid, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t appreciate his fine figure and powerful stride which exuded confidence and strength. She wasn’t the only maiden with her eyes glued to his handsome form, she realized with a self-conscious smile.

  He continued to weave his way between the stalls, and Keira was amused to see that his audience was growing. He was clearly out of place in the nondescript little village that Keira called home, and the shoppers nudged each other as he walked by. She laughed to herself as they openly speculated about the weight of his purse, but he paid no attention to the stir he was causing. Instead, he continued to browse the stalls – buying little trinkets at some; replacing the items with a smile and friendly word at others. He was almost at Keira’s table when he looked up and caught her startled glance. She looked away hurriedly, embarrassed to be caught openly watching him, but not before she saw the smile that curved his lips. She could feel his eyes on her, and she nervously smoothed down her simple, homespun kirtle, wishing she had dressed in something a little less plain. In two quick strides the man was at her table, where he looked down to examine the wares on offer. He picked up a bowl and ran his finger over the smooth surface, then lifted his gaze to meet Keira’s.

  “This is just what I’m looking for,” he said.

  Keira cast him a speculative look. “You’re shopping for plates and bowls?” she said. “Why?”

  “To eat from, of course,” he responded with an innocent smile.

  “But surely you have many plates?” she said. In fact, she wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he had plates made from pewter, imported ceramic or even silver. She had never seen such luxuries, of course, but she’d heard about them. And it was well known that Reeve Hobbes was in possession of a large pewter serving platter.

  “You’re right,” he replied, “I do, but I’ve recently moved into the area, and not all my possessions have arrived yet, so I need some tableware to tide me over.”

  “Wooden plates and bowls?” she asked again, her suspicions not yet allayed. Her father’s craftsmanship was fine, but she knew that it wasn’t wood that usually graced the tables of the wealthy.

  “Yes.”

  “Don’t you have servants to take care of such trivialities?”

  “I do,” he said. “My steward is quite capable of handling such matters, but since I’m here, there’s no reason for me to not tend to it myself.”

  A moment’s silence filled the air as Keira considered his response. “And where have you taken up residence?” she finally asked. “I wasn’t aware of anyone moving into the village.”

  “Do you always interrogate your customers like this?” he asked with an amused smile. “One would be inclined to think you don’t want anyone to buy your wares.”

  Keira raised her eyebrows, but when she didn’t respond, he continued.

  “I haven’t moved into the village, as you’re clearly aware, but rather into Storbrook Castle, a few miles hither. Do you know it?”

  Storbrook Castle! The name sent a shudder down Keira’s spine. The castle was hidden deep in the mountains, a good thirty miles away; and although few in the village had ever seen the mountain fortress, there wasn’t a child who hadn’t shivered in fear and delight at its purported horrors. It was rumored that the castle had once been the lair of a maiden-devouring dragon that had roamed through the mountains in days gone by. Children and adults alike whispered about the dark corridors where abducted maidens, held against their will, were forced to do unspeakable things at the dragon’s bidding, and where other heinous dealings occurred, too dreadful to be repeated.

  “Storbrook Castle,” Keira repeated, her voice dropping. “They say the dragon lives in the caves below the castle.”

  The stranger laughed lightly. “I hate to disappoint you, but I haven’t seen any half-gnawed bones around Storbrook. I have heard about this dragon, though.” The man glanced around before leaning towards Keira, his hands on the table as he lowered his voice. “How many beautiful damsels have been snatched up by this dreadful monster?”

  The man’s warm breath washed over Keira’s cheek, and she shivered slightly. “None,” she said, her voice matching his. “No damsels, beautiful or otherwise, have disappeared from our village or any of the other villages in the area.” She paused. “Perhaps our dragon isn’t quite so dreadful after all.”

  “You don’t fear the beast?” he asked in surprise, straightening to his full height.

  “No, why should I?” she said with a smile. “It hasn’t done anything fearful.”

  “But you must have heard about the monstrous creature that lived here before?”

  “I have,” Keira replied. “People say that it lived peacefully in the mountains for many years before attacking the village. But it seems rather strange, don’t you agree? Surely something must have provoked it to make it attack so suddenly.” She glanced towards the mountains. “As for this dragon, I rather like it!”

  The man stared at her in stunned silence for a moment, then swept his hat off with a smile and delivered a courtly bow.

  “Please allow me to introduce myself. Aaron Drake at your service.” The sun glanced off his light brown hair, highlighting streaks of gold that shot through the brown. It was held in place by a red ribbon, tied at the nape of his neck. His eyes were a light tawny brown flecked with gold, unusual in their lightness. Even his skin seemed to take on a light golden sparkle in the sun. Keira recognized the name Drake – Storbrook Castle had been owned by Drakes for generations, but it had stood empty for years. “And you are …?” he prompted, when she didn’t respond.

  “Keira Carver … milord,” she said. She glanced over her shoulder when she heard footsteps, to see her mother returning from her morning repast.

  “Keira,” she said, “I’ll help this gentleman while you go home and have your meal.”

  “Yes, Mother,” Keira said. She turned away as Mother began to point out the subtle colors of the wood grain and the fine design of the various pieces, but before she left, she glanced over her shoulder at the stranger. While her mother’s attention was directed at the items on the table, Aaron looked up and caught Keira’s eye, holding her in his gaze for a moment. The look he gave her promised future encounters, and she felt her heart speed up as she quickly looked away, a smile lighting her face.

 
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