Chapter Twenty-eight

Several hours later the four old women and CC lay in heaps around the floor amidst scattered bedding and pallets. Isabel had returned to CC's room accompanied by the three "nursemaids." On her trip from the kitchen, Isabel had interrupted Sir Andras and the abbot at their nightly game of chess. She had explained that the Princess needed more care than she alone could provide, and that she would need that care all during the night. The two men readily agreed, both visibly relieved that the responsibility for Undine's nursemaiding would not be their own. Isabel had mimicked the abbot's simpering voice as she repeated how he had ordered her and as many other women as were necessary to spend the night in the princess's chamber. Isabel had invited the men to look in on her patient during the night. The abbot had explained that his time would be better spent in prayer. Although Andras had appeared honestly concerned about her, he had hastily agreed that Undine must be allowed to rest, and that she certainly could not do so if he insisted on visiting her.

And, of course, the guards stationed outside the princess's door and window would not be needed. Even if the princess was well enough to sneak out—which Isabel assured them she was not—the all-night presence of the old women would ensure that she would have to stay in her chamber.

CC felt a wonderful sense of freedom as she sipped Isabel's excellent mulled wine. The five women had been laughing and talking well into the night. Isabel had confided in them the truth about CC, and the women couldn't seem to learn enough about modern customs and conveniences. Now their weathered faces were flushed with excitement as well as wine.

"I did so enjoy learning the Poultry Dance," Gwenyth said, waving a hand in front of her heated face.

"Chicken Dance," CC corrected with a giggle.

"Chicken Dance," Gwenyth repeated. The old woman's eyes sparkled.

CC grinned at her. "Just let me catch my breath, and I'll teach you another dance." CC waggled her eyebrows suggestively. "And how about a song to go with it?"

The four old women squealed in delight. It was like a slumber party, CC thought. The year didn't matter—the comradery of women joined together to celebrate life and friendship was eternal. While the women chattered excitedly about what they were going to learn next, CC hummed softly to herself, trying to remember all the words to Aretha Franklin's classic, "Respect." When they were cheerleaders, she and her best friend, Sandy, had made up a funky dance to the song for a high school pep rally, and she was pretty sure she could remember most of the moves. CC eyed her backup singers. They were going to love this one…

"No, Bronwyn, you have to flick the tips of your fingers on both hands in time with the words—just a… just a… just a…—before you do the side-to-side head toss and sing the just a little bit part," CC explained again to the old woman.

"Undine, is it then that we begin thrusting our hips?" Gwenyth asked.


Isabel spoke up before she could answer. "Yes. We thrust our hips in time with our head tosses."

CC had to stifle her grin. The ladies had attacked learning the motions and words to "Respect" with a vengeance. And she had to admit the four old women had decent voices and natural senses of rhythm.

"Okay!" CC said, and the room fell to an attentive silence. "Think we're ready to try it again from the beginning?"

In the candlelight the four gray heads seemed to glow as they nodded enthusiastically in response.

"Bronwyn, you cannot dance with that wine goblet in your hand," Isabel pointed out.

Bronwyn's smile showed two missing teeth as she winked at CC before gulping the last drop from the goblet and sliding it out of the way on the floor.

"Backup singers take your places," CC said officially, and the women hurried to form a horizontal line behind her. "Are you ready?"

"Ready, Undine!" the four answered.

With a huge grin CC turned around and started shimmying and humming in time to the beat of an imaginary band, and with a Whoop! her backup singers joined her in a rousing medieval version of Aretha's classic, after which the five of them collapsed in breathless laughter across CC's bed.

"In your old world women must have such fun," Lynelle said wistfully.

"Yes, they do. But I can't remember a time when I was happier there then I am here, at this moment."

The women beamed smiles at one another. Bronwyn hiccupped a little drunkenly, and they all laughed.

'Tell us of your lover," Lynelle said.

CC blinked at her in surprise. Until then they had confined their questions to CC's past—her human life. She had assumed that the thought of her mermaid life made the women uncomfortable. Now Bronwyn and Gwenyth echoed Lynelle's request. Isabel nodded encouragingly. CC's heart swelled at their acceptance.

"Well," she said softly. "Dylan is different from the men here."

Lynelle snorted. "Of course he is, child."

"Yes," Bronwyn blurted. "He is a fish."

Isabel elbowed her and made a shushing noise. Bronwyn looked chagrined.

"Actually," CC said, smiling at her, "he's a mammal, like a dolphin or a whale. But when I said he's different, I wasn't talking about his body." CC touched her temple with one finger. "He's different in here." Then she moved that finger to rest briefly on her breast over her heart. "And here. He is kind and good. He doesn't see me as a thing to be possessed or used. He sees me as his equal, as even more than his equal."

"He loves you," Lynelle said.

"Yes, and to him that doesn't mean that he has to control me or destroy what is unique about me so that he can remake me into some kind of twisted image of what he sees as female perfection."

"That would be Sir Andras," Isabel said.

"And many other men of our world," Bronwyn added. Isabel and Gwenyth nodded in agreement, but Lynelle looked thoughtful.

"My husband was not like Sir Andras. I believe his love was more like your merman's," Lynelle said.

CC's eyes widened in surprise and Lynelle's smile was bittersweet.

"No, I have not always been as such." Her good hand pointed at the shriveled appendage that she held limply against her side. "This happened shortly after we were married. He could have cast me aside, but he did not…" The old woman's eyes filled with tears and she took a gulp of wine and cleared her throat before she could continue speaking. "He was a good man. And it was my great joy to be his wife."

"And you will find joy in being Dylan's wife," Isabel said.

"To love!" Lynelle said brightly, raising her goblet.

"To love!" the women toasted, beaming at each other.

They drank in compatible silence, each lost in memories, until Lynelle's voice interrupted the stillness with another question.

"Does…" she hesitated and glanced quickly at the other women as if for support. Then she rushed on. "Does his touch please you?"

CC felt her cheeks growing warm from more than the wine. "His touch makes me feel like I'm on fire."

The four women sighed happily.

"Undine!" Lynelle's voice was filled with excitement. "Why don't you go to him tonight?"

"I have to wait until tomorrow. Then Sarpedon will be dealt with," CC said.

"Yes, to join him permanently you must wait until tomorrow," Lynelle said quickly. "But can you not visit him before then?"

CC felt a rush of exhilaration. "I-I think I can, but I would have to be very careful."

"We have taken care—neither the abbot nor the knight will be looking for you tonight," Isabel said.

"But the squires have been posted to watch for Vikings," Bronwyn reminded them.

'True," said Isabel. "But they will be looking out to sea for the invaders. They will not be watching for one fleet-footed girl who knows how to disappear into the waves."

"Will your merman be there tonight?" Gwenyth asked.

CC nodded. "All I have to do is call him."

Gwenyth's aged face crinkled with worry. "You must not call loudly."

CC laughed and stood up, spinning in a little improvised dance step of happiness. "I don't have to call him with my voice; I call him with my heart." An eternity, CC thought. He would answer for an eternity.

"Go to him," Lynelle said.

"Yes," Bronwyn and Gwenyth said together.

CC turned to Isabel.

With the gentle hands of a mother, the old woman brushed a blond curl from CC's face.

"We will be here. If the abbot or Sir Andras call for you, we will simply tell them that the drugged wine and the ill-ness have left you senseless. Then we will waft more poultices under their noses. Go to your lover."

"Then help me pull that dresser under the window," CC said eagerly. "Could someone find my shoes?"

The room exploded into female motion. In one sweep the clutter was removed from the top of the dresser, the dresser was wrestled to its position under the window and CC's two doeskin slippers were located and placed quickly on her feet. She was already wearing only her chemise, so she didn't have to wait impatiently for Isabel to unlace her from the bondage of her ornate gown.

Before she climbed atop the dresser, she hugged each of the women.

"It is so romantic," Lynelle whispered into her ear.

"And wonderful," Bronwyn agreed.

"Exciting," Gwenyth added.

"Go with the blessing of the Holy Mother." Isabel's hug was strong.

CC kissed the old woman's cheek. "I'll be careful."

"You must return before dawn so that the lightening of the sky does not betray you to the knight's men."

"I will. Don't worry." She gave Isabel another quick hug and started to turn, then, changing her mind, she stopped. On a sudden impulse CC lifted the silver chain from around her neck. The amber teardrop swung lazily as she placed the pendant over the old woman's head.

"Keep it for me while I'm gone," she said to Isabel, whose eyes were filling with tears as her hand lovingly cupped the goddess's amber.

Unable to speak, the old woman nodded and watched as CC climbed nimbly up the dresser, using the partially opened drawers as stair steps.

Slowly, CC peered out the window. The night was dark; the richness of the late hour cloaked the monastery in a veil of black velvet. The moon was a thin, glowing scythe that cast just enough light to turn trees into shadows and paths into ribbons of pale light.

"Do you see any of the men?" Isabel's whisper carried in the still room.

CC shook her head.

"Then go quickly," Isabel urged.

Holding her breath, CC shifted her seat to the win-dowsill, then she turned, found her toehold and dropped silently to the soft ground. She heard a grunt from inside the room, followed by a glimpse of Isabel's face framed by the window. A flash of moonlight reflected off the silver chain.

"What are you doing?" CC hissed.

"Keeping watch for you." The old woman whispered. "Now go to your lover."

CC smiled and blew Isabel a kiss before scurrying across the little patch of ground that separated the monastery from the rocky cliff. With feet that felt light and swift, CC navigated the familiar path. Often she glanced up at the cliff's edge above her, worried that she would see the silhouetted shape of one of Andras's squires, but the cliff remained empty and soon her feet sank into the sand of the beach.

Dylan! Her heart called as she stepped out of her slippers and slid the chemise from her naked body. I'm here! Please come to me.

The cool fingers of the waves washing against her legs felt like a wonderful, erotic dream, and as she walked into the surf the almost uncontrollable desire to change into her mermaid form and disappear into its inviting depths tugged at her will. She forced the desire down, trembling with the effort it cost her.

Tomorrow, she promised herself. I only have to wait until tomorrow, then I will never have to be parted from my mermaid form.

Or from me. Dylan's voice sounded within her mind an instant before he surfaced a few feet in front of her.

"Have I dreamed you here, my love?" the merman asked.

"Well, let's see. If you touch me, and I can feel it, then it's not a dream," CC said.

Her feet ran out of firm ground, but before she could swim two full strokes, Dylan pulled her into the warmth of his arms. Greedily, their bodies met. CC felt a shiver of pleasure as she tasted his slick, hot mouth.

"Can you feel that?" Dylan's breath was warm against her parted lips.

"I can feel everything," CC said.

"Then I did not dream you here; I wished you here."

"I don't have long tonight." CC's breath caught as the merman's mouth explored the hollow of her neck. "Andras thinks I'm sick, so he's not looking for me, but his men are keeping watch for Vikings."

Dylan's laughter was muffled against her skin, and his teeth pulled playfully at her earlobe before he spoke.

"I did enjoy your performance on the beach."

"Well, I couldn't very well let him kiss me," CC said. She would not mention Sarpedon's possession of the knight to him. She would not spoil their short time together and cause him needless worry.

Dylan cupped her face in his hand. "No, you could not let him kiss you." And the merman pressed his lips to hers, effectively erasing the image of Andras's thwarted kiss from their minds.

"I'll have to leave before dawn this time," CC said, arching her body against his, loving the intensely erotic sensation of his exotic body pressed against hers.

"I want to feel myself within you." Dylan's voice was rough with passion.

"Yes!" CC said, pulling on his bottom lip with her teeth.

The merman moaned, and CC felt his hard shaft as it pulsed against the softness of her thigh. She shifted so that he could easily slide within her, but Dylan shook his head.

"Not here. Not like this. This is the last time you will make love as a human. It should not be something done in the haste of thoughtless passion. It should be savored."

CC nibbled on his neck. "I am savoring it."

Dylan's laughter mixed with a groan of desire. "Come with me, siren; I will teach you of savoring."

"Well, there's certainly no doubt that you're my favorite teacher," CC said as she settled against his chest, letting the powerful strokes of his tail propel them down the beach. CC closed her eyes, enjoying the mingled sensations of the water and her lover against her naked skin. When she felt sand against her body her eyes opened in surprise.

They were laying half out of the water in the little rock-dotted cove CC had found earlier that day. The curved moon cast a subdued, magical light, which reflected off the lazy water around them. Dylan's body pressed against hers, and he stroked the length of her with sea-slick hands.

CC felt hot and cold and liquid all at the same time.

"I think you're the siren," she said, caressing the flame-colored flesh that swelled erect against her.

Dylan made a choked noise and shifted his weight so that they were on their sides, facing each other, and she could touch him more easily.

"I cannot be. It is I who am under your spell," Dylan said.

The merman drew his hand up the length of her thigh, rubbing enticing circles over the silken skin of her legs. Then he bent to her and his mouth replaced his hand and he lavished her skin with kisses and teasing pretend bites until he found the wet center of her. There he devoured her, his tongue continuing his circular caresses, increasing in movement and rhythm until CC gripped his shoulders and shuddered with the intensity of her climax.

Again he shifted his weight and pulled her into his arms. She felt alive with sensation, and enfolded within his strength, CC explored his mouth, letting her hands roam down his body as if they had a will of their own.

"Your body amazes me," CC told him as her mouth and hands discovered new ridges of muscle.

Remembering the sensitivity of her own mer-body, she caressed his fiery flesh with teasing fingertips. Dylan's breath quickened and CC could feel the tension humming through his body, which was now slick with sweat as well as the salty water that lapped against him. When her mouth began tracing the line low on his torso where mer-flesh met human skin, his body trembled and he called her name between ragged breaths.

In one swift movement, he pulled her up. Then he was above her, resting his weight on his forearms. The night sky outlined his powerful body, and CC could see his dark eyes flash with unleashed desire. She opened herself to him, and, wrapping her legs around him, she arched, wordlessly urging him on. Dylan buried himself within her, and CC met his thrusts with equal intensity. He devoured her mouth and their tempo increased. CC felt the delicious tension build within her again, and when the merman's body began to shudder in orgasm, her own climax met his as the night fragmented into an explosion of sensation.

Afterward, CC nestled securely against Dylan's chest. The merman brushed sand from her shoulders with gentle hands that tended to linger at the long, graceful curve of her back.

"Now I see what you mean about savoring," she murmured.

Dylan's chest rumbled with his deep chuckle. "I would like to have attempted more savoring." CC felt him shrug his shoulders. "But I could not resist you, siren."

CC looked up at him. "Are sirens mermaids?"

His chuckle turned into laughter, and he hugged her. "No. Sirens are water nymphs."

"Not mermaids?"

"Definitely not mermaids." He kissed her forehead. "But they are alluring creatures filled with erotic intent." He gave her a meaningful look.

"Are you sure they're females? They sound a lot like you," CC teased.

Dylan smiled at her. "There are no male sirens."

"You could have fooled me," CC said, pulling his mouth down to hers. She kissed him, pressing her body so closely against his that she could feel his heartbeat increasing against her breast.

"If you keep kissing me like that, you will not be back at the monastery before dawn." Dylan's voice had already deepened with his growing desire.

CC sighed and nibbled at his full bottom lip. "One more day."

"One more day," he repeated, kissing her gently.

They didn't speak as they floated away from the shore and back toward the cliffs that held the monastery. CC rested against her lover's chest, watching the night sky begin to unveil its layers of darkness as it climbed steadily toward dawn. A thought tickled the edges of her mind as CC pulled her attention from the sky to look around her.

"You know, I haven't seen my dolphin friend the last couple times I've come to the water. Have you seen her?" she asked Dylan.

Dylan considered the question, then shook his head.

"No, I have not encountered the little creature."

"I guess I don't blame her for staying away, especially after Andras hit her with that rock," CC said.

"She never stays away from Undine for long. I am certain she is there,"—Dylan gestured out to sea—"awaiting the return of her princess."

"I'm sure you're right," CC said, trying not to worry.

The water around them became choppier and the sound of the waves crashing against the beach told her that they were near the monastery even before Dylan changed direction and swam slowly to the shore.

"You can stand now," Dylan said.

CC put her feet against the sandy bottom, but she kept her arms wrapped around the merman.

"The sky lightens," he said and kissed the top of her head.

"I wish it wouldn't," CC spoke into his chest.

Dylan cupped her face in his hands. "Then this last day would not pass. Remember, my love, with its passing comes the night."

"And that's when I'll come to you… forever," she finished for him.

Their kiss was a sweet promise. Before she began walking away from him she linked her fingers through his and said, "Tell me once more how long you would wait for me."

"For an eternity, Christine. I would wait for you for an eternity."

He brought her hand to his lips and kissed her palm. Reluctantly, he released her and she turned to the beach.

The lightening of the sky was becoming more pronounced and her discarded chemise was easy to find. She was shaking the sand from it when a sharp voice cut across the beach.

"Behold the whore!"

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