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Chapter 13

Safely back in the hut Pukunati lay awake for long hours dissecting his clandestine meeting aboard The Pig. It now dawned on him that he had actually seen very few young men and women in the village: almost everyone was either a small child or, like those who worked on repairing the boat, elderly. To have your children taken? Pukunati could only begin to imagine what horror these poor people had gone through and what they would go through again if these, who were they? Yes, if these Barbarians were not stopped; but in reality, what could they, two people do to help?

In the small hours of the morning Pukunati remembered the beatings and fear which dogged almost every waking moment of his early life as his father and grandfather treated him like a slave and tormented and blamed him for the death of his mother shortly after his birth. Even sleep gave no respite as, more often than not, his dreams brought terror. How he had longed to run away and never look back but had always been too afraid to do so. Until that day when Alvez, the mysterious stranger, arrived in his village, witnessed his plight, and spirited him away in the dead of night to this life of adventure. Strange then, he reflected, that he now so desperately wanted to stop the very act that had been his salvation.

Gradually the hut began to lighten as daybreak arrived and Alvez began to stir. Pukunati silently made his way from the hut down to the shoreline so that he might have the time and space to consider how to best broach this shocking new development. Moments later however Alvez came and joined him, ‘a fine morning,’ he said brightly. Pukunati mumbled his agreement as they both regarded the rising sun.

‘How was your meeting?’ Alvez asked the boy.

Pukunati turned sharply but Alvez’s gaze never left the horizon and his face showed no emotion. ‘You are not as quiet as you think you are, lumbering around in the dead of night like a pregnant water buffalo. Tell me, what was said?’

And so Alvez listened, seemingly unmoved, as Pukunati recounted the tale of his meeting.

‘And did you believe her?’ Alvez asked when the boy had finished.

‘Yes, I did,’ replied Pukunati.

‘And what would you have us do?’

‘We need to help, although I don’t know how,’ said the boy quietly.

‘Perhaps the first thing we should do is speak to the Chief?’ suggested Alvez.

‘Yes,’ replied Pukunati uncertainly, ‘but yesterday you said we should not get involved.’

‘I did,’ replied Alvez, ‘but I have given the matter some thought and you were right, if it is in our gift to help these people in any way then we should endeavour to do so. They have been very good to us and now, if possible, we must return the favour. To seek to help people is, I think, in your nature and perhaps, on occasion, I could learn from you.’

Pukunati looked over in amazement, it was not often that Alvez said something that took the boy by surprise but this was one such occasion.

Alvez’s face was set and resolute as he strode purposively toward the Chief’s hut. Pukunati trailing along nervously behind.

‘What can I do for you? Sinjoro Alvez,’ the Chief asked kindly, although he seemed unnerved by his guest’s business-like demeanour; a side to Alvez that the Chief had not previously seen.

‘The Barbarians are coming for your children,’ Alvez declared bluntly.

In response the Chief seemed to wither and shrink before their very eyes and his head slumped heavily to his chest. Slowly he lifted his head, his eyes wet with tears. ‘Yes,’ he replied softly, ‘the Barbarians are coming.’

‘We will help you,’ said Alvez.

The Chief shook his head sadly, ‘you cannot.’ There are many of them and only two of you, and my people are already defeated.

‘How long until they come?’ asked Alvez.

‘We have received word from a neighbouring island that they are likely to arrive at the next full moon,’ sighed the Chief.

Alvez grimaced, ‘that only gives us two, maybe three days at most. We need a plan, a very good plan, and we need it quickly.’

‘What are we going to do?’ asked Pukunati anxiously as they left the Chiefs hut.

‘I do not know,’ admitted Alvez, ‘we need to think how we best welcome our visitors.’

‘Have you heard of these Barbarians before?’ asked the boy.

‘No,’ lied Alvez, on this occasion honesty would not benefit the boy. In truth he had heard tell of the Barbarians, a long time ago, although their paths had never crossed. What he had heard however did not bode well for the fight ahead. The Barbarians were spoke of as a primitive, seafaring, warlike people who raided far and wide subjecting all whom they met to their brutal and cruel ways.

Experience had shown Alvez that he did his best thinking whilst walking but, on this occasion, after much plodding up and down the beach, a plan eluded him, how could they, but two people, and a group of geriatric natives possibly hope to overcome such a fearsome people? But try they must. Looking around, he now found himself in the ‘place of magic’ he had visited earlier with the Chief. How we could do with some magic now he mused. Likely the simplest solution would be to flee into the interior of the island and hide, and hope the Barbarians turned their attention to easier pickings on another isle. But Alvez knew that could only ever be a short-term solution; evil would keep coming back again and again, until it was defeated.

Alvez stood at the edge of the emerald pool and looked upon his reflection, on this occasion he could however find no alternative plan. Absently he threw a smooth flat stone and watched as it bounced and skidded five times as it skimmed its way across the surface of the water. A second stone was less successful: three bounces then it struck a rock with a sharp crack, a sound which reverberated loudly around the walls of the rocky cauldron many times. He threw a third pebble and watched it bounce once then sink: this is indeed a truly magical place Alvez thought to himself with the faintest hint of a smile.

‘You have a plan?’ asked Chief Tangata, a spark of long-lost optimism rekindled in his voice.

‘I have a plan,’ agreed Alvez.

‘This plan is not without its risks,’ observed the Chief once Alvez had finished detailing what he proposed.

‘Agreed,’ replied Alvez, although that is an understatement, he thought to himself.

‘If I accede to what you suggest Sinjoro Alvez, it will affect all those who live here,’ declared the Chief, ‘we must have a gathering of the tribal elders to consider your plan.’

‘Do not take too long,’ advised Alvez, ‘we must work quickly, there is much preparation to be done.’

That evening Alvez and Pukunati sat outside their hut waiting impatiently as the tribal elders talked long into the night.

‘I think it’s a good plan,’ enthused Pukunati.

‘It is a plan,’ conceded Alvez, although I am not sure it could be described as ‘good’.

A short time later the elders approached; ‘we have decided,’ announced Chief Tangata solemnly. ‘We have agreed,’ he continued looking around at the sad, aged faces which surrounded him, ‘that the plan is too dangerous and unlikely to succeed,’ he blurted out.

‘Fine,’ Alvez growled in frustration.

‘But, but,’ stammered Pukunati.

‘Our boat is seaworthy we shall be on our way at first light,’ Alvez declared standing to enter the hut.

‘But, but,’ continued Pukunati despairingly.

‘Go and look at your children sleeping peacefully,’ Alvez suddenly announced turning back to face the elders. ‘Look at your children. Take a good look at their faces. It might be the last chance you get,’ he continued bitterly. ‘Or perhaps you should wake them and tell them that you plan to let the Barbarians take them without a fight, as you did their brothers and sisters.’

‘But your plan, it is dangerous,’ stammered the Chief.

‘It is,’ conceded Alvez, ‘very dangerous. Some of your people will die in the process and there is no guarantee of success but consider the alternative and tell me then that you think the plan is not worth trying. You will lose your children forever if you do not resist. As you lost your sons Chief. At least this way gives you as chance, however small.’

The Chief turned to the other elders of the tribe, slowly he scanned each of their faces then nodded as he turned back to Alvez, ‘we will try the plan, Sinjoro Alvez.’

At first light the next morning everybody in the village capable of contributing in some way to the battle preparations gathered on the beach. Alvez let his gaze wander over the assembled group and his spirits plummeted. What on earth had he been thinking offering to help these people? Look at them, a few young men and women, but the rest? Frail geriatrics who are already beaten. We should have just left when we heard the Barbarians were coming…. There is still time…. If we leave now, we might just avoid them…. However, even as the thought passed through his mind, Alvez heard himself barking out orders, ‘we need two trenches along the beach facing the sea. Make each trench waist deep. Dig the first just above the high tide line and the second fifty paces further back. Work quickly, we do not have much time. The boy will supervise.’

All day, preparations continued apace. Everywhere one cared to look, people were digging, gathering, carrying, binding, and sharpening at a rate which belied their age.

‘Good, good,’ encouraged Alvez to an elderly woman honing arrow heads, ‘you are working like a sixty-year-old,’ he complimented.

‘I’m only 50 summers old,’ growled the old woman as Alvez beat a hasty retreat.

As dusk fell, word reached the village that an armada of boats had been sighted on the horizon. Alvez watched in alarm as, upon hearing the news, a number of the villagers descended into a mindless panic.

‘Stop!’ Alvez bellowed. ‘Stop. We will prepare no more. Now we must all practise our roles so that we are ready for their arrival. The boy will take a few of your more, erm, sprightly members, and they will play the part of the Barbarians. I will command the beach defences. Remember, this is for the children, together we are strong!’

It was long into the night when the village finally stopped rehearsing and retired, for a no doubt sleepless night. Alvez spoke to Pukunati, ‘remember, if this plan fails, and there is a very good chance that it will, you must do exactly as I have told you. You must flee for your life, go deep into the forest and hide. Do not wait for me. I will find you later. Do you understand?’

The boy gave a small nod, ‘but,’ he began.

‘No ‘buts.’ You do as I say. Do you understand?’ Alvez repeated more forcefully.

‘Yes,’ replied Pukunati quietly.

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