Sinbad sat alone in a small tavern, having left his crew on the Nomad for a single evening so he could be alone with his thoughts. He sipped from his tankard and nibbled from the plate of sweets the publican had brought him after dinner. He contemplated his life and found that, despite all the hardships and mysteries, he had a good one. He'd been so angry- at his own disappearance for two years, at Dim-Dim's and the straw that broke the camel's back; Maeve's. And before all that there had been the deaths of his parents and his childhood playmate. All that anger and grief had been a heavy burden to bear, outweighing the joys he found in life. Now, in thinking about it and taking the time to see where he stood, he found the scales tipping back the other way. Of course the pain was still there, but it could be born. The joys were just too abundant to go without noticing. Even now he away from the deck under his feet, the sea-breeze in his hair and the sun on his face, away from the crew he loved like a family and without an adventure to make his heart quicken, he was content with the good meal he'd just eaten, with a smile from the pretty tavern wench who blushed so prettily every time she caught his eye. So he lay down the mantle of grief and directed his attention to the man sitting by the fireplace trying to catch the attention of all the patrons of the tavern.
"My name is Shadan, I am a travelling story-teller, one of the many sons of Sherezade you might say. Tonight I have a wonderful story for you all, if you are willing to hear it…" The man pointedly nudged the bowl at his feet, a few of the patrons, Sinbad among them, gamely tossed a dinar or two in there. The man continued:
"The tale I tell you today is about a youth as beautiful as the moon, but also brave as a lion, as devout as an Imam and as educated as a scholar. His name is Sinbad the Sailor."
Sinbad's eyebrows flew up and he furtively checked around the tavern if anyone knew him to be this sailor the storyteller was describing so… well unrealistically. Lucky for him not one among them thought the stranger in their midst was as beautiful as the moon.
"On one of his many voyages Sinbad came across a many coloured bird. Such a bird as never had been seen before and would never be seen again. This bird was as big as a man's arm, its beak made of silver and sharp as a sword, the talons bright red and strong enough to crush a man's skull. But the truly magical thing about this bird was that it could speak…"
Sinbad briefly wondered how Dermott would feel about being described like that- it couldn't be much worse than 'beautiful as the moon'…
"Sinbad invited this magical bird to come along on his journey and the bird accepted. For a year and a day it flew with the ship, warning its crew of dangers ahead and treasures to be found. After that time it landed on the deck and said to Sinbad: 'I have flown with you for a year and a day and have found you to be an honourable, brave, wise and devout man. Now I will entrust you with my secret: This is not my true form, my true body is being held by a wicked witch who cast me out of it and turned my spirit into an animal. She wanted me to be a seagull, but the purity of my heart would not let me take such a form and made me as I am instead. I am a princess of Baghdad, if you free me my father will reward you with whatever you desire.' So the bird spoke and a fierce love ignited in the sailor's heart for the captured princess. 'I desire nothing but your hand in marriage.' The sailor said. So Sinbad and his crew followed the princess who looked like a bird across the seas towards a rocky island with a dark, foreboding palace on its very top. Waves crashed onto the rocks from all sides, there was only a narrow beach on which the ship could land safely but it was guarded by sharp rocks looking to tear the guts from the ship itself. But Sinbad had not become the Master of the Seven Seas because he was easily afraid and turned back often, no he bravely and skilfully sailed his ship right through the rocks and beached it without a scratch. As soon as Sinbad and his crew set a single foot upon the island they were beset by dangerous monsters, the like were never seen before or since. Scorpions as big as a ship tried to sting them, creatures of stone detached themselves from the sides of the island and tried to crush them. Sinbad fought them all with bravery and cunning but when he saw the beasts about the kill his crew he threw down his sword and called for the beasts to halt. That very moment the witch appeared. She looked like a beautiful maiden but Sinbad, who is true of heart, could see through the enchantment and saw her ugly, rotten self. The witch, as soon as she saw this most worthy of men, wanted to possess him so she offered him a trade; 'If you will promise to be my servant for a full year, I will release your crew and guide them safely through the rocks so they might live.' Sinbad, though disgusted that he would have to serve such a foul creature consented for the sake of his crew."
The storyteller looked 'round the tavern and saw every man there on the edge of their seat, listening breathlessly. "My throat feels a little dry, I don't know if I can go on," he said. Of course a tankard was pressed into his hand in seconds and a rain of dinars fell into his bowl to encourage him to continue. He took a long swallow and took up his tale:
"Sinbad followed the witch into her palace. In the throne room, encased entirely in crystal he saw the princess. His heart, already belonged solely to her and Allah so he recognised her immediately. Never had he seen a more beautiful woman; her hair fell in long copper curls, her skin looked smooth and supple- she was long-legged, buxom and slender. She was as beautiful as the sun. The witch became jealous of his admiration of her captive, so she threw a curtain over the crystal and tried to seduce Sinbad herself. But by dusk, when her spells had nearly worn him down, the princess in the form of a bird began to sing, freeing Sinbad's heart from the witch. So she sang at dawn and dusk as Sinbad served his time, the witch's enchantments sliding right off of him as soon as he heard his lady-love sing her song. Every night he lay himself to rest at the foot of the witch's bed, counting yet another day of servitude past and a year later at the very first moment of his freedom he sprang up and strangled her in her sleep. He ran to his bride's side and called for the bird to re-join her body. Under his caresses the crystal melted like ice until the princess's body was free, but the bird still held her soul. 'I do not know how to go back,' the bird cried. 'I will love you no matter what form you take, I will take no other wife than you in all my life.' Sinbad faithfully promised her. 'Don't say that, I love you too much to keep you to that promise. I cannot serve you as a wife should, separate as I am from my true body.' Sinbad just smiled and kissed the sharp silver beak and then bent down to kiss the plump rose-coloured lips of his princess. The bird cried a single tear which fell right into the eye of the princess and with a gasp she came to life and the bird disappeared. Sinbad and his princess travelled to Baghdad where the Caliph gave the princess to Sinbad to wed and the city of Damascus to rule until the Caliph died and Sinbad would be Caliph." The story teller finished and looked around the room for reactions. To his surprise the crowd did not look happy.
"Hogswash, the princess isn't in some weird palace in the middle of the sea!" One of the locals called out. "We got a red-head in crystal right here on our island. She's a true blessing too, since she's been here our crops are plentiful, our livestock is birthing twins and triplets and well… so are our wives! If it was up to me Sinbad the Sailor can stay on his boat and keep on sailing, we'll keep the princess right here."
"There's no bird though, so probably not the same princess anyway," another local said, because he was all for true-love winning and everything, but he too liked the prosperity the lady in crystal had brought with her.
"Might I see this magical marvel? I could make a true tale out of it and send many a curious visitor your way, who will then buy all these superfluous crops and animals from you," the storyteller asked.
The publican's ears perked up, visitors meant extra money for him especially! "Of course they'll show you the girl, we're a hospitable bunch after all."
"I confess I have become just the kind of curious visitor Shadan mentioned. I would love to see this maid of good fortune," Sinbad said, trying not to get his hopes up too high. It couldn't be Maeve, could it? Dim-Dim had said she was safe with him and though red hair was rare, it was not unheard of…
"Well come on then, and bring a couple of torches, it has gotten dark outside," one of the men said. Quickly the whole tavern emptied out and with Shadan the storyteller and the loudest local in front, everybody followed. Sinbad didn't want anyone to stand out so he followed near the back of the group but the storyteller called him up front.
"So stranger, what did you think of my story?" He asked.
"Very entertaining. How did you come by it?" Sinbad asked.
"The teacher of Sinbad himself told it to me," Shadan replied.
"Master Dim-Dim?" Sinbad asked, forgetting for a moment that he should not even know that name if he was indeed the stranger he was pretending to be.
Shadan winked at him. "The master came to me in a dream, asked me to come to this place and tell that story. With good reason I imagine?"
"Master Dim-Dim works in mysterious ways… You know who I am, don't you?" Sinbad asked carefully.
"Not many youths as beautiful as the moon in my audience," Shadan said with a smile.
"Yeah… thanks for that," Sinbad drawled. "You couldn't come up with a more manly description?"
"Only true men can get away with a description like that," the storyteller said. "Ah, it appears we have arrived."
The arrived at the top of a small hill covered in white flowers, on its very centre stood Maeve wearing only a simple cotton shift. She was encased from head to toe in clear crystal. One of the men leaned against the rock nonchalantly. "And here we are, this is our island's treasure!" He said.
"Ain't she pretty?" Another added, pressing a kiss against the crystal near Maeve's mouth.
"Show some respect to our benefactor!" Another man protested.
Sinbad ignored the men, just looked at Maeve, she had never been so still in her life, not even when she was asleep. He found that the image he'd made in his mind of her didn't quite match with the reality of her. He'd forgotten she was of a height with him, not shorter than he was, he'd made her more fragile in his mind's eye- no doubt because she was in need of a rescue- here in front of him she looked strong and capable. Slowly he walked forward, around the man who still leaned against the crystal until he stood by her side. Sinbad reached out to take her hand. His hand slid through the crystal, the rock turning to vapour, until he touched her cold fingers. As soon as flesh touched flesh the entire crystal turned to steam and Maeve, no longer supported, slid to the ground. Sinbad deftly caught her and cradled her in his lap.
"What did you do?" One of the locals asked, perturbed.
"You're not some kind of evil magician are you?" Another aksed.
"No good people, this is Sinbad the sailor himself, come to rescue his princess!" The storyteller said. "You have the great honour of watching him bring her soul back into her body."
Sinbad looked up at him. "And how exactly do I do that?"
"You heard the story, kiss her man!" a man said, as he elbowed one of his friends who was about to protest that waking her would mean no more abundance on the island. "She's a person in her own right people, be thankful for the last two years and let her be."
"Please let this work…" Sinbad muttered against her lips before pressing his own to hers.
She convulsed, gasping for breath before desperately coughing up half the sea. Sinbad rubbed her back soothingly until she could draw breath normally again.
"Sinbad?" She asked, her voice hoarse, "where are we?"
He felt her strength returning under his hands so he helped her to stand, though he always kept an arm around her waist. "We seem to be in one of the 1001-nights. Don't worry about it, I'll explain everything later. Can you walk?"
Maeve eyed the men around her warily. "Of course I can walk, where's Dermott? Where's the crew?"
"They're on the Nomad, come on," Sinbad said, trying to lead her away when a man appeared with an armful of the wildflowers that grew all over the hill.
"My lady, it is but a small offering, but it is the only way I can think of to thank you for all the blessings you have brought upon this land for the last two years," the man said.
Maeve took the flowers automatically but her eyes were on Sinbad, fearfully searching his face, taking note of his long hair. "Two years?" She asked.
His hand ran the length of her right arm until it came to a halt on her wrist. It held a rainbow bracelet. "Welcome to the club."
"It wasn't one I was looking to join," she said, belatedly smiling her thanks at the man who'd given her the flowers as she and Sinbad made their way back to the village. "So what's changed? Besides your pants."
"I knew they couldn't escape your notice very long," Sinbad shook his head. "I missed you." He pulled her a little tighter against with the arm he still had around her.
"I wish I could say the same only I just saw you yesterday as far as I can remember," Maeve grumbled, then looked up abruptly. "No wait, there was something… Dim-Dim, I think… Maybe it will come back to me. What about Dermott? And Rumina?"
"The one is still a hawk, the other is keeping a low profile. We haven't come across her in quite a while," Sinbad answered honestly.
"You weren't supposed to know he's supposed to be anything other than a hawk," Maeve remarked.
"I've learned to talk to him Maeve, he's been a part of my crew for three years now," Sinbad said, trying to break it to her gently.
"I've been away longer than I was a part of your crew," Maeve whispered, fighting back the tears.
"Just because you weren't here doesn't mean you weren't part of my crew," he said. "In spirit we always carried you with us."
"Can we just… Before we go back to the Nomad, can we just find somewhere quiet to talk?" Maeve asked, feeling more than a little overwhelmed, the crowd behind them not helping.
"Of course, I'll rent a room in the tavern and send a runner to the Nomad to tell them I won't return to the Nomad tonight," Sinbad said.
Maeve listened patiently to his story of what happened to the crew of the Nomad while she was away. Well, patiently for her anyway, she kept interrupting him to scoff at some decision or to remark on something until he refused to go on until she promised to keep quiet and then she just sighed loudly, rolled her eyes or lifted an eyebrow to get her points across.
At the end he just laughed and pulled her into yet another hug. "Oh I missed you, stubbornness and all."
"I'm not stubborn!" Maeve protested, more for the joy of arguing with him than out of conviction.
"You are! You're stubborn and impatient and mysterious and utterly wonderful," Sinbad smiled that dimpled smile of his that she pretended did not affect her.
"Whatever, you want to hear what happened to me or not?" Maeve asked.
"You remember?" Sinbad asked.
"I think I do… I know I was drowning. I felt so stupid for going overboard like that, that I was dying because I hadn't been paying enough attention. Then everything went black. When I woke I was nothing but a ghost. Dim-Dim had pulled me into his prison but because if he had pulled my body there as well I would not be able to leave either he told me he'd stashed it somewhere safe. For two years I couldn't eat, sleep or dream… It was awful. I just studied but as a ghost I couldn't even use my powers to practice what I learned. Time was… indefinite. It felt like longer than two years I can tell you that," Maeve said.
"And the rainbow bracelets? Did Dim-Dim tell you about them?" Sinbad asked.
"Yes and no. I have the knowledge, but Dim-Dim locked it away in my mind. I know I consented to it, but I don't remember why it was necessary." Maeve answered.
"I can't imagine you consenting to a thing like that," Sinbad said.
"I'll have you know I am very obedient apprentice," Maeve said.
"Not a very obedient crewmember," Sinbad goaded her.
"I might be if I had a more competent captain," Maeve shot right back.
And again Sinbad pulled her into his arms for a hug. "I can't even tell you how much I missed you!"
"Masochist," Maeve scoffed but wrapped her arms around him and gave him a squeeze.
"Only for you," Sinbad said with a happy grin.
"Sinbad?" She asked, withdrawing from the hug a little so she could look into his eyes.
"Take me home."