But Tepua is possessed of a passion all her own—one that could lead her people to war and destruction, one over which only she can possibly hold control, as the fate of all her people rests in her hands.
The Ancient Tahiti series, which continues with Child of the Dawn, is a must-read for fans of Jean M. Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear, Linda Lay Shuler's She Who Remembers, and other novels set among pre-historic cultures.
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Sister Of The Sun
Ancient Tahiti: Book Two
By Clare Coleman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Clare Bell and M. Coleman Easton
All rights reserved.
Wave after great wave buffeted a two-hulled voyaging canoe that was beating its way windward. The craft was tossing so violently that only its sturdy master dared remain standing. Heavy sheets of spray hit the plaited sails and swept across the platform that crossed the hulls. Brine drenched the crewmen, who crouched, waiting for orders. But the canoe-master, wearing only a narrow loincloth, stood fast at the bow. Sinewy legs spread wide, knees flexed, he peered out over the heaving water for signs of land.
Beneath a small thatched canopy that was lashed to the deck sat the principal passenger, Tepua-mua, daughter of an atoll chief. Almost as tall as a man, she was lightly and gracefully built, as supple as a young coconut palm. Training in the dance had sculpted and defined the muscles in her arms, thighs, and calves. The swell of her breasts and hips showed that she had reached womanhood.
Her eyes were large and lively, surrounded by black lashes beneath angular eyebrows. Strong, wide cheekbones tapered down to a pointed chin. A mane of blue-black hair spilled back from her high forehead.
As the double canoe, the pahi, pitched and rolled, she felt her pearl-shell necklace sliding against the bare skin below her throat. She was wrapped in a garment of finely plaited matting to protect her against the wind and spray. Even so, the chill of sudden gusts set her teeth on edge.
"Aue!" one crewman shouted in dismay as a huge wave lifted the pahi. Tepua tightened her grip and tried not to think about her last sea voyage. It would be cruel of the gods, she thought, to bring her so close to home, only to toss her into the ocean again.
She had known worse sailing than this. Some time ago a squall had swept her overboard, taking her away from friends and kin. Only through the aid of the gods had she survived, finding refuge in far-off Tahiti. And now, despite misgivings, she was finally returning home.
"Aue!" came another cry, this one filled with hope. Tepua looked up to see the canoe-master pointing to something far ahead.
Paruru, her father's chief warrior, hurried forward to stand with him. Bared to the waist, Paruru seemed indifferent to the cold. His powerful shoulders and back were slick from spray.
She fought her impulse to join the men, knowing that she was expected to remain confidently seated under the shelter. Straining her eyes at the gray horizon that rose and fell with the deck, she saw only whitecaps. Waves crashed against the hull, and wind whistled through the thatch, drowning all voices.
Then, at last, she glimpsed a few black specks that set her pulse racing. The dots grew until she could see that they were feathery tops of palm trees. Others appeared, in a familiar pattern. The canoe-master called orders excitedly to the men. The sails had to be changed now, for the present course would take them far past their destination.
Tepua tried to fight her impatience. After so many days of travel she was eager for the journey to end. She ached to stretch her legs, to run free, to taste fresh food.
She had been away nearly two years. At first she had been treated with scorn in Tahiti, yet she had found a place for herself in that unfamiliar land. She had joined a society of dancers and performers who celebrated their patron god Oro. For a long time she had believed that she could never return to her home island, because she had lost the virginity required of a chief's unwed daughter.
But then Paruru arrived and invited her back for a visit. Her father, now ill, understood that she had been cleansed by a priest of Tahiti of all her offenses against the gods. Paruru brought the pearl-shell necklace as a gift from her relatives, and assured her that she would be welcome....
With land in view, Tepua's thoughts filled with the people who awaited her. The spirit of her mother had long ago departed on its journey. But Ehi, who had been her feeding mother, would be waiting to welcome Tepua in her ample arms. And Ehi's daughter Maukiri, closer than a sister, would have tales to keep Tepua awake for many nights. As for her father, she could only hope that he still lived.
She glanced out again, this time seeing foam shooting high on the horizon as breakers crashed into the outer reefs. More palms appeared, marking the length of the large islet known as Ata-mea. Soon she saw, separated by gaps, tree clusters on other islets of the atoll's coral ring. She shifted her seat and wished the pahi could move faster.
But the waters here were hazardous, bristling with underwater reefs, and the rough weather only made the canoe-master's task more difficult. Carefully he directed a zigzag course that ended downwind of the atoll. At his command, the pahi turned to approach the pass through the reefs.
The canoe was close enough now for Tepua to see details of the familiar shoreline. Great chunks of old coral, tossed up by some malevolent spirit of storms, gave a harsh look to the seaward beach. Beyond this rugged barrier lay stretches of white sand, and there she saw people gathering, waving at the boat. A few youngsters ventured onto the rough coral banks, keeping just out of reach of waves that thundered against the rock.
Now Tepua could no longer bear to remain in the shelter. She came out to sit cross-legged on the deck and watch the final maneuvers. People from shore were shouting, but it was impossible to make out their words.
With a frenzy, the crewmen began paddling, trying to bring the pahi into position to enter the pass. Tepua knew how fortunate her people were to have such a channel into the calm enclosed waters of their lagoon. At other atolls it was necessary to land on the outer reef, a dangerous undertaking.
But entering a pass also involved risk, and today's rough seas made the hazard far greater than usual. Tepua took a quick glance over the stern, to see what waves were gathering to carry her to shore. A huge swell was already upon her! She felt its power in the pit of her stomach as the canoe rose high above the land. She spoke a brief prayer to her ancestress, Tapahi-roro-ariki, as she began to plunge through the gap.
Steep, rough walls of ruddy coral loomed suddenly on both sides. She clutched for a new handhold and tried to keep from crying out. Once, not so long ago, she had found amusement in shooting the pass on a blustery day. She remembered cajoling her father's boatmen into taking her out and back. Now, as she raced past the jagged walls, she could not even find words of prayer to her guardian spirit. Life on Tahiti has made me soft, came a distant thought as the bow of the pahi slammed down and sent her sprawling forward on the deck.
Before she could get up, the platform was awash. Then she found herself afloat in the boiling current, flailing about for something to hold on to. She clawed at the roof of the shelter beside her, but the thatching tore away in her hand. The canoe bounced up again, tossing her behind it. Then the boat shot forward, leaving her to struggle in its foaming wake.
Tepua sputtered a she came up for air. There was no time for shock or anger. On both sides, sharp and deadly walls hemmed her in. Men were shouting to her from the pahi, now far ahead, but they could not stop its rush toward the lagoon. Someone—Paruru, she thought—dove in after her, but he was too far away to help.
Tepua's head went under. Perhaps life in Tahiti had indeed made her soft, but she had not forgotten how to swim. Stroking fiercely, she emerged in a mass of foam. Now the coral wall rose just in front of her, its sharp edges glistening with seawater. In a frenzy she turned away and fought the current as waves pulled her down into a deep trough, lifted her and dropped her again.
Then she was swimming underwater, heading for the center of the channel, only dimly sensing pain on the side of her leg. Ahead she saw hints of the brighter, calmer water of the lagoon, but the current was treacherous here, swirling her away from her course.
Once more the coral seemed to reach out for her, and again she felt its sting. Turning, she tried to change direction, fighting a surge of water that was dragging her down. She saw a pair of glittering fish above, tried to follow them into a gentler current. The fish raced on before her, always just beyond her fingertips.
Then, at last, she was free of the treacherous undertow, and she saw overhead the quiet surface of the lagoon. She came up, gasping, pushing strands of hair from her face. Outrigger canoes, singled-hulled vaka that could be quickly launched, were coming toward her.
Tepua felt weak. The sting of her coral cuts grew worse, and she saw threads of blood rising through the clear water. She knew that sharks often entered the lagoon....
"Get her out! Quick!" came cries from shore.
Hands reached down to help her. She half climbed, half rolled into the bottom of a canoe, and lay back, still trying to catch her breath. "Daughter, welcome home," cried a familiar voice from shore. "I will take care of you," Ehi called. Tepua closed her eyes, content, for the moment, just to feel the gentle rocking of the canoe as it headed in.
She sat up as the craft reached shallow water. Ehi was already wading from shore, her broad face filled with affection. Someone helped Tepua out of the canoe, and she splashed into the warm embrace of the older woman. For a long moment they held on to each other.
Then Paruru rushed up to stand beside Tepua. Water streamed from his soaked hair down his cheeks and brow. He was out of breath, his broad chest heaving. Tepua realized that he had fought the deadly currents also, and only for her sake. "I was too slow," he said in an anguished voice. "If I had jumped sooner ..."
She glanced at Paruru's strong features, the heavy brows, straight forehead, broad nose that flared about the nostrils. Blue-black tattoos of a principal warrior decorated his shoulders and swirled about his hips.
"Do not blame yourself, Paruru," Tepua answered. "There is an evil spirit dwelling in that pass. It is enough that you brought me home safely." Then she turned to Ehi to ask the question that was now uppermost in her mind. "Does my father ... Does ..."
"Kohekapu is waiting for you, daughter," said Ehi, leading her out of the shallows and onto the white sand beach. Ehi made a scolding sound as she crouched to inspect Tepua's legs. "But first we must put ointment on those scrapes. And find you something to wear."
With chagrin, Tepua glanced down at herself. The fine atoll wrap that Paruru had brought her, tied with a sash, hung drenched and tattered about her waist. The pearl-shell necklace, she was pleased to see, had survived.
By the time Tepua emerged from Ehi's oblong, thatched house, a large crowd had gathered. To her dismay, Tepua saw few expressions of joy on the faces of people she had known all her life. She began to wonder at this lack of an enthusiastic greeting. "Am I no longer welcome here?" she asked Ehi in a whisper.
"Everyone is worried about Kohekapu," Ehi answered quickly. "They cannot think of anything else." Tepua was not satisfied with that answer, but for now she did not press the point. She heard the deep voice of a drum and turned in the direction of her father's marae, his sacred open-air courtyard. She could not see it through the trees, but she knew that priests were busy petitioning the gods to restore Kohekapu's health.
"Come," said Paruru, who had been waiting by the door. Ehi stepped aside, leaving Tepua to accompany him alone. Paruru was the kaito-nui, the high chief's first warrior. She remembered him from childhood as a tall figure who loomed over her, and later as a man whose mere presence excited her. But during the voyage from Tahiti, with so many eyes watching, she had been cool to him.
Now Paruru strode forward, leading her onto a broad, shaded path beneath the coconut palms. She breathed the familiar fragrance, a mixture of salt spray and faint perfumes from blossoming trees. Underfoot she felt the crushed coral that covered much of the island. Home! Every scent was delicious; every sensation brought back an earlier time. She followed him quickly, coming out on the lagoon beach.
The booming of drums grew louder, and beyond that she heard surf pounding the outer shore. Tepua's coral cuts still stung, despite Ehi's ointment, but she tried not to notice the pain. Just ahead lay the most important dwelling on the atoll—the house of Kohekapu—oblong in shape and thatched with slender fara leaves. It had once seemed huge to Tepua, and she wondered if it had somehow grown smaller.
Paruru spoke to the man standing guard, then waved Tepua to go in alone. She hesitated, her pulse beating with the drums of the priests. Then she pulled aside the hanging that covered the low entranceway and ducked into the dim interior of the house.
Her father lay stretched on his thick pile of finely plaited mats, his head on the smoothed log that served as a headrest. Another mat, plaited of coarser leaves, covered him to his neck. Beside him crouched a tahunga, a priest of healing, who chanted and waved a small bunch of red feathers. Kohekapu grunted a command, sending the tahunga back a few steps.
Tepua knelt beside her father and pressed her nose to his cheek. The sparse whiskers of his beard seemed whiter than she remembered, the wrinkles of his forehead deeper.
"Come to me, first daughter," said Kohekapu in a cracked and tired voice. "Let me see for myself that the sea gods did not take you."
Swallowing hard, she said, "I am well, Father. My guardian spirit has protected me."
He grunted assent. "Then I owe something to your protector. I will have an offering made to Tapahi-roro-ariki."
"That is kind of you."
"But speak to me, daughter. Tell me of your life in Tahiti. I heard such tales after your brother's visit that I do not know what to believe."
Recalling the incident, Tepua frowned and clenched her fist in anger. Her married brother had come to Tahiti for the Ripening Festival. When he found Tepua there, he demanded that she return with him to her father. She had refused men, earning her brother's scorn. He knew only atoll ways. He could not understand that the gods had brought her to Tahiti and wished her to remain there.
"Father," she said softly. "I have joined the Arioi sect, as you must know. I have pledged myself to serve a high-island god, Oro-of-the-laid-down-spear."
Kohekapu cleared his throat "I am familiar with this god. The people of Tahiti make much of him. But such a power does not bother with people like us, so distant from the lands that he watches over. We must look to our ancestors in times of trouble. The great Oro will not hear us."
Tepua did not know how to answer him. In her thoughts, she was now a high-islander. While living on Tahiti, the problems of her kin had seemed remote.
"But what will become of you, my sweet flower," he asked, "with your wild dancing and your foreign god? I know that Arioi women must not bear children. What kind of life will that be, with no sons and daughters?"
"One day, Father, when I have finished my duty, I will leave the Arioi. Then I will have sons. My children will be of the ariki, of the high chiefs, not only here but in Tahiti."
"Then you have a man, and one of high birth. I am glad to hear that, daughter. But I regret that he is so far away. It is important that you remain with your own people awhile. That is what the ringoringo seems to be telling us."
As she took in his words Tepua's mouth fell open and a chill touched her shoulders. From time to time a child-ghost, or ringoringo, flew out from the Vast Darkness, crying faintly beyond the roar of the surf. The voice brought a warning—that some great change was coming.
"Every morning at dawn we have heard it," said her father. "For seven days. The priests tried divination, but learned nothing of what is to come."
Tepua felt her throat tighten. She clasped her father's weathered hand, whispering, "I will stay by you. Until you have an answer, and are well."
"Ah, daughter, do not fool yourself. My body will not get well. Soon my spirit will fly from here to join the ancestors. I will learn what is coming, and then I will send you a message."
She blinked away a tear. "Go now," Kohekapu continued, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. "I must rest. We will talk later."
Excerpted from Sister Of The Sun by Clare Coleman. Copyright © 1993 Clare Bell and M. Coleman Easton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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