We stared into the darkness, but couldn’t make anything out. There was some light from the moon, but not enough to see any detail. We knew where they were though, we could see the stars on the ships, but that was all.
All we knew was that our men had gone right up to the Spirit Ships, but beyond that, all detail was lost to the dark.
Suddenly there was a flash of lightening from one of the ships, and then a sharp clap of thunder; then… nothing.
Some said they heard the the screams of the men, and a final woeful blast from the Pukaea, but I couldn’t be sure.
Then there was nothing, just the sounds of the night; the birds and the washing of the waves. It was fully dark. The stars were clear and bright… and the brightest two stars were right there, where the ships stood.
We didn’t know what had happened, and we didn’t know what to think.
Had they all been killed by the lightning?
I went with some of the others down to the beach where the boats were assembled, but nobody there knew any more than we did. Soon after we heard shouting; there were boats coming in! and to our great relief we heard the voices of our men returning.
They had rowed out to meet the strangers, but the strangers had turned away and run off before they met.
The chief wasn’t going to take that sort of rudeness, so they made chase, and were closing fast, but the strangers got back to their ships before they could be caught up.
He said they paddled their boats very strangely; with their backs to where they were going, which seemed very stupid, but that was what they’d seen. And their paddles went out sideways, instead of down into the water… even a child knows that’s silly. He also said their boats were too wide and too short and weren’t very fast; but he marvelled at the size of the trees that must have been used to make them.
On the back of each ship, high up, they have a star, captured in a snare. They also had some smaller stars which were somehow carried around the ships. Sometimes they saw the faces of the men lit up by these small stars, and they looked ghost-like, but that you couldn’t be sure about that as we all appear like that sitting under the moon at night.
We all coo-ed at such wonders.
The Chief had called out to the ships in the proper manner. He had said who he was, and who, and where he was from. He had named our river, and our mountain, that we were Ngati Tumatakokiri from the Kurahaupo, and that we had rightful mana whenua here.
The men on the Spirit Ships had called back, but the words could not be understood… but they were definitely men; this was certain. Even though it was dark there was enough light to know that these were men on those boats; not ghosts or monsters.
As visitors, at this they should be respectful, come humbly, and seek our permission to stay.
But they did not.
Instead, they mocked us with a call of their own. It was a different sound, a higher pitch, and with many variations, like a lower but very loud bird-song. Then, to insult us further, another joined from the other ship.
Such rudeness! Visitors showing such disrespect was never before known.
Our men were shouting their outrage, and the Pukaea was sounding hard when a bolt of lightning and thunder suddenly burst from one of the ships. It was so loud that it scared a shoal right out of the water; all around they heard the fish splashing.
Our men had roared in defiance. But then, as it was full dark, and seeing they would get no satisfaction this evening, the Chief ordered them back.
When he finished speaking we still sat there, mesmerised.
The Tohunga then spoke about the magic; the ships, the sails, the captured stars, and the lightning and thunder. There were many stories, old stories, of similar magic, though none here had seen anything remotely similar… and none of it really helped.
What we now know is that these are men, not Gods or ghouls, and that they have not come with good purpose.
They have wonderful magic and sorcery, but they are still men; men with slow boats.
This is our rightful place. They have no business here except by our invitation, and we do not extend it.
More men had arrived than last time I was on the beach. Everyone is here. There are now more boats than I had even seen in one place before. They are still working on some of the boats. Those that have been paired in the past and can be fastened together quickly, are being made ready for fighting.
In the morning, we will tell the strangers that they are not welcome here, and must leave. If they do not leave, then we will help them change their minds.
The men were being organised into crews, and a few of the women stepped forward too.
We began to prepare ourselves. If it comes to it, we will fight tomorrow.
I will be in one of the boats.