Return Home – Chapter 1
The master and mistress had been arguing the previous night, before deciding to make up. Simaatoban wasn’t eavesdropping; he just happened to walk past their chamber. He couldn’t help it. He turned in his bed, already the sun shone overhead. It was past the eighth hour, he was sure of it. He squinted, digging his head under the covers. The clear dome roof made the room look bigger than it was, expansive, all-encompassing. All around him he could see the ocean as it rose and fell, a blanket of blue, both peaceful and terrifying.
He could hear his master and mistress talking now, making plans, in the chamber across from his own. There was a weight to their words, a heaviness in their tone, he had not heard before. He worried about them. He had come to love the family. Nahik was a good master, fair and generous. Sahar was intelligent and beautiful, but also headstrong and even demanding at times. His wife had been that way. Simaatoban stopped, consciously avoiding the thought of her.
He sat up on the bed, wiping the sleep from his eyes, and stood up. They spoke of leaving the city, his master and mistress. Simaatoban stared down at his hands, there was nowhere safe to live anymore. The smell of freshly baked bread wafted into the room from underneath the door. Simaatoban sat at his desk, savoring the scent. He poured himself a glass of lemon water from the pitcher that he kept on a small table next to his bed. The old man stood and walked toward a tall bookcase, fingering one of the texts he had lent Arisnoe, the master’s son, for his studies during the last cycle. He had brought a large portion of his own books from the University of Trill. Simaatoban had taught there for over half a century.
He missed the University. The normal routine of a planned-out life. He hated not knowing what would happen next. But Simaatoban always made the best of what he had. This home in the fisherman’s village seemed to meet his needs. Life was simpler here than in the big city. While it wasn’t what he was used to, he was still teaching, still making a living from it, and if they left he would miss it here.
He loved Nahik’s children. The Master was a good father, even though neither child was his, and the oldest was Lemurian, a boy Nahik had found on a battlefield years ago. Simaatoban gave the children a well-rounded education. Allowing them to make up their own minds rather than driving his truths down their throats, like many in his profession often did. In the past cycle he had focused on written language, art, the study of the stars, and mathematics. He had Arisnoe compile a presentation on the solar system. Had the boy build a model of it, and by the end of the harvest had him present it to a community of students like himself, from other well-to-do families. Triana practiced the Atlantean alphabet daily. Already beginning to put sounds together, she could read simple words. Simaatoban smiled at the thought of the feisty little girl, so much like his own Tiva who had perished years earlier. He tried not to think about it. The final storm that had taken the island of Blue Terra and with it his entire family. Tutoring Nahik’s children gave purpose and direction to his life.
Today he would teach a history lesson of a time before Atlantis, even before M u existed. Of a world nestled in the constellation of Taurus, in a planet called Erra, 500 light-years from Earth. Home of their ancestors, of all of the Earth Tribes. The Pledeians branched off from the Lyran’s. Thousands of years ago, the people of Erra set up numerous colonies all over the world. Their central sun, Alcyone, was dying. They came in handfuls at first, afterwards in hoards, all of them desperate to survive. And so Lyra became the cradle of humankind.
Nahik rose early that morning. It would be a long day, one he was not looking forward to.
“Good morning, Master. You slept well, I hope?” Simaatoban asked, tilting his head sideways and raising his brows.
“I did.” Nahik said, lowering his head. “Thank you.” He knew Simaatoban could tell that he hadn’t. He rubbed a hand over his face. He didn’t want to think about Sahar leaving. But he already had, Sahar was all he could think about. His own belongings were few, he had already packed them the previous night.
“How are you?” Simaatoban lifted a brow, lips trembling.
Nahik shook his head. “As well as can be expected, I suppose.” His posture stiffened. He wasn’t doing well at all.
“You’re doing the right thing.” Simaatoban said in a monotone voice, he leaned forward placing a hand on his shoulder. He had heard them talking all morning. “Letting her go, she needs her people, her son, and…”
“I know,” Nahik paused. “But it’s difficult …”
“I understand, I have come to care for your family a great deal.” Simaatoban patted the General’s shoulder. “It will be difficult to see them go.” The tutor sucked in a deep breath.
“You don’t have too, Simaatoban.” Nahik’s face brightened. “I want you to go with them.” His breath hitched. There was a tingling in his limbs, a surge of hope.
“Go with them?” Simaatoban gasped, startled by Nahik’s request.
“The boy, he is quite taken by you. I’m sure Sahar will agree. I will talk to her.”
“But I … I don’t know, sir.”
“You’d choose to stay here? The continent is nearly submerged.”
“No, I …”
“What then?” Nahik crossed his arms. “Speak up.”
Simaatoban shrugged. There was no reason for him to stay. “I’ll go,” he said finally. He couldn’t bear to lose the children.
“Good.” Nahik squeezed Simaatoban’s hands. “I will worry less then.” Nahik turned, returning to his own chamber.
“It’s time.” Nahik spoke slowly, pronouncing each word with purpose. “Sahar?” His chest felt so tight that it hurt. The Queen rose. He planted a last kiss on her full red lips. He had been dreading this day for weeks. “Are you ready?”
Sahar nodded, a lump rose in her throat, her insides quivered, she wasn’t ready to leave Nahik, yet her heart longed for the home she had left behind, for their son, and for her people.
“Come with us…” Sahar pleaded, tugging at the ends of his shirt sleeve, tripping over her slippers as she did so. “Nahik … please.” She lifted her gaze, eyes beseeching. “Come back to the Temple.” Capricorn has had it rebuilt, it is in the final stages of construction.
“Sahar, I have to … Darling, I can’t.” He opened the door to their chamber, stepping into the corridor. “You know I can’t.” Sahar followed him out. Trumpets sounded in the distance, calling the rebel army to assemble, accompanied by the dull, monotone cadence of drumming. Sahar’s heart dropped at the sound.
She stared out the window. Hundreds of soldiers marched into the unpaved streets. In another life they would be together. Things would be different, she thought. But right now, this was the way it had to be. He had his army to lead and she had hers, they were on opposite sides. This arrangement couldn’t have lasted, her and him living together, even if it was in secrecy. Even if their identities had been hidden by Miaka’s spell. She was the Queen of Atlantis, and she needed to step up and take responsibility for her people.
“Sahar, I’ve asked Simaatoban to stay with you. He will go to the temple, continue instructing the children.”
“Thank you.” Sahar forced a smile, glad for the gesture. “Arisnoe will be pleased,” she said, lowering her head. Having Simaatoban around would make the transition easier, she thought. But why did she feel she had to be so strong?
“Remember me … us.” Sahar clung to his neck, squeezing her eyes shut. Nahik felt her warm breath, her soft lips as she whispered into his ear. He sighed, taking in the scent of her.
“Of course.” Nahik looked back at her. He would never forget her. How could he? They entered the main hall together.
“Share this love you feel inside, Sahar.” Nahik tapped her chest with his fingers. “Share it with the world,” he whispered, “fight for them, for your people, and mine.” The back of his hand caressed her cheek. He had to be strong, it was for her own good. But his eyes betrayed him, both of them red. This was the hardest thing he had ever done.
“I will.” Sahar said the words, never taking her gaze off of him. “Krystalis will not fall, even if it is the last island standing,” she promised. Nahik leaned into her, stealing a last kiss.
Fighting back tears, Sahar made a weak attempt to return his kiss, lips trembling, shaking.
Simaatoban stood in the doorway of the sitting room across from them, waiting for the right moment to say his own goodbye. In his arms he held Triana. Arisnoe stood at his side.
“Why won’t he come?” Arisnoe asked, turning to the tutor. He was old enough to understand, but he still asked, because although his head could grasp the concept, his heart could not.
“Sometimes boy, we make sacrifices for the ones we love.”
“By leaving them?” Arisnoe’s eyes narrowed.
“If it means it will save their lives, yes,” Simaatoban answered.
“Doesn’t he want us anymore?” Arisnoe’s face twisted. He could not help but ask the question. Too many times he had found himself alone, abandoned by the ones he loved, and by Nahik once before, when he had found the orphan boy and brought him to Sahar.
“Of course he does,” Simaatoban said, giving the boy a stern look. “He wants you to be safe.”
“Then why doesn’t he come and protect us? He’s a soldier, that’s what he does.”
“He can’t, boy!” The old tutor said, growing impatient. “It isn’t safe here anymore.”
“Ik! Ik!” Triana screamed, “don’t go, please.” Although almost four, she still called him that; to her, he would always be Ik Ik. Triana gasped between sobs, kicking the tutor on his side. “Ik Ik! ” She could tell something was wrong.
“No.” Simaatoban squeezed her tighter.
“I want to go with Ik Ik!” Triana struggled to free herself from Simaatoban’s hold. “I don’t want you. I don’t want to stay with you.” She was furious, her little face was beet red.
Nahik turned to the child and smiled, then back to Sahar, taking her hand in his. “There will be other moments to share,” Nahik promised, he stroked Sahar’s hair, trying to ease her anxiety. He could feel her pain as deeply as if it were his own, the essence of her soul had been etched inside his heart. He could not help but understand. “We will create them.” He looked at her expectantly, squeezing her hand gently. “I love you,” Nahik said, then turned to the children. “All of you, I love all of you!”
Sahar took a hard swallow. “I love you too.” She managed in between sobs. She could no longer hold her tears at bay. Sahar shifted, staring at the ground. This decision had been hers. She would not, could not, back out. Atlantis needed her.
“Wait.” Arisnoe ran to the General, throwing his arms around him. Nahik held the boy for a long time. Tears fell down his cheeks and into the boy’s thick black hair. Arisnoe had come to the manor at nearly twelve; now, at sixteen, he was almost a man.
“Be good.” Nahik felt his neck stiffen as he lifted his head. Arisnoe nodded in response.
Simaatoban put Triana down after a long struggle. She was as determined and stubborn as the mistress. Triana ran to the General, wrapping herself around Nahik’s leg, wiping her tears on his pant legs. “Ik Ik,” she cried. “My Ik Ik.” she kissed his knee, it was as high as she could reach. “No go!” She lifted both arms into the air. She was as dramatic as they came.
Nahik picked her up, brushing her black curls away from her face, he smiled, kissing her little forehead. “I will miss you, little one.” He nipped at her tiny fingers, and she laughed, squealing. Her little face was round, dimpled when she laughed. She had soft ivory skin, and eyes as blue as the sky on a clear day. Nahik hugged her tight, not wanting to release her. He had come to love her as if she were his own.
“No go.” Triana stroked his cheek. “Ik Ik, play?” She handed him an old rag doll.
“Simaatoban,” Nahik grabbed his arm, “You’ll take care of them, won’t you?”
“Of course, sir.”
“Thank you.” Nahik embraced the tutor with his free arm. “May peace be with you, my friend.”
“And also with you,” Simaatoban responded, taking the child from his arms. Triana screamed, protesting.
Nahik walked out the door and down the path into the crooked street. The trumpets sounded louder, drawing ever closer. Sahar ran after him, heart pounding, aware she had lost the one thing that made her whole. The one thing she knew nothing could ever replace. She waved, calling out Nahik’s name, “Nahik!” The world was crumbling all around her, but she held her ground. In a matter of days she would be leading her own army, fighting her own battles, against him and his men. Arisnoe stood by his mother, watching as Nahik disappeared into the city, to join his troops. Sahar looked away. Crystals glimmered in the late morning sun as the city rose to a new day.