2018-03-05, 06:57 PM (ISO 8601)
Re: Cultures -- Multiple Pan-Asian sources in a WELL DONE "mashup"
The young man's naked skin was the color of old copper, his eye black. The only garment he wore was an eyepatch over his other eye. There was nothing wrong with that eye, but squinting against the glare of the sun for twelve hours a day gave him a headache, and the patch, woven of fine, soft, kapok fiber, allowed one eye at a time to rest. In a while he would shift it to the other eye.
Kapok was a useful material, not only for eyepatches. Threads spun from it were very weak, and cloth made from such threads tended to quickly fray, but it would never absorb water, and it floated. The tapered ends of his canoe and its hollowed outrigger were packed with the fiber, allowing it to remain afloat even filled with water and nine manweights of stone. He also had a vest made of sailcloth which was stuffed with it, but he used it only for a cushion.
His boat was made from a single log of driftwood. Under the supervision of his uncle he had used fire and shaped blackstone to carve it, to split and holliw the outrigger, and to build the mast and the two spars which supported it. Its sail and deckhouse cover were made of palm fronds woven by his mother and his sisters. The deck was plank, split by prying lengthwise from log sections, and the whole was bound together with sizal rope which resisted swelling and shrinking due to moisture. Only the rope had been bought, but it and the spare coil kept stowed in the canoe were the most valuable objects he owned. Everything else he could find or make, but rope was made by specialists who rarely went to sea.
He was following a pattern in the waves. He had been for twenty six days now. The pattern said Island in the language of the Navigators, but so far the old men who sailed the open blue knew it was a false pattern. In their youths they too had sought the center of the pattern, but never found it. He was an explorer; he would find it and his deed would be written on his face and into the legends of his people. He would become a Navigator.
He had earned a tattoo by building his boat, but he was no fisherman, (though he had eaten nothing but the fish he caught since he left the home island.) He didn't, as his childhood friends and cousins had, beg a tattoo from the shaman at the first opportunity. His first tattoo would be an albatross, the god of Navigators, its wings spread across his cheeks from ear to ear. After that, who knew? He would have to live the tale before it could be written on his skin.
To be a Navigator one had to undertake a great voyage. Some might say that simply returning from a month at sea qualified, but grandfather disagreed. He in his day had guided the nine families across the waves to Ulinni, the Island Of The Many Lakes, and had returned to his home island many times to trade stories and goods, and to guide curiosity seekers to see the many birds found nowhere else in the world.
Grandfather's albatross rode above his brow, but shark's teeth covered his face; he had been a warrior in his youth. Ulinni was too far away for rival clans to make war on them, but Grandfather demanded his children train for the war that would never come. The child had trained with his friends and cousins, and was an expert with the lance, but from his earliest memories his eyes, and his heart, belonged to the stars and the sea.
A sudden coolness caught his attention and he dipped a hand into the water: cold. Colder, in fact than any water he had felt before.Curious, he tasted. Salt. Of course the sea tasted of salt, but this was far saltier than usual. Unbidden a memory came to him of a lazy afternoon on his uncle's trading canoe, a huge twin-hulled vessel with two sails like bird wings.
"It is known that the bottom of the sea is salt, and cold. When the mighty currents of the deep meet land, the cold and salt rise up. For many generations after the sea grinds an island to sand the cold currents will continue to flow. Fishermen seek out the cold places for the abundance of fish that thrive there."
Curious, he released thd boom of his sail so it would flap in the wind, tied his safety line around his ankle, and took up his fishing spear. He went over the side without a splash and in seconds he was twenty feet beneath his boat. Below he could see only blue, but the intense cold was unbearable. Up near the surface a few dozen fish were hiding in the shadow of his boat. They were not the silver of deep sea fish, but blue-and yellow jacks such as could be found near reefs.
All around and through him he could feel a growling that he could not hear. But he had to sutface. Not for air; he could hold his breath for a count of three hundred, and he had been under for less than fifty. The cold was sucking the life from him. He let a bubble escape and followed it up, impaling a jack on his lance just before breaking the surface.
Reef jacks meant reefs. Reefs meant land. He couldn't be more than a few days away at most. Shivering from the cold which had burned deep into his bones, he lay on his deck under the sun, drying and warming up. His fish, still impaled on his lance, lay forgotten until his teeth stopped chattering.
Then he set his sail again, put his eyepatch on his left eye, and resumed his course. Hours later he saw the fringes of a black cloud which did not move on the horizon, and from beneath it came a tiny white cloud. The black cloud grew, but the white one quartered into the wind, and then he understood: it was a great canoe with many sails.
A huge canoe. His uncle's twin hull would have been tiny compared to that one. No drifting log could ever have made that hull. And it had no outrigger. Curiosity warred with fear as he maintained his course, but then as he was certain the floating village would pass him by, a dozen crewmen scrambled up the three masts which were set in line down its center, and they began to draw the odd, square sails up to the booms which crossed the masts. The canoe-village came to rest in his path and the villagers stood along the side, apparently unafraid that it would roll under all their combined weight.
The men were dark from the sun, but their eyes were of many colors. And their clothes! Such colors as only land birds and reef fish wore! Every detail of the great canoe was a wonder from the ropes as large as his arms which ran to every corner of the huge deck and sails to the shining yellow items which seemed to have no purpose, to the strange coverings the villagers wore on their feet.
When he finally remembered he was naked and they were dressed he opened a cubby and took out his skirt. It was of woven palm fronds, like his sail, but of much finer work. His mother had stitched in wave patterns instead of the five-petal flowers she used for her daughters clothes. At the last moment he donned his feathered mantle too. It was the one item of color among the browns and tans of the rest of his gear.
Up close the side of the giant canoe was taller than his mast. And the strange men spoke without words in chanting voices that sounded like "Yamma-yamma-yamma." He sang his greeting, but they didn't know his song. And they did not sing greetings.
Just as he was wondering how these folk got on and off that huge canoe one of them dropped a rope over the side. Two ropes with planks set between them. He released his sail and coasted to the side of the giant canoe, then shipped his tiller and stowed it. A quick flip and his safety line was attached to his ankle. The strange ropes were an easy climb.
On deck they gave him room, but showed no fear or aggression. He was much shorter than these strange men, and they tended to be as thick as the village mothers of his home. Then they made room for the woman who was dressed like a frigate bird: black all over with a red cloth bunched at her neck. She yamma'd at him, and he understood none of it. Then he understood the sounds to be a greeting of a strange sort. He answered her.
He stomped the patterns of the dance on the smooth, warm wood of the deck and sang:
"I am Tanatu-Kensa of Ulinni,
My mother is Kensa-Klinsai,
Daughter of the waves and stars.
Twenty six days I have sailed toward evening,
Against the wind's will.
Seeking the islands,
Which the waves have revealed,
Following the warm currents,
Untill they turned cold,
Under the stars unchanging,
On the unbounded waves."
He ended his dance, but the strange folk did not answer. They yamma'd to one another, then Frigate Bird Woman chanted and folks scattered. She was obviously their chief, but he couldn't see her face in any of theirs. She was neither mother nor daughter to those others, who were not brothers and sisters, or even cousins.
Then a young man, younger than himself, certainly, though more heavily bearded, arrived with a white club. The woman took the club from the youth and unrolled it on the slope of a deck house, and Tanatu was surprised to see it was another canoe, still larger than his, but upside down and lashed to a frame set into the deck. A small canoe on a giant canoe? And now he saw others, similarly lashed to the deck. Many small canoes, all larger than his explorer, were carried on this giant ship.
Frigate Bird Woman yamma'd and tapped the unrolled thing which looked like a tattooed skin. Strange black marks on its yellow surface appeared faded, as if it had been the skin of an elder. He stared at the object with a combination of awe and disgust. Ths skin of an enemy? Was this a strange kind of threat?
But she tapped it again and pointed to the horizon toward the stern of her canoe. Another tap and she pointed ahead. Then she pointed at him and held her hand palm up by the skin. She wanted something from him. What?
She tapped again on a small black circle. Then she pointed to the horizon where the black cloud stood unmoved by the winds. Then he understood: a black circle was a reef like the one that encircled Ulinni. And the empty yellow of the skin was the sea. It was a map!
A strange one, admittedly. He smiled at Frigate Bird Woman and tapped the circle, then pointed to the black cloud. He pointed to himself and pointed toward morning. The woman turned her head side to side, wiping her hand on a blank space on her skins.
He tapped the skin twenty-six times, each tap farther towards morning, as best he could figure on the strange map. Again she moved her head side to side. Frustrated he tapped twenty-six times again, pointing to morning. She didn't understand. He needed a real map. He stepped to the high side of the giant canoe and looked over. His canoe was out of the way, so he jumped.
He slid into the water with very little splashing, bobbed to the surface, and in just a few kicks slid up onto his canoe. In the stowage compartment beneath his deck house he withdrew his old starmap made of twigs bound with dune-grass. He slid back into the water with the map in his teeth. As he ascended the rope-and-plank arrangement, he saw many faces again looking down on him. Frigate Bird Woman had rolled up her skin and awaited him on the deck.
Smiling, he gave her the map, which she handled gingerly. She held it reversed and rotated. She looked at it in puzzlement. He took it and touched the rolled up skin with it, then held it up to the sky, placing the sun in the Moon Track. He then pointed at the windows and named the stars, "Ah, Lodom, Jillint, Tathpaua, Ora, Desel-Fan..."
She took the map and pointed at the star windows, then pointed at the sky, and he smiled. Then she did a strange thing; she hugged the map to her like a mother holds a baby. He smiled in understanding. Thinking quickly he made up a new gesture. He closed his hands, put them behind his back, and smiled.
She said something short and the young man appeared as if waiting for her call. He took both maps, staring curiously at the twig map, and vanished into a storage compartment with a hatch that was large enough for a man to enter. Then the woman reached behind her neck and drew a string of shiny yellow over her head. It had a pendent of some odd shape with two strange bent legs. The string was made of many tiny circles joined one to the next, and the pendent was of the same strange material. She draped the string around his neck.
He looked at it, and at the pendent. The string appeared fragile, but each loop was hard like stone. As was the pendent, which was apparently intentionally shaped, though he couldn't make out what a shapeless blob with bent legs was supposed to be. Inspired, he took off his mantle of feathers, already dry from their dunk in the sea, and draped it over her shoulders. She seemed pleased.
Without ceremony he leapt over the side. Saying goodbye was unknown among his people, except to the dead, and it never occurred to him that anyone felt differently. Back on his canoe he drew his sail and turned toward the black cloud. If his guess about the map was correct there would be an island beneath that cloud. He had found the island that the waves said would be there! He would earn his albatross!
Then, as the giant canoe unfurled its many sails, he realized something else: they had no tattoos!