The man next to my father smiled and said something to me in words I didn’t understand. He had all of his teeth and they were as white as his uniform. I was still stunned and couldn’t say anything. I looked to my father standing a few feet from Captain William and waited for some sort of understanding to descend upon me.
My father took a step toward me and finally began to speak. “My son…” he paused once more. He never hesitated when he spoke. Hesitation is for the weak, he would always say. “I have lied to you, and to my tribe. I don’t expect any of you to forgive me, but I want to explain.”
When he said these words, I felt my throat sink even further into my stomach. The past several hours had upended my entire life. Suddenly I had an impossible desire to hold my woman and let my tears fall into her hair again.
“It started two years ago,” my father continued. “These lights—this ship on the horizon approached the back side of the island. Some of the strongmen came to me and told me that foreign men had come to the back side of our land—you know, where the prairie meets the far waters. I went to meet them, and one of those men was Captain William.”
“Wait—” I spoke before my father had finished. “You knew these men before today?”
“Yes, my son. Captain William and his men come from a place called Ah-Mer-Ick-Ah, and they came in peace. When myself and the strongmen approached them before, we had our spears and weapons raised. We were ready to kill them or die defending our tribe.”
I was holding onto the rail of the deck as my father spoke. My legs felt weak beneath me. Captain William stood near us, smiling although he did not understand what we were saying.
My father continued, “Captain William and his men came in peace. They have weapons far beyond what we can imagine, and they would have easily destroyed us and our tribe. They can point at something far across the land and suddenly it is destroyed.” Then he paused to clarify, “‘Captain’ is his title. He is the Chief of this ship.
“Captain William and his men communicated with us, and after much discussion, I agreed to help them.”
“What could they possibly need help with?” I asked suddenly.
My father continued as if I had not spoken: “They are called Ree-Sur-Churs, and they work for a tribe called Sye-Ents. They want to learn about our tribe and our people, but they cannot come in. They communicated to me that if they came to our tribe, many of our people would die. I could not understand why, but they told me it would be bad. Captain William said I should come with them and tell them about our people and in doing so, I will help the future of my tribe. Of our tribe.”
I was still feeling queasy; the combination of the rocking sea, my outsized fear of it, and the mind-shattering news my father was giving me. I never imagined there could be tribes like Ah-Mer-Ick-Ah in the world. Up until this point, all the other tribes we knew had the same tools and weapons as us: sticks, stones, clay and fabric. This ship, however, had lights contained in jars, and many of these lights were even brighter than fires.
“So,” I spoke carefully, “you were never going to die today?”
“No, my son,” my father now looked directly into my eyes and spoke plainly. “I was going to go away with Captain William for the good of our people. They told me that they would be back in 25 moons, and that day is today. They were not supposed to come within sight of our people though. I intended to row out beyond the horizon and meet them on the water. But now our people have seen the ship and I must decide what I will do.”
I slid down the rail onto my backside and sat on the deck of the ship. I thought again about my woman and if my being here would affect my return to her. Could I see her again? Would this mean my father could come to our ceremony? Hundreds of questions ran through my mind at once.
Captain William walked toward me, knelt down, and put his hand on my shoulder. He began to speak slowly, though I still couldn’t understand a word he said. When he realized this, he turned and called some words to another man on deck. This other man approached and knelt down beside Captain William. He was older than me but younger than my father—like Captain William—and smiled in a friendly way as he looked into my eyes.
He put his palm flat on his chest and said, “Pat-Rick. Pat…Rick.”
I stared at him, understanding but unable to respond. He pointed his hand toward me and I knew he was asking for my name, but all of the new revelation had put my body and mind into ice water so it moved very slowly, like when your fingers are in the snow for too long. Everything I had known was upended and I suddenly realized how little of the world I really knew.
I looked at my father, then back at Captain William. All three men stared at me and no one said anything.
“F-father,” I said. “What will they do to us?” I felt tears creeping out the corners of my eyes.
Pat-Rick began waving his hands around in a flurry of movements, touching his chin and laying both palms open before me, and repeating. My brain was too exhausted to attempt to interpret his motions.
My father spoke, “I do not know, son.” His eyes were on the deck of the ship, rather than looking at me. I didn’t know what to think. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw motion and looked along the rail to see other men pulling my father’s boat and mine out of the water. They were carefully pulling them up with the ropes and hoisting them over onto the dock. Now I couldn’t row back to shore if I wanted to.
I felt the entire massive ship jolt at that moment too. It began to move, beginning a slow turn away from our land.
Sudden terror filled my stomach and I felt it fluttering the way it did before I fought that other man. I thought of my woman and suddenly a mad impulse drew me up to my feet. Without thinking or looking over the edge of the ship, I held the rail and threw my legs over the edge.
Then I was in the air.
My stomach elevated back into my throat and I was weightless.
I looked down into the black waters as they seemed to dance in a movement slower than time while my body flew toward them.
I had time while I was flying to think several thoughts—that’s how high the ship’s deck was.
I began to wonder how long it would take me to swim back to shore, to my woman.
Then suddenly I was underwater, submerged by the object of my deepest fears.