Chapter Twenty-five

Isabel had just finished combing through CC's thick hair when a sharp knock interrupted their quiet conversation. She limped to the door and cracked it open.

"I have come to see the princess," Andras's deep voice commanded.

"Please tell Sir Andras that I have already dressed for bed. The events of the day have tired me so much that I have to retire early." CC let her voice carry to the listening knight.

"Sir Andras, the princess—" Isabel began, but the knight cut her off.

"Perhaps the princess would not be so fatigued if she had not felt the need to cavort about the countryside last night."

CC sighed and yanked a robe over her head. Ignoring Isabel's silent look that counseled temperance she shoved open the door. Andras stood with his hands planted on his waist, face flushed with irritation. He had obviously taken great care with his appearance. He was freshly scrubbed and wearing the same dashing outfit he had worn the first day she had met him. Appalled, CC realized that he must have come to her door to court her.

Wasn't she his prisoner and possibly a dangerous witch?

Then CC understood and blinked in surprise. Andras had told the abbot that he would make his decision soon about whether he was going to marry or ransom her. Obviously, he had decided on marriage, so he was simply behaving honorably and beginning his courtship in earnest. It seemed the Rule of Thumb had outweighed her heathen tendencies and her outspoken mouth. CC supposed she should have been flattered. Instead she was annoyed. He didn't want her, he wanted a medieval Barbie doll.

"Sir Andras, I am exhausted because over the course of one short day I have remembered my birthright, defended myself against a charge of witchcraft and worked hard to restore a chapel that looks like it has been neglected for decades. I think that even a man would find a day like that tiring," she finished, trying to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.

Almost as if he couldn't help himself, Andras's eyes studied her face, lingering on the high, graceful planes of her cheeks and the full, sensual sweep of her lips. Then they traveled down her long, shapely neck and stared hotly at the glimpse of skin where the chemise gaped open. He wet his lips.

CC watched him closely. Just how far had Sarpedon's influence spread? His eyes appeared normal, and his facial features were his own, but his look was one of raw desire, and that was unusual for the knight. Until Sarpedon began possessing him, Andras had treated her carefully—he had not seemed like the kind of man who would think it was proper behavior to leer at the lady he was trying to woo.

"True, Undine, you have had a difficult day. But I remember that not long ago you proclaimed that you found the exercise of walking especially gratifying, even when you are fatigued," he persuaded. "I ask that you walk with me, Princess Undine." He held a muscular arm out to her as if he expected no other response than for her to happily accept his proposal.

"Not tonight, but thank you for asking."

Isabel stirred restlessly at her side as Andras's face darkened with anger at her rejection.

"I ask as a knight and a gentleman that you come walking with me, and you spurn me?" he said incredulously.

"I was under the impression that when a lady is asked a question, she has the right to answer yes or no," CC said impatiently. She hadn't been lying to the knight. She was tired and wanted nothing more than to finish her glass of wine and to fall into bed. "I didn't spurn you, I simply exercised my right."

"Then as a gentleman I choose to exercise my right to protect you from your own excesses so that you will be less exhausted and able to walk with me. Tonight and every night hereafter there will be a guard stationed at your door and your window to insure that you do not exhaust yourself with further needless forays to the shore," he said with cruel finality. "Tomorrow, then, Princess Undine. May I find you in more lively spirits, or perhaps I will have to be assured of your health and rest by confining you to your room for the daylight hours, too."

He closed the door with a solid slam.

"I should have just walked with him." CC sighed.

Isabel nodded her head. "I was afraid your refusal would bait the knight. His behavior has been unusual of late."

"Yes, I can see that now, and we both know why."

"Sarpedon," Isabel whispered the name.

CC nodded, rubbing her face wearily. "All this time I've been more worried about Abbot William. I guess I underestimated Sarpedon's effect on Andras."

"You underestimated the effect of your beauty," Isabel said as she helped CC off with the robe.

CC laughed sardonically. "I'm not used to it. My other body was nothing like this one. Men pretty much ignored me."

Isabel gave her a skeptical look and made a rude noise in her throat.

"What?" CC asked.

"Did you not tell me that a woman's beauty is more complex than her physical appearance? That applies to you as well as to me."

When CC started to argue Isabel held her hand up to silence her.

"Take this wise woman's words for truth. There is more to you than physical beauty. The knight knows that and desires to possess you—all of you. Sarpedon's evil influence has simply intensified that desire." Isabel turned down the covers of the narrow bed and gestured for CC to climb in. "Rest, Undine. Your eyes have that dark, haunted look. Sleep will strengthen you."

CC pulled the coarse blanket up under her arms and leaned against the hard wooden headboard as she watched Isabel tidy the small room. Outside her window she could hear the sounds of a guard settling in for the night. What would happen in two nights? How would she get out of her room? Her stomach churned. Isabel's weight caused the bed to sag.

"Do not fear," she whispered reassuringly while she fussed with CC's bed sheets. "Remember, we are one, the maiden, the mother and the wise woman. Together we will find a way to return you to the seas."

"And to Dylan," CC murmured, her eyes suddenly bright with tears.

Isabel cupped CC's chin gently. "And to your lover. We are stronger than they know. All will be well."

CC curled onto her side and Isabel stroked her hair, soothing her into a deep sleep by humming a lilting lullaby that somehow reminded CC of the sound of waves.

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