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In Sulphur Bay the Chief woke to the sound of sobbing from a distant hut. He looked around for his grandson, Nowhere.

‘Joshua!’ he hissed softly, ‘Joshua, where are you?’ but there was only the smooth snore of his exhausted wife. No need to wake her before she need to, he thought, no need to add extra minutes to her brand new day of grief. Sitting up, he craned his head out the window, towards his grandsonts favourite tree, saw only dust and dew, a sleeping dog, three chickens pecking hopefully at the ground.

‘Joshual’ he wheezed, ‘Come here!’

Joshua stepped out gingerly onto the path. The very rock was steaming. His feet were getting hot. Inching forward, he said the words for hot and cold, a simple mantra for comfort. It worked. He was able to regulate his temperature at will, had always wondered why his grandfather had been so insistent he mastered it. Life on a tropical island doesn’t generally call for temperature control. Now he knew why, caught some glimpse of the structure behind all those lessons, that trying and failing at his grandfather’s side. He could see that there was a logic in the order in which he gained his skills, an order that prepared him for the next. But his grandfather’s voice could not be heard. Joshua was on his own.

He tested his weight on the ground with every step as he edged closer to the island in the centre of fright. This was the thinnest part of the shelf, the rock curved back down to anchor in the depths from this point on. There was a fall of rocks beneath him, a shower of grit and sharp black earth fell into the core below and he scampered rapidly along the remaining few steps to reach the platform of stone.

Here he was standing almost dead centre of the volcano surrounded by empty space. Hundreds of feet below him the pit filled slowly with lava, a living, molten pond of death waiting to be blasted into the sky, hundreds of feet above was the lip of the volcano, curving right around him, a black wall of stone with the giant eye of the moon hovering dutifully on one side. Daniels face was invisible to him now, all he could see above him was the constant movement of that spirit man, his wandering silhouette crossing the face of the dead planet.

‘Christ almighty! Look at him!’ Michael hissed as they reached the edge and looked down at the pit. They joined the weeping Daniel by the gates and sank down into the dust. ‘Where’ve you been, Daniel?’ Michael asked, but Daniel didnt reply. His eyes were glued on that warrior child,

Joshua felt a little safer now that solid rock was under his feet. He stepped gingerly to the farthest side of this island in hell and looked down. A blast of heat seared his face, his cheeks burned and his eyes Stung with the sulphur and grit. He stepped back a foot, uncertain what to do. What were the words, grandfather? Joshua had forgotten. His lips moved as he searched for the song but none would come. There was a crash from the earth and, without meaning to do it, he sent out that high pitched bleat of fear, his bat call of distress.

The dog outside his grandfathers house woke up with a yelp, looked around the clearing for a cause. It whimpered and settled back down, worried, uncertain, confused. The Chief stood up from his bed with a start and rushed out of the hut. He stared at the dog with the dawning of the truth and the dog stared back and growled.

In Yaohanon, sitting mute by the fire, the second son of a mad old Chief idly twirled the burnt black feather in his fingers, staring at it, trying to divine its meaning. It had come a long way, that feather.

High above Joshua a hawk soared into the tunnel of hot air. It reached a point of balance between wind and warmth, a crucial turning point that only the hawk recognized. He knew that he only had a second to do what he had to do. The hawk dived straight towards the uncertain child, the dangling pods grasped in one claw, aimed for that pillar of safety, cutting through heat and smoke and the rising roar of an oncoming explosion. The last of the cool air that had brought him up so high protected him as he pierced the heat. He could feel the tips of his feathers melting together as he came closer to the boy, his ordeal was at hand.
Feathers tired of all that thinking. He looked up at the tree-house and heard the faint sound of a old man singing, then back at his sleeping brother on the ground. He yawned and sighed, looked once more at the white man’s feather, then tossed it on the fire.

When the hawk was just behind the child it dropped the string of pods. They landed at Joshua’s feet with a dry rattle and he leant to pick them up. Joshua didn’t see the hawk fly by. The little prince lost sight of his unexpected friend as the bird continued on into the thundering heat, smoking, burning, diving down to death a hundred feet below.

All Joshua saw was the string of pods. He knew instinctively what they were, had felt their presence on the island for two days. In his hand he held the frozen moments of his father’s life. He sniffed hungrily at the pods in a last effort to capture the smell of his father, the tang of his life, caught a glimpse of another world, then, with a sigh, held them out in front of him and stared up at the rim.
In the clearing at Sulphur Bay the ashes leapt to life without tending. The last coals of yesterday’s fire kept their appointment with today in a rush of heat and flame. The Chief watched without surprise and knew that wild magic was afoot. He stumbled over to the fire and crouched down at its side. ‘Where are you, boy?’ he whispered and stared hard at the base of the flames.

On the far rim the wandering man stopped his endless search and stood stock still staring down. Daniel saw that movement cease and looked up and across the gap. He gasped in wonder at what he saw. There, stretching in a great arc around the rim, were the standing souls of a thousand men, all searching for an end. These were the lost spirits, those men who couldn’t get home. And, in the middle of that breathless throng, there was Daniel’s father, standing on his own. His head turned away from the pit, his eyes opened wide and he stared across the distance at his long lost son.

There was a look of terrible sadness on his face and Daniel’s heart bled. A stream of bitterest clarity poured from his gut, a wounding, howling sore of guilt as he knew, This was his legacy for that moment of fear, his failure to enter the gates, this was the cause of his deepest angst, the crawling, snarling hate. The spirit of his father was wandering still, never able to rest because his son had failed the test.

‘My father,’ he sobbed and was a little boy again in his heart. That familiar face, unseen for thirty years, carved great chunks out of Daniel He caught a glimpse of his past life he had tried to forget, a moment of connection, of feeling part of a tribe. All this was long lost to Daniel and, in this moment, the bitter extremity of his self-imposed punishment seemed too much to bear.

This was the test that Daniel failed, the same one that Joshua faced down there, alone, unaided, the final challenge of mastery, the final gift of power. To guide the souls of the dead to their rest, to accept the reins of strength, to take on the knowledge of the line of his ancestors and free their souls again. Michael and Christopher could only guess at the multiple emotions ravaging his face as they glanced at their companion. They couldn’t see the lost souls all around.

Joshua saw only one face on the rim, the man who gave him life. He shook the pods, heard that dry magic rattle of lost times and forgotten dreams, the lonely fall of the seeds, took a deep strangled breath and started to say the words.
His father’s face changed. It grew fuller, more reminiscent of life. There was hope in that face for the first time, a change from the desolate, wandering ghost. He looked up and his chest filled out, he could feel the tug of his son’s words, sense the connection across the voids This man from too many worlds was drawn back to his tribe at the moment of his extremity as well. He took a half step forward, stood there on the very edge of the edge and waited till he was called.

‘I see you, boy,’ said his grandfather. ‘I’m with you now.’ Then he started to sing.

The words were flowing out of Joshua. He had no idea where they came from, how he knew them, what was going on. He was a channel. A great wind whipped past, throwing his words upwards, sending that thin little voice to the night on a great column of rushing air. Far beneath him the rumbling continued, a steady building roar as the volcano tensed for the next explosion.

Above him his father stepped out into space, took his final leave of earth, glided gently above the torments of hell to meet his son for the last time.

‘Ah, my son,’ the old man said into his fire. ‘You did come back to us.’

But then the words choked in his throat, bitter tears stung his eyes and he could only watch and weep from a distance as his son flew through the air.

Joshua felt himself lifted into space, rose up, protected by that great tower of rock, to join his father in mid-air. They were drawn together like magnets, rolled and turned in each other’s field of force in a filial ballet of infinite grace. The stranger’s arms were open wide and the son of the son of a great man of power was soon drawn in to their embrace, hugging his father’s manly chest with a baby’s desperate need. He heard the man’s voice vibrate in his heart, heard the words he never thought he would hear.

‘You are a warrior now, son.’

A dreadful explosion from the pit far below sent a vast wave of flying lava surging up towards them. With a thankful smile, the lost man was found. He threw his arms out wide in a gesture of surrender and beatitude, a grateful crucifixion and, with a single shout of ecstasy, dived in to the boiling earth.

‘Yasurl’ was all his eldest son heard as his father found his rest, a shout of homecoming that pierced the terrible roar of the volcano as it spat molten rock all around.

In Sulphur Bay an old man closed his eyes. He could leave now.

The boy was alone, his feet gently touched hot stone, the roaring earth began to calm. He looked up in amazement as, from the rim all around him, the other lost spirits poured down and into the pit, floated, descended as he watched in a symphony of joy, released from their wandering by his words. A thousand joyful souls were freed that night from a hundred years of living death, a neither from, nor towards life, and molded into one. The sulphur almost smelt sweet with their release. Like a waterfall of dry ice their spirits dissolved as they tumbled down until, at the last, there was just a little boy left shaking in the dark.

He turned away from the furnace and walked back and over the bridge. He was no longer scared of the falling rock, smelt sweet sulphur in the air. The blasts from below were like music, the heat was a warm summer breeze, for Joshua had been to the volcano and had walked back out again.

Christopher and Michael looked blankly at each other. They lacked the eyes to see. Daniel was weeping, a deep sobbing from his heart, the sound of all that stored up grief, a wrenching, awful sound. He saw it all. The two white men lifted him gently into the air and turned away from the pit, shuffled towards the steep path that went down to the jeep.

‘I’ll take him from here,’ said Michael, ‘It’ll be easier with one.’

‘Always is,’ said Christopher. ‘But that’s not the point.’ Then he turned away and smiled.

The little boy arrived back at the gates. There was a light about him, a special glow that seemed to come from his heart. Chris felt the button in his shoe and bent down.

‘1 think this is yours,’ he said and held out his hand to the child, ‘He said to give it to you at the end. He said you’d understand.’

Joshua snatched the silver button and his face lit up.

‘Grandfather!’ he shouted to the wind and turned to run away. Chris had no purpose any more.

‘Grandfather! He found him! He found him!’ the young warrior cried as he ran down the slope and leapt high into the air. Then, with a final shriek of joy, the little Prince was gone.


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