Chapter Five

The Hawaiians were waiting as Órlaith and Reiko approached; bright feather cloaks, crested helms, tall carved staffs and a glitter of spearpoints among the guards. A rumble of pahu-drums pulsed in the background as their players’ hands slapped in unison, long narrow instruments made of carved coconut-wood with their heads covered in sharkskin. To the fore were grave older men and a few women, probably generals and noblemen and kahuna—priest-diviners.

Their liege was much younger, only a few years older than Órlaith, which gave her a stab of sympathy—he’d be surrounded by those who barely recognized him as an adult, as she was.

The tall figure of King Kalākaua II was in the center, made taller still by the golden crest on his golden helm—both were made of yellow feathers, and the cloak hanging from his broad shoulders was of the same, though patterned with red as well. Apart from that and sandals, his only garment was an elaborately folded loincloth that ended with a broad vertical panel before and behind, and there was a heavy battle-spear in his hand with a circle of leaves fastened just below the head, evidently a symbol of peace.

Kalākaua was an impressively muscular brown-skinned man, mostly of the blood of the canoe-navigators who’d first settled these islands, though his features were aquiline and eyes hazel, and he was about Heuradys’ age. Queen Haukea was a little younger, and judging from her milky freckled complexion the startling red of her hair was natural. Several maidens dressed like her in colorful kikepa wraps tied to leave one shoulder bare waited with leis of frangipani and sambac-jasmine flowers to bestow on the guests.

Órlaith had no objection to that, but decision formed as she determined to alter the procedure a little. She took a step forward, stooped to raise a clod of earth to her lips, and spoke formally with a tone pitched to carry without shouting… and in the ancient language of the islands.

English was the tongue most common here for everyday use, albeit in a wildly eccentric form that Montivallans often strained to follow, but they remembered the ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi and used it for worship and for the most solemn occasions of State.

“I come as friend, as ally, as a stranger who asks leave of the King and the Gods of the land and of the aes dana, the spirits of place, asks their permission to sail their waters and walk upon their shore. With respect I bow before the Powers who rule here! I bow before Pele of the fire, Lady of Kilauea, whose flame draws land from sea! I bow before Her father Kane of the forests, Lord of supreme Hunamoku, whose might separates Earth and Sky! I bow before His brothers Ku of the mace who bested Apuhau, and Lono whose tears make fertile the earth! Before Laka of the red lahua flower, who brings love and beauty, I bow! Before dread Milu of the dead, I bow!”

There were nods… and from the tall figure of King Kalākaua II she thought a slight nod of craftsman’s acknowledgment. From one performer to another, as a murmur of astonishment and pleasure ran through the watching crowd, the news traveling from mouth to ear beyond the reach of her own voice.

“That was well-done, Your Highness,” he said after the greetings as they exchanged bows and shook hands.

“It costs nothing to be polite, Your Majesty,” Órlaith said cheerfully.

Heuradys coughed; that had been a favorite saying of Sandra Arminger, Órlaith’s maternal grandmother and Lady Regent of the Association for a long time before the High Kingdom.

The full form she’d generally used was: Even when you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.

“We’ve a good deal to talk about,” Kalākaua said. “Hawaii’s suffered from piracy… based in Korea and elsewhere… but we haven’t been able to do much about it. Now maybe we can.”

“Indeed,” Reiko said. “And relations between Hawaii and Dai-Nippon could be fruitful for us both. Soon we will be in a position to break the Korean blockade of our homeland permanently, and we have very rich sources of salvage material.”

Which is a polite way of saying a lot of it is covered in ruins, Órlaith thought.

The Hawaiian monarchs nodded; their land depended on trade to a degree unusual in the modern world. The islands were self-sufficient in essentials—anyone who’d survived the Change was—but they needed outsiders for the rest and had lively entrepôt dealings as well.

“But first I suppose your people have to get a good look at us,” Órlaith said. “What was that thing the ancients had for exotic animals… a zoo?”

Queen Haukea grinned, which evidently alarmed some of the Royal advisors. “Or a museum of curiosities.”

Órlaith chuckled, which lack of offense relieved them in turn. From their point of view she was a curiosity… and a dangerous foreign beast… and they had to be torn between the twin perils of looking weak and giving offense.

The rest of the afternoon was about what she had expected. A ride through the streets of Hilo in open carriages with cheering crowds on every side, including plenty of her own forces on shore-leave and countryfolk in from round about. The locals kept surging against the barrier of spears and bamboo-laminate longbows held horizontally in the hands of their king’s armsmen, trying to throw her flower wreaths to add to those already piled around her neck officially, and dancers and musicians performed at street-corners.

Once beyond the inevitable tangle of warehouses and forges and shipyards at the docks, the buildings were the usual city-mix of places to live, places to make things and places to sell things you’d made or brought from somewhere else or combinations of the three, combined with taverns and service trades, but all in a style of big arched windows and courtyards and high-pitched roofs obviously intended to shed rain but catch every available breeze. The roads were well-kept, the buildings in good repair, the folk looked well-fed, and you couldn’t mistake the genuine enthusiasm they showed their King, the smiles on the shouting faces and the rain of flowers before the hooves of his carriage-horses.

Not the sort you get when someone’s metaphorically standing in the background with a spear directed at the crowd’s livers, which is unmistakable too. No doubt there’s the usual share of human misery and wrong-headedness, but it’s a happy enough little kingdom in the main, well recovered from the Change. ‘tis pity I come as the herald of war.

She remembered looking into the eyes of the enemy kangshinmu in south Westria, that whirl of dissolution… war was needful. Not just for Montival’s sake, either, or for revenge for her father’s death at the hands of foreign men who’d come onto the High Kingdom’s land uninvited with weapons in hand, though that would be ample cause for war in the normal course of things.

Something had gone very wrong in Korea in the aftermath of the Change, something as bad as the Prophet her parents had put down in Montival’s far interior, and the people there didn’t deserve it any more than the hapless inhabitants of Montana-that-was had. Much good had come through the doors the Change opened, and much evil had also been set free to walk the ridge of the world… and the world hadn’t yet seen the whole of either.

Then there was a religious service with much blowing of conch-shell trumpets and drumming and more dancing, this a lot more decorous than the impromptu versions on the streetcorners; the local priesthood seemed to be willing to let her have the benefit of the doubt, and she hoped the Powers they followed did too.

Hawaii had religious toleration, and she’d seen various flavors of Christian and Buddhist and Shinto shrines in the city. The reports said there were a couple of covensteads and Asatruar hofs for visitors from Montival, too. Most folk seemed to follow the traditional pantheon, though, and they were rather touchy of the dignity of their Gods and of the servants of the divine.

And especially touchy about the mainland, as they call us, she thought.

That wasn’t surprising; Hawaii had been part of the United States so recently that a few living oldsters remembered it from their youths, and Montival was the giant among the multitude of successor-states on the old Republic’s territory and occupied the whole of the western front of North America above Baja. From what she’d read of the history the American annexation here a century before the Change hadn’t been universally popular, especially among the descendants of the folk who’d originally settled the islands.

You could tell from looking that the people here were of much the same mixture of heritages as Montival’s, albeit in greatly different proportions—there were fewer who looked like Órlaith and Heuradys and more who resembled, say, Sir Droyn’s blunt features and light-brown skin, and quite a few who had Reiko’s fine-boned build, narrow tilted eyes and pale umber complexion—but apparently in the generations since the Change they’d blended and mostly taken on the heritage and attitudes of the firstcomers.

This island kingdom was simply small, though. Populous as some of Montival’s member-realms, compact and well-governed and rich from fields and sea, trade and crafts, but still a little nervous about possible ambitions from its giant neighbor. Soothing those was part of her task.

And besides, I could feel it if this were destined to be Montivallan soil… and I don’t. It’s… not ours, even in potential. I get the same feeling as I do stepping across the border to say the Dominions or Iowa.

The journey ended with the fortress Órlaith had seen from the Sea-Leopard bulking to the east. They clopped west of it, along a road turned into a tunnel of green shade by towering multi-stemmed banyan trees. An arched wrought-iron gate opened onto a walled enclosure of many acres; a squad of lightly-armored Hawaiian spearmen guarded it, and a detachment of soldiers from the 1st Brigade, United States of Boise Army. The tropical sunlight was harsh on the curved hoops of their lorica segmentata armor, the long iron shanks of their pila and the eagle and crossed thunderbolts on their big curved oval shields. And on the stiff taut curves of their faces, blank as machines. One blinked, very slowly, as a fly crawled along his eyelid.

The Boiseans were in a column of twos; they snapped their shields up, smacked the heavy six-foot javelins on them in a single echoing crack of salute, did ninety-degree turns to face each other and stepped back four paces in stamping unison to line the roadway on either side. Each pila’s butt grounded with a thud at parade rest.

Órlaith nodded gravely. Her father had always thought of—and in strict privacy with her and Mother called—this sort of thing dancing a fight or simply murmured Osprey Men-At-Arms Number 46, but he’d also given unstinting praise to the Boiseans who’d fought with him through the Prophet’s War and at the Horse Heaven Hills. And professional respect to the ones who’d fought on the other side, whatever he thought of their political judgement.

Past the gateway, and the carriages were in parkland scattered with buildings that were mostly new since the Change, connected by roads of white crushed shell amid very beautiful gardens with sweeping velvety-green lawns, groves of many different trees, bright flowers, reflecting pools with golden ornamental fish…

“Nice,” Heuradys murmured as they were shown to their quarters; a subtle touch was the absence of noise and numbers. “Not that straw in a stable wouldn’t be a relief from that barrel of sardines packed in oil they call a ship.”

Órlaith felt her soul stretching a little too, and there was a murmur of agreement from her followers as they swung down from the mounts the Hawaiians had provided. All of them were countryfolk, born and reared among fields and forests and rangelands. Cities were alien environments they visited or occasionally worked in, and the ships had been a shock.

Faramir Kovalevsky of the Dúnedain frowned in thought as the carriages and horses wheeled away, his blue-grey eyes going distant for an instant beneath the brim of the spired Ranger helm he wore for the occasion, along with a black jerkin marked with the silver Tree, seven stars and crown.

“A ship is like a jail, with the chance of being drowned added,” he said.

There was a general laugh, which he disclaimed with a raised hand:

“Not me! That’s some ancient sage Mother is fond of. Not in the Histories, I think, some Fourth Age philosopher.”

Histories was what the Rangers called the works that described ancient Middle Earth and the Quest of the One Ring, the traditions on which their founders had modeled their scattered, wilderness-dwelling nation.

Of course, Great-Aunt Astrid always claimed that she was descended from the Dúnedain in the Histories, from the House of Hador. She was a great warrior and hero, by all accounts, but Da told me many who knew her in person thought her barking mad. Though he used to say too it didn’t really matter much in the end, because she made her mad dreams sober truth.

Non-Dúnedain were more likely to regard the Histories as fanciful tales, though less fanciful than some from the ancient world. The folk in them lived more or less as real people did in modern times, after all, not flying to the moon or sailing beneath the sea. That old sage Faramir quoted had a point, too. A crofter’s cottage or even a barracks back home usually had more room than even the commanders had enjoyed on the trip out, with the added advantage that the world was just out the door. Most of them had spent as much time as they could at the mastheads and bowsprits, or hauling on ropes whenever the sailors would allow them to help, for distraction as well as keeping in trim.

“And I’m glad we’re within a perimeter, at least,” Heuradys added.

Reiko actually smiled as she dismounted from her carriage in turn and looked at an arched bridge over a pond.

“That is in our style!” she said, pulling her folded tessen from her obi and making a sweeping gesture with the steel war-fan.

The polished-looking Hawaiian guiding them—a brown, bronzed young man who showed that you could look immensely aristocratic wearing nothing but sandals, a brightly printed sarong-like wraparound they called a kikepa here, a ten-inch knife through your belt and flowers in your raven hair—smiled and bowed slightly.

“These are the Gardens of Queen Liliʻuokalani, Majesty,” he said; he had less of the strong local accent in his English than most of the people they’d met, too, just enough to give it a pleasant soft tinge.

He made a graceful gesture. “She was our last great Queen before the Change, but this park was laid out by Nihonjin gardeners; there is a teahouse in the fashion of your people also, Majesty, and we have equipped this mansion with tatami and fittings you will hopefully find familiar. The island to the west along the black-sand beach has a temple of healing, but for the duration of your visit we are keeping the common people out. We hope that all is satisfactory, and as we indicated His Majesty of Hawaii bids both of you—”

He managed to bow politely to both the foreign royals in the same gesture.

“—to a feast an hour after sunset.”

His gesture was almost as tactful as the fact that the rambling structures that would house the Montivallan and Nihonjin parties were almost identical. Reiko bowed politely to Órlaith, who matched the gesture with a slightly deeper one—her friend was a reigning monarch, while she was only an heir-apparent.

“Until sunset, Orrey-chan,” Reiko said.

That was startlingly informal, enough that several of her more recently-arrived courtiers showed that absolute absence of expression by which Nihonjin shi—gentlefolk—conveyed disapproval of a superior.

“Until then, Reiko-chan,” Órlaith said, matching it.

The two ladies-in-waiting opened the door, another made a just-barely successful snatch at the young girl she’d been escorting as she tried to make a break for the gardens.

“Come, Kiwako,” Reiko called to her in Nihongo, taking her by the hand and then laughing and sweeping her up on her right hip, across from the two swords. “Time for your nap!”

Her samurai stepped out of their sandals—and discarded the fragrant flower leis that they had tolerated only with a massive effort of self-control—and fanned out inside and around the edges of the house. The women sank to their knees and bowed their heads almost to the floor as Reiko shed her footwear and entered with Kiwako’s hand in hers. Órlaith thought she sensed the very faintest of sighs, as Reiko vanished once more into a world of ceremony and protocol far more ancient and rigid than that which often carked the heir to Montival.

Heuradys and Droyn and Karl Aylward Mackenzie and their followers—including Karl’s greathounds Fenris and Ulf—did a sweep before she got past the front door of the house they’d been assigned, and then Morfind and Faramir and Susie Mika did it again, while Diarmuid Tennart McClintock spoke to his caterans:

“Scit th’ groonds. An aye be cannie aboot it.”

She didn’t think that the handsome young McClintock tacksman was more conscientious because they’d been lovers once, briefly and long ago; he’d her first man, at a Beltaine festival in the usual way among those of their branch of the Old Faith. He was a settled man now, with a handfasted wife and a newborn babe down south in his clan’s dúthchas where he was a minor chief. He’d come along to the Valley of Death for friendship’s sake, and because he agreed it was the will of the Powers that it was very needful. But it probably made him feel the responsibility more intensely, and his followers might well be more enthusiastic because they knew it and considered it an honor done their folk.

The McClintocks fanned out through the nearby groves and flowerbeds, sometimes visible only by the flapping of their bunched-up Great Kilts. Órlaith winced a little at their trampling. And at the way one swordsman with sinuous blue tattoos on this face, arms and legs, and a beard like a burst pillow stuffed with ginger-colored straw drew the four-foot claidheamh-mòr slung across his back and used it to poke into hidden spots in the shrubbery.

You just couldn’t convince a McClintock cateran that anyone else knew how to find things amid vegetation, even if it was vegetation they’d never seen before and a very, very long way from the forests where they hunted deer.

Any more than you can convince them stealing the neighbor’s coo-beasties or wooly ship isn’t harmless rough fun or that they shouldn’t drop by a little past midnight to burn down the barn of someone who punched out their second cousin in a drunken brawl at the Samhain games and lift his horses while they’re at it, she thought resignedly. Grandmother Juniper says we should blame all those Highland adventure novels old Chief Hamish liked so much before the Change, but are tales really that influential?

She snorted to herself: Of course they are.

From the briefing packets that High Marshall d’Ath’s office had prepared for the expedition, mostly culled from interviewing merchants who made this run, Órlaith suspected that the guest-houses were usually kept for visiting AliʻI, the subordinate nobles who ruled various parts of the seven major islands that made up the Kingdom of Hawaii. As such they had to be big enough to accommodate their staffs and guards, which was convenient. Two statues stood on plinths beside the main doors, at first grotesque to Montivallan eyes and then showing their own beauty, snarling protective kiʻi of the sort she’d seen at the heiau temple earlier in the day.

“First watch,” Heuradys said to Sir Droyn, who nodded and set his men-at-arms in their places at the door and around the edge of the big rambling structure.

The construction was set around several courts and struck her as ingenious on several accounts; crushed coral rag mixed with a little cement and water and mineral pigments and pounded in frames, then left until it dried into shapes like monolithic blocks of coarse rock run through with pleasing patterns of waving horizontal lines. The walls were thick but only navel-high, with pillars of the same material carrying the high ceilings that showed rafters of Douglas fir imported from Montival, and the underside of the steep palm-thatch roofs above. Between the rooflines and the low walls were moveable curtains and screens of woven bamboo dyed in colorful patterns, and more of the same made up the interior partitions. Marble that had probably come from salvage expeditions to dead Honolulu on Oahu covered the floors, and brick from the same source was laid as pathways in the courtyards.

The party went in, and by the time Órlaith reached the main common-room a swift efficient unpacking had begun, with a little quiet push-and-shove about who got barracked where. Heuradys settled that and the guard register with brisk authority—it was part of her job as Head of Household to see that Órlaith didn’t have to worry about details—and picked a room beside the master-suite Órlaith would be using, which had a small private garden and fountain of its own.

“Nice,” Órlaith said judiciously as Macmacon lapped noisily from one of the pools, jumped up on a cushioned chair and circled until he was a ball of fur and dozed.

She looked around the central lounging room’s cool airy spaciousness, with walls open on the shaded verandah and an interior court fragrant with jasmine and frangipani and drooping blue sprays of Queen’s Wreath, the plashing of a fountain in a pool big enough to swim in sounding pleasantly in the background. The sound made her want to strip off her clothes and jump in, which she intended to do just as soon as possible.

Hilo had plenty of rainwater from cisterns and more still piped in from the slopes of the mountains southward, for drinking and sanitation and to power the machinery she’d sometimes heard whining and thumping while the parade went through the streets. The mansion’s layout was also cunningly sited and planned to catch every possible breeze by moving the screens and partitions. They weren’t backwoodsmen here, and from the looks of things must have good engineers on call.

The furniture was comely but functional, mostly of laminated bamboo and white cotton, some of polished stone tops or hard comely woods she didn’t recognize. Susan Mika flopped down on a sofa and tossed a few fried poi chips from a bowl into her mouth after dipping them into a spicy red sauce. Like a lot of short, thin wiry energetic people she had a bottomless capacity for food when it was available.

“Nice? You can say that again, Orrey,” the Lakota girl said. “Of course, back home on the makol they think it’s not really a home unless you can put wheels on it and haul it around with you while you shear sheep and punch cows and steal horses—that part’s fun, I gotta admit—and harvest tatanka.”

Makol was what the Lakota—the people outsiders often called Sioux—named their own territory on the high bleak prairies beyond the Rockies. It was part of the High Kingdom and the realm bore the title of Guardian of the Eastern Gate, but sheer distance from anywhere else meant it was even more autonomous than most of Montival’s members.

Heuradys raised a brow as she shed her armor with Órlaith’s help, a groan of relief and a strong smell of sweat.

“You don’t agree, Susie?” the knight asked. “Do I detect a note of skepticism?”

“I left, you may notice. Glad I did, too, even if I miss my family. All that nomad virtue and hardiness and buffalo pemmican and ancestral chants around the fires in our freezing fucking winters… bo-ring! Not to mention we copied the gurs we actually live in from that Mongol friend of my granddad, so much for ancient tradition. Yeah, they’ve got tipis beat all to hell, especially in cold weather with a nice airtight stove, but you know what I mean.”

One thing the Sword of the Lady did was tell you whether someone was speaking truth, or more precisely whether they thought what they were saying was the truth. Outright lying with intent tasted like metal foil clenched between your back teeth. In this case the answer was yes… and no; a sensation like what you felt waiting for someone to complete a sentence when they paused, only much stronger.

That response was one reason Órlaith thought there had been some sort of scandal involved in the wiry little easterner’s departure from the high plains of the realm’s borderlands too—they were a straight-laced lot there—but had never pushed for the details. You had to be careful when you carried the Sword. Her father had said that if you weren’t you’d become impossible for ordinary people to be around without hatred.

Lila washté!” Susie exclaimed, going down the corridor and sticking her head into a room, her broad-cheeked brown face splitting in a grin. “Totally excellent! Nice big bed, and it’s perfectly positioned for guarding Her Immense Importantness. Dibs on the right-hand side.”

“Left-hand for me,” Faramir Kovalevsky said quickly, grinning and running a hand through his pale-gold curls as he shed his helmet with a sigh of relief.

“Amarth faeg!” his cousin Morfind Vogeler said as she did likewise, which was a complaint about the woes of one’s fate in Sindarin, then added: “Uff da!”

Rangers from Stath Ingolf insisted that that was Sindarin too; if pressed they’d admit it was from the Wisconsin Kickapoo Valley sub-dialect of Elvish, which was where Ingolf Vogeler had originally come from.

Her hair was straight and black; she was a handsome young woman of his own twenty years, a little taller than the blond Ranger, with a bad axe-scar down one side of her face that was only a year old and still purple-colored.

“Why do I always get the middle spot?” she went on; Órlaith was glad to hear the teasing in her voice, since she tended to be quiet and brood.

“Because he and I both get up to pee more often than you do, my beautiful Ranger lady of the capacious bladder,” Susie said. “I’m just minimizing the waking-you-up-by-climbing-over-you-in-the-dark stuff.”

They shouldered their duffles and weapons and went inside the room to unpack, bickering amiably as they went. Órlaith reflected that they made her feel very adult sometimes, and she wouldn’t reach the quarter-century mark for another eighteen months. The relationship they’d settled into seemed to suit them. Though it would be at least mildly frowned on by Ranger custom, Faramir and Morfind being first cousins.

“In bed two is glad company, three is choreography and boring,” Heuradys said ironically… and softly.

“I heard that! You’re simply jealous!” Susie called, sticking her head out again for an instant.

“It’s not natural the way she picks things up,” Heuradys grumbled.

“Makes her a good scout,” Órlaith grinned and shook her shoulders back, thumbs in her swordbelt. “Settle in and familiarize yourself, everyone, then a swim for those who want it, your best clothes, and dinner.”

That raised a cheer. They were here on serious business, but Heuradys was the oldest of them in her mid-twenties, and they were perfectly ready to have some fun along the way.

The which is a good model for life, not so?


Copyright © 2016-2017 by S.M. Stirling