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A story by Simon Barber & David Reese Dorrycott & Fredrik K T Andersson
A story of Angelica Silferlindh, a character by Freddy Andersson,
(including characters from his comic strip "Silver Angel")
& featuring Oharu and characters by David Reese Dorrycott
and characters from Simon Barber's Songmark Academy stories.
by Simon Barber
featuring Oharu and characters by David Reese Dorrycott
and characters from Simon Barber's Songmark Academy stories
and Freddy Andersson's Silver Angel comic strip
Oharu © David Reese D’Orrycott
Angelica Silferlindh © Freddy Andersson
Remainder by S. Barber, free for Spontoon usage!
Hot sunshine fell like golden rain onto the beach below the wooded cliff top, the light seeming to have a real density and texture of its own. Just inside the edge of the wood a figure sat motionless, shielded from the direct blast of the August sun by a waving roof of palm fronds that let a gentle dappling of light fall playfully onto the forest floor, breaking up the outline of the small kimono-clad figure sitting relaxed but attentive, observing everything on the beach below.
Had any native Spontoonie wandered past on the way to the North Shore village, he might have wondered briefly that a tourist strictly traditional enough to wear a kimono would bend that dress code by decorating her head-fur with a hibiscus blossom tucked behind the ear like a Native girl. But had they looked closer, they would have seen the distinctive combed fur patterns that would have explained what they were if not what they were doing here. And although it would have surely been a puzzle as to what an obviously Cipanguan woman was doing training to be a Spontoonie priestess, there was probably nobody on the island who understood the question, that would have ever asked Oharu that.
Down on the beach, things were less harmonious and a great deal noisier.
“Oh come on baby! What IS the matter with you?” The words were a shout, an exasperated plea as a slim golden-furred feline waved a large wrench in frustration, standing on the float looking up at the exposed engine of a large floatplane. The aircraft was a sleek, silver radial-engined machine of the latest design; the sunlit glint of its smooth aluminium skin reflected in the calm lagoon waters as it rocked in the shallows just outside the village.
In clear, proud letters the fuselage bore the name “Silferangel”, and indeed it was well chosen. An angel of graceful flight, it looked as if a word from its pilot would be enough to send it soaring effortlessly into the heavens, never to return to the lower world of palms and beaches. Unfortunately, looks were deceptive.
“Think, girl, think.” For the fifth time that day Angelica Silferlindh forced her temper down to a low boil, and sat down on the float having carefully secured the wrench in the floating toolbox. “I’ve checked the fuel, the electrics, the control system … it all works perfectly, every piece of it. But when I put the pieces together, baby just won’t GO!” She looked up at the gleaming radial engine, its every part carefully cleaned, dismantled, cleaned, inspected, oiled and reassembled again three times. “Engine starts perfectly. Just when it looks like I’m about to get away at last – she gives up the ghost.” For the first time that day she smiled, remembering the toy tennis-bat she had owned as a kitten with the ball attached to it by elastic – the harder you hit it, the harder and faster it came back. But in a second her smile faded, as a large drop of oil suddenly fell from the uncowled engine to land with a messy splat in her smoothly combed head-fur.
With a shriek of horror, Angelica reached for the mechanic’s soap and ducked her head into the warm waters, frantically scrubbing the sump-oil out of her fine hair. By the time she had grumpily decided the damage was fixed, the image of the tethered ball trying to escape had entirely gone from her head. This was a pity. Because had she but known it, it was a rather good description of her situation.
The aged pantheress smiled, and waved depreciatingly. “As well as I ever shall be, this I can say.” She looked around the simple bamboo hut; although it was no bigger or more elaborate than some tool sheds of family longhouses further down the hill, it was neat. Neatly and precisely built, the roof was tiled with large split bamboo stems arranged in an overlap that kept even the most torrential summer downpours out. She gave a quiet nod, approvingly.
There was a silence. Oharu sat respectfully, motionless. Huakava sensed the mouse could sit there all day, without asking impatiently why her senior priestess had dragged her old bones up to this remote spot. But although some candidates for the post needed such exercises, Huakava well knew the mouse was more than capable that way; what lessons she needed lay in other directions.
“There are several Spontoonies learning on Main Island, how to be priests, priestesses,” she began. “I have seen them all – I cannot teach them all. Some of them have limits. Not all of them accept hearing that.” She paused again, looking Oharu over. The mouse was a graduate of a very different tradition, a priestly form that Cipangu had had the population, organised temples and time to refine and codify with well thought-out rituals. On the scattered islands of the Pacific things were different; a single local shaman or practitioner could shape an island’s “tradition” into very individualistic lines within their lifetime and influence the style for generations to come. And on Spontoon, the traditions of many Polynesian cultures had come together to make an often volatile and uneasy mix.
“I cannot find it in my heart to discourage them harshly.” Huakava mused. “They have real faith, and strength, and some of them have a measure of skill and can pick up learning from other islands if I refused them outright. Many set themselves as Guardians to the wild lands, and do good work protecting them from the careless or the malicious. Be that as it may. Sometimes their good intentions cause … problems.”
Oharu nodded, head still bowed. Her own culture was full of tales of failed priests and monks; if a reputable temple would not take them, there were disreputable ones. And if the disreputable ones turned them out, there were ones without a name that needed workers and believers. Once-proud Samurai had turned bandit many times, but a cleric of natural power who fell so far could be far more deadly to the health and sanity of the land.
“So.” Huakava relaxed, smiling. “There are three of them in particular, who have chosen to be guardians of the Sacred Lake and the only such in their village in this generation – their village is proud of them, for in truth they are the only ones of power there. And there is a tourist, a foreign Euro, who sees their Sacred Lake … as a pleasant spot for an hour’s swim. A good pilot in a modern aircraft can take off and land in Crater Lake from some directions, although the charts are … modified to make it appear otherwise. Many of the rocks on the map are not there in the water.” Huakava smiled. “If one is unaware of what lies at the bottom, it is an inviting spot I must admit. The deepest swimming pool on the islands, one might sink every hotel in Casino Island in its waters and lose them without trace.” She raised an eyebrow. “Of course, for Euro tourists, especially children, one puts up health notices telling what it is forbidden to do in the water – and I do not mean diving.”
“She defiled the waters?” Oharu gasped, startled for a second out of her composure.
Huakava gave a depreciating wave. “The lake took no more hurt than it does every day, there are turtles, birds and other wildlife living around the shore, and the act was thoughtless rather than insulting to the Sacred waters. But you can understand, the three village guardians thought otherwise. They have some power between them, and between them in the heat of the moment … I am still not sure exactly what they did. I am not truly sure they understand it themselves. I felt it happen from right across the island, like the ripples of a stone spreading across still waters as they invoked parts of a ritual I would never have taught them, not until they had grown wise enough to be trusted with it. I would like you to go and study what has happened.”
Oharu stood, and bowed deeply. “Huakava-Shishou. I will go.”
Angelica Silferlindh stormed ashore through the lagoon water, kicking up a spray as she looked around the narrow jungle-clad inlet where the locals had towed her aircraft to rather than let the currents wash it out into the Abyssal Sea.
“Aaargh.” She hastily re-tied the slipping knot on the toga-like sheet of lava lava cloth she had borrowed from a generous village girl who spent most of her summers in more elaborate fashion on Casino Island. “Not a stitch of clothing to my name – why couldn’t they just have robbed me of my wallet, I could have wired in funds to get out of here.” She looked down, her expression softening a little as she touched the large silver locket around her neck. It was the last part of her wardrobe surviving, of the three cases full of the latest Stockholm fashion she had taken out with her.
The feline girl threw herself down on the beach, and stared out at her beloved “Silver Angel” as it floated mutely in the calm waters. It was one thing, she fumed, to buy some Great War surplus rust-bucket of an aircraft and have to nurse it across the planet replacing parts as they fell off … folk who bought that sort of “bargain” expected little else. But her beloved craft! It was finest Molynyke hand-rolled Duraluminium throughout, refined using only the best Arctic river waters to create the purest, freshest electricity for the refining and welding. Even the batteries had been filled with a fine vintage electric charge from waters sourced high in the hills above Lulea. The factory employed only state-registered Social Democrats of at least five year’s party membership. An aircraft like that could take you round the world with hardly a grumble. And it had. Until that fateful day last week when everything had gone so unforgivably wrong.
Her reverie was interrupted by the sound of small paws coming up behind her. She turned and saw the small Native kitten who had latched onto her and seemed to regard her as an endless source of entertainment.
“Hooey hooey!” The kitten tugged at her folded dress, and pointed towards the village on the river from which the smoke of cooking fires was rising. The sun was low, Angelica reflected – and her stomach gave an annoyed rumble reminding her she had missed out on lunch as she had been working flat-out and frantically to reassemble the engine. Getting in the air and out of here half an hour early than otherwise would have been well worth missing the break – had it worked.
With a sigh, she shouldered her tool bag and followed her small guide up towards the primitive thatched huts and what passed for “civilisation” in these parts.
As the sun went down, Oharu stood on the edge of the cliff confronting what looked like three pictures from an anthropologist’s guidebook, or alternatively the villains in one of the Euro “Ripping Yarns” pulps starring two-fisted square-jawed hunters up against the ancient forces of primitive darkness. Well, she reflected, she was no hunter in any sense of the word – but these three were looking more primitive than they might be.
“You can start, please, by removing those ridiculous carved masks,” Oharu said quietly. “Saimmi and Huakava, they teach me such are Tradition in Marquesas islands, two weeks in sailing boat from here. Not tradition in Spontoon.”
“Tradition here is what we make it,” the foremost grotesquely masked figure retorted, standing like a living Tiki. “These are good masks, representing Vengeful-Warrior, Hearth-Protector and Forest-Guardian. They chose us. Who are you to argue, not even being an islander? Combed fur is cheap, but we were born here.” Behind the large carved masks was a surprisingly young voice for the terrifying visage, and a vulpine tail waved in irritation.
The mouse sighed. “I am nothing. I am an empty vessel, the spirits will choose to fill me or not, like a dry pond lying in the field that waits for rain. But my teachers are wise, they sent me here to observe. This empty vessel is not yet filled with good impressions.”
With a grumble, the first would-be warrior priest undid some straps and ducked his head out of the ferocious carved mask that was half his own height. Behind it was a short vulpine male, not a cub exactly but definitely too young to be doing more than tending shrines or sweeping temple floors. The other two followed his lead, revealing two short badger girls, twins by the look of it.
“So.” Oharu closed her eyes, and concentrated. It was as Huakava had warned, these three certainly had power, but it was a confused and unfocussed sort that was as likely as not to backfire. They thought of themselves in a mix of traditional and Euro roles, of dashing defenders taking the lead where others feared to tread – but in truth they were working more like the revolutionaries in the newspapers, assembling potent explosives in ill-equipped cellars that were more liable to go off while being assembled or carried than on target.
The leader sniffed. “I suppose they’ve sent you to tell us off about that tourist.” His tail jerked contemptuously at the aircraft floating in the sheltered inlet. “Did they tell you what she did in our lake?”
“Not your lake.” Oharu’s voice was quiet. “The lake belongs to itself. Birds, fishes, you and her alike, it sees them all come and come and go.”
“It’s ours to defend!” One of the badger twins spoke up hotly. “Nobody else was! If we don’t then what’s next, she’d be washing out her damned engine sump in it?”
“Excuse.” Oharu tapped her foot. “For Euro visitors the Islands have police, with fines and punishments enough. Calling on Spirits is not meant for this.” She stood her ground, her weight spread as if to brace from the shock of a storm. “Can explain, please, exactly what you did here?”
The fox turned up his painted nose. “It’s as you say. We are empty vessels; we invited the Spirits to look through our eyes, to see what was being done. If they’d wanted us to call the police, I have faith that the police would have turned up somehow before she flew off. As it is…” he gave a dismissive wave towards the floating aircraft. “It’s her crime and the Spirits’ judgements. We are the guardians they chose, and you are not. I bid you good evening.” With that, they gathered up their masks and their dignity and turned towards their home village.
Oharu watched them go, her ears dipped. You have not heard the last of this, she silently promised them. Oh no, indeed you have not.
Angelica sat grumpily at the end of the fire-pit as Mamma Popoluma bustled about cheerfully serving up the evening meal. Suddenly she drew herself up, remembering her manners; primitive Natives these might be, but they were primitive Natives who were feeding her and putting a roof over head, however basic.
“Family speciality! Fish with Nandi Panang, finest dish Grandmother brought when she come here from the Fillypines.” Mamma Popoluma set a laden bowl down in front of her guest, and as an afterthought hunted out and presented the family’s sole matching set of knife and fork.
“Thank you! Thank you so much.” Angelica found her mouth watering at the fine scent. Her ears drooped as she spotted the “fine china” it was served on was a large coconut shell split lengthways and polished, and the cutlery bore the stamp “Property of Komalunga Hotel, Accounting Island.” Had she asked, she might have found it was not actually stolen but sold as surplus when Accounting Island had changed its name to Casino Island the decade before.
“Nandi Panang… what is it?” She tentatively sampled the vegetable dish, looking a little like thin-leafed yellow cabbage. Then her expression changed at the taste, and she cleaned her plate as fast as good manners would allow.
The plump jungle cat smiled, ladling out seconds for her guest from the battered pot. “Is made from local plantation crop, is flowers gathered after fruit formed, preserved for rest of year. Very healthy! Put meat on skinny visitor!” She shook her head as she looked down at her guest, thinking she was painfully thin. She’d never land an island husband looking like that.
Angelica relaxed slightly, as she accepted a fresh guava as dessert from the bowl of local fruit that was passed round. Things were bad enough, but they could be worse. Fresh fruit was in season here, but fortunately no bananas … she shivered at the idea. If she never scented, saw or tasted banana again, that would be ten minutes too soon. And the main meal had been very fine, though she hated to admit it.
Mamma Popoluma nodded happily as she handed the cleaned bowl to her younger kittens to be scoured with beach sand and washed ready for tomorrow’s delicious breakfast of three-finger poi that was already fermenting in its pot near the fire. Nandi Panang was one of her family’s favourite dishes and she made a mental note to serve the Fillypine dish as often as possible while their strange guest was here. The main crop of fruit would not be ripe till next month, but it was amazing what you could make out of banana flowers.
The next morning dawned bright and postcard-perfect, as Oharu returned to the inlet from her night of meditation at the small shrine on the headland. Already the waters were crowded with fishing boats, some coming in laden with the night’s catch and others heading out. This part of the coast was rich in shellfish, and several boats of pearl-divers were kept busy this time of year.
To her slight annoyance she saw that she was not the first visitor to be busy inspecting the great silver aircraft. There were three figures standing knee-deep in the shallows, admiring the smooth forms of the high wing and graceful fuselage.
Her annoyance evaporated when she recognised two of them; she had their sketches in her notebooks and they featured in a group painting of their formation swimming team that hung behind the bar of the Double Lotus. That commission had taken her a week to complete, but it had made a very enjoyable week’s work for the thirty shells the team had raised between them.
“Prudence-san, Belle-san,” she bowed respectfully, standing on the dry beach sand. The two Songmark girls were dressed in Native costume, the canine Prudence having oiled fur patterned as a member of a Main Island family.
“Ey up, it’s our artist lass!” Prudence’s long ears went up in surprised greeting. “’Ow do? Been awhile since we saw thi’ down at t’ Lotus.” She hugged her companion tightly. “This is Tahni, we’re Tailfast.” Indeed, the couple proudly wore the seashell pendants that commonly held the precious rings of intertwined tail-fur.
Oharu’s ears went up in shocked delight; she had heard such was allowed here, but had never actually seen it. “Am honoured, Tahni-san.” Oharu bowed again, her eyes taking in the spotted hyena girl whose powerful figure was well presented by her palm cloth bathing costume. “You are coming here to examine the aircraft too?”
“No, we came here to help my cousins and their friends with the boats.” Tahni’s voice was deep for a woman’s, but her figure was like those of opera singers whose posters decorated Casino Island. “This is the season for it – which is also Tourist season with folk away on Casino and South, so the villagers need all the help they can get with the pearl-diving.”
Belle gave a contented sigh, the lepine looking out at lithe figures gleaming with water on oiled fur as the diving-girls on the boat rowed in for breakfast with the first pearl catches of the day. “Just look at that otter there, the one standing on the prow. I’d dive deep after hers any time. Those girls can stay down for four minutes without coming up for air.”
Prudence elbowed her playfully. “Nah den, enough o’ that. She’s got nowt for thee. Tailfast already she is, Tahni says, and ready to build out t’ family long’ Ouse.”
“Such a waste.” Belle turned and looked up at the powerful aircraft. “Have you seen the pilot of this? Swedish, they say. It’s certainly Swedish registered. She’s a feline, quite a looker. Haughty and proud. The sort Ada goes for, that girl’s going to be in hot water one of these days when one of them doesn’t appreciate it.” Ada and Carmen were currently on Casino Island watching for the third time a screening of one of Miss Margot Melson’s films in the full Polynesian version with the extra plot twists that were equally unlikely to get past the Hays Office rules. As a historical drama on female gladiators it was perhaps not quite true to history, but better than most Hollywood efforts.
“I have seen.” Oharu remembered every aircraft type she had seen on Spontoon, with dates and places. “Have heard aircraft has problems. You are interested?”
Belle shrugged, looking out at the approaching boats. “We came here to fish; I wish we had the time to look at the engine though, I’ve never worked on this model. Still…” the lapine’s ears went up as she cast another appreciative gaze over the approaching pearl-fishers, all clad in Polynesian bathing tradition, “this is my last Summer here and I’ll be getting my fur oily enough with engines again when term starts in September.” She hailed the boat, made her excuses and splashed off towards it.
“Any road, grand to see thi’,” Prudence’s tail wagged happily. “We’ll be around. Yon pilot lass, she’s stayin’ up in t’ village wi’ a local widow lady called Mamma Popoluma. Folks say she was robbed on Sacred Lake, some deep forest folk took every stitch of clothin’ off her. Didn’t touch her otherwise, or the plane. Funny business.” With that she waved and followed her hyena partner and lapine friend out to the boats.
Oharu watched them go then closed her eyes and breathed deeply for a minute to purify her thoughts before extending her senses to the aircraft above her. She could tell there was something wrong with it – but not in the usual sense of mechanical or electrical failure. This had more of an aura, almost like that of a certain haunted temple she had exorcised in her first year as a Miko. That had been a complex tangle to solve: in the films it looked simple, just driving out a possessing spirit with a few well-chosen incantations.
“What has been done here?” She touched the smooth metal wonderingly. There had been three intentions working on this curse, from three talented but half-trained wonder-workers who in their anger had drawn down more power than they knew and tangled it in a snarl they could not have deliberately designed in a week. Tracing this was like untangling not just one confusingly tangled bundle of string but three – it was not just a matter of finding a lose end to get started, but deciding which loose end went with which strand.
She concentrated, letting her spirit take the impression as if it was clay moulded against a key to be copied. An aircraft engine to her was not just a collection of moving pieces of metal; once an object was made with a purpose and fulfilled that purpose, it grew a sense of self just as an old house or temple developed an atmosphere of its own over the years. A Kami, a spirit was in it, no more nor less than a flower or a temple statue. It was not the sort of thing one could hold a conversation with, but it was there. Some Euro mechanics instinctively understood this and for no obvious reason could understand engines far better than their colleagues using the same tools and manuals, though most Euro religions did not accept such a direct touch with the world.
Not exactly a curse, she mused – more of what in Euro terms would be a geas, a commandment as what to do in particular situations. Only part of it was on the aircraft; the rest of it she assumed was attached to the pilot that had so offended. She felt her annoyance at the three amateur wonder-workers lessen a fraction as she established no permanent harm had been done to the aircraft; in fact as far as she could tell another pilot would be able to fly it without problems.
“This will be difficult for her to believe.” Oharu mused, looking up towards the village. “Others may test-fly it and report it as perfectly sound – and it is so. But not for her, not in these islands.” She examined one part of the thing that had been done, establishing that outside the Spontoon Islands the prohibition would lose its power. If another pilot flew it to Orpington or further, the owner could take over and escape the rest of the way on her own. Oharu considered the matter.
“Shishou.” The next day she bowed before Huakava, noting with quiet understanding that the pantheress seemed to be frailer every time. She had already told Oharu she had presided over her last Midsummer ritual, and quite possibly would not see the coming Midwinter one. “I have looked at what was done, and those who did it.”
“So. Have you told the Euro girl about it, what she must do?” Huakava did not ask if her student had attempted to lift the geas herself; that had not been in her instructions.
Oharu paused. “I have seen her. We have not spoken, but I have watched her about the village and talked with those who live there. She has much beauty and much pride. What was done to her was excessive, but it was not truly unjust.” She pulled out a lightning sketch of the golden-haired feline, Angelica caught unaware in the act of looking down her snout at a market trader offering her a locally manufactured good-luck charm.
Huakava looked at the sketch, and chuckled wheezily. “In the Traditions we have made, we have invented a fear of cameras capturing a Native’s spirit – it helps persuade tourists to pay for taking photographs. I think they truly have more to fear from your paper; there is a haughty spirit captured if ever I saw one.” As ever, Oharu had sketched in the figure with faithful accuracy but there was a definite sense of her having enjoyed drawing this one as the slim feline drew herself up affrontedly at being offered what she obviously thought of as some Native piece of rubbish. “So, you have not told her. Have you discovered just what she must do, to remove the effect herself?”
“I believe I know what its creators thought to do, Shishou. If they truly hit the mark is another matter. She is to be kept in these lands until she respects and learns to love them.” There was a pause while the mouse considered her words. “Should she have a change of heart today, she could leave today. In that, it is not unjust. But I have heard her, and the more she sees of our island life, the less she likes it. All that is different from her own ways is inferior or wrong to her sight.”
“Ah.” Huakava pondered this. “She may be here a considerable time, then.” There was a silent nod of assent from the mouse. “Well, we shall watch and at least try to make sure our guest comes to no further harm. This means from our self-chosen Guardians as well, when they find she is not following the course they seek to lay for her.”
“Who will guard the Guardians?” It was the title of a historical film spectacular by Cecil “Beady” Milne that had been advertised with large posters on Casino Island that Spring, and the phrase seemed apt. Oharu looked at the senior priestess, who nodded approvingly. “I, then, shall take that duty.”
The round crater lake was somewhere Oharu had been to only a few times before; she had heard that some of the more Euro inspired Spontoonies never had. Like Sacred Island, it was a place the guides strongly discouraged folk from taking an interest in, but for rather different reasons. At the bottom of the waters, in darkness of the furthest depths was the main Fragment that remained of the disastrous Great Ritual that had blighted the island for centuries. At some stage when the lesser fragments on the Krupmark and Cranium Islands had been cleansed, that too would have to be dealt with. But for the time being, she had other concerns.
As Oharu sat cross-legged by the shore outwardly relaxed, one part of her marvelled that anyone could have safely landed and taken off again in anything but an autogyro. The size of the lake was adequate in itself for the takeoff – except for the rim of hundred-foot sheer cliffs that ringed it everywhere except the narrow river outlet. An aircraft would have to spiral in to land, and would have to be supremely light or powerful to lift clear of the crater rim. She observed some broken branches high on the palm trees by the river exit, confirming just where the “Silver Angel” had scraped its way out with a bare metre to spare.
She closed her eyes and concentrated, letting her senses expand out to encompass the beach and the woods around her. For ten minutes there was silence except for the leaves, wavelets and birds in the trees, and then she spoke.
“Excuse, please. My talents are small but equal to this. Is bad manners in all Traditions, Islander and Euro, to come up behind a visitor, trying to be silent.” She turned around and only then opened her eyes, to see the three masked figures caught in mid-step some ten paces from her.
The fox carrying the Vengeful-Warrior mask pulled it off angrily, breaking a strap as he did so. “Well, so you do know a few tricks. We’ve been asking about you. Coming in out of nowhere, and inside a year you’re the high Priestess’s favourite, next to those Songmark girls. The island Traditions are meant to be for Islanders.”
Oharu inclined her head slightly. “And Spontoonies, are also coming out of nowhere, are they not? I am not speaking of the stories in Tourist guidebooks. Saimmi, she is showing me her Family book, first ancestors in book all written as “arrived.” No place before, no country. Arrived. And I have arrived.”
The badger twins behind their leader passed each other uncomfortable glances. “She is the one Saimmi and Huakava are training, after all,” the one with the Forest-Guardian mask suggested tentatively. “And they won’t train us.”
“No, and they aren’t the ones out here doing the work, either,” the fox snapped round at her. “If they won’t teach us, we’ll get it elsewhere again. “ He turned to Oharu. “This is how our lives are dedicated. We ask no reward, no thanks, and no approval. We shall defend our Sacred places, and if the elder Priestesses won’t help us, we’ll do it without them.”
Oharu was silent, then recalled a tale from her Miko training. “There was a student who went up to the mountain to learn from a great Master,” she began. “Every day he was allowed one question to ask. Every day he asked “What truly IS Buddha?” and every day his Master broke a bamboo staff over his foolish head. In time he lost patience and left that mountain to travel to the neighbouring one where a still greater sage sat in contemplation, and asked to study there. When the student explained why he had left his first Master, the sage picked up a bamboo twice as thick and broke it over the foolish youth’s ears. “Go back to your Master at once,” he roared so the mountain trembled “and beg his forgiveness for not appreciating his Grandmotherly Kindliness!””
The three looked at each other. “And you think you’re going to teach us Grandmotherly Kindliness?” The fox’s snout wrinkled.
“I not teach. I learn.” Oharu stood, and walked alone to the shore of the lake. She bent to dip one finger in the water. “You say the spirits chose you. Know what is at the bottom of these waters, that which was done in pride and error and what it cost these islands. Consider please what spirits do to those who take their names and use their powers unwisely. And hope it is only yourself that suffers when it goes badly.”
She turned round, and acknowledged that she was alone by the lake again as the three guardians used what abilities they had to slip away. Sitting back in silent contemplation, the ex-Miko quietly noted that this would be no brief or simple task that she had taken on.
“I cannot BELIEVE this.” Angelica Silferlindh stood by the shore facing Northwards the next day, her tail bottled out in shock at the sight of her beloved aircraft. It was flying like a dream – with her standing on the beach looking on while the Songmark girls took turns to put it through its paces.
She had spent a week working alone on her beloved Silver Angel. Yesterday she had told herself that two heads were better than one; surely it must be something blindingly obvious she was missing. Discovering that the English canine was a qualified pilot and mechanic willing to work for free had been what she thought was her first piece of luck since arriving on these islands. Having her turn up the next day with her logbook and tools plus three like-minded friends had made her spirits briefly soar – and ten times more so when Prudence had opened up the throttles and made a perfect takeoff.
Then she had tried herself. And failed. The rabbit girl flew for ten minutes. Angelica tried and failed. The anteater and the American canine had taken turns with her, spending the whole afternoon with the engine covers off between their successful flights and her strikingly unsuccessful ones. They had even tried landing and having Angelica get onboard while the engine was still running and the prop turning over – at which point the Silver Angel rapidly decided to stay earth-bound.
“She’s a grand ship, I’d fly ‘er to Australia any day,” Prudence commented as she filled in her logbook and had the fuming feline sign it as owner. “Happen we’d best not fly her much more, she’s only got twenty minutes fuel left, we lost some filtering it and you’re losin’ gallons just venting in t’ sun every day. Best get over to Superior fill ‘er tanks before long.”
Angelica looked on in horror, her tail fluffed right out. She suddenly realised that even if her aircraft regained all its former health, she no longer had the fuel to get away from these damned islands. Fuel cost money, and she had awoken on Crater Lake without her pocketbook or indeed any pockets to put it in. Even if she did not run the engine, just standing the aircraft out in the sunshine every day meant the high-octane petrol was evaporating through every vent valve.
The anteater who had been introduced to her as Carmen gave a small smile, her unnervingly long tongue flicking in and out. “If you need money there are pearls out there to be dived for,” her voice was quiet. “Commercial agents visit every week to buy them, and if you can swim and dive … it might go well.” She looked up at Angelica with interest, her tongue “tasting” the feline’s pleasant musk on the air.
“Pearl diving. A common fisher-girl, me?” Angelica suddenly stopped bristling her fur and thought about it. The Songmark girls had done all they could with the tools they could carry (and were about to take back with them.) Whatever her poor aircraft was suffering from needed something better; expert inspection in a properly-equipped workshop such as Superior Engineering. And if aviation spirit cost money, skilled repairs in a top-rate workshop certainly cost a lot more.
“Aye, me mate Tahni sez a good fisher can trade pearls for shells no questions asked – tha’ wouldn’t get a proper work permit ‘ere, but keep tha’ nose clean an’ folk might look t’other way fer a week or two. Good clean work in t’ fresh air, wash some o’ that oil out of thi fur an’ all.” Prudence’s own tail flicked as Angelica’s scent hit her narrow muzzle, and she reminded herself that she was strictly Tailfast, parties aside. Some of the better parties at the Double Lotus were known for getting completely out of hand, but she and Tahni always left together.
“Well…” Angelica considered. “I’ll think about it. Thank you for the help!” The four Songmark girls waved farewell, and she watched them go with a puzzled expression. She supposed there were few properly brought-up folk for them to talk to on the island, and it was good to find solidarity with other Europeans all the way out here (conveniently ignoring two of them came from the Americas.)
Her tail swished slightly as she scratched her head-fur thinking about it, and how helpful and eager to please the dorm had been, even crowding into the aircraft with her which was quite a squeeze. Anyone would think they had helped her for the sake of her pretty face and smooth fur. Her ears suddenly went right up in shock as one possibility occurred to her. But then she laughed. “Oh no, surely not. That sort of thing doesn’t really happen.”
Still, it was with a fraction more spring in her step that she went up the path to the village, to ask Mamma Popoluma about positions that needed filling. Pearl diving? It was a sure-fire way to make money or at least to keep oneself fed. After all, though unsuccessful diamond miners were left with a heap of worthless rock, with pearl-diving at the very least you got oysters.
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are ©2011 Simon Barber, ©2011 David Reese Dorrycott,
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