A moment later, Sirs Philip and Balian emerged from below deck. Their hair was wet, and they were both dressed like sailors in footless hose and loose shirts with the arms rolled up to the elbows. They were deeply tanned, and exuded health, youth and strength. At the sight of Eschiva, they both broke into smiles.
Sir Philip was first off the mark, coming to bow over her hand. “What a pleasure to see you again at last, my lady,” he opened. “I was beginning to think you were a mere figment of my imagination, that that entire encounter on the quay at Andria was nothing but a dream, a fantasy, a fairytale—”
Sir Balian gently cut him off by nudging him aside to bow to her in turn. He was much more serious. His eyes searched her face. “Are you well, cousin? I was much concerned, but Captain di Domenico assured me you were in the best of health and spirits.”
“Thank you, cousin. I have been well ever since you granted me your protection. In fact, I wish this voyage would never end at all, or that I could stay here on Kythera,” (the Greek name for the island came to her more readily than the Italian one) “forever.”
Sir Balian laughed and then looked over his shoulder. “It is enchanted, isn’t it? I’m sure it’s in the Odyssey somewhere. If only I had a copy.”
“I have a copy!” Eschiva answered excited by this shared interest. “Your grandmother’s copy!” She remembered.
Sir Balian stared at her astonished. “How?”
“Your father gave it to Queen Yolanda as a wedding gift, on the quay at Tyre. Don’t you remember? I did not want to leave it behind in Andria.”
“No wonder your bag was so heavy!” Sir Philip groaned, “I thought it was full of jewels and gold.”
“But this is the greatest jewel of all!” Eschiva answered, so caught up in her delight for the book, the island, and Sir Balian’s interest that she quite forgot herself. “It has the most beautiful illustrations you’ve ever seen. I’ll go get it!” She jumped up and disappeared down the companionway.
When she returned, book in hand, the squires had brought chilled white wine and a pitcher full of spring water just collected on the island itself. They all preferred the water to the wine, but while Philip turned his attention to the food, going over to “help” the cook and squires at the grill, Sir Balian beckoned Eschiva to his side.
She sat down, acutely aware of the smell of his tanned skin and the warmth he exuded. Embarrassed, she moved a little farther away and placed the book on the table in front of them.
“It is Grandma’s book!” Sir Balian exclaimed as if he had not believed her, reaching out to take it into his own hands.
“Can you read it?” Eschiva asked hopefully.
“Not as well as my father can,” Sir Balian prevaricated. “I learned Greek growing up and can still remember speaking it with my grandmother, but I haven’t really kept it up. Let’s see.” He opened the book and scanned down the page, looking for something he recognized.
Eschiva couldn’t wait, confiding in excitement: “I was thinking, maybe this is the island of Calypso.”
Sir Balian looked up and their eyes met. He looked straight at her without seeing that she was plain, and there was excitement in his voice as he exclaimed “I thought the same thing! Or, not exactly, but the island out there,” he pointed to the steep, triangular island they had passed earlier. “It has an amazing grotto—just the kind of place poor, shipwrecked Ulysses would have washed up. In fact, there’s nowhere else on the island to wash up. But once he was inside the grotto, he could have been driven deeper and deeper into the rooms that stretch under the island. Once inside, he might not have been able to find his way out again. It’s absolutely perfect.”
“Dinner!” Philip interrupted, dropping two plates laden with large slabs of fish in front of them. With a gasp Eschiva seized the precious book before any of the sizzling fat could damage it.
“You don’t want the fish to get cold!” Philip told her, as the squires came with pans of grilled carrots and eggplant in his wake.
“Take it below,” Sir Balian seconded Eschiva’s sentiments regarding the precious book. “We can read it together later when there is less going on.”
Eschiva hugged the book to her chest with one arm as she returned down the ladder to stow the book safely away. She knew already that when she returned on deck the mood would be different, but nothing could take away that moment of shared excitement—or that look of delight empty of any acknowledgement that she was plain.
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