The sun was high in the sky and the warm, salty seawater sluiced leisurely between my toes. Traeth was standing beside me, eyeing the sea with deep suspicion as it lapped gently at his feet. He leapt gingerly back at every lick, giggling nervously.
"So what is it that makes you so afraid of the sea?" I asked.
"Look at it!" he exclaimed. "It's so big!"
"Well, yes. It is big but the land is big too, and you're not frightened of that."
"But the land won't drown you."
"No, but it has this nasty thing called gravity that'll kill you if you fall off a high bit."
Traeth laughed. "Yes, but land is honest. You can see what lies at the bottom of its mountains and cliffs. The sea is deceitful. It looks so beautiful, like a sheet of glass sparkling in the sun. It looks solid and tangible, but beneath its surface, what manner of secrets does it hide? How deep does it go? How dark does it get? What creatures does it hide?"
"Nothing too sinister. My scans show fish, crustaceans and various large mammals for the most part; very similar to Terran sea life in fact."
"You scanned our seas?"
"Yes, of course I did. I wanted to know if your ingrained fears stemmed from something in your ancestral past. On Earth, we have lots of stories of sea monsters—kraken, giant squid and octopi, mermaids and sirens—most originating from some factual creature. If your ancestors were terrorised by such animals, it might explain that instinctive fear."
"Oh! I suppose that does make sense."
We stood for a while longer, watching the gentle sea undulate. Al and Rutter were messing about further down the beach, Rutter threatening to dunk Al. He had his arms about her waist and was swinging her around. She laughed, giggled and screamed but it was all in good fun. If she wanted to, Al could easily floor Rutter with a single blow.
"They get on very well," remark Traeth.
I laughed. "Yes they do. Now they do. They used to be sworn enemies, though." I laughed again. "Once upon a time, he was my sworn enemy, too."
Traeth sighed heavily. "Things change," he said. "People change."
"You mean me. Have I changed?"
"No. I didn't mean you; I meant me. Since my return to Dirria so many years ago, I just don't fit in any more. I'm a bit of an outcaste. Earth changed me. It made me ... different. I don't know how, but it's true. I know it, my family knows it, everybody knows it."
There wasn't anything I could say. His experiences were his alone. I hadn't been there to feel what he felt.
Traeth took a deep intake of breath and exhaled slowly. "And that's why I'm going to get into that bloody boat and we are going to sail over to that bloody island."