It has never occurred to Kane Heder that his captive might lose her fetters. She had willingly offered the only roof on the island to him and his sailors, and took her companions – the remainders of her father’s followers – to camp out in the caves, as a respecting niece should. Most of her father’s men have switched their allegiance to him. Had the girl any sense, he believes, she’d be begging him to take her under his banner too.
In any case, on that small island, there is nowhere very far she could hide from him.
In his sleep Kane had a nightmare. He saw visions of the barbaric scene he had witnessed many weeks ago – Pablo and his loyal followers slaughtered on Bassas. Earlier that evening he was silent on the details while speaking with the girl – he did not admit how little he had done to hinder that one-sided struggle.
Above head, heavy clouds arch across the vault of the sky, like a formidable gate, trapping those within.
In a large cave halfway up the granite outcrop, Indigo and her men have started a fire. The group is huddled around the flames, taking in the precious warmth. Few could fall asleep in the dampness of the abode. Behind them, the granite walls of the cave are smeared black from the burning charcoals within. Layers of soot marks the many fires made and then abandoned by those who had found comfort – however meager and brief – in that primitive dwelling since time immemorial.
In the gaps of the black stains, Indigo could make out the colored hues and painted figures. In the cave she seems restless, like a wounded animal; she stands up, proceeds to inspect these markings more closely.
Near to the entrance of the cave is a patch of green. Indigo could make out the painted trees – tall, windblown palms. Not a scattered few, but in rows thick and dense. A forest once covered this island. Amidst the trees are animals – white deer, monkeys with orange fur, and lizards and snakes of different colors.
She paces along the wall. The next gap shows a large tract of yellow paint – a deep, red-tined yellow almost like bronze. Black figures are scattered in the picture, but all of their backs are bent.
“These are farmers,” A voice rises from behind her. Indigo is startled, and turns to look. It’s Jaime, a 15-year-old bookish boy they had taken on board from Corozel, the illegitimate son of a local governess and an old sailor under the late captain. The boy continues to explain, “the early islanders cleared the forest, hunted down the large animals, and farmed the island. They grew rice and musa trees, and it brought them wealth and plenty for many years.”
He took Indigo’s hand and led her to another section of the wall. Here, the original paint is barely discernible. But the boy returns to retrieve a lighted torch from the fire pit to illuminate the designs on the rock.
It’s a rather unhappy frame, Indigo decides. At the center of the picture are depictions of the very caves they’re in. But in the painting what seems to be blood, drips down the granite steps leading to the caves and spells onto a purple-colored field. There are no longer palms, rice, or musa trees growing.
“The years of plenty were short lived on the island,” Jamie speaks earnestly, “the summer rains leached the nutrients from the soil. Rice would no longer grow, and the musa trees all died too. The people living on the island suffered years of famine. They thought that it was god’s punishment. On those very steps, they sacrificed to their deities. Every autumn they made their offerings by slitting the throats of one young man and one young woman from amongst the tribes. When the gulls feast upon their bodies strewn on the beaches, it was taken as the god’s acceptance of their gifts. But when spring came, the land was as barren as ever.”
Indigo is captivated by the story the boy tells. He continues, “the tribe soon exhausted the food they had stored from years before. When summer arrived, again, and when the rain came, they faced the choice to starve or to leave their island. And that is the last we know of them.”
“They must’ve left the island,” Indigo exclaims, “but how could they have – at the start of the summer?”
“They’re great seafarers, you know,” Jamie says, lifting up his torch to illuminate the ceiling of the cave. Like the cavern walls, it’s smeared black, but all around the edge of the ceiling there is a continuous band of blue paint.
“They know the ocean very well,” Jaime adds.
“Don’t you see, it’s a map!” Indigo cries out, “it’s a map of the ocean!”
She runs across the room, as the others stand up. She quickly identified two tiny dots on the blue band, one large and one much smaller, directly above the entrance of the cave.
“This is where we are,” Indigo observes, “the Lesser and the Greater Sendanore Islands, on the edge of the mist in the summer.”
The group turns to face their leader. Indigo continues, pointing to a white band of paint directly underneath the blue, “That’s the mist. They must’ve followed that edge westward, you see, there are many more islands along the way. And – had they sailed far enough – they might’ve reached that chain of islands that – right there – intersect the mist.” Indigo points to a string of dots at the far side of the cave.
Suddenly Indigo remembers the words of her father many years ago as he held her on his lap, sitting on the bow of Greywater. He said: the sea annihilates, in its gentlest cradle. It preserves, in its darkest womb.
No one on this side of the world has ever peered into the other side of the perpetual mist.