Any stickiness could be washed away in the mostly-fresh water of the lagoon. Many bathed there this morning. Bafa was among those splashing when I slipped in. Much of the lagoon is quite shallow; a deeper channel runs through its center, the outflow of Teoma.
Ah, and there was Vehina as well, further out. I felt, in some small way, responsible for the woman, and perhaps a little guilty for not seeing to her last night. “Your seafaring friend has already been here,” she called to me. “He looks much better cleaned up a little.”
“He wants to get right to business now that he’s here,” Bafa added to this. “One would think he’d want more rest after such a voyage.”
“The question,” said Vehina, wading into shallower water to join us, “is not whether he wants rest but whether he needs rest. He does not seem to.”
I had heard Father’s tales of the man’s endless vitality. He knew much more of Hurasu than was told in Ulani’s epic. More than Hurasu had ever been willing to reveal to Malee and me, as well.
“I, on the other hand,” the woman continued, “could certainly use another day or two of doing nothing.”
“And you need not,” I assured her, “other than learning more of the pidgin.”
To which Vehina answered, “Learn good speak.” She frowned. “Speak learn good?” She switched from pidgin to English. “One of those.”
“Or neither,” remarked Bafa. This earned him a well-aimed splash.
The three of us proceeded toward the House of Those Who Sail the Sea. Others of our party we passed on our way. We would beat them to the breakfast feast laid out on mats in that house, but there would surely be enough for all.
Father and Hurasu were already huddled there, in deep discussion of some matter or another. Empty bowls rested before them. No need to intrude. Beka had joined the two by the time we had filled bowls of our own. They seemed ready for business. I concentrated on the business of filling my stomach. Was Hurasu asking his companions something? Beka pointed off toward the northeast. The sorcerer nodded and headed that direction, rather quickly.
My father came and squatted beside us, smiling. “Our Hurasu knows the Mora have strict taboos about where one may, um, dispose of bodily wastes. Something he needn’t worry about for some weeks past.” He turned then to me. “Gather everyone, please,” he said. “All we who journeyed down Teoma together, save the four warriors we brought along.”
“Expected,” felt Bafa, after Father returned to his place beside Beka. “I’ll help you search.” Vehina made no such offer; we left her stuffing herself with roasted kuru fruit. Too bland for me, unless nothing else is available.
Most were at hand, eating as were we. Neatanu sat nearby with Naio and his son speaking, not surprisingly, of things of the sea. We told them of Marareta’s request. “About time,” was Neatanu’s opinion.
Malee was with her uncle and Toare, still busy filling themselves. There were many emptied eggshells in Malee’s bowl. Duck, perhaps. “Ulani?” I asked. Not to be found.
“I’ll help you look,” said Toare. Oorto and Malee would join the others when they were full, I assumed.
We found the bard among the fishermen, listening to their songs as they prepared their canoes for the day’s work. “Each day they go out there,” he said, gazing toward the sea. “Each day, alone in the great ocean, with no voice but their own. Their own and those of the waves and the sea birds.” He sighed. “I could not live so, yet I envy them too.” He followed us back to the house, taking care with the placing of his staff in the soft sand.
We were the last to the council. Hurasu spoke as soon as we took our places. “I ask we talk in the pidgin for the sake of Vehina — I am not as familiar with it myself as with Mora, but it was spoken by those who accompanied you to my valley, Malvern.”
Father nodded an acknowledgment to this. Both those of mixed heritage and Mora had accompanied him across the mountains and they spoke the pidgin as a common tongue.
“And,” Hurasu continued, “I have explained as well I can to Vehina the concept of gates and of worlds so she should be able to follow us.”
“Try I do well,” she announced.
“The two of them sat together quite late last night,” Bafa whispered to me.
“Someone should teach her Mora,” I whispered back. He did not volunteer.
Hurasu began. “As I told you, I have warded the gate from the world of Marareta that lies on the other side of this world. That is a tale for another time.” His gaze swept across those gathered. “Not the gate through which Vehina or your Mora ancestors passed.”
“Which you wish to close now,” said Father.
“In a sense. I can not truly close the gates, any gates, but I can ward them to make entry more difficult. And it was already difficult to pass them! I think we will have no more visitors coming through that other way.”
“So what do you need of us?” asked Naio. Many heads nodded at that practical question.
“Help in locating it. Lying in the ocean, it is more difficult to find. I would hear of your voyage here, those of you who sailed from that other world — Marareta, Beka, Neatanu. You as well, Vehina.”
Father spoke again. “As the Mora and as Lady Vehina, we in the Double Lucky were driven south in our own world, and found the gate at the center of a storm.”
“Yes, the power of the storm is needed to open the way,” said Hurasu. “A vortex of wind and lightning.”
“Neatanu and you tried to figure out some of that, didn’t you?” asked Lord Beka. “Just where we were when it happened.”
“We did” said Neatanu. “Our original course lay pretty much southwest from Panama to Tahiti.”
“And we were close to our destination when the storm carried us off that course,” added Father.
Neatanu took up the narrative again. “I couldn’t take any readings, you understand, but we might have ended up as far south as thirty-five degrees of latitude.”
“And around one-twenty longitude,” said my father. “We do know we were somewhere southeast of Tahiti, perhaps between Pitcairn and Easter Island, before that storm carried us completely off course and to this land. I also know those names mean nothing to you, Hurasu.”
“Nor does that matter,” he replied. “It is this end I need to ward. I do suspect the gate through which you passed is, in a sense, an opposite pole to the one I entered in the land of the Scythians.”
That interested Bafa. I didn’t quite understand it myself. “Then those gates open into similarly opposed places in this world?” he asked.
“Oddly, they do, though I know not why.”
“Not the same latitude, I know,” said Neatanu. “We came out further north here.”
“And that through which I passed opens far south, on a large and rather desolate island on the other side of this world. It is not a welcoming place for travelers.” A pause, perhaps while he remembered that land. “There are many other gates here, leading to and from many other worlds, and there seems no pattern to any of those.” A short laugh. “None that I can see.”
“But you need find only the one.” Father considered this. “I could draw a map as far as the first island we reached. Beyond that is open ocean.”
“I took readings when we came through,” offered Neatanu. “So did Nesmith, and they agreed with mine. Close enough. Somewhere around Thirty-two North latitude. Our longitude numbers were meaningless. Where is Greenwich in this world? But I still have his sextant and might be able to approximate the position.” The old man shrugged and gave a slightly rueful smile. “But I’d have to go to sea to do that.” That was something he obviously did not intend.
“This sextant,” spoke Hurasu. “An instrument? A tool? Can any others use it?”
Blank looks. Father and Beka were the ones who knew of sailing the seas of another world but had not learned this skill, apparently. “Malee’s father,” said Neatanu, “Gordie. But he is nowhere near and most unlikely to join us.”
Then, reluctantly, from Bafa, “I learned a little years ago. I could probably pick it up again. However,” he continued, his voice quite firm, “I have no intention of going to sea either.”
“Do any of us?” asked Father. He turned to our guest. “Or did you intend to sail on alone?”
“I made no plan,” spoke Hurasu. “Nor shall I now. Can you teach me to use this sextant, Neatanu? And allow me its use?”
“I could. The basics, you understand.” He thought a moment. “It’s somewhere in the House of Va’aru, I think. Hueta would know where”
“We’ll send for it,” said Beka. “No, wait, I’ll go for it. No one else would be likely to recognize the thing!”
“Then we’ve little else to discuss at the moment then, have we?” asked Father. “I’ll go with you, Beka.” In a few minutes they were climbing the ropes and on their way.
“Do you think they’ll come back today?” Malee asked me, as we wandered our various directions, looking for some way to fill the rest of this barely-begun day.
“They certainly could,” I replied.
“But it is more likely they will stay the night with Va’aru,” felt Oorto, who walked with his two students. None of us had spent much time yet with Hurasu. There was truly no reason to.
“We must have Toare give his epic tonight,” I decided. “The one of the civil war and my mother’s death. Hurasu wished to hear and, well, Father doesn’t like to listen to it, you know.”
It was a good idea. We would find the bard sometime today. Later. Maybe after another meal and a nap.
- Florida Panhandle
Bio: Before tackling fiction and, in particular, the novel, Stephen Brooke was an award-winning poet and songwriter, and sometime journalist, writing primarily for the fitness press. He also is an artist and designer. Once upon a time, he made custom surfboards—being a long-time surfer himself—and this has shown up in some of his fiction, particularly his three Cully Beach mysteries. As an author, he has now written twenty-five novels, most of them published, fantasy, mainstream, adventure, science fiction, as well as several poetry collections, children's titles, and non-fiction.