Princess was acting strangely. Maru was acting strangely. The Ariki Nui was also. God knew all the dreamers had been acting strangely for several days now. He did not know exactly why, but he sensed something ominous and worrying about it, and the fact was that they were acting strangely, no doubt about that, and he knew he would have to do something about it, even if he was not sure about what exactly.
He looked at the beautiful beach, the place where they had landed one month ago, a paradise of white sand, tall palm trees and crystal clear turquoise waters that, at sunset, adopted an unusual tone that made sand turns into gold powder and water before translucent into an opaque carpet of intense deep blue beaded with thousands of sparkling embers. Far away, at the center of the cove, floating back-light, strong and elegant, was the Jupiter, the agile and maneuverable frigate which had brought them there across the Pacific, with furled sails and at anchor, offering all its port side, about fifteen guns in total, along with part of the stern mirror and the taffrail. Among the masts on the horizon, the sun was going down at sea, huge and orange, accentuating the profiles of the boat, and staining red bellies of the few clouds that were crossing the sky. Within just an hour it would be quite dark, and it would be time to stop brooding or writing in his diary, go out of the hut and do something. Whatever it was.
If he went directly to the captain and stated his suspicions perhaps something even worse could happen. From the captain in particular, as a person, he had nothing to fear, because apart from the close relationship they held as superior and junior officer they had cultivated a certain gentlemen friendship. He was a comprehensive man, serene, cultivated and reasonable, on whom he could always trust his dark thoughts, but above all he was the captain, and as such he would be obliged to take whatever measures he considered necessary to preserve the safety of the entire expedition, even if these measures were drastic and traumatic.
Moreover, it was not just the captain. At an officers meeting he could be almost certain of the good judgment of the first mate, that cantankerous but kindhearted sea dog, of one of the lieutenants, the chaplain and, above all, the pilot Gonzalo and Navas, the surgeon and naturalist onboard, his two best friends on that ship and also people of peace who shared with him his youth, his sincere curiosity and his love for these lands and their people. However, there would also be others at that meeting, people like Lieutenant Alvarez and second lieutenant Sierralta, or brawler Villaboa, captain of the Marines, who given their usual belligerence and unscrupulous ambition would be happy to take severe measures that could degenerate into God knows what new misfortunes.
Because there had been misfortunes. At first they were merely scratches without too many consequences, mild incidents caused mainly by cultural misunderstandings, something inevitable that both crew and islanders had assumed and solved soon. The sense of ownership of the Dreamers, for example, was different than European´s, and sometimes borrowed items without any warning or permission. The island was considered to have many sacred areas and totems that some sailors, sometimes, had unwittingly desecrated in one of their usual walks. Grog, which barely affected a seasoned seaman, suited badly to those islanders, which had caused occasional fist fights. Indigenous taboos were diverse from those behaviors that westerners considered morally reprehensible, and so many others that the second lieutenant had been noting down meticulously by ethnological curiosity and caution, and that common sense and good will from both sides had managed to solve on early stages. However, what had not been able to forget yet was the incident between Maru and second lieutenant Sierralta, the disaster in which were also involved Villaboa and Álvarez, who almost ruined everything, and that was precisely the reason why atmosphere had rarefied so much.
Perhaps it made things worse, but the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, as that illustrious French once said, so something had to be done. He would go out of when the first stars sparkled on the sky, he would go in search of Gonzalo and Navas wherever they were, he would expose them to the case and would all go talk the captain to his own private hut. What would they say? He should try to make him understand the unique and complex psychology of this people, both him and his friends, and his enemies too, and nobody knew better about it than the missionaries and, after them, he himself, thanks to his special relationship with Princess.
What would be Princess doing right now? Maybe he should talk to her before doing anyhting else. The problem is that she was once much easier to find than now, in fact she used to look for him, but she had became elusive, rare, distant, a further sign that something was wrong. But she could not refuse to see him if he looked for her, their relationship was special, or so he wanted to think. Women of that island, like some sailors said it happened in many other harbors around those latitudes, were very liberal, had not so many sexual taboos, and local men were not jealous or possessive at all, a very happy and pleasant situation he had already benefited from, same as several members of the expedition, including some of his best friends. But liberal did not mean necessarily promiscuous, those women were not prostitutes, and about Princess it has nothing to do with that. They both were, above all, good friends, he treated her well and with respect, they used to spend much time together, learning things about each other, and even talked at length after they had learned enough of the other’s language thanks, at first, to the patient work of the missionaries. Just for her all this expedition had been worth it, and the truth is that he had missed her during those strange days, he liked her and needed to go see her.
But he did not need to choose any decision, because the chaplain and one of the missionaries entered his hut after knocking politely on the door first. They came prudent but determined, as people who, after much reflection, have reached a serious and grave conclusion behave, and met him with the same attitude, so that the understanding was quick. You should have to call a meeting of officers, they said, to talk about the bad atmosphere that reigns in that island and take an action.
-You know I have always shared their dreams in the morning, they gather in groups and everybody tell to each other and interpret them in communion- father Antonio, the missionary who had already been more than ten years among the dreamers said -You know how important it is for them, and that I’m used to be invited to attend those meetings because they consider me as a kind of holy man of the world-land even if ignorant of the dream-land. Well, these past few days they have not invited me, is not that I had been banned outright or something like it, but they have avoided to perform or make comments in front of me, they have avoided me somehow. You know how open and welcoming they normally are, so I find it extremely strange, of course. And I also noticed a lot of activity in the inns of sleep, and I’ve barely seen the great dreamers or the mothers-tree.
-Something happens, no doubt. The other priest also agrees with this- supported the chaplain -did Hika or any of the missionaries explained you anything concerning their Tikis, their Gods subsequent to the sleep-time, so far?
The second lieutenant already knew something about it. The tribe believed that a large group of gods had created the world many moons ago, a large and colorful family of fickle and problematic beings very much alike to the Greece-Roman pagan pantheon. But there were subsequent gods, the ones they called Tikis, or painter-gods, or weavers, it was difficult to translate, a bunch of gods who arose afterwards, who created new things in the world painting them from nothing with new colors and weaving new stories. He had never understood what that meant exactly, but he told the priests everything he knew, without hiding what he still ignored.
-Listen son, I’m new here and I can not venture anything yet- replied the chaplain -but Father Fermin, who is now trying to talk to the Ariki-Nuie, has this interesting theory that those gods, whatever they are, what they do is to produce changes in the collective mentality that empower them to deal with certain new and unknown challenges that may arise throughout their history and for which they were not previously prepared.
-Anyway, we have never seen anything like that ourselves, but we know that when one of these alleged gods is coming, whatever that means, what happens seems to be happening now, that is, many dreams, collective tension and increased worship to their totems and their idols- the missionary said -and, if that is what is happening now, then it means that something big is about to happen next, we do not know what yet, but something important. And for the sake of all the creatures of God who live here, both Christians from your expedition or my own flock, it is best to be prepared for anything.
-So we thought- concluded the chaplain -that while we talk with the captain you, my son, could talk to Hika, for your encouraging relationship could do more to avoid us any possible misfortunes that all the diplomacy missionaries and Captain could put together, and if not at least it might help in something.
He agreed. He could kill two birds with one stone. Now he could go around looking for her and sort out the incoming meeting with the captain, and when it comes to knowledge of those Indians and their culture, and persuasiveness and diplomacy, nobody could match the missionary Antonio. This being the situation, he signed a piece of paper on which he notoriously explained and supported his position towards the captain and explained the mission he was about to commence in order to justify his absence from the likely coming officials assembly, then left the hut, strongly recommended the priests to be accompanied by Gonzalo and Navas, the first mate and a few more sympathizers, he said goodbye, disappeared within the blackness of the night and went to the big village.
(Read the second part of this tale here)
(Lee el relato en español aquí)