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Child of the Dawn : Ancient Tahiti Book Three
From Jean M. Auel's THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR to Linda Lay Shuler's SHE WHO REMEMBERS, novels set among pre-historic cultures have shown a very strong appeal to readers of all types from fans of genre fantasy to historical to romance. E-Reads is pleased to offer a three-volume series--An Epic of Ancient Tahiti. In the first volume, DAUGHTER OF THE REEF, Tepua, the daughter of an atoll chief is stranded in an unknown island called Tahiti. Despite adversity and peril, she has made a life and found passion. In the second volume, SISTER OF THE SUN, she returns to her home atoll to find trouble brewing. She faces challenges both brutal and overwhelming as a band of foreigners ruins the mystical beauty of her island and unleashes the savagery at the heart of her homeland. In the third volume, CHILD OF THE DAWN, Tepua returns to her heart's home, Tahiti, only to discover that a stranger has come, overthrowing traditions and deposing the high chief. All who would oppose him have been driven away or killed and war has found a home in Tahiti. Tepua, though, is carrying the seed of a new beginning, a child she has been forbidden to bear--and she will do whatever she must to protect the child and the future of her people. Follows DAUGHTER OF THE REEF and SISTER OF THE SUN in An Epic of Ancient Tahiti series.
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October 31, 2010
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Excerpt from Child of the Dawn by Clare Coleman
Under a clouded sky, a two-hulled voyaging canoe approached its island destination. As the sailing craft neared landfall, cries rang out from everyone aboard--praises to the canoe-master for his skill, to the gods for providing safe passage. Along the shore ahead, black sand beaches spread beneath stands of coconut palm. Inland, mountain slopes rose steeply, vanishing into mist.
A shaft of sunlight broke through the overcast, tinting the feathery clouds that topped the peaks. At last the travelers understood the name of this fabled island--Great-Tahiti-of-the-golden-haze. A robe of green in an infinity of depths and shades covered her flanks. Her colors were strange to the newcomers--mist-softened, lush, yet in places so fierce that it hurt the eyes to gaze too long.
The double-hulled canoe, the pahi, had come from the swarm of coral islands far to the east. Its hulls were pieced together from small wooden sections sewn with tough cord twisted from coconut-husk fiber. A platform of lashed planks for carrying passengers and cargo bridged the hulls. The two mat sails were plaited from strips of pandanus leaf.
Most of the men aboard--warriors, craftsmen, paddlers--had never seen the soaring peaks of a high island. Tugging at their sparse beards, or fingering the sturdy fiber of their loincloths, they spoke to each other with awe.
One of the female passengers, however, knew Tahiti well. Tepua-mua, a highborn woman of the atolls, gave a soft sigh. She remembered how long it had taken her to get used to this new country--the valleys that cut so deeply into the hillsides, the still, moisture-laden air that seemed heavy to someone from the windswept coral islands.
Now Tepua was returning to her adopted land after an extended stay with her family. Accompanying her was her cousin Maukiri, a sturdy atoll girl with a plump face and a fondness for mischief. Maukiri was stockier than Tepua, pleasant in appearance but not striking. Her youthful buoyancy and spirit more than made up for any lack of physical charms. Tepua, on the other hand, had a wild atoll beauty that suggested her ancestors' struggles against wind and sea.
Dressed in a skirt and cape of finely plaited pandanus leaf, Tepua stood as tall as many men. Though she had the figure of full womanhood, her training as a dancer had kept her as slender and supple as an atoll palm. Lustrous black hair with tints of blue tumbled down her back. Her skin was a luminous bronze, clear and smooth. She had a high forehead, an oval face with wide cheekbones, and a square jawline that came to a point at the chin. Her eyes were large, almond-shaped, and fringed with black lashes.
Tepua and Maukiri watched eagerly as the canoe approached the frothing line of surf, where the Sea of the Moon beat against the submerged barrier reef. Plumes of sea-foam spewed into the air, raining down as fine spray that wet their skin, salted their lips.
A gap in the arc of white surf marked the pass, where ocean swells rolled through into the lagoon. The canoe-master shouted orders as the double-hull approached. Tepua and her fellow passengers clutched anything they could hold on to as the pahi rose on the back of a long wave. For an instant it held there, the twin bows surging upward like two birds about to fly. Then the bows dropped as the wave gave the pahi a tremendous push that sent it hurtling through the pass.
Tepua leaned to one side as the double-hull turned in response to the helmsman's powerful pull on the steering oar. Veering out of the wave just as it started to break, the pahi emerged into the glassy turquoise of the lagoon.
The crew took down mast and sails and began to paddle. Soon a stray land breeze enveloped the canoe with the island's warm breath. It was rich with fruit and floral aromas, laden with moist perfume.
Tepua's thoughts turned to Matopahu, a nobleman of Tahiti who had once meant much to her. His house in the high chief's compound lay just ahead; she hoped she would find him nearby. How she longed to be ashore!
Yet something out there was amiss. Among the delightful aromas, she sensed a discordant note. The harsh tang of burning wood could not be hidden by anything else. Cooking fires? Had she forgotten how much smoke the many pit ovens of Tahiti produced?
Curious, Tepua searched for an explanation. She saw many canoes drawn up on the beach, and none in the water. Surely some great occasion must be keeping everyone ashore. In the distance, above the coconut palms, smoke rose in a dark plume.
Maukiri turned, sniffing the breeze. "Someone is cooking a big feast. I hope they invite us to share it!"
Tepua eyed the smoke. Something about it seemed menacing, although she didn't know why. As the canoe drew closer to the source of the fire, she began pointing out details along the shore to her cousin.
"That mountain is sacred to the high chief," she said. "And over there is his point of land--a place you must never go." Far ahead, where the shoreline jutted out, stood a majestic grove of Tahitian chestnut. In the deep shade lay the high chief's sacred courtyard, his marae, the site of rituals forbidden to women.
The view brought memories that made Tepua shiver. The marae was a somber and terrifying place. In its shadows, the gods alighted in the form of birds, eating the carcasses laid on the offering platforms, sacrifices of pigs, dogs, and--when the gods demanded--men.
Putting those thoughts aside, she gestured at the pleasant scenes before her, clusters of thatched roofs shaded by coconut palms or breadfruit trees. "All the people of our atoll could live in one district of Tahiti," she said as Maukiri's eyes grew round. Tepua, too, had once been astonished at the sight of so many dwellings.
Just beyond the houses, the coastal plain ended and foothills began. Some dwellings were perched on the lower slopes, others at the mouths of narrow valleys that slashed like adze-cuts into the foothills, extending as far inland as the eye could see.
Though a rush of joy came over Tepua at the sight, she could not forget that she was giving up much to return to Tahiti. At home, by virtue of her birth as well as her service to her people, she was the foremost woman of the island. Here in Tahiti she would be treated with far less respect. She was returning to her life as a dancer in one of the lower ranks of the Arioi Society. Long ago she had pledged herself to serve their patron god, Oro-of-the-laid-down-spear.
While Maukiri gaped at the sights around her, Tepua went aft to where a bamboo cage was lashed to the deck. Inside sat a beautiful white dog with gentle eyes, upright ears, and a plumed tail. Her name was Te Kurevareva, Atoll Cuckoo. Tepua gave the dog fresh water in a coconut shell. She put her hand through a gap and stroked the animal. The plumed tail wagged against the bamboo canes, and a wet nose poked out to nuzzle Tepua's face. She had brought this rare and valuable animal as a gift to the Arioi chiefs, though now she did not want to give the dog up.
Maukiri crouched beside Tepua. "Stop playing with your dog and tell me where we are going," said her cousin in an exasperated voice.
"You will see soon enough," said Tepua, straightening up. She wanted to leave a few surprises for her cousin. What would Maukiri say when she discovered such common Tahitian sights as rivers of fresh water flowing to the sea? At home, fresh water was found only in cisterns and a few brackish pools. What would Maukiri think of bananas, breadfruit, and a host of other foods she had never tasted?
"Then tell me about the people we will visit first," begged Maukiri, her brown eyes alight with anticipation.
"I have many friends," Tepua answered. She did not know where she would find a place for Maukiri, but the question did not bother her now. Tahitians welcomed guests, especially if they had good tales to tell. Some prominent family would take Maukiri in.
Eventually the two cousins would have to separate. Tepua would live with the performers and dancers of her Arioi lodge. Maukiri would have to find other accommodations. "I will make arrangements for you," Tepua promised.
The younger girl turned, sniffing the breeze. "I'm not worried, cousin. Your friends must know how hungry we are. Smell the food!"
Again Tepua eyed the ashy haze that hung over the trees. Could all that have come from cooking?
"Feasting! Dancing!" Maukiri crowed. "What a good day to arrive."
The canoe made its way along the coast. Now the source of the smoke was much closer. Gray billows boiled into the sky with such violence that Tepua felt an upsurge of alarm.
"That is no cooking fire!"
Her cry drew the gaze of everyone on the pahi. The men began to shout and gesture.
Tepua shaded her eyes, squinting hard at the shore. In the shadows of the palm groves she saw figures scurrying. An orange ribbon of flame shot above the treetops.
"Aue! Something tall is burning." She clenched her fists as the realization swept over her. The only large structure in this area was the great high-roofed theater where the Arioi acted and danced. "Aue, aue!" she cried, her voice breaking.
The commotion grew aboard the pahi. The paddlers lost their rhythm, and the twin bows swung off course. "Head for shore!" Tepua shouted at the canoe-master.
She turned as a tall, tattooed atoll warrior left his place and came to her. This man was the captain of her escort guard, charged with bringing her safely to Tahiti.
"There may be trouble here," he warned. He stood beside her, arms folded, eyes narrowed.
"Maybe someone was careless with a torch." Tepua knew, even before the warrior scowled, that her suggestion was foolish. Who would use a torch in daylight? And cooking was done far from the performance house. No spark from the pit ovens could have set off this blaze.
"We will see," said the escort captain. He was the best warrior her brother could spare to accompany her. Though slender, he was powerful, and he had five good men with him. Yet none of them had ever traveled this far from home. None knew the ways of high islanders.
Tepua heard screams from shore as more people, men as well as women, fled the fire. They wore wreaths of flowers and festive dress, but their celebration had been interrupted. As the people ran, their flower-crowns fell off and were trampled. Broken palm fronds and blossoms scattered to the breeze.
Maukiri began to moan softly. Tepua held her cousin's hand, but the words of reassurance she tried to say died on her tongue. The white dog whined from inside her cage.
Tepua felt Maukiri start to shiver. "It is a bad omen. The gods must be angry," the girl wailed.
"Men have done this, not gods," Tepua answered firmly. She studied the growing turmoil on the beach. What had happened? Invasion? War? "You stay here," she said in a low voice. "I will see what the trouble is."
"Hold in the shallows," she heard the warrior captain order the paddlers. Still a good way from shore, he clutched a long double-ended spear, leaped out of the pahi, and splashed ashore. Tepua took a spear from another warrior and jumped down into water that rose to her thighs. The men of her escort guard followed.
When she caught up with her captain, he tried to dissuade her, saying that he would investigate the trouble. Tepua refused his offer, but allowed him and two of his men to follow as she plunged into the trees toward the site of the fire.
Then she saw people wearing distinctive garlands of yellow mountain plantain, sweet-scented ginger, or the sacred red-and-purple ti plant. Their tattoos were familiar, for she bore some of the same. These people were her fellow Arioi, members of Wind-driving Lodge.
With a shock, she realized that the Arioi had been in the midst of performing, their faces smeared with red sap and their bodies blackened with charcoal. Some were hampered by oversized loincloths and other ridiculous costumes used in satires. Her jaw tightened with rage even as her mind reeled with disbelief. What evil had interrupted the devotees of Oro in their celebration?
She looked for people she knew but could not recognize anyone under the face paint and costumes. "What is happening?" she called. The fleeing performers were too panic-stricken to stop or answer.
She heard the harsh crackling of burning thatch. The smoke caught in her throat and made her gag. Then she was close enough to see the performance house ablaze, its high roof completely enveloped in flame. She groaned aloud in anguish. This was where the god Oro had inspired her, making her dance with such a frenzy that the Arioi asked her to join them. And now this great work of polished wood pillars and pandanus thatch was doomed!
As Tepua fought her way through the rolling clouds of smoke, worry for her fellow Arioi performers filled her thoughts. Where was her friend, Curling-leaf? And Aitofa, the chief of the women's lodge?
At last Tepua emerged from the drifting haze and could see the scene clearly. Now she understood why no one had tried to put out the fire at its start. Warriors bearing unfamiliar tattoos stood about the site, brandishing clubs and shark-toothed swords, threatening anyone who dared come close. No onlookers braved these fierce sentries. She saw Arioi and common folk watching with horror from the shadows.
"Tepua! Tepua! Is it really you?" The cry made her spin around. There stood another painted figure, as difficult to recognize as the others. She knew the voice. Curling-leaf!
Before the escort captain could prevent her, Tepua rushed into her friend's arms. "I am back. Oh, it has been so long!" Curling-leaf's embrace was strong, but Tepua felt the young Arioi woman quivering with rage and fright. "Who did this?" Tepua asked, searching her friend's eyes. "Who are those warriors? Why don't you have any weapons?"
Her own three guards clustered close about her, but she waved them aside. What could this handful do against so many others?
She turned back to Curling-leaf. 'Tell me what happened."
"There is no time!" wailed her friend. "Everything has changed since you left. The high chief was cast down."
Cast down! Tepua stared at her friend, unable to make sense of the words. When she left Tahiti, Knotted-cord had been high chief over this district and several others. She remembered him as petty and irascible, but not arrogant enough to overreach himself. The only threat to his rule had been the popularity of his brother, Matopahu.
His brother! She closed her eyes, remembering Matopahu's ambitions as well as what he had meant to her. Had Knotted-cord been pushed aside in favor of his reckless sibling? She forced herself to ask.
"No." Curling-leaf's answer made Tepua heave a relieved sigh, but the next words gave her a chill. "The chief's brother had to flee."
"But Matopahu was not hurt. He is alive, isn't he?" She clutched at her friend's arm, demanding an answer. It was for Matopahu as well as the Arioi that she had returned to Tahiti.
Curling-leaf looked regretful. "He is, but that's all I know. Someone told me he has gone to live in Eimeo."
"Praise the gods, he is alive." Tepua's pulse began slowing and she felt steadier on her feet. "But who is the new chief, and why this outrage?"
Her friend glanced apprehensively at the line of guards around the burning performance house. They were starting to notice the two women. Curling-leaf headed in the opposite direction, tugging Tepua after her. "We can't stay. The new chief wants to destroy us." As Curling-leaf spoke, several other Arioi women emerged from the smoke, their garlands and costumes in disarray, flowers falling from their tangled hair. They rallied around Tepua.
"Go to my pahi," Tepua told them. "Straight through the trees and down the beach." She ordered one of her warriors to see that they got aboard safely. Ignoring the escort captain's pleas that she go with the departing women, Tepua plunged ahead with Curling-leaf and began to search for others who needed help.
She felt Curling-leaf take her hand, and this time the grip was firm and steady. The spirit had come back into Curling-leaf's eyes. Now she looked more like an Arioi, despite her shredded garlands and the soot smudges over the red sap on her face.
"The others are hiding," Curling-leaf said. "We have to find them." She beckoned Tepua through a grove of breadfruit trees. Overhead, waxy leaves of deep green hue spread a thick canopy.
"Arioi? Hiding? Why aren't any of them fighting?"
"With what?" Curling-leaf answered angrily. "Our weapons are gone! While the whole troupe was performing, the creature who calls himself high chief had them stolen."
"Who is this man?"
"He was a minor chief. After you left, he led a rebellion against Knotted-cord. Now he takes the name of Land-crab and rules as high chief."
Tepua, bewildered, followed her friend across the leaf-carpeted grove. It surprised her that an unexpected rival had risen against the former high chief. And this Land-crab had done something far worse, something unheard of. Arioi were under the protection of their patron god and immune from attack, even during outbreaks of war. A covenant of peace reigned at all Arioi performances; this was a tradition that the most exalted chief had never violated. Until now.
'The usurper chose a good name," said Curling-leaf bitterly. "He sits on us like a fat crab on a heap of coconuts, and tears us apart with his claws."
Well, this Land-crab would see what it was to anger Oro, Tepua thought, clenching her fists.
"Look! More of our friends," cried Curling-leaf. Tepua gathered another group of Arioi refugees and sent them to her pahi. She and Curling-leaf continued searching, finally reaching the smaller thatched houses of the Arioi women's compound. The neatly swept yards surrounding them were empty. Not even a stray chicken appeared in the shadows beneath the breadfruit trees.
Tepua saw daylight glimmering through the latticework walls of the houses. Clutching the spear in her damp fist, she approached the one house where she thought she heard rustling. "Who is in there?" she demanded, but got no answer.
She edged closer, toward the hanging mat that half-covered the doorway. Again she spoke a challenge, and this time heard another sound, a scraping. Or was it weeping?
With her spear-tip, she thrust aside the mat and looked inside. A lithe female figure wearing a red-dyed sash sprang to meet her. The woman had an eel-jawed knife clenched in one fist. Her unpainted face was twisted in rage. Tepua knew the features and lowered her spear even as the other checked her attack.
"Aitofa!" Tepua cried as she realized that she had burst in on the chief woman of her Arioi lodge. Then she saw the bright smear of blood on Aitofa's arm and the clumsy, loose bandage that she had been trying to tie around the wound with one hand.
Tepua threw down her weapon and ran to help Aitofa. The lodge leader looked as hard and stern as ever, but there was a certain weary despair in her eyes. She was a slender woman, heavily tattooed, her legs entirely black from ankle to thigh.
"You returned at an evil time," said Aitofa while Tepua retied the bark-cloth bandage. "We had no chance against Land-crab's treachery."
"But why did he do this? I have never heard of such--"
"We mocked him in our performance."
"That is our privilege!" Tepua was outraged. It was the right and even the duty of the Arioi to restrain chiefs by use of satire.
"He either does not understand that or chooses to ignore it," said Aitofa, with a return of her usual acerbic tone.
"Did we insult him?"
"We poked fun at his greed for power, but we have been harder on other chiefs."
"Then he had no right to steal our spears and burn our playhouse."
"Well, he didn't see it that way. When he learned what we were planning to present, he called us disloyal. We put the play on anyway, and this"--Aitofa opened her hands, palms up--"is the result."
"What can we do now? Who will help us?"
"As of yet, I do not know." Acting as if she had forgotten her wound, Aitofa picked up a short club and headed for the door.
"I have a large pahi," Tepua offered, quickly explaining how she had been gathering other Arioi and sending them to safety. "I can take a few more passengers."
"Good. We can use your help. The water today is too rough for smaller craft."
"But where are we going?"
Outside, Aitofa pointed between the trees toward the glimmer of gray water. "North along the coast--to Matavai Bay," she said. "If our friends there haven't deserted us, we will be safe."
When Tepua returned to the beach, she found a crowd of disheveled Arioi, mostly women, waiting for her. They were all trained warriors as well as performers, but without weapons they could not stand up to Land-crab's forces. Still wearing their paint and the remains of their costumes, they stood in groups, talking grimly.
Tepua's warriors, some arguing among themselves, watched from the pahi or the shallows. "You cannot take everyone," cried Curling-leaf when she saw the size of the crowd waiting to board.
Tepua looked at the deck that bridged the hulls of her double canoe. The thatched cabin, the dog's cage, the water bottles and supplies took up needed passenger space. She waded out to the canoe-master. He was a veteran of many journeys, with a bush of wiry hair that held a shock of gray. "We must take these people to Matavai Bay," she told him. "Remove the shelter and make as much room as you can."
"What about my other passengers?" asked the canoe-master. He opened his hand at the group of artisans who had left home at the request of a chief of Porapora. After delivering Tepua to Tahiti, the pahi was to take the craftsmen to Porapora and wait there while they finished the chief's work. Then the men would sail home, taking in trade for their services a wealth of Poraporan goods.
Tepua answered, 'The others can stay here until you return for them."
The canoe-master and the artisans glowered at her, but she ignored their reactions.
"You are in no danger," she said to the craftsmen. "If the chief here challenges you, offer to build him something. Maybe he needs an altar for one of his sacred canoes."
She glanced at distant whitecaps as she felt the harsh wind blow against her cheek. To reach Matavai, the pahi would have to go out through the reef, sail the rough Sea of the Moon, and come in through another pass before darkness fell.
The canoe-master seemed aware of the need for haste; he gave sharp orders. Quickly the crew dismantled the deck cabin and carried it ashore. Tepua watched as they carefully unloaded Te Kurevareva's cage and set it beneath a palm tree.
Atoll Cuckoo had a gentle and patient nature, making it easy to grow fond of her. Tepua originally had intended to offer the precious white dog, possibly the only one of its kind in Tahiti, as a gift to the Arioi leaders. During the journey, she had found it increasingly difficult to think about parting with Te Kurevareva. Now the troubles here had completely upset her plans.
She couldn't worry about the white dog now. Her Arioi friends needed her help. "I will be back for you," Tepua said, scratching Atoll Cuckoo behind the ears and accepting a lick on her hand. Then she went to see how many women could be crowded onto the deck of the pahi.
'Tepua, this is foolhardy," said the warrior captain, who had brought his men up behind her. "I have a duty to your brother to keep you safe. You owe nothing to these Tahitian players. Come with us now to Porapora. We will bring you back here when the trouble is over."
Tepua took a deep breath and stared into his dark eyes. 'These Tahitians are now my people. I cannot dessert them."
He gestured toward his warriors. "Then we must escort you to Matavai Bay."
"There is no room!"
The captain stared back with equal resolution. His men did not move from her path.
"If you insist on protecting me," Tepua answered, "then I will stay here, with the craftsmen, while my Arioi friends go to safety. Let me give the orders."
At last, the warriors let her pass. She found Maukiri standing to one side, trembling. Tepua tried to comfort her. "Don't send me away," Maukiri insisted. "I can help you here. I can look after Te Kurevareva."
"Then take her out of her cage and hide her somewhere," said Tepua. Maukiri seemed glad to have something to do. She went off to fill a coconut shell with fresh water for the dog.
In a short while, all the costumed Arioi managed to crowd onto Tepua's vessel. At her insistence, Curling-leaf joined them. Aitofa had not returned, but Tepua could wait no longer. She told the canoe-master to depart.
The warriors and craftsmen, with their equipment and supplies, remained behind on the beach. A crosswind was blowing, making the canoe-master's task even more difficult. Tepua watched nervously as the sails were raised and the laden craft set out.
The lagoon was choppy, the sea beyond, heaving and gray, but the sturdy pahi had faced far worse. Tepua stood watching its departure as the sails grew smaller, rising and falling on distant swells. Gusts of wind tore at her hair and stung her face.
"Who are these invaders?" came a challenging voice from behind. She whirled, seeing that her guards had already brought up their spears. A turbaned Tahitian warrior was approaching at the head of his own group of men. Land-crab's guards had finally discovered their visitors!
Tepua strode forward, wishing she could find a single familiar face among the high chief's warriors. The leader of the canoe-builders began to speak, though the softer dialect of Tahiti sounded awkward on his tongue. He proudly proclaimed his coral island origin and the skills of his men.
The high chief's captain looked at him skeptically, then barked an order that sent a messenger running along the beach. The captain glanced at the armed visitors. "Savages," he muttered to the man beside him. "Atoll dwellers." Then, in a loud voice, he demanded, "Show us the rest of your weapons."
The master canoe-builder pointed to the heap of adzes, tools with wooden hafts and heads of shaped black stone or shell. "We cut wood, not men," he answered.
"A sharp answer!" replied the warrior, laughing at his own wit. Then he waited silently for his messenger to return from the compound of the high chief, which lay above the beach near his sacred point of land. Tepua saw a runner coming from that direction, and then another. Even from this distance, she could hear the resonant note of the conch-trumpet being blown.
The warning cry of a herald rose over the fading echoes of the conch. "The high chief comes! From his home in the sky, he flies like the sea eagle to challenge the invaders. The high chief comes!"
A crowd of turbaned warriors ran out from the compound, lined themselves on either side of the high chief's path, and held up their spears. Land-crab came, riding the shoulders of his bearer, his appearance regal, his gaze fixed straight ahead. Tepua waited with curiosity as well as distaste for her first close look at the usurper.
The Tahitians who were wearing cloaks and wraps loosened their garments and bared their bodies to the waist. Seeing this unusual gesture of respect for the arriving chief, Tepua reluctantly removed her own cape. She watched the lead warrior hurry to meet Land-crab, then turn to walk beside his bearer.
Land-crab was a sizable man, Tepua saw; unlike many chiefs, he was not grossly huge. Beneath his painted cape of fine bark-cloth she saw hints of a warrior's body--broad in the chest and amply muscled. To compare him with a sea eagle seemed appropriate, for his nose was a great beak curving down his face, and his eyes were large and glossy.
Tepua bit her lip in fury as she saw the usurper approach in all his undeserved grandeur. His expression was cold as he gazed down from the neck of his sweating bearer. In one hand he carried a fly-flap, a tuft of feathers attached to a long wooden handle that bore a scowling carved figure. "So you are canoe-builders?" he said to the men who faced him. "I have my own. And strangers on my shore can only bring trouble. How did you get here?"
"By pahi," said the master craftsman humbly. "But we have lent the boat to someone who needed it. Noble chief, we ask only your permission to stay here for the night. In the morning, before you wake, we will be gone."
"Gone where? To build canoes for my enemies?" He shook the fly-flap impatiently.
'To Porapora," the craftsman answered.
Land-crab tossed his head. 'Then your work is not likely to trouble me. Even so, I have little reason to grant your request. You land without permission.... You invade my shores.... Why not feed you to the sharks?"
There was a sudden commotion to the side. Tepua heard Maukiri shouting and then saw two warriors dragging her, a third leading an unwilling Te Kurevareva by a tether about the neck. A soft cry spilled from Tepua's lips. Maukiri had tried to hide the animal under the trees....
"What is this?" asked Land-crab, his face suddenly alive with interest. Tepua stifled a groan. With a single glance, Land-crab had grasped the significance of Te Kurevareva. "What is this animal doing here?"
She did not want to give up Atoll Cuckoo, and surely did not want the usurper to have her. But how could she avoid it when everyone stood in danger? Land-crab would have what he wished in any case. Yet she had to force out the words. "This fine dog is a gift for the high chief," she called loudly. "We offer you this as our token of respect."
Murmurs of astonishment spread through die crowd of warriors, but Land-crab did not answer at once. Everyone knew how precious were the long white hairs of this animal, used to fringe fine garments for chiefs and priests. The dog would be a prized possession to a man like Land-crab.
Tepua imagined what was running through his thoughts. Now that she had announced the gift, accepting it would put him under an obligation. If he did not respond with generosity, then he would be scorned as the stingiest chief in all of Tahiti. But hospitality to atoll dwellers would do nothing for his reputation.
At last, Land-crab replied, "I accept your gift with pleasure. I did not realize that such distinguished visitors as yourselves had arrived on my shore. Please forgive the poor manners of my men. I will leave them to sleep out under the weather while you fine people have food, entertainment, and comfortable mats under a roof. Come. All of you. Today you are guests of the mighty Land-crab."
Tepua walked with Maukiri as they followed the men along the beach. Streaks of tears ran down Maukiri's face.
"Do not fret, cousin," Tepua whispered. "He will not harm Atoll Cuckoo. She is too valuable."
"I ... do not trust ... this Land-crab."
"He has taken our gift, so he is obliged to treat us well," Tepua answered with an angry toss of her head. With disgust, she added, "Even though he is my enemy, I must pretend to be pleased by his hospitality." She paused, crouched, and ripped up a length of beach vine. "Help me cover my Arioi tattoos," she added. "The new people here do not know me. Let them think I am just a canoe-builder's woman."
As the two walked, they plaited simple garlands. Maukiri helped Tepua drape one around each ankle, to hide the tattoos that marked her rank of Seasoned-bamboo. They made wreaths for their hair as well, trying to maintain the appearance of a festive mood.
"Everything here is so strange to me, even the plants," Maukiri said as they entered a wooded path, where stands of ti raised spear-shaped leaves splashed with violet and veined in yellow. Whorls of periwinkle flowers, as white as coconut cream, with crimson centers, blossomed from glossy foliage. Tepua recalled her own first impressions of Tahiti, how she had been overwhelmed by the profusion of new flowers and scents. But today her thoughts did not linger on these pleasures. She kept wondering what Matopahu was doing, and how she would find him.
As they reached the fence of bamboo canes that surrounded the high chief's compound, Tepua once again found herself searching in vain for familiar faces. The sentries she had known were gone. The ones who stood now, spears firmly in hand, eyed her with disdain. And there were so many! In the past, the posting of guards had been a formality. No one would have dared intrude on the high chief's compound.
Once inside the gate, she did not see a single servant that she recognized. Apparently Land-crab had made a clean sweep, replacing Knotted-cord's people with his own. Tepua had to bear the icy gaze of the female attendant who met her and Maukiri, then escorted them to a small guest house for women.
The compound of the high chief, with its thatched houses and shady breadfruit trees, had changed little since Tepua had last seen it. Yet life here was not the same. No longer did children of the court attendants run freely about the yard. The flock of roaming chickens was gone; the pigs were confined to one corner by a small pen.
When Tepua reached her quarters, she found them shabby, the roof thatch rotting, the floor mats worn and ragged.
"What are we going to do?" Maukiri asked with a sigh.
"Learn everything we can about this troublemaker," said Tepua. "But first there is something more important. We have neglected the gods who watched over our journey. Come. There's a shrine nearby where women bring offerings. Then we will wash and make ourselves presentable."
A crier called the guests together for the start of Land-crab's welcoming ceremony. Warily, Tepua and Maukiri joined the others, taking seats on mats that surrounded a bare, open space in the compound. Land-crab sat on his high stool, flanked by attendants. One man held up the huge, carved staff of office. Two more stood by with long feather-tipped sticks, making certain that no flies disturbed their chief.
Land-crab's best dancers and performers, his Arioi, had fled. Tepua wondered how he planned to present an entertainment. She watched two young drummers come forward, their faces damp with sweat. These boys were so nervous that they almost dropped the drums they were carrying.
The pair took their positions, one with a round skin-head drum, the other with a drum of the hollow slit-log variety called toere. When they began to pound out a rhythm, three dancers crept into the clearing.
Tepua almost laughed at the absurdity of the scene. The dancers were young girls, beginners, who kept glancing at each other for cues. Only the one in the center seemed to know the order of the steps. As they labored through their performance Tepua remembered Small-foot, her dancing pupil of long ago. With proper teaching, she thought, these girls would someday be worth watching. Now they were merely an embarrassment to their host.
As soon as they were done, the girls ran from the circle and out through the compound gate. Tepua wondered if Land-crab would punish them for their poor showing. She sighed and waited as another group of dancers, warriors from the high chief's compound, came forward.
At last Land-crab seemed to tire of the entertainment. His bearer lifted him, and he advanced toward his guests. The harsh, beaked face looked down impassively as his orator, standing at his side, began to speak.
The heavyset orator began with effusive praises, lauding his chief as if the man were a god. He went on to inform the guests of their immense good fortune. "You, who sit with us today, will have tales to tell your grandchildren. Think of their looks of amazement when you speak of the great man whose company you shared." The orator went on, enlarging on the exploits of Land-crab, until it seemed that he had conquered all of Tahiti.
Then the chief's bearer carried him a step forward, and Land-crab himself began to speak. "Here is what you must know of the one who rules this land," the chief said. "I am the strong north wind that flattens the grass. I am the wave that washes over the beach. The god of war is the one I serve, not the god of peace.
"Each season my power and my territory increase. Soon, even you of the distant atolls will bring me tribute...."
Later, after the boastful speech was done, Tepua and Maukiri sat waiting for the meal to begin. In her anger at her host, Tepua wished that she could refuse his hospitality. Yet she dared not bring attention to herself. What if he realized that she was an Arioi?
During the entertainment, Tepua had occasionally glanced in the direction of the high chief's cookhouses, where large pit ovens lay under roofs of thatch. She had seen few servants coming and going, and little evidence of preparations. Now she began to wonder how Land-crab would deliver the promised feast.
Suddenly a parade of servants appeared bearing baskets of steaming food. Most of these bearers headed for the large party of men, a few coming to Tepua and Maukiri and the women of the chief's household. Tepua watched her cousin's look of astonishment as the portions were handed out. Here were foods that Maukiri had never tasted--breadfruit, wild plantains, freshwater fish--all flavored by the exotic leaves used to wrap them for baking.
Tepua did not stop to introduce these delicacies to Maukiri. Despite all that had happened she was hungry, especially after so many days of scanty rations while traveling. To her delight she found that the plantain was rich and smoky, of the ruddy mountain variety called fe'i. The breadfruit--so pleasant to the tooth--was perfectly baked. How had Land-crab managed, with so little apparent effort, to produce such a magnificent meal?
Tepua paused to look around. Following custom, the guests sat slightly apart from each other, men and women in separate parties. Each had his or her own place setting on a banana leaf, with cups of salt water and coconut sauce for dipping, fresh water for washing the fingers. Land-crab sat in a high place of honor, his four-legged stool elevating him above everyone else. Two servants knelt beside him, each feeding him in turn from a polished bowl. A man who claimed that his touch was sacred, Tepua noted sourly, did not feed himself--lest his hands overburden his stomach with mana.
She glanced at the other travelers from her atoll and saw beaming faces as they dipped into a meal far better than any chief at home could command. Her gaze turned to the servers, and she followed their path back to the gate....
The food had been prepared elsewhere, she realized. But where? Suddenly the morsel in her mouth grew as cold as a river stone.
The Arioi feast! Of course! The big ovens near the performance house had been baking a meal for the players. Now the performers were gone, scattered by Land-crab's treachery. And this was their stolen meal.
Tepua's throat tightened and she had to force herself to swallow. She looked at the rest of her portion and found that her appetite had fled. The others guests did not care. What did it mean to them that Land-crab had defied the peace of Oro, destroying the work of the god's servants?
Suddenly Tepua stood up. "Stay here," she managed to whisper to Maukiri. "Say that I'm unwell, if anyone asks." Then she ran out of the compound, to the shore, and along the stretch of gritty beach until she was alone.
"I will avenge this wrong," she shouted across the water, hoping that somehow Oro would hear her. "We will come back--all of us--and bring you the honor you deserve. Land-crab will suffer for his crimes."