More Than Words
THREE
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EPILOGUE

 
 
****

Mauriri waited out the brunt of the storm inside the hollow of a huge tree. It had been cramped and uncomfortable. He was certain he'd been bitten by some undetermined blood sucking insect. Nevertheless, once the worst of the wind and rain passed the Polynesian continued the trek until he came to an area of the island inhabited by the Tonga.

The young man who ran from the Bari village was not a seasoned warrior, leaving a more than traceable trail.

"One of my own children could follow this." he reflected. The thought of Tahnee and Tevaki caused Mauriri's heart to skip a beat. He doubted the storm had reached as far as his own home island but if it had Leani could handle whatever problems that might arise. Mauriri's wife had lived all her life in Tahiti, as had he, and was well versed on what to do when Mother Nature took a turn for the worse.

With practiced stealth, Mauriri moved about the perimeter, holding Isabelle's gun loosely in his hand, looking into their encampment. He saw the native men surrounding a campfire, discussing something with great enthusiasm. Either the storm or their latest kill. He couldn't quite make out all the words, the island dialect slightly foreign to his ears, but he knew, from the way they were glancing over their shoulders to a large tent, that it did not bode well for those inside.

A few Tonga women, past their prime and not very winsome, were also gathered together, sorting through what the men had brought back from their raid. They seemed fascinated by beaded necklaces and other trinkets. One woman lifted up a delicately woven blouse, possibly a marriage garment, and laughed merry during a verbal exchange.

Focusing again on the tent, Mauriri fought indecision. Should he commence a rescue now or wait until Grief showed up to assist?

The answer to his question came with a hard impact to the back of his head. Mauriri pitched forward having never seen the young Tonga warrior who had doubled back when he realized he was being followed.

***

"Tell me I did not do this!" Grief shouted, now up to his waste in warm, slimy quick sand.

"Stay still, David. I'm getting a branch." Isabelle replied, near laughter in her voice as she quickly search for something to pull the man out.

The trail had been well marked by Mauriri, despite storm damage, but when the ground started to become slightly less cohesive and, eventually, when Grief found himself sinking, they knew a wrong turn had been made somewhere.

"Don't rush on my account." Grief snapped, watching her and folding his arms in disgust, across his broad chest. He was angry with himself, saw it coming, but continued to trudge on. Isabelle fell behind and kept telling him that it didn't feel right to her but Grief didn't listen. He was certain Mauriri would soon be in their sight.

"Here." Isabelle, standing at the edge of the quicksand pit, pointed a limb in his direction and he grabbed it, allowing her to pull and drag him slowly to the edge. She then tossed the branch aside and took his hands. Isabelle pulled Grief, with all her might, the rest of the way out of the pit and felt him, eventually, collapse atop her.

They were both exhausted and did not move for a few moments.

Grief looked down at her, his face very close to Isabelle's, as she stared up into his eyes. "Thank you." he whispered, not yet moving and not really knowing why.

"You're welcome." she answered, nearly breathless, uncertain. 'Shouldn't you be pushing him away?' a voice in her inner mind asked. Isabelle had no response for the voice.

Clearing his throat, remembering there was a bigger mission afoot, David blinked. "Mauriri." he said, focusing.

Isabelle nodded, "Yes." and, with regret, felt him fall away from her.

Retracing their steps, the couple continued to trudge on in search of their friend and the Bari prisoners.

****

Mauriri woke with a splitting headache, the knowledge that his hands were bound behind his back, and the sound of concerned female voices.

"He's awake."

With a shake of his head, clearing the fog from his vision, Mauriri centered on the speaker and raised himself into a sitting position. He could understand her. She was a handsome woman, slightly older than himself, with long, dark hair and a stern expression.

"You're not of our tribe. Who are you?" she asked, firmly.

Mauriri answered, explaining how the stormed forced he and his friends to anchor and row to land. He looked around the tent. All women, whimpering children, and a few incoherent, wounded men. "When we came to your village we saw what happened and thought we might be able to help."

"They caught us by surprise." the woman said, eyeing him suspiciously, "As they obviously did you."

"Has anyone here attempted an escape?" Mauriri asked.

The woman paused, momentarily unsettled, then relenting. "Two. One was brought back and the other killed." she replied, "From what we've been able to gather, the female population of Tonga is seriously depleted. They need women to replace those who have been killed, died from illness, or whatever." Then, in answer to Mauriri's next question, "They need us to bear their children. New warriors to replace the old." She glanced over her shoulder at the few wounded men occupying corners of the tent. She spoke low, "The men here don't stand a chance. The only reason the Tonga kept them alive was for ..."

"... fresh supplies." Maurriri took up the sentence with a grimace, now understanding why he too remained alive. The savages merely thought him another Bari, a stupid one at that, having come into their encampment. He took a breath, "Are all your men dead?"

"I don't think so. Some had to of escaped. We were hoping for a rescue effort soon."

"Let's hope, along with David and Isabelle, they do as expected."

Three Tonga warriors entered the tent, looked about, and agreed. The larger of the three pointed to an elderly man to the back, surrounded by children.

The anguished woman, looking from the warriors to Mauriri, whispered "Dinner."

****

At the outer edge of the encampment, Grief picked up Isabelle's gun from where Mauriri had dropped it.

"Not good." Isabelle whispered, taking the weapon from him and holstering it. "At least we know he made it this far."

Slowly, the couple traveled the circumference of the encampment until they reached an area closest to the tent. Grief listened closely, hearing voices inside, and looked at Isabelle who seemed to understand what he was thinking. If it was a prison tent then Mauriri and the others should be inside. Yet, if they were, where was the defense? Shouldn't warriors be guarding them?

In answer, a muscular native warrior with a spear crossed in front of them, not seeing the couple as they crouched and pushed back into the foliage. He turned, as did David and Isabelle, when a commotion erupted from the front flap of the tent. An old man was being dragged out. He was frightened but it was the female cries from inside that caused most of the distraction.

Grief stood abruptly, hit the diverted native powerfully against the back of his hard head and drug him into the bushes behind he and Isabelle.

With a determined smile, Isabelle lifted her knife, and pointed to the direction she was headed. I'll get the women and children out of the back of the tent and head them home. You find Mauriri and," she glanced in the direction to where the native man was being carried by the Tonga warriors, "if you could save that poor old man that would be good too."

"Anything else?" Grief asked her, half serious and half joking.

"Yes, be careful, David." Isabelle unholstered her gun once again and handed it back to Grief.

*****

She crawled on her hands and knees, soundlessly creeping to the back of the large gray tent. Then, with her sharp bladed Bari knife, Isabelle felt for a flexible piece of fabric, certain no one was positioned on the other side, and slowly inserted the hard bone, slicing the burlap in a downward arch. Once done, she lay the blade aside on the muddy ground and placed her hands on either side of the tent fabric, carefully ripping.

Isabelle was about to stick her head inside, announcing a rescue, when someone with a powerful, yet oddly feminine, grip seized one of her hands and pulled. Her slim body was halfway inside and Isabelle had hissed, "Dammit!" before she realized Mauriri was kneeling before her, a powerfully built but attractive native woman to his side. Isabelle smiled up at him, relieved to see her Polynesian friend better than expected.

Mauriri motioned behind him, to his tied hands, and Isabelle cut the bounds. "Where's David?" he asked, massaging his wrists.

"Out front being a distraction while I'm here." she replied. "He was going to find you but now that I have, and you haven't been turned into Mauriri stew, I suggest you help him save a Bari man." Isabelle reached behind her and produced the knife. She handed it to him. "Protection, just in case." she said.

Mauriri nodded then, with a brief smile at the Bari woman who had been so helpful to him, slipped out the back and slowly rounded the tent. To Mauriri's right he could see the natives gathered around their pleading victim, near the campfire, discussing the best way to flay him. To his left Mauriri saw a corral with ten healthy young horses. He did not catch sight of David Grief but hoped his friend could see him and would follow through with what Mauriri was preparing to attempt.

The Polynesian moved to his left, sliding nearly nonchalantly over to the corral, and lifted the latch. The gate swung open wide. Mauriri then shouted, smacking one of the beasts on its rounded rump and watched as the horses, at full gallop, tore through the encampment on their way to freedom.

Grief then appeared from a hiding place, behind an area that was the home of a stockpile of kerosene and gunpowder. He instantaneously raced to where the natives had arisen, near their campfire and sacrifice, punching out at a Tonga that swung a hatchet at him. Grief grasped the old native man by the arm and urged him to go passed the tent where Isabelle appeared. She was waving her arms to get his attention.

Mauriri, ready and willing to do battle after all the physical abuse he had taken, used his skills to kick and swing, felling two of the natives. Another snuck up on him from behind, ready to spear him, but Mauriri heard Grief's shout of warning and turned quickly. Without further thought, he grasped the knife Isabelle had given to him earlier and threw it with pin point precision, the blade entering into the native's skin and heart. He fell before he realized he was struck and dying.

"David, the Bari are on their way home!" Isabelle shouted, running to him from her position near the tent, slapping a na´ve Tonga out of her way.

Grief nodded, pulling the gun from his belt. "Isabelle! Mauriri! Run for the ship!"

"What are you going to do?!"

Grief aimed for a fuse near the kerosene and gunpowder barrels.

Mauriri suddenly realized what Grief had been working on while hiding behind the drums.

"Sorry I asked!" Isabelle called after the shot was fired. She ran with her friends, without stopping, all the way to the beach.

The Rattler had never looked so inviting.

In the distance, far behind them, the explosion was mind boggling.

****

One Week Later:

"I don't believe it." Mauriri exclaimed, walking with David from Inspector Morlais office to Lavinia's bar, "How is it the Bari and the Tonga could hate each other one minute, declaring civil war, then are friends the next?"

"Out of necessity, my friend." Grief offered, "Their supplies have been cut off. The Bari have very few men, the Tonga very few women and now that missionaries are on the island, no more cannibalism. They're learning to live together and, hopefully, a great alliance will form between Baritonga and their surrounding islands."

"It'd be nice to see some good trade coming out of this. Particularly for Isabelle. Pederson cost her a lot of money."

"He didn't cost her *just* money." Grief spoke with unexpected vehemence.

The men entered the bar, their home away from home, and sat at their usual table. It was a busy Saturday night, both sailors and natives drinking, singing and hurling the occasional insult and profanity.

Clare, approached Mauriri and Grief, her sunny smile a drastic contrast to their surroundings. "How can I help you gentleman?" she asked.

"Working tonight, Clare?" Grief questioned.

"Helping out." The young British woman spoke above the music from a piano playing not too far away, "Lavinia is on a date tonight and I promised her I'd keep watch."

"Two whiskeys." Mauriri ordered. When Clare departed he looked at a thoughtful Grief, "Life goes on David." he said, assuming his friend was thinking about Lavinia and her date.

"I know." Grief focused on his friend, "But I was actually thinking about Isabelle. You know, she's never had a birthday party."

Mauriri nodded, "Yeah, I remember the conversation." but he studied his friend. Could David Grief be falling in love again? Mauriri didn't think it possible after losing Lavinia then Jenny all in the same year. Still, Isabelle Reed was a more than worthy replacement for either lady. Funny how he thought this now when, no that long ago, Mauriri would have been more than happy to see the woman out of Grief's life forever. "Think we should have a party or something?" Mauriri looked about, "Here?"

Grief watched as two sailors began a drunken fist fight over a pretty native girl. "No," he said, "not here."

***