Chapter Twenty-two

Cc sat on her narrow cot and hugged her legs against her chest. Her anger was gone, and it had taken with it most of her princessly bravado. Andras had stationed one of his men outside her door and another outside her window.

"It's a jail," she muttered, fighting down a sudden sense of panic. What would happen if she was still being watched this closely in three days? Her stomach fluttered nervously. Gaea had said if she didn't return to her mermaid form that she would die, and after experiencing the throbbing ache that filled her body every third day as she waited impatiently to change, she knew all too well the truth of the goddess's warning. Trapped, alone in this room, she would die a horrid, painful death. And she would never see Dylan again. She shuddered. No wonder the monks called it a cell.

A hesitant knock sounded against her door, and before CC could call out, the guard opened it for Isabel. The old woman was carrying a tray that held a goblet of wine and a hunk of fresh bread and fragrant white cheese. She nodded to the surly guard, who gave CC a sharp look before backing from the room and closing the door. Isabel limped to the dresser, where she placed the tray.

In an abnormally loud voice she said, "Princess, I

brought you something to break your fast. And it is time you readied yourself to meet with the good abbot." Isabel brought the goblet over to CC, who took it and drank the sweet white liquid, grateful for the soothing effect it had on her throat and her nerves.

"I did not mean to betray you, Undine," Isabel whispered urgently, almost causing CC to choke on a swallow of wine. The old woman leaned closer to CC, her voice low and soft. "I was worried about you—you looked so tired and wan yesterday. When my duties in the kitchen were complete, I came to check on you. I knocked, and when there was no answer I was afraid that you were not simply sleeping deeply, but that you were truly ill. When I found the room empty I could only think that you were somewhere alone and perhaps you were very sick. I rushed from your room to check the chapel, hoping that you had returned to the Virgin Mother's statue for comfort, but on the way there Sir Andras discovered me. He saw that I was troubled, and asked if he could aid me." Isabel tightened her lips and shook her head in obvious disgust. "I should have remembered your misgivings about the knight. Instead, I explained my worry. When you were not in the chapel, he became incensed. His anger was terrible." Isabel's eyes were bright with unshed tears. "Forgive me, Undine."

CC took one of the old woman's gnarled hands. "There's nothing to forgive," she whispered. "It's my fault. I should have confided in you, then you would have known not to worry."

The sound of a man's sudden cough from outside her window caused both women to narrow their eyes.

"Here now, eat some of this bread and cheese while I comb through your hair, Princess," Isabel croaked, raising her voice so that it carried easily through the window.

"Please do," CC said in a loud, imperious tone. "I expected you some time ago. I have been sitting here waiting. It seems I am to be treated with disrespect, even by servants." CC curled her nose and made a face at the window. Isabel covered her mouth to stifle a laugh.

"Disrespect was not my intention, Princess," Isabel blared.

"Oh, do stop speaking. I want to enjoy my breakfast and my coiffure in silence!" CC commanded.

"As you wish, Princess," Isabel shouted.

The two women rolled their eyes at each other.

CC chewed the bread and cheese as Isabel brushed gently through the tangles in her long hair. She felt relieved at the knowledge that Isabel and the other women had not betrayed her, and her mind whirled with possibilities. Abruptly, she turned her head, interrupting Isabel's grooming. The old woman looked questioningly at the princess.

"Do you think that I am evil, Isabel?" CC asked, being careful to keep her voice low enough that it wouldn't be overheard by her guards.

Isabel's furrowed brow raised. "No," she answered quietly. "Some of your beliefs are rather odd, but your heart is kind and your love for the Mother is true."

CC nodded. "If I asked you to trust me, even if what I tell you will seem unbelievable and maybe even a little frightening, would you?"

Isabel's eye's widened until she looked like an ancient bird, but she nodded her head and whispered a single word. "Yes."

"Then listen, and I'll tell you everything."

CC began with the night of her birthday and worked forward from there. She was amused to hear that Isabel found the idea of an inanimate creation that flew through the skies more disturbing than learning about Sarpedon or the fact that CC was really Undine who was really a mermaid, although CC told her she agreed completely with her terrified reaction to the airplane. When CC described her love for Dylan, Isabel nodded and smiled thoughtfully. The only thing CC was not completely honest about was Gaea. She was afraid that the old woman would not be able to accept the goddess. CC didn't leave her out of the story, she simply changed the goddess's name. When she spoke of Gaea, she called her the Holy Mother. Isabel believed totally in the power of the Virgin, and she didn't question CC's bond with her.

"So you must claim sanctuary here until the Holy Mother can be certain that Sarpedon is no longer a threat.

Then you can be united with your Dylan," Isabel said after CC had finally stopped talking. The old woman's hands were clasped firmly together in her lap as if to keep them from trembling, but her gaze was bright and steady.

"And I have to have the freedom to be able to get to the ocean," CC added.

"I think the other women and I can aid you with your freedom," Isabel said thoughtfully. She smiled mischievously at CC. "The men are much too busy and important to spend their time watching a lowly woman, even if she is a princess. It is a task better performed by women."

CC felt a rush of gratitude and relief. "Thank you, Isabel. I know how difficult this must be for you to believe. It means so much that you trust me."

Isabel squeezed the young woman's shoulder. "Do not think on it. Women must help one another." Then her face twisted with worry. "But I am concerned about your safety."

"Sarpedon can't hurt me as long as I'm on land, well, at least not directly."

Isabel shook her head. "It is not his evil spirit that I fear most. I have heard rumors. Some of the Brothers are saying that you are a sorceress, and that it is your connection with the devil that caused Sir Andras's apoplexy. Now that you can no longer trust the protection of the knight, I am afraid of what could happen if the abbot thinks he has enough evidence to take you to trial for witchcraft."

A chill moved down CC's spine, and she searched frantically through her memory. Did they burn supposed witches in a.d. 1014? Isabel's grim expression said that it was very likely that they did. CC swallowed hard.

"Evidence?" CC's whisper came out as a croak.

"Yesterday he sent several Brothers to scour the surrounding countryside to see if there have been any unexplained illnesses or deaths."

CC's eyes widened in horror. "I don't mean any offense to your time, Isabel, but aren't most illnesses or deaths hard to explain or linked with superstitious beliefs?"

"Yes, and it does not end there. The Brothers are also to look for evidence of cows or goats that have gone dry, ba-bies that will not stop crying once the sun sets, and the appearance of more than three black cats."

"But any of those things would be easy to find—or easy to fabricate." CC felt the blood leave her face.

"Then we must fabricate evidence that says you must not be harmed," Isabel said firmly.

CC chewed her bottom lip. Think! she told herself. She was an intelligent, independent woman from the modern world. Surely she could figure out a way to stay safe. She just needed to think of it as a puzzle that had to be solved—then put the pieces together…

And a wonderfully simple plan came to her. She sat up straight and smiled at the confused-looking Isabel.

"Isabel, what do you know about the Wykings?"

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