She was fair. Very fair, skin like alabaster snow and porcelain. But her hair was red, not red like fire or red like maple leaves in autumn, but red like blood fresh-spilt, red like rubies that men have died for. And her eyes were the same kind of red, red like life's-blood and precious jewels scraped from the veins of the earth, slitted like a demon's eyes, or like a great reptile. Her teeth were like a reptile's, too, needle-sharp, like shards of gems.

They called her Alexandra, and she was as gentle as could be. She sang the babies to sleep with songs like clouds racing across the plain-field skies, like rain falling gently to earth. Her smile was like shade-dappled forests, cool and silent and unsettling in its solitude. Children were drawn to her like moths to a radiant light, but there was no concern, for she never hurt them. If they thought her a little strange (a little too distant, a little too kind, a little too alone), she did not mind it. And when she was not minding the children, she was walking in the fields or in the forest or by the sea, her dress ruffling behind her in a wind that surely had not been there before.

If anyone knew she was a dragon, they did not say.

The ruby dragons were so rare as to be legend. No one knows how they disappeared, or what they were like. Some of the legends say they were ferocious fighters, with tempers as fiery as their breath, and that is how they died at last (too violent to live, and too violent to live any other way). A few said that they were gentle, too gentle to fight back even against those that would slay them, and that was how they vanished.

("They are wrong," she whispers sometimes to the babies in their cradles. "They are wrong; the gentle ones, that was never us, that was the onyx dragons. So sweet, they were, and I remember them." And if the babies dreamed of dragons with scales brilliant as rubies and red as blood, they never said.)

No one ever spoke of dragons to her. Who would speak of dragons to such a lady? It is not a fitting subject. And if anyone noticed that she seemed to be a little paler, or a little preoccupied, whenever anyone spoke of a dragon to her, well, she was always pale, and she always seemed preoccupied. Once, someone told her not to worry, and she had shaken herself as if out of a daze and replied that she was not worried at all. They believed her, because she never lied.

They did not know why she was there. She was properly educated, she was, could read and write and taught the adults as well as the children, as patient as could be. Why did she choose to stay in a little stick of a village called Gladsheim when she could be in the big city, or caring for the king's children? But no one ever asked (there was something about her that discouraged questions, especially about her past), and no one really cared to ask. They were lucky to have her, after all.

("Maybe she's hiding from someone," someone once said, mostly in jest and with quite a few pints in him. He was greeted with laughter, and he laughed at himself as well.)

But her name was Alexandra, and no one seemed to notice that she never grew old.



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