The Tale of the Coral Dwellers
Far away, in the middle of the deep blue sea, the dormant volcano Maluvis nearly pierced the boundary between the sky and the starlit heavens. Its slopes jagged and barren, Maluvis was surrounded by a tropical paradise of wondrous beauty full of exotic flowering plants, fruit bearing trees and animals and birds extinct everywhere on the planet but there. The entire island was ringed by a pristine white sand beach. The waters that lapped the shores were bright turquoise blue with gentle foam capped waves that ebbed and flowed like clockwork, rarely disturbed by violent storms. The wizard Pradeus lived on the top of Maluvis, his castle built across the volcano’s gaping crater. Steam and heat spewed from the bubbling magma deep in the bowels of the volcano. There were no roads or paths leading to or from the castle. The turrets were always surrounded by dark and billowy clouds where lightning flashed and thunder roared. It was said by the coral dwellers that Pradeus ruled the world.
Wahmaia Luana lay on her back on the top of a giant closed clam shell looking up through the immaculately clear sea at the sparkle of sunlight on the water’s surface. The marlin tethered by strands of bright green seaweed to the yellow and orange coral surrounding their pen leapt about stirring up sand and bubbles that momentarily blocked her view. She rolled over on to her stomach to see what was exciting them, and seeing nothing, casually sat up and crossed her legs, took her lobster shell comb and ran it through her long black hair that floated outward from her head like sea snakes in search of escape from her scalp. As she began to hum, a translucent jellyfish floated nearby, its bell pulsing in and out as its spindly arms waved to and fro.
“Shoo,” Wahmaia said to it waving the comb at it. “I’m not humming for your benefit.”
The jellyfish darted off, joining a smack of them bobbing near the surface not far away.
“Loathsome creatures,” she said putting her comb into the palm frond weaved top that covered her breasts. Then she heard the calls of the conch shell vibrating through the water. “What now?” She said as she slid from the shell, made sure the marlin were securely tied to the coral, then kicked her legs, swimming away from the pen toward the sound of the conch.
Lukana Malaia felt extremely lucky as he dragged the old sea chest through the opening of his cavern. The chest looked fairly new. Salt water had not eaten through its wood and the brass hinges and lock were still bright and shiny. Pulling it across the floor of dried lava he bumped into a table of lanterns and chipped tea cups, knocking a cup from the table, causing it to shatter in pieces as soon as it hit the lava. “Darn it evermore,” he mumbled, sidestepping the pieces to pull the trunk into better light beneath a lit oil lamp.
Exhausted by the exertion, he sat back in a wobbly chair with a hole in its thatched seat and pushed his long white hair back from his forehead and out of his eyes and rubbed the sparse whiskers on his chin and stared at the chest. “Now, how do I get into you without breaking you?” he said to it.
Then the echo of the conch being blown, calling to all the coral dwellers, reverberated through the cavern. “Darn it evermore,” he said as he stood, knocking over the chair he had been sitting in, and headed for the cavern door and back out into the sea.
Racing over the coral rooftops of the village, Koa Palau kicked his feet at the nose of the shark pursuing him. Undeterred, the shark opened its razor sharp teeth-filled mouth and bit down hard, missing Koa’s foot by mere inches. Koa laughed heartily, sending a fountain of bubbles to the water’s surface. Diving into a clump of standing seaweed, Koa pushed his way through the stalks, sending scores of brightly colored fish from their hidden habitats and into the path of the predator. But the shark wanted only one thing: Koa.
Coming out of the seaweed, Koa swam through a narrow alleyway between two mounds of bright orange coral, knocking over a ship’s wheel placed outside the door of one of them. He entered the market place, splashing past the lines of tables stacked with netting, wooden buckets, sails, jars, cookery, and all sorts of sea going debris. With the shark still on his heels, Koa wondered where everyone was. The market was normally very busy this time of day.
Just as he cleared the market he collided with the coral dwellers at the back of a crowd.
“Shark!” One of them yelled.
The lookout standing in a crow’s nest planted on the edge of the sandy sea-bottom clearing threw his harpoon, sending it between the eyes of the shark, killing it instantly.
“Koa, you clumsy fool,” Lukana said rising to his feet from the sand. “Playing tag with sharks is going to get you or someone else killed one of these days.”
Koa picked himself up and brushed sand from his face. “Sorry, Lukana, I wasn’t playing tag this time. That shark had been waiting for me down at the grotto. I think it’s the same shark that got Maui Takai.”
“Pradeus is up to his usual tricks, then,” Lukana said. “Speaking of Pradeus, you got here just in time. Taui Taui is about to make an important announcement.”
Two dodo birds squawked loudly from inside their cages made of bleached whale bone as Pradeus threw pieces of fruit on the floor in front of the cage bars. Sitting on his gold throne embedded with black pearls and blue diamonds, he fed the birds with a huge grin on his wrinkled face. Flashes of lightning lit up the throne chamber illuminating the sulfurous haze that came in through the cracks in the stone floor from the bubbling lava. Lamort, a pyrenean ibex, stood at his right side, rubbing its huge curved horns on the floor.
“Must you do that?” Pradeus said.
Lamort raised his head and mimicked Pradeus’s grin. “Even a goat likes a good horn rubbing now and then,” it said.
Pradeus threw the last piece of fruit to one of the dodos. “Why did I ever give you the power of speech?”
“Because everyone else is afraid to talk to you,” Lamort said.
“And you’re not?” Pradeus asked wiping his hand on a large palm frond.
“As the last of my kind I have nothing to lose,” Lamort said. He paused, then said, “Restricting the coral dwellers from coming onto the island is going to lead to trouble.”
“Are you questioning my decisions?” Pradeus said, suddenly angry.
“I’m questioning what their reaction will be to your edict,” Lamort said.
“You sound like Maki Laui,” Pradeus said, rising from his throne and leaving the throne chamber.
Maki Laui sat on the edge of her bed of bamboo stalks and ferns and stared out of the window, watching the gray earth and stone of the side of the volcano become momentarily illuminated by flashes of lightning. Far below she could see the tree top canopies and beyond that the beach and the never ending sea. She tugged at the rusty chain around her ankle and attached to a stone beside the bed.
A white passenger pigeon with its claw tied to a perch and preening its feathers pulled its head from under its wing. “It’s no use my dear,” the pigeon said. “Once Pradeus captures you, there is no getting away.”
“That may be well enough for you Jai Lai, but I will return to the sea and to my people,” Maki said, yanking on the chain with both hands.
“I admit being a captive has its disadvantages, but why live under the water when you can live above it?” Jai Lai asked.
“It’s Pradeus’s doing that we live among the coral to begin with,” Maki said. She let the chain drop and turned her back to the window. “I miss my family and friends,” she said wistfully.
“Being the bride of a wizard may not be so awful,” Jai Lai said.
“I would rather throw myself into the volcano,” Maki said.
Pradeus pushed apart the curtain of sea shells strung together with spider silk, mumbling under his breath. On the teak and bamboo table tops, flames from oil lamps filled with whale oil licked at the bottom of glass bowls filled with different color boiling fluids. The room was lined with shelves stacked with jars containing every variety of dried plant, flower and herb that could be found on the island, along with dead fish, insects and small animal species floating in preservatives. As he made his way to the center of the room to a large table stacked with books and rolls of parchment tied with strands of hemp, his arm brushed against a large globe on a pedestal, sending it spinning onto the floor and across the room. It came to rest beneath a window.
“Damn the world and all the creatures on it anyhow,” he said. He pointed at the globe and raised it in the air and directed it back to the pedestal and set it in place.
“I should have just wiped them off the planet instead of submerging the whole lot of them into the sea to live and breathe like fishes. They’ve been nothing but nuisances ever since,” he said aloud as he flipped open a large book rotting from the time it spent floating in the ocean from some sunken ship.
Wahmaia sat cross legged on the top of Lukana’s new found trunk and braided her damp hair. Shadows cast by the oil lamp danced on the coral walls. Lukana was sitting on his chair sorting through a box of rusty keys.
“How do air pockets form that allow us to live in dryness indoors?” She asked.
“I don’t know,” Lukana said, “Pradeus made it happen and so it is.”
Wahmaia tied the last knot in her braid. “How can we breath in water?”
Lukana held a key close to his eyes, squinting at it. “Weren’t you taught in school that when Pradeus cast us into the sea he gave us the power to breath underwater?”
“Pradeus this and Pradeus that,” Wahmaia said, standing. “Everything is explained by Pradeus, but no one ever explained Pradeus. Where did he come from and how is he able to do such things?” She bent over and peered at a miniature sailing vessel in a glass bottle.
“Pradeus was once one us, but he’s very old, older than any of us, and he learned his tricks and powers from the wizard who preceded him. None of us knows how he is able to do the things he does, and asking him will get you thrown into the volcano,” Lukana said putting the key back in the box with the others. “I give up.”
“Why not just cut it open with a sawfish’s saw?” Wahmaia said running her hand over the dents in a copper pot.
“Why do you always ask so many questions?” He said, leaning back in his chair and staring at the trunk.
Koa leapt into the cavern and did a somersault before standing. “That was sure some speech Taui Taui gave this morning,” he said. “He sure is angry about us being thrown off the island even at night time.”
“Where have you been?” Lukana asked gruffly.
“There was a meeting to look into building a giant bamboo raft and us all floating away from here on it,” Koa said picking up a small bell and ringing it.
“Stop that,” Lukana said grabbing the bell out of Koa’s hand. “And just where does anyone think we would float to if such a raft could even be built?”
“There has to be other islands,” Koa said. “Some of the old timers like you said there were once maps of the world that showed other islands.”
“Is that true?” Wahmaia asked Lukana excitedly.
“I haven’t seen a map since I was a young boy,” Lukana answered. “If such a thing still exists the only one who has it is Pradeus.”
“Then we’ll just have to get inside his castle and find it,” Koa said, crossing his arms across his broad chest, feigning confidence.
“No one ever got inside Pradeus’s castle and lived to tell about it,” Lukana said.
“Maki is inside it,” Wahmaia said. “And she is still alive. The pigeons have brought us messages from her.”
Lukana gave a loud harrumph. “Maki did not get in of her own free will and since she is the only one that Pradeus has given the power to read or write no one even knows what those notes said.”
“Well I for one don’t plan on just staying under water and doing nothing,” Koa said.
“Me neither,” Wahmaia said. “I’m tired of herding schools of marlin.”
“Darn it evermore,” Lukana grumbled. “I can’t let you fool kids get yourself killed.” He leaned back and put his feet up on the chest and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “We’ll have to come up with a plan to get to Maki and find a map if one still exists.”
“This could be exciting,” Wahmaia said excitedly.
“This could get us thrown into the volcano,” Lukana said.
As night enveloped Maluvis, in the lamplight, Lamort rubbed his horns against Maki’s bedroom wall, keeping a lookout on the door with one eye as Maki sawed at a link in the chain with a piece of sharp hardened lava.
“If Pradeus finds out about this he’ll have me for his dinner,” Lamort said.
“You may be saving both of our lives,” Maki said, speeding up, causing sparks to fly from the friction of the rock against the metal.
“Are you certain your friends are coming for you?” Lamort asked. He peeked out into the corridor then pulled his head back in the room.
“Didn’t my sister Jai Lou come tell us so herself?” Jai Lai said. He raised a wing and pecked at a mite.
“Please hurry,” Lamort said. “Pradeus is a sound sleeper but should he awake and go to his laboratory and see that his maps have been moved in any way, and the biggest of them taken, then all our gooses will be cooked.”
“I never knew such a cowardly old goat as you,” Jai Lai said.
“It’s what has kept me alive this long,” Lamort retorted.
“Having the map of the world may mean the freedom of my people,” Maki said. Suddenly the link in the chain snapped apart and fell to the floor with clang that echoed in the bedroom and out into the corridor.
Three large great auks slowly ascended the side of the volcano, with Koa, Wahmaia and Lukana each holding onto one of the bird’s short tail feathers.
“You are as slow as a blowfish,” Koa complained to the one he was holding onto.
“This is my natural habitat. Try to get anything else who can get up this,” the bird snapped back.
“Quiet you two,” Lukana said. “Pradeus will bring the volcano down on our heads if he hears us coming.”
Once they reached the castle, the three let go of the auks and began scaling the side of the castle using the large stone blocks as steps. As lightning flashed around them they at last reached Maki’s dark window. Koa was the first one to enter.
“Maki?” Koa said in a whisper.
In the darkness Pradeus clapped his hands and the torches lining Maki’s bedroom walls burst into flame. “So, you have come to be thrown into the volcano just as I did with that treasonous goat and fool bird!”
Koa blinked hard, letting his eyes adjust to the sudden light, and saw Maki was tied to a post in the middle of the room.
Then the floor beneath their feet begin to shake.
As soon as the sides of the volcano began to tremble, Lukana lost his grip on the stone and slid down the wall taking Wahmaia with him, both tumbling head over heels all the way to the brush at the bottom.
His attention diverted from Koa by the falling masonry from the ceiling and walls, Pradeus tried frantically to remember the spell to calm the volcano, and while doing so Koa untied Maki from the post and carried her to the window.
“The map of the world,” she yelled, as he pushed her out and leapt out behind her.
At the bottom of the volcano, they tumbled to the feet of Lukana and Wahmaia.
“The map was left behind,” Maki said.
“We have bigger problems than not having a map,” Lukana said, barely able to stand as the ground shook beneath his feet.
They rushed through the jungle as trees became uprooted from the quaking ground and the jungle’s beasts and birds growled, squawked, cried, barked, cawed, and made all manner of noises of great alarm. At the shore, the four dove into the water and swam down to the corals. Everyone was in a panic.
“Get your belongings. Everyone to the clearing,” Taui Taui commanded as the conch was sounded.
“The trunk!” Lukana said. “I can’t leave it behind not knowing what was in it.” He rushed into his cavern followed by the others.
“You’re going to get us killed,” Koa said.
Just then a huge chunk of coral broke from the ceiling and landed on the trunk, smashing the lid open. Lukana reached into the opening and pulled out a large rolled up parchment. As he unfurled the parchment, Maki yelled elatedly “a map of the world.”
On rafts of bamboo held together by entwined strands of seaweed, the previous dwellers of the corals looked back to see Pradeus’ castle fall into the erupting volcano. As the island sunk into the waters, Maki stood at the head of the lead raft with the map of the world in her hands and pointed the direction to a new land. “According to this map there’s not a volcano anywhere near where we will resettle,” she said.
“And no Pradeus,” Lukana said, gleefully.
Then everyone began to do something they hadn’t done in a very long time. They started to sing.