Rhys found Maia after twenty minutes of searching in a second-floor salon overlooking the coastline. The Prince of Landen wasn't quite sure what his status was in Cille Castle; as an Orakian, he was a hereditary enemy of the Layan people of Cille. He had come under arms, seeking to win back a girl kidnapped from the altar in her bridal gown. He had defeated the King of Cille by main force basically to get him to sit down and listen. From that standpoint, he was an invader, perhaps even a conqueror.
Yes one of the chief reasons he'd come this far was the assistance of Lyle, Prince of Shusoran, the nephew of King Cille and himself a Layan. Despite all that, Rhys called Lyle "friend" and was proud to do so. It was Lyle who had first shown him that Layans were not the storybook monsters he'd believed them to be.
Or it had been Lyle who had first knowingly done so, for the truth was that the kidnapped girl's intended bridegroom had been Rhys himself. Moreover, the girl had been no ordinary young woman. For all that her memory loss had denied her knowledge of everything about her past but her name, she, too had been a Layan. Maia was, in truth, the Princess of Cille.
As Rhys entered the salon, he heard the strains of music rising gently from a piano, its keys stroked by graceful fingers.
"Maia," he said, coming into the room. "I never knew that you could play."
Maia turned to him and smiled. Like the melody, it was a gentle smile, and kind.
"At the time, neither did I," she replied.
He came to stand next to her, and she turned back to the piano.
"You were Mystery to me," Rhys murmured.
Her hands gently brushed the ivory.
"I was Mystery to myself."
She started to play, then, a slow, delicate piece that seemed to carry with it an unbearable melancholy.
Rhys remembered the night he had found her. The waves had lapped at the shore softly under the light of the twin moons. She had looked so frail and helpless tossed up on the beach, clothing torn, body bruised and cut by her ordeal in the water.
"You were always so sweet and kind to me," Maia said. "I was a complete stranger and you opened your home, your family, your life to me. Not just you, but all the people of Landen. I had always thought that Orakians were cold and cruel, but you showed me this was not so. It's why Lyle helped you, you know."
"When he--" Maia stumbled a bit, as if trying to choose her words carefully, then continued. "--when he and I were reunited, he couldn't believe it either, at first, that Orakians would be so kind to one they didn't know, whose past they could not trust. But, he came to see it, when he found that I had given my heart to one of them, and more than that, that it did not return to me once I had recovered my own memories."
"So, he strove to reunite us."
The music drifted through deeper shades of sorrow and grief until it seemed to clasp Rhys's heart in a fist.
"Maia, what is this song? Is it a Layan piece?"
"In a manner of speaking. Actually, I composed it."
"You did? I had no idea you had such a talent." He smiled wryly. "Of course, we've been over that ground already. What is it called?"
"I named it 'Loveless.'"
Rhys shook his head.
"That's not really a good name for it."
Maia looked up at the prince with shining, ice-pale eyes that glittered a bit too wetly. Her fingers continued to weave their web of fearful sadness.
"I don't think anyone could really appreciate this song until they have felt love, and lost it."
"You may be right at that, Rhys."
A tear gathered at the corner of her left eye, held there for an instant, and slid down her perfect cheek. Rhys could tell it was not the music that brought it, nor the memories the song evoked.
"I had something to tell you," he said, "but...I think perhaps I do not need to."
"No, you don't. I...I could see it in your face the first time you saw me here in Cille, right after your duel with my father. When we stood at the altar together, your eyes were alight with hope and happiness, but this time, all the sight of me brought you was pain. One of my maids tried to tell me it was because you knew now that I was a Layan, that you felt torn from me because of that, but...a woman knows these things, Rhys. She knows the difference between star-crossed love and the lack of feeling."
"I do love you," Rhys said hastily, "and I always will, only..."
"Only not as a husband loves a wife."
Rhys's voice seemed choked off by some powerful force, and it was only with great effort that he could find the words.
"Maia, when I first saw you, I was swept away. You were lost in a strange land, with nothing but a name. You needed me."
"And I was beautiful."
"And you were sweet and kind and caring," he said almost sternly.
"So were you. I was lost and alone, and here you were, a handsome prince who took me under his wing and gave me everything I could want, who cherished and protected me. But you never opened your heart to me."
"It was glamour, enchantment," he agreed, his voice very soft now. "Not magic or Layan powers, but moonlight and mystery."
"And once I was gone, so was the spell. You were yourself again." She sighed deeply. "Love...love makes each absence a burden. You ache for the presence of the other person."
Her fingers trembled, and she missed a note.
"By Orakio, Maia, I'm so sorry," he whispered.
"No," she sniffled, tears streaming down her face now, "this is for the best. What if we'd married, and you'd awakened one day to the realization that...that you were bound for life...to someone...to someone you didn't love?"
Her song cut off suddenly, her hands crashing down on the keys in a fierce discord.
"Oh, Rhys," she wept. "If you did not love me, why did you finish your quest? Why did you come here?"
He did not respond at once, understanding that, perhaps more than any other time in his young life, truth mattered.
"At first," he began, "I was still infatuated. I would have done anything to get you back."
"Then you were in danger. You'd been kidnapped, not by men but by a monster. Who knew what could have happened to you?"
A faint smile brushed the princess's lips.
"Like when you found me on the beach, you came to my rescue. But surely when you learned I was the Princess of Cille and had merely been retrieved by...by my family..."
Rhys could have spoken of honor affronted by the theft of his bride. As a prince, he might have mentioned politics--that Landen could not afford to appear weak in the eyes of foreign cities and ambitious nobles. He could have referred to Layan-Orakian relations, of how on his quest he'd learned that the two groups were really just people, separated by memories of a war that they hadn't fought, of the importance of healing that rift.
He did not speak of these things, though, because although each was, in its own way, a truth, none of them were what had moved him.
"I needed to see you again," Rhys said, and then feeling that more was called for, he added, "I had to speak to you in person, to tell you the truth."
"You didn't have to," Maia told him quietly. "I'd have learned. I'd have heard from Lyle."
"No, I did have to. Things would never be finished between us otherwise."
She rose fluidly from the piano bench, then came to face him.
"Yes...I suppose you're right, at that." Maia sighed heavily once more, then lightly laid her hand on Rhys's shoulder. "Thank you for having the courage to face me."
Maia raised herself on her toes and brushed her lips lightly against his cheek.
"When you marry your Lena--"
He gave a little start.
"How did you--?"
"I told you, Rhys; a woman knows these things," she said, her ironic smile tinged with sadness.
"Yes, I suppose you did."
"Just remember to cherish her daily. No matter what poets say, love is not a dream, but the most real thing you can imagine. I think you know the difference now."
Rhys did not reply, but slid his arms around the cyan-haired princess. He held her for a long moment not in the protective embrace of hero to rescued damsel, or the passionate grasp of a lover, but in the warm hug one gives to a treasured friend.
Then, at last, he let her go.