When Catriona’s eyes opened next, the beautiful man was gone. Her skin felt refreshed, clean, smooth. Too smooth. She rubbed her hands up and down her arms and realized the utter absence of hair. Eyes widening, she reached lower to find a remodeled body, taut and youthful and hairless. Turning her head, she felt the slide and heard the rustle of hair. But her hair—at least as she remembered it—wasn’t long. It certainly wasn’t black as a crow’s wing. Even more disturbing, her smooth, satiny skin appeared as though very lightly dusted with colorless body glitter. She rubbed her arm. No, the glitter could not be felt and did not wipe off.
Good Lord, I sparkle. What in the hell happened to me?
Her belly growled and she realized she was ravenous.
“My lady, I have food for you,” a melodious soprano announced softly.
Catriona turned her head to see a lovely young woman approaching with a wooden tray. The delicately fashioned tray held a steaming bowl, a cup, and a pitcher. She struggled to sit. The young woman set the tray upon a small table that Catriona hadn’t noticed and said, “Allow me to assist.”
With gentle competence, the young woman helped Catriona into a sitting position. She retrieved the tray and settled it over her legs.
“It has been too long since you ate, my lady, at least six days.”
Catriona inhaled sharply with surprise. Six days was an eternity to go without food or drink. No wonder her belly thought her throat had been cut.
“Water,” she croaked, horrified at the rusty state of her voice and the parched nature of her throat.
The woman poured water from the pitcher and held the silver cup to her lips. “This is a draft from the Pool of Dreams. It will aid in your recovery.” She tipped the cup and Catriona obediently swallowed the pleasantly cool, fizzy liquid that drizzled into her mouth. “Drink it all, my lady.”
Catriona drank, too thirsty to disobey.
Then the young woman held a spoon to her mouth even as Catriona focused inward upon the warmth and other feelings stirring her blood. She attempted to take the spoon to feed herself, but the woman’s gentle touch easily prevented success. Catriona frowned to know that she could not resist even the slightest bit without her strange new body giving way to defeat. So she obediently opened her mouth and let the woman feed her.
“What is this?” she asked. She wrinkled her brow, knowing that the words she spoke were not English, but a language she had never heard before.
“The court has a pretty name for it, but my family calls it porridge,” the young woman replied with a smile. “I sweetened it with raisins and honey. Do you like it?”
“It’s good,” Catriona replied honestly, although she’d never particularly liked Cream of Wheat, oatmeal, or grits. Perhaps it was so good because she was so hungry?
Spoonful by slow spoonful, she finished the bowl and found herself full to bursting. And drowsy.
“Sleep, my lady. My lord will attend to you soon.”
“Who?” Catriona muttered sleepily as she drifted back into slumber.
“Sleep well, my lady”
When Catriona next awoke, the young woman sat beside her plying her needle to some exquisite embroidery. The handsome man stood at the foot of the bed, watching her. She realized that his white hair fell loose almost to his waist. He wore a loose, flowing white shirt tucked into snug leather breeches. A deep green sash wrapped around his narrow waist, the fringed ends dropping from a complicated knot at his left hip nearly to his knees. Tall brown boots encased his lower legs.
Thelan blinked when his mate opened her eyes. They were purest violet, a precious color that only have been bestowed by the swifts.
“How do you feel, Beloved?” he asked gently, even as his body responded to her lucid state.
“Confused,” Catriona admitted warily, her voice still rusty. “May I have some water, please?”
The young woman poured water from the silver pitcher into the silver cup and held it to her mouth. The man quickly inserted himself between the two females and held the cup for her.
“Drink,” he bade her, his emerald eyes glinting with banked fire.
The young woman handed him a bowl of porridge in which were swirled streaks of dark red. He dug in with a spoon and held it to her lips. She obediently ate.
“This tastes different.”
“The porridge has been strengthened,” the man explained, not mentioning just how it had been strengthened.
Catriona took another mouthful, swallowed, and said, “Who are you?”
“I am Thelan,” the beautiful man replied. “Will you give me your name?”