On the afternoon of the following day, the Hume captain and I traveled through the beautifully lush "Hidden Valley" to the Sea Serpent Grotto.
True to its name, the grotto is a series of long, twisting caverns. As we made our way through the vast labyrinth, we began to notice the salty smell of the ocean.
Our destination was close. As I paused for a moment in anticipation, the captain also stopped in her tracks, a few steps ahead of me.
"Norg is just up ahead... I hope you find what you're looking for."
She then placed her hand on a section of the cave wall, which slowly slid open to reveal a passageway that led deeper into the caverns. After nodding in reply, I set foot into the secret portal.
"I'll be seeing you, then," she said. "I have some business to take care of down another way, so this is where we part company. All in all, I have to say it's been a fun journey."
"If it wasn't for you, I never would have made it this far. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart."
As the Hume captain responded with a smile, the stone portal between us began to close. As I looked into her eyes for the last time, I saw a quiet sadness that her smile could not mask.
After wandering in a half-lost state for a short time, I decided to follow the captain. The image of her melancholy eyes was haunting my mind.
I pried open the secret door where we had parted ways, and made my way down the path that I assumed she had taken. But soon, I found myself in a cul-de-sac, with not a presence to be felt.
The captain was only ahead of me by a few minutes; I should have been able to catch up to her. I began to hit the walls around me in search of another secret portal. One of my blows eventually hit home, and a section of the wall slid open, just like before.
Down the newly revealed passageway was where I finally found the captain.
A bonfire burned ominously in the darkness, illuminating the woman's somber figure. This is not the intrepid seafarer I had initially met, I thought to myself, as I stepped closer to greet her.
"Uh... I was wondering if you still had stuff you wanted me to carry around for you."
As I crouched down beside her, she kept her head down and muttered, "You're something else..."
As I raised my head, I saw that before us was a small tower of stones.
As I stared puzzlingly, a sudden breeze made the flames of the bonfire dance, illuminating the surface of the monument. It was then that I noticed the engraving. Pulling closer, I saw that it read:
"The Mithra who, more than anyone, loved the ocean."
As I read those words out loud, the captain knelt down to brush away the dust that was covering the rest of the engraving:
"Rest in Peace."
Finally realizing where we were, my gaze again turned towards the captain.
"Having no family, I thought I was alone in the world until I met her. She treated me like a sister, a real sister... After she gave birth to her daughter, she began to work harder than ever. But one day, she sailed out into a storm and didn't return..."
There was immense pain in the woman's voice, but she managed to continue.
"A few days later, the ship washed ashore near here, with the remains of her lost captain still on board. It was as if the ship had cradled and escorted her master back to safe harbor... Quite a ship, that Golden Bonito, don't you think?"
Those last words sent a cold shock through my body. I could not begin to fathom the intense emotions this woman must have felt, traveling to these shores on that ship.
"Her daughter... She still thinks her mother is working somewhere on the far seas. It's been three years now, and I still haven't been able to tell her the truth..."
It was all clear to me now. Among those children who greeted us in Kazham was the living legacy of a brave Mithra sea captain. And crouching next to me was a woman who had quietly protected that legacy for three years, all the while unable to reveal the truth to her.
"But I know that one day soon I have to tell her, and return the ship, and move this grave... No, 'one day soon' isn't good enough anymore. Maybe tonight..."
That was when the woman's voice trailed off into solemn silence. It seemed that no matter how hard she tried, she could not rid herself of that small grain of doubt. I envisioned the sight of those children in my mind, and spoke to the woman as gently as I could.
"The girl will be all right. She's a brave daughter of Kazham, isn't she? And besides, she has you..."
After a muttered "thank you," the woman fell silent for a while. But then, as if suddenly revived, she slapped me hard on the shoulder and let out a hearty laugh, as she had done aboard the ship.
"Hey now, you don't have time to be sitting here all gloomy-like! Stand up! Straighten your back! ...All right, good! Now, hard to port and straight on until you reach Norg!"
As I hurriedly gathered my belongings, I asked a final favor of the captain.
"Hey, could you give that girl a message for me?"
"The Golden Bonito is a fine ship, with a tradition of fine captains."
"That goes without saying, mister!"
And with that, the woman chuckled, took hold of the brim of her hat, and politely bowed.
I saluted the two captains on deck, then headed back on the path to my destination.