Still, the coquettish words that had become second nature to her since she was sixteen began to crawl up her throat, resting on her tongue as if it were a taut catapult filled with verbal ammunition, but she bit them back, blushing and forcing herself to look away from the captain.
“Hey,” he offered, oblivious to her thoughts, “don’t look so glum. You’ll be home with your family in no time at all. You can go back to your normal life ─ being pampered by servants, raising money for orphans, living the dream… ”
Hataru didn’t answer, still not trusting her catapult tongue. She wouldn’t even look at him. The ship shuddered again, and the silence thundered between them. Or maybe that was just the not-so-distant storm.
“Oh! Ah…” the pirate shuffled, digging around his pants pockets for something, “When we were up in that cave of wonders, I saw you looking at this, and noticed that it matched your eyes. I asked Antenor if I could have it to, ah, give to you later, and he happily agreed. Then, when you ran off, I thought you were, you know… gone and I didn’t know what to do.” He held out a small circular object, gold and silver with a blue gem sparkling in the flashes of lightning quickly approaching.
Hataru gasped, “How… how did you─?”
Levi grinned sheepishly, taking her right hand in his, “But, um, you’re not dead ─ obviously ─ so I want you to have it. As a… a parting gift from me to you.” The sapphire ring twinkled as if it contained its own source of light and had no need for the sun. “So you won’t forget me.”
The princess’ mind was fuzzy, as he slipped it onto her ring finger, “And… how will you remember me?”
“I don’t think I could ever forget you, Hataru.”
About a dozen things happened at once.
Without so much as a gentle, pitter-patter warning, rain gushed from the sky by the bucketful as they hit the storm head on. A bolt of lightning struck the foremast, sending chunks of wood flying and men ducking for cover in every direction. The engine room exploded for a second time that week, spewing smoke like an occupied dragon’s den, and Talus and Zephyr fled to the deck. Captain Spry looped his arm around Hataru’s waist to keep her steady at the bow of the ship as Jupiter’s Return started taking a steep nosedive over the mountain range below them. And of course, to make matters worse, the ring on the princess’ finger pulsed, just as it had on top of The Place Where Earth and Sky Kiss, and her vision began to go dark.
The last thing she heard was Levi shouting her name.