THE RAIDERS CAME JUST before dawn.
They came with drums and torchlight making red suns in the mists.
Mau’s ears heard them. In his eyes the flames were reflected. Then he awoke from what was not exactly a sleep, and felt the future happening.
How did that work? he wondered. On the very first day he’d stood guard on the Nation, he’d had the memory of this. It had been flying toward him from the future. He’d always had that trick with the silver thread that pulled him toward the future he pictured in his head. But this time it was the future that had been tugging at him, pulling him to this place, at this time.
“They are here,” someone whispered beside him. He looked at the Unknown Woman. He’d never seen much of an expression on her face before, but now it terrified the life out of him. It was sheer poisonous hatred.
“Ring the bell!” he snapped, and she hurried up the
beach. Mau walked backward, watching the mist. He hadn’t expected that. He hadn’t seen it!
The sound of the Sweet Judy’s bell sang out across the lagoon. Mau ran up the track, and was relieved to see faint shapes hurrying through the damp billows. Where was the sun? It must be time for dawn!
Over toward the low forest, the first grandfather bird threw up, and was immediately attacked by its archenemy.
“Waark! Yer lying ol’ hypocrite!”
And with that the dawn chorus exploded, with every bird, frog, toad, and insect screaming its head off. Golden light rolled in from the east, melting ragged holes in the mist. It was a beautiful picture, apart from the black-and-red war canoes. Most of them were too big to enter the lagoon. They had grounded on the spit of land by Little Nation, and figures were pouring onto the sand.
No voices in my head, Mau thought. No dead people. It’s just me in here. I’ve got to get this right….
Pilu hurried up with a heavy package wrapped in papervine cloth. “It’s been kept dry. It will be fine.”
Mau looked along the high ground. Someone was standing by each cannon with a long fuse in his hand, or in the case of one, her hand. They were watching him anxiously. Everyone was watching him.
He looked down at the beach again and saw Cox, towering over the Raiders.
He’d been expecting someone like Foxlip, skinny and unhealthy-looking, but this man was a good foot taller and nearly the same size as Milo. He had feathers sticking up around his trouserman hat. They were red, the feathers of a chief. So he’d done what the ghost girl had said he’d do: He’d taken over. That was their law. The strongest man led. That made sense. At least, it made sense to strong men.
The Raiders were holding back, though. They were staying near their boats; only one was coming up the beach, with his spear held over his head.
In a way, and it was a strange kind of way, this was a big relief. Mau didn’t like having two plans.
“He looks very young,” said the ghost girl behind him. He spun around and there she was, dwarfed beside Milo, who was carrying a club the size of a medium-sized tree; in fact it was a medium-sized tree, without the branches.
“You should have gone into the forest with the others!” he said.
“Really? Well, now I’m coming with you.”
Mau glanced at Milo, but he’d get no help there. Since Guiding Star had been born, the ghost girl could do no wrong as far as his father was concerned.
“Besides,” she said, “it’s going to end up the same way for all of us if this goes wrong.