This fic here is meant as a present on the birthday of my friend (she knows who I guess ;) )
I can't say this thing is dedicated to her as it'd be a lie, but the fact that I translated it into English is totally on her account :D I had all my readers on a forum where I could post the original, and as I know she'd definitely read this one sooner or later (knowing how busy she is now ;) ), I decided I could post it here as well, so it required translation.
Happy birthday again! 3 I like receiving presents even long after the actual birthday, hope so do you ;)
A few words about the fic:
The idea came to me don't even know how, but I decided it deserved a little contemplation, and then it developed into something bigger than I'd expected. I wanted to show how I imagine the relations of Maeve and Bryn after the former's return, as well as Bryn's background which I suppose will be very surprising for the readers. I'm a big M/S shipper so if you're equally fond of this couple, I guess you might like what I described with them ;) If you are a fan of Bryn, but don't mind M/S as a couple, I assume you might also find it interesting. Just a little advice to those who love Bryn: don't give up reading too soon, because in this fic she'll get the most of what she deserves in the second half. Promise ;)
Naturally I don't own AoS in any form, all the praise goes to Ed Naha, even though I'd love to own his alien version of season three and bury it :D
Title:The words "Hold on to me, love" come from a song "My Last Breath" by Evanescence. The original title I was planning is "An angel for the two", but later I changed it (starts becoming a tradition) :D
I shut up :X Here goes the text:
A dark blue candle was lighting up the cabin. On the couch there was a slim dark-haired girl, she was sitting and looking through a book. By her side there were some more old books. The girl felt dizziness because of their smell – leather and dust. But she kept on reading, realising well that it was of no use.
The door opened, and a handsome young man entered the cabin.
"Knocking works" the girl said, irritated, knowing that it was impolite to talk to the captain on his own ship this way.
"What's wrong, Bryn?" he sat beside her.
She said nothing.
"Moisten you fingers with pure water and put out the candle"
"It's blue, and all coloured candles have magical power. If you blow on the flame, the magic can work. Seeing your spirits, I'd better not imagine what might happen in this case…"
Bryn started crying all of sudden. Sinbad rolled his eyes. The most irritating thing about women in his opinion was making scenes. Especially when he couldn't find out the reason. That's why he put the candle out on his own discontentedly and asked:
"What's wrong, Bryn? Stop crying! Seems everything's great, so why are you?.."
"Cause I can't stand it anymore! What is the language of this book?" she almost hit Sinbad in the face with it. He ducked unintentionally.
"Then why can't I get a word? Why can't I read any spell? Or they don't work! I feel foolish! I don't even speak 'bout the books written in some symbols!"
"Bryn, there's nothing strange about that. You don't have enough experience, so you don't know how to read a spell properly. Knowing no languages isn't surprising, too – there's no-one who can teach you"
"Sinbad, I'm grateful for your permission to read Maeve's books, but I feel even worse than before. Even you know 'bout these candles, and I know, in fact, nothing. I can't stand the thought that Maeve could read these books, she never failed with the spells, she knew languages… She was far better than me at everything!"
Sinbad didn't like such attitude towards Maeve at all, but he convinced himself to be patient.
"Bryn, Maeve also studied a lot before she was able to control her magic. I remember that she almost hit my head with the first fireball. Well, I'm not sure it was an accident…" Sinbad smiled at his own thoughts. "She had been taught for a long time by Dim-Dim, and you are trying to handle it on your own… I don't know more than you, it's just because Maeve once shouted at me for taking a candle from her shelves. I took a violet one…"
The captain never finished, Bryn interrupted him.
"Again Maeve! Do you think it's pleasant to feel every time this comparison not to my benefit? I hear only that – Maeve in this case, and Maeve would say, and Maeve would be able… I'm not Maeve!"
"I know that!" Sinbad said angrily. "And I can't understand your hysterics. You aren't Maeve. You are a member of my crew, the same as the others. We don't compare you and Maeve – we are recalling her. You have to accept it. This girl took on this ship and in this crew a place which no one else can take, even you. I don't mean to hurt you. I will never forget her. Never"
Tears filled Bryn's eyes again. Now they were caused by Sinbad's words. She was jealous, but she was thinking not about captain, whose attention she wasn't really able to obtain, she meant the entire crew. Another woman lived in their hearts. It seemed, nobody would grieve this way if something happened to her, Bryn. And no chance that she could replace that woman. She couldn't even find her own place.
Meanwhile, Sinbad was looking through the books. He handed Bryn one of them.
"Take it. This book includes the basic magical information. Stones, herbs, candles… Maeve used to read it quite often. But, please, be sober – don't burn the ship. Despite all her efforts, Maeve haven't done that" he added quickly to comfort Bryn.
"Thanks" She really wanted to believe that Sinbad cared sincerely.
"I'd better leave you… with the book"
"Aye… – Bryn opened the book and started reading"
"Maeve, come up to me, please"
A gentle, caring voice. Sometimes the Celt thought that she wasn't worthy of such an attitude.
Maeve came up to Dim-Dim without a hint of annoyance, although she hated being distracted while reading.
"What can you see?" he handed her a small transparent rectangle. True mages know that the crystal ball is rather some kind of fancy stuff used by frauds than a truly magical object.
Maeve looked through the slice with interest. Developing the skill to see without looking proved to be a challenging task.
"A line… A broken one… It turns back and… oh, they're two here… They cross? Yes, several times…" Maeve closed her eyes. "I can't look this way anymore. I'll get blind"
"I'm not making you do it. Everything you had to see you already have"
"What… lines? So you looked… that was my destiny?" Maeve's thoughts were in a mess, getting to know your own future was the hardest task, since you truly wanted to see what you expected. Inexperienced mages often did so, Dim-Dim thought, that was why he hadn't told Maeve whose destiny the crystal revealed.
"Yes, this is my destiny…" the Celt answered her own question. "Interpret it, master, please"
"And you?" Dim-Dim was surprised, as a rule Maeve longed to be the first to do everything. He'd been even worried that it would influence the development of her magic.
"No. I don't want to make a mistake"
"A crook back. The return. Broken lines. Complicated destinies. A crossing. The meeting"
Maeve spoke slowly, to have more time to think. The flame of hope had almost gone out in her soul – of hope for joy, for happiness, even for love. She was used to hard work, but training was a completely different thing. Magic had been wearing out her soul even more than her body. Maeve had been getting lethally tired, and her muscles were languid with physical idleness. Purely female work that she had to busy herself with alongside with her training was a burden. Maeve had been pining – for sails, ropes and fights, for the ship – the only place where she learned to be equal among the best ones. After a month of so strange for her a life Maeve, who hadn't dared to object beforehand, announced that from then on she would dedicate three days a week to physical training and it wasn't subject to discussion. Master, not at all a despotic person, rather a lenient and kind-hearted one, agreed immediately. Not a single time did he regret it afterwards. The circles under Maeve's eyes disappeared, her slight flush was back. Watching her strike an imaginary rival with her sword, Dim-Dim understood: it helped her lose the contact with reality, express her pain with movement if she couldn't – as she thought – do it with words. But nothing could really cure her soul. Maeve didn't want such a life.
"You read everything correctly, darling. You'll return to the Nomad"
"How?" the Celt asked quietly. So quietly that Dim-Dim didn't catch the sarcastic and distrustful tone in her voice.
"Don't know. I guess, something will happen there"
Maeve smiled sadly all of a sudden. For the first time during this year.
"Amusing, isn't it? Another dimension… not quite another world, and I could return to the Nomad even now. Only I wouldn't see… anyone, and wouldn't be seen either"
"That's right, Maeve. But you saw it yourself. Crystals never lie. You will return very soon. That's your destiny"
"And you, Master?"
"I don't know, I don't think I'll ever leave this place"
"Don't say so. Weren't you the one who taught me that a thought is half an action, a word is almost equal to an action?"
"It's just a theory, Maeve. Only a nice utterance. It suits our everyday deeds, not this case, definitely not. I would like to return…" Maeve raised one brow slightly, Master rarely spoke of his desires. "But I can't see my destiny. The crystal doesn't show it. That means, I guess, that it will end very soon"
Maeve raised her head brusquely.
"I won't believe it!"
Turning to the door, she strode away. Right at the frame she turned around.
"If I get out of here, I will find a way to return you as well. You are a father for me, even more, haven't seen a lot of joy from my own father. That's why I'll spend my life trying, if it's necessary, I swear"
Dim-Dim sighed. The door closed behind Maeve.
The sun was slowly rolling to the horizon. The wind worked for them. Bryn went up to the deck, Dermott landed on her hand immediately. *She seems to be in a much better mood than she was in the morning* Sinbad thought. *Maybe she stopped tormenting herself with that ridiculous envy?*
"Thanks for the book, Sinbad" she said with a smile. "You chose it really well"
"I'm glad for you" the captain answered, friendly, but without real interest in his voice. His thoughts were busy otherwise: in the dark silhouette of a woman with a hawk on her hand, the setting sun being on the background, he saw a different person again. Magical problems weren't any of his concern after that. In comparison with never-ceasing anxiety in his soul they were becoming far away, shadowy, almost unnoticeable.
"Where are we sailing, Sinbad?"
He blinked, slipping back into the reality. *Something makes him anxious. Could it again be that woman, Maeve? He said I could never replace her. Who was she? For the crew, for him? Why doesn't he want to tell me?*
Bryn was getting more and more tired. She felt like she didn't belong on the ship. Men were always valued in the open seas – that's' who could carry heavy cargo or pull a rope properly. Bryn was kept away from that, she was given the easiest work – sewing sailors' clothes and fetching stuff. With such duties she was turning into cargo rather than a helpful crewmember. And there was nobody to turn to – if I'm of no use, I'd better not annoy them, she was thinking. She was looking forward to every new adventure: she used magic, everyone was grateful. And only adventures, not sailing days, made up her life during the last year.
"Sailing… Doubar was able to trade silk for the lowest price, now it's high time we sold it in Persia. I'll offer it to Caliph of Bagdad, his fifth daughter has just been born, and they're all so capricious… want only the best stuff" Sinbad said with fake jolly. "They're like this from the cradle, as if born with some certainty everyone will run around them"
"And so they do" his brother commented, having just arrived. "I remember, the oldest one is 17 already? The time flies… I think she has eyes for you, little brother"
What Doubar said was of course meant to be a joke. But those never-ending hints about the umpteenth girl in love!.. Sinbad decided not to go mad so as not to spoil the others' mood. Looking at the hawk, he laughed in such a way that Bryn would believe and Doubar, who'd known him since he was a baby, would understand the innuendo.
"Ok, I'll go downstairs and carry on my reading. Thanks a lot again, Sinbad"
Captain made some unintelligible sound and Bryn left, waving her hand to send Dermott away. Sinbad didn't look at her.
Pain… It wasn't letting go, wasn't allowing to lose the reality or the memories. It had an image, light and sad. It had a voice – quiet and gentle. A heart – kind and faithful. And that pain was a million times better than the preceding emptiness.
And Bryn entered the cabin, fell onto the bed and buried her head in the pillow. In her thoughts at a light speed hatred was replaced with remorse, hope with disappointment, joy with placidity. *No, I won't cry. I'll learn to be strong. I'll be able to become… Maeve? And why? I'm nobody, I don't remember myself, and the past of this woman I seem to know far better than my own. Isn't it easier to turn into her? I'll learn to work magic not worse, or even better! I'm a natural sorceress after all*
Bryn grabbed one of the books.
"Ok, what's here?" she was talking to herself. "This one won't work, this one looks too complicated, too… Here! I lost the key from a chest, Firouz told me off then. So…"
Bryn had started learning Latin already. Speaking was almost impossible for her, understanding was not her brilliant score either, but reading proved very easy. What if the spell works? Then Sinbad would be happy with her success, he had supported Maeve, didn't he… Breathing in deeply to cope with the worrying, Bryn started reading.
A weird feeling overwhelmed Maeve. A calling one, it seemed, should she give in – it would take her far away. Maybe, that's Sinbad, she thought. Could he be missing her equally much? Could he be calling her so desperately that some echo was reaching her half-dead soul? Only don't stop, please, wait…
"Master!" Maeve shouted. The voice made Dim-Dim rush into the room.
"Master, I'm called. I'm needed there. You were right, as usual"
"Don't speak, Maeve. Go, go now"
The Celt wanted to add something else. But the call was becoming more and more alluring, it was hard to resist. Maeve didn't even try to. The room and her Master's face were turning vague, the colours were bleaching, the lines were changing. Gradually the thick brownish mist around her dissolved, her eyes regained the ability to differentiate colours. Maeve saw the room – yes, undoubtedly, one of the cabins on the Nomad – and smiled.
"Who are you?" the voice behind her back. Maeve turned around and saw a dark-haired girl, watching her daringly.
"Bryn, was it you who called me?" she asked calmly.
"How do you know me? Who are you, I'm asking again?"
From the first second, seeing the mane of red hair and beautiful figure, Bryn was certain of who was standing in front of her. But her heart was holding on to the last hope. Were it Rumina, who was hated by the whole crew, Bryn would be happier than now.
"You know that I'm Maeve. Was it you who called me?" the voice became harsher. Maeve had returned home. And a strange woman was treating her like a stray cat!
"Don't know, I was actually trying to find a key…" Bryn mumbled, lost. She didn't expect such a tone from Maeve she knew from the crew's stories. She was reluctant to admit her failure but didn't know what else to say.
Without waiting for an invitation, Maeve sat down and took the book.
"And what did you want, my dear?" she said, her voice not quite devoid of sneer. "It reads: return the one who's needed. Not what's needed"
"I'm not quite good at Latin" Bryn snarled.
"We'll find the key in jig time now" Maeve added already softly. "Thank you, of course. If it wasn't for your mistake, I wouldn't be here now"
*What a luck* Bryn was thinking. *It's not enough that she's back, but it's all my fault. Though… Will the crew be finally truly grateful? I got back their Maeve, their muse, their love and hope. Happy now?*
Those thoughts were so clearly demonstrated on Bryn's face that Maeve smiled in her mind. She could easily understand that girl. But wasn't so willing. If she's so unfriendly, I'm not going to crawl for her, Maeve decided.
Unlike that of Bryn, Maeve's face revealed nothing. She put the book on the table and left the cabin in silence.
Sinbad had just passed the tiller to Rongar and turned away, watching the turquoise water surface astern. Hearing some light female steps behind him he thought automatically – Bryn came there again. A couple of seconds later he understood that the usual chinwag, the only entertainment in the sailors' daily life had ceased, there was a suspicious silence behind his back. Someone's hand touched his shoulder carefully. Sinbad froze, fearing his own guess. He didn't want to turn around, he was afraid that everything had a much more prosaic reason than the one he'd made up, that everything was just a mirage and delusion.
Smiling, Maeve approached the captain. Who was he, she was asking herself. A year had passed. Sinbad had lived all this time without her. She could easily learn how he'd lived, but she didn't want to. Just because she knew him too well.
Slowly, wishing to prolong the priceless moment of a new hope, Sinbad turned around.
For a year he'd been cherishing in his memory every instant spent with her. Smiled at the pleasant moments. Reproached himself for his lack of restraint. And it was getting unbearable to realise that everything could be different. He could have made the first step. They could have been together. And the guilt for being unable to save her was replaced with the guilt for unspoken words, unrealised dreams. Did he really get a chance to amend everything?
Yes, that was Maeve. Here she stood, so proud, so beautiful, and in her gaze there were confusion and happiness, pain and joy. The lips trembled, as if she wanted to say something, but couldn't. Sinbad understood without words. Tenderly he folded his Celt in his arms, pressed her against him. Maeve rested her cheek against the captain's shoulder and couldn't believe that they're finally together and nothing could part them.
And only after Maeve pulled back and carefully freed herself from Sinbad's embrace, everyone else ran to their side. Dermott dove down so fast that it was a miracle he managed to stop in time and perch beside his mistress. Maeve caressed his feathers lovingly. The hawk shot upwards again, not to thrust any sad thoughts upon the sorceress and give her an opportunity to talk to her friends finally. Doubar was the first to grab her with both arms, the next ones were Rongar and Firouz. After greetings etc. the captain knocked his fist on the wood resolutedly and cleared his throat.
"I know you've got what to talk about, but you see, WE'd also like to talk" he announced. Sinbad learned to make use of the previous mistakes. Long ago it was enough for him to look at Doubar to get embarrassed and put off the conversation with Maeve till some other time. But now he knew that the other time may just not exist.
Sinbad closed the door to the cabin. Smiling, he turned to Maeve. She smiled back for a moment and her face got serious again.
"You're the same…"
Sinbad sat on the bunk and pointed at the place beside him. Maeve preferred a stool.
"Sinbad… Wait" Maeve sighed. The joy of the meeting didn't make her forget her duty. "We've got little time. We have to save Dim-Dim"
"Save? From what, Maeve? Did anything happen to him?"
"No. He just doesn't see his destiny. Sinbad, I don't know what to do. I… am so afraid for him!"
Maeve covered her face with her hands. Sinbad, having understood none of what she said, still jumped to his feet and squatted beside her.
"Maeve, don't cry, please… I don't know what one should say in such a case…"
"I'm not crying, Sinbad, I'm not" she rose her head and took a deep breath. "Sorry"
Maeve rested her forehead on his shoulder. Sinbad embraced her carefully, trying to maintain his balance.
"Everything will be fine, Maeve. We're together now, you're back – and that means we'll cope with everything"
And the unapproachable Celt, who had decided that the embrace on the deck would remain the only momentary weakness, allowed herself for a moment to lose the reality in her captain's arms.
"Bryn, as for me, I've always had faith in you!" Doubar thundered joyfully. He replaced Rongar at the tiller and the others crowded around him. A strong wind started, and it took all Doubar's strength to hold the tiller so as to keep the Nomad going in the right direction. "Imagine only, you just read some magical mumbo jumbo and look – lass is back, though we'd lost all hope already! Maybe, Sinbad will come round now, too, I didn't have power to watch him already – some mummy of a man, I swear!"
"I can't wait to ask her how she lived – where, what she'd learned, how Master's doing…" Firouz agreed.
Rongar shook his head. His friend was incorrigible.
"Stand where you are, inventor! Just try to break in Sinbad's cabin…" Doubar threatened.
"I wasn't going to! Am I stupid" Firouz got offended. "I meant – when they come here"
"And do you remember when…"
Bryn left the company quietly. Nobody paid attention. The friends were laughing recalling some funny stories, Firouz was waving his arms fiercely, and Doubar was half-jokingly predicting the future of his brother and his Celt. Dermott was floating above the ship with joyful shrieks and wasn't going to perch on the outstretched hand. Bryn went to her cabin – or will it belong to Maeve now, too? The brunette felt like an insect – a tiny, unnoticeable, meaningless one. What else will this redhead take away? She, Bryn, didn't have anything left.
Sinbad and Maeve were sitting on the bunk now, as the presumptuous captain did fall onto the floor when the wind started and the ship swayed on a wave, and the Celt's stool creaked threateningly, too.
"This girl, Bryn – who is she?" Maeve asked in a falsely indifferent tone.
"She's a good friend"
"No doubt. It's just…"
"She seemed to hate me, although she met me for the first time in her life" Maeve smiled, confused. "She looked at me in such a way that it felt weird…"
"Take it easy. Bryn's just envious"
"Of what? What do I have to be envious of? A ruined life? Constant fatigue? Unpredictable future? What?"
"Your place in this crew. And I don't mean just the ship – you've always been with us, Maeve, I'm sure you know that"
"Aye, I do. And… she had her full right to replace me. I'm not angry with her for helping you, am I…"
"I'm telling you, think nothing of it. I think when she gets to know you better, you'll become friends"
"Certainly – if Bryn wants it"
"Maeve… there's so much beautiful in you that it's difficult not to be envious…" The Celt smiled in confusion and turned away so that her gaze wouldn't reveal how pleasant these words were for her. "You're so… beautiful, clever, tender. You're a true sorceress. A great friend. And even…"
"Captain, stop. You aren't talking to a merchant" Maeve joked. "Thanks. I'm not sure I deserved everything you told me, but still thanks"
"Lady, you haven't listened till the end" Sinbad said quietly, a playful flame appeared in his eyes.
"Sinbad… I know you want to talk to me… about many things. But we have more important affairs. Killing Rumina, saving Dim-Dim… And who knows what problems that our lucky crew will run into. Don't hurry"
She was right, as usual. A hostage to circumstances, used to sacrificing her life for the sake of other people's happiness.
"But can I ask you for just one thing?"
"Not more" Maeve didn't hold back her smile.
Sinbad leaned forward and kissed her. Maeve didn't find the power to push him away or just pull back. The resourceful captain found the way as usual. She didn't let him speak – he found a different way to explain himself. For an instant Maeve suddenly felt happy… Yet, she was the first to pull back, she looked into Sinbad's eyes and rose to her feet.
"Come on, we're waited for…"
Firouz was the first to attack Maeve with interrogation when she and the captain left the cabin. She was barely able to answer, in fact thinking of Sinbad's words. When the ship's cook called the crew for dinner, it had already got dark. The wind fell. Everyone gathered in the common cabin, apart from one of the sailors who had a shift at the tiller.
Eternally hungry sailors attacked the food happily. Maeve was sitting beside Sinbad and smiling. That was it, the thing that made her happy – the life aboard. The Nomad wasn't like any other place in the world. Yes, there were other ships. But they didn't have such a close-knit crew, such faithful friends, such a caring captain. And simple moments she hadn't valued before caused an involuntary smile and incredible trembling in her heart.
When the sailors had eaten, Sinbad stood up and introduced Maeve to them – some of them joined the crew when she'd left. The Celt was smiling slightly, but she wasn't very pleased – not because of Sinbad, he acted rightly. It was just that getting acquainted with sailors, may them be several, on her Nomad seemed weird – like being a guest at her own home. Besides, from the corner of her eye she noticed Bryn's grim expression.
"The dinner's over, good night to everyone!" Sinbad said, rising from the bench. Maeve and Bryn stood up, too. Only then did Maeve think that her cabin – being a lady she was the only one apart from the captain having a separate cabin – belonged to Bryn now.
"Sinbad… Maybe I'll stay here?" she asked in a whisper.
"Why didn't I think of that earlier" the captain flapped himself on the forehead. "Bryn, what do you say to sharing your room with Maeve?"
"Whatever you say"
"Great. Then… Rongar! Help me carry one more bunk to Bryn's cabin!"
The moor, like always, nodded slowly.
Maeve felt even more awkward. Sinbad was right, as usual, but the perspective of sharing a cabin with a woman who hated her wasn't thrilling at all. Bryn, on her side, wasn't happy with such a neighbourhood either. But after all, how could she refuse directly the captain's request? Besides… maybe this Maeve wasn't such a threat to her kind-of-happiness?
Sinbad fetched the bunk with Rongar's help, and after that both of them went to sleep. Though the captain had some food for thought. He wondered how Bryn was going to accept Maeve, but wasn't very concerned about that. After all, Sinbad was just a man, and all women seemed to him creatures of the same family. No, Maeve he considered special, one of a kind. But the relations of women were totally alien to him. A far more interesting subject was how Maeve was going to treat him. Yes, now other matters were to be considered. Maeve would have a rest, get up in the morning and together they'd obligatory make up a plan to save Master. Rumina wouldn't be waited for long, knowing that her worst enemy was back on the Nomad. Sinbad wasn't surprised anymore that the witch often knew about their every step. But sooner or later Maeve would destroy Rumina – what then? Overwhelmed with the thoughts about his love, Sinbad didn't even notice falling asleep.
"Here" Bryn handed Maeve a pillow and a blanket. "Works?"
"I'm not capricious" she answered calmly, putting the things on the bunk. Then she traced tenderly with her hand the books lying in chaos on the table.
"Maeve, look… You, as it were… Forgive me for attacking you that way when you appeared… Must've been due to suddenness…"
"Bryn, what are these excuses in aid of? The apologies are accepted, I understand everything. I understand more than you think. Saying beforehand: I have nothing against you. I appreciate the good that you did and, hopefully, will do for the crew. And now let's sleep. We'll have time to talk. Tomorrow we'll have a lot of important affairs. Good night" Maeve blew out the candle.
"Same to you"
But none of them fell asleep immediately. Bryn was still trying to figure out who was in front of her, whether she would bring happiness or ruin it – and couldn't find the answer. Maeve was mentally torn between saving Dim-Dim, destroying Rumina and… Not a single time did she upbraid the destiny for so many trials. Master, a true fatalist, explained well that everything was by a reason. And if she, Maeve, was given such a life, she was strong enough to stand it. Only one thing she didn't allow herself to think of – about the love that she saw in the captain's eyes, that she felt in his every touch. And she begged the heaven not to let her own gaze give away what was going on in her vulnerable soul, neither to Sinbad, nor even to herself. The uneasy evening turned into a night, full of solemn dreams.
Maeve woke up earlier than Bryn. On the Nomad it wasn't a usual thing to luxuriate in the bed, although Sinbad would be, naturally, only happy if Maeve rested well. She found the captain on his usual spot at the tiller – he often took a morning or evening shift. Back in the old days Maeve loved to stand by his side at such moments and watch the setting sun colour the sky golden and rosy, its first rays caressing the sea surface at dawn. And now she breathed in deeply the familiar salty air and smiled, eyes closed dreamily.
"Morning. Slept well?" Sinbad asked his usual question.
"Mm, frankly speaking, not well enough. I will sleep well only when everything's fine. And for that we have to save Dim-Dim asap. He has to return to the Isle of Dawn. Though, maybe, he and Cairpra will prefer Basra – she's already used to that city…"
"Wait… The Isle of Dawn – didn't it vanish?"
"It's hidden from us. But it still exists. That doesn't matter, anyway! The main thing is to decide how to help Dim-Dim"
"What about the spell that Bryn read? It returned you, why shouldn't it work with Master?"
"Sinbad, you can't possibly think that when I was in your crew I was reading piles of books for pleasure? I tried to read that spell dozens of times…"
"Hold on! Firstly, what do you mean "was"? You're still in my crew, and formally you never left it" said Sinbad with a smile.
"Fine, may it be your way! And secondly?"
"Then you were just a starting sorceress, and now I suppose you're much stronger"
"That's true. But, no offending Bryn intended, even then I was a bit stronger than she is now. That's the matter of practice. By the way, thank you very much for your faith in my former magic. The spell didn't work for a different reason. You see, I'd got to another realm because of the white magic. And that's what returned me, too… Wait… Sinbad, it's genius! Thanks!"
"So, with your new power you really can return him?"
"No! Dim-Dim was trapped by black magic – so that must be some evil force that can return him. Rumina!"
"How clever, Maeve" Sinbad sighed. "We're heading to Rumina. She'll prepare an exquisite feast in our honour, listen to us attentively, after which she'll gladly read some spell to help a powerful white mage"
Maeve nudged him.
"You haven't listened to everything yet again. You remember that killing Rumina is the main goal in my life…"
"Yes… I just don't know why"
"I will tell you. I… I'll do it today. Just nobody should interrupt, fine?"
"And now it will help me to save Dim-Dim as well!"
"Maeve, in what way? Rumina will be dead…"
"Sailor, admit it, you haven't slept at all? When I press a sword to this witch's throat, she'll read any spell!"
"True! Only… Maeve, Rumina acts very foolishly at times, but generally she's quite sly… Are you sure she won't use it against us?"
"When it comes to Rumina, you can't ever be sure" Maeve smiled sadly. "But… we'll succeed, won't we?"
"I'm afraid we don't have a choice" Sinbad laughed. "Now we'll have a breakfast, then it'll be Rongar's shift, so we'll go to the cabin if you want and talk about everything"
"Only get something for me to eat. During breakfast I have to stand here, and if I don't grab a bite, I'll fall on my way to the cabin!"
"Alright, I won't let it happen!"
"I'll wait here"
Maeve left the captain, laughing, and went to the common cabin right before the start of breakfast.
An untouched plate was swaying on the table. The captain was too shocked to eat. Maeve was sitting, tense, hands locked, waiting for his reaction.
"Maeve… Forgive me. I…"
"For what?" the sorceress marveled. That wasn't what she'd expected.
"At times I spoke… about Dermott, or Rumina… without thinking. You can't imagine how ashamed I am now"
Maeve sighed, relieved.
"Sinbad, no need to apologize. That's not why I told you about everything"
"I understand. Because I wanted to know?"
"No…" Maeve closed her eyes to find the courage to confess what she really felt. "It's just… I'm tired, Sinbad. I can't hold everything within me anymore. Long ago I thought that if I was given a trial, I had to deal with it on my own. And only when a year ago I saw Master again, he told me that there was nothing shameful in asking for help. Especially if you're in question… But I don't mean the help in the battle. I need… that you be there for me. Just so that I feel I'm not alone"
Maeve opened her eyes, but avoided the captain's gaze. He carefully took her by the shoulders and made her face him.
"I will be there, do you hear?" Sinbad tenderly traced the Celt's cheek with his hand. She closed her eyes again and lowered her head. "You're not alone. You won't ever be alone. I won't let you"
The brunette shivered from the suddenness and raised her head.
Maeve put aside the book and smiled assiduously.
"Tell me about your adventures. I think you know about everything that happened when I was here. I'm interested, too"
Bryn also put aside her book and started playing with a ring on her finger.
"Don't be nervous" said Maeve. "I'm asking you to tell me about the adventures of the crew, and not about how Sinbad spent this year"
"Well… Don't even know how to start… For example, the first word I heard from Sinbad was 'Maeve'"
The latter laughed. Bryn cheered up and got also carried away by her own story. But she still hadn't learned to hide her thoughts. Which was why Maeve understood far more than Bryn meant to say – the ring that she continually twisted, put off and on again gave her away. The Celt ordered herself not to pay attention. She'd already forgiven.
Bryn blushed slightly and asked with downcast eyes:
"Do you… love Sinbad?"
Maeve always seemed to have a ready answer for everything. So now, although her thoughts returned to her closest person in the world, out loud, laughing, she said only:
"Bryn, I'm sorry, but I guess you shouldn't know the answer to this question before Sinbad learns it"
"Yeah…" Bryn sighed. For a moment she wanted to share with this woman her worries, but distrust and hostility hadn't yet dissolved completely in her soul. Moreover, beside a beauty like Maeve the brunette looked modest and pallid, and that only complicated their relations.
Undoubtedly, Bryn had something in common with the Celt. Both of them had tender souls, wishing plain female happiness. But Maeve was a true warrior, she knew how to hold back her emotions, hide her thoughts and feelings, and the weakness remained only deep in her heart – outwardly Maeve always seemed proud, kind of rude and a great stayer. And Bryn hadn't yet learned to control her temper like this, that was why everyone in the crew pitied her. She really lived only during adventures, Maeve took them for granted. Bryn hated workaday life, and the Celt valued every moment spent aboard.
(In several days)
… Sunrays reflected in the restless sea, getting lost in the fiery curls and warm brown eyes of the red-haired woman, standing on the deck. Proudly stretching its sails, the Nomad was sailing in a new direction to the northwest. It was urged on by not quite a real wind.
"Maeve, are you sure Rumina's there?" asked Doubar, who'd just replaced Sinbad at the tiller.
"As much as in the fact that you'll never see your feet from above, my dear!"
Everyone laughed, even Doubar himself, he'd been missing such comments a lot.
"Scratch took over the West, and was going to spread his power over the East, too. Sinbad prevented him from doing it… despite everything" Maeve sighed. She remembered well how not long ago at all Scratch had been trying to lure Sinbad to the side of the evil. "Besides, a year ago we chased Rumina away, she lost her home, if her lair can be called that way, she got weaker – because of the emerald, and now, I believe, she's sitting snug in the West – saving her strength…"
"Maeve, but why isn't Rumina showing for so long? Even when you took away her power, in two months we met her again. And now she's nowhere to be seen for over a year…"
"Sailor, are you missing her?" Maeve nudged Sinbad without being noticed; he smiled. "And seriously, I don't know. She's alive, now also strong, but it would've been far more logical for her to attack exactly while I wasn't here, I'm not sure Bryn would manage to repulse her attack. No offence" she added quickly.
"None taken" Bryn shrugged. "But we're lucky – the witch lost the time when we were nearly defenceless. Now you're here, and Rumina isn't a threat"
"I'm afraid that "not a threat" is a bit of an overstatement" Maeve said quietly. "She's definitely become far stronger. Me too, but… I don't know whether I'll be able to win. She doesn't play fair. That's her advantage"
"You have us" Sinbad reminded.
"No! I'm begging you… don't intervene in my war. I wanted you to be there for me, just to support me, but your help in the fight with this witch is unnecessary"
"As far as I remember, we've always been fighting evil together. And Rumina as well. We're one crew. You won't fight alone"
"Sinbad's right, lass" Doubar agreed. "We won't leave you. We're not just one crew, we're friends"
"Don't you see? It's different!" Maeve shouted. "Cairpra told me once that I had to believe that destroying Rumina was my destiny. But how can I believe it if I'm not allowed to make a single step? Sinbad, I didn't return to be taught how to live! Here I have my home… and you"
The Celt turned around and quickly strode to her cabin.
"That's true Maeve" Sinbad hemmed.
"Maybe you should talk to her?" Doubar offered.
"No, brother, not now. She's angry with us for taking care of her. She'll cool off by the evening and then everything will be fine"
"I'll talk to her" Bryn offered suddenly. "No, don't talk me out of this" she added quickly, seeing that the captain was already going to say something. I know what to do!"
Bryn went downstairs, and Sinbad exchanged looks with Doubar.
"She talks like Maeve" they said in unison.
The brothers arrived at a partially right conclusion. Bryn didn't notice herself when she started admiring Maeve. The way she talked calmly, or tossed her head proudly. She could laugh sincerely and be serious in a minute, she could talk to the captain in this tone allowing no discussion. Bryn almost understood how Maeve'd managed to obtain the love of the whole crew so easily. Still, all of that was outward, and what the Celt was like in her soul, Bryn still hadn't deciphered. That's why she didn't know that Sinbad fell in love with Maeve not only for her tenderness and kindness, but for what a rare person had a chance to witness – for her weakness that could never subdue her.
In the cabin Bryn seemingly indifferently passed Maeve, who was sitting on the bunk and sewing a hole in her cloak, and started digging the cupboard.
"You wanted to talk?" the Celt asked. Bryn stumbled, taken by surprise.
"Why do you think so?"
"When Sinbad wanted to come to me, he always pretended to need a map – they're all on my shelves, together with the books. Wasn't it fun when I said "We're sailing to Basra, have you forgotten where it is?"
Bryn smiled and proceeded to watching the floor.
"I'm listening" said Maeve.
"I… I'd like to… learn more about Rumina. If we fight with her…"
"I will fight with her" the Celt corrected.
"I don't mean that. Doubar told me that Rumina could gather what not monsters to help her… And I want to be useful. I'm a sorceress, Maeve, and I'm not going to sit by. So, please, tell me about the witch and what I can do for you"
"Rumina… she's my old enemy"
"Because of Dim-Dim?"
"No. For a different reason"
Bryn didn't dare to ask what it was.
"Dim-Dim is also involved in this. By chance, exactly thanks to him I turned up on the Nomad. Rumina's always wanted something from Sinbad…"
"I can guess what" Bryn chuckled.
"Sinbad, unfortunately, didn't consider her a serious threat for too long. And he should've. This witch might look like a playful child, but she's capable of a lot of things. She's strong and cunning. Nevertheless, she didn't manage to destroy our crew – four sailors and a starting sorceress. Now I'll be able to match her. Not without a reason I believe I'm stronger than her. But her 'friends' are really a problem. That's why you need to learn to use your powers as soon as possible"
"That's why I came"
"No" Maeve shook her head. "Here I'm of no help. I studied magic because I had a necessity. And you're a born sorceress. You must cope with it on your own"
"But how?" Bryn exclaimed. "I already make a fool of myself all the time, because I can't do anything, can't succeed in anything! Nothing like you!"
"I'm not telling you I won't help. I'm only saying that you have totally different powers that I'm not sure I'll be able to explain. And with spells, Latin and other lower magic I'll help you"
All of a sudden Maeve understood everything: Bryn's hating looks, her attitude… She just didn't want to look worse!..
"Really? You will?"
"Why don't we start right now?" the Celt said, sighing, and smiled involuntarily.
"Erm… Maeve, maybe… you'll talk to Sinbad?"
"If he wants to talk to me, he'll inform me on his own. And now let's get down to Latin" she took a book of spells from the table. "Do you know the word 'semper'"?
"I've seen it somewhere, but no idea what it means"
" 'Forever'. Remember it, really do. It's an extremely important word that can be encountered in numerous spells…"
Just a little time remained until the dinner. Rongar took the shift at the tiller. Firouz was seemingly trying to familiarize Doubar with the basics of science, and as for Bryn and Maeve, Sinbad hadn't seen them since the conversation on the deck. So the captain used the opportunity to have a rest before a night shift.
Sinbad's dreams weren't meant to come true. Just when he was trying to fall asleep someone knocked on the door.
"It's open…" the captain sighed and unwillingly opened his eyes.
"Maeve!" he exclaimed and jumped from the bed. "Have a seat"
The Celt laughed.
"Bryn hinted extremely subtly that you wanted to talk to me"
Maeve settled down on the bunk and looked at the captain in expectation.
"You've run away and… I was afraid you… wouldn't talk to me or something like that"
"Sinbad, stop that" she leaned against the wall. "Maybe I really argue with you too often, but… that's normal, for us, at least. Rumina's already done much enough to spoil our lives. Do you think I'll allow her to spoil our relationship? Let's stop the discussion. We have a lot of time ahead of us. We'll have a plan" Maeve smiled.
Sinbad embraced the Celt with one arm, she rested her head on his shoulder.
"And how's Bryn? What were you talking about?"
"She also wants to help. She seems to be sincere. We worked on Latin a bit, and tomorrow she'll be learning to cast spells"
"Is it safe?" Sinbad narrowed his eyes.
"I hope" Maeve laughed.
A flash of light blinded the captain for a moment and he blinked instinctively. When Sinbad opened his eyes, on the bed beside him there was…
"BRYN!" Maeve's voice roared, audible on the whole ship. In a couple of seconds the Celt broke into the captain's cabin.
"Oh…" the brunette looked aside guiltily and jumped to her feet.
"I've told you that you MUSTN'T whisper spells, if you don't know what they mean. Especially, whisper them incorrectly! This was a body swapping spell. And thanks Allah that you haven't memorised how that word should be pronounced. 'Semper', not 'simper', and if you'd read correctly, you would've not swapped places with me, but turned up in my body – forever! At least until I'd find a spell to cancel it. So, what?" Maeve looked questioningly at Bryn, who looked around, glanced at Sinbad and then stared at her even more guiltily.
"Have I interrupted something?"
It wasn't Bryn's first, nor last wrong spell. But with every passing day she was doing better. Maeve was chary of praise, but even she at times smiled gladly or jumped from the stool joyfully. Sinbad was grumbling about torn ropes, shaken down sails and the broken mast, but Maeve's expressive gaze was usually enough for him to calm down and regain the good cheer.
Conversations in the captain's cabin became a new touching tradition. Maeve stayed there for a whole hour sometimes, which was a new reason for Doubar's caustic remarks, Firouz' and Rongar's chuckles, that they turned into coughing traditionally fast, and Bryn's ambiguous gaze. Neither Sinbad nor Maeve paid attention. Every day the battle with Rumina drew nearer, and an icy black fear crawled into the heart. Not a soul but the captain and Dermott did the Celt confess it to. Sinbad understood without words, pressed her against himself tightly, as if afraid she'd disappear, and prayed in his mind to Allah. He asked for strength, courage and the main thing – not to lose Maeve again.
"Bryn, look" Maeve waved her hand, and in a hundred feet from the ship a ghostly image of four harpies appeared. They behaved quite like alive ones – i.e. were flying in the air above the Nomad with wild screams. Several sailors ran to the deck, where they were calmed down by Sinbad who was watching everything with interest.
"What do I have to do?"
"What do you mean 'what'? You must destroy them. Don't mind that they're transparent. They are copies of real harpies, only controlled by me and harmless"
"Won't it hurt you?" Bryn asked warily.
"Come on, try"
Bryn strained herself with all her strength and, squinting, looked at the harpies. Nothing happened. She waved her hand, but it didn't work either. Bryn lowered her head, upset.
"What are you doing?" Maeve rose her voice. "Come on!"
Bryn repeated, but no winks, waves or other movements succeeded.
"You see, I can't…" said Bryn.
Maeve sighed and answered:
"During the battle we won't be asked what you can or can't. You will have to act. Of course, I'll teach you the fighting spells, but they're not quite convenient and take much time. I don't have your powers, so I can't understand how they work. You did manage to do magic while I wasn't here after all, didn't you?"
Bryn looked at the harpies sharply, putting all her power to this gaze. The harpies moved back, as did Maeve, but didn't disappear.
"Already better! Go on!"
Suddenly one of the harpies turned around and flew right at Sinbad, standing nearby. Bryn quivered, threw up her arms, and the harpy, lit up with bright yellow light, vanished. Maeve swayed but managed to keep the balance. Sinbad was immediately by her side, she waved at him, irritated, looking at Bryn with widened eyes.
"That's it! See? You can do everything! Now I see what the thing is. Your power won't be visible during the training. Your power is fear! Understand?"
"Not really…" Bryn mumbled.
With a wave of her hand Maeve destroyed her ghosts and went on:
"You protected Sinbad instinctively from the harpy. That's what an inborn power means! You can't waste it just so. It is ruled by primeval instincts – the self-preservative instinct… and the one of helping the people who are dear to you. So during the fight your power will be priceless! Still, I'll show you the spells…" Maeve smiled slily.
"Meet me downstairs, please" Sinbad said and headed to his cabin.
The Celt sighed. She still felt ill at ease when the whole crew knew about her conversations with Sinbad.
"Go, go, I'll wait" Bryn answered the unspoken question.
Maeve followed the captain keeping silent.
In the cabin Sinbad invited Maeve to sit down on the bunk with a gesture, and she finally agreed. He didn't take a seat beside her but started pacing the space until Maeve saw a flickering.
"What did you want to talk about?"
"Sinbad, why do you start worrying every time the things start getting fine?" Maeve asked with a simulated gaiety.
"I don't mean that! Tell me, are they safe – well, these trainings of yours?"
"You mean whether the mast's gonna break? It shouldn't…" the Celt leaned back and against the wall with a smile.
"Maeve, stop laughing the matter off! You've got me perfectly well. You teach Bryn on the ghosts the existence of which your power maintains. As far as I can get, during the trainings the blows strike you? Take away your energy?"
"If now you start telling me that I mustn't worry about you as your friend, I'll answer. Maeve, you'll have to fight with Rumina, which means that you'll need all your powers. You've already understood how Bryn's power works, maybe it's high time you stopped it?"
"I already have. But not to secure myself…"
"Am I surprised…"
"… but for Bryn to keep the energy – she'll need it a lot very soon.
"Maeve, I'm begging you, be careful"
"I always am"
"Who are you telling this?" Sinbad sat beside her. Maeve laughed. "You've never been careful, and your impetuous altruism combined with your insuperable stubbornness…"
"Say a word more and Bryn will train on you!"
"Maeve… What shall I do with you?"
The Celt narrowed her eyes, leaned forward and imprinted a kiss on the captain's lips.
"Put up with me being so nasty"
Maeve stood up quickly and left the cabin before Sinbad reached out to stop her.
The last night of waiting came too soon. It seemed that only a moment ago it was totally light, and here was the thick icy darkness wrapping around Nomad. Day by day it was getting colder, so when the night fell, the entire crew hurried to the common cabin, except for Maeve, Bryn and Sinbad, who had their own quarters, and a sailor on his shift. The nights were cold and unpleasant – nothing like the gentle warmness of the East. But exactly such nights made one feel strongly like never before the loneliness, the desire to be loved, protected, warmed. So thought Maeve, and so did Bryn. The latter at times looked at the Celt with envy and compassion at the same time. At least Maeve knew deep in her soul that right beside her there was a person who needed her. And Bryn, being hesitative, wasn't confident too often.
That night Maeve couldn't fall asleep, and neither did Bryn. The Celt was tossing and turning on her bed every other minute, subconsciously trying to run away from the thoughts. The coming day would perhaps become the last one in her life. At such moments perhaps it was best of all to recall everything that'd remain in the world after her and thanks to her. But Maeve was thinking of a different thing – about what she hadn't managed to do and say. And there was only one way to make up leeway.
Maeve rose sharply, slipped a cloak over her shoulders and put on her footwear.
"I'll go get a breath of fresh air" she answered Bryn's unspoken question.
When the door locked behind her, the brunette shook her head.
Sinbad also did a lot of thinking. For the second time in his adult life he was really frightened. Once he'd thought Maeve was dead, and if it hadn't been for Dim-Dim's appearance, who knows what would've happened to him. And now they were willingly going… for the death, one could say. Sinbad promised to himself the main thing – he wouldn't let Maeve lose her life for any price. He had no idea that she promised herself the same about him at the same time.
The captain wanted to see Maeve. He wanted to tell her so much, and yet he didn't know what he'd talk to her about. Musing, Sinbad was, as usual, pacing the cabin to and fro, then he opened the door… and nearly knocked down Maeve standing behind it. Had the Celt been one or two feet closer, he'd definitely hit her.
"Oh, sorry" Sinbad stepped aside and invited Maeve in. "You wanted to talk to me?"
"And I was just going to look in your cabin"
"There's Bryn" Maeve said with a smile.
"I'm telling, just a look. Even you wouldn't have noticed me. I'm worried…"
"Say it, you're nervous. It's obvious"
Sinbad sighed and, holding Maeve's hand, sat down on the couch and made her sit beside him.
"Yes. And you know very well why. Tomorrow anything can happen…"
"That's why I came. Sinbad, you must promise me that tomorrow you won't play a hero. You're already a hero for me, and I don't need you to risk your life proving it"
"Maeve, I don't know what you mean, so I can't give you a promise I'll most probably break"
"But, Sinbad!.. What will become of me if something happens to you?"
"Don't think of that. Then I won't think of what may happen to you. At least while you're here"
A sudden rush of wind shook the Nomad. Maeve swayed, and Sinbad held her carefully by the shoulders. The wave was gone, the ship was straight and horizontal again, and the captain still didn't let go of Maeve. Restraining his emotions with an incredible effort, slowly he moved her closer.
In any other case Maeve would push him away or laugh the matter off. But this night was special. The last, stolen moment of happiness. That's why the Celt gave in unexpectedly easily. In a moment their lips met… Sinbad was astonished that not only didn't his reserved Maeve stay in her previous place, but she also responded to the kiss as if she'd been expecting it. Circling her arms around Sinbad's neck, she pressed herself against him and wouldn't ever let go. Not now.
Maeve threw back her head and Sinbad tenderly ran his lips over her neck, a naked shoulder from which the strap of her nightgown had fallen, lowering the other strap at the same time. Maeve felt the gown was about to fall and finally realised what she was doing. She put her hand on Sinbad's naked chest and slowly pushed him away.
"Anticipating your favourite question, you haven't done anything bad" whispered Maeve with a smile. "It's just… I want us to be controlled by only the lightest feelings, and not desperation and fear"
"But what if…"
"Shut up, that's impossible" *And if something happens to you, I'll follow you* she thought.
Having pulled up the straps, Maeve took off her boots and lay down on the captain's bunk.
"May I not want to hurry" she started, pulling his hand closer. "But I don't want to leave either"
Sinbad pulled off the boots quickly and joined his love. He embraced her tenderly, and the Celt rested her head on his chest. And, perhaps, Maeve had never been so indifferent to what she'd be thought of tomorrow. Before the most important day in her life she was just falling asleep in the arms of the man she loved for the first time ever.
The first thing that caught Bryn's eye when she woke up was Maeve's messy bunk. Bryn was used to the fact that the Celt usually woke up much earlier and never forgot to make the bed. So the only logical explanation that came to her mind was that Maeve was still "breathing fresh air". Having gone to the deck she wasn't in the least surprised finding neither the friend, nor the captain. But Bryn was too considerate a girl to talk about it or just mention it in a conversation.
Unfortunately, such delicacy wasn't typical of Doubar. Since the very morning it seemed to him something was wrong about the ship. Something was missing. Having thought that over for a while, Doubar figured out what. Strange, but nobody was running around the deck with shouts, giving orders or pacing back and forth trying to calm down the unsettled nerves.
"Hey, Doubar" Bryn greeted him.
"Oh, hi. You're early today. Is lass still asleep?"
"And Sinbad, have you seen him?"
"Fine, I'll find him on my own"
Bryn was trying to make up an appropriate reason to detain him, but Doubar was already heading downstairs, treating himself with orange juice on the way. Due to the battle wine was forbidden to the whole crew, much to his sorrow…
Maeve and Sinbad had in fact woken up long ago. It was just that together they felt so nice, so warm, that none of them had the power to get up first.
"You know what I'm sorry about?" asked Sinbad, caressing her hair.
"We've lost so much time… The whole year while you were by my side, I was finding thousands of reasons not to tell you that I love you… And only now do I understand what a fool I've been. Forgive me"
Instead of answering, Maeve leant forward and kissed him.
"I love you" she said for the first time ever. "The rest doesn't matter"
The tender kisses that followed this confession were rudely interrupted by some loud sound. The two turned simultaneously to find Doubar. A mug was lying on the floor, the holes between planks were being filled with juice, and he was staring at Maeve and Sinbad with widened eyes.
The captain was trying to make up an excuse, but Maeve was the first to speak, surprising both men.
"Morning, Doubar. Have you seen a ghost?" she asked, settling her head on Sinbad's chest more comfortably. "What are you doing here?"
"I… erm… uh…"
"Oh, I see" Maeve smiled mischievously. "You wanted to find Sinbad. How much more time are we going to sail?"
"F-firouz said, ab-bout an hour and a half"
"Great. Then go to the deck and tell everyone that Sinbad will come in half an hour at most"
Doubar didn't know what shocked him more – the fact that Maeve had obviously spent the night in the captain's cabin or her imprudence even about this and not a trace of shyness on her face. Slowly backing, he nearly fell tripping over the threshold and disappeared behind the door.
"And what was that?" asked Sinbad.
"Your brother, have you forgotten?"
"I don't mean Doubar"
"Today I have no right to have doubts in myself. And it's better to start training right now. If he squawks anything, I'll kiss you in front of him again" said Maeve, laughing.
"Then I should tell him that his every word is filled with wisdom and I am dying to hear his opinion… Unless you'd agree to kiss me just so, without Doubar's participation"
Maeve agreed without hesitating but not even two minutes passed when she freed herself from Sinbad's arms and got up.
"Where are you going?"
"To my cabin" answered Maeve.
"But we've got half an hour"
"Yeah. And during that time I should tidy up, get dressed and deal with the hair" she pointed at the messy curls. "See you on the deck"
When the door behind her closed, Sinbad leant back on the pillow and produced a weird sound, either a moan, or a growl. Again Maeve slipped away, although she'd just been so close. After several minutes of thinking the captain got up with a sigh, put on his shirt and went to the deck – where he was supposed to be.
When Maeve was lacing her broad brown leather belt, Bryn entered the cabin.
"Ready for the battle?" asked Maeve without getting confused the tiniest bit under the brunette's curious gaze.
"More than ever" answered Bryn. "Do you have a plan?"
"Yes, and it's very simple. I have to get to Rumina, then she will read the spell to set Dim-Dim free and I'll kill her"
"You know, Maeve… When you talk about Rumina, your gaze … frightens me"
"And if it could frighten the witch as well, we would've been perfect long ago…"
Bryn came up to Maeve and squeezed her wrist.
"I'll do everything I can. For you. For Dermott. For Sinbad. Today we'll finally destroy Rumina. Forever"
Maeve closed her eyes.
"Thank you, Bryn. I've never needed a friend like I do now"
"You have one, don't forget"
Judging by Firouz' mocking glances and Rongar's strange facial expression Maeve understood that the shock didn't prevent Doubar from making the scene in the captain's cabin public. The public wasn't less astonished, especially after Maeve greeted Sinbad with a brief kiss. Her show was more and more to Sinbad's liking, but despite that he didn't forget about the coming day for a moment.
They were getting into the longboat quietly, each thinking of their own business, and all the words felt odd. The hearts were beating wildly, the thoughts were mixing, and just two words remained in their eyes like a mantra – life and love.
Maeve grabbed Bryn's hand and looked into her eyes.
"Te clamo, libertatem reddo, caelum, te depreco" – that's the spell to release Dim-Dim. Memorize it, please. Just in case"
"I have, Maeve, really. I won't let you down"
The coast met the crew with an unpleasant weird silence and a biting violent wind. The leaves on the trees weren't moving at all, and Firouz immediately lost his desire to collect a herbarium from the local verdure. Not only the sorceresses felt the sinister atmosphere.
"Maeve, do you know where to find Rumina? The island is large" said Sinbad just to break the eerie silence. To his greatest relief, the voice did sound.
"Yes. At such a distance we feel each other"
"But in this case she'll be ready to meet you!" added Bryn whose hands were almost shaking from the agitation and desire to be useful.
"Doesn't matter. I've been ready to meet her for a very long time. We've come to Rumina's territory. But I'll dictate the rules"
Maeve headed far inland in her firm and quick step. Exchanging glances with Doubar, Sinbad followed her.
"This witch hasn't got smarter at all, father" said Rumina in her tender and lethal voice. "Does she really think that I'm ready to forgive her? To forget about everything she took away from me? I'll make her cry, she'll be begging me to spare her on her knees. She'll be begging to die"
"Rumina, daughter, remember, anger isn't the best confidant. You must rely on your mind, to count everything, to think everything over. I understand how tempting it is to get the energy from your anger. But don't repeat my mistakes!" Turok was warning.
"I'm trying, father… But I shake with hatred when I see Sinbad's gaze that he gives her! How weird! She wasn't noticing it for long, and I hated her since the first second I saw them together! And now I'll avenge… Revenge! What a sweet word…"
Instead of the promised support Turok burst out laughing.
"That's what it is all about!" he managed to utter between the laughter attacks. "You just still want to get that sailor! Sorry, sorry" he waved his hands when Rumina looked at him angrily. "Daughter, you're not eighteen anymore. You should've grown up and turned into a wise woman. It's just amazing that my daughter that I've always been proud of, who knew neither mercy nor compassion could buy the cheap tricks of a pirate-womanizer!"
Rumina clenched the fists and an acid green lightning flashed in the cave.
"Don't think that my small whim will make me spare any of them! Oh no! I've been waiting too long for the opportunity to look again into the peasant's eyes. I don't want anything as strongly as to see my own revenge. I want to see tears in their eyes, I want to see Sinbad's heart stop of all the pain – and it will be the best thing I've ever seen. Yes, my revenge will be just the way I dreamt!"
Rumina laughed challengingly, looking into her magical mirror and started whispering the first lethal words of the spell.
Maeve was almost running on the dry icy ground of the island. The landscapes were running past her eyes, not lingering in the memory. The friends barely managed to catch up with her without having to run. What were they thinking of? The Celt didn't see anything but the sharp, burning need to finish with Rumina finally. Or – was trying not to see anything else. The fear for Sinbad wasn't letting go, it was hurting and tormenting her like a wound. Bryn was recalling her first days aboard. Involuntarily she was comparing them to her present life, the way it was since Maeve had returned. Amazed, she understood how much better, easier she felt – only because she got the burden off her chest, managed to forget the internal offences and doubts. And now she finally had a person she needed so much. She had a friend.
Sinbad was walking beside Bryn, as he could see Maeve had something to think of. His eyes weren't leaving her for a moment, and his thoughts as well. A part of his thoughts, the one he tried not to see or hear, was already starting to grieve over their love if they should fail. The captain was able to block this senseless mind voice and repeat without making a sound: "It's gonna be okay, my love. We are ready. We'll win"
Doubar, Rongar and Firouz were walking behind Sinbad and Bryn. The big man was watching his brother sadly. He was still so young!.. But in his life he'd seen a lot of things that old people had never heard of. So many adventures, so many mistakes – just to be able one day to find his destiny and his place in the world – where there was a gentle wind in the sails of the Nomad and a playful grin of a pretty red-haired girl. Firouz and Rongar were exchanging glances. The scientist was recalling his home, recalling how one day he gave up everything at once and followed Sinbad. Did he regret it? Never. A man of science, he loved the life and treated it with ease. And Rongar was thinking that somewhere far away there was his only familiar soul – his beloved sister. And if they failed, she would never again see her brother, prince Rongar. Still, today he would fulfill his duty. He would die, if needed, for the perished friend Mustafa, for all the pain that Turok and Rumina had inflicted to the people dear to him. Rongar straightened his shoulders even more proudly and kept walking cheerfully beside his friends.
High in the sky there was making circles the one who suffered from Rumina most of all, though nobody but Sinbad and Maeve knew or could guess. Hawk Dermott… How many years already a "hawk". And still he used to be a human, he used to walk, not fly. Now the flight became for him as usual as walks with his sister used to be. He had nearly forgotten what it felt like – touching the ground with bare feet, taking somebody's hand – at least because you had hands. And still… Strange, but Dermott couldn't hate Rumina. He didn't understand why, he had even tried to grow the hatred in his soul, but he couldn't. Dermott had always been too kind, since the very childhood. Now his sister was going to fight to avenge of him, and he was thinking just of her safety. Not about whether she would manage to kill the witch. It was unbearably frightening to think that the whole crew was going to fight for his sake.
"Here it comes" Maeve said in a quiet voice and closed her eyes. The others didn't really get what she meant, but in a few seconds the ground and the air were full of hundreds of magical creatures, created for the only purpose: to kill them. The Celt let out a loud breath and turned to Bryn.
"We have to destroy them without spending too much strength, so that we have the energy for the final battle. Are you ready?"
"Then now we'll try to stop them. Sinbad, Doubar, Rongar – deal with the ones coming from the sides, we'll have to concentrate on this part, where their number is the biggest. Firouz – you'll see when you're needed" Maeve looked with a smile at the scientist, who'd taken along a huge bag of inventions. "Be careful, all of you. Don't risk in vain. Okay?" now she turned to Sinbad and looked into his eyes.
The captain grabbed Maeve and kissed her, holding her close to himself. "It will be fine" he whispered. "I know" Maeve smiled and pulled back.
She had to destroy Rumina. She had to save her brother. She couldn't let the crew get hurt. And, the main thing, Maeve knew that she had to save the treasure that she paid so much for – her and Sinbad's love.
"We can isolate all the creatures that are standing on the ground, it will be more difficult with harpies and birds" said Maeve, maybe addressing Bryn, or just thinking out loud. "Let's try. This way we'll get rid of them faster"
Maeve concentrated, and Bryn was watching, astonished, pale red light starting to encircle the skeletons, daemons and other creatures, enclosing them inside the ring. The circle was almost complete when Maeve gasped in pain and fell onto the ground. She didn't break the eye contact with the circle, but her face grew pale.
"Rumina" she whispered. "She won't let me destroy them so easily. But she doesn't know me yet… Bryn, give me your hand"
Pulling Maeve's hand, the friend helped her to rise up. The Celt smiled at she knew not what, and the light of the broken circle that was still enclosing the dark creatures grew brighter.
"You think you've won, Rumina?" Maeve mouthed, putting obvious effort into every word. "It was just the beginning. Energiam tuam subduco!"
Bryn didn't understand what was going on and how it was going on. Maeve wasn't even moving, only her eyes were burning with some strange feverish flame. The daemons, skeletons and other limbs of the devil started falling one by one. The circle was finally closed, now bright red, and Maeve just waved her hand slightly. With wide eyes Bryn was looking at a huge column of fire just where there'd just been hundreds of daemons, skeletons and even harpies who hadn't managed to get away. Maeve was panting, and caring Bryn took from Firouz's bag a flask of water to hand her. The Celt had a couple of sips and then smiled.
"See… Latin can be useful as well!"
"What's the matter with you!" Turok was pacing nervously in the cave. "I'm ashamed of you, daughter. How could you let her fool you this way?"
Rumina was gasping on the stone floor. She was too frail to stand up and it wouldn't occur to enraged Turok to help her.
"I was warning you! Anger isn't the best confidant! And now your spell is destroyed with your own powers, the whole crew of captain Sinbad is alive and kicking and he and his buddies are finishing with the remains of your army. And that's all because of your foolishness!"
"But, father… I would never think that she could manage such a spell. It's very difficult to obtain the energy of evil, and yet more difficult to keep it, I shouldn't be explaining this to you. How has she done it? How?"
"I'll tell you how!" Turok roared. "Because her stupid rival allowed her to do it! You weren't supposed to lose control for a single moment! What are you going to do now? Answer me!"
For an instant Rumina wanted to cry of vexation and hurt. Why was father treating her like that? She has put so much effort into returning him to life! And now he was totally useless! Turok tried to avoid magic so far – he was saving energy. So he was of little use – as well as his constant advice that was infuriating Rumina awfully. Eventually she managed to put herself together and rose to her feet.
"I won't be able to create more warriors, father. She took too much energy from me" Rumina avoided calling Maeve's name. "The only way is meeting her face to face, But I won't play fair. I'll do what my duty requires. This red-haired witch won't stand in my way again. Never!"
Heaving a sigh, Maeve stood up. Taking several more sips of water that she had secretly enriched with several drops of energy-restoring potion, the Celt saw that her friends were dealing with Rumina's last creatures. Bryn who had also run to them was destroying the harpies who were attacking the crew. Maeve was watching her feeling both joy and pride. For the first time she had a ladyfriend, and – in a way – an apprentice. So Bryn's success was a hundred times as valuable as her own for Maeve.
"My heart, how are you?" asked Sinbad, running up to her. The others followed him.
"Fine" Maeve caressed his cheek. "Let's go. It was just a rehearsal. The battle is starting now"
The Celt strode quickly, as usual, where Rumina was already waiting for her – enraged and ready for revenge.
Sinbad was now walking at Maeve's side. The two were quiet, but they felt each other's love and support – it was more than enough. The ground remained cold, the sun distant, but they had their own warmth that Rumina would never understand.
Rumina was standing at the entrance of the cave. Charming as always, wearing red garments setting off her dark hair, with a dangerous and rapacious smile on her lips.
"Here she comes" Rumina said rather to herself than to Turok. "As miserable as she used to be. And with this damned caring smile that appears involuntarily every time she looks at Sinbad. He won't see this smile again! I swear!"
When the crew came up quite close, Rumina gathered all her strength and sent a lightning to the ground in front of them, chanting a spell in a whisper. Eyes wide in terror, the men were watching the ground split nearly under their feet – they barely had time to jump backward, pulling Maeve and Bryn with them. The crack in the ground was enlarging, until it reached twenty feet in width. Looking down, everyone saw boiling red liquid at the bottom. Lava – Sinbad understood. Now Rumina was unattainable for them. And the witch could easily get them – Sinbad was certain of it.
Rumina knew she had to concentrate to destroy the whole crew. This time for good. But she couldn't but play the last game before the battle. The witch looked into Maeve's eyes and waved her hand.
Maeve looked around. She couldn't see either Sinbad or her friends by her side. There was no 20-feet crack in the ground. But Rumina was standing at about the same distance, alone, without Turok who had been standing behind her. Lips curved, as usual, but now the rage on her face wasn't hidden by a half-smile. Maeve looked at her with slight contempt. So miserable!.. But as for cruelty, nobody would beat her.
Rumina was the first to speak. Despite the distance, Maeve heard her so distinctly as if she was standing right in front of her.
"You're dumber than I thought, peasant. You still fight on Sinbad's side… Why?"
"Sinbad fights on my side" Maeve corrected. "Because I love him" she was looking into Rumina's eyes calmly but provocatively.
"Then we're equal, aren't we? We love the same man who's indifferent to us both!"
"Aren't you making too many mistakes, witch?" Maeve's voice was angry and mocking. "Would you be the one to know who Sinbad loves? Are you capable of love?"
"I became who I am because I used to love. And this love was unrequited" Rumina said quietly all of a sudden. "And you'll be like this! Remember! The day will come when it is too late to cure the wounds – and you'll die from them" the added with cruelty and waved her hand.
The friends were again behind Maeve's back, and Turok – behind Rumina. There was again a precipice between them, the crack in the ground was releasing the infernal fire.
The witch scrutinized the sky, as if trying to find something. Maeve understood: she was looking for Dermott. The Celt concentrated, ready to reflect the attack at any moment. *You haven't learned anything, peasant* Rumina thought.
"Daughter, faster, don't waste your time on that useless creature!" Turok hurried.
"I know what I'm doing" whispered Rumina. *You should have attacked me first"
Her eyes were following Dermott unstoppably. And the witch knew Maeve was ready to protect him. Magic ran through her body like a bolt of lightning, almost unnoticeable blue flame sparkled on her fingers. Concentrating her energy at one spot, Rumina threw her hands forward with one sharp movement. The blue flame flew right where Sinbad was standing.
Too short a distance. Too little time. Nobody would manage to reflect this blow – even Maeve. And Rumina knew it. Without thinking, without hesitating for a moment, Maeve threw herself in front of Sinbad, covering him. His voice was the last thing she heard before everything went black.
Sinbad fell onto his knees and grabbed Maeve by shoulders. Once he thought that Maeve was dead, and it seemed to him that had she known of his love, it would have been easier to bear. Now Sinbad understood – he was just trying to excuse his tears. The pain was lethal again. And only Rumina – a mighty witch, and Dermott – the only brother – felt that Maeve was alive. She stood the blow that would kill any ordinary person.
Rumina smiled. It didn't matter the peasant was alive. It wasn't for long. When Sinbad finally let go of her, the witch leaned her arm forward and pulled to herself sharply. Maeve was thrown away from Sinbad – right into the crack. The Celt was falling down, into the boiling lava, and nothing seemed to be able to save her this time.
And Bryn understood everything all of a sudden. As if she'd know what she would have to do from the start. Concentrating, she muttered quickly the spell she'd read in the book once. Again in a wrong way, but this time on purpose. The feet weren't holding her again. There was only red-hot lava beneath her. Without losing any time for fear, Bryn chanted loudly, distinctly, but it was the correct spell. This time she concentrated on a different person. Her body jerked convulsively – the heat was too close. Her eyesight grew dim, only endless backness surrounded her…
Sinbad didn't get how his Maeve turned up so close to him. He embraced her tenderly, when she waved her hand with a heavy painful moan, powerless to get rid of the feeling of falling and heat. Sinbad wasn't able to utter a word, he couldn't believe she was there, in his arms. He wanted to do a thousand sentimental things – to kiss her hands, to caress the red hair, to wipe her painful tears or whisper "my heart…". But he had not a single second for it. Firouz's wild scream made the captain raise his head. Eyes wide, Sinbad watched Bryn's petite graceful body flash above the lava for a second. She shouted, as if in surprise, and fell – so fast that no magic could save her.
"Bryn" whispered Sinbad. He couldn't scream anymore. He was so hurt it couldn't be worse. Why? Why Bryn? Why not himself? Did he hide behind her back again instead of protecting her? A burning reproach was holding back his tears, and the captain was sitting like a statue for several insanely long seconds. After that he looked at Rumina with hatred he had never felt before.
The familiar sly sadistic smirk wasn't on her face – it was surprised, lost and at the same time joyful. Sinbad's hands, still holding Maeve, clenched into tight fists. Most of all he wanted to grab her throat, to kill her, destroy her, raze to the ground… But the crack with boiling lava wasn't going to vanish. Was Bryn not enough?..
Sinbad heard a weird bird-like shriek from far away, but it didn't matter anymore. Nothing mattered anymore. Not now.
Master Dim-Dim knew: something was happening. The world had changed – and now those changes were reflecting in this frail thin realm. A weak earthquake started, and the old man ran out of the house not to be buried under the boards if it should grow stronger. There he saw the sky in a way it'd never been before.
Dim-Dim had seen the sky in a variety of colours, like any other person. He'd seen numerous craters created by the black magic, eclipses and lightnings… But this way the sky was for the first time ever. He fell onto his knees.
The blood red sphere that the usually pale sun of this realm had turned into was burning more and more. Dim-Dim watched it enlarging, giving away more and more heat, its rays turning red as well. Reaching the ground they left burnt holes, and Dim-Dim realised calmly and almost indifferently that if such a ray reached him, this would become the last sight in his life. So far he still wasn't going to give up.
Yes, this damned realm was draining his powers for over a year so strongly that sometimes he couldn't get up from the bed. Fortunately, Maeve hadn't experienced this, as she hadn't been sent there by evil forces, so she was unreachable for them. Dim-Dim had only endless patience to rely on. Gritting his teeth, barely breathing, he raised up his hands and defended himself from the lethal rays with a transparent wall – a power field. The earthquake hadn't ceased yet, so the old man couldn't even rise to his feet. Why fight if he would die this or that way? When the sun becomes so large as to reach the ground, he would burn alive – it didn't matter whether he had a shield or not. Pondering this way, Dim-Dim was still reflecting the rays persistently and hoping for a miracle…
Turok was triumphant. There was nothing but pitiful humans on the other side of the crack – nonentities he'd seen a lot in his life. Both witches were dealt with – one was dead, the other one would follow her soon. And it was impossible to resist them without magic. Some bizarre anxiety appeared in his soul, if he had any, but he didn't let it take him over.
"Come on, daughter" he hurried, watching Rumina. "The victory is close. Strike them!" Turok's voice became husky, anticipating their success. Rumina closed and opened her eyes several times, as if her sight was dim, and then she looked at her father and said:
"Father, I know what to do. Help me!"
"Sure. What do I have to do?" he was so anxious he didn't notice answering her request too politely.
"A spell. You have to read a spell with me"
Rumina sighed and pronounced slowly, giving her father a chance to repeat:
"Te clamo… Libertatem reddo… Caelum… Te depreco!"
Turok had never considered it useful to spend his greatness on various inferior magic. He never studied magical books, never learned the misty formulations written by ancient tribes. The times of Magical Era weren't any of his interest – he didn't care who of the mages had ever ruled the world. Turok was sure that the dark soul and black magic were everything that presented his life and essence. That was why he repeated the words after Rumina automatically, clueless of what they meant.
And what happened wasn't at all what he'd expected.
The red sun was getting closer. Its heat was almost unbearable. Dim-Dim started gasping, and his protecting shield was growing thin as he was weakening.
He understood that here was the end, that here was his destiny foreseen by the crystal slice coming true – its absence.
Dim-Dim had almost given up when a strange wind went through him – not blew, but went through. The pain was strong but it was weakening once Dim-Dim recognized this feeling – the freedom. Nothing was holding him in this damned place anymore. And it didn't matter that the black magic was setting him free – especially since it was his only chance for survival.
Accepting this wind, accepting the power calling him, Dim-Dim looked for the last time at the realm destroying itself, and disappeared – to meet the real world.
Sinbad didn't know what to do. He was sitting, holding in his arms drained and exhausted Maeve, around him there were three men who Rumina could destroy with a wave of her hand, once she felt like it. Seeing that Rumina and Turok were holding hands (they were too far from the captain, and he couldn't see the expression of slight disgust on Rumina's face) and chanting a spell. Sinbad pressed Maeve to himself and ordered his friends to stay low just in case.
The wind behind his back didn't seem to be anything good. Sinbad turned his head and only Maeve in his arms prevented him from jumping in joy and surprise. Yes, this eerie wind brought his friend and mentor, Dim-Dim. Doubar was the first to rush to him and hug him. Firouz and Rongar were too depressed to react, and the events of the day weren't quite auspicious for expressing joy. Sinbad didn't doubt for a minute that it was really Dim-Dim standing there – peace and calm took over him immediately.
"Master" whispered Sinbad, looking at motionless Maeve, when Dim-Dim came up and squatted beside him. "I haven't managed it. I haven't managed to save Bryn… She sacrificed herself for Maeve, and if it wasn't for her, Maeve would be also dead, do you understand? I haven't done anything I had to do. Rumina has won"
"You are wrong, my boy" Dim-Dim said in a strangely optimistic tone, taking Sinbad's hand.
"Wrong? What's wrong?"
"Everything, Sinbad. It was one of the most erroneous statements I've ever heard. And still you aren't a mage, captain. You can't know what I know"
Sinbad raised his head and confusion appeared in his eyes. Following the direction of Dim-Dim's gaze, he looked at the witch. Rumina was smiling. The smile was simple, tender – there was nothing dark or evil in it…
"I don't understand…" he started.
"You will" Dim-Dim assured with a smile. "And now give me Maeve, my friend – it's time for the final stroke"
The sorcerer waved his hand over Maeve's face and she opened her eyes. Looking at Sinbad and then at the Master she smiled weakly. Sinbad took her hand and she rose to her feet, leaning against him. The Celt was even paler than usual, but her dark eyes were sparkling joyfully. She felt something, Sinbad thought.
"Ready, Maeve?" asked Dim-Dim. The captain decided that they had their own mental language – for example, he didn't get at all what Maeve was supposed to be ready for.
"Yes. And this time he won't resurrect" she smiled and whispered, turning to Sinbad: "Thank you"
"For what?" he was surprised, but Maeve didn't explain.
"What's this?" Turok shouted out, clenching his fists so tightly in rage that his nails were digging into the skin, and he wasn't even feeling the pain. "This… this… how did he appear here? It's the Celt, yes? She was only playing unconscious?" the dark wizard refused to understand the obvious. "Or it's something wrong with your spells now and they don't work?"
"They do" Rumina said softly. Smilin joyfully, she saw Maeve and Dim-Dim standing together at the crack. The sorcered waved his hand and muttered several words that she didn't hear at such a distance. The ground shook as if in pain or relief… and closed. There was no more precipice with lava. It enraged Turok even more.
"Why are you standing?" he shouted, looking at Rumina angrily. "Do something with them!"
"Just a moment" she smiled. "Sorry, Turok"
Dim-Dim and Maeve walked calmly on what was a crack a moment ago, and approached the sorcerer. Sinbad and his friends followed them.
"Ready?" now it was Maeve asking Rumina.
"Thanks" Maeve said passionately. Sinbad shook his head, the absurdity of this scene was impossible to grasp. It didn't help. Everything got even more weird. Now Maeve, Rumina and Dim-Dim were holding hands. Looking at Turok, Sinbad understood the sorcerer was no less surprised.
"Ego, Meiv de Hibernia"
"Ego, Dim-Dim de Arabia"
"Ego, Brin de..."
"... caelo" Dim-Dim prompted. "Rumina" widened her eyes but dutifully repeated after the mage the word "heaven".
"Nos te jubemus: evanesce!" they said together. "In omne tempus!"
Turok screamed. Now all the pieces of the puzzle fitted together. But he didn't have time to think of that. He disappeared in a cloud of black smoke. Forever.
"Dermott…" Maeve whispered and rushed back to the southeast, jumpin over dry cold branches on her way. Sinbad wanted to follow her at first, but then he turned to Dim-Dim and asked him suspiciously:
"Could at least you explain to me what's going on here?"
The old man just laughed with joy.
Finally, Maeve stopped in front of a young man sitting on the ground. He looked somewhat younger than Sinbad, his hair was slightly lighter than Maeve's, and his face was quite similar to hers. Omnipresent Firouz, who had run up to Dermott right after Maeve, was already pulling a cloak out of his bag. Handing it to the young man, he looked at Maeve, surprised. She addressed the young man "Dermott", he thought, so it must be her hawk. Hundreds of questions occurred to him, as usual, but he decided he would ask them later.
Finally, the others came up to Maeve, and Demott stood up. Maeve embraced her brother – for the first time in so many years – and started crying. Sinbad looked at her compassionately and then came up to Dermott, since he was the only one except for Dim-Dim and, of course, Maeve, could understand what had happened. Still, not completely. Sinbad didn't outstretch his hand to Demott, as the latter was covered by a cloak, he just patted him on the shoulder in a friendly way and smiled.
"Glad to meet you again, Dermott"
"Right back at you, captain" the young man nodded. He turned out to have a nice voice, like almost every Celt. The friends greeted him in turns.
"Do you feel it, Master?" Maeve took a deep breath and closed her eyes in pleasure. Firouz and Doubar exchanged looks and shrugged.
"Yes, my child. The island is free from the chains of the evil that filled it. Now only good mages are here, and the island is turning from a lair of dark forces into a light and pure place" Dim-Dim answered.
"I'm even sorry to leave it" said the Celt, sighing. "But we have to"
"Wait a minute!" Sinbad stopped everyone. "I still don't understand…" he looked at Bryn who smiled, embarrassed, under his scrutiny. "How have you turned up in Rumina's body? Everythng happened so fast… I'd like to hear the complete version of events, right, crew?" he looked at Rongar, Firouz and Doubar. The three nodded as if on a signal.
"You'll get it all" Dim-Dim assured them. "Just let's go to the ship first, there we'll tell you everything"
Sinbad smiled happily. He wanted to put his arm around Maeve's shoulders, but she was walking beside her brother, and they were discussing something quietly. Sinbad decided against interrupting this idyl, so he walked on alone.
Seeing the Nomad after such a day – it was nearly the same as finding an oasis in a desert. Sinbad looked joyfully at the inviting sea, a light breeze ruffled his hair. Dermott headed downstairs to get a shirt and trousers, Bryn was showing to Dim-Dim his and Maeve's cabin where he could have a rest until Sinbad made up some other place. Firouz, Rongar and Doubar went to the common cabin where they'd decided to gather in several minutes. And Maeve, just like Sinbad, lingered on the deck. Having come up to her captain from the back, she embraced him and rested her head on his shoulder. Sinbad covered her hands with his own.
"It's over" the captain said with a sigh of relief, after which he turned around and kissed Maeve tenderly. The Celt gave in, and realised she'd never felt truly free before.
When all the participants of the recent events gathered around the table, Bryn started telling her story.
"Not long ago Maeve was teaching me spells. And due to my foolishness and lack of experience I was whispering spells while reading them. Whispering one of them – body swap – I made a mistake, and swapped places with Maeve, since at that moment I was thinking of her. This spell, and the whole event, somehow imprinted into my memory. What a surprise" Bryn smiled shily, as much as it was possible in Rumina's body, and looked at Dermott. He looked away, confused.
"You underestimate yourself" said Maeve. It was hard for her to look at Bryn, as she looked like Maeve's worst enemy, but the Celt was able to overcome it.
"Whatever" Bryn waved her hand. "Doesn't matter"
"So what happened during the battle?" impatient Firouz intervened. "Maeve was falling into the precipice, and then you appeared there! How? The spell?"
"At first I chanted it in a wrong way, to swap places with her" she said. "And then – once more, but this time in a right way, and I was thinking of Rumina. This way, my body fell into the precipice – but it was Rumina's soul that it contained, and she couldn't help herself anymore. And I turned up beside Turok who believed I was Rumina"
"Master, but why didn't he feel Rumina didn't exist anymore?" Maeve asked Dim-Dim. "How could he miss the good instead of evil?"
"It seems to me he was just too distracted by the battle. He wasn't listening to his instincts – that's always been his major problem" said Dim-Dim thoughtfully.
Then I realised I had the opportunity Maeve'd been waiting for. Rumina died because of me after all…" Bryn said sounding almost sympathetic. "So she couldn't free you, Dim-Dim. Turok was the last variant"
"You did everything rightly, Bryn. I'm proud of you" said Master, smiling to cheer her up.
"And how proud I am!" Maeve added merrily. "Thank you, Bryn. Only thanks to you my brother's a human now, Dim-Dim's free, and Rumina and Turok are dead. I wouldn't manage any of those without you. You saved us all. I owe my life to you, as well as my brother, and our whole crew. Am I right?"
Everyone nodded. And Dermott muttered "Thanks".
"I have a question" said Bryn quietly and looked at Dim-Dim. "Master, do you know who I am? You know I don't remember my past. Tell me, I'm pleading you"
Dim-Dim sighed sadly.
"Bryn, I'd hoped so much this conversation would happen later… I'm not sure you are ready to hear the truth. It's very, very hard to believe"
"I'm ready. And after these words of yours, do you really think I'll sleep calmly without knowing who I am? I'm listening"
The sorcerer sighed again and asked:
"We can talk alone, if you wish…"
"No. I trust each of these people. I'm asking you to tell me right now"
"So be it" said Dim-Dim. Bryn exerted herself, but tried to look into the sorcerer's eyes with courage. "You don't remember your past because you don't have it"
Bryn wasn't the only one who didn't understand Dim-Dim.
"What does that mean?" she asked, trying not to feel the wild rhythm of her heart. I'm ready, she repeated mentally, ready to hear anything.
"You aren't quite a human, Bryn"
"What?" this time she wasn't able to disguise her fear. Breathing quickly, in gasps, she was looking at Master with wide eyes.
"How is that possible?" asked Maeve, not as much surprised as confused. "Her heart beats, she breathes, she even gets wounded in a battle just like every person!" Maeve wanted to grab Bryn's arm and show them a fresh bruise that should have appeared in the battle, but she recalled on time that Rumina's body had no bruises.
"It's possible, my child" Dim-Dim spoke calmly. "Now you're in a human form" he addressed Bryn. "That was given to you over a year ago"
"When I turned up with the bracelet on my hand on that island where Sinbad found me?"
"Yes. There was no storm during which a wave washed you overboard, so that you got to the island. You just appeared there, Bryn"
"If I'm not a human…" it was incredibly hard to say. "Who am I?"
"You're a being bringing the good into the world. When Sinbad didn't manage to destroy Rumina, but Scratch had enough time to bring Turok to life, I realised – Maeve couldn't stay there any longer. It was too dangerous. Then I decided to summon up my strength, that I had little, and asked the higher good to help me"
"And they sent Bryn…" said Maeve in an even voice.
"Yes" Master nodded. "When I knew that Bryn became a human, appeared on the island and even managed to get into trouble," Dim-Dim tried to joke, but the atmosphere wasn't favourable. "the storm started. Of course, it wasn't me who created it, I was too weak, I believe it was part of what the forces of the good did for me"
"Then I was thrown overboard and awakened here" said Maeve just to say something.
"Sinbad didn't even need any 'help' " Dim-Dim went on. "He jumped after Maeve on his own, hoping to save her" Master smiled slightly, noticing that his apprentice looked at Sinbad with a gaze for which lots of men would sell their souls to the devil, and he smiled in response and looked away, confused. "I just directed the wave at the island where Bryn had already run away from her abductors"
"Only that" Doubar commented darkly. Maeve was holding Bryn's shoulders, understanding how hard it was for her to hear that.
"Sinbad had… and still has… a bracelet" said Dim-Dim, and the captain raised his hand to study the piece of jewellery – a broad leather band, and a ring of some unknown metal, giving away rainbow-like specks, in the middle. "This bracelet is a symbol that Sinbad is under the protection of the forces of the good"
"That's what it's about…" the captain muttered, having no idea how to react to that.
"Bryn had an identical bracelet – not only because she's the pure good, sorry for the expression, but also for her to be able to find Sinbad, to feel when he was endangered"
Bryn thought that her bracelet, just like her body, remained under the ground.
"But Maeve didn't have such a bracelet, and she always knew if something was wrong with Sinbad" Firouz countered, puzzled. This phrase seemed to entertain Dim-Dim, and Maeve lowered her gaze for some reason.
"She didn't need the help of the magic to feel Sinbad's state" Master winked at the captain. "Her heart was telling her on its own"
Maeve smiled slightly and shrugged, but didn't let go of Bryn.
"It was a cruel plan, Master" said Sinbad quietly. "A good one, a genius one if you wish, but cruel. Bryn is like a sister for me, and now it turns out that our meeting right after Maeve fell overboard, and everything after that isn't real? That it was… set up, may it be even by the forces of the good?"
"How can I be not a human but a… being bringing good, as you've put it" whispered Bryn, "if I had so many… human weaknesses?"
Dim-Dim didn't need additional explanations to understand what weaknesses she meant. Her affection for Sinbad that passed fast but existed nonetheless, her envy and jealousy of Maeve, her lack of self-confidence, her fears – it was all truly human.
"Right, Bryn… Now you're a human. The way you were created – with tenderness in your heart, with kindness and compassion, with all doubts so typical of people. Now you are you. The angel who was meant to guard Sinbad. The angel who was ready to sacrifice herself for Maeve" Dim-Dim looked at the captain and the Celt thoughtfully. "Now I've understood who Bryn used to be before she came to the Earth. She was your angel. Not quite the word, but can't find another one" Master shrugged, after which he turned to Bryn. "But now you've performed your task on the Earth. You can return to your place. Don't worry, you will remember everything you've done. But this world is too cruel for such a light creature as you"
"She has to return… there?" Dermott spoke for the first time.
Dim-Dim shook his head.
"She doesn't have to. But I thought it would be better"
"No" said Bryn suddenly decisively and loudly. "I want to forget that I'm…" she still didn't utter the word "angel". "I won't return. I'll stay on the Nomad. I belong here, with my friends. It doesn't matter what this world is like – I don't want to leave it. Do I have a choice?"
"Of course you do, Bryn. But… are you sure you want to stay here? Think well"
"There's nothing to think about" Bryn interrupted Master. "I'm a human. And I want to remain one"
With these words Bryn's face got a bright glow for a brief moment.
"Your wish is fulfilled" said Dim-Dim. "Not by me, certainly. By the forces of the good. Now you're really a human"
From all the emotions she'd gone through and the incredible happiness Bryn burst into tears. Maeve turned her to herself and hugged her tightly. The next one to do so was Dermott who was sitting on the other side. Dim-Dim was watching the friends embracing her and understood that she was right. She truly belonged on the Nomad.
"Yeah, Dermott… I still can't grasp it!" Bryn sat beside her friend in her cabin, exhausted. Her body was still tingling after rested Dim-Dim had returned her previous image. Since her real body was gone irrevocably, the sorcerer and Maeve had had to modify each body part separately, and the whole process proved to be quite painful. "It's all so… incredible and… complicated"
"Sometimes we learn the truth just to forget about it" said Dermott.
"That's some philosophy!" commented Bryn, surprised.
"Oh, when you can't either talk properly or even go for a walk, you'll get not just philosophy" Dermott laughed melodiously.
"I'm… I'm very glad you've become a human" muttered Bryn in confusion.
"The feeling's mutual. I'm also glad you'r really a human… though I've never doubted you are an angel"
"What… you… knew?"
"No, Bryn" Dermott smiled. "That's not what I mean"
The girl shrugged vaguely in response and looked away.
A gentle evening wind wasn't in a hurry directing the Nomad to the southeast, to their motherland. The shouts on the ship were heard more and more rarely. The silence was interrupted only by the gentle sound of waves, quiet conversations and a song that the sailor at the tiller was humming.
In the common cabin Dermott was telling his amazing story to his friends, looking furtively at the pretty dark-haired girl who had once replaced his sister and become the best friend. Bryn was looking away, embarrassed, and scrutinizing the floor, blushing. Doubar was thanking the heaven for the hard victory gained through so much suffering. Firouz was attacking the old new friend with questions, and Rongar was, of course, keeping silent and smiling at his own thoughts.
Sinbad and Maeve were sitting in his cabin, arms round each other in an embrace. The Celt was staring with an unseeing gaze at something in front of her. Sinbad was caressing her shoulders and saying nothing, as he didn't know what to talk of at such a moment.
"Are you happy?" he asked finally.
"My brother's free now" whispered Maeve. "Dim-Dim will be able to spend several more years with Cairpra. Almost all people who are dear to me are here. Rumina will never bother us again…" Sinbad didn't quite get who she meant by "us", but he didn't ask. He was listening and keeping silent.
"And the main thing is that you are beside me. I can't even ask for more. That is why – yes. I've never been as happy as I am now"
Sinbad turned Maeve to himself adroitly and kissed her lips. Her whole being leaned to him, but still she asked:
"And you? Are you happy now?"
"And what do you think?" Sinbad laughed and kissed Maeve again. Not a shadow of the past awkwardness, embarrassment or fear remained. Two souls, two halves of a whole, finally reunited. Now they were really controlled only by the light feelings – the infinite happiness and the love that they had paid so dearly to keep.
Maeve couldn't know that in a year she'd be recalling this day with tenderness but also with laughter, as she'd understand there can be far more happiness. And Sinbad could never think that just in a year he'd become even more caring and would love Maeve even stronger – for all she would have given him. Dermott would find himself again, as well as a familiar soul, who also had long years missing from her life just like he did. Dim-Dim hoped he'd become happy with his beloved wife again. Doubar couldn't even suppose that his old love would return to him and he'd feel young again. Rongar didn't know that a journey to his sister would turn his whole life upside down and he'd regain his long lost family. And only Firouz, of course, didn't have a single doubt that he'd invent dozens of useful and not quite useful things. The crew of the Nomad would have to make a short break, to have a rest from the adventures, to heal the wounds on the body and the soul… And, perhaps, for their captain to follow the advice of his old friend…
But that would happen later. And so far the golden sun was sinking in the waves behind the Nomad, and in the east, just at the horizon, as if meeting the tired sailors, the first stars were lighting up.