Lands of Red and Gold #0: Prologue February 1310 Tasman Sea, offshore from Kiama, Australia Blue sky above, blue water below, in seemingly endless expanse. Dots of white clouds appeared on occasions, but they quickly faded into the distance. Only one double-hulled canoe with rippling sail cut a path through the blue emptiness. So it had gone on, day after day, seemingly without end. Kawiti of the Tangata [People] would very much have preferred not to be here. The four other men on the canoe were reliable enough travelling companions, so far as such things went. Yet being cramped on even the largest canoe made for too much frustration, and this was far from the largest of canoes. Only a fool would send out a large canoe without first exploring the path with a smaller vessel to find out what land could be discovered. Of course, only a fool would want to send out exploration canoes at all, so far as he could tell. The arts of long-distance navigation were fading back on Te Ika a Maui [North Island, New Zealand]. That was all to the good, so far as Kawiti was concerned. Why risk death on long sea voyages to find some new fly-speck of an island, when they had already discovered something much greater? Te Ika a Maui was a land a thousand or more times the size of their forefathers’ home on Hawaiki, and further south lay an island even greater in size. Their new lands were vast in expanse, and teemed with life on the earth, in the skies above, and in the encircling seas. Still, here Kawiti was, on a long voyage like his grandfather had spoken about. He had learned the old skills, and now he had been made to use them, whether he wished it or not. He would much rather be hunting moa in the endless forests than chasing ghosts in this endless water. “Remind me why I’m out here,” he said, to the air around him. His cousin Nene took the statement seriously. “Because Rahiri wants us to be out here, and so here we are.” “If there’s exploring to be done, the Big Man should do it himself,” Kawiti muttered. “That’s the point to being the Big Man; you get to tell others what to do, instead of doing it yourself,” Nene said. Since that was manifestly true, Kawiti changed the subject instead. “No matter what Rahiri wants, we can’t keep exploring much further in this wind.” As any sensible navigator would do, Kawiti had steered his canoe into the wind for this exploration. That would make it safer to run for home if they needed to, rather than risk being becalmed until they died of thirst. “We have enough water to explore for another sunrise, maybe two,” Nene said. “If-” He never finished that sentence, since Kawiti pointed to the skies instead. “Gulls!” That brought exclamations from all of the men on the canoe. A half dozen or so white-and-silver gulls circled in the skies to the south-west. Kawiti took hold of the steering oar and turned the canoe in that direction. Sure enough, when they got closer, they saw that the gulls were just like those which crowded the shores of Te Ika a Maui and flocked like so many winged thieves to the site of any moa kill. Gulls meant land nearby, of course, as any child knew, yet what kind of land? As the canoe swept south-west, Kawiti looked for the build-up of cloud which was often associated with islands. He saw no low-lying clouds, just the same occasional high white puffs which had been their only company for days. Yet the sky to the west did look different, somehow. It had turned into a kind of blue-gray haze, instead of the usual blue. Strange indeed. When they went a little further west, Kawiti realised that he could smell something. A striking, tangy odour unlike anything he had ever inhaled. Piercing, somewhat sharp, not entirely unpleasant but most definitely unfamiliar. Land had to be near, but what could produce such as a sharp smell to carry it over the horizon? Soon enough, he had his answer. The azure expanse of sea was replaced by an endless stretch of brown-green land in the distance. It covered the entire western horizon, as they drew near. Not a small island, then, rather something worth discovering. Another new land, surely not as large as Te Ika a Maui, but worth visiting. Trees grew near to the shore along this entire coast, it seemed, but Kawiti steered the canoe toward an open expanse of sand. The canoe landed easily enough on the beach, as it was designed to do, and the men quickly dragged it up beyond the high-water mark. No telling how long they would be here, and they could scarcely risk losing their only way home. “Another island of forests,” Nene said. “And smell those trees!” Kawiti could only nod. Those strange white-barked trees were the source of the odour which they had smelled even out of sight of land. They looked tall, but they were more widely-spaced than he would have expected of a forest. The ground between the trees was suspiciously empty, too. A few shrubs grew here and there, with grass elsewhere. Why hadn’t those bushes grown to cover all the ground between the big whitebarks? There was light enough for them to grow, surely. “We need to find water,” he said. No stream or spring was obvious, but there had to be something. There was always water somewhere. “And somewhere to camp. And then-” A strange man seemed to step out of the ground, making Kawiti forget his instructions. A man with skin black as night itself, who had somehow concealed himself well enough that neither Kawiti nor anyone else in his crew had noticed him. The man held a spear in his hand, although he pointed it at the ground rather than Kawiti and his fellow Tangata. The black man rattled off a few words in a speech which made no sense whatsoever. Kawiti held his right hand, face up, to show that it was empty of a weapon, then said, “We mean no harm.” The words would probably mean nothing, but at least his tone should sound peaceful. The black man flicked his head upward, as if biting at his own earlobe. A gesture of frustration, or something else? No way to know, not in this strange land. The black man wore some sort of woven cloth around his waist which went halfway to his knees, and had a head-dress of gray-brown feathers covering black, curly hair. The black man spoke again, more loudly, in words which sounded slightly different to his previous speech, but just as meaningless. Softly, Kawiti said, “No-one raise any spears. There’s five of us, and only one of him.” “Two of them, at least,” Nene said. “I’m sure I saw someone else back there behind the trees.” The black man looked from one of them to the other, then thumped the butt of his spear on the ground. More black men appeared from behind trees or stood up from behind bushes which by rights were too small to conceal anyone. The other strange men came to stand beside their fellow, moving quickly but not running. They all had spears of some kind or another, and the same night-coloured skin, but there the similarities ended. Each of the men was dressed differently. One had a feathered cloak wrapped around him, another wore the hardened leather skin of some animal about his chest in what had to be some kind of armour. One man, apparently the leader of the black men, had a round shield attached to his left arm. Not made from wood, as a few of the Tangata used, but some kind of strange substance that was yellowish-brown, and which gleamed. It looked harder than any wood, but obviously lighter than stone, from the way the black man held that shield. Belatedly, Kawiti realised that each of the black men’s spears were tipped with heads not of stone, but of the same yellow-brown substance. Those heads did not have the same shine on them, but they still looked strong. Who were these strange men? * * * August 1619 Western Coast of Australia Commander Frederik de Houtman stood on the deck of the Dordrecht, beneath stars which always struck him as unfamiliar. Even though he had named some of these southern constellations himself, in his voyages of half a lifetime ago, he still found them strange to this day. In the moonlight, the coastline was only a murky shadow on the eastern horizon, but its shape filled his thoughts. For several days he had watched the shore here. It appeared so inviting, yet he had been unable to land. The roughness of the seas meant that he did not dare to let the ships go closer, not even to launch boats - if any boats would survive that treacherous surf. If his ships had not been so heavily laden with goods due in Batavia, he might have risked venturing closer. As it was, he could only wait, and consider. He did not wish to delay for much longer, but he was intrigued, and more than intrigued. The southern route to Batavia had only been in use for nine years, since Hendrik Brouwer discovered the strong winds in the southern latitudes, and reduced the sailing time by two-thirds. With more ships taking that route, some of them were bound to overshoot and end up on the coast of this land. His old friend Dirck Hatichs had been the first, and left an inscribed plaque on what he had privately called a “God-forsaken stretch of emptiness.” Other ships had landed here since, and said much the same thing - but none of them had come this far south. A few days before, he had found an island he named Rottnest, for the strange rat-like creature which lived there. It hadn't been a true rat - it didn't look quite right - but it was close enough to name it that. Of course, that had only been a small island. This land, Terra Australis, the unknown great southern land, seemed to be much larger. No-one knew what creatures lived here, but there would surely be many more than that little rat. De Houtman wondered about them, but he had limits to his curiosity. He thought for a moment longer, than decided that he would wait until morning. If the seas had not calmed by then, he would give the order to turn north. With that decision made, he retired below to some well-earned sleep. The next morning, de Houtman came out on deck and looked at calm seas. The wind had died down, although some remained to sail, and the ocean swell was mild enough for him to sail close without a guilty conscience. He gave the order, and the ship came close into shore. He raised a telescope to his eye and searched the new land. He saw strange trees, some with white bark. A flock of black birds flew above them. Even through the telescope, he could not be sure, but he thought they looked like swans. “Black swans?” De Houtman had been trained in logic as a child, even if he spent most of his time daydreaming, and he remember Aristotle’s triumphant example of inductive reasoning. The ship sailed closer, but the birds flew off, so De Houtman could only wonder. He saw an inlet, or what might have been a river, and instructed the crew to sail into it. They did so, and the ship sailed into what he would later call the Swan River, after his glimpse of the birds which, in due course, he discovered had indeed been black swans. * * * “Commander, we found something ashore you should see,” Pieter Stins said. De Houtman looked up from his chart, shrugged, and gestured for the sailor to lead the way back to the boats. “Ah, you might want to find yourself a musket first, sir.” “Did you find people here?” De Houtman asked. If so, the sailor should have told him at once. If they found people here whom they could trade with, the East Indies Company would forgive almost anything, including late ships. Stins went pale beneath his sunburnt skin. “Not yet. But there must be people about, somewhere. Best if you see it for yourself.” “Wait by the boat; I’ll join you in a few moments.” He found another sailor, and gave a quick order. “Send this message to the Amsterdam: Reports of strange people on land. I am going ashore to explore.” The Amsterdam, the other ship on his expedition, was commanded by Jacob d’Edel, Councillor of the Indies, who despite his status had the sense to leave navigation to professionals like de Houtman. After getting himself a musket, de Houtman took a boat with a few sailors and landed on the bank of the river. Another group of a dozen sailors waited on the shore. “Where are the people?” he asked. Stins said, “Somewhere inland, I presume, sir. Shall we go?” The sailor gestured away from the shore. “Not so fast,” de Houtman said. “Load your muskets, men," he said. The sailors did. De Houtman offered a quick prayer of thanks that his men had wheel locks, not the old matchlock muskets some sailors still used. He wouldn't want to face hostile natives while trying to light a fuse. Just above the river, the low scrubs gave way to what had to be cultivation, although it looked little like any farmer’s fields he knew back in the Netherlands. There were some scraggly areas of grass, but the field was dominated by a staggered series of sticks dug into the ground. As they got closer, he saw that some of the sticks were forked branches, while others had smaller sticks tied across. Vines had started to creep up the lower parts of the sticks, twirling around and extending dark-green leaves outward. The vines had also started to spread along the ground, and were beginning to shade out the grass. “Strange plants,” he murmured. Grapes were the only crop he knew of that grew on vines, and these things did not look like grapes. He wondered when they fruited. One of the sailors said, “I’ve seen something like them which the natives grow in the Gold Coast [i.e. modern Ghana]. The roots grow large and sweet. They call them... yams, I think.” De Houtman nodded. Whether these vines were yams or not – just because something looked similar did not prove it was the same – they were obviously quite important to the natives. There were a lot of vines in this field. And that wasn’t all. “What are those trees around the edges of the fields?” he asked. Two kinds of trees, now that he looked more closely. The left and right edges of the field were marked with lines of trees that all reached to about nine feet tall, and had clearly been trimmed to keep them at that height. What looked like a shorter line of trees – large shrubs, really – marked the far end of the field. Those shrubs; lower branches had trimmed to stop them touching the ground. And the shrubs were in the early stages of flowering, with golden blooms emerging from many of the branches. “Another strange thing, sir,” Stins said. “The seasons are backwards hereabouts. What kind of tree flowers in winter?” “That one, I presume,” de Houtman said, allowing himself a touch of irony. “Have you looked further inland?” “Not much, sir. There’s another row of fields. Do you want to explore further?” “Is the King of Spain a bastard?” de Houtman replied. “But carefully. The natives have to be here somewhere.” Wherever they were, they didn’t seem to spend much time tending to these fields. Or maybe it was just the wrong time of year. Who could tell, with crops like these? The party moved further across the fields. A few brightly-coloured birds flew up from amongst the trees at the field’s edge, but de Houtman gave them little notice. They reached a couple more fields, with more of the yams or whatever those vines were planted. Each of the fields was lined with the same rows of pruned trees. At the third field, one of the sailors called out, and gestured toward the nearest row of trees. At de Houtman’s curt nod, the sailor went over and carried back a tool and a small woven basket. The tool turned out to be some kind of spade, with a narrow iron blade beaten flat and attached to a smoothed wooden handle. The basket held many small brownish-red winged seeds in the bottom. Stins said, “Odd. Why would the natives be planting seeds when their crops are already growing?” “No way to tell, yet,” de Houtman said. “May as well put the spade and basket back; no need to annoy the natives by stealing things from them.” While the first sailor was returning the goods, de Houtman led the rest for a closer look at these strange trees. The nearer trees had thorns on the branches. The trees were carefully-pruned, too. They had the look of something which had been shaped for harvest. “They look almost like olives,” he said. Well, the trees themselves looked nothing like olive trees, but they were pruned to a similar height and shape to what he had seen of olives in Spain during his one visit to that country. Whatever fruit was harvested from these trees was probably gathered like olives, too. And it was clearly valuable, from the way the natives had shaped these trees. “Look up there, sir,” Stins said. He indicated a hill rising above the fields. It was covered in regularly-spaced trees and shrubs. The eastern side, lit by the morning sun, had what looked to be the same kinds of trees as the thorny ones here. The western side of the hill had the shrubs, and those were blooming golden. “Beautiful flowers,” one of the sailors murmured. “Never mind the flowers,” de Houtman said, although he thought that they were an impressive sight. “Where are the natives?” They had to be somewhere nearby, if they had these fields here. “Muskets ready, men, and let’s go find them.” De Houtman led the sailors further inland past the fields, looking for glimpses of the natives. * * * Marri, daughter of Yunupungu, had slept badly the previous night. A twisted night, with whispering just beyond the edge of hearing; one of the kuru, perhaps, cast adrift by some waves in the great water’s eternity and trapped for a time on the dry mortal lands. If so, and if the kuru kept her awake for too much of another night, she might have to visit the triangle-keeper and find out what he could hear. Luckily, Sea-Eagle-Tree was a town whose triangle-keeper had not been carried away as tribute by some bearded Atjuntja warriors. Or maybe it was her own spirit that was troubled; she had not dreamed last night, after all. Not all nights need have dreams, of course, but still, their lack could be ominous. If she had let her own spirit stray from the liquid harmony, then no amount of straining her ears for the whispers of kuru would prove useful. For the morning, though, she could do nothing. If there were a kuru, the light of the Source would have driven it to hide within the earth, lest its essence be evaporated and returned to eternity in a myriad of raindrops. If the poor sleep was from her own troubled spirit, then she would have to find a new harmony, but that was not something that could be done in a single day, or even a week. So, with cautious heart, Marri left town in the earliest hours of the day, to go about this day’s task of checking the yam-fields. The Source had still not risen properly when she collected her shovel and basket of yam seeds and set out. The first hints of golden light were just beginning to drive away the stars as she walked past the nearer fields, and true dawn had come when she reached the fields near the ever-ocean. She started to walk along the rows of sticks in each field, checking for any yams which had died over the winter and not regrown with the spring. She found none in the first field, which was a fortunate sign indeed. She walked between the wealth-trees to the corner of the next field, and caught a glimpse of something which had appeared out on the ever-ocean. Marri stashed her shovel and basket beneath one of the wealth-trees, and crept across the fields to find a vantage point where she could watch without being seen. Two things had appeared out from the shore. Things like gigantic boats created by the flow of the ever-ocean itself. They had no space for oars, only what looked like an incredibly large tree growing out of the centre of each boat, with immense leaves of white rustling in the breeze. Some kind of giant white-and-blue possum scrambled amongst the leaves, climbing down the tree. Only then did everything snap into perspective, and Marri saw that it was a man climbing down amongst the leaves. Then she saw that the boats must be a creation of men too, but much larger than any she had ever seen or heard of. Not even the finest-masted boat that travelled the great storm roads to the south could compare to these giants. After a time, a more normal-sized boat descended from the side of these monstrosities, with men aboard. Marri moved slightly further back into the shrubs, trying to keep herself hidden. The men rowed their smaller boat to the shore and then climbed onto the sand. They were strange men indeed, with clothes of blue and white and with strange clubs of wood and iron. The strange men started to walk inland toward the fields. Marri shadowed them, as best she could. She was no hunter born – that was the province of men – but she thought that she could still move more quietly than these stumble-footed strangers. They were men, sure enough, but like nothing she had ever seen. Beneath their clothes of blue and white, their skin was so pale, so raw. Like men who had been served raw into the world rather than being baked by the Dreamers into a proper colour. Raw Ones. Yes, that was what they were. But why had these Raw Ones come to these lands? * * * Thoughts? P.S. For those who aren't familiar with the background to this timeline, Lands of Red and Gold has previously been discussed in a preview thread here, and the basic idea was discussed in an earlier thread here.