Sinbad wakes up in bed next to Gunnar in a dark room. This is a thing that has happened before.
There’s something on his wrist. After careful, bleary-eyed examination, he ascertains that it’s a piece of blue string, which seems to also be attached to Gunnar’s wrist. He eyes it for a while. He has no memory of how that got there. Waking up tied to Gunnar has not happened before
Gunnar snores loudly, and Sinbad winces as the noise makes his hungover brain throb. He turns his head to eye Gunnar balefully, and is just contemplating kicking him when a door - the door to their room - slams open, and a booming voice says, “Felicitations! Oh, we are honoured indeed that two such warriors have chosen our kingdom as their bonding place.”
Sinbad’s not stupid, and even the worse for wear it only takes a second or two before the meaning of that sentence winds its way through his brain and he sits bolt upright, sure that he looks like a startled, wide-eyed sheep. “What?” he says.
The owner of the booming voice is the sheikha of last night, Sinbad’s memories are not so scattered that he cannot remember that, the woman whose mare Gunnar and he had saved from the sea horse. The woman had invited the whole Providence crew back to her palace to break the fast, and there had been feasting and toasting and dancing and definitely no bonding of any kind. He might have kissed Gunnar, in an alcove. In fact, he definitely did that, he remembered the way the candlelight had burnished Gunnar into shades of gold and bronze, and the way he’d laughed and said, “You were looking at that serving girl just two minutes ago, this is only because it’s convenient.”
Sinbad had grinned and said, “Maybe. I’ll go and give her a try. Wish me luck.”
And then he’d gone to find the serving girl with the perfect arse, and after that his memories fade. He looks at the sheikha helplessly. She smiles back at him, wide and guileless. “Did you enjoy your first nighting?” she asks. Her voice comes from deep within her large frame, definitely too loud for Sinbad’s aching head. Beside him Gunnar stirs.
“Um,” Sinbad says.
“Of course you did!” She laughs heartily. “Two young men with such vigour and virility! I am surprised the bed is still intact!”
This is just unfair. She looks like a grandmother. Sinbad slides down low and tries to tug the covers higher over himself. Gunnar finally seems to wake at this disturbance, muttering something low and irritated in Norse in a hoarse voice. “Wake up,” Sinbad hisses. “Wake up.”
“Tell me,” the sheikha says, and there is such an unholy light in her eyes that Sinbad is completely, deeply sure that he does not want to hear this question. “Which one of you -” Almost involuntarily, Sinbad’s leg jerks wildly, catching Gunnar a sharp blow in the side which makes him sit up with a yell. The sheikha is interrupted, thank the deity, and turns her eyes to Gunnar instead with a cheerful, “Good morning, Northman!”
Sinbad can see Gunnar making the switch to Arabic with some effort - he’s always like this with a hangover, and under other circumstances Sinbad would cover for him for a few minutes while he got his verbs and nouns and prepositions lined up in the right order, but if he speaks again the sheikha might turn back to him. So he inches the blankets a little higher, and waits for Gunnar. “Good morning, my lady,” Gunnar finally says.
“You’ve both found yourself a fine man,” the sheikha says. “I came to wake you for the meal before dawn, else you will fast the whole day with no fortification. But Sinbad was already awake and gazing upon his paramour!” She chuckles knowingly. Sinbad nods dumbly, trying to smile. “I will leave you now, but hasten before the sun rises!”
She leaves as she arrived, in a whirl of silks and noise, and Sinbad shudders. Gunnar pokes his shoulder. “What’s happened?” he says. “What’s going on?” He sounds plaintive, and more heavily accented than usual.
“I think,” Sinbad says, slowly, “that we got married.”
Gunnar stares up at the ceiling and swears slowly in Norse.
They stumble into the dining hall, dressed and with the blue thread removed, to find all the others from the Providence already there, except for Cook, of course, who’s still on the boat. And probably still asleep, Sinbad thinks resentfully. He’s not used to bothering with the before-dawn meal during Ramadan, his normal fasting tactic being to sleep until after midday which only leaves him with the afternoon to get through. And on the Providence he’s barely been fasting at all, really. He’s discovered that it’s almost impossible to fast unless everyone else around you is fasting, and he and Anwar have both caught each other eating snacks and sharing meals with the others.
Thinking of Anwar, Sinbad’s gaze lights on him and he chokes back a laugh. Anwar’s bedhead is the most impressive he’s sported yet, and that’s saying something. Tiger catches his eye as he’s trying not to burst out laughing, and they grin at each other. He follows Gunnar to a seat on the cushions next to Rina, as far away from the sheikha as they can manage.
This is, of course, no obstacle for the sheikha, who beams down the room at them. “Welcome, welcome,” she says. “We did not like to start without you, but of course lovers always dally!” Sinbad can feel the back of his neck beginning to flush.
“What the fuck happened last night?” he hisses to Rina, who smiles, wide and slightly malicious.
“You got rejected by a serving girl,” she says, “and then you went and hung off Gunnar’s shoulders. And at some point you started singing together, which is apparently a big symbol here. I wasn’t that close, but Sheikha Samrin got very excited, and was talking to you both, and then she summoned a djinni -”
“What?” Gunnar and Sinbad say simultaneously.
Rina shrugs. She’s smirking. “Anwar tried to protest, but you both seemed keen.”
Sinbad stares at his feet. “What was in that wine?” he says.
“Did we make djinn-bound promises?” Gunnar asks more practically.
“Yep,” Rina says. “Sorry.”
“You’re not really sorry,” Sinbad says.
“Sorry,” Rina says. “It’s hilarious. You got married.”
“I hate everything,” Sinbad says. Gunnar reaches over and pats his shoulder.
“We’ll figure it out,” Gunnar says after a few moments of silence. “Djinn can always be run to ground.”
That brightens Sinbad’s spirits slightly. “More excitement?” he says. He's already envisioning the adventures that might ensue in trying to corner a djinni.
“More excitement,” Gunnar agrees solemnly, and winks at him.