I decided to post two parts today so you would see some of what is happening in the bamboo forest. Enjoy!
Just as Iekika had said there was a clear path around the base of the mountain. Plumeria, carrying Alika, had a little trouble navigating some of the foliage in her gown and wished she had thought to change once she got there, but then wondered if that was even allowed. She decided she was better off fighting with the folds of fabric as they caught on bushes and shrubs, trying to be careful to not rip it. The path took her deeper into the forest and she used the skinny trunks as leverage to maneuver the landscape,which was a bit rough at times. There were large rocks to climb over and stair steps up, tree roots to avoid, and steep descents. She could only use one hand to steady herself because the held Alika in the other. She was afraid of losiing him in the dark and just told him she was going to carry him and that was that. She was thankful he was a young adult and not very heavy yet.
After walking for about half an hour, she thought she smelled smoke. Iekika had mentioned that there would be a bonfire. Plumeria stopped and stood in one spot while she and Alika tried to determine which direction the smell was coming from. She was going to have to leave her path and go deeper into the forest, but the further she walked, the stronger the smell became. In a small clearing she saw several women standing around the fire. She instantly recognized Iekika, so she knew she was in the correct spot. Iekika sensed her presence and left the rest of the group to greet her.
“I see you and Alika made it,” Iekika said. “Were my instructions adequate?”
“Yes, just some trouble keeping the dress from tearing on the foliage.”
“Ah, yes, we all face that,” Iekika replied. She was a woman of few words.
Plumeria looked around. Some of the witches wore white, some black, but all were in the same design as hers unless they were male. She was the only one in grey. “You’ll get more used to it as you familiarize yourself with the forest. Before long it won’t be a bother at all,” Iekika said, smoothing the folds of her dress as if to demonstrate how adept she was at maneuvering the forest herself. Her dress wasn’t nearly as rumpled as Plumeria’s.
“Are you ready?” Iekika asked, placing a hand on Plumeria’s elbow.
“Sure, I mean, I guess so. I am a little nervous,” Plumeria admitted. She hadn’t realized how nervous until she was around the other witches. She wondered what their powers were, how long they’d had them. They all looked as young as she did. She couldn’t help but wonder if this was a beginner’s coven or if some of them were really old and their power was that they didn’t age.
“First you must meet the high chieftain, Ailani. She will instruct you and set you at ease. I am merely here to recognize you since I delivered your garb.”
“Oh, surely you do more than that! You must be more than her errand girl.” Plumeria regretted it as soon as she said it.
“I assure you, I am not an errand girl. But I do not have as much power as Ailani. Let her speak to you,” Iekika said with a stiffness in her voice as she began to walk away from Plumeria and Alika.
Plumeria followed her to a tall, slender and unusually blonde woman who had an air of authority about her. She assumed this must be Ailani and she was right. Iekika spoke in Hawaiian to Ailani and then introduced Plumeria as Puanani, the name on her birth certificate. She did not neglect to also introduce Ailani to Alika, who was still patiently laying in Plumeria’s arms.
“Ailani, Puanani and Alika are here to see you. Are you ready for them?” Iekika asked.
“Puanani and Alika–so nice to meet you at last. So you are our spring equinox babies. You will always hold a very special place in the coven. Puanani, have you removed your shoes? Are you both ready to begin the festivities?” Ailana said while shaking Plumeria’s hand and stroking Alika’s head
Plumeria had so many questions swimming through her head, and yet when she looked at Ailani and took her hand, they all disappeared. “Yes, Ma’am,” was her only response. She bent down and took off her Nikes. She had certainly been glad to have them while walking through the forest.
“Good,”Ailani said. “Put your shoes somewhere near the fire. Don’t worry. They will be fine as long as they are not too close. Then go to the other side of the fire to the wooden pikes.”
Wooden pikes? Plumeria thought. What kind of festival is this? She pictured a part of her body impaled on a pike and shivered. She knew witches had strange rituals, but she couldn’t imagine they would impale her. Worse still, what if they impaled Alika? Plumeria would never be able to stand by and allow that to happen no matter what they promised her.
Plumeria walked to the other side of the fire after depositing her shoes and found four wooden spikes driven into the ground at equal distances apart from each other. They each stuck out of the ground by about 4 feet. Next to each one were large baskets with lids. She wondered what they held. She was tempted to peek inside of one, but there was a witch at each pike, two light and two dark, seemingly guarding the baskets.
By this time, most of the witches had meandered to this side of the fire, the light aligning with the light and the dark aligning with the dark. She glanced down at her grey dress and wondered which part she was supposed to be in. Ailani sought her out and gave her the answer she required.
“Puanani and Alika, you are not aligned with any of these groups yet. At least, not until we reveal your powers. Be patient. It is a later step.. You stand over here by this basket and it will be explained to you.”
Plumeria took Alika and stood by the basket pointed out to her, noting that it was much smaller than the rest and that next to it was a much shorter pike, about two feet out of the ground and made of metal instead of wood. It still came to a point at the top and her curiosity was truly getting the better of her. There was no one guarding her covered basket so she was just about to peek inside when Iekika approached.
“Are you ready for your fortification? You must complete this step before your powers are revealed. Fortification keeps you strong for what is ahead of you and your quest will depend upon your powers.” Iekika knealt down on the ground and opened the lid to the basket. Because of the darkness, Plumeria could not yet see what was inside. She craned her neck, but to no avail. Whatever it was, it’s color must have been dark. Iekika continued speaking. “When I pull this out of the basket, it is not what it appears to be. To you, it will look like a coconut, but it’s powers are far greater than the average tree nut.”
Plumeria wrinkled up her nose at the word coconut. She was hoping she didn’t have to eat it because it was not a flavor that was pleasing to her palate, but it did explain the pikes. She’d heard of native Hawaiians husking coconuts on wooden pikes. She still wondered why hers was metal.
Iekika must have seen Plumeria’s reaction to the word coconut because she said, “I assure you it tastes nothing like the land coconuts. These are specially grown and harvested by witches. Many of them taste like happy memories. You will be expected to drink and eat from the coconut. It will help you and Alika when your powers are revealed, which can be an uncomfortable process..”
Iekika took the larger than usual coconut and impaled it on the pike, tearing it in half. True to her word, she handed one half to Plumeria for her and Alika to drink and eat from. For Plumeria, the coconut milk tasted like the chocolate milk from her childhood. For Alika,the milk tasted like his mother’s milk, a taste he never thought he would taste again. It brought bittersweet memories of his mother to mind. The flesh for Plumeria tasted like chocolate. She obviously loved chocolate as a child and as a teen. For Alika, it tasted like his favorite canned cat food, a delicacy he didn’t receive often.
They both felt fortified with strength, boldness, wit, and intelligence. It was time to move to the next part of the ceremony, the part they had been waiting for since birth–finding out whether they followed light or dark.