Ahokupe’s wrists jerked as the sennit ropes were tied tight behind him, and he bit his lip against the pain. Forcing his spirit to quiet, he breathed the subtle scents of rotting durian from the surrounding forest and focused his gaze on a parrot in a nearby rambutan tree. If he was to be fed to the God this day, his last thoughts would be a calm lagoon.
Before him, the stone path twisted through the jungle for several paces before disappearing into a riot of green leaves and red berries on its way to Maniloa’s lair. Behind him, the gentle rush of waves and chirps of a flycatcher were pierced by Kaulaki’s ugly grunts as he spoke with his grovelers.
Ahokupe turned to face a wall of bare chests and spears, scowling at the pigs who shared his island: Arii the stuttering one, too tongue-tied to hold Liliha’s attention for a minute. Fat Keoni, who had wailed like a girl when struck by a branch during combat. Whetu, too dumb to spear a tapir when it crawled through his hut. And several more, all of whom thought themselves better than Ahokupe simply because they shared kinship or friendship with the Kaulaki clan. A curse on all their names.
Behind them beckoned the white sand and blue waters of the sea, and Ahokupe turned his gaze there, offering a silent prayer to Faumea. His only regret, the only reason he could not spit in their faces just yet, was Liliha. He had to see her one last time.
As if the Goddess had answered his prayers, Liliha pushed between Whetu and Keoni and raced toward him, yanked to a halt by Kaulaki’s strong arm.
“You are a fool!” King Kaulaki shouted to Ahokupe, as Liliha struggled to free herself. “How could she want you?”
Ahokupe’s gaze travelled from the seashell lei atop Kaulaki’s bare chest into an angry face of scars and black whorls. Hava’iki’s king was a monster of black Tatau, his hair twisted around Malaye finger bones and embedded with parrot feathers.
Liliha watched him from a tear-streaked face, and Ahokupe’s anger melted into sorrow. She was so beautiful now, her black hair shiny with the day’s mist, the hibiscus flower on her ear drooping with her spirit. He looked back at Kaulaki.
“If I cross the bridge and return, she is mine. You have said so.”
“Kava twisted my tongue. Why should she bear your sons instead of Arii’s?”
Ahokupe almost smiled at Kaulaki’s lowered voice. Hava’iki’s king had made his promise before all the Maoli, and knew he was bound by it.
“Then be happy,” Ahokupe said. He nodded toward Arii, who looked like he’d bitten a coconut husk. “If Maniloa eats me, stuttering Arii will sire your line.”
“Stop it!” Liliha shouted, and Ahokupe regretted his words. He reached out to her, but Kaulaki knocked his hand away.
“You are needed only to fight the Malayes.”
I’m needed because if I die, she’ll never forgive you. Aloud, Ahokupe said: “I’ll stay if you order me.”
Kaulaki’s smile was hard. “You have made your boast before all the people, and I will not save your Mana. Walk, then.”
Kaulaki’s piggish gloat filled him with rage. He yanked at the coarse sennit coconut fiber binding his wrists. “I have decided to face the God, yet still you bind my hands,” he spat. “Do you have so little honor?”
Kaulaki laughed. “You walk the path of Malayes; to me you have become of them. I will treat you no different.”
Ahokupe swallowed his anger, knowing the pain in his wrists would be short-lived. He turned to face the trail. Wet with recent rains, tall trees stood in silent judgement, vines draping from their branches into the thicket of ferns below. High above the canopy, Great Oro spewed white trails of smoke to blend with the rolling clouds, its forested slopes bisected by rivers of red.
He breathed deeply and began walking. How often had Ahokupe witnessed this procession: Captured Malaye chieftains travelling the path of sacrifice, never suspecting they strode into a God’s maw. Kaulaki always unbound their wrists at the entrance to Maniloa’s lair, telling them that if they could traverse the bridge, they would live.
None had ever claimed that prize.
Ahokupe was the first Maoli to walk this path in a generation, but he knew something the Malayes did not: he’d seen the bridge twist, watched how the sennit guide rope moved. He knew that to survive, he needed the support of three limbs when the mangrove planks turned face down. And he’d practiced for this day since before the last ripening of the coconuts.
Maniloa had descended from heaven in the days of Ahokupe’s grandfather, his shiny sphere tearing a hole in the clouds with a fire rain that rivalled Great Oro. The God had made his home in the gorge that separated two halves of the island, near the bridge over the waters of Attoo. Though none knew his form, Maniloa’s ravenous appetite left no doubt of his presence, for he feasted on all who dared cross that bridge. The Maoli had found other ways to reach the far slopes, but they knew that the God must continue to feed. If not, the rains would stop, the breadfruit would shrivel, and the snapper would slip from their nets. Fortunately, the occasional Malaye attacks against Hava’iki had provided the God plentiful meat.
They walked in silence as the sun reached its zenith, and the first distant rush of sacred Attoo whispered through the trees. It grew louder as they climbed, and as they stepped around the roots of a giant seraya tree, the waterfall’s mighty roar shook the earth, swamping the ever-present buzz of cicadas. Attoo pounded down the fern-studded cliffs in an enormous crash of spray and mist, bellowing clouds from the gorge.
The last time Ahokupe had seen a Malaye sacrifice, his mother, his only family, had still been alive. It had been a more innocent time, before he’d had to fight for his rights as a kinless male. Never had he realized what a pack of dogs ruled his island, that the only good on it was Liliha. To Ahokupe, facing the God was far better than an outcast’s life on the shores of Hava’iki, watching Liliha grow fat with child from Kaulaki’s hand-picked crony.
Yet staring at that bridge, he could not quell his rising panic. He felt his knees tremble as the Maoli warriors assembled behind him.
Spanning the gorge, the bridge was a simple row of rotted mangrove planks fastened together by sennit, a single guide rope along one side. It was wet with Attoo’s spray, bearing no stain to mark the dozens of bodies thrown from its heights to the sharp rocks below. On a ledge above the waterfall, Maniloa’s shiny sphere glinted in the sun—the God’s home, though none had seen him enter.
“Let’s leave his wrists bound,” came Hohepa’s voice from the back of the procession.
Kaulaki laughed. “Yes, since he is so much better us, let’s offer him a real challenge.”
Ahokupe twisted around wildly, heart freezing at Kaulaki’s gap-toothed grin. Even the Malayes were given their freedom before death; never had he imagined Kaulaki’s hatred would lead to this.
“No!” screamed Liliha, frantically pushing through the crowd of warriors. She elbowed her way to Kaulaki, her beautiful face trembling with anger. “Mighty warrior! You would deny a Maoli what you give to the Malayes? Then I will go first!” She whirled around and ran toward the bridge.
Ahokupe and Kaulaki both shouted “Stop!” as she reached the first plank.
She turned around, and Ahokupe felt Kaulaki frantically untying the ropes around his wrists. Then, a heavy push forward.
“Go, braggart. Feed Maniloa.”
Ahokupe flexed his shoulders and opened his palms, seeing with satisfaction that the breadfruit sap was holding, and the tree moss was still attached. He looked up to see Liliha returning from the bridge and knew an overwhelming sadness. Her slender face was drawn, giant brown eyes shiny with tears. He longed to hold her, but knew it wasn’t the time. She touched his hand as she passed, and he kissed the amber bracelet on his wrist, the one she’d given him so long ago.
Ahokupe looked back to the bridge. High above the trees, massive clouds covered Oro’s peak, and were now descending its slopes like dark spirits. Bolts of lightning could be seen near the summit, and Ahokupe wondered if he’d ever again feel rain’s cool caress.
He stepped carefully onto the swinging span, rocking with the bridge and blinking against the waterfall’s spray. He walked to the center and stopped, wrapping the loose sennit guide rope around his right leg and then around both wrists. With three limbs anchored, he breathed easier. He looked at Maniloa’s shiny sphere a moment, then turned back to his audience. Liliha was beating her fists against Kaulaki’s chest as the crowd of men behind stood silently.
“I order you back,” yelled Kaulaki, and Ahokupe smiled triumphantly.
Then the bridge flipped over, and his world turned on its head.
Ahokupe’s arms were nearly yanked from their sockets as the guide rope arrested his fall, and he dangled for a few terrifying moments above the ravine. In that brief vertigo, he caught sharp flashes of rocks and ferns, a diseased tree log under a rock, and a giant octopus on a ledge above the waterfall’s pool. Then the bridge twisted violently back into position, ripping the tree moss from his hands and the rope from his wrists. He was flung over the other side of the bridge, and for one horrible moment he hung by a single leg over the cascading falls, watching the moss disappear into the clouds of mist.
Let’s leave his wrists bound.
In those heady moments dangling from death’s high branch, many thoughts flashed through Ahokupe’s mind. For the first time, he wondered why every single Maoli detested him. It was true that he’d sought to prove himself better than any of them, to show that a kinless man was worth something. Yet the only Maoli who loved him was Liliha, and he’d never tried to prove anything to her.
Yelling with the effort, Ahokupe swung his body upward and caught the edge of the bridge. He heaved himself over it, grasping at one rotting mangrove plank as Liliha’s screams drifted over the waterfall’s roar. With his right leg still hooked into the guide rope, he stood slowly and looped his wrists again, determined to live long enough to witness Kaulaki’s bitter defeat.
He remained in place for a long moment, panting hard and feeling Atoo’s spray wash over his face. Then the bridge flipped again, and Ahokupe felt his feet slip off the planks until he was dangling again over sharp rocks, this time supported by two hands and a leg. Stomach clenching, he fought back bile as he forced himself to study the ravine—the octopus was unlike any creature that had ever swum through Hava’iki’s lagoons. It sat in a pool of moving brown liquid, a sight that so unnerved him, he didn’t see the flying glob of mud until it smacked into his chest.
The bridge righted itself, and Ahokupe flung himself forward, clawing for a mangrove plank as the guide rope was torn away from his hands. He rolled onto the rotting boards and stared at his bare chest, watching the God’s mud bubble and sink into his skin. Finally it disappeared, leaving a long red blister.
He rose to his feet slowly, chest burning, as strange images assailed him. Two fiery circles shining through red clouds. Lakes of brown liquid that moved of their own accord. Vast structures of gleaming blue, blanketed by fog. A storm of ideas that meant nothing and everything all at once. Yet throughout this chaos one thing was clear: Maniloa swung the bridge not to dislodge men, but to bring them close to his mud. When they fell and died, he ate them, but that was not his purpose. Through the mud, the God spoke to mankind.
Ahokupe closed his eyes and tried to quash the impossible images that filled him. He focused on the waterfall’s roar, imagined weaving his spirit’s threads back together, one by one. He knew without doubt that the God was done twisting the bridge today.
Breathing deeply, he faced the far side of the bridge. He unhooked his leg from the guide rope, then stepped carefully across those mangrove planks, toward the gorge’s other side. He breathed a huge sigh of relief as his bare foot touched dirt, and he tapped the nearest tree. Then he turned around and headed back toward the Maoli, keeping both hands on the sennit rope.
Liliha threw herself into his arms as soon as his feet struck the ground, and they stood like this for a long moment while Kaulaki watched them through the mist.
“The God has favored us,” Liliha whispered.
Trembling with emotion, Ahokupe held her close to him, feeling his tears melt into her hair. “Maniloa has given me the only thing I ever wanted.” And he knew it was true—suddenly, he had no more desire to hurt Kaulaki.
He pulled away and stared into her large brown eyes. Then he slipped his hand into hers, and together they walked to face the king of Hava’iki, whose scowl was a terrible thing to behold.
“Liliha is mine,” Ahokupe said. “We will—” A burst of foreign thought filled his mind, and he stopped in mid-sentence, hanging his head. Sweat ran down his bare chest as he struggled to comprehend the God’s images. After some time, he looked back at Kaulaki.
“Maniloa needs help. He promises the Maoli a gift beyond compare if we aid him.”
Kaulaki’s tataued cheeks stretched back in a grimace. His gaze flicked to the God’s blister on Ahokupe’s chest, then back to his face. “A gift beyond compare. Will he eat the Malayes, then? Offer me a hundred pigs? What will he do?”
Ahokupe shook his head. “The God—thinks very differently. He sends strange visions, and they escape into the air. I know only that he will help us.”
Kaulaki ground his jaw, as if chewing Kava root. He eyed Ahokupe’s blister again, and then twisted to look at the men behind him.
“Arii, Keoni, Ihorangi, Whetu, Mehalo, Tane, you will assist the God, and bring the Maoli glory. Go with Ahokupe.” He seized Ahokupe’s arm in a hard grip. “If any die from this folly, I’ll rip your throat out with my bare hands.”
Ahokupe pulled away, and Liliha fell into his arms. “Please, not again,” she pleaded.
Ahokupe kissed her soft neck. “My sweet, Maniloa will not harm me. Not now.”
Some time later, Ahokupe and six others climbed into the misty ravine, stepping carefully over sharp lava rocks and slippery ferns. Their faces were grim, for all knew that Maniloa was an eater of men. Yet Ahokupe had challenged the God, and he was Kaulaki’s despised one; they could do no less.
After long moments of silent climbing, Ahokupe grabbed an outcropping and twisted to face the warriors behind him.
“Maniloa is not a man,” he yelled over the waterfall’s roar. “He is a—creature. Do not be surprised when you see his likeness, and do not look closely. He will not eat you.”
They stared at him, and Ahokupe watched Keoni’s round face contort with horror. “Aieee!” he yelled, pointing down the ravine.
Ahokupe followed Keoni’s finger and saw part of Maniloa’s body clearly for the first time. On a ledge near Attoo, a brownish liquid oozed toward them through the cracks in the rocks. In some areas, the liquid had hardened into orange lumps like rotting mangoes, or like the octopus head he thought he’d seen earlier. But in other places, Maniloa’s body flowed like water, pouring through the fissures in the ledge.
They watched, frozen, as Maniloa oozed toward them, and Ahokupe knew the others were a hair’s breadth from flight. Surely this was madness.
Without warning, Maniloa flung brown liquid from his body, striking all seven men amid a flurry of shouts and curses. Ahokupe slipped on a rock and landed on jagged lava, pain shooting through his side. Then his shoulders burned from the God’s mud, and Maniloa’s images assailed him anew—the sun split into two in a dark sky. Shiny rain that sizzled as it struck blood-red rocks. Bolts of lightning playing across dark oceans. Yet one thought was perched on the highest branch: Maniloa was trapped under a stone, and the Maoli must free him.
He stood and watched five of the other men share awe-stricken looks, while Mehalo rolled on the jagged lava with head in hands, crying at the God’s images. The others seemed shaken but able to stand, and Ahokupe somehow felt their minds in his own. They knew what to do. One by one, all except Mehalo stepped onto the ledge and moved toward Maniloa’s liquid body. The God’s essence parted around their footsteps as they passed through him, their feet landing on dry rock.
They crawled over an outcropping and saw that Maniloa’s brown liquid stretched across the ledge, disappearing under a massive boulder. Beyond the rock, the God’s body had hardened into solid globs of orange matter.
Ahokupe wiped his brow, suddenly understanding how the God could twist bridges yet be unable to save himself. This rock was enormous, and it would take all of them to free him.
Without speaking, Ahokupe and Whetu grabbed a downed ficus log and wedged it beneath the rock. They began pushing down on its other end, while the others strained hard against the wall of stone. The log bent into an arch as Ahokupe and Whetu placed all their weight against it, sweat pouring over their bare chests. Finally, it snapped, just as the boulder rolled off Maniloa and over the ledge.
There was a collective gasp as they all watched Maniloa’s solid portions, previously anchored by the boulder, melt into brown liquid. The dark pool oozed into the cracks in the lava outcropping, and toward the ledge. Then, quick as a bird, Maniloa poured off the ledge and was swallowed by the waterfall.
For a long moment they stared into the billowing clouds below, searching for any sign of the God. A quick flash of brown briefly caught their attention, but it was soon hidden again by Attoo’s spray. Ahokupe’s head was hot, his attentions pulled between the search for Maniloa and the utter strangeness of the God’s images in his mind. He clenched his fists, trying to understand Maniloa’s final purpose.
“There,” Whetu hissed, pointing, and they turned to behold a bizarre vision. As they watched, brown liquid cascaded up the cliff on the ravine’s far side, towards the shiny ball that was Maniloa’s home. The dark pool oozed over the structure, and then became transparent as it melted into the sphere. Within moments, the God was gone.
Maniloa’s home began to shake, ejecting black smoke and a sour smell that burned Ahokupe’s throat. Then a ball of fire blew the bridge apart, with an ear-splitting crack that knocked them backward. Amid cries and shouts of awe, they fell to their knees, watching Maniloa’s home rise into the sky on a pillar of flame. And as shards of mangrove planks fell around them, and the forest erupted into squawks and chatters, they knew they’d witnessed a tale for the ages. Their children’s children would see this event through their eyes.
They remained motionless for some time, watching Maniloa’s home turn into a tiny dot in the sky, amid small crackles of trees set aflame and the cries of parrots. When Maniloa had completely disappeared, they rose and looked at each other with shared wonder. Ahokupe and Whetu walked to a blubbering Mehalo and gently lifted him. Then they all began climbing out of the ravine.
Some time later, they stood before a very pale Kaulaki, Liliha clinging to Ahokupe’s arm like a remora eel. Ahokupe grimaced as he faced Hava’iki’s king, trying to give voice to Maniloa’s bizarre images. Kaulaki’s eyes darted between all seven men and the blackened ground where the God’s home had once stood.
“So, Maniloa has returned to the heavens. Where is his gift? Does he fly to destroy the Malayes?”
Ahokupe struggled to hold the God’s voices in his thoughts. “No. The God says…” Ahokupe took a deep breath. “The God says we must leave Hava’iki before the breadfruit ripens. We are in great danger here.”
Kaulaki stared. A light rain began falling, its soft whisper barely audible over Attoo’s roar. Finally, he spat at Ahokupe’s feet. “The God is wrong. The Malayes will not defeat us.”
“My king,” Whetu said softly. “Maniloa has told this to all of us. We will die on Hava’iki. Maybe the Malayes have joined the other tribes of the forever land. The God didn’t say.”
Kaulaki drew back, rain travelling in rivulets down his Tataued chest. “No! Hava’iki is the home of our ancestors; we cannot leave her!”
“We have the war canoes,” Ahokupe said softly. “The forty canoes will hold all the people.”
Kaulaki glared, his eyes white among black swirls. “My war canoes. I found the ironwood trees, I watched them for days, to see if the flycatcher pecked at a rotten trunk.”
Ahokupe exhaled, knowing Kaulaki’s dream was to defeat the Malayes with those boats. All had heard his plans: Twenty canoes filled with dummy warriors of reeds and coconuts, while the other twenty struck from behind.
Kaulaki swept the seven men with his gaze. “And now, instead of destroying the Malayes, we will flee like frightened pigs?”
“We must,” said Arii.
Kaulaki’s expression softened as he considered his favored. “And where shall we sail, Arii? Toward Hokupa the North Star, the forever land is filled with powerful tribes, which we cannot defeat. Elsewhere is only ocean, ocean, until the end of the world.”
“There may be islands we do not know,” Ahokupe said. “We may die on the seas, but death is certain here.”
A flash of red lit the air, as a lorikeet darted out of the forest and crossed the ravine. From somewhere came the thud of a coconut falling to the ground.
“A curse on Maniloa, then,” Kaulaki said quietly. His head was hung low, rain pouring down his cheeks. “If we are to leave Hava’iki, then my life has ended.”
Three days later, Ahokupe stood with Liliha on a beach of white sand and turquoise waters. The smell of sea was strong in his nostrils as he watched the Maoli board the giant canoes, dragging sennit fishnets behind them. The boats were double-hulled monstrosities with prows as high as two men, intricately carved with the Goddess Faumea’s likeness. Enormous mangrove platforms spanned those hulls, now being loaded with pigs and chickens, bamboo poles, tapa cloths, partially spun sennit, coconuts, mangoes, breadfruit, and endless gourds of water.
Silently, Ahokupe and Liliha watched the people leave their thatched huts and cross the white sand toward the canoes, overseen by Tiki carvings at the forest’s edge. How easily did the Maoli abandon Hava’iki, Ahokupe thought. They laughed and sang and talked, seeming to care nothing about the uncertainties ahead.
And how he wished his mother were one of those old women, able to sail with him to the land beyond the sea. It was at this time, watching a woman scoop seashell mementos with her son, that Ahokupe felt his familiar loneliness. A hole in his spirit that he’d once patched with cocky pride. Now, Maniloa’s mud had stolen all such weaponry from him.
“Your boat is the Tahuni,” Kaulaki barked from behind. They turned to see the Maoli king glaring at Ahokupe and pointing to the Tahuni, one of three single-hull canoes. Ahokupe glanced at the Huralai, which was Kaulaki’s—and Liliha’s—boat. The grandest of all, each ribbed hull was wide as three huts, and the center platform held houses of bamboo and palm fronds to carry Kaulaki and Hava’iki’s nobility.
Liliha folded her arms. “Then I shall travel in the Tahuni also.”
A storm of rage crossed Kaulaki’s Tataued face. “I’ll not have him in my hut—”
Kaulaki lifted an eyebrow, searching Ahokupe’s expression for some trick. Finally satisfied, he nodded and walked away.
Liliha turned to Ahokupe. “But you’ve earned your place at his side, my love. Why leave it so easily?”
Ahokupe sighed. “I stole Kaulaki’s daughter from him. I bested his challenge before all the people. And now I’ve forced him to abandon every dream he’s had. I will steal his Mana no longer.”
Her expression softened. “You have changed much, since the God touched you.”
Ahokupe nodded. So much.
The sun was high overhead when their journey began. Ahokupe felt the wind in his hair, the salt spray at his lips as he pulled the oar back, singing with the other men. He welcomed his muscles’ strain against the water, for the mindless task of rowing quieted the God’s thoughts—images of starry skies, endless falling, human flesh dissolving in brown liquid. Reveling in their glide through the seas, his mind emptied of all but the Song of the Moon, drifting over the waters in unison with the other Maoli boats.
The distant bray of conch shells shattered his reverie, and around him men shaded their eyes and stared back toward Hava’iki. Ahokupe stood and saw ten canoes near Hava’iki’s misty shoreline, colorful sails flapping in the breeze. The faint trumpeting of conch shells carried on the wind, a challenge and a taunt.
“Malayes,” spat a man near Ahokupe.
Everyone stopped rowing to watch the Malaye canoes turn into the lagoon. Other Maoli canoes had also halted, and Ahokupe heard the soft grunts of pigs from a nearby boat. From the corner of his eye, he saw King Kaulaki burst from his hut and storm toward him through the hard benches.
“See what you’ve done!” he roared as he came close. “The Malayes are weak, but do we fight them? No, we flee like frightened children, while they steal our homeland!” He spat on Ahokupe’s cheek, and Ahokupe forced himself to stand very still. Utter silence filled the Huralai, as Kaulaki’s spittle crawled down Ahokupe’s cheek, and finally dropped to the wooden floor.
“He is a false prophet,” came Mehalo’s gravelly voice. “I have touched the God also, and Maniloa tells me to turn and fight the Malayes.” Ahokupe wiped his burning cheek and stared into the stout warrior’s mad eyes, watching those wide nostrils flare with anger. The God had indeed touched Mehalo, but alone of all of them, Mehalo’s spirit had never recovered. Wide and strong, the sickness in the man’s eyes reminded Ahokupe of a speared boar, maddened by pain and determined to crush all in its path.
Kaulaki grinned and placed his hand on Mehalo’s shoulder. “Then that’s what we’ll do. Today we sail into the sun, but tomorrow night we shall return to Hava’iki and take the Malayes by surprise.” Smiling, he turned and walked back to his palm-frond hut.
Very few would talk to Ahokupe after that. It suited him fine, for as the dome of stars covered the sky, Liliha came to him, her slim figure a ghostly spirit in the low light. They huddled close that quiet night, listening to the hollow slap of water against the hull, and the hushed murmur of men watching stars for direction.
“Do you remember when we first kissed?” Liliha whispered to him, her beautiful face striped by the moonlight.
Ahokupe smiled, touching the amber bracelet she’d given him the next day. “No,” he said, leaning forward. “Remind me.”
Some time later they pulled apart, and Ahokupe brushed a strand of hair from her eyes. “Liliha, why did you fall in love with me? I was arrogant and insufferable. Surely one of the others would have been easier.”
She placed a hand on his thigh, and Ahokupe closed his eyes, feeling her warmth as the ship rose and fell with the waves.
“If you were arrogant, then you were the opposite with me. I saw only kindness. The others brought caught turtle to my father’s hut, or wrestled in the sand to show their strength. But you swayed me with nothing but gentle words.” She draped slender bare legs over his. “I think having only a mother for kin teaches a man how to speak to women.”
Surprised, Ahokupe leaned back against the railing, and Liliha curled over his chest. Together they watched the brilliant circle of stars above, listening to the small creaks of the boat.
“So Maniloa has gone back to the heavens,” Liliha said after a moment. “Do his thoughts still fight in your mind?”
Ahokupe tried to release the sudden tension from his body. “They fight without mercy,” he whispered. “And now, he gives me memories so horrible, I cannot even share them with you.”
Liliha lifted her head to look into his eyes. “Tomorrow night, my father sails back toward Hava’iki. Mehalo tells him it is the God’s will.”
Ahokupe cupped her cheek. “Liliha, Mehalo’s mind has turned into sand. The God said we are doomed on Hava’iki. If the canoes return, we must leave again quickly. Will you follow me?”
She nodded and placed her soft cheek on his chest.
After some time, Liliha padded back to her father’s hut, and Ahokupe leaned against the ship’s side. Slowly he drifted off, his dreams filled with images of Maniloa weaving between the stars.
Violent swaying awoke him, as the canoe tilted sideways among massive waves. Shouts came from across the vessel as men braced the water gourds, struggling to keep their supplies from falling into the sea. The first golden fingers of dawn lit the sky, just enough to reveal massive waves rolling toward them. The sky was a strange color, visible even in the low light, and the smell of ash was everywhere.
Kaulaki ran through the canoe, directing men to stow this or that supply, yelling at those whose hands held nothing. Ahokupe stared into the distance and saw a small red dot, in the direction where Hava’iki would have been.
Ahokupe caught Kaulaki’s glare as he came near. “Hava’iki is no more,” he said. “Great Oro has erupted, and our homeland has sunk into the sea. This was the God’s message.”
Kaulaki’s face fell with such anguish that Ahokupe thought he’d collapse. He closed his eyes, grabbing the side of the boat. Then he opened them again.
“And the Malayes have drowned?”
Kaulaki wiped his cheek. “That is something, then.”
“He lies!” Yelled Mehalo, bracing himself against the swaying boat as he came near. “Hava’iki awaits us; the God has shown it to me in a vision!”
Kaulaki turned around, staring into Mehalo’s mad eyes.
“Grab the coconuts before they fall into the sea,” Kaulaki mumbled. Then he staggered away.
The waves rolled the boat all morning, though by the time the sun was overhead, they had diminished to nothing. The wind picked up, and they hung the matted hala-frond sail on the center mast. Soon the Huralai was skipping over the seas, the Goddess at its prow spraying salt water behind her.
The days began to blend together. Every morning Ahokupe awoke to flat ocean stretching as far as the eye could see, a vast blue circle in every direction. The other Maoli boats were dots in the distance, though sometimes they approached closer to discern the colored tapa cloth waved from the Huralai, a marker to change direction.
The seas were mostly calm, and Ahokupe rowed often, stopping only when the Goddess filled their sail with wind. Ahokupe came to fear the wind, for rowing gave him relief from the God’s thoughts, memories that had become increasingly gruesome. When he wasn’t rowing or sleeping, only Liliha drew his attention elsewhere. She took to visiting him in the evenings at the back of the boat, where they would hold each other through the endless swells, watching for birds in the distance. On the first days, a few seagulls drifted lazily into the golden sunset. But soon the skies were utterly empty; land was nowhere close.
The Huralai began rationing water. When a precious storm came, the people rushed to place the gourds under the sail, trapping as much water as possible. But the clouds always disappeared quickly, and it was never enough. As their water supplies dropped low, Mehalo’s grumblings began drawing more attention, and Ahokupe felt the hot stares of his shipmates. They mattered little to him, for he was consumed with fighting for mastery of his own mind, rowing when he could to dampen Maniloa’s images.
One morning, Ahokupe awoke to see Arii crouching low before him, a tapa cloth around his shoulders to protect against the unexpected cold. Ahokupe blinked, noting how Arii’s long face had strengthened. His giant nose seemed dignified, not the pelican’s beak it had been before. He was tall and lithe, and sometimes Ahokupe marveled that Arii had never stolen Liliha’s attentions despite his stutter.
“We’ve not always been friends,” Arii said flatly.
Ahokupe ran his hands along the smooth wood of the ship’s side. “It seems my arrogance caused that calamity with many.”
Arii smiled and sat down. “Th-the God’s attention changes us. You more than any; you’ve been touched twice.”
For a moment they were silent, watching the feathered sennit rope whip backward behind the prow. “Maniloa’s thoughts crowd my day without mercy,” Arii whispered. “D-Do you have them too?”
Ahokupe felt his chest tighten. “Always. They will not leave me alone, day and night.
“And will n-none of them save us?”
Ahokupe gripped the ship’s side, listening to the flapping of the sail in the strong winds. “There may be one. But I fear it is only a vision.”
Arii watched him carefully.
“A circle of blue and white,” Ahokupe continued. “Within the blue, small and large dots of green. I believe it is Maniloa’s vision as he fell from the heavens onto Hava’iki.”
Arii nodded. “The elders remember every direction we’ve travelled, every course change. If you d-describe the islands, they’ll know where to turn.”
“But Kaulaki is ready to strangle me.”
Arii shook his head. “No more. Kaulaki’s Mana will not let him admit he was wrong, but he knows it.”
They were silent then, feeling the boat rise and fall with the waves. Ahokupe knew Arii had come for something else, but was content to wait. And after a long moment, he spoke.
“The image that most troubles my thoughts…” Arii stopped, swallowing. “Is when Maniloa ate the f-fallen. The feel of human flesh, the taste of it. A horrible thing, yet it fills me with longing.” He turned away, ashamed.
But Ahokupe grabbed his arm. “Yes!” he hissed. “I think of it often. I long to taste human meat. Would that Maniloa had left us to die on Hava’iki and spared me this horror.”
Arii clasped Ahokupe’s arm also, knowing then that they shared a bond none would understand. “Let us resolve that if we eat, it will only be our enemies.”
Ahokupe nodded, relieved. Arii stood up to leave, but turned around.
“You cannot ignore Mehalo forever. He gathers strength.” With that, Arii walked away, and Ahokupe stared after him, hunched tight against the cold.
Later that afternoon, Ahokupe lifted his head from his hands to see eight men weaving toward him through the benches, Mehalo in front. Ahokupe stood, feeling the chill wind against his bare chest.
Mehalo approached close, his shoulders seeming wider than Kaulaki’s hut. “Arrogant fool, thinking you know the God’s plan,” he said. “Your words have led us to disaster.”
Ahokupe tried not to stare into those red, darting eyes. “Hava’iki is gone,” he said quietly. “All of us know it.”
“We know only what you have told us!” Mehalo shouted, and the men behind him grumbled assent. The rest of the Huralai had stopped to watch, and Ahokupe noticed Kaulaki standing outside his hut, wearing his feathered cape. Liliha began walking toward him, but Ahokupe held up his hand. No one could help him here.
Mehalo turned to the other men. “Maniloa has said that those who eat Ahokupe will gain his knowledge, and will see through his lies.”
The other men wrinkled their noses in disgust, but Ahokupe thought he detected flashes of interest. Many were jealous of the God’s touch, and some would consider the unspeakable to caress the divine. They had no idea what they wished for.
“You know nothing about Maniloa,” Ahokupe said. “I am sure he’s never told you his secrets.”
“I know them all!” Mehalo shouted, spittle flying from his mouth. “The two suns sit in the sky, and one moves from right to left, while the other barely moves! And when the first is gone, sizzling rain strikes the rock, and eats giant holes. And—”
Mehalo stopped, as the men around him shrank back.
“Your leader cannot tell whether something exists inside or outside of his mind,” Ahokupe said to the men behind Mehalo. “Still, he is right in a way; I am to blame for something. Maniloa has shown me land and I have ignored him, afraid of Kaulaki’s wrath. I will ignore Maniloa no longer.”
Ahokupe pushed through the crowd and walked toward the Huralai’s center platform where Kaulaki stood, his feathered coat ruffling in the wind. The king turned and entered his hut, and Ahokupe followed him.
Inside, Fangaloka the elder stood over an ironwood plank, his body wrinkled like a budding noni fruit. On the other side of the plank was a sharp stone, which Kaulaki picked up and handed to Ahokupe.
Fangaloka turned the ironwood plank over, and Ahokupe approached.
“Hava’iki was here,” Ahokupe said, scratching a circle on the plank. “Above it was the land of the Malayes. Below it are open seas, until a great frozen white land, and a large forever land, here.” Ahokupe closed his eyes, recalling the God’s image, and marked these points on the plank. “Past the large forever land, there are more islands.”
Fangaloka rolled his eyes back in his head and began reciting the course changes they’d made since they started. Finally he stopped, turned to the right, and pointed. “Toward the stars of Matariki.”
Ahokupe relayed this information to the ship master, who began waving colored tapa cloths at the other Maoli boots. Soon, they’d all turned in the direction where Matariki dipped below the edge of the world.
Days passed, and their water supplies dwindled, helped very little by another small storm. Every day, Ahokupe sat with Liliha in the boat as the Huralai skipped forward, searching the horizon for land. At night, Ahokupe heard Mehalo’s grumbles, and he always slept with his back to the stern.
On one such day, Ahokupe was resting his head on Liliha’s shoulder when her shriek made him jump. “Look!” she cried.
Licking dry lips, Ahokupe looked up to see a lone tern sailing the skies far in the distance.
Men around them began jabbering excitedly, and soon, the wail of conch shells drifted over the water, as the Huralai signaled to the other Maoli boats. They began tacking in the direction of the circling bird, and when they were closer, they removed the sail. They bobbed in place the rest of the day, waiting until sundown to follow the bird’s return path. When it began flying back that evening, the Huralai shot forward with a will.
No land was seen the next day, but there were many more terns, and dolphins in the seas. They again waited until evening, following the terns on their return path home.
The following morning brought a bank of clouds on the horizon, and as they drew closer, the Maoli saw green slopes peeking from beneath the clouds.
Cheers erupted from every part of the Huralai, and the conch shells brayed across the seas. Soon, all the Maoli boats could be seen in the distance, converging on them.
That day, as Ahokupe and Liliha watched the island grow larger, Kaulaki came to stand by them. Ahokupe shot him a quick glance, unsure what to say, but the Maoli king remained still as a Tiki. They stood silently for a long while, salt spray bathing their faces, as the first white sand beaches became visible.
Finally, Kaulaki folded his arms: “In our new home, you will be king.”
Ahokupe turned to stare. Kaulaki’s words could not have been more unlikely if he’d claimed to be a parrot.
“I don’t understand.”
“You have always had the heart of a warrior, Ahokupe; only your insufferable pride made it impossible. But I saw how you handled Mehalo, and you did well. I am tired, and the Maoli will need another.”
Liliha’s grip on Ahokupe’s arm tightened, and Ahokupe breathed deeply. “Then my first decree is that the Maoli shall never more be threatened by one disaster. We shall travel the seas and populate every land that will have us. I have touched the God, and know that the islands are many.”
Kaulaki’s black Tataued cheeks stretched into a small smile. “I see pride has not completely left you. But it will serve us well in the new land.”
Ahokupe and Liliha smiled at each other, and her hand slipped into his. Then they turned back to the ocean, and under the cloud of terns and gulls, the three of them watched the forested isle draw close.