The storm tossed the tiny ship around on its waves as though it was a piece of seaweed. The howling wind deafened the ears of the crew as they tried to keep their feet on the rolling ship. As Doubar and Sinbad tried to hold the tiller steady, the rest tried to keep the cargo tightly bound to the sides. Bryn felt uneasy, there was a familiar presence in this storm but she couldn't place it. Then she felt a certain sense of dread, she didn't know how or why but she knew they were no longer in the same place. It was almost as if they were called away, the sudden calm after made her certain that they were called by magic to another place.
"Where are we?" Sinbad asked his shaken crew. No one knew and, as they stared out into the horizon, what appeared to be an island showed on the port side of the Nomad. The lush green land spread out before them, they could see a tiny thread of sapphire glittering between the tall cypress trees. In the distance was a shinning castle, even at this distance they could tell that there was trouble brewing. The flag was flying at half mast, the turrets looked to have archers.
"I hope they will give us a chance to explain." He murmured to Doubar.
"Aye. But let's approach with the flag of peace waving."
Sinbad nodded and signaled that they should head in that direction. "Maybe we can find some help."
Bryn stood at the prow of the ship, trying hard to remember exactly where she had seen this place before. She was grateful that none of the crew, especially a certain, exasperating blue eyed captain, noticed her distraction and that Dermott had returned to be with Maeve. It wasn't that she minded Sinbad's concern but, of late, it had become more distracting. She couldn't shake the memory of his kiss, and that bothered her more than anything because they were supposed to be just friends. Right?
While half the crew searched the coastline, Sinbad, Firouz, Rongar, Doubar, and Bryn headed inland. The green, lush vista stretched out before the weary eyes of the Nomad crew. Even though they loved the sea, it could be very wearying to them. They were thankful to have arrived on dry land after the terrible storm that had knocked them off course.
As they went further inland, Sinbad was hoping to see some sign that he'd been there before but only Bryn's paleness alerted the Captain that she may know something about this place. As he looked at her he realized that something was terribly amiss with his lady and wondered how he could have missed it before. He often thought bitterly about his vow to be just friends with her. *Saying we would be just friends was just about one of the dumbest things I've ever done. But I'll keep my promise until we find out about your past and then my girl; for you are, you know, we'll have a reckoning. Yes, indeed we will. Sinbad felt warm inside just thinking about it and with difficulty drew his mind back into the present. "Bryn, what's the matter?"
She turned to her captain, sighing. *I should've known better than to think he would continue to miss my distracted air. Why does he always notice when I least expect him to? And just why do I care? She resolutely shoved aside the unbidden memory of that first kiss. Sinbad thought she wasn't going to answer him but finally she slowed down and turned to him. "I just have the oddest feeling. Something that will alter the course of my-our lives forever." Though she quickly covered her slip, Sinbad heard and wondered about it.
She seemed so distant, so worried that he reached out his hand and laid it on her arm. She looked at his hand for a moment then up at him with those deep, dark eyes. "Hey, whatever happens we'll make it through. We always have before, haven't we?" She nodded. He squeezed her arm lightly before letting go, wishing he could do more. Wishing quite desperately that she would let him. Again he regretted his promise to her, especially after remembering a certain kiss which still had him shaking in his boots. They caught up with the rest of the crew, both too deep in their thoughts to notice the crew's amused glances.
Firouz learned over to Doubar, "Think something's going happen?"
Doubar hissed back, "If Sinbad has anything to say about it, I'd say yes. But Bryn, I'm afraid she has no clue to how she feels about him. Truth to tell I fell a bit sorry for the lass; once Sinbad has his mind set on what he wants nothing deters him. And I'm afraid what he wants is Bryn."
"Isn't that a good thing? I mean, he and Bryn are best friends. What more could you want for you little brother than a woman who happily shares his life?"
"I have nothing against her, it's the matter of her past that worries me. What if she's married? Or made some kind of vow?"
Rongar joined into their conversation, "I doubt it. Memory loss or not, she would have reverted in some way to her past life."
"Rongar is right. She would have done that which was most familiar to her, most comfortable."
"Except that Rongar is a prince and never betrayed that fact, in word or deed."
"I was raised not as a prince, but as a man who was extremely blessed. Therefore, I never learned to put on superior airs."
Doubar would have responded but was cut of by a high pitched scream as a woman came flying out of nowhere. "Princess! At long last you've returned." They had an impression of a long red dress and short, dark hair as the woman passed them and threw herself at Bryn's feet, sobbing hysterically. Bryn looked at the woman, her soft eyes filled with compassion and confusion. "I knew it, your father said you'd never come back. He was wrong."
The woman went on in this manner for sometime. Sinbad watched this with amusement until he realized that the woman was dead serious and that Bryn was growing very uncomfortable. "Excuse me, ma'am? But I think you've got the wring lady, this is Bryn."
"I know very well who this is, young man. It is our princess, returned at last to save her homeland." She sounded insulted that he would dare disbelieve her.
"I don't understand. I'm not a princess, at least I don't think I am. And what do you mean I've returned to save my homeland?" Bryn drew closer to Sinbad and he put his arm around her waist, letting her borrow his strength.
The woman was appalled, "Princess Aria! I'm surprised at you. You know very well that this kind of behavior is totally unacceptable." So saying the woman pulled Bryn away, "Don't you remember? The broken engagement, you found out something about Prince Benrubi you found utterly distasteful. You refused to marry a swine."
"But ma'am, I'm not who you think I am. My name is Bryn."
"Yes, of course it is. Though why you go by your middle name is beyond me. And you are my princess, you can't fool a witch woman." The woman waved one of her hands and they were swept away in the breeze.
Sinbad reached out a hand and barely managed to grab Bryn's hand, the crew watched in disbelief as the Captain, Bryn, and the witch woman disappeared. With Rongar leading the way, they tried to find the path to the castle that must be there.
Bryn and Sinbad's hands clung together as the witch woman guided them to Duria. They landed just outside the huge, white tiered castle that Bryn supposed was her home. "Oh, a stowaway. Well, never mind. You'll enjoy Duria, just beware of sudden curves. Come Princess, your father will be anxious to see you."
"Hang on a minute, ma'am. Bryn isn't going anywhere without an explanation from you."
When the woman turned a haughty gaze upon Sinbad, he didn't even flinch. "I owe you nothing. And the name's Lissla." She said it as though she was bored, Sinbad tightened his grip on Bryn's hand.
"I think you do. Bryn has been apart of my crew for more than a year. In that time I've come to really on her spirit and her intelligence. She is my best friend." *And the only woman I've ever truly loved. Lissla looked into his eyes, and liked what she found there.
She unbent and motioned for them to follow her into the palace. The servants swarmed around Bryn, separating her from Lissla and Sinbad. Their excited cries filled the castle, ringing down the hallways and interrupting a counsel meeting. The door opened and a very tall, very angular, very dark man filled the doorway. "Silence!" He roared and the room quieted immediately. Bryn turned around and found herself looking into a pair of dark eyes, eyes that had haunted her dreams for weeks. His face went white with horror at seeing her, alive. He dropped to one knee before her. "Aria, how good it is to see you alive and whole." The undercurrent in his voice was so low that only Bryn caught it.
She gasped as the memories came flooding back, "Father. I trust that all has gone well with the kingdom in my unfortunate absence?" She ironically said, her eyes as hard as flints.
Sinbad looked at Lissla in confusion, "She remembers. Come, we must act quickly if we are to save the Princess." Lissla led Sinbad to her small room. "I've always harbored the suspicion that her father had Aria taken away so that he could retain control of the kingdom."
"But couldn't he just force her to marry this Benrubi?"
"No." Lissla threw aside her books and potions and waved Sinbad over. "There is no doubt in my mind that Rajol will try to kill her. We must stop him."
"Tell me what to do." Lissla was pleased by his answer and *Bryn, you have done well for yourself.
While Sinbad and Lissla planned to keep her alive, Princes Aria walked into the counsel room and greeted her senators. "What is all this nonsense about Benrubi bringing a curse to our lands?"
"As you know, Benrubi has a powerful wizard. When you didn't show up for the appointed meeting, he had this man curse the land. He figured we'd give in to his demands and let him take control of Duria." The little senator said. He was blond with dark eyes and long, pale lashes that seemed to disappear into his forehead.
Aria fixed the small man with an iron gaze, "And you're sure that it is this wizard who has brought this curse down upon our heads?" Her meaning was not lost on those in the room, least of all her father. "But that is neither here nor there. I am not prepared to let Duria fall into his hands. Duria has always been a free land for all, since it was created. As long as I live, it will remain so." Her dark eyes sought out her father's, his narrowed imperceptibly. She turned back to the counselors and the meeting proceeded. "I hear that Benrubi is to make a visit. I shall meet with him and this time nothing had better go wrong." She looked pointedly at her father and there was an uncomfortable silence in the room.
Rajol watched his daughter, barely able to recognize the timid girl he'd scared away ten years ago. *She acts so much like her mother, its frightening. It is unfortunate that she returned. After the meeting adjured, Aria went to her room. She bathed and dressed, then went down to find Lissla and Sinbad. Stopping to ask a few trusted guards to find her friends in the Emerald Vale.
The sound of trumpets heralded the arrival of a royal procession. Prince Benrubi and his soon to be wife the Princes Maeve, with Dermott by her side. Sinbad and Lissla watched the procession, she heard his sudden intake of breath when he saw the bride. "Friend of yours?"
"She was once a member of my crew, we lost her more than a year ago to her master. It was about the time we met Bryn, Aria." He amended quickly.
"What is she to you?"
"She was someone I thought of as a friend, we went through some hard times together. But I think you want to know about my feelings for Bryn. Before Bryn came along, there were other women, even a few after to my great shame. Then something changed, I found myself wanting to be in Bryn's company more and more. I would look at other women and find that her eyes weren't as dark or soft, that her hair wasn't as silky, that her voice wasn't as soothing. And when we kissed…It was so…" His blue eyes looked off into the distance, reliving that moment. After a few minutes, he reluctantly pulled himself back into the present. "Anyway, I knew she was the one but I had made her a promise when she first joined to be only friends. I sometimes regret that."
"But if you hadn't, you probably would never have gotten to truly know her."
"I guess. Anyway this Prince, he's Aria's…" He trailed off, not willing to say or think it.
"Her ex-fiancée? Yes." She stopped speaking when she saw Aria walk regally down the stairs. "Isn't she magnificent?" Aria had changed into a royal blue robe that clung to her slim figure and flowed to her feet. She was wearing a tiara of fine silver twining around sapphires and pearls which was a sharp contrast with her upswept dark hair.
"How do you do, Prince Benrubi?" She held out her hand to the handsome young man who bowed over it, lightly touching his lips to the back. He was a tall man with hair so black that it looked almost blue in some lights. His green eyes showed that he had a quick intelligence but was a lazy, indulgent man caring for his own needs.
Straitening up, he took a long look at the future queen of Duria and was surprised to see she was a beauty. *For once, the reports from my spies were correct. "If I had known that you had returned and become such a beauty, I would have come sooner."
"Flattery should be reserved for your future bride, my lord." Aria coolly turned away from him and held out her hand to the tall redhead who stood behind him. She was dressed in a pale green dress, her eyes shadowed by her long lashes. "You must be Maeve, Dermott has told me so much about you."
Maeve took the proffered hand and curtsied. "Yes, my lady. Your sudden appearance here is a surprise."
"You have no idea. Hello, Dermott." Aria stroked his feathers as he flew to her arm. "Please, follow me. The blue suit is being made ready for you and we will have some lemonade in the parlor."
Sinbad watched the proceedings with a feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach. "Prince Rajol wants Benrubi to inherit, right?" Lissla nodded, "So what's to prevent him from trying get them to marry?"
"Maeve. For better or for worse, Maeve loves that man. Come, you must join them, for you are Aria's guest." Sinbad followed Lissla into the parlor, noting the subdued elegance and the tasteful décor. "Aria did most of the rooms herself."
But Sinbad didn't hear her, his eyes were focused on the young princess. She smiled up at him. He didn't hear Maeve's surprised cry of "Sinbad", nor the outraged gasps of the guests in the room. He bowed over Aria's hand and kissed her palm, noting the relief in her eyes. "Your majesty."
"Hello, Captain Sinbad." Very properly said, but Sinbad noticed with tenderness the slight blush on her cheeks and heard the slight tremor in her voice. After she made the proper introductions, she turned and gestured to a seat at her right. "Would you join us?" Her dark eyes pleaded with him and out of the corner of his eye he saw that Benrubi had moved a little closer to her.
He felt a burst of jealousy, "I would be delighted, my dove." He glanced pointedly at Benrubi, the prince quickly got up and moved over to where Maeve sat as Sinbad sat by Aria. The rest of the afternoon passed relatively smoothly.
When Aria was signaled that the suites were ready, she excused everyone. Prince Benrubi bowed over her hand, keeping a wary eye on Sinbad. "A pleasurable afternoon, sweet charmer. Hope to see more of you later." Aria stared off over his shoulder and withdrew her hand from his grasp.
"As I've said before, such words should be used for your fiancée. Good afternoon, Prince Benrubi." Her dismissive tone was not lost on Benrubi, who flushed. He nodded stiffly towards Sinbad and left the room. She sighed and leaned back. Sinbad lightly massaged her shoulders and she sighed. "Thanks."
"For what? I did nothing."
"That's what you think. So what do you think of my changed circumstances?" Aria curiously asked.
He appeared to consider the matter carefully, "Well, of course you realize this changes our relationship. After all, you are a princess and I'm a simple sailor." He teased, watching as Aria's checks went as red as the roses outside.
He couldn't hold back his grin. "Oh, you!" She pulled away and tossed a pillow at him. He looked stunned at first, then his eyes filled with a devilish light. Sinbad threw the pillow back at her, "This means war, my captain." They both exchanged pillows, till Sinbad tackled her and took her down.
"A war I intend to win, Aria." He proceeded to tickle her over her protests, "Do you give up?" Aria gasped for breath, nodding furiously. He stopped and stared into her eyes, the laughter draining to passion. He lowered his head and took her lips with his, stealing the rest of her breath away. Sinbad pulled away for a moment and looked into her eyes, running his finger over her check. His hand played in her hair, now falling out of its carefully done hairdo. Her tiara went rolling over to the fireplace. His heart was so full, he couldn't resist her, and he'd waited so long. He kissed her again not with passion but with all the tenderness he felt at that moment.
She felt the change in his embrace and floated along with him into this strange world of sensations. But her mind was not so wooed and was screaming at her to pull away. *Are you crazy, girl? You can't be doing this when you have to concentrate on your father…She moved her head slightly so that he could trail kisses along her neck. *But this feels so good and so right. Her mind finally prevailed and Aria slowly opened her eyes, "Sinbad?" The huskiness of her voice surprised her but caught his attention. He raised his deep, passion filled blue eyes to hers, "Uhm, we should stop before someone comes in."
"Yeah." Sinbad helped her to her feet, smoothing out her dress. She picked up her tiara and redid her hair simply. He looked at her rather flushed face, noticing her down cast eyes. "You know, I didn't intend for this to happen. But I wouldn't change a thing." Aria looked up into his blue eyes, confusion in hers. "I mean it. Do you think something this wonderful happens to me all the time?"
"Well, I don't know. I never really thought about it before, but I would guess so."
"Guess again. This kind of swept away, out of your hands kind of passion usually happens once in a lifetime, if at all."
"Oh." Aria thought about that for a moment, "Where is Lissla?"
"Changing the subject isn't going to help, Aria. We need to talk about this sometime." Aria stared at her feet, then nodded slightly. He gestured to the couch, but she decided to sit in a chair. He smiled ruefully and sat down across from her, he reached out a hand. "Look at me, Aria." She tentatively put her hand in his and looked up at him. "So, where do we go from here?"
She sighed. "Right now I can't deal with these emotions. My father failed to get rid of me before, I can't allow my feelings for you to distract me."
"You know you can count on me to help you." He softly stroked her cheek.
She went on, ignoring the interruption. "My goal now is to keep Duria free. I never expected this, any of this, to happen. I'm just so confused. My life here, my life on the Nomad, you. It all seems like a dream." Aria knew she was blabbering and stood up, determined to stop. "Before I was to meet with Benrubi, I went off into the woods to be alone. I decided to do some soul searching. But when one meditates, you lose sense of what is going on around you. I was grabbed from behind, tied up, and put into a sack, then dragged across the countryside behind a horse before being tossed into the sea. I hit my head pretty hard, blacking out several times. Then I awoke on that island and met you."
"Did you remember any of this after you boarded the Nomad?"
"I had some impressions, some feelings but nothing very specific. I would feel like I had an important task to accomplish, to do. But before I could make sense of it, something would happen. A storm, being a damsel in distress, men being interested in me only to decide that they'd rather kill me." She rubbed her temples, not really noticing Sinbad drawing away from her, "How was I to know that I would met someone like you? Someone who would be my friend and confidant, who makes me feel strong even in my weakest moments. I never knew that I would fall in love with you." She gasped in horror, eyes flying over to him. She put her hands over her mouth, shaking her head. "I didn't mean to say that. Please forget I said that." She turned and started to run from the room.
Sinbad got up and grabbed her arm, "I can't. If you only knew how long I've waited to hear those words from you, I've been saying them to myself for so long." She turned her disbelieving eyes toward him. "What? Did you think that I couldn't fall for you?"
"It never occurred to me that you would feel the same. I mean all those women and then there was always Maeve in the background."
"Will you believe me if I tell you that Maeve was a puppy love? I was more like a little dog than a man in love, begging for her good favor or a kind word. As for other women, I won't deny that they have been there. You've even met a few of them." He smiled sadly, "I am only human after all. But none of them ever held a candle to you and you acted like you could care less what I did."
"Oh, I cared. I was so eaten up with jealousy. But it still doesn't change the fact that I have a country to run and you would never be really happy here. I'm sorry." She couldn't stop the tears from falling.
He rocked her in his arms, trying to soothe her fears while keeping his hidden. After so long too finally have his dream in his grasp only to have it brutally snatched away. It was all so unreal. "I know."
Maeve watched the two enviously. *Why couldn't Benrubi and I be like this? "Well, Princess, you could just leave and let Benrubi have Duria."
Aria turned towards the redhead in shock and anger. "Never! Duria was set aside as a land for talking animals and freemen. Benrubi would destroy it all, he's too greedy and heartless!"
Sinbad placed a hand on her arm, she ignored it. "And how could an intelligent woman like you actually want to spend your life with a man who treats you like a doormat, I'll never know!"
Maeve gasped as though she'd been stung. "So he likes to compliment women, what's wrong with that? Sinbad does it as well."
"Now wait just a minute!" He exclaimed, furious.
"No, you wait! I watched you while I served on your crew, you like looking at women. It's rather disgusting, really. At least, Benrubi has never waved his women in my face." Maeve flipped her hair over her shoulder.
"If you are referring to Shirez, nothing happened. I happen to appreciate beautiful women in all shapes and sizes like they are works of art. Does that mean I've ever thought about being with them? No, it does not. And, in case it escaped you attention, Benrubi was literally drooling over Aria! Until I showed up, he was attached to her and not you. Is that normal fiancée behavior?"
"It is for a prince, not that I'd expect you to understand that!" Maeve shot back.
Aria shook her head, "They're like little kids!" She muttered in disgust, Dermott flew to her arm. They walked a few feet away from the arguing twosome. Dermott