Chapter Twelve

Cc awoke thinking about him. The internal ache that throbbed with its incessant reminder that her human body was only a borrowed shell mingled with her desire to see Dylan again until she couldn't tell where one began and the other ended. Just tonight, then tomorrow night—then she would be able to go to the water and to him. She sighed and touched her lips. They felt wonderfully bruised and sensitive.

She had dreamed of him. Somehow in another world, in another time, he had called to her, and now she wanted nothing more than to return to the ocean and answer his call.

Two quick knocks on the door made her jump. She cleared the sleep from her throat.

"Yes, I'm awake."

Isabel limped quickly into the room. CC was beginning to wonder if the woman ever slowed down.

"Good morning, Princess," she said in her raspy voice, exchanging the old pitcher of water for a new one. "Sir An-dras has asked that you break your fast with him. I believe he has something special planned."

"Something special?" CC sat up and swept the hair back from her face.

"Yes, my lady. Here, let me help you into your dress." Isabel shook her head and clucked what was probably meant as a mild rebuke when she noticed what CC was, or rather wasn't, wearing. "It is unseemly for you to sleep only in that light chemise."

"Why?" She couldn't stop herself from asking as she stepped into the layers of soft fabric that made up her wonderful gown. "That other robe is hot and the material scratches. And the only person who could possibly see me in it is you."

Isabel worked the intricate laces, and her voice took on the tone of a schoolroom lecturer. "It is proper that the coarse fabric of the robe remind us of our sins, which we carry with us eternally, so that we are constantly aware of our need for absolution. To surround ourselves with luxuries is to give in to the temptation of the corporeal world."

CC felt suddenly very sad for Isabel. Had the old woman spent her entire life being deprived of beauty out of fear of damnation? CC was careful to keep her voice light and curious when she asked, "And from whom do we need absolution?"

"The good abbot, of course." Isabel sounded surprised that she should have to ask.

"Isabel, what if the beauty around us is meant as a reminder of the many gifts we have been given, and our need to give thanks for them?" CC asked slowly, as if she had just considered the idea herself.

Isabel made a scoffing noise in her throat, but when CC turned and their eyes met, the old woman was studying her with an openly curious expression.

"It was just a thought," CC said, smiling brightly at Isabel while she put on the jewelry that was a gift from a goddess. Isabel averted her eyes at the show of opulence. CC could only imagine what the old woman's reaction would be if she knew where the jewels really came from.

"Sir Andras is waiting in the dining hall. I can take you there in just a moment," Isabel said as she started to make the bed.

"There's no need—I remember the way. You go ahead and do whatever you need to do, Isabel. I know you must be very busy. Thank you for your help with my dress."

Ignoring Isabel's sullen expression, CC smiled cheerfully and walked quickly out of the room. Having Isabel around was like being shadowed by a brooding school-marm. The woman seemed to dislike her on sight. CC sighed. And no wonder. CC glanced down at her lush, richly clad body. Isabel had been raised to believe beauty and luxury were dangerous and sinful.

"To her I must be the embodiment of everything she's been taught is bad," CC muttered.

She realized the old woman's dislike really bothered her. People usually liked CC—a lot. Maybe not with the passionate response that Undine's body evoked, but CC had never had any problem making friends. Well, she was still the same person; she was just shelled in a different body. CC made a mental note to make sure she got up early enough the next day to make her own bed. She would show Isabel that she wasn't a spoiled, pampered princess. Sexy, incredible body or not, Christine Canady would win the old woman's friendship.

The hallway abruptly emptied out into the courtyard. The sun beaming into the open space was such a contrast to the dim interior that CC had to hold a hand up to shade her eyes from the sudden brightness. Squinting, she stepped out into the well-manicured lawn, heading toward the arched doorway that led to the dining hall. A movement at the well caught her eye, and she felt a shudder of fear pass through her body. Hovering over the middle of the open well was a dark shape, easily noticed in the otherwise brightly lit courtyard. The form was in the shape of a man's torso, but it was insubstantial. CC could clearly see the far wall of the courtyard through it. Its back was to CC, and there was something horribly familiar in the massive breath of shoulder and in the thick length of ghostly hair that floated around the apparition as if it was underwater.

As she watched, it rotated slowly and shifted its glowing gaze until CC was staring into the spectral eyes of Sarpe-don. The creature saw her, and his triumphant smile was terrible. She couldn't stop the scream that ripped from her throat.

Andras burst from the arched doorway and into the courtyard, followed closely by Abbot William. The moment the two men appeared, the image of Sarpedon wavered and dissipated back into the liquid depths of the well.

Andras rushed to her side. "Undine! What has happened? Are you ill?"

"I-I saw something." She pointed. "There, over the well."

Both men turned to look at the offending structure. Abbot William walked over to it. CC flinched as he bent over its open mouth and peered down.

"There is nothing here now," he called over his shoulder.

"Come." Andras put a strong arm around her waist. "Let me help you into the dining room and out of the sun."

Abbot William gave the well one last look before following them.

"Bring the princess some wine!" Andras ordered one of the servants, helping CC onto a bench.

The servant reappeared almost immediately. CC's hands were shaking so badly that she spilled some of the wine. Drinking deeply, she tried to steady herself, while she wondered how much, if anything, she could dare tell the two men.

"What exactly did you see?" Abbot William asked. He was studying her with an expression that verged on gleeful.

CC felt a tremor of foreboding. It was like he reveled in her fear. "I'm not sure," she said slowly. "I had just stepped into the courtyard, and I glanced at the well. There was something there, floating over the top of it. The figure was dark, like a shadow, but it seemed to be in the shape of a man."

"Could it not have been the shadow of an oddly shaped cloud?" Andras said. "The day is bright and you had just entered the courtyard. Perhaps your eyes misjudged."

CC summoned up a relieved laugh, glad the knight had given her an acceptable answer. "You're probably right, Andras. It just startled me. I think fear and my imagination must have temporarily caused me to see something."

"Of course." Andras patted her back awkwardly.

CC could still feel the priest's eyes on her, but he remained silent.

"I had planned a small surprise for you, Princess," Andras said. "You so enjoyed the view last night that I had a few things packed into a basket for us. I thought we could break our fast outside, near the ocean you find so intriguing. But perhaps now would not be a good time for such exertion."

"No!" she reassured him quickly. "I'm feeling much better. It was ridiculous of me to be so frightened of a little shadow. Fresh air and a view sound wonderful." Just the thought of being near the water again made CC's heart race—and if Sarpedon was close by, surely she would be safest away from the monastery's enclosing walls and near the lush land that was the domain of the goddess.

"If you are sure." Andras's face brightened at the prospect. "I will take care not to overtax your strength."

He called for the servant to bring a basket that had already been prepared, but before they could leave the dining hall, Abbot William spoke with a sly sharpness.

"Princess Undine, before you go, I must ask you about the interesting design that decorates your gown. Do you know what those symbols represent?"

CC looked down at the fabulous dress. It was made up of several layers of material that felt like an intriguing mixture of silk and gauze. She smiled at the familiar coloring that so accurately represented her mermaid's tail. The topmost layer of material was covered with silver needlework. CC had noticed the intricate embroidery before. It was a repeating pattern of symbols interwoven with birds and flowers. Now that she studied it, she could see that amidst the land creatures and symbols Gaea had woven dolphins and starfish. She ran a finger reverently down one long, silver-threaded sleeve.

"No, I don't know what they represent. I just know that they are beautiful."

"Let us not forget that beauty can hide many things," the priest said cryptically.

CC beamed a smile at him. "Well, wouldn't you say this dress hides much less than your robes?" She laughed and pointed at his voluminous skirts. "I think you could probably hide a small person under there."

"Undine!" Andras's voice had a hard edge to it CC had not heard before. "It is unseemly to say such a thing to Abbot William."

CC didn't allow her smile to falter, but as she studied Andras's handsome face, she felt a twinge of unease. For a moment she had forgotten where she was, which was definitely not twenty-first century America. Women in medieval Europe didn't kid around with uptight abbots, or if they did they probably ended up flayed or boiled or… She bit her lip.

"Oh, Andras, you're right. I guess I'm still a little nervous about what I thought I saw in the courtyard." She turned her set smile on the priest. "I do apologize, Abbot William; I certainly didn't mean to offend you."

Abbot William waved his hands dismissively. "There is no need to apologize, Princess. I understand that young women sometimes say things that are fraught with several meanings, even if they are unaware of it."

CC's eyes widened at the abbot's rudeness, but her smile didn't waver. "That is such an interesting observation, because I've noticed that men sometimes read double meanings into things that women say, even when none are intended. I think that could be why there seems to be such confusion between the sexes. I'll have to be more careful in the future so that there are no such misunderstandings between us." She turned back to Andras and took his arm. "Are you ready? All this excitement has made me very hungry"

Andras smiled and patted her hand. His façade of good-guy-boyfriend was securely back in place. "Of course, Undine." He bowed his head reverently to Abbot William. "I look forward to our evening game of chess, Father."

"I, too, my son," the priest said. Then he added, as if it was an afterthought, "Princess Undine, about the symbols on your gown. They remind me of runes that I have seen on pagan shrines." He made a dry sound in his throat that CC

assumed was supposed to be a chuckle. "But, as you said, you would know nothing of that."

"That's correct," CC said truthfully. "I know nothing about runes or pagan shrines."

"Then you would have no objection to joining us for vespers this evening?" His eyes were bright, and he watched her reaction closely.

"I'm sure the princess would be happy to attend evening mass," Andras said quickly.

CC had to grit her teeth to keep from telling the knight that she preferred to speak for herself. Instead, she met the priest's probing gaze evenly. "That would be lovely; thank you for inviting me."

"I shall look forward to seeing you there," Abbot William said.

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