The Legend of Tawhiri the Heart Thief: Part 5
A particularly large wave pushed at Tawhiri’s waist and he shifted to keep from tipping over. He should have expected as much. Ihaka and he used to vie for her attention. She was beautiful, and joyful. Like the waves that rushed around him now.
She lifted whatever burden he carried and swept it away.
But it would never be anything more than friendship, admiration. They had kept each other company when they were both kept from initiation. He because of the traditions, she because of her bent foot and weak leg. And now she had passed over and left him alone.
“It is good. He is a good warrior,” Tawhiri said.
“He’s to be chief. What kind of chief has a wife who cannot work in the gardens, or help bring the boats in. A wife who can’t climb the mountain with him for rites.”
“You have always made yourself. As much as the other woman if not more. You are almost as good at tattoos as Ooma now, and you can throw a spear better than most warriors.”
“What I’m trying to say is that I don’t want to be the Chief’s wife. I’d rather live in your hut.” She tilted her head, the ends of her hair dipping into the surf.
How he would have loved those words once. He would have dangled them in front of Ihaka’s face and laughed. “Well, you can’t.”
Kai’ali pursed her lips and let her hand drag in the water. “The moon is bright tonight. Come swim with me. And if you still think it’s a bad idea when we get back, I will not ask again.”
Tawhiri looked out over the still water. Far off, the breakers hit against the barrier islands where Ooma had found him. The water would be cool and sweet and his body longed for it. Perhaps it was foolish, but what was life without a few risks.
Kai’ali dived under the waves and minutes later she broke above the surface a few feet deeper. “I will race you to the barriers.”
Tawhiri’s stomach was tight, but his body yearned after her. Shaking the ocean floor from his feet, he bent his knees and sprang into the arms of an oncoming wave. Salt rushed in through his lips and stung his eyes. His hair tugged free around his shoulders, tangling on his arms as he cut through the water. He was a ray. He was a shark. he was a part of the ocean around him, finally free.
It was incredible, how much he had missed the water. Surely the ocean did run in his people’s veins.
Water rushed over his face as he pushed up above the waves for a long breath. The water gleamed in the moonlight, casting light in fractures through the sky. The stars themselves had settled on the waves tonight, to welcome him back.
Behind him Kai’ali laughed. “See, you missed this.”
Tawhiri swiped his hand across the surface of the water, sending a small wave in her direction. “You really thought you could beat me to the barriers? You may have beat Ata’ai Kalu, but you will never beat me.”
“I will if you keep stopping to brag.” Kai’ali dived back under, her club foot slapping the air like a whale’s tail. The water was clear, and the moon bright. Her shadow flickered in the deep grey waves, along with a few escaping fish.
Coral spotted the bottom, the first before the reef. The reef. It had been so long since he’d seen it. If only the sun would visit for a while, and let him see the flurry of color in full light. This was better than nothing, though.
His arms cut through the waves, drawing him further out. The waves played their song, chanting along with each stroke. In many ways, it was like the chant of passage, taking the child into adulthood. Welcoming him as a man and a member of the sea.
He easily passed Kai’ali, with her weak legs, and slowed down at he passed over the reef. During the day, the water was only a breath above the reaching coral. Now he could have dived for several heartbeats before he touched the abrasive corals. The water was clear, though, even in the dark. He was right in the heart of it.