Sport 40: 2012
My brother’s blood
We carried no guns. Whereas we went over those Fiordland heights with no weapons under our coats, my brother would have been draped about with knives and ﬂintlock weapons, and it was this clear difference that proved I was right to oppose him. His task was bloody; I came to prevent bloodshed. It was 1802. Just two years were left to run before we put an end to their reign of slaughter, and our conﬂict was at its height. I put my boots in the tracks of the man in front of me and knew it was the correct path.
That certainty propelled me forward for about ten steps of each hour’s walking. The rest was doubt. Try marching toward conﬂict with your brother—the one who brought you up. Try knowing exactly what malignant twist his face will take. Try going towards that, armed only with the religious armour put about you by the Order, a faith I’d adopted for the sake of comfort, not for burning love of the Mother inviolate.
Nevertheless I was on the march. From Bluff up the southwest hinterland we’d come to within a day’s tramp of Dusky Sound. We were travelling light and fast, aiming to complete our intervention and return south, because we all had vegetables at home to lift, and some had families. As we walked we knew ourselves to be observed by the scouts of local people, in the area for the gathering of their sacred pounamu, but bent on their own Holy task they did not approach us, recognising perhaps in our single-minded speed and lack of weapons a similar crew of pilgrims, bisecting that sacred space to protect it.
A greater danger lay ahead. From intelligence John had gained at Bluff we knew my brother’s crew to be the sweepings of van Diemen’s Land and the world’s merchant marine. Besides the clubs and lances of their trade and their own private knives, they possessed muskets and a powder keg. None of us were naïve to the danger such men would present. Once interrupted—irritated—yet again by the Order, page 301 they would ﬂash out. Several Ordermen had died on such campaigns, and in most of those stories my brother’s ferocity was the central point. To the Order, he was Lucifer, heretic plunderer of the beasts they held sacred.
I alone knew this unholy spectre as an intimate. We’d been apart ﬁfteen years now, but what I owed him, I would not forget. His hard boy’s face. His hands in my hair, wrenching me up. Our shared early misfortune, the stinging Shetland water, the salt.
We camped that night in bush upstream from the ﬁord. We were, John calculated, within a few hours’ march of their camp, yet sufﬁciently obscured by the near ridge to risk a ﬁre. The sandﬂies were a curse. Prohibited by our faith from killing them, we ﬂinched and ﬂicked away insects as their bites sucked under collars, into wrists.
All twitching ceased, though, once the ﬁre was lit and Nightsong called. At a silent signal from John we knelt, ten men and women on wet forested ground, all hats removed, waiting for John’s words.
Aid us, O Mother, to preserve your Order
Your Holy rank of creatures and trees
Lift us up, O Mother, and redeem us
By this work, from our human basity.
For Yours is the Order
The Forest, the Water
In your name we carry forth
This Holy War.
Then there was an easing of knees, a collective shift to sit on logs or our rude travelling bags, for each campaigner’s Offering-words. The Blacksmith was ﬁrst and the brothers second, and true to form their Offerings yawned with piety.
‘We travel here,’ began the Blacksmith, ‘in the instruction of the prophets and in the guidance of John; we observe your Natural Order in this Holiest place, we take forth your work in the company of these trees.’ The brothers DeMarinis merely echoed him minus the gravitas, and the rhythmic virtue went on, lulling everyone away to their own page 302 thoughts and back in time for each Amen, and thus I had little fear of inquisition from the group as I came to give my own Offering.
Nevertheless I could sense through the ﬁre John’s attention on me; somehow as we’d walked that day he’d traced the whiff of ambivalence along the line of campaigners to me. He was our chief prophet’s son and lieutenant and shared his father’s acute perceptiveness, yet his face was harder, his resolve more pure; any of his nature that might have been given over to lenience or compassion had been absorbed in the demands of active leadership. Thus he had led our campaigns for ﬁfteen years or more; this was my ﬁrst campaign, and I knew to expect no indulgence from him.
So I relied on the scaffolding of Orderist scripture to start me off.
Mother God, aid me to preserve Your Order
The beasts, the fowls and the trees.
Then, as our faith requires, I gave honest exposure to my own soul, that it might be offered up to the trees.
Mother in this place
Give faith to a blind man
Sympathy to his brothers and sisters
And in faith and good fortune
I obey thee.
Thus I gave under the trees honest utterance. It would have piqued a sceptic’s interest, had one been there, would have provoked a long discussion in some prophet’s hut or vegetable rows the next day— but the prophets were not there, I was on campaign, and my words seemed merely to reinforce the novitiates around me. The Amen was resounding, and the Offerings went on, man to woman to man. Only John’s eyes touched on mine, as he stared plainly through the smoke until I looked down. Then the Offerings were done and the hard bread was passed, leavened with pumpkin paste and a handful of berries, sandﬂies nipping our ﬁngers and cheeks as we ate.
A ﬁnal brieﬁng from John sent us into the tents, rain threatening above.page 303
I was adjacent to the brothers DeMarinis and, as always, they slept immediately and did not wake. And as on every night of the trek thus far, I lay awake a long while, my eyes probing the tent roof while the night-birds boomed through the dark. Then it rained.
When I woke the dawn chorus was already upon us, the birds open- throated in the trees above and the rain all gone, and the brothers DeMarinis already by the dead ﬁre with John, their hats removed and heads bent in observance, the others quickly arriving. To rise before dawn for this observance was a core practice of most Orderists, but I was not a man who enjoyed the hours before morning tea, and at the community I’d done my best to avoid it.
Rubbing the damp from my joints I came to the circle and knelt and truly it was a rich sound, the birdsong that avalanched from the trees. Bellbirds, robins, and others I couldn’t distinguish, all pouring forth, and I was quite swept away by it. Of course it was right to revere this miracle, this Mother-provided organsound and hymn.
Yet for this we’d been banished from every port and city, save for those of our stronghold in Scotland, even denied access to the meeting places of this new colony, forced inland from Bluff. And the more I listened to this mad Fiordland chorus the more I felt some of what must have driven the others—that tribal outrage, absolute and united.
But then light lifted through the trees and the chorus lost its intensity, desiccating into a broader mêlée of forest noise, and John cleared his throat to say Morningsong. Then we all stood and shook hands, clasping at the elbows and shoulders, and broke camp.
The day’s purpose was reconnaissance, and from the valley we climbed to the ridgeline to scan the ﬁord ﬁngering out grandly to the Tasman and, on its nearmost shore, the rude camp of tents my brother’s crew had established. Before the main tent the bush had been cleared and a small boat moored. John and the older DeMarinis manned the spy glasses for a half-hour and concluded my brother’s men had forayed far from their camp. Zigzagging down the slope we moved as quickly as the terrain would allow, all silent in trepidation of what lay ahead, and in respect to the habitat we were passing through, the bugs and leaves and smaller beings we crushed underfoot with each step.page 304
The sun was high and my feet were blistered, my toes bloodied inside my boots and grating with each step down. Wincing, I pictured both DeMarinis brothers loving such a discomfort, relishing foot pain as a trial of faith when it came. In truth I found it hard to like those brothers. Both walked ahead of me now, one with a wife, and even her chufﬁng labour I disliked. ‘Phew!’ she said, over and over. ‘Holy Mother!’ So much of campaigning was not to my taste.
We came close to the sealers’ tents and John held up a hand. ‘A quick thanks.’
We circled as well we could in the bush with our eyes cast down, but it was a hasty meditation, summoning back my nerves rather than calming them. And immediately afterwards everyone was active, the youngest brother and the Blacksmith going to unmoor the boat, the others surrounding the tents. Left alone with John I crouched in cover of the bush, waiting for instructions. In what I took to be some kind of novitiate’s test, I’d been chosen to raid the tents with him.
For a full ten minutes we crouched side by side, surveying the tents. At length John whispered, ‘Are you ﬁrm in your faith, Edward? I know this campaign has complications for you. Family connections.’
I chose not to say anything to this.
‘I know about your brother. I know who he is. But only I know it—only the prophets and I. None of the others are aware. Your secret is safe.’
‘Thank you,’ I said.
‘You’re a good man, Edward,’ he said. ‘We all have courage, in our way.’
I glanced sharply at him. It was an odd thing to say.
‘It will be hard, what follows,’ he said. ‘Are you sure you’re ﬁrm? How’s your faith these days, Edward?’
Although he looked straight across the clearing to the tents, his jaw was clenched tight, as if my doubt antagonised him personally.
But then he received the signal and was up and running, halfway across the clearing before I’d even moved. Running after him I felt the exposure of it, this open clearing and its dangerous light. Then I was stumbling into the largest tent.
‘They’re all out,’ said John. He was lifting blankets and boxes, peering under them, moving on.page 305
I waited for my eyes to adjust. The tent’s neatness was a shock. Bunk beds made of bush logs were stacked at the back wall, the blankets folded; a low table of tea-crates sat in the centre of the room, even a rude stool. It was supposed to be the enclave of unholy slaughterers, yet it was more domestic than my own hut above Bluff. On the table someone had carved the initials of some woman of a faraway port, with a quaintly off-colour limerick underneath.
‘Edward!’ hissed John. ‘Wake up!’
He was holding muskets towards me, three of the long-barrelled things found under some bed, plus a blanket to wrap them in. Shoving all this at my chest, he dashed back to the bunks and returned with a pair of long knives.
‘Look alive, Edward. They’ll be back and you’ll still be standing here, half-asleep.’
But it wasn’t clear what else I should do. He hadn’t told me, so I stood with my pulse hammering as he nipped along the wooden bench that was hammered into the wall-posts, his ﬁngers quick among the provision-jars and cooking tools, searching, I supposed, for maps or log-books.
‘Wrap the weapons, Edward. Wrap them in the blanket. Hurry!’ Now infected by his haste I bundled it all on the table while he went one more time round the tent.
‘It’s enough,’ he said. ‘We’ve got the weapons. Come on.’
I bolted out the door and tripped on the pugged bank and stumbled on towards the boat. The others were already aboard, the Blacksmith and older DeMarinis at the oars, the younger brother holding the mooring-rope. I clambered in, then John was climbing over me to get to the stern where a rudder had been improvised from an oar.
Then the Blacksmith pulled on the oars and we were away, stealing the boat. I held the weapons and panted with blank terror, anticipating at any moment my brother’s arrival from nowhere to crash aboard and bludgeon our heads, to sink his own boat under vengeful boots.
Perhaps half an hour passed before John guided us into a small inlet, he and young DeMarinis’ wife wading to the beach to trample the sand and break into the bush before returning, to leave the false trail. Then we rowed on, the Blacksmith indefatigable at the oars,page 306 John steering us toward a small tributary he had identiﬁed from the ridgeline.
Once at the creek we quickly foundered and began carrying the boat up so we could hide it inland, far from my brother’s men. It was a wet staircase and we all slipped, my shins smashing on the rocks as I came behind with the bundle of weapons in my arms. But at last John directed us into the bush at our right, two men going in front to ease aside the vines and branches so the boat could come through. It was very slow progress and the dark was coming down before we stopped to hide the boat under fronds and camouﬂaging moss. Under rotten logs I buried the weapons, returning the violent metal and wood, according to Order doctrine, to their natural state.
With my brother’s crew by now certain to be aware of our raid, John deemed it too dangerous to light a ﬁre, so we sat under tents to eat by shaded candlelight. When passed the hunk of bread my throat gagged with nerves. Tomorrow I and these Orderists would meet, at last, my brother’s savage and fabled crew. John was not the only one to see that I couldn’t eat. One woman even laid a hand on my shoulder, offering support until I shrugged her off.
‘Will someone give Evensong,’ I said.
The others gasped at the breach, and I took the opportunity to dispose of my bread and paste under some brush.
‘I’m sorry,’ said John. ‘I forgot Evensong in tonight’s haste.’
The Blacksmith cleared his throat and gave the observance. His face was obscured in shadow but his voice was deep and plain; he was not a pretentious man, and this time I found the ritual a comfort.
‘Amen,’ I said. ‘Thank you.’
Then in the gloom John brought forth his map. From the day’s reconnaissance he’d learnt more about my brother’s operations, and now he sketched our route to Baillie’s Point, explaining just how long it would take us to row there tomorrow, and how the rowing work would be split. Bending towards the map I noted that again the tactics for the raid itself went unmentioned, the advice covering only our transport there and nothing beyond that, and I spurted with a fearful need to blurt ‘and then what?’, but didn’t, unwilling to expose further my difference, my ignorance of what others seemed to inherently know.page 307
But they did not notice my disquiet. Like me they were drawn along by John’s voice, and they trusted it. John was an arrow of purpose. They would follow him off a precipice—even I would. I was not a brave man, but I was an opportunist, and I knew that, out here, John was my best chance.
In what seemed a short time I woke in a deep black as the heavens opened, Mother God’s renewing rain thundering on the tent with sudden force. In a moment John was shouting through the dark, calling us from our beds. The rain would delay us; we would start immediately.
In the soaking bush it was so dark that to return to the boat we moved in a line, each campaigner holding the shoulder of the next, our only illumination coming from a lantern that John guarded under a canvas shield at the front while the rain teemed down, plastering my hair against my head. No sooner had we reached the boat than John’s lantern was extinguished and we removed the camouﬂaging in the dark, clearing its hull by feel until John struck a second match.
At last we had the boat lifted and were following John, but it was hopeless, as in the dark and rain we slid and crashed, one woman issuing a deliciously inventive curse. Finally we reached the creek of the night before and started down it. Already a lot of time had been lost, and John’s voice rang out remorseless through the bush, even as we slipped and slammed on the rocks, and it was a sodden and bruised company that emerged at the ﬁord’s edge.
Now the Blacksmith produced four lengths of blanket fabric to mufﬂe the rowlocks and again took the oars with the older brother, the younger one leaning out over the bow to search through the low cloud for danger, while at the stern John steered a course parallel to the shore. For the rest of us we could only hunker in the boat and ﬁdget, watching the water while the rain plucked and dimpled it.
All were nervous. Some murmured quietly in last-minute homage to the Mother, their lips moving in one more prayer for safety’s sake. As for me, my stomach was cramped with the same dread I’d felt when going out with my brother, long ago in Scotland, to thieve after dark. Hands knotted in my shirt I closed my eyes and fancied I saw his outline ahead, leading me into a frightening and unknown dark.page 308
The rain eased and we came within sight of the sealers’ tents. It was dawn now and we were plainly visible, John having made no attempt to steer further out, and two of my brother’s men came running down to the shore to shout and gesticulate.
‘They’ve been left behind,’ said someone. ‘To guard the camp.’ When we offered no response the pair began throwing stones, each splashing well short, merely disturbing the water between us, their voices carrying distant and blasphemic. They looked almost funny, those stickmen dancing on the shore, but the older DeMarinis pursed his lips and shook his head.
‘Violent men,’ he said.
I snorted and his glare gave me real delight. It always restored me to laugh at a DeMarinis.
Then John ordered a change at the oars and it was my turn to blister my hands in the rowers’ seats. My back soon ached from the rowing but I relished it. Urged on by John, I oared us towards Baillie’s Point, my back to our destination, suppressing the brother-dread that gnawed in my gut.
When our father drowned I’d been six, my brother nine. One whole night they’d not come back in Pa’s ﬁshing boat, and in the morning I ran down to ﬁnd them washed up. My father was dead on his back, staring up, my brother sitting in the opposite direction with his arms round his knees. Pa’s boat was nowhere, swallowed by Shetland’s furious coast.
At ﬁrst I couldn’t get my brother to speak. His teeth chattered and he brushed me off when I shook him by the shirt. Back at my father’s side I found Pa’s face sliding and cold to the touch.
Running back to my brother I pulled his arm and shrieked. ‘Help!’ I was six years old.
Again he shook me off.
I ran to my father, tried to roll him on his side and couldn’t, beat his chest instead, then collapsed next to him and cried.
After a time my brother was standing above me. ‘What did you expect?’ he said. ‘He can’t ﬁsh, can he? He can’t pilot a boat.’
I stared up—his face so ﬁerce.page 309
‘He’s drowned, isn’t he?’ he said. ‘What did you expect?’
Then he kicked his bare foot as I held it, and when I wouldn’t let go, dragged me a short way up the rocks. Finally he kicked me free and scowled up the beach.
He’d long been in battle with my father. Pa had been a Minister of the Kirk until our mother’s death, when, growing wild in his widower grief, he rejected that faith and made a new God of seabirds and rocks and the scything wind that Shetlanders hated. Thus he lost his Ministering post and with it his income and our comfort. Wild in his grief he took to his ﬁshing boat to survive, driving his eldest son to accompany his hopeless ventures for ﬁsh, leaving me in the house with no company and little to eat.
To this new change in my father, my brother adapted by hating and resisting him. I could not. I cowered round my father’s heels, and now at his death was overtaken by fear. It was my brother who provided food in those ﬁrst few months. In a village that refused us charity, so beyond the pale had we been cast by our father’s heretic faith, my brother was resourceful, learning all the trades that take place after dark, and soon he had us a stowaway berth to Aberdeen.
There we learned more of the ragged business of surviving on cold streets—or he did, while I scuffed along in his wake. Through years of discomfort I followed him through the Aberdeen nights and then Edinburgh. In Glasgow we quickly found boys of my brother’s new stripe. Though I knew how to run along with him, how to survive under his protection, I was not the boy my brother was, not as tough. I yearned for a proper bed, for the feel of warm soap. And thus one day, independently of my brother I walked to an Orderist charity house and knocked on the door and entered, the Order being famously open to the unwashed. In its nature worship it was kin to our father’s old mad faith, but for the price of laundered bedding and hot food, I was willing to accept that.
My brother found me the next night. Now expert at entering the shops and houses of tradesmen and merchants, he scowled down at the front gate of the Order house, somehow prevented from entering its precincts. Warily I came down the path. At my new clothes and ungrimy skin he sneered and spat.
‘Back with the Kirk,’ he said. ‘Cuddling up.’page 310
‘You could come in,’ I said. ‘There’s beds and food.’
‘You sook,’ he said. ‘Mother’s milk.’
‘There’s a school here. It’s safe. The food.’
Soon I could say nothing in the face of his hate.
‘Sook,’ he said. ‘Sook.’
I began to cry. I felt the eyes of the other charity children; like some animal my brother smelt this on me too, sensed my cowardice. He sprang at me and punched my lip against my teeth. When I fell he drove his bare foot into my groin, then against my arm and face.
‘Sook,’ he repeated. ‘Snot.’
Whimpering, I endured his kicks in a pitiful shape, curled against the gate for protection until at last he left off and I hunched away up the path, his taunts horrid at my back.
For two whole weeks he appeared at the charity house gate, a silent and loyal menace, and then he was gone and I could step outside again, grow up warm and cosseted in the Order’s schools and the faith I adopted readily enough. Literate and obedient, I was promised clerical work in the Order’s headquarters following my service, this destiny placing me among a fortunate elect. All that was required of me in return for this secure, educated life was my term of service.
On my nineteenth birthday I learned it was to New Zealand that I would be sent. I would work two years in the vegetable plots with the prophets and the other novitiates, and serve one campaign, at least. Then I could return to Glasgow to take up my headquarters work. This was the arrangement. Thanks to the brain I’d inherited from my father and my own innate craft, I was destined for an easier life than many other initiates.
It was only on the ship out to New Zealand that I learned of my brother’s new life, of his predations on that southern coast. He was a sealers’ captain, one of those the Bluff Orderists campaigned most militantly against, and so he was one of those I would combat.
I smiled drily when I learned of it. Of all the Order’s outposts round the globe—Newfoundland, Brazil, Ceylon—I’d been chosen for New Zealand, the one frontier where my brother now lurked. It was the trick I’d always known lay in wait for me, the test. I’d accepted comfort. This was the revenge the world would exact. If I could face page 311 this, could endure the service, I could leave Bluff again, return to Glasgow for my clerical post. This was the price of that future life. Meekly I accepted it.
Excitement ran round the boat. My fellow campaigners pointed and hushed. We were near Baillie’s Point. I turned from my rowing and saw the huge bluffs, saw a whaleboat moored just off. By now my back and shoulders and backside ached—I’d never rowed so long in my life—but I returned to my task while John steered us towards the rocks. DeMarinis took a mooring rope and leapt for the land, then I shipped oar and we all leapt up, only the Blacksmith remaining in the boat.
On the rocks John gave his orders in a crouch. ‘Edward, DeMarinis, I want you close at my shoulder. The rest of you take the bluff-side ﬂank. Blacksmith, row to their boat and scour it for weapons.’
I watched where he pointed, watched his white face. I was very keyed up.
‘Run over shouting,’ he said. ‘Spook the creatures into the sea. With luck, they’ve not been rushed yet. If we’re too late, do what you can. If you are struck down, do not resist, and if this is the end for you, give thanks. Your work is Holy—remember that.’
‘Come on,’ said DeMarinis. ‘There’s no time.’
‘In the name of the Mother,’ said John. ‘For the Order.’
‘Amen,’ we all said.
Then John was up and running, the others close behind. I gave chase. Out the corner of my eye I saw our boat pressing forward, the Blacksmith moving towards their boat to secure it. The others crested the ridge and ran over, shouting. Then I was there, and it opened up below me—the rookery. It was narrower and less ﬂat than I’d imagined from the maps and stories, an angled ledge of rock buttressed by bluffs on one side and the sea. But it certainly had the fabled population of seals. Brownly they heaved everywhere in their hundreds. At our sudden arrival and arm-waving shrieks they grunted and turned their heads. So many seals. John’s intelligence had been right. Somehow this rookery had been spared the sealers’ attention until this point.page 312
‘We’re in time!’ shrieked the younger DeMarinis, running past me.
‘They’re not rushed yet.’
But we were not alone there. In a row ﬁfty yards downwind half a dozen men stood at the far corner of the rock ledge, clubs and lances in their hands. These were the clubmen. To surprise the seals they’d lowered down on ropes that still hung from the bluffs, and more men were coming down now, hand over hand. In another few minutes all these would have been poised to attack. On the seaward side a further row of men were ready to rush the seals up from the ledge, preventing their escape to the sea, rushing them to the clubmen and their deaths.
But now, seeing us, the clubmen started. Even as others were still on the ropes, even before the rushers could come, they ran to the nearest seals with their clubs and bludgeoned whatever was nearest— cows, bulls, helpless calves. At the same time, the rushers ran up from the seaward side with ragged shouts.
But they were too late. Already we were in between, scattering the seals with our shrieks, our arms waving danger.
Everywhere noise broke out. Cows barked and lumbered, and calves mewed and were crushed. The clubmen cursed and lunged after the seals as they made for the sea, the entire shelf a brown moving mass punctuated with rising clubs and sprays of blood. Soon the seals were in a slow, panicked stampede. Such was their oncoming mass that one of the rushers went down, then another was barged as the cows plunged over the rock-edge for the sea.
I was barking, waving out. ‘Rah! Rah!’ My campaign training had come back. A barking noise was best to scare seals, rapid arm movements. ‘Rah!’
They were escaping. I whooped. Through the mêlée I saw one of the rushers punching out ferociously, swinging precisely at the heads and throats of seals. He had a knife in his hand, and he swung it not to stab but to slice, scything it across seals’ necks. Two rushers had gone down. He did not. It was my brother. It was Cameron. I recognised him, his tight, venomous movements. For a long time I stared. He was a miracle of vicious movement, a dervish of perfected violence.
Then a sound pulled me back. Beside me, the clubmen were closing in, pounding their cudgels on the heads of cows who’d not escaped yet. One by one the too-slow cows sank, blood spurting up from their page 313 skulls. Beside them their calves mewed pathetically, but were now being ignored by the sealers while they pursued the more valuable cows and bulls.
Now DeMarinis ran past me with a calf in his arms. Swerving clear of my brother, he threw the calf into the sea, then ran back up the rock for another. Wrenched from my stupor I lifted a calf of my own. It was slippery and difﬁcult to grip, sliding down my chest as I ran. At the rock edge it fell to my feet and I half-threw, half-booted it over the edge.
Turning to rescue another I saw how few seals were left. We’d succeeded. I shouted, really thrilled for the ﬁrst time. Running back up the slope I saw John protecting a few last cows as the clubmen closed on them. Feinting and darting, he ran between the seals and the men.
‘Yah! Yah!’ he said, putting himself in the way, giving the cows time to escape. At the same time, he glanced over the rookery to gauge the danger closing on us.
Half-watching him I bent for another calf and felt a great downward lunge on my arm. It was a cow, chomping it to protect her calf. For a moment I gaped while my arm hung raglike in her mouth and she shook it. There was no pain, but I saw the blood. I kicked at her face to release it; she shook; I kicked again. At last with my boot at her eye I wrenched my arm free and was running, the calf scooped with my good arm and bouncing roughly as I took him to the sea and threw him over. Then I stood panting, my arm dangling at a strange angle.
Then I heard a single shout, distinct from the other noise and piercing. It was my brother. He’d seen me. A pile of seals lay round him. He’d done all the damage he could, and now his target was shifting. Leaping over the carcasses of seals he ran straight for me.
I froze. He was shouting unintelligibly, and it wasn’t clear whether he’d recognised me for his brother, distinct among the Orderists. He had long hair now and it ﬂew back from him as he came, his red knife slashing the air. For a long moment there was just Cameron, leaping and snarling, and me, rooted to the spot, distantly aware of my mutilated arm.
Then DeMarinis struck me, barging me off-balance and shouting. Then John came, pointing up at the ridge and running. I turned and page 314 ﬂed. Ahead of me the other campaigners were scrambling up the rock. We were all in ﬂight. At my back I heard Cameron roar in wordless rage. I ﬂashed a look behind and saw him, a knot of other clubmen coming, and some remaining behind to ﬁnish off calves and lance remnant cows.
I crested the ridge. Most campaigners were on the boat already, and John was leaping in. I heard my brother thunder after me, scattering stones. Shit—this word passed through me repeatedly— shit, shit. I’d never been so scared. I was three paces from the boat now; the Blacksmith made room for me; I leapt for it and crashed on him, knocking him down. He threw me off immediately, pulling on the oars, and for a moment I was on my back, staring unfocused at the sky as it rocked bluely above me.
Then my brother was there—ﬂying, suspended parallel to the rocks, then the water. He had tripped—or leapt, he had leapt for our boat and was ﬂying. His arms were in front of him, he was ﬂying, then he crashed against our boat with his head. It was his eyebrow and forehead that hit, slamming into the wood, then he snapped back and his face went blank, and in that neutral face I saw our resemblance. Then he slipped with limp arms backwards and he was in the water— down, gone. Wide concentric ripples marked the surface. He’d sunk straight down.
In the sudden quiet the water lifted and slopped. Our boat rocked lazily on it.
All around me, people were staring. The clubmen looked stunned on the rocks.
It was me—it was me shouting my brother’s name. John and DeMarinis were at my arms, restraining me from leaping in after him. Elsewhere in the boat, I caught the scowl of other initiates.
‘Edward,’ said John.
‘Cameron,’ I said. ‘Oh God.’
John restrained me, but I wasn’t struggling against him. I wasn’t trying to jump in. I was simply shouting my brother’s name.
‘Edward,’ said John.page 315
‘I can hear you, John,’ I said. ‘Let me go.’
‘Don’t jump in,’ he said.
They let me go. I leaned closer to the water and stared down into it. There was no sign. He was so far down.
‘Don’t you jump in there,’ said John.
‘I can’t swim,’ I said.
‘He was stunned,’ said John. ‘He was stunned when he hit the water. Don’t go in there—you’ll drown too.’
‘He can’t swim either,’ I said. ‘We can’t just let him drown. This isn’t right. It’s not ﬁnished yet.’
John gave me a pained look. ‘We have to go, Edward,’ he said. ‘It’s dangerous for us here.’
I looked towards the shore. On the rocks the clubmen were staring at us. They were as dumbstruck as us. No one leapt in to save Cameron.
‘Where is he?’ I yelled across. ‘Won’t he come up? Won’t he ﬂoat?’ For answer they stared with open mouths, as if I spoke in a foreign language.
‘We have to go, Edward,’ said John. ‘Those men are dangerous for us.’
I glanced at the sealers again, then at John. No one went into the water for Cameron. No one was willing to do it—and I knew that I wouldn’t either. I couldn’t go in the water. I groaned and lunged away to the other side of the boat, holding my stomach.
‘Blacksmith, row,’ said John.
‘Wait,’ I said.
‘Oh for the love of—’ said older DeMarinis.
‘Shut up,’ said John. ‘Let him speak. That’s his brother down there.’ I saw this news hit the Orderists on my boat. I saw them adjust to it. I addressed the clubmen on the rocks. ‘You men listen. Your captain was my brother. I want his body. I want to bury him.’
Bloodied clubs dangling, they stared. Alternately they got shorter and taller as the swell gently rocked our boat.
‘You bring his body to me, when it comes up,’ I said. ‘Leave him outside your camp. I’ll collect him from there. If he’s not there in three days I’ll assume he’s lost.’
‘We can’t afford three days,’ said DeMarinis.page 316
‘Be quiet,’ said John. ‘Hold your tongue, DeMarinis—all of you.’
‘I’ll return this boat on that day,’ I said. ‘Your boat doesn’t come back until he’s there. I want his body.’
The sealers watched me for another moment, bewildered by this development.
‘John, we need to leave,’ said DeMarinis.
‘Do you hear me?’ I said.
‘Are you sure about this, Edward?’ said John.
The sealers were conferring. Without taking my eyes from them, I said, ‘I think it’s my job, John. I can put it right. Our father died at sea. Cameron hated that. I have to bury him.’
‘All right,’ said a sealer, at last. ‘We want that boat back. We need it. Three days.’
‘Outside your tents,’ I said.
Now John lifted his voice. ‘So everyone heard that? Everyone heard the arrangement? Now we’re leaving. We won’t come back. And no reprisals from you. No revenge attack.’
‘All right,’ said the sealers. For one more moment they were standing opposite our boat, watching us, their arch enemies. They should have hated us, the destroyers of their trade, but they looked merely tired. They turned and trudged up the ridge.
I collapsed to the side of the boat.
‘Row up,’ said John, to the Blacksmith. ‘Bring us alongside the rookery. Keep us a good distance out.’
I remembered this from my training, too. This was required of all campaigners. This was the moment of witness.
In a few moments we were ﬂoating off the rookery. The sealers who’d not chased us were already at work. Nearly all were skinning. Some made the cuts while, with great heaves, others peeled back the pelts. Often to pull off the skin they braced their feet on the seal’s tail or neck. Elsewhere men walked among the still-alive seals and lanced them, or lifted an indifferent club. All the men were stripped to the waist, blood slicking their arms and chests. Across the water a warm stench danced.
‘Look at that,’ said John. ‘That’s what you’ve prevented—more of that. That’s why we work.’page 317
Some campaigners were grimly facing it, thin-lipped, others hunched over the side to be sick.
Noticing us, the sealers glanced up, saw we were harmless now, then went back to their work. Then the clot of men who’d chased us and negotiated with me came down the ridge. Seeing us still there, one of their number broke free and marched down to face us. At the rock-edge he threw his arm out, furious.
‘That’s right,’ he said. ‘Fill your eyes. Get a good look.’ His sudden fury was stunning.
‘You scum,’ he said. ‘Holy scum. You think you’re so good. But you’ve killed my mate.’
He paused to put his ﬁngers to his eyes, and it shocked me to see he was crying.
‘You killed my mate—and for what? To fuck up my job? To see us all starve? You don’t know anything about it, you scum. Silver spoon scum.’
One of our women started up, enraged at this, but the older DeMarinis held her back. ‘Don’t rise to it,’ he said. ‘He’s not good enough.’
At this response I turned away, disgusted.
‘But he can’t say that,’ she said. ‘We can’t let him say that.’
The sealer was being comforted now. He cried openly, then tore away from his friends, tearing at his shirt in wild grief up the ledge.
John gave an order and we rowed off. On that last row back I couldn’t face any of the Orderists. My torn arm throbbed in earnest; I felt numb and sick. In the event I wasn’t bothered by anyone, as they all hunched into themselves with elbows on knees, nursing private shame or triumph.
The others left that day, striking out for Bluff with John in the lead. The Blacksmith, John had decided, would remain behind with me. He had no wife back at the community and the brothers would tend to his vegetables. When told this, the Blacksmith simply nodded. He was exhausted from the day’s rowing.
‘Thank you for this, Blacksmith,’ said John.
‘Mother preserve us,’ said the Blacksmith.
Then John surveyed me, my bad arm. Behind him the others were page 318 waiting, their faces hardened against me. If John hadn’t been there I believe some of them would have pushed me over and spat. I had concealed a connection to their devil—my brother—and now I was remaining behind to dignify his death. With the unanimous instincts of the pious, they had turned their backs.
‘Thank you, John,’ I said.
He looked me hard in the face. He took me by the elbow, then the shoulder, and I saw that he didn’t expect to see me again. ‘I hope your life turns out right.’
Then he turned, they all turned, and disappeared into the bush. And so began the days of waiting with the Blacksmith. Each morning before noon we pulled the stolen boat from its hiding place and rowed to the sealers’ camp to search for Cameron’s body, then at dusk we repeated the trip. Through two full days no one was visible, and I began to fear our deal had been broken, but at the next visit two sealers came down from the tents and waved, and I took this to be a promise of intent. The wound troubled my right arm as I rowed us back. It was swollen but not infected. Each night I washed and dressed it, then ripped the wound open again by rowing to the sealers’ place, determined to let the Blacksmith rest. The trip out to Baillie’s Point and back had destroyed his strength.
Through those days he seldom spoke, and I did not disturb him. I knew nothing about him. No one did, save for John and the prophets back at camp, perhaps. Hearsay said he’d worked the ships before joining the Order. He wore a beard and was impassive; two scars ran down each forearm, long and pork-coloured and also unexplained.
Yet he was a generous man to share a camp with, and resourceful to boot. It was he who found food in the bush to stretch out our last stock of bread with pounded roots and berries, even a kind of tree moss that he boiled to make almost palatable. And although he was religious about Morningsong, rising before the birds to kneel in observance, he didn’t rebuke me for watching from my blankets. He never said as much, but the conﬂict at Baillie’s Point seemed to have rocked him, the death of my brother and the slaughter we’d witnessed troubling his grave soul in some deep way.
Even with his foraging, however, we were soon out of bread and short on other sustenance. What gruel or mashed berries he could ﬁnd page 319 we nursed over the ﬁre, drinking water warmed in the ﬂames to fool our stomachs.
One night I felt the Blacksmith watching me through the smoke. And this time, after these many bare meals, he spoke. ‘When did you last see your brother?’
‘Do you mean before this last time?’ I said.
‘1794,’ I said. ‘October.’
He smiled. ‘You remember it well.’
‘I remember the date.’
He nodded, went back to his food. We were eating some of his fern- root mix. It wasn’t something you’d voluntarily put in your mouth, but at the community I’d grown used to rough food. When I dreamed of my life after colonial service it was food I pictured most vividly— buttercakes oozing with sugar sauce from my hands down the elbow, pies I could sneak back in Glasgow, greasy with forbidden meat.
The Blacksmith chewed on, watching me over his hands. ‘You fought with your brother?’
I laughed. ‘You could say that.’
‘Pardon?’ I said, buying time.
‘What did you ﬁght about?’
I looked into the ﬁre. ‘About how to survive, I think.’
‘What does that mean?’
I watched the ﬂames. If I didn’t look at him, my answers seemed to come more readily, and more honest. ‘We were boys. I was joining the Order. He wanted to live on the streets.’
‘You split with him?’
‘I had to,’ I said. ‘I couldn’t live like that. Have you tried it?’
He laughed gently, timelessly. ‘Yes, Edward. I have “tried” it. I have certainly tried that life.’
‘Sorry,’ I said.
‘It’s all right.’
‘Well, in my case, to escape it wasn’t a noble choice.’
‘But you chose the Order.’
I said nothing. I let the silence explain the nature of my choice of faith. For a moment his eyes rested on me, then dropped.page 320
‘Don’t pretend to be shocked, Blacksmith,’ I said. ‘You know I’m not the most pious of men. When I made that choice I wasn’t being religious. I was choosing comfort. I like comfort—don’t pretend you haven’t seen that.’
‘I see nothing,’ said the Blacksmith. ‘I make no judgement.’
Like him, I stared into the ﬁre. The whole of that wild land was around us, yet it seemed we had to stare into the ﬁre to talk.
‘I want to ask,’ said the Blacksmith. ‘What was he really like? Your brother. We heard so much. He can’t have been quite what they said.’
‘As an adult, I don’t know,’ I said. ‘I never saw him, after boyhood.’
‘Yet you stay here to bury him. That’s something. That says something good.’
‘But I don’t know why, Blacksmith. I don’t know why I made that promise. I didn’t expect to react like that, when he hit our boat and fell in. It was just the panic, I think.’
‘Well,’ said the Blacksmith. ‘You still did it.’
‘He was tough,’ I said. ‘He brought me up to the age of nine. He kept me safe after our father’s death. Then I found an Order school and joined it.’
‘He didn’t join.’
‘He couldn’t believe in it. He’d always rejected our father’s faith, which was more or less Orderist. He didn’t need it, somehow. He was. . . brave enough to see it was fake.’
‘But you did believe in it.’
‘I believed in it enough.’
I pitched some sticks into the ﬁre, and more silence passed.
‘You will do your service later,’ said the Blacksmith. ‘It’s all right.’ This time I jerked up and stared hungrily through the smoke. I didn’t care for the head-pats of the pious, but somewhere, I knew, I yearned for the respect of men like the Blacksmith.
‘In your way,’ he said, ‘with the scholars, back in the headquarters. With your learning, your—’ he gestured ‘—books. You’ll do your part.’
‘No doubt,’ I said. ‘But my question is, why did it fall this way? Who decides?’
‘Pardon, Edward?’page 321
It was a shock to hear him use my name.
‘My brother brought me up. I followed him, accepted his help, then turned my back.’
He said nothing to this.
‘Who decides?’ I said. ‘Who decides why one boy gets all the hardness, and the next boy gets simply a comfortable life, a soft character, an easy conscience? Who decides that?’
‘Well, your brother was older.’
‘Yes, but that doesn’t explain it,’ I said. ‘Why was I so ready to accept the easy path? Why was I offered it?’
Between us the smoke waved and danced, while the Blacksmith stared into it. Even the birds were silent. Then he shook his head. ‘I don’t know the answer to that.’
Next day at noon my brother’s body was there, sodden and roped to a log on the jetty, his arms splayed out. No one was visible at the tents. After a short time of watching from the boat we moored and walked up.
It seemed the sealers had dragged him from the sea and not organised him at all. His hair was everywhere, grit stuck to his cheeks and even his eyeballs, which were rolled right back. Small snails were in his hair and beard, and something had nibbled his ear-lobes and the softened toe-skin.
I stood above him, ﬁxated. He was very changed—the wild hair and beard, his arms tattooed—but in any crowd I would have recognised him. It was in the bones round his eyes and his nose, still ﬁne like my father’s and now incongruous among those rough locks and broken teeth. Anyone would have seen our connection, would have seen that we were blood.
The Blacksmith coughed.
‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘Let’s get him into the bush.’
I took the heavy end of the log and we tottered across the clearing, in front of the tents. We’d almost made the bush when three sealers burst out.
‘Oi!’ said one of them. ‘Where’s the boat?’
‘I beg your pardon?’ I said.
‘The boat,’ he said, impatient. ‘Where is it?’page 322
‘It’s moored up,’ I said. ‘Can’t you see it?’
‘Did you hole it?’ he said. ‘You better not have damaged it, boy.’ He seemed oblivious to the corpse we held between us. ‘Why would I?’ I said. ‘Go and look, if you must.’
‘All right, all right,’ he said, rolling his eyes, ‘keep your shirt on, nancy.’
I stared at him, and he and his companions laughed, then they all plunged away towards the boat.
Then we were in the bush. With my sodden brother tied to the log it was very slow going until we reached a creek and I called a halt. Already my bad arm was protesting the work and the Blacksmith was panting, sweat dripping from his eyebrows and beard.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I can’t bury him in the bush. The village we’re from, back home, we bury men in rock.’
For reply he shook his head, then sat with his back against a trunk, exhausted. We had so little food now; I was ruining his health.
Pulling the ropes from my brother I slid him off the log, removed his clothes and laid him in the creek. With my ﬁngers I combed his hair back, teased out shell fragments. It was strange to touch him, strange to look, as a network of tattoos now went blue and black across his arms and chest. With the cold creek water I washed these foreign trophies of his life at sea, scars of a life I’d never witness or match. Then I dried his body with my own shirt and unwrapped a bundle of ash I’d brought from our campﬁre, rubbing it over his washed skin. Then I bound him in blankets and roped his wrists together for transport.
The Blacksmith was asleep, still propped against the trunk. Gently I shook him awake.
‘Can you lift him to my back,’ I said.
Clankily the Blacksmith got to his feet. Taking my wet brother he boosted then tied the body to me, so I carried Cameron in a piggy- back. At my throat Cameron’s bound wrists lightly gagged me with each step.
We began to climb. Under my brother’s weight I slipped frequently and the Blacksmith turned to pull me up over bush, tree-roots, vines— up, up. After several hours we reached the bushline and broke into clear space, a ridge of rock with a cold breeze passing across. In the page 323 windy exposure I followed the Blacksmith, his shirt ﬂattening against his bony frame.
Up and up the ridge we went. We were both weak and I stumbled often, scattering rocks, my bad arm throbbing with the weight. At last I could go no further and slumped to the rock, my brother sagging when I sat. The Blacksmith came down and unroped us and we slumped, the three of us, exhausted, a view of ﬁords and bush ranking away to the north. Inland there was endless bush; to the west the Tasman was vast, clouds triﬂing above it. Confronted with all this I thought of our distant home, the week and more of improbable tramp it would take to return to Bluff, and it seemed impossibly far off.
‘This is it,’ I said, to the Blacksmith. ‘This is a good place.’ Immediately he got up and walked to the leeward side of the ridge, and there began lifting rocks and scraping out a shape.
Once I’d gathered my breath I came to help.
‘We can’t take long,’ he said. ‘We must get off this ridge before dark.’
Side by side we scraped the stones out, stubbing ﬁngernails on the sharp fragments until at last a shallow shape was ready. I pulled back my brother’s blankets so that his face showed, grey now with smeared ash, and a powerful smell came up from his body; he was ready to go under rock. One at each end, we laid him in the place, his feet facing the ﬁord. I covered his face with a blanket, then we ﬁlled in the rocks and mounded him up.
The Blacksmith stood back and I stood for some moments in the chilling breeze before I realised he was waiting for me to say the rites. He didn’t know that for all my learning and complicated talk, I hadn’t learnt them off by heart.
‘Can you do it?’ I said.
‘Let’s be quick,’ he said.
I nodded and bent my head.
‘Mother receive this man,’ he said. ‘Amen.’
That was it. I blinked, then took the Blacksmith by the hand, gripped his elbow and shoulder. ‘Thank you,’ I said.
Then we dropped to the leeward side and went down. That night we camped late without a ﬁre, eating in the dark some berries the Blacksmith had gathered as we walked. Next day we made the saddle page 324 where John and the others had gone through, the low cairn of rocks they’d left to guide us. From there we turned south, and many days of trekking followed, so many I lost count. My arm throbbed from my wound, my feet blistered and slid inside their boots, stripped of their skin and sticky red. I walked dully behind the Blacksmith, too exhausted to speak much, collapsing at dark into a rough camp. Both mute and growing gaunt, we seldom spoke, and had very little to eat. Again at times I knew we were observed by scouts of the local Mäori people, yet again we went unmolested, so obviously a ragged and worn-out pair leaving the territory without taking precious stones with us.
With my feet so raw I developed a limp, and my arm worsened and puffed up, and still we marched. Soon the days began to blend into each other, in its pain and hungry delirium one day’s march succeeding one just like it. At last a day came when I could not rise in the morning and walk, and the Blacksmith mixed a paste of berries and root and smeared it on my gums until I could swallow and sit up. By dusk I was able to attempt to walk, and we resumed our march the next day, the Blacksmith going on, a skeletal shape in front of me, pausing at intervals to let me rest. When he spoke I saw his face haunted and dark; at times we both walked dazedly, numbly following a vague path we assumed led to Bluff or at least the coast.
One mid-morning I was limping in my usual torpor when I heard him shout, and I turned. The noise had come from behind me. In my daze I’d walked right past him. Turning back I found him in a creek, pulling watercress from the far bank and stufﬁng it in his mouth. I staggered in too and fell ﬂat, my face in the water until he pulled me up, dragging me to the bank to put watercress in my mouth. After some mouthfuls I lay out ﬂat on the creek bank, my numbed feet slick with blood, my arm pulsing heavily.
‘We’re here,’ the Blacksmith said.
In that state of exhaustion I felt as if the earth was pushing up against me, reaching up to claim and envelop my legs and head and back.
‘Do you hear me?’ he said. ‘You’ve made it.’ Woozy-eyed I sat up. ‘What?’
‘We’re here.’page 325
He gestured, impatient for me to see. In front was the lowland creek that forked into the great southern river that led to Bluff. Across this creek and above it was a hill, then the saddle that would lead to the valley, to the prophets and the Order’s place. While I took this in the Blacksmith pulled his boots over his bloodied feet. Watching him I was glazed with exhaustion, the pain throbbing in my entire body, my feet.
For a half-hour or so we simply sat, the Blacksmith waiting for me to get up. At length I felt physically able, but could not.
‘Get up, Edward,’ said the Blacksmith. ‘You’ve made it.’
I couldn’t. I was remembering John’s face, the look that told me he never expected to see me come back.
The Blacksmith looked at the sky to gauge the daylight we had left.
‘We can rest another hour. Then we’ll go back.’
‘I can’t,’ I said. ‘I can’t go back.’
‘I’m for Bluff,’ I said. ‘I’m going to the town.’ He shook his head. ‘Why—what?’
‘It’s not right,’ I said. ‘My reasons are never good enough. I’m not an Orderist.’
He watched me for a time. Then he shook his head, tremendously fatigued. ‘I can’t do this now. I can’t have this talk.’
‘I can understand that.’
We sat in silence a little longer. I panted just to sit upright.
At length I faced him again. ‘I want you to have my hut and land until the end of your service.’
‘I can’t do that,’ he said.
‘You have to. I want you to take it.’
He shook his head. ‘This is all wrong,’ he said. ‘Look, just come back. Get home and healthy and safe, then make peace with your conscience. Eat something and rest, then, when you’re better, you can discuss it all with John, with the prophets.’
‘I can’t,’ I said. ‘I’m past all that.’
‘Be practical.’ With a great effort, he summoned a further argument. ‘Look—I know the Order’s not exactly right. Your brother’s death—that shouldn’t have happened. That’s not the right life. But the Order—the Order is broadly right. We work in gardens. We listen page 326 to birds. It’s a moral life, and we live it outside, somewhere close to where God is.’
‘That’s good,’ I said, to placate him, and I touched his shoulder.
‘You’re right, Blacksmith. You go on. I’ll sleep here the night. Please take my land and hut. And if you see me again, don’t be held to any friendship. Let me have your scorn, if it’s needed. You deserve the rewards of Order life.’
He shook his head again, slow and huge and resistant. ‘This is not right. This is stupid. Why’s your conscience important now? After all you’ve said.’
I said nothing.
He got up. Because I couldn’t stand I could not take his hand and elbow and shoulder, as I should have. He straightened and plunged in the creek and surged across. Without looking back he faced the hill and began tramping up it. Watching his large frame, the bags and ragged clothes hanging off it, I knew I’d taken the best of his life.
That night I remained at that spot. I sheltered under a bivvy of sticks, curled and starving in an unthinking shape. In the morning I had a little more strength. I pulled some watercress from the creek and ate it, my teeth grinding on the mud and grit, its rank taste.
I faced the hill across the creek and above. In my sleep I’d come to know I wouldn’t make Bluff. I wasn’t that resilient. I couldn’t brave whatever pariah existence I’d be allowed there, architect of my own brother’s death, and defector from the Orderist cult the entire town hated. I wouldn’t survive that.
I’d wait out my service instead. I could do the last remaining eight months. If the others shunned me, even if they lectured or persecuted me, I could stand it. I wasn’t the proud type. I’d get back to Glasgow. They’d have to send me back.
Inching through the cold creek, I came out the other side. I began the hill. Halfway up it I wrenched off my boots and threw them away and resumed, barefoot. Shortly before the saddle I encountered the Blacksmith. He’d camped there overnight.
‘You made it,’ he said, rolling up his blanket.
‘You waited,’ I said.
‘Don’t think anything of this,’ he said. ‘Don’t think less of yourself.’ I shrugged and watched him dully as he shouldered his bag. Then page 327 he walked ahead, and we crested the saddle, began the descent with bleeding feet. At last the huts of the community came in sight, the sloped and ordered vegetable plots on the valley ﬂanks. Some of the people came out, shaded their eyes to watch us walk. To his credit the Blacksmith didn’t stride ahead, didn’t put distance between himself and me, at the back. Silently I thanked him for it.
Slowly and without speaking we limped down between the highest vegetable plots. The people were within earshot now. I could see their faces. They knew it was me, they saw the Blacksmith. They did not come running up.