an extract from the novel
by Garry Kilworth
Land-of-Mists, the last volume in the Navigator Kings trilogy, will be published in mid-1998 by Orbit Books. Written with a view to glancing at Homeric epic style, borrowing a few conventions of those early works, but hopefully of itself an original. The first two books are The Roof of Voyaging and The Princely Flower. The theme is the migration of the Oceanian peoples from their islands, assisted by their many and various gods, and both aided and hindered by magic and encounters with fabulous beasts and weird beings. Accompanying the Oceanians are two Celts, a man and a woman, whose adventures far from their home in the Land of Mists are wondrous and strange.
The Fijian warchief Nagata and his warriors were paddling up the Sigatoka River. They travelled cautiously, for the Sigatoka was the ancestral home of two particularly unpleasant gods: Dakuwanga the Shark-God and Degei the Serpent-God. While both these deities were concerned mainly with the dead, they would quite happily destroy the living, if sufficiently annoyed enough to rouse themselves from their resting places.
'Use your paddles smoothly,' warned Nagata, 'in case we waken those who sleep lightly.'
The chief and his warriors were on their way to their warclub tree. Warriors all over Oceania were arming themselves and making ready for a long voyage. The great Rarotongan ariki, the noble Kieto, was massing Oceanians for a long voyage to a place called Land-of-Mists. There would be fleets from distant Hawaii, from Rapanui, Samoa, Tahiti, Aitutaki, Tonga and many many others throughout the blue watery world of Oceania.
Along the murky river swirling with brown mud went the canoe, battling upstream against the sweeping flow of the Sigatoka, avoiding dead floating trees taken from the valley's edges. On all sides were stone-walled hill forts, for the Fijians were mighty warriors and their various clans were forever battling against one another.
Suddenly as the canoe rounded a bend it snagged a fishing line. The line went taut and halted the canoe. The hands of the fisherman on the bank were obviously very strong.
Nagata was annoyed and indignant. The paddlers had just got a good rhythm going and it was upsetting to have that brought abruptly to a dead stop. The warchief was particularly incensed as on this part of the river the current was so strong it was difficult for his warriors to build up any speed.
'Whose line is this?' cried Nagata, angrily, as the thick sennit continued to hamper the canoe's progress. He reached over and wrenched a massive pearl-shell hook from the bows. 'Whose hook and lure are these? Come out and be recognised. I shall brain the person to whom this fishing tackle belongs with my gata waka club.'
The leaves of an hibiscus tree parted on the bank in response to this shout. Two large hands appeared, one holding the line, the other forming a shaking fist. Nagata was suddenly appalled to see that no body was attached to these hands.
He knew immediately to whom these severed bodily extremities belonged.
Tui Delai Gau, God of the Mountain, was a giant who lived in a tree. He sent his hands fishing whenever he was hungry. He could also send his head up into the air, to spy on trespassers.
'I'm sorry,' said Nagata to the hands. 'I - I did not know I was speaking to you, my lord . . .'
There was of course, no reply, for hands cannot speak. However, a head appeared over the rainforest, some distance inland, and a loud moan escaped its lips. The hands began walking down the bank on their fingers in response to this cry. They entered the water. Then they began swimming towards the canoe with funny fish-like movements. The thumbs stayed above the water, as if guiding the hands in the right direction.
One of the paddlers shouted in fear, 'I have a wife and child - it was not my fault!'
He dived over the edge of the canoe and began swimming towards the opposite bank. One by one the other men dived over the side of the canoe and did likewise, leaving Nagata to deal with Tui Delai Gau's hands on his own. The god's hands gripped the end of the canoe and pulled downwards quickly. Nagata, at the other end, was shot high into the air. His precious club went flying and he himself landed on his head and shoulders in the mud of the shallows ahead of his swimming comrades.
When they reached Nagata, they rescued him, pulling him out of the clay bottom.
In the meantime Tui Delai Gau's hands were destroying the canoe, ripping it apart. They tore the gunwales from the hull, the sennit stitching ripping like cloth. They wrenched the prow from the bows. Finally they broke the back of the canoe, sending the debris floating back down the river towards the sea.
When the hands had finished their work, they swam back to their fishing spot and pulled in the line. The awed men watched as the hook was baited with something that looked suspiciously like a man's liver and was then cast in the deep middle part of the River Sigatoka. They nodded in admiration as the bird's-feather lure was played on the current, so that it skipped and danced like a live thing on the river's ripples.
Within a few moments Tui Delai Gau had caught himself a handsome fish.
'What are we going to do now?' asked one of the men of their chief. 'We have no boat to reach the weapon-tree.'
'We must walk,' grunted Nagata. 'How else will we be able to arm ourselves with war clubs?'
So they crept through the rainforest, but this was a dangerous business in Fiji. Since they were visiting the warclub tree, they were not heavily armed. They needed to be empty handed to carry the weapons home. And not only were there old clans of Fijians established in territories along the Sigatoka, but recently some Tongan clans had arrived.
These were fierce people who had been banished from their own islands for being troublemakers. The Tongans had quickly established hill forts and ring-ditch forts of their own. Once a clan was embedded in a fortification of this kind, it was almost impossible to root it out and destroy it. From this strong base they would raid less fortified villages and prey on passing travellers.
Within each village was the dreaded Killing Stone at which the clan would slaughter their prisoners as offerings to the gods, and afterwards cook and eat them.
At this moment the Fijian group was passing through the land of the Waiwai clan who owned just one of the hundred ring-ditch forts along the Sigatoka. They were a terrible people. Their village was surrounded not just by one moat, but three, plus a loopholed stone wall. Once you were taken prisoner and carried beyond that wall, those ditches, you were lost forever.
'Keep close to me. Make no noise,' whispered Nagata, promising himself that next time they selected a warclub tree, it would be much closer to home.
The trouble was, one needed a young nokonoko tree for such a purpose, and the nokonoko did not grow everywhere.
Finally they were through the land of the Waiwai and they could see their sacred tree, up on the bank of the river. It was protected by magic charms - wicker sharks, dangling from its branches - and no other tribe would dare steal from a tree which was protected by the magic of a priest. Their skins would blister, their eyes would pop out completely from their heads and their tongues would swell and grow pustules.
A warclub tree is certainly a wonderful sight.
When a clan selects such a tree, it does so with a view to growing its weapons over the long term. Each branch, each bough, is trained in a particular killing shape from the time when the tree is supple enough to be bent and twisted easily. Sennit cord, stones and logs of wood are used to make the shapes around which the branches are bound. In time the nokonoko wood becomes harder and tougher than rock. From a distance one could recognise all the different varieties of club: the i wau, of which there were 80 different types, and the i ula, the lighter more personal throwing clubs. These merely needed to be detached from the tree to become a weapon to wield.
Indeed a warclub tree, bristling with such weapons, looks like a festival tree hung with gifts for warriors.
'Quickly, cut some weapons from the tree,' said Nagata. 'We must not linger too long.'
He was not only worried about the other clans, there was still Tui Delai Gau to worry about. The god might send his head up high above the forest again, to see where they were. Sometimes these minor gods brooded on things and decided at a later time that a little mayhem, destruction and murder would not go amiss. The lesser gods were more insecure than the greater gods, and insults festered in them.
The clubs were cut down with small flint axes, gathered in bundles, strapped to the backs of the warriors. Finally, everyone had as much as they could carry. Nagata led his men back through the rainforest along the valley towards the sea. His was a coastal clan, a people who felt themselves quite superior to those hot musty peoples living in the sweltering villages of the hinterland.
Nagata's people had fresh sea breezes to cleanse their huts, light-bright sunshine to lift their spirits, clean sand for their floors, pretty decorative shells on their hut walls, laughter, gaiety, the soft sound of the surf on the reef and the cry of the seabirds over the ocean. The tribes of the hinterland had mud, thick dank jungle and still stale air. They were definitely inferior peoples to those who lived on the coast.
But dark places breed dark thoughts, and dark thoughts make savages of men. Thus the interior tribes were fearsome bellicose creatures who would rather crush a skull with a battle club than remember the birth day of a loved one.
When Nagata and his men were creeping through a tunnel formed by strangling fig trees and she oaks in the land of the Waiwai, they suddenly saw a pair of hands before them. In one of the hands was a sokilaki barbed fighting spear. In the other, a sobesila mountain club.
'Tui Delai Gau!' cried one of Nagata's men.
But he was wrong. The hands were human and belonged to a warrior of the Waiwai. In the darkness of the rainforest, behind him, were twenty other warriors. They had heard the commotion on the river earlier and had found Nagata's men's footprints in the soft sand at the river's edge. Now they had caught the trespassers sneaking back.
'Thieves! Plunderers! Pirates!' yelled the first Waiwai warrior, with a snarl.
Nagata felled him with a quick blow to the throat.
A brawl followed, with several blows falling on heads and shoulders, and many spears being exchanged. There was much fierce yelling and scuffling, but in fact the area was too hemmed in by trees to allow the fight to develop into anything more than a restricted skirmish. Finally, Nagata's men managed to fight their way through the Waiwai, with the loss of only one warrior and two wounded. The Waiwai were satisfied. They had their feast for that night. Nagata's men were not pursued.
When Nagata finally reached the mouth of the Sigatoka River, he fell on his knees and kissed the sand. Mangoes and breadfruit were picked from the trees. Fresh coconut water was extracted from the shells. The people rejoiced at the safe return of their chieftain, mourned the loss of the one warrior, whose widow was instantly compensated. A necklace of shark's teeth was given her by a deputation of great woolly-headed Fijian warriors with glum round faces.
Sacrifices were made to Tui Delai Gau and hung on a lantern tree. There were many-coloured fruit doves, orange-breasted honey-eaters, black ducks and white-collared kingfishers. A cloak made of the skins of ocean geckoes and green tree skinks was draped over one of the branches. Mats woven by women with strong geometrical patterns were laid around the base of the tree covering the root area.
That night there was feasting and dancing in the village of the Naga. Warriors walked on white-hot stones to prove their manhood, for this was the land of the fire-walkers. Drums beat healthy rhythms, scented leaves sent up heady fragrances from the fires, kava was drunk into the small hours. They trod over white hot stones, seemingly careless of the heat, a trick of the mind learned over the centuries.
They had their weapons of war, with which they would follow the mighty leader of their expedition, Kieto, to the Land-of-Mists. There these weapons would be put to good use, slaying a people with red hair and white skins known as the Celts.
Later that night, when the village was asleep, tipua came to the lantern tree and stole the cooked birds and the beautiful lizard-skin cloak with its shiny green scales and small tight stitching. Giggling they went back into the forest with their treasures, knowing that the tribesmen would wake in the morning and believe the Mountain God had been appeased.
Goblins are like that: they care for no man's honour.
© Garry Kilworth 1997
was published in the UK in mid-1998 by Orbit Books.
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