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by Dorothy Ann Skarles
Description: Following the legend of the great king Kamehameha's hidden gold, Catamount 'Cat' James finds himself caught up with the mythical goddess Pele, an old Kuhuna with his magic stones and deadly adversaries. Not to mention the beautiful princess Ua who leads Cat on a merry chase over the ridges of ancient trails and a 700 pound supernatural wild boar who inflicts Pele's vengeance on trespassers.
eBook Publisher: Twilight Times Books, 2006
eBookwise Release Date: June 2007
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [322 KB]
Reading time: 214-300 min.
"...Skarles has created a masterful story that seamlessly blends reality with magic. The description shows great attention to detail and a familiarity with Hawaii and Hawaiian culture.... [Enchanted Hunt] could best be described as "Indiana Jones meets One Hundred Years of Solitude." An entertaining read and one that is sure to do well."--Alastair Rosie, eBook Reviews Weekly
Chapter One: The End of the Rainbow
Out of the thicket, Lee and I heard the doleful sound of dogs and stopped to listen. The cries were far off, as if they were only racing, not heeding any direction or scent of game.
"Hear that," Lee said, adjusting the rifle around his shoulder. "Those dogs have got themselves a real attitude." He tilted his head so he could hear if the challenge cry of a hot trail would spring to life. "Damn fools. They're supposed to be huntin', Cat, not playin'," his tone indignant. "They're gettin' more and more like you, real scalawags. Always takin' off, chasin' some kind of a rainbow of their own."
I gave him my best grin and then winked. "I recall Uncle Akana included you when he called us scalawags." I looked up at the sky. "Besides, it's getting late. Dog's know when it's time to quit for a Bud."
Lee hit at a fern and clumped through the tall grass. "First things first. Beer later. Boar could still be feedin'."
"Now you sound like that workaholic father of yours," I said following in his foot steps, listening for any sudden change in the tone of the animal's chase, but Lee was right, the dogs were probably only on the track of a mongoose. "Stop being a worry-wart. There's four days left to get that extra pig we need for the luau."
"This catering job's important, Cat. Can't mess up."
"I know, old buddy. It's the first one since Uncle Akana passed away. But later or even tomorrow, we'll kill us the biggest damn wild boar in these mountains. You'll see."
Lee gave a toothy smile. "With you it's always tomorrow, play today."
I moved up and took the lead. "We go south."
"South?" Lee gave me a suspicious glance as he moved along side. "Dog's off in other direction."
"Yeah, I know." I glanced at him and saw his eyebrows lower. "But since the dogs are trailing anyway, and not down to business, I thought we'd take a little time out too." I had the feeling this wasn't going to be easy. "I have something to show you."
"What, another treasure?"
"You'll have to see for yourself."
"Humph," Lee grunted. "I no like Cat's eyes glitterin' like yellow gold."
Lee's stare made me feel hesitant for the first time. He wasn't going to be easy to convince that what I did was right. And if I failed ... Well, his hot Hawaiian blood would probably boil to the surface, and he'd punch my teeth out.
"Why we quittin' boar hunt to go on wild goose chase?"
For a second, I pretended not to hear him. Maybe I thought if I told him a little at a time.
"Cat got your tongue?" Lee flicked his finger against my head with a snap.
"Hey, take it easy."
"Flower no go with black head." He stepped over the red pompon bloom of the Ohia tree. "What you show me?"
"I found the real thing, Lee. I found the petroglyphs."
Lee groaned and grabbed for the good-luck piece around his neck. He rubbed the round smooth lava a full three seconds before he asked, "The stone drawings Uncle Akana told us about?"
"The very same," I nodded.
I stopped to get my bearings, along the slope where we stood, my senses alert to the possibility of a napping wild pig hidden in the underbrush. A sudden hot wind blew a coiling tendril across my face. The frayed ends of the climbing plant reached out like fingers around my throat before I pulled it away. A máhú kona ... a queer wind. It somehow reminded me of the jungle in Vietnam. I bent over to rub my knee where a piece of shrapnel hit that last day of the war. At thirty-four the knee joint was giving me a lot of trouble.
"We go this way up the ridge," I said, pointing.
"You sure?" Lee asked as he noticed the incline and nodded his head at my knee.
"Do the tough keep going?" I crouched down under the branches of a young Ohia tree and circled to my right, ignoring that twitch of pain in my joint.
A bird called, rising from the cliff face, wheeling high above, turning out toward the sea. Today, I was in the Kohala Mountains on the Big Island of Hawaii and instead of tracking Viet Cong, I was on the trail of treasure. I not only could smell success, I could feel gold in my hands, and I knew that this time, after so many years, I was going to be a winner.
"Damn it, Cat," Lee made a face moving in beside me. He squinted and deep lines furrowed the great jutting brow as he slapped at some long grass. "You're like a dog with his nose to the ground hot on the scent for that friggen treasure. What was on those scribbles anyway?"
"A whole series of pictures Lee, one picture after another." Excitement filled my voice. "A secret burial cave, canoes, a kings club--all kinds of artifacts."
Lee's mouth popped open and he stared at me. "Jesus! Show treasure chest?"
"You got it," I nodded. "Right at the bottom of a king's foot." I couldn't help but turn my grin into a big wide smile. "The indentations were deep and easy to read."
"You crazy, man!" Lee shook his head. "Fire-goddess guard stone drawings!"
"No one saw me, no one. Not even Pele." Lee's superstition often caused me to flout the very thing he feared.
"My God Catamount, don't you realize you desecrated those pictures even by touching them!" Lee's voice went up an octave.
"Honest, Lee. I didn't violate anything." A sudden flash of what I did crossed my mind and I amended. "At least, that wasn't my intentions."
"If fire goddess take it in her head, she kill you!" he roared.
"Not a chance," I tried to keep a laugh out of my voice. "I've got the dark looks of a handsome Irishman and the straight nose of an Indian, and they say Pele likes her men."
"You laugh, Catamount James. Always laugh and joke around." Lee looked grim. He slapped away a low tree branch. "Always take goddess too lightly."
When Lee used my full name, I knew I was in for one of his little speeches. He pointed his finger in my face. "Thousand times I've told you, Pele not goin' to let you or anyone else get near that secret burial cave much less find treasure."
"Well, so far I've done all right," I said feeling a bit cocky. "And I haven't seen hide nor hair of the volcano goddess."
"Pele let you see her when she ready." He pulled his lips tight together.
I moved beside Lee, momentarily touching him on the shoulder. Sweat plastered his shirt to his back. "Look! I'll be careful, okay."
His lips turned slightly up. "Sometime, you act like stupid haole when it comes to goddess. Didn't your Grandfather ever tell Cat-of-the-mountain that many things in world you can not see--like your Irish leprechaun?"
"Would I be forgetin' the invisible fairy or my shaman grandfather," I said in my best Irish dialect. Ever since we were kids, Lee and I would slip back and forth between my brogue and his Pidgin English.
Lee gave me a withering look. "If it suited you, you would."
"Sneer all you want, but this time, old buddy, we don't need leprechaun's or shaman's to be revealin' the hidden' place of this secret gold. All we have to do is follow the tabu sticks."
"Tabu sticks!" Lee croaked. He stared at me as if I had finally lost all my marbles.
We moved along a narrow trail, the green rain forest enclosed us now on three sides. It was like a miniature Grand Canon running to the top of the mountain, a perpendicular precipice opening only to the sea.
"Six of them Lee. And right beside the first two sticks was the biggest rock you ever saw. I swear, it was the size of that wooden barrel in your yard with the palm tree in it."
"When? When you find key to treasure?"
"Yesterday. Before you got to the tree house."
"None of your jokes, Catamount."
"This is no joke. This is Fo'REAL," I said using Lee's favorite saying.
"No shit!" Lee looked stunned. Little beads of sweat formed on his brow.
"Think of it! A king's cave! A king as in alii!"
I watched Lee's face turn several shades of gray. I could feel his fear, mixed with anticipation, rise in temperature. So far so good, I thought. He's dealing with his superstition without loosing his temper or biting my head off.
"My God, Cat." Lee's eyes opened wide, disbelief on his face. "Tabu sticks mean not only Pele guard stone, but Kahuna priest. How you find it?"
"Well..." I paused and thought about the Hawaiians who'd hidden their bodies, bones and idols away in caves, and who'd constructed clues in such a way that only a high Kahuna knew about them.
"Well," Lee repeated, his voice breaking.
"You won't believe this..."
"Quit stallin', and get on with it!" Lee urged.
"A rainbow sort of led me to it."
Lee groaned. "A rainbow he says. Now I'll be gettin' the whole tale. I suppose there was a leprechaun?"
"Not a leprechaun, exactly..." I paused, hardly believing what I was going to say myself.
"Well what? What?"
"What? You caught a wild boar?" Lee's voice cracked.
"No! Knucklehead. I found boar prints. A rainbow and boar prints. They both led me to the petroglyphs."
Lee glanced up through the trees at the sunlight. "You sure the heats not gettin' to you old buddy? Maybe, you get light-headed, like sometime in cave."
"No. This was different, Lee." I knew he referred to my fear of being closed in. "I was following this big suckers tracks. The biggest prints I'd ever seen when it started to rain. Then I noticed it." I paused trying to get my thoughts together. "The rainbow. It was all around me. It was as if I was in the center of it, the ground a regular kaleidoscope of colors. Red, yellow, blue, green ... I saw them all. They moved right along inside each cloven hoof print. One right after the other."
Lee slowly moved his head from side to side as if he couldn't take it all in. "You tellin' me you found end of rainbow?"
"That's what scares me. It was as if those boar prints and the rainbow were one."
"I still think sun fry brain. Could have been your own washed out tobbie tracks."
I glanced down at the rubber shoes I liked to wear. They did fit like mittens around each big toe, a little like a pig's cloven foot. "Not a chance." I moved a step ahead of Lee and wondered if I should tell him now.
"Maybe, other hunter wear tobbies, find petroglyphs."
"That's impossible," I snapped, wondering if I hadn't lost my mind along with my tracking ability to do what I did.
Lee gave me a probing look. "Why? Rock with pictures still in same place, isn't it?"
"Oh, it's still there," I said quickly, and looked away before Lee read the half-truth in my eyes. He could always tell if I was keeping something from him and I almost gave a noticeable sigh of relief when we heard the dog's bark and yip, off in the distance, changing Lee's trend of thought.
"They're heading' this way, but still playin' games." Lee stood a moment looking down at some tangled vegetation, listening. "Think we should call dog's back in? Make sure the youngling is still hangin' in there?"
"Kaloha is a youngling but..." I hesitated, it was only the dog's second time on a pig hunt, "and she's good at tracking after the other dogs. If they don't pick up our scent soon, they'll probably go back to the tree house."
Lee shook his head. "Never know. With their attitude no tellin' what they do."
We moved along a rough and stony glade, our senses ever alert to the possibility of a pig hiding in patches of dense undergrowth. Lee adjusted his backpack before falling into step beside me. He had taken his rifle off his shoulder, and held it in readiness for any unseen threat. The .357 Magnum I carried in my holster that day instead of the forty-four, stayed where it was. It, along with the knife strapped on my leg was only used as needed to finish off the boar. In this part of the Kohala jungle, our rate of movement was slow. Often not more than one mile per hour. And I knew we still had another hour to go. At times I would pause, wipe sweat from my forehead with the sleeve of my shirt and point the direction. I was looking for some old rotting stumps, the sign that we were at the beginning of the old priest's trail.
Lee, breathing hard, was mumbling. He fixed his attention on me and asked. "You follow rainbow prints along loop of trail?"
"Like a map," I nodded.
I could read Lee's face like a book. He was going along with me all right, but he didn't like it. That stiff jaw of his, with his teeth clamped shut, put a scowl on his face that would scare even a wild pig. I knew if I'd had any sense, I'd drop this thing now. I adjusted the straps on my backpack and pointed the way along a curved path.
"Ever wonder why my Uncle told us story 'bout gold?" Lee pulled at a blade of tall grass and put a green strip of it in his mouth.
I shrugged. "Maybe, just to tease two kids who believed in pirates and hidden treasure."
"No," Lee shook his head. "You forget. Stories always had a purpose."
"Maybe, he was wanting to make us rich."
"You kiddin'. In that, he was a little like my old man."
"Yeah, I know," I grinned. "It's only hard work and toil that makes you wealthy."
Lee grunted. "And work is somethin' we both know you're not too attached to." He walked around an old rotting tree. "I think he told us these stories to see what we would do."
"You mean he wanted to see if we'd hunt out the truth? Follow our fortune, so to speak?"
Lee nodded. "Remember, how he used to say it was our fate. You think he ever see this rock?"
"If not, he had to know about it," I said walking a little faster. Even with Lee's browned skin, I could see his coloring pale.
His face took on a puzzled look. "But that would mean some really high priest entrusted him with sacred knowledge."
"You got that right, old buddy." I knew that even though people still believed in Kahuna's, most of the few remaining priests were too hard to find to even talk to. A hang-up from the old days when they had to stay hidden or go to jail, or worse, be killed. "Probably, it's the same one Uncle Akana used to tell us about."
"You mean the one who went underground?" Lee skirted around a lizard sunning itself on a tree branch.
"Yeah, the one who could talk to the trees and wind."
"Maybe, but I still think that kind of heavy info only passed down from generation to generation."
"I wonder then how Uncle Akana got hold of it? We should have asked him."
Lee's eyes opened wide, his mouth at a slight gap. "Ask about Kahuna secrets! Are you crazy, man?" His large hand reached for the stone around his neck. "You must be gettin' haolefied or somethin' to even think of such a thing!" He moved around a bush and quickly glanced from side to side as if to see if someone was there. "Don't you know yet that you never stick nose in Kahuna business!"
Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a Kamehameha butterfly perched on a knee-high Braken fern. "I wonder," I said out loud as its highly-colored wingspan of about four inches glided into the air.
"The Kahuna who drew those pictures."
"What about him?" Lee's right foot suddenly slipped on a wet spot from the morning's rain.
"Nothing," I shrugged. "Only, one drawing looked a little like that century old King Kamehameha."
"King Kamehameha!" Lee blurted, looking startled. "King in drawings?"
Oh, oh, I thought seeing Lee's face turn from friendly to fierce to fear. Wrong thing to say. "No," I backed down, trying to appease him. "The drawing only resembled him."
"Kings, burial a secret. No one go there even if they knew. It is Kapu!"
Lee's spouting bits of Uncle Akana's teachings along with Kahuna religious overtones didn't look good for me, I thought. I knew to a Hawaiian anything Kapu was serious business. Kapu meant it was forbidden by tradition. I could see Lee was upset even at the mention of the great King's name.
"Look, I didn't say it was King Kamehameha."
"Uncle Akana never tell us gold hidden in King Kamehameha's cave."
"No, he didn't. But he didn't say it wasn't either."
Lee's face seemed to puff up into one round scowl. "For your sake Catamount, best leave this alone."
"Listen Lee," I said warming up to my subject. "I'm only saying if a high priest drew those pictures, he'd know who the big cheese was ... wouldn't he?"
Lee scowled at me. "Big secret like that not put in drawings."
"It's logical, Lee. King Kamehameha's birthplace is in the Kohala, why not his burial-cave? It is possible."
"You bring up damnedest things to worry 'bout," Lee snapped. He twisted around some wild banana trees and walked ahead of me.
"After all," I continued, "didn't you tell me every high chief had his own Kahuna. Maybe, the one who did the drawings is related to the one Uncle Akana told us about."
"Will you get off it Cat!" Lee spit the chewed piece of grass out of his mouth. His large, muscled frame pushed through the tall grass like a trashing machine at harvest. "You've been on this kick ever since you gutted your first boar, and found fish hook in stomach."
I glanced at him from the corner of my eye. "Yeah," I said remembering. "From that time on, I felt as if I were being impelled by some unseen entity to follow in the steps of the ancient Hawaiians."
Lee nodded. "Uncle Akana said the hook was made from human bone that probably came from some high chief. Gave Hawaiian who had it much mana."
Mana meant power, I recalled, a supernatural or divine power that every Hawaiian sought. And making fishhooks from some chief's bones or even finding one, gave him that power. "He also said that even though I was a haole, he could see my inner soul would watch over my first spiritual treasure."
Lee finally gave me a small lopsided grin. "He said the mana you found that day would grow. Give you potency and vigor." He made a rapid gesture with his fist in front of his crotch. "Someday, make you a guarding lion." He laughed and then playfully punched me on the shoulder. "Remember?"
"Two guarding lions," I said, and punched him back.
For the next few minutes, we walked along in companionable silence, each with our own thoughts. I could still recall how excited I was as a kid to find out my father was going to be stationed with the army in the twenty-fifth infantry division on the Island of Oahu. I met Lee and his uncle the second day on the base. Uncle Akana was making arrangements with some of my father's buddies to cater a Luau with real Hawaiian wild pig.
Lee and I hit it off right away. Especially, when we found out our birthdays fell on the same day in August. In a month's time, we would turn fourteen. It was then Lee's Uncle decided to take us both on our first wild boar hunt for a birthday present.
"We had fun times, didn't we Cat?" Lee said, interrupting my thoughts.
I gave a soft chuckle. "Remember when I found that old canoe?"
"Yeah, it took six horses to haul back to the tree house."
"You thought the Menehune carved it because Uncle Akana told us it came from a Koa tree."
Lee gave a silly close-mouth grin. "And you said you didn't care who crafted it, you were keepin' it anyway. A Kohala treasure, you called it."
"Was no stoppin' you, all right. Now, tree house look like museum."
"I guess I really am the guarding lion." I gave another chuckle and put two fists on my chest and pounded like Tarzan.
Lee grunted and threw up his hands. "Guard all you want puma old buddy, someday..."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Pele's coming to get me."
"Yah, damn right! Eventually, she will, you know!" He smacked a hanging vine away from off his face. "Don't know why you do it, Catamount!"
I shrugged my shoulders, and paused to get my bearings. "It's a fever. The same fever my grandfather had. Each treasure I find only makes me think there's something more, bigger, and better still out there."
I had been following a rock wall concealed by dirt, fern and trees for some time when I finally saw the tabu sticks. "There," I whispered. The place had a stillness about it, a primitive kind of enchantment that I didn't want to disturb.
Off in the distance, a high bark penetrated the warm air that seemed to float overhead. The mournful cry vibrated between the branches of soapberry trees and Hawaiian olives. I knew it was Kaloha.
For a moment, Lee stood listening with me. Then he made a quick survey of the area. His skin was damp with sweat. I wasn't sure if it was the heat from the sun filtering through the trees or fear.
Creepers crawling back and forth over the stick's surface, making them almost invisible, covered the long, thick pieces of wood standing about two feet apart. If I hadn't noticed the bird's nest in the center of its growth, I would have missed them. I knew they had been placed here to guard what lay beyond.
"You're with me aren't you, old buddy?" I whispered again. From the corner of my eye, I was conscious of tiny beads of perspiration standing out on Lee's wide face, the index finger on his right hand tapping nervously on the butt of his rifle.
Lee made an odd sound in his throat. "Yeah, I guess I always did want to see the end of a rainbow." He hauled back a hanging branch from one of the taboo sticks. "But I bet your ass, some Kahuna is really gonna be pissed."