Enchant: Beauty and the Beast Retold (Romance a Medieval Fairytale #1)(6)


Zuleika took in a deep breath, as she always did when arriving at a new place. Except that this time, there was no air to breathe, only water. Deep beneath the surface, Zuleika's lungs filled with seawater, and she began to drown. Her flailing legs kicked something hard – the ship, or the seabed? She wasn't certain. Desperately, she drew a doorway, then another, and a third. No light meant no portal, and no portal meant she would die. Zuleika bit her finger, watching the blood stream in the current, as she drew a fourth doorway. She thought she glimpsed light, before her eyes were forced to close. It might have been a portal, or it might have been heaven beckoning her home. She wasn't sure which she welcomed most, but darkness dragged her down, and she knew no more.


When Zuleika regained consciousness, she couldn't feel her body. The one exception was her throat, which burned like she'd swallowed liquid fire. She coughed weakly, relieved to find her ears still worked.

"What is it?"

"Is it a bird?"

"No, I saw a flash, like lightning. That be no bird."

"It's a girl!"

"A corpse, more like. She's not moving."

"Her dress is soaked through. She'll freeze, laying out here in the snow like that. Feel her skin. Cold as ice, she is."

"See? A corpse, like I told you."

"She's no corpse, you old fool! She still draws breath. We better get her inside and warm before she perishes of cold."

"But the master…"

Zuleika heard what sounded like a slap.

"Shhh. You'll scare the maid to death."

Zuleika wanted to tell her rescuers that she feared little any more, but her voice died in her damaged throat. For when she opened her eyes, she saw no one at all. Nothing but a walled garden, shrouded in snow. Her eyes drifted shut, and the darkness embraced her once more.


"With respect, master, it won't be enough. One, perhaps two more ships, and the cellars will be full. Your storehouses were full months ago. If we don't find a way to shift this cargo off the island soon – "

A bolt of what appeared to be purple lightning arrowed down from the cloudless sky, followed by a sharp crack that echoed off the courtyard walls.

Vardan waved Rolf into silence. "What in heaven's name was that?" the prince asked.

"Hopefully not something in the cellar," Rolf said drily.

Vardan laughed. "I hope you're right, my friend." He clapped his steward on the back and hurried to the nearest window overlooking the rose garden. At least, the expanse of snow smothering his grandmother's garden.

"It's a girl!" Inga exclaimed.

Vardan stared. Sure enough, the housekeeper was right. Lying on the snow was a woman whose scarlet dress made it look like she lay in a pool of blood. Perhaps she did.

"Is she hurt?" Vardan demanded.

Sven, the gardener, muttered something unintelligible.

"I don't think so, master," Inga called up. "Cold, yes, frozen nigh to death in her wet things outside in this weather, but her eyes opened for a moment there, and she still draws breath. We must get her inside before she takes a chill, if she hasn’t already."

Most men would have called for more servants, Vardan knew, but he wasn't most men, and he was curious. Just as lightning did not strike out of a clear sky, women dressed in scarlet did not suddenly appear in rose gardens. Vardan smelled magic at work, but he wasn't yet certain whether it was good or ill. After what had befallen him, he no longer had any love for magic or those who practiced it.

He took the steps two at a time until he reached the garden, then trudged through the snow to where he could look upon the strange woman's face.

What he'd taken for a dark veil was instead the girl's unbound hair, as rich and dark as the sable furs in his nearly full cellar. He wondered idly whether her hair was also as silky to the touch. His hand reached out almost of its own accord.

"She's quite the beauty, isn't she, master? Though she's mighty pale. Perhaps it's the cold. With a little colour in her cheeks, there wouldn't be a man in the kingdom who could ignore her when she walks by," Inga said, as if reading his thoughts.

"She would not walk," Vardan found himself saying. "She would ride. A horse fit for a queen."

Inga cleared her throat. "Before you go riding with her, master, we must get her warm. Inside. For that we need a strong man more than a horse who can carry the maid – "

"I'll do it," he said. The girl was surprisingly heavy in his arms, but he realised that most of the weight was her waterlogged, half frozen clothes. "Have a room prepared for her. In the meantime, I will take her to my bed – "

Inga made a disapproving sound. "The queen's bedchamber would be better, master."

Though his grandmother no longer lived, they would always think of her favourite rooms as the queen's chambers. "Yes. Of course, you are right. I shall take her there."

He carried the mysterious girl up the steps to the corridor his grandmother had claimed as her own. The windowless bedchamber was exactly as she had left it, right down to her shell combs on the table.

"Put her on the bed, master," Inga ordered, and the prince obeyed.

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