The little boat that we used for netting fidgeted against barnacles. I held the rope and waited. Weed coaxed Moennan away as the rest of the camp slept. She limped over the rocks and clicked to her dog.
We sailed to the east over an oily, heaving sea. The flames of burning Michaelmas Island grew smaller until we rounded Rock Dundar and then there was only the glow in the sky. Weed clung to the gunwale, terrified by the dark sea. I could not make her sit trim. She clutched that stone of grey pumice. It was the shape of her heel, something else I have seen her hold when she is too scared to run.
Moennan watched ahead. She held Weed’s hand sometimes, or I saw her run her hands through the coarse hackles of her dog, run her hand against his grain, ruffle up his spine and hug him to her.
I found the inlet. Bound by stone, the rush of tide in the channel bore us through into quiet, breathing waters, ringed with granite, flowering with orange lichen. We spread skins in the belly of a huge cave that curved into the mountain, and slept.
In the gloom of the next morning, I woke, wretched and sore, the long night of half dreams still soaking my body. Being in the lee of the mountain meant no warning of the squall that ripped across the sky, rubbing out the cross of stars. Taraba, that brave yellow cur, whimpered and crept closer to the side of the cave with every thump. The stone on which we lay ran with water. Muttonbirds kept up their crying. The penguins sounded like babies that would not thrive.
I knew Bailey come from the island to find us. I rolled over and found the warmth of Moennan, peered past her oiled hair to the dark sea, looking for the quicksilver splash of oars. I listened for the grind of keel against granite. We shall live like oystercatchers, I thought, red-eyed bastards watching the water surge, gambling our lives on every wave.
There was a big moon, and then another returning, her belly swelling. All the time we lived on the quiet water I did not question the Maori’s lack of kindness in keeping me from my people. I was glad for the peace.
At night, we fished.
I was the tallest girl, the tallest thing on the whole inlet and above me the stars blazed and the quarter moon glowed the water. I forgot my sadness, my loss and the angry tinglings of my diseased sex when the little boat grunted on crunchy coral and I spread my toes over the thwart of nets and punted out into clear water again.
Heke forced a stick into the soft sand of the shallows, moving it in a figure of eight to ease it in, looped the cork line around the wood. The boat lurched with his weight and I spooled out ragged net, while he rowed.
Later, we went back to the stick.
"Feel this," he handed me the cork line.
I took the wet, muddy rope in my hand. I felt fish hitting the net, a sharp tug, then a flutter, a lighter hit, as they struggled. So I knew there would be a few.
"Hauture," said he.
"Madawick," said I.
I woke when the air was still and cold. The wind stopped. It was time to pull up the nets.
I left my skins to squat a little way from camp, drove a neat hole into the gritty sand with my stream. I watched the dark loom of the Maori.
"Get up, Tama hine." He shook the little girl. "See this ... something in the water,"
He stood just on the lacy edge of the water and strange blue lights shot out of his toes. Hot blue bullets fired away from his legs.
I heard the girl breathe in, quick.
"Fire in the water, Hine."
Each step into the sea, as we pushed out the boat, made the fire flare. Every stroke of the oars made a sparkling rush of sun diamond water in the inky brine, and then the dripping airborne oars traced arcs of wild colour beside the boat. Shrimp became brilliant drawings, stars falling through the sea.
Still dark and starlit, with the moon gone, no light yet but the glow of a new day. Fish flew away from us leaving a comet tail of blue fire in their wake. The Maori rowed and rowed, straight past the stick that held fast the net and none of us dreaming folk even noticed, until we were well out into the centre of the inlet.
"There be no fish," he told me. "Net is lit up like a Chinaman's birthday."
I could see every single mesh illuminated, soaring up towards Heke's grappling fingers and swooping down into the water, gilt with glittery magic.
We caught a few, yes, some gleaming skip jack and fat mullet. By then the sky was lightening and all the fire creatures melted back into the secrets of the inlet.
After we ate, Weed and me walked over the mountain to the woman’s place, to show her for when she is older but there was a fire burning inside the stones so we didn’t go in. On our way back we broke some touchwood from a rotten tree and found some grubs. I showed Weed how to peel a stick from the tree and push it into the ground so the people whose tree it was did not get angry.
We came back to the cave. Heke, his rough face gentled by the sliding down sun, saw the grubs and the blue flowers in my hair and laughed and laughed. He picked a grub from my hair and ate it. Then he picked out a blue flower and ate that too.