I've been told it's cliche to start a story with someone waking up. It's probably doubly so if she's doing it on a beach and with no memory of how she got there. So I guess that makes my story cliche, even though it's never felt that way while I've been living it.
There's a decent chance that if you thought about it, you'd realize your life is pretty cliche too. Even if you've never done anything as contrived as blink up through salt-encrusted eyelashes at the backlit face of a stranger while you wondered who the heck you were and how the heck you'd gotten here.
My language functions were intact. I could remember my multiplication tables. I was certain of who won the The Battle of Hastings in 1066, but I couldn't remember if I'd learned about that in school, by reading a book, or by actually being present as William conquered England.
I was fairly sure it wasn't the last one. Without even looking at them, I could tell the clothes I was wearing were nothing at all medieval. Not that I knew much about the fashions of the eleventh century, but I was pretty sure women wore dresses all the time back then and the heavy fabric clinging to my legs was definitely in the shape of hip-hugger jeans.
Now I know that someone out there is saying that this isn't the way amnesia really works. And that know-it-all is absolutely right. That doesn't change the fact that this is how it happened to me. (I learned why later, but we're not at that part of the story yet.)
The stranger was still staring down at me while I tried to process all this. It seemed like he should be saying something, but maybe he was having trouble thinking of something non-cliche to say. If he couldn't say, “Who are you?” or “What have we here?” or “Good morning,” then what was left?
I sat up as the man continued to stare. That was starting to get rude. Sure, I must have looked horrible – I smelled like dead fish and my hair was plastered to my skin, so there's no way I looked like a beauty queen. But shouldn't this guy at least be trying to see if I was alright? I obviously wasn't dead, so maybe I needed something like, I don't know... Help? Or water? My throat was tight and my mouth covered in sand. Fresh water would have been really welcome right about then.
I tried to mention this, but as soon as I drew a breath to speak I was racked with coughing. It burned through my chest and knocked me over onto one elbow as I vomited onto the sand.
Great. Even my vomit smelled like fish. I was going to be smelling fish for the rest of my life.
Going home to have a bath would have been a great thing to long for, if only I knew where home was... Maybe the stranger had a bathtub...
“I feel betrayed,” the man said slowly, his accent something close to English but not quite. “Mermaids are somewhat more attractive in the stories.”
“I'm not a mermaid,” I sputtered, waving a hand through the sand to bury the disgusting pile of puke beside me. From the looks of the puke, I hadn't eaten recently, but knowing that didn't make me tempted to do so now. And I was never eating fish again.
“Well, you're not now.” The man shrugged as his cloak caught in the wind and whipped out behind him.
Cloak? I squinted at the guy. He was slender enough to seem tall even though I didn't think he was. His hair was was ebony, his skin a darkened tan that reminded me of India. Maybe I was in India. Maybe that's why his accent wasn't quite British. But people didn't go around in cloaks in India, did they?
“What was it?” he asked, holding hand down toward me. “Saw a prince, fell in love, traded something to a witch to transform you into a human girl?”
I started at his hand for a second. His nails were immaculate and he had several gold rings with huge gems on them. If those stones weren't glass, then he must be loaded. That made sense. If you're rich enough, you can wear cloaks as much as you want without the fashion police saying a word about it.
I let him help me up, but jerked my elbow away from him when he tried to hold me steady after I was on my feet. No, I wasn't feeling great, but I wasn't feeble either.
“Impressive,” Cloak Guy said.
It took me a second to figure out what he meant. “I'm not a mermaid! I never was!”
Well, okay, I didn't know that for sure. But it didn't seem likely. All of the facts in my head where about two-legged land dwelling people. Although something about what he'd said was tickling my memory...
“Oh? Then you must be a shipwrecked princess. From which kingdom do you hail?”
Uh... I took a step back, uncomfortably aware that we were the only two people on this beach. Behind me was ocean, behind him cliffs. And to the sides... To the right, the beach curved around without showing hope of civilization, but the left... My breath caught as I saw the castle looming up a steep and rocky incline.
It was huge and imposing and unquestionably old. Surely I should recognize it.
“I'm American.” American? Yes. I was from the United States of America. Probably. I couldn't name my home state or city, but that was the country I came from. And not, judging from the castle, the country I was currently in.
“Merican?” The man frowned. “So you are from the sea?”
“What? No!” I shook my head. “Where are we?”
He raised his eyebrows, which crinkled his face and made him look older than the twenty to thirty something he'd been pulling off before. “Taisland.”
Taisland? Never heard of it. Maybe he was one of those people who named their houses. “And where's that?”
“Vaila. Just east of the Mijorn Peninsula.”
Or maybe he was just crazy. Whatever. He didn't seem like a rapist or a murderer, so I was fine with letting him stay insane. “Do you have a phone?”
His expression was completely blank, like he'd never heard of a phone before. I swallowed a mouthful of fishy spit that burned its way to my stomach. “I need to contact the American Embassy.”
“I don't think we have any ambassadors from Merica, though you'd have to ask my wife to be certain. Perhaps you'd like to see a healer? Or a mage? Our mage is young, but he's quite good and has extensive training in medicinals.”
Righto, I mentally stamped “Myth Confirmed” next to my “Cloak Guy's a loony” theory.
“Sure,” I said. Maybe whoever this mage was would be sane. Going to see him certainly seemed like a better idea that standing around alone on the beach, or even ditching Crazy Cloak Guy and heading to the castle myself.
“Right this way, Miss...” he stopped expectantly, his arms hovering in the air as he halted mid-gesture to realize he didn't know my name. “I'm terribly sorry, but we haven't introduced ourselves.”
He pulled his arm back to his body, bowed, and thrust the arm out again in a strange circling sort of flourish. “I am Sabashar ap Llywendra, Consort of Her Royal Highness Queen Louisa of Taisland.”
Crazy Cloak Guy was a boy toy. Interesting... I wondered what sort of woman would keep him around for that. He was attractive, sure, in a too-old-for-me sort of way. But he didn't seem attractive enough to make up for all the crazy. Maybe Her Royal Highness was imaginary.
Before I hadn't had any idea who I was, but now that I needed to know my name, I found that I did know part of it. “I'm Tori.”
He straightened quickly, his eyes narrowing on me like I'd said something very wrong. Was Tori a boy's name here or something?
My skin crawled as Sabasher walked around me, examining me more closely than he had before. “When my wife asks,” he said as finished his circle, “tell her something else.”
“Or say you don't know. You seem confused enough to pull that off.”
The way he said that wasn't mean, but it made me frown. It wasn't my fault my brain wasn't working right! I'd obviously been through something horrible, even if I didn't know what. At least I wasn't the one prancing about in a cloak and blabbering about mages and queens of made-up countries!
“Come along,” Sabasher said over his shoulder as he set off down the beach at a quick pace. “My wife will be missing me soon and I need to get you to Dawane before she sees you or she'll take one look and toss you in the dungeon.”
How could I resist an invitation like that?