Shouts from above startled me into abrupt consciousness. At first, I thought I had just imagined them so I sank back into my drugless stupor. I still felt that it was too soon to return to the Realms after the disbanding of the makeshift Order, namely Felicity and Ann, but my dreams were a welcome reprieve from reality. I should include Pippa in that group. She was present at its founding. Even so, since she had been dead for quite some time and since she had not had any scruples about betraying me to the creatures of the Winterlands, I forgave myself for my less than Christian feelings about the—once beautiful—Pippa; although those unchristian thoughts waned with each passing tide that drew me closer to my new home. Felicity and Ann, on the other hand, were constantly in my thoughts and occasional prayers; however, they were never present in my dreams.
Every night is the same. I snuggle into the cot as I fight sea-sickness and eventually find myself reliving those few glorious hours in the Cave of Sighs. Afterwards, he (I have found that if I do not repeat his name that I am better-equipped to fight the tears) leads me though the Borderlands and then through the Winterlands to the tree, that magnificent, blasted tree that once held the soul of Eugenia Spence captive, which now keeps Ka… him captive. He holds my face in his hands and kisses my forehead before wordlessly returning to his place beneath the tree's rapacious bark. I can hear the wind whistle my name as it whips through the sweeping branches, but no matter how tempting the prospect becomes, I never submit. I never press my hands to the trunk of the tree. I am not sure whether my resistance to the tree's allure is an indicator of my inner strength or if it is a warning to never attempt touching it. Honestly, I do not care either way. Dreams are my only distractions from the throbbing heartache of my waking life. I will no ruin it by searching for meaning.
"Miss Doyle. Miss Doyle!"
I groaned at the prospect of answering the door.
"Miss Doyle, I hate to disturb you, but we have made it! Come, come! We must disembark," I now recognized the crisp accent of Dennis, a fellow student whom I had befriended on the long voyage to America.
I quickly thanked him through the door and rushed to change into my best traveling suit. I must look presentable for my first day in New York after all. Most of my things were packed already, so I was prepared for my departure within mere minutes. My fingers shook with anticipation as I attempted to tame my unruly red curls.
I swear that there will never—on this earth—be enough hair pins.
However, I was at least presentable.
After a few hours of waiting in the port, we were finally allowed on shore. I bid farewell to Dennis without much fuss. I was not sure whether or not I should have been offended when he did not promise to write me. I am afraid that I have much to learn regarding proper traveling propriety. I have only embarked on two long journeys in my life and, considering I was in no mood to charm my fellow passengers on the long trip from my childhood home in India to the chill of Mother Britain, I decided to attribute Dennis's lack of interest to absentmindedness instead of revulsion. Not that I thought he was disgusted by me, but I had to admit that my perpetual state of seasickness had probably been less than appealing to the aspiring lawyer.
Free from my naval prison, I floated over rather than stepped on the wooden plank dividing my old life from my new. The feeling of solid ground beneath my feet was glorious. The realization that I had finally arrived in my new home was even more glorious.
I was surrounded by foreign sights, languages, people…
He had his back turned to me. His olive skin glistened with sweat under an unforgiving sun as he strained to lift a large bundle. His lean body struggled for a moment, and then hefted his burden with seeming ease. No, it couldn't be… it simply wasn't…
I managed to shove my way through the crowd with as much of my stubborn dignity as could be maintained under the circumstances. With each step I got closer. My heart yearned for him to turn, for just one glimpse of his face.
The fateful moment had arrived. He turned towards me. All recognition died immediately. Those features were decidedly Italian. Those eyes were a startling blue rather than the much-desired brown. Those lips had certainly never touched mine.
At least I was not the only one that was confused.
"May I help you?" the bundle was suddenly on the ground and curious eyes followed the movement with sudden interest after my sudden outburst.
"No, no. I am sorry to have bothered you, sir. I thought you were someone else," satisfied with my explanation, many of the prying passerbies had returned to their own business. With a smile, I stepped away from the stranger, cursing my wishful thinking.
"An English lady can call me whatever name she desires…" a crooked grin cracked over his face, "as long as she desires me."
Now the onlookers around me did not even pretend to busy themselves with their own tasks. Some faces showed amusement. Some faces feigned scandalized expressions. All were fascinated. Perfect.
"You must be joking."
The smile disappeared, "No! Desiderio is not a joking man."
"Well, then he must be an imprudent man."
"What means this 'imprudent'?" I could tell from his wry expression that he knew full and well what I meant, but that the opportunity to play to the crowd was too good of an offer to pass by.
"Imprudent means less than wise," I said tersely, feeling the embarrassment rise to my cheeks.
"And why is it 'less than wise' to hold the attention of a beautiful woman?"
I may have curtseyed in front of Queen Victoria, yet I certainly did not think of myself as a woman, much less a beautiful one. However, I had tasted freedom. I knew what it was to hold power. This Italian braggart was clueless as to who he was dealing with. After all, had I not been the mysterious one? Had I not been the key to unlocking the dreams of our small Order? Had I not commanded the magic to my will? What was one man compared to my capability? How could I be as silly as to let one man embarrass me?
"Because you could never handle me," and with that I turned towards the bustling city and melted effortlessly into the crowd. I may not be able to call myself a full-grown woman. I may not be on familiar ground. Nevertheless, I did not care. I had said his name without bursting into tears. I had begun to heal and honestly, that was all that mattered.