I remembered the tears running down my mother’s eyes; her palms held on tight to my shoulders, almost digging her nails into my leather armour; her thin lips moving in silent prayer, her whispered sobs almost convincing me to stay until she finally broke the silence by saying, “Prove it to everyone that you’re a true warrior... Your father and I love you, Atharv.”
Goodbye was all she didn’t say. Though I wondered: why not? Did she truly believe I might return or was she just trying to ignore what happened years back might happen again? But it wasn’t time to question. It was time to act. To say our unsaid goodbyes.
I touched her feet, she gave me her blessings, and I kissed her forehead before picking up my pack. I left for to the Circle of Trust for the ceremony before we started our voyage.
The winds caressed my abraded skin, I felt every inch of it brushed by the hoarse sea breeze which beckoned to us like a witch alluring her pray by enchantments. It all was a hoax, at least I of all people knew that well. We were all prays of our own handmade traps, all fishes in the sea attracted to the worm stuck on a hook by our own hands. No one realised it yet, except for me.
After the ceremony, where they made sure to bind our souls to our land with a promise to be faithful, when I was advancing towards the port with others, Baliyo stood in my way, his chest puffed out, not out of pride, but an indication that her wanted to talk. I bowed before him.
“Atharv,” he said, “I want you to listen to me one last time now.”
I knew what he had to say, he had told me the same thing for years now, and like always, my thoughts couldn’t be wavered by the request.
I slowly nodded my head as he continued.
“I had given you an option that no warrior had ever been given. You are given a chance to stay, to spend your days here and to work here protecting our lands from every danger. You’re one of the finest warriors we have and I- we couldn’t afford to lose you...”
“I am very thankful to you for giving me this opportunity but-“
“Son,” he interrupted. He cleared his throat and stepped closer to hold my shoulders with his strong palms. “I know what you want to say, I want you to decide as long as you want before we leave. You can leave any time. For as far I feel, I want you to stay with your mother, support her, she needs you. Especially after your father...”
“I know what I want. For as long as I exist, my intentions might never waver. I am the son of the sea but I am not the waves that collapse as soon as they rise. I firmly hold on to my ground, I don’t fall because right now my reason for standing here, now, with every warrior here, with you, is my very own intention, a promise I made myself.”
Baliyo’s hands dropped from my shoulders as did the light of hope in his eyes as they instantly turned charcoal. He nodded his head once, twice, thrice and said, “Yes, yes, I understand it very well. You are just as firm about your decisions like me... But Atharv.” His gazed shifted to my eyes, the hope that I thought was lost sparked yet once again though dimmer now. “Ponder on it. Don’t make any decision you might regret later.”
That was all he said before I exited out of the woods and then it was a short walk towards the port. I stored my belongings in my small stuffed room inside the giant ship we were sailing and took my position on the deck at one of the pointed corners of the ship. I felt Baliyo’s eyes watching me, looking for any signs of changing my mind.
Eight hours had passed since then. From where I stood, the winds from the south tried to obstruct us, begged us to return, which I knew would never happen. My gaze fell down towards the sea that unwillingly split to make a way for the ship. The fishes plopped from the water, against the ship, and dived back in as if telling us to stop.
The dawn tore through the clouds, each tiny speck of ray poked out like swords. The horizon got brighter with each minute. But it looked as if we had a long way to cover before we reached the brightness, away from the darkness that slowly draped over us as black clouds advanced towards our ship. The winds danced faster and with one hard blow, it would have knocked me out of my feet if I hadn’t held on to the railings.
I heard Baliyo’s voice above the growl of the thundering clouds. Everyone rushed forth in different directions, the sails tightened. One or the other was shouting the same orders in the chaos, panic in some of the voices, some stood straight and obeyed their orders. The captain of the ship had a firm grip on the wheel and tried to steady the ship that wobbled with the vigour of the angry sea. I strode towards the stairs that led down to the compact corridors of the ship. My feet slightly lost balance as the ship swung like a pendulum. I pushed past through the rushing people, one of them Anara who had her eyebrows etched together in a worried expression. Her gaze fell on me before I turned away for the other corridor and then finally into my room where I snatched my pack from the hooks and swung it across my shoulder.
The storm had an upper hand in the situation and when I got back to the deck, the sailor was battling his ship against the high the tides that entered the ship with every ecstatic leap. The tides got higher and higher by every minute, I heard many chant prayers as they worked the sails but this was something that even God couldn’t control. The roar of the sea and the sky deafened my ears. It looked as if the clouds were deliberately chasing us, their lighting torpedoes missing us by slight proximity.
I made towards the sails and helped them pull the sails tighter, my feel losing balance with the waves. I looked around and my gaze locked with Baliyo, and I knew what he was thinking.
We were an hour away from the island. We knew what was coming.