"You'll be going, so," she'd said to him that day long ago.
Half-grown, as he was then, he still towered over the old woman, his mother. Not so old, he supposed now, not so old in the terms he now understood. But he was young then. Everyone was old.
He could still see her, there in his mind's eye. Graying hair tied back from her face, severe. Some strands had fought free and flew in the wind streaming off the ocean. She'd looked him in the eye, her gaze unwavering.
"Everyone gone now, and I alone."
It wasn't a complaint. He knew that now, had known it even then. She'd buried her husband, his father. Buried the wife of a neighbor also. The neighbor himself had gone away. His house burned down.
"Mind yourself on the road as you go." His mother's last advice to him. "There are those who'd take advantage of a young man making his way in the world."
He'd not said anything, just turned his face to the morning sun and the road that rose before him. He stopped, later, on the crest of the hill east of the huddle of houses that passed for the nearby village. He could just make out her small figure, standing on the beach, face to the ocean waves.
Chanting. He couldn't hear. But he didn't need to.
He'd made his way in the world. There had been those who had tried to take advantage, as she'd warned him. But she'd gifted him with more than milk when she'd nursed him. And so they'd failed.
He was grown now, and successful. And so he'd now returned. The huddle of houses had grown and then diminished. Few in number had any light showing and those lights turned out abruptly as he passed.
His own home was without light. No surprise. He had been away for a long time. But now...now he had returned. It was time for a new generation.
He made his way down to the beach. The waters were gray and restless in the fitful moonlight. He faced the ocean, the salt stinging his skin.
Faintly, carried on the wind, he heard it. Chanting. He was silent, for a moment, for a time, remembering. Then he opened his mouth, adding his voice to the chorus.