Amber by Deborah Challinor Page B

Book: Amber by Deborah Challinor Read Free Book Online
Authors: Deborah Challinor
towards the front, his eyes unwavering and his jaw clenched. Beyond the Maoris stood the missionaries. Kitty recognised Rebecca and Win Purcell, Marianne Williams, and Frederick Tait, Jannah’s long-suffering husband, but there were also several unfamiliar faces.
    As the haka group receded towards the horseshoe, a lone warrior came prancing through them, taking quick, light little steps that tautened the muscles of his calves and thighs, moving as gracefully as though he were gliding on ice. His hair was tied up, greased and adorned with two of the coveted huia feathers, and his moko covered his entire face, indicating that he had considerable mana. He made a downward slash with the long blade of his taiaha, cutting the air audibly, and began to manoeuvre it from hand to hand with breathtaking speed and dexterity, beginning the wero, the challenge proper. He grimaced and hissed, thrust and twirled, never once breaking eye contact with Rian. Thenfrom the waistband of his piupiu he plucked a fern frond, dropped it on the ground at his feet and danced away backwards, the sharp tip of his taiaha pointing directly at Rian’s heart.
    There was a moment when there was no sound at all, when the tension became so thick that Kitty could feel it ringing in her ears, then Rian stepped forward, picked up the frond and tucked it into his own waistband.
    A collective sigh came from the Maoris, and suddenly a karanga began. The horseshoe broke and an ancient woman stepped forward, her powerful but grief-laden voice soaring in a lament for the dead. Her wrinkled face was green with the blurred lines of old moko, and Kitty recognised her as Erunora, the oldest and most revered kuia of Wai’s hapu. Her thin, white hair was crowned with a wreath of green leaves, and only then did Kitty notice that all the other women wore, or carried, greenery as well, and she realised that they were in mourning. For Wai.
    When Erunora had finished, her voice dying away on a note thinner than the wind and sadder than anything Kitty had ever heard, Ropata stepped around Rian and began to reply. He spoke in Maori, and Kitty understood that, in accordance with tradition, he was stating who he was and where he was from, and also that he belonged to the hapu who sailed on the Katipo , whose chief was Rian Farrell.
    He gestured to Kitty then to come forward. Gideon, Mick and Pierre stepped aside and she moved to the front, the waka taonga containing Wai’s bones held out before her. The weeping and keening began in earnest then, and a great tide of grief flowed out from the Maoris and washed over them all.
    Kitty began to walk, feeling her eyes fill with tears and her face grow hot with the pain of mourning her dear friend. Her heart felt swollen and her throat ached with the sobs she longed to release, but knew she couldn’t, not yet.
    Erunora limped down the sand to meet her, resting a gnarledhand on the box to lighten at least the spiritual load as they walked together towards Haunui, who stood in silence, tears coursing down his homely face. When Kitty was only a few feet away, he raised his arms to receive his daughter’s remains. Kitty settled the box in his arms. He nodded once, a simple gesture so filled with gratitude, dignity and grief that Kitty thought her heart might break.
    She had so much she wanted to say to him, but knew not to disturb the protocol of this intensely personal moment of mourning. She desperately also wanted to crouch down in front of the little boy who was now hanging onto Haunui’s trouser leg, to tip up his chin and look into his face and see how much of his mother was in it, how much of her had been passed on to live another longer and happier life, but she knew that would have to wait as well.
    Erunora then formally invited Rian’s ‘hapu’ to Pukera village for the tangi, for which, she stated, preparations were already under way. Ropata thanked her, and the crowd began to break into smaller groups, awaiting word to return

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