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Wind Raker -- The Navel of the World

A reader asked for a preview of Wind Raker with Jerry in it, so here it is! In which Jerry finds a story....

Jerry was a little startled the next morning that Beatrice had brought George with her to drop off the box of stones Hansen and Gray had sieved, but she waved away his surprise quickly. "We were just on our way to the club for lunch, and you're right on our way. We're ridiculously early." She was wearing a white straw pancake hat with a spray of white silk camellia blossoms on the side, a delicate flower that seemed nothing like her. A less likely Dame Aux Camelias he couldn't imagine.

Alma had come to the door behind him. "Please come in," she said. "We were about to take the children to the beach, but I know Jerry and Dr. Radke would be happy to offer you coffee." She gave Jerry a sideways look as if to ask if he'd completely forgotten his manners.

"Of course," Jerry said, stepping back. "Please take coffee with us."

He expected Bea to politely refuse but instead she smiled hugely and came right in, George following after like a dutiful escort, his hands in his pockets. "I hoped you'd have a few minutes," she said. "Peter told me all about your stone. So I've brought you a story."

"A story?" Jerry wondered if he looked as bemused as he sounded.

"Coffee on the lanai," Alma said. "I'll get you all set up before we leave for the beach. Lewis is staying here too if you need anything."

"About the navel of the world," Bea said. "There's a Hawaiian story about it. I thought you'd like to hear it."

"Very much," Jerry said quickly, feeling the familiar prickle of anticipation. "I’ll call Dr. Radke down this moment."

It was very quiet in the house once Mitch, Stasi, Alma and all four children piled in the car and left for the beach. Jerry sat on the lanai with Willi, Bea, and the coffeepot, all small talk concluded.

"Once, in the time when all the stories happened," she began. Bea had a melodious voice, Jerry thought. She could have been an actress, if that were a job for a respectable woman. Instead, it wove with the sea wind through the palm fronds, whispering across the quiet lanai, the distant shouts of the children playing outside.
"In the time when all the stories happened, there was a floating island. The gods had made it that way, an island with no roots to the bottom of the sea, and so it drifted on the currents beneath the sky, guided by Lono until it came at last to the lands of the People."

Willi shifted in his seat, his coffee cup clinking against the saucer as he put it down, and Jerry steepled his hands.

"Now this floating island had people as well, and they were brothers and sisters to the golden lizard, and their chief was a man who was not a man. Seven moons they had floated beneath the sky, and their stores were depleted, so when they came to the lands of Hawai'i they came to shore immediately in their boats, bearing baskets and casks of leather. They sought the navel of the world."

"I don't…" Willi began.

"All human beings have a navel," she said. "Omphalos. The ancient Greeks set a stone before the cave of the Oracle at Delphi."

"The gates of the underworld," Jerry said, and for a moment it seemed that a chill crawled down his back. "The inward passage. The descent."

Bea smiled, and it ought to have been reassuring but it wasn't. "The gates of birth and death. We all carry that mark on us. Our navel, the twisting passage that marks where we were joined."

"The navel of the world," Jerry said softly. He lifted his head, eyes rising toward the distant ridge of Diamond Head against the sea. So many patterns, so many stories. Volcanoes and underworld passages….

"Did they find it?" Willi asked abruptly, his glasses sliding down his nose. "In the story, I mean. The center of the world?"

She nodded, a sideways smile, her eyes looking unnaturally dark even in the shade of the lanai. "They did. They found the navel of the world and it was here."

"The navel of the world…." Jerry said. There were too many thoughts, too many patterns, a crowd of stories that would take days to put in order.

"Very good for them," Willi said briskly, "But what does that have to do with Mr. Collins' porcelain? A story proves nothing."

"A great deal. Or nothing." She shrugged, an ordinary woman in an overdone hat, white camellias at her brow. "And there’s more than one version of this particular tale. Some say the floating island was wrecked here or that it ran aground and became Ni’hau. But it has been my experience that sometimes stories hold truth. Wrapped in metaphor, perhaps, but stories have a way of being true."

"There is no such thing as the navel of the world," Willi said. "It is a mythological conceit, Mrs. Patton." He shoved his glasses up on his nose, his voice unaccustomedly passionate. "Underworld passages and mysterious places and all the rest are part of the fodder of mythology, but that is all they are, the shared neuroses of primitive peoples."

"And magic?" she asked.

"There is no such thing as magic," Willi said shortly. "Come. Be rational."

Her smile didn't change. "Do you agree, Dr. Ballard?"

Jerry swallowed. "I think very often stories hold the key to history," he said. "After all, consider Schliemann and Troy."

"That is not the same thing," Willi said hotly. "There was a long and well documented history of occupation on the site of Hisarlik."

"Isn't it?" Bea asked. "You have a site and a story. Surely these things do bear examining against one another."

"We have some porcelains that have no business being where they were found," Willi said. "And we have one stone with ambiguous scratches. That is all we know we have. Let us not hare off on stories about floating islands and bizarre hypotheses about Chinese explorers in Hawaii. We must be conservative in our conclusions, and as yet we have nothing to support these strange theories." He took a quick gulp of his coffee. "I do not put any stock in these theories fashionable today about Aryan supermen responsible for strange sites all over the globe or odd Oriental geniuses who left mysterious puzzles! There is no evidence, just the wishful thinking of people who want to see a connection between a rune in Tibet and one in Norway that happen to bear a passing resemblance to one another."

"And yet we have fifteenth century Chinese porcelain found in Hawaii," Jerry observed.

"It very well could have been brought by nineteenth century missionaries," Willi snapped.

"Very true," Bea conceded. "It may be early nineteenth century. And there were certainly missionaries who had been previously in China."

"And the only way we will know more is to dig." Willi got to his feet swiftly. "It was lovely to see you, Mrs. Patton, but I fear I must get back to the dig."

"Go on then," Jerry said. He looked at Beatrice, hesitating a moment. "I'll be along later."

"We really need to go on too," she said, smiling to show Jerry she wasn't offended by Willi's abruptness. "We have a luncheon date. I'll collect George from wherever he's gotten to."



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 18th, 2014 12:10 pm (UTC)
Ah, the eternal problem. How do two people who believe in unseen things talk about them when surrounded by people who would think them crazy if they admitted to believing in them?
Jun. 23rd, 2014 10:17 am (UTC)
Oh yes exactly!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )