Chapter 30

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Keira's parents had been given a guest bedchamber on the same floor as Anna, and it was here that Keira and Aaron found them a short while later. Father lay on the bed, propped against a pile of pillows, with a thick quilt covering his legs. Mother sat in a chair beside him; she held a damp cloth in one hand and a cup of wine in the other. Father looked up with a wide smile as the pair walked in.

"It's good of you to join us, Keira," Mother said. "And Aaron! I was wondering what happened to you. We didn't see you again after you left to find the dragon. You didn't run away, did you?"

Keira looked at Aaron, startled. She'd forgotten that Mother didn't know Aaron's true identity, and from his expression, she guessed the thought had slipped his mind, too.

"Well, er," he stammered. It was the first time Keira had ever seen him at a loss for words. "By the time I returned to the clearing, everyone was gone, so I made my way back to Storbrook."

"Why didn't you return with the dragon?" Mother said. "It carried us on its back. Surely it could have carried you, too."

"Oh, no," Aaron replied. "A Drake cannot be carried by a dragon."

"Oh?" Mother said. "Why not?"

"Tradition," he said. Mother frowned as Father watched in amusement.

"I'm sure there's an explanation beyond our comprehension, Jenny," he said gently. Mother looked at Aaron with narrowed eyes and pursed lips.

"I'm sure you're right," she reluctantly agreed.

"Aaron," Father said, turning to look at him. "Son. Thank you for all you've done. You were forced into a difficult position, but your actions were honorable. I'm proud to have you in my family, and hope you'll consider me part of yours."

Keira looked at her father in astonishment before turning to Aaron. He stared at Father for a moment, then strode forward and clasped the injured man's hand in his own. "I am honored to be called your son, and my blood ensures you'll forever be bound to me and my family." A look of understanding passed between the two men before Aaron stepped back and glanced around the room.

"Where's Anna?" he said. "I thought she'd be with you."

With a flash of guilt, Keira realized that she had forgotten her sister.

"We haven't seen her," Mother said. "We thought maybe she was with you." Aaron threw Keira an amused glance, and she looked down as a flush rose in her cheeks.

"I think they were otherwise occupied, my love," Father said with a laugh.

"I'll go look for her," Keira said, suddenly anxious to leave the room. She heard amused laughter trailing her as she turned and fled, while Mother's confused voice demanded to know the source of the humor.

Anna was not in her chambers, nor in any of the common rooms. Vexatious girl, thought Keira. There were many smaller rooms where she could be hiding within the castle, or she could even have gone to the chapel; but as the light was beginning to fade, Keira decided to search the gardens first. She made her way through the low hall and headed into the kitchen garden. It was a small enclosed area, with a low bench against the wall. Anna wasn't there, and Keira turned towards the pleasure gardens. She had just started searching through the trees, calling Anna's name, when she heard footsteps behind her. Turning around, she saw Aaron approach through the lowering light.

"No sign of her?" he asked.

"No," Keira said. "I've looked in all the obvious places, but nothing. I thought I'd search the gardens before the light is completely gone, and if I don't find her, head back inside to search some of the smaller rooms." A rustling sound made her turn to search the shadows, but she saw nothing.

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