The figure, backlit, crouched over her and then Zelda felt blessed when cold water started splashing over her face, against her lips.
Zelda obeyed mindlessly, grabbing at the container instinctively when it seemed like it would go away.
“Shh, you need to drink more slowly, or you’ll only throw it up.”
Zelda mumbled something like a denial, and opened her eyes again to argue her case. She saw Zayed’s face, looking down at her, full of concern.
“I’ve got you, Zelda. You’re going to be okay.”
Zelda nodded, accepting it as the gospel truth without even quite understanding the words.
The Sheikh brought the bottle to her lips again and she drank down a little more water before the last of her energy left her and she slumped against Zayed’s strong, warm body, slipping gently into unconsciousness.
Zelda came back to consciousness bit by bit; she became aware of the fact that her headache was gone, that her skin no longer felt drawn and tight on her face and hands. She realized that she wasn’t on the ground; instead, soft blankets covered her and a cushioned surface cradled her underneath. She felt clean, dry—but not uncomfortably so—and better rested than she could remember ever being in her life. Her heart beat steadily without pounding in her ears, and lastly she became aware of the fact that she was incredibly hungry.
She opened her eyes and the first thing she saw was Zayed, seated a few feet away from her, watching her intently. A broader glance around her told Zelda that she was in her bedroom at the Sheikh’s mansion, and that at some point since she had passed out, she’d been brought back, bathed, and cared for. None of the servants seemed to be present.
“Hi,” she said sheepishly, pushing herself up by her elbows.
“Careful,” Zayed said, reaching out to help her pull herself up into a seated position. “Your arm might be a little sore; the doctor said you needed IV fluids.”
Zelda looked down and saw the pristine white square of gauze taped to the crook of her elbow. “I feel pretty great,” she said, smiling shyly. “A little concerned at being much cleaner than I remember.”
“Hadya insisted that since we haven’t yet been married, she should be the one to clean you up,” Zayed admitted, looking amused.
“Well at least that’s one less thing I have to be mortified about,” Zelda grinned. She shook her head, thinking of how incredibly foolish her escape attempt had been—all the things she hadn’t thought of, including the fact that she had no real idea of how to get to the city from Zayed’s compound.
“He said you would probably be hungry when you woke up,” the Sheikh told her, “but that since you’d been through such an ordeal, you should eat fairly lightly at first.”
The words disappointed Zelda, but she kept her face neutral as Zayed stood and walked to the door, opening it to reveal a rolling cart with a tray on top. He wheeled it into the room and positioned it next to her bed before lifting the lid on the tray to reveal a dish of what looked like rice pudding, a selection of fresh fruit, and some of the flatbreads that Zelda had particularly liked in her breakfasts during her first week as the Sheikh’s guest and bride-to-be.
“That looks amazing,” she said, her stomach almost cramping with hunger.
“Here, let me set you up,” Zayed said. He produced another tray with legs on it and settled it over her lap, and Zelda shifted in bed until she was able to reach it properly. Zayed served her, pouring fragrant tea into a beautiful cup, adding a little honey to it, making sure everything was where she could get to it on the bed tray.
Zelda felt almost embarrassed; Zayed had never shown this level of concern, this amount of kindness to her. She’d never seen him show it to anyone, though she reminded herself that she’d only seen him in action for a few weeks. She had to admit that the gentler, caring side of the Sheikh, unexpected as it was, appealed to her much more than the generous entertainer or the charming businessman had.
She began to eat, taking careful bites and chewing as slowly as she could manage. The rice pudding was sweetened with honey and spices—cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger, Zelda noted—and rich with creamy milk, the grains of rice soft without being mushy. The fruit was perfectly ripe, probably from the greenhouse on the property.
As she ate, Zayed watched her—not obtrusive, merely interested—waiting for her to need him or to ask for something.
“It’s kind of weird sitting here in silence,” Zelda noted eventually; as grateful as she was for the Sheikh’s presence, she felt almost rude, eating in front of him.
“Did you want to talk about something?”
Zelda glanced at the man she had fled just the night before, the man who’d saved her, and she bowed her head, feeling her cheeks heat up. “I wanted to thank you for rescuing me,” she told him. “And…” she put her spoon down for a moment, taking a sip of tea to clear her mouth. “I wanted to apologize for running off on you like that.”
Zayed dismissed the need for an apology with a wave. “I shouldn’t have been surprised,” he said. “I’m just glad that I was able to get to you in time. You wandered quite a way away from anywhere civilized.”
Zelda chuckled ruefully, shaking her head and picking up her spoon once more. “Just how far did I get? I thought I was going in the direction of the city.”
“You were about five miles away from the house,” Zayed told her. “You somehow managed to go northwest, so you were actually going farther and farther away from the city.” His hazel eyes glinted briefly with amusement. “Do you want some more to eat?” He gestured to her tray and Zelda realized she’d already finished all of the food.
“I probably shouldn’t,” she said reluctantly. Her mouth wanted more, but her stomach was already sending signals that it would be a mistake.
Zayed took the tray away, but left the tea within reach, and Zelda sipped at it meditatively, watching as he wheeled the cart back out of the room before returning to her bedside.