Songfic by Esther Nairn
(music by Loreena McKennitt)
Ameria Wil Tesla Saillune sighed and listened to the lapping of sea water against the hulls of the ships moored not far away. The salty breeze gently brushed her hair back and forth over her shoulders, making her shiver slightly. Slowly, she opened her large, blue eyes and stared across the ocean at the moon, which had risen above the horizon only a few hours before. Already, it had traded its reddish glow for a radiant silver, which shone brightly against the backdrop of the midnight sky, obscuring the stars nearby. The moon splayed its light across the ocean, as if it had thrown a handful of glittering crystals across the water toward Ameria. The little princess leaned against the creaky wooden railing of the tiny dock she had spied while touring the town earlier. Here, she was mostly hidden from sight by the giant ships moored to either side of her. They somewhat blocked her view of the entire ocean, but she didn't care; as long as the moon was in its position ahead of her, she had prettiest view anyone could wish for.
It had been three months since she had been in the little village that was nearly destroyed by a tsunami caused by the infamous Lina Inverse, and it had been almost a month since she had returned home. The docks had been rebuilt quickly, since shipping and fishing were the main sources of income. It almost looked as if nothing had happened. In truth, Ameria barely remembered this town--even its name escaped her at the moment. So much had happened that it felt like she hadn't been here in years.
Ameria sighed again and wished she hadn't come back. Now that she was here, she felt a wistful melancholy settle over her, and she didn't like it. She was used to feeling cheerful and optimistic, not sad or depressed. When she arrived earlier that day, she hadn't had time to be depressed. She had been busy with the details of sending a new diplomatic envoy to the land beyond the Barrier--a much smaller one, this time, since merchant ships had already done much of the exploring that had been planned for the previous expedition. Now that she was alone, however, she began to think of her friends, and how much she missed them. While traveling was never really her most favorite thing to do in life, she enjoyed the company of her friends. And the one whose company she missed the most was Zelgadiss.
Ameria shook her head. I should go to bed, she thought. That's the only way I'll get out of this depression I'm in. Besides, I promised myself I wouldn't think about him. She half-turned to leave, to return to the inn at which she and her father were staying, but she froze in place and narrowed her eyes suspiciously. Someone had just stepped onto the dock. "Who's there?" she asked.
An unfamiliar voice chuckled. "Aye, they tol' me yer 'ighness was a quick lass. Ye 'eard this ol' sailer comin' a ship's lengt' away." Ameria glanced around quickly, and identified the source of the voice in the clear moonlight. He was indeed a sailor, probably the first mate of a ship, judging by his clothing and age. He grinned at her, his smile crooked but kind.
Ameria lifted an eyebrow skeptically. "Who told you about me?" she asked.
The sailor looked amused. "Why, me own cap'n, 'e did. 'Giv'n tis 'ere let'er ta yonder youn' princess', 'e tol' me earlier t'day when 'e a-spied ye a-walkin' wit' 'is 'ighness, yer father," he replied in his sailor's accent. He crossed the dock slowly, favoring one leg slightly, and held out an envelope to her in one gnarled, callused hand.
She reached out, took the envelope from him, and held it up to read the addressee in the moonlight. The envelope was a little battered and the ink was smudged in a corner, but she could decipher the perfect, tightly-looped handwriting on it. "To Her Royal Highness, Princess Ameria Wil Tesla Saillune, via the merchant ship The Seagull" , it read. "How did you get a letter for me?" she asked.
The sailor shrugged his brawny shoulders. "I've no way 'o knowin', yer 'ighness," he replied. "I jus' do wha' me cap'n order." Ameria nodded, and drew a coin out of her purse. She wordlessly handed it to the sailor, still pondering who could have sent her a letter via the captain of a merchant ship. The sailor's eyes lit up when she passed him the coin, and, since he trusted her, he didn't even bite on it to make sure it was real. "Thank ye kindly, yer 'ighness," he said, bowing humbly. "May th' bards sing of yer fair beauty fer years ta come," he said, and turned. Ameria watched him hobble away down the dock, and climb a ladder with astonishing speed to reach the street a few feet above.
Once she was alone, Ameria turned the letter over in her hands. The envelope was thick, and it gave no sign of a return address, nor any clue as to the identity of its sender. Could it be from Lina-san? she wondered. No, Ameria knew her handwriting. It was bigger and much more flamboyant than this script. Whoever wrote this letter was precise, and had a steady, careful hand. Ameria's eyes widened, her heart beating faster and her stomach suddenly feeling hollow. It could only be from one person. The last person she would expect.
Carefully, her hands trembling, Ameria gently pried the wax seal off the envelope, and lifted the flap under it with a fingernail. She slowly slid three pieces of folded parchment paper out of it. Glancing around quickly to make sure no one was around, she ducked under the railing at the end of the dock and sat down on the edge of the wooden platform, so that her feet dangled just above the surface of the water. She quickly put the envelope down next to her, slipped off her bracelet, trying not to think of where its mate was, and put it down on top of the envelope so that the breeze wouldn't blow it away. Ameria leaned forward and took a deep breath, and tilted the paper so that she could read it by the gleaming moonlight.
When the dark wood fell before me
And all the paths were overgrown
When the priests of pride say there is no other way
I tilled the sorrows of stone.
I hope that it is, indeed, you reading this letter right now, and not some fish at the bottom of the sea. I really didn't want to entrust it to anyone, but the only way I could send word to you was through a merchant ship. I hope you understand.
I wish I could ask you how you're doing right now, but there's no way for you to write me back. I hope you're well, though, and that you made it back home without any trouble. I hope things are all right in Saillune, too, especially since you left under such explosive circumstances. If anyone asks, blame Lina and Filia. I'm sure they won't mind too much--it was their fault, after all.
I guess I wanted to let you know that I won't be back in our part of the world for a long time. I know you asked me to come back to Saillune with you, and I haven't forgotten. Your bracelet reminds me every day. I found a new lead, though, earlier today, but it means that I'll have to travel to the most southerly tip of this continent, which will take some time, even if I move fast. No one from within the Barrier has been that far south in one thousand years, so I have no idea what kind of problems I'll run into. I don't even know how good this lead is; my information about what I may find is unreliable at best. But I don't really see any other alternative; I won't get cured if I stop looking.
While it's true that I have no other leads, and no practical choice but to follow this one, what depresses me the most is how far I'm going to be away from anywhere familiar. To be honest, I think what drove me to write this letter is that I've begun to miss you. I miss Lina and Gourry, too, but for some reason I can't get you out of my mind. The thought of not seeing you for a long time is depressing and frustrating. Sometimes it seems as if the path to my cure is obscured with age or decay, or hidden so well by a jungle of obstacles that I'll never find it. If this lead turns out to be a dead end, I think I'll work my way up the continent to Saillune. I don't know when I'll make it back there, but I will return--I have a promise to keep.
Ameria stared at the parchment in disbelief. Zelgadiss had never said anything like this to her before. Ameria swallowed and slipped that page under the small bundle of paper in her hands, and started to read the second page. It seemed as if it had been written at a different time, perhaps a day or so later. The paper was of a different weight, and Zel had used burgundy ink instead of black.
I did not believe because I could not see
Though you came to me in the night
When the dawn seemed forever lost
You showed me your love in the light of the stars.
As it turns out, the next merchant ship bound for a port anywhere near Saillune, The Seagull, is late, so I must stay in town a little while longer, so I can give this letter to the ship's captain. I had intended to finish it tonight, but after I reread what I wrote last night, I realized I have more to say.
You have to understand that what I have to say is difficult for me--very difficult. In fact, I would have said all this weeks ago, before we parted company, but I finally decided it would be easier to write it to you than to say it in person. I don't even know if this is the right thing to say, or if this is the right way to say it. I don't even know why I want to tell you this, or how, exactly, to word it, but here goes.
Just before we said goodbye, I started to really think about the battle against DarkStar. Those bright stars that Filia prophesized about nearly killed us. If it weren't for us, the world would never have seen another day again. So, when you asked me about going back to Saillune with you, and I said I'd think about it, I didn't really know why you would ask that in the middle of such a serious point in time. I thought about it, though, as I said I would.
Ameria, we've been friends for awhile now, and I've enjoyed your company. But I didn't realize the extent of your devotion until I thought about your invitation, and then pieced together memories of our times together--how you've acted and what you've said to me. What I concluded was admittedly very startling to me. I don't understand why you seem to like me the way I think you do. You see, once I was cursed, I never expected anyone to like me, and the other way around; I tried to accept this impassively. Feeling affection for someone else (and vice-versa) was completely out of the question. And yet, once I started thinking about you, the idea became more plausible. I'm not very good at understanding feelings, so I don't know how else to describe my feelings for you except to use the word affection--please forgive me for that.
What this means, in terms of our future relationship, I don't know. All I know is that I have tremendous respect for your ability and intelligence, that you have been a good friend to me, and that I have feelings for you that I can't quite explain or describe, but are there nonetheless. If you don't feel the way I'm suggesting here, though, please rip up this letter, and forget I ever sent it to you. If you do, though, please think about it. I don't know what would happen, given your title and my curse, but think about it anyway.
Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me.
By now, Ameria's pulse raced in her chest, and she had to pause to calm her nerves before she could bring herself to continue. After a few deep breaths, she continued reading.
As I write this, I'm sitting in my inn room, which overlooks the ocean. The water is beautiful, but it seems to stretch on forever, until it's swallowed up by the darkness of the night. Ordinarily, I wouldn't think much of a sight like this, but right now it's just making me lonely. Like I said earlier in this letter, Ameria, I don't know when I'll be back in Saillune. I wish it were sooner than it will be, now that I think I understand why you've acted toward me the way you have during all our travels. Please, remember me, Ameria. I know I'll be thinking of you.
Ameria read and reread the letter several times, not sure if she was somehow hallucinating the words on the paper. Her cheeks flushed with nervous excitement--had she really just read what she thought she read?
"I'll think about it, Zelgadiss-san," she whispered, hugging the letter to herself while staring out at the moonlight-illuminated water. "And I will always remember you."
Then the mountain rose before me
By the deep well of desire
From the fountain of forgiveness
Beyond the ice and the fire.
Ameria stared at the ocean for quite some time, lost in thought. She was torn between cheering joyfully, and crying over the fact that she wouldn't see him again for a long time. The latter finally won out. The outline of the moon got blurrier and blurrier until she felt hot tears trail down her cheeks to her chin, then finally drip onto her lap. Quickly, she put the letter aside under her bracelet-paperweight, and buried her face in her hands, sobbing.
"I'll forgive you, Zelgadiss-san," she said softly between sobs. "It's not your fault you have a hard time with feelings. And it's not your fault you have to be away so long."
She didn't cry for long, however. Soon, the magnitude of what he had admitted hit her, and her choking sobs turned into choking laughter. "He cares about me," she whispered to herself joyfully. "He cares!"
It was several minutes before she got control of herself enough to stop her shaking laughter. She stared out at the water, wondering what he must have thought about, besides her invitation, that led him to realize that she cared about him. Maybe it was what she had said back at those warring villages, or maybe it was how upset she was at Jirasu's "temple of marriage" that he had been paired with Lina. Maybe it was the bracelet she had given him, when she had been far too emotional to tell him what she had discovered she felt for him. Maybe it was just because she had slowly melted her way into his heart, which had been cold and hardened for far too long because of his curse. It didn't matter to her, though--as long as he realized what he meant to her, she was happy.
Her hands still trembling, Ameria picked up the letter, reread it once again, and stared at the water, thinking.
Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me
Somewhere far to the south from the little seaside town in which Ameria was staying, Zelgadiss was walking through another little ocean village, looking for an inn. Suddenly, he sneezed--once, twice, three times--so fast his eyes watered. He cursed and stopped in his tracks, then rubbed his eyes and nose until they calmed down. He continued down the wooden sidewalk that overlooked the docks, his thoughts wandering aimlessly until they came to rest on Ameria. He wondered if she had received his letter. Immediately, his pulse quickened and his stomach felt hollow. He valiantly fought down his nervousness at the thought of Ameria reading what he had written to her, but eventually lost the battle. He finally turned off the sidewalk and headed for the deserted docks, and sat down on the edge of one of them.
As he stared absently at the lapping waves, he turned over in his mind his reasons for sending the letter. It wasn't like he had been trying to think about her, specifically; truthfully, Zel lived in his own little insulated world of thought, and it was rare that anything penetrated that insulation. The fact that she had crossed his mind so often finally made him stop and think about her and finally begin to realize that she cared for him. As surprising as that realization was, the realization that he cared for her in return was shocking. There was nothing else he could do, logically, he argued, but to find some way to tell her, especially since it would be such a long time before he saw her again, and especially given how she had acted toward him just before they said goodbye.
Zelgadiss mentally calculated and recalculated how long it would take before he saw Ameria again, absently rubbing the spot on his chest that was directly over his heart. If he had been more aware of his own feelings, he would know that the dull ache that he felt when he thought about how far away she was was due to his growing feelings for her. As it was, however, he could only sit on the dock of the tiny fishing village, gazing out at the water and remembering the times over their travels when she had showed in her subtle, yet heartfelt way, how she felt about him.
Though we share this humble path, alone
How fragile is the heart
Oh give these clay feet wings to fly
To touch the face of the stars.
Ameria had been lost in thought for some time when she suddenly sneezed three times in quick succession. Maybe that means he's thinking about me, she thought happily, as she rubbed her nose and sniffed. She looked at the stars above the horizon, which were visible now that the moon had risen to its zenith, high in the sky. Maybe, just maybe, Zelgadiss was looking at the same stars as she was, and thinking about her just as she was thinking about him.
Briefly, Ameria considered leaving to go and find him. Her father would never approve, though, and she would worry him sick if she just disappeared without telling him. For now, she thought resignedly, she was stuck here, waiting for Zelgadiss to return. She wished she had wings like the seagulls, which were now calling softly to each other in the darkness of the night. If she did, she would fly south, and not stop until she saw him again. She'd bring him back to Saillune before her father even realized she was gone.
Breathe life into this feeble heart
Lift this mortal veil of fear
Take these crumbled hopes, etched with tears
We'll rise above these earthly cares.
The more Zelgadiss thought about the contents of his letter, the less he feared that he was wrong about Ameria's feelings. She had to care about him. There was no doubt about it. Now that he had established that, however, the temptation to turn around and head for Saillune was growing. Maybe he should forget these ruins, he thought, and go back to the capital of white magic. While the priests and priestesses there had told him they knew no spell that would undo what the powerful Rezo had done to him, he could perhaps use their libraries to devise a spell of his own.
Zelgadiss shook his head and sighed heavily. No, he couldn't risk the chance of missing his cure by not checking every place that held promise. It was strange to have a new priority in life, however, he thought. While his cure would always be of utmost importance until he found it, the mere fact that he was willing to hold off on further exploring the land beyond the Barrier to return to Saillune spoke volumes about his growing feelings.
Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me.....Please remember me.
Silently, Ameria folded Zelgadiss's letter carefully and replaced it in its envelope. She resumed looking out onto the silvery water and listening to the gentle lapping of the waves. Unlike a few hours before, she was smiling peacefully. Already, she was planning on what she would say the next time she saw Zelgadiss, which she hoped would be very soon.
At the same time, Zelgadiss rose from his seat and stood on the dock for several minutes, gazing out to where the calm ocean met the dark night. It wasn't such a lonely sight anymore--after all, Ameria could be looking out at the same dark horizon at the same time he was, he thought. His face broadened into a rare smile as he turned and walked through the town in the direction of the ruins. Instead of sleeping tonight, he would continue on his journey, all the while rehearsing what, exactly, he would say to Ameria when he saw her again, which he knew would be very soon.
This is a songfic I've been meaning to do for awhile. The song screams Zelgadiss/Ameria, but I had to think through a good, believable plot to accompany it. After all the favorable feedback I received on it, I started to kick around ideas to make a set of short stories like this one that focus on Zel's and Ameria's relationship after the events of Try. "I Love You", the predecessor to this story, is part of the result. The story following this one will focus on Zelgadiss's adventure once he reaches the southern tip of the continent, where he gets much more than what he bargained for in both danger and self-discovery.
Please do not repost or reproduce without permission.