Believing Is Seeing
THE CAVE WAS WAITING. It might contain anything, Mau thought. And that was the point, wasn’t it? You had to find out. You had to know. And Daphne didn’t seem concerned. Mau told her that there would probably be bones, and she said that was fine, because bones didn’t try to kill you, and that since she had got the message from the Grandmothers, she was going to see it through, thank you so very much.
They found the Grandfathers right at the point where you could just see the waning daylight, and Mau began to understand. They weren’t scary, they were just… sad. Some of them still sat as they had been put, with their knees up under their chins, staring toward the distant light with flat dead eyes. They were just husks and crumbled bones. If you looked carefully, you could see that they had been held together with papervine. It really did have many uses, even after death.
They stopped when the daylight was a little dot at the end of the tunnel.
“How many more can there be?” Ataba wondered.
“I’m counting,” said Mau. “There’s more than a hundred of them so far.”
“One hundred and two,” said Daphne. There seemed to be no end to them, sitting one behind the other like the world’s oldest rowing crew, sculling into eternity. Some of them still had their spears or clubs, tied to their arms.
They went on, and the light vanished. The dead passed in their hundreds and Daphne lost count. She kept reminding herself how scared she wasn’t. After all, hadn’t she quite enjoyed that lecture on anatomy she had attended? Even though she had kept her eyes shut throughout?
However, if you were going to look at hundreds and thousands of dead men, it didn’t help to see the light from Ataba’s lamp flicker over them. It seemed to make them move. And they had been men of the islands; she
could see, on ancient, leathery skin, blurred tattoos, like the ones every man – well, every man except Mau – wore even now. A wave, curling across the face of the setting sun…
“How long have you been putting people in here?” she asked.
“Forever,” said Mau, running on ahead. “And they came from the other islands, too!”
“Are you tired, sir?” said Daphne to Ataba, when they were left alone.
“Not at all, girl.”
“Your breathing does not sound good.”
“That is my affair. It is not yours.”
“I was just… concerned, that’s all.”
“I would be obliged if you would stop being concerned,” Ataba snapped. “I know what is happening. It starts with knives and cooking pots, and suddenly we belong to the trousermen, yes, and you send priests and our souls do not belong to us.”
“I’m not doing anything like that!”
“And when your father comes in his big boat? What will happen to us then?”
“I… don’t know,” said Daphne, which was better than telling the truth. We do tend to stick flags in places, she had to admit it herself. We do it almost absentmindedly, as though it’s a sort of chore.
“Hah, you fall silent,” said the priest. “You are a good child, the women say, and you do good things, but the difference between the trousermen and the Raiders is that sooner or later the cannibals go away!”
“That’s a terrible thing to say!” said Daphne hotly. “We don’t eat people!”
“There are different ways to eat people, girl, and you are clever, oh yes, clever enough to know it. And sometimes the people don’t realize it’s happened until they hear the belch!”