Enchant: Beauty and the Beast Retold (Romance a Medieval Fairytale #1)(7)

He regretted it instantly, as his arms felt strangely empty once he released the girl. "Surely you should turn down the bed first, so I can place her under the covers? I wouldn't want her to be cold." He reached for her again.

"Not in her wet things. I'll help her into some dry clothes before I put her to bed, master," Inga said. She waited a moment, before she added, "I will have to undress her. It would be unseemly for you to stay."

It took a moment for Inga's words to register. Unseemly. Undress. No, he did not watch women undress without their knowledge. Whoever this girl was, she deserved to be shown every courtesy. Vardan wasn't sure what had come over him, that he could forget such a thing. Thank heaven Inga had taken the liberty of reminding him.

"Thank you," he said fervently. "Treat her as an honoured guest. Send word when she wakes."

He hurried back to his solar, where he was glad to find Rolf no longer waiting to discuss cellars, storehouses and other such mundane matters.

There was a woman in the house who occupied all of his thoughts. Pale features, dark hair, who rode into his rose garden astride a bolt of purple lightning. If his grandmother could see the girl in her chambers now, and the distraction she drove her grandson to, the old queen would call him a fool.

A fool who could think only about how the girl was being undressed in those chambers right now…

For the first time in his life, Vardan's fingers itched for the magic mirror that would allow him to see all that happened in the queen's bedchamber, but he resisted the urge. He would see plenty of the girl, for unless she could summon another bolt of lightning to ride away from the island, she would be trapped here for some time. Just like everyone else.


Zuleika drifted in and out of consciousness, aware of women's voices rising and falling around her, but too drowsy to understand their words. She had a body, and a bed, or so it seemed, but her time in the ocean and in the snow afterwards had sapped so much of her strength that there was little else she could do aside from lie in bed and sleep.

Not since the night the king violated her had she felt so weak. No man had taken advantage of her this time, though, she was certain. Years ago, in a longhouse where victorious warriors believed they had the right to lie with any woman of their choosing on the night of a glorious victory, she had performed a tricky little spell on herself, intending it to be more of a precaution than necessary protection.

Instead, Zuleika had woken to find a man writhing in agony on the pallet beside her, while lightning coursed over her skin. No man had tried to touch her since, so she wasn't sure if the spell would be quite so strong a second time, but the lightning flared into life when anyone approached her with harmful intent, warning them away. She hadn't felt the tingle of her lightning shield here.

"She has such soft hands. Highborn, no doubt," one woman said.

"You should have seen the dress she arrived in. Silk, it was, I'm sure, though the water ruined it. Some princess, perhaps," a second female voice remarked.

"How'd she get here, then? Princess or no, she managed to make her way from the sea, through at least three locked gates, and into the master's rose garden. It must be magic, I tell you. Perhaps she is cursed, too."

"Well, aren't you a bushel of sunshine, then? Maybe destiny sent her here to break curses, but she won't do none of that if you scare her." A snort. "I ask you, does she look cursed to you? Not a mark on her, and I undressed her and put her to bed myself. Blessed, more like. Maybe she's exactly what the master needs."

The master could not have her, Zuleika thought, digging her teeth into her lip. A single drop of blood was all it took to recast that lightning spell. Her body might be weak, but the magic in her blood was as strong as ever.

"Aren't you taking her tray?" the second woman asked.

"No, I'll leave it a little longer. She might wake, and want a bite to eat. If I ever slept as long as she has, I'm sure I'd be famished."

"Has she said anything yet?"

"No, not a word. Not even in her sleep. She is a mysterious maiden, this one."

The voices faded as the women left, Zuleika presumed. Still, she waited until she could no longer hear them before she dared to open her eyes.

The room looked as richly decorated as any of the rooms at the palace, though the bed hangings and the tapestries had faded over time. Whoever lived here was not as rich as they once were, or perhaps they'd simply placed her in one of their less sumptuous guest apartments. The walls were not plain stone, but plastered, so she definitely knew she wasn't in the king's palace.

She sat up cautiously, relieved to find no light-headedness. She didn't have time to be ill; she needed to find her father's ships. But for that, she would need her strength.

Zuleika examined the tray on the table beside her bed. A small loaf of bread, some fish and a jug of what she discovered with a cautious sniff was wine, not ale. Either she had travelled further south than she'd realised, or she was a guest in a prosperous house indeed. So whose was it?

Adding it to the long list of questions already burning in her mind, Zuleika broke her fast. She drank sparingly of the wine, knowing she would need her wits about her in this strange house.

When she was sated, she ventured out of bed. Her first few steps were tentative, but when she realised that she had regained enough of her strength to walk, Zuleika's steps quickened as she explored her chamber. The fine shift she wore, while not hers, was serviceable enough to protect her modesty, but it was hardly appropriate to wear once she left the room.

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