It seemed to Khaeuri Manaaka that his life was divided into two parts, the before and the after. Whether these two parts would ever be joined he could not say.
On some days it seemed to him that they would, that upon the day of his death the spirits of his whanau would find him somehow. He had dreamed of this often. They would make a marae wherever he was, by raising their hands up and making the place flat and clear. Since his days of mourning were already long over his flesh would fall away from him and his bones would lie clean and show themselves already to be painted with the red ochre. “”Do you see?” his father would say to him “We have performed the tuku wairua for you already, long ago. Cease your wandering now and come with us.” Matiu with their child on a cradle-board would be there, holding out her hand from a great voyaging canoe, the like of which he knew only from stories. This would take them all together to the afterlife and his long exile would be over.
Dreams did not mean truth, as he knew very well. He was not a Matakite with powers of seeing. Besides, in that dream the Dutch boy, Solo, was always sitting in the canoe beside Matiu, and was also waving and calling him to come along, which made the whole thing seem highly unlikely.
Most days it seemed to him far more probable that he must have already died and that all that had happened since was because he wandered now as a kēhua, lost upon the face of the earth and the waters.
Time would tell, he supposed.
In the meanwhile this mahi waimori of the messages and the wretched indigo plantation remained to finish.
He waited at a shaded spot some two miles or so up the road from the Inn. Solo would appear either tonight or tomorrow depending upon how he sorted matters with the Alliance fighters. Several of the European English soldiers looked askance at him as he walked up the road, but since he was clearly not one of the people they gained by oppressing in this place, and moreover as he was walking OUT of their city, they only puffed and barked like the dogs they were and left him alone. He had only to hold up his rope of carved fishhooks and they fled.
Some little brown-skinned children were gathered by the same spot along the river watering a few goats and a pony set to pull a small cart. They were very shy of him and stayed timidly behind the bushes as he approached the water. Khaeuri tossed in his rope and such was the skill of the kaha he had laid on it that he caught a large fish right away. He unhooked it and offered it to the children.
They were much afraid of him but one of them, an older girl from her garments, screwed up her courage and reached for it from his hands, looking at him as if he were a tupua all the while. She shouted to her companions in English and they all fled then, dragging their goats jangling bells and pulling at the rope of the pony. He saw her hide the fish beneath her apron and chuckled. Brave action in the face of the unknown should be rewarded.
Then he placed his blanket beneath the low trees along the stream and laid down to light his pipe and smoke tobacco.
It was possible Solo would mismanage the business and they would kill him but most probably they would not. The Dutch puppy was a good fighter and these Alliance dealt fair unless they thought you likely to betray them. Hopefully the great hākawa would abandon his idiot scheme to try to bargain them up. Solo was worried that with his debts still looming he still might not have enough to pay the crew off properly. After the mōrikarika they had seen up that river he had now taken it into his head they must all be sent away. Not here though, this was a terrible place and unjust place. Veracruz maybe, or up North in the British lands. It was a muddled plan as usual.
Solo always did it this way. As soon as he found himself taking a liking to a crew he would dismiss them all.
Khaeuri knew why he did so but it was really too bad. This was a particularly good crew. The Leonitus’ were twins and that was always lucky. Sabe was a deft hand and very good at ignoring Solo’s stupid orders and only following the good ones. The European boy Marcheur, though he was “green as grass” as Solo said, seemed born to sail with a keen eye, a right quick hand with a sword and a very pleasant manner. Best of all, he was the only one of them for a long time who had learned to speak a few words and had even begun calling Khaeuri “Pā” which was a clear sign of goodness and sensibility.
Still, maybe Solo was right and it was for the best. Much as he liked him, Lucas Ceil-Marcheur seemed a little too fond of Solo at times and the last thing Khaeuri wanted to deal with was another broken heart. That business with Alando had been bad enough.
Besides, something very wicked and dangerous was clearly happening on that river at Florida. It was mōkinokino if he had ever seen it. The wise thing would be for the Dutch hākawa to give those Alliance what they wanted straight out and let them handle it rather than exercise his cleverness for a few extra gold pieces.
That Jabbar at Havanna was going to try to kill him anyway, whether he paid back the money or not. They would just have to deal with it.
Before sunset the little frogs all began to sing in the trees and the cheerful sound comforted him greatly.
Solo returned before dark and being a hoa tāpui brought him some bread and a roasted bird. There was not enough light left to play cribbage so they sat together and listened to the frog-songs for a pleasant long while then wrapped up in the blankets and got a decent night’s sleep for once. It proved to be the last such for a long time after.