Test of Faith
Maeve awoke slowly. She was aware of the slight rocking motion of the Nomad. She stirred a bit in her bed and realized something wasn't quite right. It seemed cramped. Only half awake, she realized there was a nearby sound she wasn't used to. She listened carefully. Breathing. She moved her hand and encountered another form. Alarmed, she immediately opened her eyes and looked to her left. It was then that she realized where she was. She sighed the most contented sigh she'd ever sighed and a big smile formed on her face. She closed her eyes and listened to the sound of Sinbad's breathing.
'I hardly believe this,' she thought. Only yesterday she wondered if she would even live another day and here she was sharing a bed with the man she loved. 'From hell to heaven.'
That had been a terrible ordeal of body and mind, but forcing herself to keep her feelings about this man at bay while she struggled to free her brother from Rumina's spell for the last year had been an ordeal of the spirit and the soul. And now that struggle was over. She could give in to her feelings of love for this man. She felt like a bird that had escaped its cage and was enjoying free flight for the first time.
There had never really been another man in her life. After her parents were killed by the Roman barbarians, she had never really trusted anyone, especially men. She had heard what those men had done to her mother. Hidden in the loft, she had heard everything. That moment had changed her forever. And in the years of wandering that had followed, she had rejected every man's attempt to get close to her, either physically or emotionally. So that made this moment even sweeter. She didn't have to pretend not to have feelings for Sinbad any longer. Slowly and quietly, she rolled over onto her side so she could see him better. She reached over with her hand and with a single finger lightly traced down his shoulder. She did not want to wake him but she could not keep herself from making physical contact with him.
She needn't have worried about waking him. Sinbad was in the deepest of sleeps. The combination of the two potions she had given him the night before and the shock to his body from his injury had knocked him out. She had given him a sleeping potion and a pain-reducing potion. It was a miracle that he was alive at all. Rumina's dagger had just missed several vital areas. A few inches further down and it would have pierced his heart or his lungs. A few inches to the right and it would probably have sliced into his jugular vein. He would be a long time healing. Maeve looked forward to the task of taking care of him. Not that she would have wished this on him. But it had happened. He was hurt. And she would nurse him back to health.
In her mind he was the bravest man alive. He had thrown himself between her and the oncoming dagger without regard to himself. Tears formed in her eyes at the thought of that terrible moment. That dagger had been meant for her. She had been powerless to stop it. He had protected her at the risk of his own life.
She reached out and touched his hair. Then she snuggled as close without touching as she dared and closed her eyes.
Soon, she heard sounds of life around her. The crewmen were up. She could hear their footsteps on the deck above her. Her nose detected cooking smells from the galley. She decided she'd better get up. Very slowly and carefully she extricated herself from the bedsheets and swung her feet down to the cool wooden floorboards. She went over to the basin of water and quietly splashed her face with water to wash the sleep from her eyes. Then she came back to the bed and stood watching Sinbad's rhythmic breathing. She carefully adjusted his bedding to cover him better. Then she touched two fingers to her lips and placed the kiss on Sinbad's forehead. Satisfied that he was as comfortable as he could be she dressed and then slipped on her shoes and padded quietly out of his room, closing the door carefully behind her.
With the closing of the door, her mind went to thoughts of her brother. She had not had much time to talk to him since he had been freed from the Rumina's spell. Her joy bubbled up as she thought of him now back in his human form. She headed to the galley for something to eat. She suddenly realized she was starving. Entering the galley she spotted Firouz. Immediately she thought of Doubar. "Good morning," she said.
"Hi Maeve. How are you today?" Firouz asked.
"I feel wonderful. I'll feel even better once some of that food is inside me. Have you seen Doubar this morning? How is he?"
"Yes, I checked on him before coming here. He didn't even want me to look at his leg. Can you believe that? He said he didn't want anybody fussing over him, and I should spend my time looking after somebody who really needed doctoring. But I insisted. I unwrapped the bandage and it's going to heal up just fine. It's a nasty wound though. That arrow went in a good two inches."
Maeve's stomach turned a little at the image he was painting. "Firouz …please, I don't want to lose my appetite completely."
"And how is Sinbad?" Firouz asked. Everyone on board knew by now where Maeve had slept last night. There were few secrets on board a ship the size of the Nomad.
"He's sleeping soundly. I doubt if he'll wake up before noon. I think he's as comfortable as can be expected considering."
"That was a close call. We almost lost him."
"I know, I know." She didn't like to think of that possibility. She helped herself to some porridge and a chunk of bread. "And Rumina?"
"Still in her room. Doubar had a guard posted outside her door all night. But I don't really think it's necessary. That person isn't really Rumina."
"Can you blame me if I still don't trust her? She looks harmless enough but…"
"Maeve, with everything she's done, I understand, I understand."
Both of them then tucked into breakfast ending their conversation. Right after breakfast, Maeve hurried above to find her brother. She already knew he was there. She could sense where he was. Becoming human again hadn't destroyed the telepathic communication that they had had for so long. But it was different now. It wasn't as strong as it was before, now that the need for it was gone.
'Stay there, I'm coming', she sent, and hurried up the hatchway stairs. Once on deck she fairly flew to the bow where she knew she'd find him. She gave him a long, long hug and then stood back to admire his human shape. "I think maybe you looked better in feathers," she teased.
"I much prefer porridge to mice," he quipped back. Then his eyes grew serious. "Maeve, there are no words good enough to express how grateful I am to you. You risked everything for me. I will never forget it."
"Don't forget I'm the reason you were a bird in the first place." Maeve turned away from him, unable to look at him. She still felt terribly guilty about what had happened to him all because of her pride.
'I never want you to think that way again,' he sent her.
"Okay, I'll try," she answered out loud. "Look now that we can use our voices to communicate, let's."
"You're right. We should," Dermott answered. "It's just a habit to do it the other way."
For the next several hours, brother and sister talked the way brothers and sisters should. And all the while, Maeve was enjoying seeing him in his physical human form again. She could not contain her joy. She would stop in mid-sentence and hug him or touch him on the arm just to feel skin instead of feathers. Finally, they had had enough time together and Maeve thought to check on Doubar and Sinbad. She excused herself and hurried below decks. She made herself go to Doubar first, knowing that if she went to Sinbad first, she might not want to leave.
Maeve went to Doubar and examined the wound to satisfy herself that it was healing properly. It wasn't that she distrusted Firouz's doctoring skills, but she felt responsible for what had happened to Doubar and so just had to see for herself. She talked with Doubar for a few minutes. He couldn't understand why everyone was fussing over him when all he had was "a scratch". He was all set to return to his duties. It took Maeve a few minutes to convince him that if he was active too soon, he would open the wound up and then he'd be laid up for a lot longer. She only got him to agree to one more day's rest. Privately, she figured she'd have to come back tomorrow and give him the same speech all over again.
Then she left to check on Sinbad. She stopped at the door and opened it very quietly. If he was asleep, she didn't want to wake him. It looked like he was indeed asleep, but she tiptoed over to his bed anyway, just to see his face and check his breathing. Once she was at his side, he opened his eyes, and seeing her, smiled weakly. She bent down and kissed him on the forehead and took his hand in hers and squeezed it gently. "How are you feeling today?" she asked softly.
"Fine," he answered. "A little tired."
"Are you feeling much pain?" she asked with a concerned tone. "I can make up a potion for the pain in a jiffy," she offered.
"It's a dull, uncomfortable feeling," he answered. "As long as I don't move, I'm okay. It's a lot better than before. I'm not ready to climb the rigging just yet." He laughed softly. Maeve caught the look of pain on his face that he tried to hide from her.
"I can fix something up for you in no time," Maeve said, stroking the back of his hand as she spoke.
"I wish you and Firouz would stop fussing over me," Sinbad complained.
"You and your brother are both impossible. Do you know that your brother said the same exact thing not ten minutes ago? It's obvious that you're in considerable pain still, and yet you say don't fuss over you. Well you can quit saying that because I am going to fuss over you whether you want me to or not. I want you well as soon as possible." She bent over and kissed him fervently. Then abruptly, she withdrew her lips. "I'd continue but you aren't well enough."
"Okay, I get your point," Sinbad conceded. "Give me what ever you want if it means we can do that again sooner." This time it was Maeve that laughed.
"I thought you might see things differently when you had all the facts." She went over to the table in the center of the room and started mixing the potion she had used before to ease his pain. When it was ready, she gave it to him, kissed his hand and said firmly, "Now rest."
Then she forced herself to leave so that he really would rest.
* * * * * * * * * *
Ten days later the Nomad reached Basra. It had been decided that the young Rumina would be left in safe hands with trusted friends in Basra, who would raise her and keep a close eye on her to make sure she remained as pure and innocent as she seemed. Even though Maeve had many opportunities to observe the new Rumina and was convinced that she was as she appeared, Maeve was still uncomfortable around her. She was relieved that they were finally in Basra.
Sinbad had been up out of bed for two days now. Maeve would have liked it better if he had remained in bed longer but Sinbad would not hear of it. He insisted that he was well enough to get around by himself. He said that he would be needed to convince his friends in Basra to take Rumina. Maeve could see that he was still pretty weak from the way he walked, but it was nice to see him upright.
Early in the morning, Sinbad, Maeve, Doubar, and Rumina threaded their way through the narrow, crowded streets of Basra towards the home of Sinbad's friend, Caliph Bahraan. The other crewmates had been given shore leave. Firouz and Rongar went off together. Sinbad and Maeve walked side by side in front and Doubar and Rumina followed them. Maeve walked on Sinbad's right side to protect his injured side from being jostled as they walked. She was careful to let him set the pace, as she did not want to tire him out.
Just as they reached one of open marketplaces, they heard someone calling Sinbad's name. "Sinbad, Sinbad, is that you?" A young, very attractive, dark-haired woman rushed up in front of Sinbad, blocking their advance. "It is you!" she bubbled happily. "Remember me?" she asked expectantly.
Maeve eyed the woman suspiciously. She had long, black, very curly hair, and brown eyes. Just the type Maeve didn't want knowing Sinbad. Maeve took hold of Sinbad's arm possessively. She could feel the green anger of jealousy taking control of her emotions.
"Keirdra, right?" Sinbad answered. "Yes, I remember." He realized instantly that this was an awkward situation and he was anxious to get out of it. He remembered his nights with Keirdra all too well and he did not want to discuss them in front of Maeve.
"Will you be staying in Basra long, this time?" Keirdra persisted, ignoring Maeve. She reached out and placed a hand on Sinbad's forearm. Maeve tugged on Sinbad's arm to get it away from Keidra and said, "Sinbad and I have important business. We really can't stop to talk now. So if you'll excuse us…" She pulled on Sinbad's arm to get him moving, causing him to wince with pain. She pushed her way past Keirdra and got the party moving again. Undeterred by this, Keirdra called after them, "You know where to find me."
Maeve gave Sinbad a hard stare. He started to explain. "I really don't know her very well…"
Maeve cut him off. "Don't bother explaining. I don't want to know." The irritation in her voice was obvious.
"She's the daughter of one of the sultans we trade with. She' s really very ni…"
"I said I didn't want to talk about it," she snapped. Sinbad gave up trying to explain.
Neither of them talked for the next few minutes. Behind them though Rumina chattered away to Doubar about all the things that she was seeing around her. For so long Maeve had held her tongue about all the different women that had known or wanted to know Sinbad. She felt she had no right to say anything or interfere. But now, now that they were together more or less officially, she could get upset. She had no intention of standing by while some other woman fawned over him. She had had her fill of standing by biting her tongue while that went on.
They turned off the main thoroughfare and went up a side street. As they proceeded Maeve spotted an imposing structure of washed stone rising high above the other dwellings. She knew that this must be the home of Sinbad's well-to-do friend. "This is the place," Sinbad said.
At the door, a servant greeted them and Sinbad instructed him to inform his master that Sinbad and some of his friends had arrived to visit. The servant disappeared after asking them to wait. Shortly the servant returned and ushered them through several rooms to a spacious sitting room. As soon as the Caliph saw Sinbad he rose and came to embrace him, welcoming him as though he were a long lost relative. After a few quick inquiries as to his health, he paused long enough for Sinbad to introduce the others. The Caliph was quite taken with Maeve's appearance, exclaiming that his abode had seldom had the pleasure to host such a beauty. Maeve smiled politely but said little. Finally the Caliph asked what had brought Sinbad to Basra again, and Sinbad replied, "It's a very long story." Then he whispered in the Caliph's ear and shortly after that one of the Caliph's maidservants appeared and the Caliph spoke to the young Rumina. "I'm sure that you will quickly tire of our old talk," he said. "My servant here will bring you to several people your own age for you to play with." He waited until they had left and then he continued.
"I love long stories, especially those told by you," the Caliph explained. "But if it is true that your story will take some time, we'd better have some refreshments to sustain us." He rang a small golden bell and spoke quietly to the servant that appeared. He motioned everyone to get comfortable. Maeve waited for Sinbad to choose a place to sit and then sat down beside him on the long, low couch that he chose.
Over the course of the next few hours, Sinbad, with occasional help from Maeve and Doubar, related the tale of how they had defeated Rumina. Sinbad practically had to force Maeve to recount her trials inside Black Mountain obtaining the Crystal of Goodness. When she finished the Caliph said to her, "You are a woman of considerable fortitude and courage, as well as being a delight to the eyes. Sinbad is fortunate to have met you."
Then Sinbad continued the story of how Maeve had finally come face to face with Rumina and had defeated her. He conveniently left out the part where Rumina threw her dagger at Maeve and it had hit him. Maeve interrupted, saying, "Sinbad is much too humble to mention how he managed to save my life by intercepting a dagger that would certainly have killed me. He very nearly gave his life for mine, a sacrifice I will never forget." She reached over and took his hand and squeezed it.
The Caliph was quite alarmed that Sinbad had suffered a near fatal injury and it took all three of the guests to reassure him that Sinbad should not immediately go to bed to rest.
At the end of the story, Sinbad turned to the Caliph, leaned forward, and said softly, "And that is why we are here. The young woman who accompanied us here and is playing innocently with your maid servant is none other than Rumina herself." He waited to see what the Caliph's reaction to this new would be.
The Caliph spoke softly also. "I had assumed that was the case by the time you finished your story."
"What you may not know is that when the Crystal of Goodness was activated, it removed all traces of evil in its vicinity. This took Rumina back to when she was innocent of all evil. The girl we brought with us resembles Rumina only in outward appearance. Her soul and mind are as pure as any child; purer, in fact, than any child I have ever known."
"Let me save you some time and effort, Sinbad, since you are recovering from a serious injury and probably should not be here at all. You have come here because you would like me to take this child to raise in my household. Am I right so far?"
"Yes, you are," Sinbad answered.
Maeve spoke. "Rumina has been my enemy for many years. She took from me one of my most precious possessions - my brother. Not only that, but as a result of her curse, she had cut me off from any expression of my affection for the love of my life." She paused and looked in Sinbad's direction. "Even though I can see the innocence in this girl we have brought with us, to me, she will always be Rumina. I will never trust her, or allow her to get close to me. Or to him either. For that reason we cannot continue to care for her." Again she nodded in Sinbad's direction. "We want her to have the chance to become something other than what she was. I owe this young girl that." She paused and Sinbad stepped into the opening.
"We have every reason to believe that given different circumstances than her original experiences as a child, this Rumina will turn out to be a completely different person than the first one. I think that you would be an ideal person to raise this young girl. You can provide the types of experiences that she needs to become a fine young woman. Your three grown daughters are proof of that."
"I thank you for your confidence. I am very proud of all of my daughters. I believe that my wife would welcome the chance to have a young child again, especially a girl."
"Then it's settled?" Sinbad asked. "You'll take her?"
"That I will. And gladly. It will be nice to hear the sound of innocent laughter around here again."
Maeve smiled broadly. "It looks like Sinbad has once again proved himself an excellent judge of human character."
The Caliph laughed enthusiastically. "I see proof sitting right beside him now! And it appears that he is also an excellent judge of beauty as well, if I may say so." He laughed again.
Maeve let out a soft laugh of her own. "You are too kind, sir!" Usually comments about her looks only annoyed her as most often they were made with a not-so-hidden motive, but coming from the Caliph, Maeve was quite pleased.
The Caliph insisted that they stay for dinner and entertainment, which they did. Doubar was quite happy they stayed, for dinner was sumptuous both in quality and quantity, and he enjoyed watching the dancing girls after their meal almost as much. Maeve, however, found herself growing more and more annoyed with the show. She eyed Sinbad suspiciously as he watched. It upset her that he too seemed to enjoy the show immensely. She was glad that the lighting was dim, so that he could not see the jealousy that showed so plainly on her face. And that made her angry too - at herself.
Maybe that was why, later that evening, she was so receptive to the Caliph's suggestion that she and Sinbad go on a holiday together, just the two of them. It was casually enough said, but the idea at once took root and grew in her mind. "You know you two ought to go off for a little rest," he had begun. "Sinbad needs to take it easy for a while and I'll bet you'd welcome some time to unwind from the rigors of your adventure with Rumina." He winked at her, and added, "I'll bet you wouldn't mind some time alone, without everyone watching the two of you. Am I right?"
Maeve raised one eyebrow and gave him a sly smile and cocked her head a bit to the left in reply. But his comment definitely got her wheels turning.
The Caliph could see by her widened eyes that his idea had found a home. "I know of a very beautiful island just a few days sail from here. Almost uninhabited too. There's just a caretaker and his daughter keeping an eye on the place for me. I have a little place there to escape the bustle of the city."
"Sounds interesting," Maeve answered. "Let me talk to Sinbad about it."
Sinbad had stepped out onto the balcony to cool off. Maeve looked around the room and didn’t see him and had a moment of panic, but she asked where he had gone and then she went out to join him. She slid up next to him and took him by the arm. "Beautiful, aren't they?" she commented, looking up at the stars and remembering the sunset they had shared together that special evening on the Nomad.
"If you mean your eyes, yes, they are," Sinbad replied. Maeve tossed her head and rested it against his shoulder. "I'll bet you say that to all the girls," she teased. She regretted her words as soon as they were spoken. She did not want to sound jealous.
Sinbad put his arm around her shoulder and gave her a little squeeze. "You're the only one I'll say that to from now on."
Speaking slowly and choosing her words carefully, Maeve began. "You know what would be really nice? If we could have some time alone. I think everyone on the Nomad could use some extended shore time. We've been on the sea a lot in the last six months. The Caliph was telling me about a beautiful little island that he owns that's only a two-day sail from here. It's almost deserted. There's just a caretaker and the caretaker's daughter. It has a small house we could stay in and the island's big enough for us to do some exploring. There'd be no one looking over our shoulders." She slid her hand up and down his bare arm. "We can do whatever we feel like doing, whenever we want." She slid around to face him and gave her head a little toss. She looked up into his eyes and brought her face within a few inches of his. "What do you say?"
"Well, I must say there are certain aspects of it that do appeal to me. Our treasury is okay at the moment, so we don't really need to rush off on another journey. And I have heard the men grumbling a bit about all work and no play. Especially my brother. I guess we could steal a little time."
"Well, you don't have to sound so enthusiastic about having some time with me," Maeve shot back at him.
"Whoa, woman! Can't you tell when I'm pulling your skirt? I have only been waiting two years for this, you know! I would love to have some time alone with you. As long as we can be this close." He enclosed her form with his powerful arms and pulled her into him in a tight embrace.
"Mmmm. I like it, I like it," Maeve murmured. "Then it's settled. We'll go tomorrow?"
"At the break of dawn, if I have anything to say about it." He chuckled aloud. We'd better go back in now before someone sends a search party."
And that is how, two days later, Maeve and Sinbad found themselves on the Caliph's little hideaway island, Zariph. The crew dropped them off with a week's provisions and promised to come back for them at the end of the week.
* * * * * * * * *
On to Part 2 [ Chapters 3 & 4 ]