June 2012


He looked up from the fire to see the frame of the Tawa man leaving the copse and walking towards Parker’s bivvy. Outside the bivvy he crouched next to two other Tawa men, one of who rose and went under the woollen canvas. After a brief time Parker emerged and spoke to the three, scratching his beard and looking around the Herd. His eyes settled on the Older Man, and accompanied by the Tawa man from the copse, he picked his way across the field past the sleeping or prostrate forms. Parker sat next to the fire and asked, “What is ‘goal’?”

The Tawa Man leaned forward, “Nah, ‘gold’.”

“Gold?” replied the Older Man, “Dunno. Why?”

“This Ocker, he says, ‘keep you damn gold bastard’ many times before he pass out.”

“Gold?” He looks at Parker, “I never heard it.”

“Yeah.” Parker states as he stands. Before he turned away he looks at the Younger Man, “Get you and the slingers. Before dawn the Tawa men will take you near Tahi Bay.”

The Younger Man nods to Parker, who lopes back to his bivvy and crawls inside. Turning back to the Older Man, he asks, “What happens at Tahi Bay?”

“You wake them Ockers up boy. A few stones kill their sentries, make some noise. Harass them, make them jumpy. Works well.”

The Younger Man nods, then looks across the field to where some more Jonsville Men are sitting around a fire or sleeping. The turns back and asks, “Why these Ockers come here? Why not stay in their country?”

“You know the tales boy. They haven’t changed.”

“Tell them again so I remembers them well.” He smiles, “Who knows what tomorrow brings?”

The Older Man breaks a wry smile, and rising onto his aging legs, lifts his arm and raising his voice he says, “This is the Tale of the Harrowing! The Tale of the End, and the Beginning of all things!”

A few rise from other fires and walk nearer, and some who were lying closer sit up to hear. A voice replies, “The End, and the Beginning!”

He looks to the edge of the field and sees a sentry standing on a low rise, framed by the thousand souls of the departed rising to cross the bridge of the sky.

“There was a day when all people lived the lives of Gods. Their hearths were never crowded, their villages never dark. A day when food was plenty, and none went hungry. A day when sickness was no fear, when crops never failed. A day when death was a stranger to the people.

“On that day all grew old as a crone, all grew withered and grey, but all stayed strong of body and mind. The people grew older, and older, and older but they stayed mortal, and boredom was the great enemy. They called their young before them to always dance, to sing. Their lives were easy.

“But old is old, and people still feared the great killer, the cold. And fearing the cold they lit fires to warm each other. Great fires in their hearths and fires on their paths to light and warm their way. Their great houses had stone walls and stone roofs, and hid they hid to ward off the cold, they huddled and feasted, watched their children and counted their days .

“And there the Lying God found them hiding, and he fed their fear of his brother the Sky God. Our God, the moody Sky who brings rains and winter hail. The people heard the Lying God, and they build their fires higher, and the smoke clouded the sky, and still he lied, and the fear became madness.

“But the Sky God, he saw smoke and worried for the people. Not knowing the tricks he brought light rains to wet the fire. But when he brought rain, the people heard the Lying God, and the fires were heaped higher and higher, and the the Sky God rained, then stormed.

“Soon, the water filled streams, then rivers, then harbours, and still it rained. Then waters began to rise. Slowly, slowly they came up, rising to the doorsteps, then to the closed doors, then to the closed shutters.

“The flood destroyed the houses of the people, destroyed the crops, drowned the animals. Feeling hunger for the first time, the old people saw what they had done. They thought they had been abandoned by the Sky God, and in their fear and anger they fell upon one another, first blaming, then hating, then murdering.

Then the first Ockers took to boats. The Harrowing was a wicked, dark day. The Ockers brought their Lying God to this land, and he ate our people in his hunger, emptying the souls of people and flinging them in the wind in handfuls, and like leaves in the Spring gales they were raised to the sky. It was the End of day of the old people…

“And now their souls walk from edge to edge of the sky every night…

“But without death, there is no life, and with the End came the Beginning. The old people were too weak to fight. When they were all dead and gone the young woke, turned on the Ockers together, drove them into the sea and ceased the killing.”

The Older Man, raised his arm again and pointed to the sky, “The End and the Beginning.”

A low murmur ran through the Herd, “The End and the Beginning.”

The Older Man whispered, “Is it Death? It is Life.”

The keeler came towards the shore slowly, depth sounders in the bow watching keenly for submerged ruins or other means to run afoul. The oars dipped slowly into the water in the familiar rhythm, and the mate could be heard shouting orders to the crew. With an audible heave from the slaves the boat leapt forward to beach itself, and some of the crew jumped overboard into the shallow and cold water to haul it ashore with heavy hemp ropes.

“Hoy!” Kevvo shouted to the skipper when he appeared in the bow, “Bin fishin’?!”

Jacko waved his arm dismissively, “Nuttin’! Them Herders stupid, an them women ugly!”

Kevvo barked a laugh, “Them fight?!”

“No more! Took two for slave. Some women, children in the lock-up!” He laughed viciously, “All quiet now!”

“Get meat?!”

“Some!”

Kevvo jumped down from his keeler and walked over to Jacko as the captain walked amidships, climbed into the cold water, continued to shout orders at his crew, and waded ashore. They shook hands gruffly. Jacko made admiring noises about the speed of Kevvo’s crew in building the palisade, and shouted back to his men to join the work when they had tethered the keeler.

“What them fires up there?” He asked, pointing south.

“Scout says a mob of Herders, all sit up there.” Replied Kevvo.

“Big Man think what?”

“Them come down, get theyself killed tomorrow, maybe day after?”

“Hah! Bet them even fights like sheep…”

Kevvo paused, “That bet, no-one is taking’.” Jacko looked at him sideways before gaffawing, then paused as the Big Man approached.

“Jacko! Liking this new huntin’ ground!”

“Dunno? Them grounds rich?”

“Fair few Herders up with them fires,” said the Big Man, indicating towards the smoke from the cooking fires blowing gently over the trees to the south, “all them fuckers gotta hearth somewhere.”

Jacko nodded. “Wanna go up, kill before them come down?’

“Nah, no hurry. Today, tomorrow… wait, an more get scared, more run, less killing. Then slaves them all become.”

Jacko nodded again, “Put all them working looking for metal an this gold?”

“Yup.  Maybe that storm in Tasman did us favours after all.”

“Maybe,” muttered Kevvo, “if this be Wellton.”

The Big Man’s eyes slowly moved to look at Kevvo sideways.

The walk down the valley was an easy one. The Old Road was subsiding in places, and the occasional tree made an appearance, gently muscling its way from the wooded roadside and through the broken rock into sunlight. On the way they were joined by others from their Herd, and the conversation was relaxed in the odd manner of men contemplating war. The Older Man smelled smoke from cooking fires near, and far in the distance the more sinister plumes of something larger burning, perhaps homes.

When the Old Road neared the bottom of the Tawa Valley, the trees parted enough to see the Herd camping in light woods near the stream that divided the valley.  He recognised the men and boys of Tawa, the hillmen from over in Hariyou, and a few from Eastern highlands. The Older Man waved to a group of Easterners sitting round a nearby fire, “What you eating men? Rabbits?”

“Cat.” Came the reply.

“Lucky!” He exclaimed with a smile.

“Not so much for him!” One man shouted to a round of laughter.

Smiling companionably, the Older Man continued to walk into the Herd, waving to some, speaking loudly to others, introducing the Younger Man to the most important. He stopped when he saw Parker talking to three other men in a small copse further ahead, and motioning to the Younger Man to stay put, he walked towards the trees. One of the three saw him and indicated to Parker, who turned. Grim, thought the Older Man, and he approached the four when beckoned.

Parker stood head shorter than most. He was a wiry, dark man with the habit of scratching his ears and beard when stressed or worried. His beard was a mess. “Welcome,” he stated blandly, “It’s good you came. You bring more men of Jonsville?”

“Some,” replied the Older Man, “your runner is over to Karori by now. More will have your message soon enough.”

“Good… good.” Parker picked at his ears and glanced at his three companions, “you traded with Ockers before the troubles started, yeah?”

“Yep.”

“Come see this.” Parker turned from the group and waved for the Older Man to follow, he walked into the trees a way, past a man standing with spear and shield, and there, bound hand and feet lay a prisoner. “Maybe you can talk to the Ocker, find out why he comes here?”

The Older Man stepped past Parker and squatted. The prisoner wriggled under his gaze, and slowly pushed himself up into a sitting position. His eye was badly blackened and he looked to have been bleeding from the scalp, but he was otherwise unharmed.

“You doin’ reccie?” the Older Man asked.

“I bin doin’ nuttin… Out gatherin firewood for me mates when some fucker slugs me”

“Long way to here for a Brissie man.”

The prisoner glared at the Older Man, “Ain’t no Brissie Man!” he asserted before muttering, “Sinny-sider me… now stuck on a freezing shithole with herders…”

The Older Man stood and took a step back, and beckoned to Parker before speaking quietly, “This is a Sinny man. Which means at least two keelers. You know where they are?”

Parker nodded, “There’s one beached down by old Porry, and there’s one maybe two prowling around Tahi and Mana Islands.”

“Yeah, I seen smoke when walking down.” He scratched his own beard nervously before resting his hand on the machete at his belt, “they building down the beach?”

Parker nodded again. The Older Man winced before turning back to the prisoner.

“Hey, Sinny-sider man. Why keelers come here? Slaves?”

The prisoner dropped hi s head and said nothing.

“Hey Sinny-sider, I say why come here?” The Older Man looked at Parker briefly, waits as if thinking, then gestures to the spearman standing nearby, “Hey, Tawa man, strap this guy with your spear.”

The prisoner’s head whipped up and he screamed as the bamboo shaft landed on his back. He began shouting as the Older Man stepped towards him and crouched again. He spoke softly, “Yell all you needs to Sinny-Sider. There more Herdsmen out them trees. More you can count. Talk. No talk an you dragged out there. Maybe you lucky they just eats you.”

With eyes wide, the Prisoner stared towards the light through the trees. “No idea why we here…” he mutters, “but we be slavers all same…”

The Older Man stood and scratched his scalp before turning to Parker, “Slavers,” and to the guard, “Tawa man, strap him good and senseless, don’t kill him.”

Kevvo scratched his beard.

“Summin not right with this…” he muttered.

The big man to his right looked over, leaned forward on the long handle of an axe, tilted his helmet back to show a fringe of blonde hair, and said, “Aeh?”

“Arsehole up this coast explain it right?”

“Yep. Down coast, thru heads, an there be ruins. An there,” he indicated with his eyebrows, “be ruins.”

“Doesn’t look right.”

“Mate. You wanna head back Sinny, explain Mad Max why we got nothin’?”

“…Nah.”

The two stood in the breeze on the deck of a keeler looking south and watching their men working just beyond the low dunes. The palisade was progressing well, with a long, low earthen rampart forming. Armed men were coming back from bush on the nearby hill carrying poles and what looked like raw flax. The keeler was beached in a broad, shallow inlet. Around the inlet low parallel ranges ran to the south, the western side littered with the tell-tale teeth of shattered stone buildings climbing out of the cool green water, white and grey against the olive drab of the bush.

“Might get some fires by nightfall.” Kevvo said thoughtfully. “Boys need to muster some locals, make sure this Wellton?”

“Mate, you wanna worry less? He said Wellton, an this be Wellton.  An somewhere here,” he indicated the ruins with the haft of this axe, “be that mile of gold.”

Kevvo looked back over his shoulder at the western horizon. Plumes of smoke rose lazily into the sky from beyond the harbour heads. “Looks like Jacko might be finished with that island. Could be mutton tonight.”

“Yep. Be good getting his crew finishing this work as well.”

“Why you believe that bloke he said this place had a mile of gold you reckon?”

The big man exhaled slowly, took off his iron helmet and set it on the rail of the boat. He paused and looked both ways up the beach before continuing, “You remember yarns about Canburra? Them stupid goat-rapers come over Blue mountains forever tryin tell Sinny-siders how to an what to?”

Kevvo nodded thoughtfully, “Yep.”

“Tell is them come over the Blues cause them was what be called Party Men. Has steel when Sinny-siders has ticks and rocks. Was a time when them Party Men tell every fucker from Sinny to Brissie how to an when to. An all of us, every last one, jumped when them arseholes clap.” He paused, yelled a direction at some men who looked to be stopping work, and leaned against the haft again, “Four counts of hands before them weak enough an get told to piss off.”

Kevvo nodded again, his brow knotted. “An?”

“An Wellton was the place of the Party Men here on Pig Island.”

Kevvo’s eyes widened a little in recognition, “Ahhh…”

“If nothing, we strip metal from this shithole, muster us some locals an have some fun.”

Kevvo grinned broadly.

“Grab that machete for me”

The younger man lifted the crook of his arm from his eyes, peeking past the bright sunlight to the older man standing near him.

“Aeh?”

“Grab the damn machete, and get yourself up. We gotta get down to the beach as soon as. Parker is calling the Herd out.”

“What? Why is Parker all fired up?”

The older man stepped over the younger man’s frame and took the machete out of the flax it rested in. The urgency in his voice increased.

“There’s Ockers coming ashore down Tahi Bay way. The Herd is assembling down the valley to push them back. So get your useless carcass up, grab your sling, and, rattle, your, dags boy.”

He glanced around, stepped over the stunned look, leaned into the shed and looked inside.

“Where’s my buckler?”

“Hanging up on the porch up at the house. Should I send the girls up to the Pa?”

“Do it when you get the buckler. Where’s that stone?”

The younger man stood quickly, scampered into the shed he’d been napping on, and with minimal clanking brought out a small whetstone. Handing it to the older man, he took off at a jog up the long, slight hill to a stone cottage.

The older man wet the stone in a rain barrel before propping it on a small table and sharpening the machete in long, quick strokes.  Lifting the blade to the sunlight the edge glimmered, flickering under the slight shaking of his hands.

“Been a long time since Ockers came here…” he muttered.

“What’s that?” the younger man asked. He carried a small wooden buckler, a sling, a bag for stones, a helmet.

“Nothing boy, just wondering how those boats came so far down the coast without those bastards up in the Naki eating them.”

The younger man guffawed as he passed over the buckler and helmet. He slung the shepherds bag over this chest and shoulders, “We can get river stones on the way.”

The older man stopped, glanced up to see the women sweeping up a couple of small children, “Let’s go” he said quietly, and waved.

Be careful the words wafted on the breeze as he and the younger man ran through the bush, Kill them, kill them all dear ones.

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