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Chapter 16: Sailing Away

It was night on the open sea. There wasn’t a sound save for the gentle slapping of water against the sides of the ship and the creaking of the rigging. Sheila leaned on the rail, bathed in moonlight, peacefully watching the silver light ripple on the gentle waves.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Darian had come silently forward to lean on the rail beside her. He looked very handsome in the moonlight. “Uh… yes,” agreed Sheila She suddenly felt very nervous, and for a moment she couldn’t think of anything else to say. “I was afraid Dynasian was going to send warships after us. But it looks like our escape caught his navy off guard.”
Darian grinned. “That’s what happens when you’ve got a commander like Dynasian, I guess, someone who’s so interested in his own pleasures he’s gotten lazy.”
“Where are we sailing?”
“South. There are rumors of rebel activities going on somewhere down there. If we can join up with these rebels, we’ll have us some important allies. But . . . let’s not talk about war and politics, not now. Okay?”
Silence fell. Then Darian said shyly, “Uh, Sheila .
He was looking right at her, the moonlight bright in his eyes. Sheila felt her heart skip a beat. “Yes, Darian?”
“You . . . were very brave in the battle today.”
“Oh. So were you.”
They were silent once more, But Sheila thought sud­denly, Why, he’s as nervous as I am! and smiled to herself.
“Darian? Did-did you want to ask me anything?”
“I just wanted to say . . . Sheila, I’ve never met any girl like you. And I hope we can get a chance to-to-“
“Darian!” snapped a sudden voice.
Sheila jumped. Then she saw who had spoken, and sighed. “Hello, Dian.”
The girl ignored her completely. “Darian, you promised to help me groom the unicorns!”
Darian sighed, too. “I did. Sheila, I’m sorry. Will you excuse me?”
“Go on.”
Left alone at the rail, Sheila yawned and stretched her stiff muscles. It felt funny, not having anything to do after all the excitement of the day.
But I’m not complaining, really I’m not!
The ship, according to Nanine, wallowed like an old cow. It was too-what had she called it?-too broad of beam to cut through the water gracefully. But between Nanine’s knowledge and the skill of those mysterious eagle-men, it was sailing smoothly under full canvas.
The unicorns weren’t very happy about being stuck aboard a ship. Sheila had spent a long time trying to soothe Morning Star and the others. But at least they were finally tolerating the indignity of being cooped up in tight quarters.
And as soon as we’re far enough from Campora, we’ll be letting them go again.
She sighed, leaning on the rail again, resting her chin on her hands, wondering. Who were those eagle-men, anyhow? Maybe they could do something as amazing as turn into eagles, but they certainly didn’t look very happy about it. They all had such sad, sad eyes. And their leader, Egael . . . he really was wonderful. Sheila couldn’t blame Illyria at all for falling in love with him.
But-who is he?
Quiet voices caught her attention. She turned. There up on the raised platform of the stern stood Illyria and Egael, his red cloak whipping about them in the wind.
Sheila hesitated, wondering if she was eavesdropping. Maybe she should just steal quietly away to the bow of the ship, where the other women were settling down for the night. But Egael’s voice was so clear that she couldn’t help but overhear.
“…and so I had to leave you,” he was saying.
The man paused, looking out over the ocean as though trying desperately to make up his mind about something.
He turned to stare intently into Illyria’s eyes. “Forgive me for not telling you the truth about myself from the beginning. You must understand, I-I didn’t trust you-
“Not at first, anyhow.” Egael sighed. “I had just been beaten by Dynasian’s men. They had thought me only a fool of a beggar. But if they had known my true identity, I would have died, or been carried off in chains to Campora.
“Illyria, love, for all I knew you might have been loyal to Dynasian.”
“Never that!”
“Well, I didn’t know. But then, once I . . . realized I loved you… how could I tell you the truth? I didn’t want to hurt you.”
“I’m not a silly little girl,” said Illyria dryly.
The man bowed. “Indeed you are not. So. Love, my name isn’t Egael. It’s Laric, Prince of Perian. My father died fighting Dynasian’s troops. When I and my own men tried to fight on, we were captured. And Mardock placed a terrible curse on us all.
“We must roam the sky as eagles, never able to transform to our rightful human shapes save for the five days and nights of the full moon.” He glanced up at the radiant sky. “I’m only thankful the timing was tight for me and my men to help you.”
“Then that flock of giant eagles that seemed to follow us . . . that was you.”
He nodded. “It was the only way I could be close to you.”
“But isn’t there any way to break the spell?”
“There must be! Illyria, right now my land and my poor people lie under Dynasian’s tyranny, and I-I can do nothing to help them. But I have sworn an oath: I will force Mardock to lift his curse! And I will win back my throne and free my people!”
Prince Laric looked so noble and splendid there in the moonlight, his eyes blazing with determination, that Sheila shivered. But then he slumped.
“Till that day,” he added sadly, “my men and I must take to the sky as eagles every time the phase of the full moon passes. Soon I must leave you again. But I will return to you, I promise.”
“And I, my love, shall be waiting.”
Prince Laric swept Illyria into his arms. As their lips met in a passionate kiss, Sheila sighed. The romance of it all!
Quietly she slipped away and settled down beside the other women, wrapping herself in her cloak. But for a long time she couldn’t sleep. She lay staring up at the moon, thinking of all that had happened to her since that day-how long ago?-that she had first fallen into this world. Would she ever get out of it? Sheila sighed, homesick again. Would she ever see her family and friends again?
And yet . . . Sheila realized she wasn’t quite ready to go home, not yet. Dynasian still ruled. Half the unicorns were still captive. And-and poor Laric and Illyria couldn’t live happily ever after, not till Mardock’s cruel spell was lifted.
I don’t want to go home, not till I find out how this all comes out!
At least she knew one thing for sure: tomorrow would bring new and wondrous adventures. Smiling, rocked by the gentle motion of the ship, Sheila curled up in her cloak and fell asleep.

Back To Chapter Listings!

Chapter 1: Swept Away
Chapter 2: Arrival
Chapter 3: Captured!
Chapter 5: The Quest
Chapter 6: Sheila Enlists
Chapter 7: Warrior-In-Training
Chapter 8: Rivalries
Chapter 9: The Rescue
Chapter 10: Illyria's Story
Chapter 11: Campora at Last
Chapter 12: Trapped!
Chapter 13: The Ghost
Chapter 14: Outnumbered
Chapter 15: The Battle