It is night as I lie pressed against Bao, tracing shapes on his bare skin. Outside the window of my cabin I can see the stars watching over our ship, much like the Maghuin Dhonn herself.
My diadh-anam has taken me to such strange places ever since I left my mother’s home. When I first arrived in Terre D’Ange, a slip of a girl who was nervous even sleeping indoors, I never could have imagined that a D’Angeline queen would take me for her lover, nor the sense of strength I would feel from her even when parted. And indeed, at the time I do not know if I truly could have conceived that a place as far away from my home as Chin could exist.
And now, here I am on a strange ship, limbs entangled with a man from this land that I could once not even imagine. Yet despite how many times my diadh-anam has taken me from those I love, I cannot feel sorrow that this is where I am tonight. In the back of my mind I am worried about Master Lo’s vague and perhaps impossible mission, and about Chin, but for now it is only myself, the waves, and the man next to me.
“What are you thinking, not-so-stupid girl?” he asks, his tone teasing.
“I find myself thinking about the path the Maghuin Dhonn has led me...how I found myself here.”
“Mmm,” is Bao’s only reply, and I worry for a moment that I have gone too far in this new feeling that lies between us; wonder if I have moved too sharply in the presence of something fragile. After all, while I may be at peace with my destiny and its winding path (even with its twists and turns), Bao has traversed what is perhaps an even more difficult course. I do not know if he is at peace with what has brought him here. I am relieved when he opens his mouth to speak again. A smile plays across his face. “And are you content here?”
I pause to think about the question. Even now, what I would give to see Jehanne’s smile, or be in my mother’s arms. Or to have only a few moments to set matters right with Cillian. I have not spoken these things aloud, and yet they feel so tangible that I suspect that even Bao can see them. “If I must follow my diadh-anam to such faraway places, then at least the Maghuinn Donn has provided me good company.” I speak the last two words with playful affection, and Bao smiles. “I miss those I knew in Terre D’Ange,” I confess. I will not allow myself to say Jehanne’s name. “I miss my mother.”
“What sort of woman is she?” Bao asks. I am convinced that Naamah herself must occupy this strange realm between pleasure and reality, when two people lay next to each other like this. Words and questions that remain unspoken during the day have a way of escaping into the open.
“Shy,” I say, thinking of my mother even now continuing her daily routine in our hidden home. “Proud. But gentle.” A smile of memory plays across my lips. “She would call me ‘Moirin mine.’”
Bao raises an eyebrow. “You do not seem the type to belong to anyone.”
“I think our mothers have a way of always holding onto us.”
“Mmm,” replies Bao.
The conversation pauses for a moment. I close my eyes as I listen to the waves outside. It is strange, for while the rhythm of the ocean kept me awake the first few days, I find it soothing now.
“The day they sold me to the circus,” Bao begins. Immediately I snap my eyes open, for I know Bao will not repeat these words once we are outside of the realm between pleasure and sleep. “My mother...she never cared that I was a child of violence, even after it was clear that I looked like my father, not her. I was still her treasure, and she doted on me. Even when we did not have much money, she would sometimes buy a child’s toy from traveling merchants for me.”
“The day they sold me to the circus and it was all done...the only thing my mother could find to give to remember her by was a ball, I think you call it.” He strokes my hand. “No bigger than your fist. A simple child’s toy, and even then the paint was faded.”
No words come out of my mouth, but I nod my head slightly and wait for Bao to continue. “You think I get into trouble now; when I was a child, I was even worse. Always running, always getting into fights with other children. That ball broke many things in my mother’s house.” Bao smiles proudly at this last statement.
“I am not surprised,” I say, and laugh.
“Maybe you are not so stupid after all, then.” The words are harsh, but his tone is affectionate. Bao pauses, waiting for the moment to pass. For I think there is something, even if it seems small and insignificant, weighing on his mind. “I kept that ball in my pocket, and I slept with it at night. I did not play with it, for I was too scared that the circus master would catch me and take it away. All of the paint fell off, until it was just wood. Still I slept with it every night like a young child sleeps with a doll. Even if the circus master beat me, I knew that I was still my mother’s Bao, her treasure.”
I imagine Bao as he must have looked as a child. The image of him scared and beaten makes my heart hurt, even as I lie next to him as a healthy grown man. “One day we stopped in a city with many rich people. They made us perform so many times that I thought my arms and legs will turn to rock. I fell asleep in the main tent that night while the others drank spirits. Someone must have seen something in my pocket, because when I woke up in the morning, my mother’s ball was gone.”
I worry that any words of comfort that I might speak would come off as trite and thoughtless, so I simply stroke my fingers down Bao’s side. My eyes meet his, and I believe that even without words, he knows what I am trying to communicate.
Outside I can hear the call of the sea birds. Finally, I open my lips. “I am sure that your mother thinks of you, even now.”
Bao for once does not admonish or chide, but simply smiles. “Yours as well, Moirin.” The way he says my name sets my heart unexpectedly fluttering. Not “stupid girl” or “witch”, but Moirin. How could I have known, back in the time when I was foolishly infatuated with Raphael de Mereliot, that such a soul was buried in Master Lo’s seemingly dour apprentice? He leans in and kisses me, as we once again begin Naamah’s dance.
Across the sea between Chin and Terre D’Ange, we are both many leagues from home, strangers in the world. I cannot undo the things that were done to Bao any more than I can bring Cillian back to life. But here, in this strange place between so many worlds, there is comfort in clinging to one another.