Chapter 18 - Leader of the People

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Dakao, Steward of the People of the Water, Guardian of the Mouth of the World, grandfather to Afunakwa, stroked his beard as he sat brooding in his thatched bako. The dark ones had attacked his granddaughter. Again! While he stood by like a helpless babe. The terrible things swarmed the island and every day they moved closer to the village, causing anguish in everyone they touched, but especially in his granddaughter who since childhood had walked in two realms, the earth and the sky. He wondered how long the protective spells cast by his shamans would last against this surging darkness. They were under siege and time was running out.

How did they get here, he wondered to himself for the thousandth time. Dakao was sure it had something to do with Afunakwa's father, Jonaton.

Dakao had thought him a sorcerer too when he washed up on these shores over 18 years ago, but the man proved himself to be innovative and intelligent, a true light against the darkness. Few could match Jonaton's knowledge of the stars and how to follow them. More importantly, Jonaton understood the darkness, and how to use light to keep it at bay. He understood the People's purpose.

So much so, he was given permission to establish his own clan and find a wife among the People. He chose Pulpo-ee for a clan name, which was fitting given his cleverness, and Dakao's daughter, Iryne for a wife. Or rather, Iryne chose Johnaton.

She left with Jonaton many years ago to find an answer to help their daughter Afunakwa. Jonaton seemed to think something or someone on the mainland was the key. Iryne would not let him venture alone.

Ten years thought Dakao. They've been gone for ten years. Where did they go? What did they find? Do they yet live? Did they succumb to darkness?

He pushed the thought out of his mind, as he'd done a thousand times before.

Now he had the arrival of the stranger to consider. Maybe the sorcerer had been right about the spirit of his people. Dakao had wanted to kill him on the spot for his mainland insolence and had been surprised by his own violence.

This was not the way of his people.

Was the stranger a friend of the Light, or agent of Darkness? He had been sure this Michael was a sorcerer. Many adventurers came to the Mouth of the World seeking power, to see whether the myth was true, to test its strength against their own, or to tap into its wondrous power. Rarely did they get this far. This island in the middle of the ocean was nearly impossible to find.

Yet this one did. This one had spoken the name of his great-grandmother Yatokya, a woman who had been bred to be shaman of this clan, but was taken by the Sun so long ago, or so the legend went. Michael called her 'grandmother.' He returned her ashes home.

Dakao sighed. Michael had saved Afunakwa. Thank the seas and skies she was safe, behind the village walls on the water where she belonged. How many times had Dakao watched powerless as she fought against a malefic force he could not see? If he could not see it, how could he fight it?

Too many of the People were forgetting the sacred traditions. Too many were leaving their clans for other shores. Dismissing their home and their spirituality. Now those who remained called Afunakwa's affliction madness.

Dakao felt a stab of guilt. His ancestors would have known how to fight this menace. Dakao was losing his People, and he did not have the knowledge to prevent it. He had failed his clans, he was failing his granddaughter. He was a poor Steward.

Behind him, he heard a chuckle that dispelled the gloomy cloud that had begun to settle too comfortably on his tired shoulders. He smiled, knowing the source without turning around.

"Dakao, my husband," said the low voice. "Why do you sit here alone in our home hiding from the sun and letting darkness work into your heart?"

Dakao took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Of course, his wife was right. The shadows had grown strong, strong enough even to touch the Steward of the People of the Water. But they could not hold him if he did not allow it. This, he thought, was the real secret of life. So powerful is the human spirit that nothing could contain it that we do not allow to do so.

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