When she had finished the simple meal and swallowed another cup of that strange, fizzy water drawn from the Pool of Dreams, Thelan pressed a kiss to her forehead and bade her sleep. Before she could begin to ask the questions that clogged her throat and crowded her tongue, her eyes shut and darkness welcomed her again into its gentle embrace.
Gwenda was again ready with a tray of food when she woke.
“I need to get up,” Catriona insisted. “I need to figure out what happened.”
Gwenda, who had been nothing but caring thus far, assumed a stern expression and said, “My lord insisted you eat and eat you shall.”
Catriona struggled against the slippery silk sheets and found her strength quickly depleted. She sank defeated against the pillows and could not help the tears that trickled from her eyes.
“Go away. Please,” she begged.
Gwenda tilted her head as she pondered what to do. Should she obey her mistress’ request? Should she fetch the master and admit her inability to deal with his mate’s inexplicable distress?
“Do I not care well for you, my lady?” she asked, her voice beginning to tremble with the disturbing thought that maybe she would be punished for not alleviating her mistress’ distress. The captain had a reputation for being a demanding taskmaster.
“That’s not the problem.” A soggy sniff accompanied the denial.
Gwenda risked boldness: “I do not understand. You are the delight of the captain. You are given every luxury. Why are you not pleased?”
Catriona closed her eyes for several seconds, then struggled to sit up. The young woman aided her with gentle competence. She tried to explain: “I had a life. I was married to a good man. I had children and grandchildren. I had a job. My life was fulfilling and I looked forward to retirement if the cancer didn’t kill me first. Then one day after work, I was kidnapped, taken from all that was familiar. I remember pain, oh, God, the pain, but I was not conscious. I remember waking in unfamiliar surroundings beneath a man who used my body before I could even protest.”
“I can understand how the change must bewilder you,” Gwenda ventured with caution, “but why would you object to the captain’s touch? He is most handsome, as well as powerful. I have heard he generously rewards good service”
Catriona leaned her head back further against the soft pillows. “Because I did not choose this.” She lifted a hand, ran her gaze over the slender arm and noted the extra joint in each long finger, the ivory claws. She repeated, “I did not choose this.”
“You are exotic and rare,” Gwenda said and bravely offered a reassuring pat on her mistress’ shoulder. “Bards have already crafted ballads memorializing your transformation beneath the twin moons at the behest of the midnight and dawn swifts.”
Catriona sighed. “I don’t feel exotic and rare; I feel weird and … just weird.”
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