The morning wind was sweet through the tamarind and acacia trees, carrying the smell of the dawning sea. Jaya waded through the waist-high grass, carrying her fishing net looped over her shoulder, the bare earth soft under her feet. The birds in the trees were just beginning to waken and sing softly, though she knew the sun would soon come up over the hills behind her and they would burst into a riot of sound and motion.
She heard her younger brother, Anut, following along behind her, muttering as he pushed through the grasses in her wake. He was shorter than she was, even though he was thirteen, and he struggled to keep up with her longer strides. She smiled to herself. It would not be long before he was old enough to be tattooed and named a man – let him walk behind her for a little longer.
There was a mist in the morning air, and she looked up as they came to the edge of the trees. From here the slope down to the sea was shallow, and at the edge of the sand there was a sharp black stone that jutted up from the ground, the surface gleaming with sea spray and etched with coiled signs. When their ancestors first came to Ulu’a, driven out of their ancient island homes by their enemies, they raised this stone as a marker. A sign to all the Unnamed Gods that the Tau’ta would go no further.
She stopped and stood for a moment, letting Anut catch up to her. He was carrying his own net as well as a barbed fishing spear. She thought him too eager – the water would be too cloudy from the past night’s storm for spearing fish.
This early, just after dawn, the light from the sun was still shrouded behind the central hills of the island behind them. The sea was an expanse of silvery motion, darkening as it extended away toward the lands of sunset, marked at the limit of her sight by the line of white breakers where the reef walled them off from the deeper realms her people had long left behind. Once, she knew, they had sailed the seas, and had been kings in a far western land, but that had ended long ago.