Sinbad breathed the sea-air and craned his neck to be able to see as much of the night sky as possible. Since his adventure in the Hell House he felt oddly lighter, better able to breathe- himself again. He remembered being a boy on a ship much like this one, pretending to be one of the Phoenician's of old, setting their sails by the stars, letting them guide them where they wanted to go and always coming home again. Now he knew the stars as well as those old sailors had done, and much more besides: He could tell by the colour, smell, shape, length and frequency of the waves where he was. He could feel currents tugging at the Nomad just by standing on her deck. He could taste storms coming on the air. He really was master of the seven seas…
The Phoenicians had one more thing that Sinbad shared: curiosity. He always wanted to know what was behind the next wave, what could be found on the next mysterious little island.
He watched a comet burn through the atmosphere, its tail fading quickly behind it. Sinbad wondered what a fallen star would look like.
"Doubar! Set a course! We're going to catch us a star!"
"Master, it has to be done now," Maeve panted, holding her stomach.
Though he had no experience with that sort of thing even Dim-Dim could see how much the baby had dropped. The birth was imminent.
"Are you sure about this, child?" Dim-Dim asked, cupping Maeve's cheek to be able to look her in the eye and show his concern for her.
"I won't leave you here," Maeve said, before clenching her jaw as another contraction ripped through her.
Dim-Dim nodded, took a knife and- after taking a deep breath- slid both his wrists. He placed his hands on her belly, and they began chanting.
His blood soaked her clothes until they were saturated, but still rivulets of his blood ran down his wrists onto her. The blood began to vibrate to the sounds of their chant, more and more energy was needed to sustain the ritual so Dim-Dim allowed himself to exsanguinate before giving the remains of his body up to the spell.
"There, I think it fell there," Sinbad pointed to a small island- more accurately a sandbank in the middle of the sea.
Doubar dutifully steered the ship towards the rising sun and the sandbank, happy to see his little brother get his groove back.
"I wonder what the composition of the comet might be! It might even contain minerals not found on earth! I will have to devise a rigorous system of testing!" Firouz said, clearly excited about finding whatever there was to be found.
"I don't know, something about this doesn't feel right," Bryn said, feeling some unease but unable to discern why.
"All the more reason to go and see what isn't right about it," Sinbad winked at her. He wanted an adventure and this looked promising. "Rongar, weigh anker, I don't want to run aground on one of those sandbanks. Doubar, Bryn, lower the longboat. Firouz, get your scope and see what's waiting for us out there!"
The crew scurried to do as they were ordered while Sinbad tied off the tiller.
Firouz meanwhile tried to make out what it was that he saw on the sand. It looked like a red ball… no a red and white ball only not round enough… He had to stare for a minute longer before it clicked: It was a human, covered in blood and rolled up tight. He swore, there was too much blood- no one could survive that! But he was not giving up without trying.
He sprinted towards the hatch. "Sinbad, load at barrel of fresh water into the longboat and supplies to make a fire! And something to boil the water in!" He managed to shout before ducking into the hold to find as many bandages as he could. He was still stuffing his medical bag with herbs and other ingredients for potions and poultices when he came back up top.
"Firouz, what's going on?" Sinbad asked.
Firouz was relieved to see that the captain had followed his orders before questioning him. "There's a person on there, wounded. I couldn't see much."
"Alright crew! Row with all your strength! We're on a rescue mission!" Sinbad shouted loudly.
The longboat fairly flew over the water. As sailors they knew how fickle the sea could be and how fragile life was. They could only hope someone would try as hard to save them if it ever came to that.
Firouz was first out the boat, trashing through the water towards the victim while the others beached the longboat.
"She's alive!" He called over his shoulder. "Make a fire and start boiling water!" he turned the woman over on her back, and startled back when he heard a cry. Something moved. He shook himself and opened the dress. There, snuggled against his barely breathing mother's chest, lay a little new-born baby. Firouz picked the child up, gave it a quick once-over and finding everything alright, called Doubar over to take the infant from him. "Clean it and get it to drink some tepid water." Firouz instructed. He barely noticed Sinbad squatting next to him, too busy trying to find the source of all the blood. That she had recently given birth did give him some clue but it didn't explain all the blood above her hips.
"Maeve," Sinbad breathed.
This shook Firouz out of his intense concentration. He had never even looked at her face, too busy with saving her life. But now he did look and Sinbad was right, she was barely recognisable with all the blood smeared over her features but it really was Maeve.
"How did she get here?" Sinbad asked.
"We'll worry about that later," Firouz said, shoving the dress up around her waist so he could examine her. "The tearing isn't too bad, all this blood can't have come from here. Have you seen the afterbirth around here? If that's torn inside of her it could account for her bleeding out." Firouz said. "Rongar! Stick a needle in the fire! I need it disinfected! And find me some thread, it should be in my bag."
"What does afterbirth look like?" Sinbad asked, desperately looking around.
"Never mind, I think she ate it. Smart girl, she knew she needed all the strength she could get. But I'm going to have to check for internal bleeding. Stay with her while I go wash my hands," Firouz said.
Sinbad, feeling completely overwhelmed just nodded and sat himself down by Maeve's head, very unnerved to see her lower half exposed like that. She would not like it in the least. He didn't dare move her head to his lap in case the movement would cause more bleeding, so he stroked her blood-encrusted hair instead.
Bryn appeared next to him, offering a wet cloth. "So you can clean her up a bit," she said.
Sinbad took the cloth and started to wipe the blood off of her face. Then Firouz was back, kneeling in between her legs.
"It might help if you talk to her. She isn't conscious right now, but on some level she might feel something and I don't want her to think I'm molesting her," Firouz said.
Sinbad nodded, trying to think of something to say that would reassure her. "Bryn, can you get Dermott? I think she would like to see him."
"Of course," Bryn said. Because hawks cannot land on the ground the bird had been circling around, unable to land if no one stuck their hand out for him.
"So Maeve," Sinbad said, trying not to look at Firouz's examining of her. "You've looked better. Normally you look really good in red, but today I wish you were wearing any other colour," Sinbad shook his head, feeling like an idiot. "Uhm… You've had a baby. It's a boy. But you probably knew that, seeing as you managed to tie off the... the thing on the bellybutton. I forgot what it's called, you're going to have to remind me. He's doing alright, Doubar's got him, and you know how much Doubar likes babies. The cord! It's called the cord. You tied it off and you cut it. Thanks for reminding me. I can't help but think that it's been forty weeks since you fell overboard. Just hours after we… I should've known better. I never should've bragged to you about being the best masseur this side of the equator; you can't walk away from any chance to prove yourself the equal of every man aboard… I never felt closer to anyone in my life than I did to you at that moment Maeve, it wasn't just for fun. Just please don't die, please. Look here's Dermott, you know he needs you. Bryn's been taking good care of him, but that doesn't mean he doesn't need you anymore. You always need your family around. Look at me and Doubar, I wouldn't be anywhere without him."
Firouz looked up, bloody needle in hand. "I'm done. She isn't bleeding anymore. Most of this must be someone else's blood. It's vital right now that we keep her warm and hydrated. You can give clean her up with warm water, or if that makes you uncomfortable Bryn and I will do it. Then we'll wrap her in blankets and get her situated near the fire. Don't worry; Rongar's already rowing back to the ship to get more blankets. Once she wakes we can try to get some warm tea down her."
"I'll help with the washing," Sinbad said, figuring the faster they worked, the better it would be for her.
They all set to work and in no time they'd cleaned her up but Rongar wasn't back with the blankets yet.
"Right, body heat," Firouz concluded. "Sinbad, strip down to your underpants and lay down by the fire. Pull Maeve as close as you can… Bryn, would you mind taking her other side?" Firouz asked, a little uncomfortable with the idea of doing it himself even if he had just examined every nook and cranny of her body.
"Sure," Bryn said, this was really not the way she had imagined meeting the mysterious woman who had left such a mark on the Nomad. But she stripped off her dress and scooted in close because- well because it was the right thing to do.
Firouz tucked all the shed clothes around them, then added his own shirt and vest and all the clothes Doubar could spare. Soon they resembled a three-headed, multi-coloured mummy. Firouz settled himself by their feet and took one of Maeve's feet in his hands to massage it and get circulation going.
"How's the baby?" Sinbad asked, craning his neck to try and see.
"Fast asleep," Doubar reported, holding the baby against his chest so it wouldn't get cold. "He looks a lot like you when you were a new-born."
"I promised her I wouldn't tell anybody," Sinbad said, by way of apology for keeping secrets.
"Has she warmed up a little yet?" Doubar asked, he'd always known his little brother cared for the firebrand, it didn't matter much to him how far they had taken that feeling.
"I think she has," Bryn affirmed. "She's not so icy anymore."
Rongar arrived with every blanket the Nomad held. First Firouz spread a thick one on the ground and then held the baby while Rongar and Doubar shifted the three-headed mummy in one go onto it. Then the men layered so many blankets on top of them that it felt like a furnace inside.
"Now what?" Bryn asked, her hands were trapped somewhere in the cocoon of blankets so she couldn't even wipe the sweat of her forehead.
"Now we wait," Firouz said. "When she feels warm, she should wake up."
"Right," Bryn said, because being mostly naked in what amounted to a bed, with two other naked people, one of whom you didn't know and one of whom was ridiculously good-looking, wasn't awkward at all.
"Why isn't the baby crying?" Doubar asked after about two hours.
"Because it's sleeping?" Firouz guessed.
"He's been awake for an hour and hasn't had anything to eat in I don't know how long. He should be crying," he informed the scientist.
"Well she held him against her chest, maybe he suckled?" Firouz said, knowing how unlikely that was given the circumstances.
"There's something not right with this baby," Doubar maintained.
Dermott squawked from his perch on Rongar's arm, and at that moment Maeve stirred.
"D'mott?" she said, trying to make sense of her circumstances but not even succeeding in opening her eyes.
"He's right here," Sinbad said.
Maeve managed to open her eyes a little. Immediately Firouz thrust a cup of luke-warm liquid against her lips and she managed to take a few swallows. This seemed to strengthen her.
"Dim-Dim," she muttered. "In the baby. Is the baby. Get him to Caipra," she said. Then the cup was back and she swallowed before dropping off again.
"I think we can get her back to the Nomad now. Just keep her as warm as possible," Firouz said. He figured they could worry about Maeve's cryptic words later, when she was better able to explain them.
Maeve awoke in the dark. Everything hurt. She briefly wondered if the spell failed and she was stuck in a dark, painful in-between but then her eyes got used to the dark and she could make out the shape of Dermott on his perch.
She wished she could talk to him but the spell and subsequent birth had completely drained her. She couldn't even muster up the energy to reach out to him telepathically.
She saw someone move in the shadows, a shape came forward, holding a cup.
"I'm Bryn, Sinbad's asleep to your left. I've got some broth here Firouz said you should drink," Bryn said, and helped Maeve sit up enough to drink from the cup. "You're doing really well, the baby is as well. The men managed to get him to eat some broth and we're heading to the nearest harbour right now to get a milk-goat for him. We're taking care of everything; you don't need to worry about anything. You just concentrate on getting better, alright?"
Maeve felt soothed by the soft tones and kind words coming at her. She managed to drain the cup and lay back down, feeling with her left hand and finding a warm body next to her. Maybe she would survive this after all.
"Let me get this straight: By transporting you into this other realm, Dim-Dim accidentally killed our baby? And then he had the nerve to take over its body for his own use?" Sinbad was angry, confused and angry.
"No Sinbad, it wasn't like that. We didn't know I was pregnant, no one did and the baby lived, but because of the switching of realms it couldn't receive a… soul, a personhood, an id… It would have been born an empty shell, not a person at all. Do you know how hard it is to be pregnant; knowing that the baby you're carrying is not viable? It was hell! And Dim-Dim was wracked with guilt, he'd only done what he'd done to save my life! It took a long time but yes, eventually we came up with a way to make this terrible situation work for us. The problem was that it would take all of his energy and most of mine to get out of that prison so we found a way that he could transfer his character, his personhood into the baby at the time of birth and that would allow him to spend every last drop of his life-force to get us out of there. You can't blame him for not wanting to die Sinbad! We would've been stuck there forever if we hadn't done what we did," Maeve argued. She was nowhere near well-enough to be arguing passionately but she was particularly bad at taking the time to recover and the crew were all very curious about her tale.
"I can't deal with this," Sinbad said, turning around and striding out of the small cabin.
"For a while there, he thought he was a father," Doubar said, sitting down next to Maeve on her bed and putting a comforting arm around her shoulders. "Give him some time, he'll come around."
"For a while there, I thought I was going to be a mother. Then I told Dim-Dim. You should've seen his face, he went completely pale. I've never seen Dim-Dim without at least seeming like he's in control, but his voice shook and he was crying when he told me about the baby… But we turned it into something good, the not-being of my baby saved us. I won't apologize for that," she said.
"The baby died," Firouz said.
"No, I told you-" Maeve started but Firouz interrupted her.
"But it hurts like it died, like it was stillborn. You get to grieve for your lost child Maeve, you don't have to apologize for anything," he said.
Maeve choked back a sob, trying not to cry with the whole crew minus the captain looking at her like she could break any second. "Could one of you go an check on Sinbad? I think he needs to hear that too," she said.
She had her cabin to herself again and was just about to lie back down when someone knocked on her door.
"Come in," she said.
Sinbad entered and closed the door. He just stood there for a moment, his back against the door. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have gotten angry."
"It was a lot to take in all at once," she said.
"Yeah, it was…" Sinbad said. "I brought you some soup."
Maeve groaned. "When is Firouz going to let me eat something solid?"
"He probably thinks of you as one of his experiments now, I'm sure he's going to write a book about the feeding and caring of sorcerer's apprentices any day now," Sinbad said.
"Will you sit with me while I eat? You can report your findings back to Firouz," Maeve said.
"Of course," Sinbad said, sitting on her bunk with her.
He watched her eat in silence for a moment. "Our baby would've been great," he said eventually.
Maeve carefully set down the soup. "He would have been," she agreed, unable to look at him. "I'm so sorry I couldn't protect him. If only I wouldn't have…"
But Sinbad stopped her by pulling her into a tight embrace. "You have nothing to apologize for, you did nothing wrong. And our baby saved two lives, that's more than most people do in an entire lifetime. So our baby was great."
Feeling Sinbad's tears on her shoulders Maeve couldn't hold her own in anymore. She clung to him with all her strength as her grief was finally allowed to run its course.
Firouz was very careful with his convalescing patient. He eventually allowed her to go outside to let the sun and sea-air do their bit to strengthen her but he did make her sit in a make-shift tent on deck so the wind wouldn't get a grip on her and the sun wouldn't beat down on her too harshly.
"We're nearing Basra," Doubar came to tell her, little baby Dim-Dim in his arms. "I thought you might want to spend some time with the old man before we hand him over to his wife…"
"I don't like holding him, it's too confusing. But come sit, keep me company for a little while," Maeve said.
So Doubar sat down in the extra chair, still holding the baby. "I can't imagine how Caipra is going to react when we hand her her husband," Doubar said.
Maeve let out a laugh. "I thought about that too! I hope she's used to the odd sort of lives sorcerers live because this one has to take the cake. He didn't even ask her if she was alright with playing his nursemaid… Most women don't go for that kind of thing you know," she said.
"On the other hand, she will be able to stop him from packing up and leaving for some time to come," Doubar said.
The baby squirmed in his arms. They couldn't tell how much the old-man-turned-baby could understand now that his brain was made to fit a new-born's. It was probably gas in this case.
"Oh my dear children, what has my fool of a husband done to you?" Caipra asked when they came to her door.
"It wasn't his fault," Maeve said, but the weakness was still written all over her body. She was so tired from the short trek to Caipra's house that she was leaning against Sinbad, trusting him to hold her up.
Caipra looked down onto the child. "You wouldn't happen to have any growth potions handy, would you?"
"Fresh out," Sinbad shrugged.
"Well, on the bright side, he'll be a lot handsomer when he grows up this time. It's a shame I'll be too old to enjoy it!" Caipra said.
"We brought you the goat we use to feed him with, and he likes it when you sing to him before bed-time. Oh and here's his favourite bathing sponge," Doubar said, handing her the goat's leash and a funny shaped sponge.
Caipra gave him a warm, motherly smile in thanks. "You will make a wonderful father Doubar. I am half-inclined to hand you my husband back so you can raise him to be more like yourself."
Doubar blushed at so much praise and didn't know what to say.
When they got back to the ship Sinbad was carrying Maeve, the journey had been too much for her. Firouz fussed over her like a mother-hen, ordering Sinbad to put her to bed instantly before disappearing into the galley to prepare her something strengthening.
Maeve was a little surprised when Sinbad didn't just settle her into bed but settled himself right next to her as well.
"I think the old body heat excuse has run its course," she said.
"I just want to be with you tonight, if that's alright?" Sinbad asked.
"I won't be any fun, I'm half-asleep as it is," Maeve said.
"It was never about the fun to begin with," Sinbad said.
"Oh," Maeve said, there was some niggle at the back of her head that told her he meant more with those words than she could discern right now but she was too tired to figure it out. Instead she just made herself comfortable against his side and fell asleep.
Sinbad awoke because of something poking his side. He opened his eyes to find Maeve's face just inches from his own. There was some serious morning breath going on, on both sides, but he was game if she was…
"What was it you said exactly?" Maeve asked, instead of making the hoped for advances.
"What did I say when?" Sinbad asked, trying to get his sleepy brain into gear.
"Last night you said something, but I was half-asleep and now I don't remember," she said.
"Must not have been that important," Sinbad said, having no idea what it was he had said.
"Yes it was, or I wouldn't remember that I don't remember," she said.
"You make no sense, at all," he countered, trying to think back to the night before. He'd put her to bed, stayed, she said she wouldn't be any fun and- oh that! "You don't mean me saying that I didn't mind that you wouldn't be any fun, do you?"
"Is that what you said?" Maeve asked.
"Something to that effect," Sinbad shrugged.
"Huh," she said. "That wasn't important at all."
"Told ya," he said.
She narrowed her eyes at him, obviously thinking of something. "So what made you stay here last night?" She finally asked.
"Come on Maeve, we'd just given Dim-Dim to Caipra, I had to carry you most of the way back. I was feeling emotional and tired… I just needed to be here with you, that's not so hard to understand, is it?" Sinbad said, feeling a little defensive, like he was being called out.
"I never meant to imply that you shouldn't need to be together at that moment. I guess I needed you too… I'm just trying to figure out what I am to you now," she said, trying to explain her thoughts to him.
"Oh," Sinbad said, his thoughts racing. "I'm uh… Well you're… I don't know, you're a lot to me, just exactly what, I have no idea."
"Same here. I guess we can figure it out together, over time," she said.
"Sounds like a plan," he said, settling back into the bunk and pulling her into a comfortable embrace.
"Besides, all the fun stuff would have to wait anyway, I look like an exploded porcupine down there," Maeve stated.
Sinbad snorted a laugh, half-tempted to go and see what that exploded porcupine actually looked like but thinking the better of it. "You're not a lady at all, are you?"
"Like you're such a well-mannered gentleman," she scoffed.
"Still better mannered than you," he said.
"Are not," she countered.
"Are too," he said.
"Alright, give me an example of your manners!" she insisted.
"I let you come on board, didn't I?" he said.
"That was just because Dim-Dim asked you to!" Maeve said.
"It's good manners to do as your master asks you," Sinbad pointed out.
"I've still got better manners than you," Maeve insisted.
And maybe the bickering went on until someone came to bring them breakfast. And maybe Sinbad sneaked her in, a big juicy steak one time just because she said that if he'd do that she would love him forever. And maybe they would be alright in the end; they had each other after all.