Chapter 45: Coming Home
I let out a sigh of relief as the outline of the massive castle, which had housed the ruling family of Estercrest for hundreds of years, came into the view of my looking glass. For years I had always heard people say; there was nothing better than coming home, but never really understood it. However, at this moment I believed that wholeheartedly. A layer of tranquility and hope surrounded me as I watched Mary Kathleen eat up the miles distancing us from the sandy shores of the great Estercrest Empire.
It had taken three nights and two days altogether for the skies to clear out and the storm to pass away, leaving a gentle breeze behind. The moment the storm broke, and the winds began to lose their intensity Jonathan and the ones who had accompanied him, to the market set, out for the docks. They had been more fortunate than me and the people left behind with me; some kind trader had allowed them to wait the storm away in the shelter of his shop. With everyone safely on board, we waited just long enough for the sea to calm down before pulling up the anchors and setting up the sails to catch all the wind.
Three days over two weeks later, after an uneventful journey through the calm seas, here I stood on the deck of the large vessel, watching intently my homeland draw nearer. The day was still in its early stages. Darkness had receded just an hour ago allowing few and faint rays of sunshine to scatter over the endlessness of the blue sea. With amber reflecting on the surface of sea, leaving beauty in every sight that one laid eyes on, no one could say these very water body could attain the height of cruelty and drain thousands of lives.
Eyes closed, face tilted heavenwards, basking in the gentle warmth left on my skin by the sun rays, I was enjoying the peace prevailing over the world around me, when a giant wave of dark reality came crashing over me. Sounds of large rocks and boulders hitting the ground with great force, multiple arrows swimming through the thin air in search of their victims, and people voicing their agony, frustration, and exhaustion became clear as the land neared. The thin film of mist floating over the surface of water made it harder to catch the sight ahead than the sounds. The noises that were now crystal clear informed us without any doubt of a bloody war wedged ahead.
Feeling of dread settled into the pit of my stomach, as I tried to judge the situation, which I was to face once on land, with the aid of the sounds reaching my ears. I signaled the men to tie the sails and slow the rowing process down. Holding the looking glass close to my eye, I scanned the surroundings. Hundreds of large and small ships bearing the flag of the infamous Alonzo Gritti were bordering every inch of the shore that allowed entry to Estercrest. I took it as a good sign and allowed hope to take root in my heart.
On my order Mary Kathleen was brought to a stop at some distance from the other ships, and the anchors were made to fall. Victoria and its crew followed our lead and dropped the anchors at a safe distance from the shore.
Just as everyone else, I quickly got armed. A sheathed sword dangled from the leather belt fastened on my waist while a fully stocked quiver rested against my back and a bow against the skin wrapping my torso. I strapped a dagger on my ankle on the inside of the boot, concealing it from the general view.
With three men along, I embarked the small row boat that was lifted off the deck and gently dropped into the sea. With silence as our fifth companion we rowed towards the shore, careful about not being viewed by anyone.
I did not wait for the boat to be tied and brought to stability, and jumped onto the wet sand. Removing the sword from it I left the sheath hanging from it. Sword in hand, I moved further inland. The scenario that met my eyes was embodiment of pure chaos and destruction. A constant buzz had settled over the land. Men armed from head to toe were busying themselves with the task of slitting throats of fellow humans. Blood ran freely on to the ground, as the sand tried to absorb it. Amputated limbs and body parts, especially bloodied heads littered the ground.
My feet collided with what must have been a living human at one time, but now was a mess of gutted out organs. Intestines and stomach were pouring out of his cut open skin. The foul stench arising from the mutilated body made my stomach recoil and I could not help but empty its contents. I scurried to a relatively clean and quite piece of land, and inhaled deeply, trying to gather my bearings. When I was certain that my stomach had settled, I straightened up and set out into the war zone, determination dancing in every inch of my bones.