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One The sun shone hot and bright upon the now quiet waters of the English Channel. Olivia Granville strolled the narrow cliff path above St. Catherine's Point, for the moment oblivious of her surroundings, of the fresh beauty of the rain-washed morning after the night's storm. She bit deep into her apple, frowning over the tricky construction of the Greek text she held in her hand. The grass was wet beneath her sandaled feet and long enough in places to brush against her calves, dampening her muslin gown. A red admiral was a flash of color across the white page of her book, and a bee droned among the fragrant heads of the sea pinks. Olivia glanced up, for a moment allowing her attention to wander from her text. The sea stretched blue and smooth as bathwater to the Dorset coastline faintly visible on the horizon. It was hard now to imagine the ferocity of the storm that had wrecked the ship she could see far below on the rocks. Men swarmed antlike over her at the work of salvage. The talk in the house this morning had been all of the wreck, of how it was believed that the ship had been deliberately lured to its death by the smugglers and wreckers who had become very active on the island during the past winter. Olivia drew a deep breath of the salt-and-seaweed-laden air. The sixth winter of the civil war had been an interminable one. A year ago it had seemed it was all but over. King Charles had surrendered to Parliament and was held in London at the palace of Hampton Court, while negotiations for a permanent end to the war took place. But then the king had reneged on his parole, had broken all tentative agreements, and had escaped from Hampton Court. He had fled to the Isle of Wight, a royalist stronghold, and had put himself under the protection of the island's governor, Colonel Hammond. The colonel had proved no royalist friend to the king, instead following his duty to Parliament, holding the king an informal prisoner in Carisbrooke Castle. As a result, the protracted negotiations with Parliament had perforce moved to the island. Olivia's father, the marquis of Granville, was a leading Parliamentarian and one of the foremost negotiators, so at the end of the preceding year he had moved his oldest daughter, his nine-month-old son, and his once again pregnant fourth wife to the island. His two younger daughters had been left at their own request in the quiet Oxfordshire house where they had lived for the preceding three years under the care of their adored governess. On the island, Lord Granville had acquired a long, low, thatch-roofed house in the village of Chale, just a few miles beyond the great stone walls of the royal prison at Carisbrooke Castle. The house was cramped and drafty in winter, but at least it was outside the castle. For Olivia and her father's wife--who was also her own dearest friend, Phoebe--such accommodations were infinitely preferable to life in a military compound. The king continued to hold court in the castle's great hall, and an attempt was made to disguise the true nature of his situation, but nothing could disguise the military nature of his surroundings. Olivia had spent her first sixteen years in her father's massive fortress on the Yorkshire border, and during the early years of the civil war she had grown accustomed to a life lived for all intents and purposes under siege; but when the war had moved south, so had Lord Granville. She had grown soft, Olivia thought now, with a half smile, stretching under the sun's warmth. Her northern resilience had been eroded by the south's mild climate and gentle vistas. She was accustomed to deep snow and bitter cold, and the damp drizzle of a southern winter offered no challenges to the soul. It brought a dank chill that seeped into your bones, and the northeast wind blowing off the sea was a vicious thing indeed, but it grew monotonous rather than menacing. But here now was summer. And it was as if the winter had never been. Here were brilliant skies and the wonderful expanse of the sea. She had never before known the sea. There were moors and mountain ranges in her native Yorkshire, and winding rivers in the Thames valley that she had called home for the past three years, but nothing to compare with this wondrous sense of expansion, this vast vista where sea met sky and promised only infinity. Olivia threw her apple core far out across the headland and felt her soul lift, her spirit dance. There were sails out there, pretty white sails on lively craft. Below her, gulls wheeled and drifted on the currents of warm air, and Olivia envied them their wonderful freedom, the ability to give themselves to the current without purpose or necessity, but for the sheer joy of it. She laughed aloud suddenly and took a step closer to the edge of the cliff. She stepped into a patch of undergrowth. She stepped into nothing. * * * There was pain, a confused morass of pain against which no one hurt stood out, distinguishable. There was a murmur of voices, one in particular, a quiet voice that accompanied cool hands upon her body, turning, lifting, anointing. A pair of gray eyes penetrated the dream tangle where all was confusion and fear. There was a drink of gall and wormwood that brought a muddled skein of terrifying images in the world of nightmares, things she could put no name to that writhed around her like Medusa's serpents. She fought the bitter drink, knocking away the hands that held the cup to her lips. The quiet voice said, "Just one more, Olivia," and her flailing hands were held in a clasp, cool and firm, and her head rested in the crook of an arm. With a little moan, she surrendered to a strength and a will much greater than her own, and the foul liquid slipped between her parted lips so that she swallowed in a choking gasp of distaste. And this time she sank into a dark pool, and the green waters closed over her head. The hurt receded and now there were no nightmares, only the deep, restful sleep of healing.
Olivia opened her eyes. What she saw made no sense, so she closed them again. After a minute, she opened them once more. Nothing had changed. She lay very still, hearing her own breathing. There was no other sound. Her body was filled with a delicious languor, and she had no desire to move. As she took inventory, she was aware of a stiff soreness at the back of one thigh, a certain tenderness here and there, but as she ran her hands languidly over her body, everything seemed to be where it was supposed to be. Except that she was naked. She remembered standing on the cliff path, throwing her apple core across the headland. Then there were dreams, nightmares, voices, hands. But they had been part of the dreams, not real. Her eyes closed and the deep pool took her again. When next she swam to the surface, she could sense movement around her. Men were talking in hurried whispers; a chair scraped; a door opened and closed. Her breathing quickened with the atmosphere of urgency around her, but she kept her eyes tight shut, instinctively reluctant to draw attention to herself until she could regain a sense of herself in whatever this place was. In the renewed quiet, she opened her eyes. She was lying on her back in a bed that was not a bed. Or at least it resembled no bed she had slept in before. Tentatively she moved her legs and encountered wooden sides. They were not high, but it felt as if she was lying in a box. She looked up at a ceiling of oak planking. An unlit lantern hung from a chain. But there was no need for lamplight, because great slabs of sunlight slanted into the room from latticed windows a few feet from the foot of the bed. But the wall wasn't straight. It was paneled in some glowing wood and curved. The windows were set into the curves, and they stood open, soft sea scents wafting in on a gentle breeze. Olivia turned her head on the pillow. She turned it tentatively because it hurt a little to do so. The pillow beneath her cheek was crisp and smelled of the flatiron and fresh morning air. She looked into a chamber, a paneled room with latticed windows and rich Turkey carpets on the shining oak floor. There was an oval table and a sideboard, several carved chairs. But it was not a regularly shaped room. It had no corners. And it seemed to be moving. Very gently, but definitely. Rocking like a cradle. Olivia's eyes closed once more. When she next awoke, the sun still shone, the chamber still rocked gently. She was looking into the room as she had been when she'd fallen asleep. And this time she was not alone. A man stood at the oval table, bent over some papers, working with something in his hand. He seemed to Olivia to be cast in gold; a shining aura surrounded him. Then she understood that he was standing in the sunlight from the window and the bright rays glinted off his hair. Hair the color of golden guineas. He was completely absorbed in whatever he was doing. He held himself very still, only his hands moving. He seemed detached, centered on himself and his work. It was a quality Olivia recognized because it was her own. She knew what it was to lose oneself in the world of the mind. She wondered whether to speak, but it seemed impolite to disturb his concentration, so she lay watching him through half-closed eyes, deep in the languid warmth of her peculiar bed. Her body was still sore, and the back of her head felt bruised. Other disparate aches and pains lingered with the slight muzziness in her head. She felt remote, contented, the terrors of the nightmare world vanquished. And she was aware of the strangest connection between herself and the man at the table. It was puzzling but only vaguely so. Mostly it made her feel happy. And then he spoke. He didn't raise his head or look up from his work, but he said in the harmonious voice she remembered from the dreams, "So, Sleeping Beauty returns to the world." The question didn't so much break the silence as slide into it. "Who are you?" she asked. Of all the questions that came to mind, it seemed the only one of any importance.