Pu’ukani’s Song

by Hannah Steenbock
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Pu’ukani took a deep breath, allowed himself to sink back under again and angled his head downward. This was a new song, one he had only sung once before. And yet, it sounded through his heart and through his bones and reached out to the corners of this ocean, telling everyone who listened about the great journey the Elaku Clan took this year and the changes it wrought. Memories surged with the waves of song that burst from his throat.

The pale light had shown overhead when Luahine decided that the days were now short enough to leave the feeding ground and swim north again. Soon, the seas would grow back their white skin that made surfacing for air difficult. Pu’ukani was excited, because they both had such high hopes for this season. Three of Luahine’s daughters were carrying calves, and this year the babies would just have to be female.

They sung about it quietly and slowly while they swam, their hearts filling with delicious anticipation. So many young bulls had been born to the Eleku Clan and left it to roam the oceans that the Clan had dwindled to seven cows and two bulls who were still too young to swim on their own. And Luahine herself was beyond child-bearing age.

This year would be different. Pu’ukani had spent days chanting spells while the young cows mated with strong young bulls. He had danced around the pairs and earned many harsh looks for the bubbles he blew, but he hadn’t cared. He had been working hard to ensure the future of Luahine’s Clan.

And now they were on their way to see the magic’s promise. Pu’ukani could hardly wait to reach Hanauna Bay, the safe shelter that the Clan had used for generations for the birthing of their calves. Already he could taste the change in waters. Soon food would be more scarce, but it didn’t matter. All members of the Clan were well endowed with fat, enough for the calving season. Pu’ukani took pride in the roundness of Luahine’s daughters, and he sang a small note of love to them and a longer one to Luahine herself. She was the Matriarch of the Eleku Clan and his mate.

He couldn’t resist the urge to glide up to her and caress her with a well-aimed swipe of his flipper. He always enjoyed the feel of her rough, blue-black skin even as it was encrusted with barnacles. Notes crept out of this throat.

My beautiful love.

She sang an amused note back at him, and he rose to the air feeling young and strong, breaking the surface in a mighty leap.

BREATHE.

The journey took them around Kaunalipo Head, always the first time they closed in on land after spending the summer in the Southern feeding grounds. Swimming close to the land was dangerous, as Grim Hunters populated the shallower parts of the waters, but the current arched around the headland here, and they had always followed the current to make the journey easier.

The Clan had taken to singing very softly while they were close to land, so that the black and white Grim Hunters would not find them. Pu’ukani began to swim ahead of the cows and closer to the shore. As bull he was more expendable to the Clan, and both he and Luahine knew it well. Most of the time he listened intently and in silence for the sharp hunting cries of the Grim Hunters, but occasionally a soft note by Luahine reached his ears. He always answered in kind, but they didn’t dare to call to each other often.

The tactic worked as well as it had in the last years. Pu’ukani heard the sounds of Grim Hunters only once. Fortunately the huge dolphins were far away, hunting in a sound cutting deep into the coast. He urged the Clan to leave fast, and soon the eerie chirping calls of the Grim Hunters were left behind. Pu’ukani surfaced and breathed deeply in relief.

BREATHE.

The current took them away from the land to deeper water and for a while they traveled easily. Pu’ukani watched the bodies of Luahine’s daughters swell more and more now that their pregnancies were coming closer to the end. He continued to sing magic for their health but only in small doses, reserving his strength for the actual births.

They had to be less vigilant, now that their journey took them further from the coast. Pu’ukani spent more time with Haumana, one of the two young bulls who still swam with the Clan. This one was just beginning to find his voice, and Pu’ukani couldn’t resist teaching him an easy memory song. Sometimes, his mother swam close to them during the lessons, and Pu’ukani thought that she was interested in singing herself. That was rare in cows, but he liked to believe that Pi’uke was his daughter as well as Luahine’s. He chided himself for that thought, bulls were not supposed be interested in the calves they fathered. Yet singing was essential to himself, and he could see a little of that in Pi’uke’s son.

Just as he began to repeat the first part of the song, Luahine slowed down in her swimming and turned her head a few times, obviously hearing something unusual. Pu’ukani left Haumana and was at his mate’s side with a few strokes of his fluke.

Listen, her note echoed in his head.

He stopped swimming and just drifted in the waves in order to hear better. Yes, there it was, a very faint sound that he had never heard before. He listened more closely. It was coming from the land, and it sounded very regular, like a heartbeat. Faster than his own, he thought, as if someone was swimming hard.

No Grim Hunters, he sang, soothingly. Not dangerous.

Luahine swam on, yet more carefully than before. The new sound was where they were headed, but the matriarch began a detour that would cost them half a day. Pu’ukani listened as hard as he could and tried to remember if he had ever heard something like this in his decades of travels through the oceans. But no fish or mammal had ever made that peculiar, throbbing sound.

Curiosity got the better of him. He sang a little good bye to Luahine and swam towards the source of the sound. His course took him towards the land, and he moved as silently as he could.

The throbbing got louder. Pu’ukani surfaced, took a breath and tried to look around. His eyes were not as good in the air as they were under water, however, and he could see nothing beyond the waves.

BREATHE.

He swam on, intent on finding out the source of this strange sound. It was a whale, or so he thought when he came closer. He could hear a huge shape gliding through the water, accompanied by the monotonous sound. The throbbing was so loud that he could no longer make out the soft notes of the Clan, and that made him feel uneasy.

Finally he saw the large shape. It was only partly in the water, and when he surfaced again, he realized that it wasn’t a whale at all. The beast was much larger that he had thought. It moved on without taking notice of him, reaching up to the sky with two huge, white flippers. It took Pu’ukani a while to understand that it wasn’t alive. Instead, small creatures ran around on top of it.

Pu’ukani hung in the water, pondering what he was seeing. The loud throbbing didn’t make thinking any easier, and after one last look at the strange thing, he headed back to his Clan.

There was one kind of creature that continued to make things, he knew. Often those were new things, and those creatures seemed to use them for strange purposes. Long ago, the Clans had debated what to name them. Split-Flipper had been one suggestion, Two-Legs another. But most often they were called Net-Throwers, and that name had been kept.

During his journey back to the Clan Pu’ukani came to the conclusion that he had seen yet another example of the strange things the Net-Throwers did. The creatures moving on the big thing had been too high up for him to see them clearly but he could think of no other explanation. The throbbing sound followed him as he swam away from the shore, making him feel vulnerable.

Luahine didn’t like his report, he could see that in her posture.

The noise is bad, she sang. It hides danger.

Pu’ukani agreed, as her worried notes shook his heart.

I will see this for myself, she continued, I want know what it is. The Clans have to know. Guard my daughters.

Pu’ukani didn’t even try to argue. There was no stopping her when she sang with such quiet intensity and when she wore her responsibility as Clan Leader. He stayed with Luahine’s daughters while the matriarch disappeared into the luminescent blue. After a while he surfaced.

BREATHE.

Waiting was hard. Pu’ukani got very tired of trying to filter out the throbbing noise while listening for any notes from Luahine. He had little success, but he couldn’t stop his efforts. Haumana grew bored and fidgeted in the water, and first Pi’uke and then Kaikamahine wanted to move on. Pu’ukani asked Luahine’s oldest daughter for patience, he didn’t want to continue their journey without his mate. He began to reassure them that Luahine would return soon.

A low scream filtered into his consciousness and sent his nerves quivering.

Luahine!

He raced off, regardless of the alarmed notes Kaikamahine sang. Luahine was in danger, she might be hurt. Had Grim Hunters used the noisy thing as cover? He couldn’t put it beyond them, those dolphins were devious. Another low moan sounded through the water, and he answered with a reassuring trumpeting.

I’m coming!

He listened for the high pitched screams that signaled Grim Hunters, but he couldn’t hear them. Instead, the throbbing of the thing the Net-Throwers had put in the water made it impossible for him to discern Luahine’s soft calls. He hunted through the waters, ever more afraid, aware that his own thrashing made it harder to locate her.

Finally he forced himself to stop, keep motionless and listen. The throbbing filled his ears. He concentrated, searching beyond the monotonous sounds, hoping.

BREATHE. SINK BACK. LISTEN.

There. A small, pitiful note, barely reaching his ear. He waited for it to be repeated, to make sure of the direction. Then he raced towards Luahine, fear for her lending his body strength and speed.

She was swimming slowly, and very soon he saw that she was injured. Dread filled his heart, blood in the water would bring sharks. He swam close to her, caressed her with his flippers, brushing her gently, singing soft notes to her.

Luahine, my Luahine. Fear not, I’m here.

A deep gash ran across her back, and now he knew why swimming was so difficult for her. His heart ached because this was a serious injury. Blood swirled after her, he could even taste it in the water. If he could, sharks could. Pu’ukani fervently hoped that no big shark was hunting at this part of the coast.

They had lost a calf to sharks, once. Pu’ukani forced the images from his mind, these thoughts were dangerous. Instead, he swam in circles around Luahine, weaving bubbles, humming protective spells, hiding her from sharks. Ever so slowly they worked their way back to the Clan, where Luahine’s daughters surrounded her, wrapping her in their sounds and supporting her. They sung soft notes to help calm her.

Mother, be strong. We love you. You are safe, Mother. We love you.

Finally, Luahine was able to sing about what happened. Pu’ukani stayed at her side, touching her at times, while she produced soft notes.

It was important to find out how the noise is made, she explained in labored tones. It comes from the tail end. I went there. I swam up to look. Maybe it turned over me. Something cut me. There are teeth at the end, three sharp teeth. They turn in a circle.

Pu’ukani couldn’t imagine what she was talking about. Curiosity pulled at him again, but he knew that he wouldn’t return to the thing the Net-Throwers had built.

She surfaced slowly to take a breath.

We have to keep away from those things, she continued, after sinking back under the waves. Her notes were getting stronger now that she was leading again. We must warn the other Clans.

Pu’ukani felt her worry under his skin. She was right, every whale had to know this.

What is it? Olopa wanted to know, Luahine’s youngest daughter.

It’s a thing made by the Net-Throwers, Pu’ukani sang back to her after a while.

Why?

He thought again. Why would they make such a big thing?

They cannot swim, he answered after a while. Not like us.

It is a Big Shell, Luahine sang, thoughtfully, pain shining through her notes.

Yes, a Big Shell, Pu’ukani repeated her melody. A hard Shell, he added, remembering the way it moved through the water.

We will avoid Big Shells, Luahine sang decisively. It is easy. They are loud.

Pu’ukani watched her rise to the surface again and saw her wince. He swam to her side and supported her a little.

My love, he sang gently, to her ear only. Rest. You need to heal.

She sang back a tiny note of regret. Hanauna Bay is calling, Pu’ukani felt her sing, we have little time. The urgency in her song was very clear, and he shared it.

The next days were difficult. Luahine was in pain, Pu’ukani could see that. He hated the way she forced herself to swim on, even though the constant movement meant that the gash in her back wouldn’t heal. Always, there was the slight tang of blood in the water around her, and he worked hard to keep his masking magic alive. Oh, how he wished that he possessed healing magic as well!

Their progress was slower than last year, but Luahine led them with the stubbornness that had made her matriarch long ago. Pu’ukani allowed himself no rest in working his magic, and Luahine’s daughters took turns with supporting her and scouting around.

No sharks came. No Grim Hunters attacked. Pu’ukani found new hope as they neared Hanauna Bay, where they would be safe and where the calves would be born soon.

Finally they rounded the familiar headland. Pu’ukani was relieved, soon Luahine would be able to rest. Joyously he led the way to the opening of the shallow bay, where all members of the Clan had been born since memories had been sung.

The opening wasn’t there.

Pu’ukani swam back and forth in search, beginning to doubt himself. He returned to Luahine, full of confusion.

It is not here, he sang to her, with quivering notes.

This is the right place, she sang back, stronger than she had been in the last days.

Pu’ukani swam once more to the place where the opening should have been, after all he had crossed the shallow ridge many times in his life. But he couldn’t find it. Like a wall, the land rose out of the sea, and even as he lifted his head out of the water to look he couldn’t discern any way past this barrier.

For a long time, Pu’ukani just hung in the water, thinking and mourning. Finally he forced himself to take a closer look. Slowly, he glided along the barrier, even brushed it with one flipper. It was stone rough, but too regular for a rock coast. No kelp grew on it, and Pu’ukani was certain it was new. At one place, the surface changed. There were openings, framed by thin bars of a hard substance that tasted slightly of blood. Water streamed into his face. Yes, that was Hanauna Bay water. But the openings were much to small for him or any other whale to pass through it. They were cut off from their sanctuary.

After a while Pu’ukani surfaced, took a deep breath and cast one last look at the dark wall that was keeping the Clan out of Hanauna Bay. Where would they birth the calves? Where would Luahine find shelter to heal?

BREATHE. CALM. BREATHE.

He dove back to take another look. Nothing had changed. The Elaku Clan had lost its home.

A long wail escaped Pu’ukani. His sorrow sounded through the waters, and he heard the Clan answer him. Reluctantly he swam back to them, slowly, with listless strokes of his fluke. He was sure that this new barrier was the work of the Net-Throwers as well. They had put a wall into the water that enclosed Hanauna Bay and made it their own.

Those Net-Throwers, he thought, they had not been kind this year. He doubted that their things were meant to hurt them, yet he couldn’t help but wonder. Deep in thought, he reached Luahine.

The news made Luahine sing a very sad song, and her daughters crowded around her in fear, singing softly along with her. Haumana and Pikanele, the two young bulls, were once more fidgeting, probably out of confusion. Pu’ukani ignored them, he hung in the water, not moving a fin. This was the end of the Eleku Clan, he thought to himself, and sadness filled his large heart. He blew a few bubbles, rather aimlessly, more to reassure himself that he still had his magic than to work any spell.

He didn’t know for how long they had remained almost motionless in the water when Luahine began to move again. She invited them to follow her as she turned north and swam ahead with her painful, short movements. Pu’ukani was at her side with two strokes of his fluke, aiming an inquiring note at her ear.

We will find a new bay, she answered, with sharp, determined notes.

Pu’ukani was shocked. How … how did she expect to find another Hanauna Bay? He followed her numbly, while his thoughts raced. He wracked his brain, searching his memories for any mention of the shoreline, any hint for a possible location where the new-born calves would be safe from sharks and the Grim Hunters.

He could remember none.

Luahine’s daughters were following her, doubt and fear clearly audible in their subdued sounds. Pu’ukani realized that he was one source of their insecurity. He surfaced for a deep breath.

BREATHE. CALM.

Then he sang.

He told stories of daring voyages, sang about the allure of the warm waters in the north and added praise of courage and determination. Slowly the mood in the Clan changed, and the movements of Luahine’s daughters were once again filled with purpose.

It was harder to sustain this trust in the long days that followed. They traveled steadily north, close enough to the coast to spot bays, and far enough to avoid the Grim Hunters, or so Pu’ukani hoped. He often scouted closer to the shore when the land looked promising, but he always returned without having found a good bay.

He knew it would not be easy. The bay needed to be shallow enough to discourage sharks and Grim Hunters from entering, it should have a narrow entrance so any calls would not sound out far into the ocean, and it would have to be deep enough that they could rest comfortably with the newborn calves. Also, it should have mostly ocean water in it, as the calves needed the buoyancy of it to reach the surface easily.

He saw a few bays that might have been useful, but they all showed signs of much use by the Net-Throwers. After the encounter with the Big Shell, Luahine was not willing to risk spending much time in their vicinity, not to mention letting the vulnerable calves stay there. So the Clan moved on.

Every time Pu’ukani returned from scouting to report to Luahine, his heart twisted. The gash in her back healed very slowly, and there were times when he doubted that it healed at all. She moved on, nevertheless, leading her daughters through dark times.

The waters were already considerably warmer when they found another bay that looked promising. The entrance was facing south, inviting them in. This time, the whole Clan wanted to take a look, even though Pu’ukani asked them to stay back. He could only follow Luahine and stay at her side as she swam ahead decisively, moving her fluke in the painful, short and jerky motions that had become her main way of propelling herself.

At the entrance to the bay they stopped, feeling the water, the currents and tasting the flavor of the bay. Pu’ukani moved ahead a few lengths and looked into the bay itself. A high barrier of sand separated the bay from the ocean. This was very good. Once more he tasted the water. Nice and salty, there was very little heavy water in this bay. It looked perfect.

Cautiously, Pu’ukani swam up to the barrier itself. The water was quite warm here, the big yellow light in the sky and the sand worked on that together. He surfaced and looked around.

BREATHE.

Large plants grew on the rim of the bay, and on the two headlands extending towards him. The stems were bare, and the tops looked like bunches of algae, waving in the wind. Pu’ukani felt notes for a song rise in his mind, and joy filled him. New songs were always good.

Strangely enough, those sounds seemed to be around him as well. He ducked back underneath the waves and froze. The sounds were real, high and piercing.

Grim Hunters!

He raced back to the Clan, thrashing the water, his heart beating faster than ever.

Luahine!

The Grim Hunters went for the weak, the young and the injured, most times. Yet he had heard tales of them taking on a young and strong bull, killing him after a long fight, just to eat his tongue and only that. Oh, his poor mate!

Pu’ukani frantically forced up spells, any magic that would help against those black and white overgrown dolphins, those merciless hunters. The sounds that reached him made it clear that the fight was already in progress.

BREATHE!

He gulped a breath of air and raced on through the water, homing in on the sharp cries of the Grim Hunters. He knew what he would find, and he began to sing spells, a difficult task while swimming as fast as he could.

There. Black-and-white shapes were milling around the Clan, the daughters huddled around Luahine, protecting her. Pu’ukani felt the air inside his chest begin to rumble. He slowed down, and started to weave an intricate dance under the waves, blowing bubbles and singing a powerful song.

Luahine realized what he was doing, of that he was sure. Slowly, the whole Clan moved his way. Pu’ukani began to enlarge the web of bubbles he was weaving, deepening his voice and singing louder. There had to be room for all of them.

One Grim Hunter rushed towards him at full speed. Pu’ukani watched it come closer while never breaking his rhythm, concentrating on his plan. The Grim Hunter closed in, bubbles boiling from its curved fin where it cut the water. Pu’ukani readied himself, and with a mighty heave of his fluke he dodged the ramming attack, letting the Grim Hunter slam into his magic barrier instead which stopped it cold in the water. Pu’ukani twisted around for an additional slap with his fluke, but the black-and-white dolphin was faster. It slipped out of his reach and raced off again. He was safe.

BREATHE.

Pu’ukani allowed himself only a quick breath, then he went back to his task of weaving a shelter for Luahine.

The Clan whales moved closer to his web of bubbles, and he dove deeper, enlarging it further down. Suddenly, the young daughters rushed towards him, leaving Luahine alone.

Protect us. Go. Move away. Go. Protect us. Protect the Clan. Their frantic notes overlapped and almost made him panic. Why did they abandon their mother? Why …?

Protect us, they sang pleadingly, save us.

Blood clouded the water around Luahine. She fought, yes, but he knew she wouldn’t have a chance, six Grim Hunters were circling her, ramming her and pushing her under water, even as she struggled valiantly. He turned towards her, only to run into the young cows.

Let me go!

Kaikamehine and Pi’uke impeded him, mercilessly.

No, save the Clan. Go. Protect us, Haumana and Pikanele pleaded, their voices high with fear. Pu’ukani couldn’t decide which way to turn.

Luahine, he cried out to her, her pain filling him as well, with every grunt he heard. Luahine!

She wants us to go, Olopa sang in haste. She will keep them here.

For a long moment, Pu’ukani didn’t move, motionless with shock. He knew what that order meant.

Go, a lone note sounded through the water, go. Desperation colored the sound, reached into Pu’ukani’s heart and twisted it.

We go, he sang to the daughters, very softly. Then he turned his back on Luahine, the one whale he had loved so dearly that he had given up his wanderings for her.

Luahine, he called out to her, oh, my Luahine.

He led the cows away, out to the sea, at top speed. Once they were sure of the direction, he let them swim ahead and hung back, watching if any Grim Hunters would follow.

None did. Obviously they were busy killing his love, Pu’ukani thought bitterly, finding it hard to move his fluke as sorrow wanted to paralyze his body. Yet, for Luahine’s daughters, he swam on, surfaced and breathed, leaving his love ever further behind.

Only a little later, one final, trembling note reached his agonized ears, and he knew that Luahine had succumbed to the Grim Hunters.

She had given her life for the Clan, he told himself, so that her daughters could renew it. The thought didn’t ease his pain. Instead, his heart grew heavy and he knew he could just sink under, just like the cold, salty water sank to the bottom of the sea underneath the white winter skin of the southern ocean.

It took Pu’ukani two whole days before he could muster the strength to collect his thoughts. Only then did he call an end to their headlong flight, which had led them straight into the deep ocean, away from the coast. The cows milled around him, while he hung in the water and tried to come up with a plan.

Carefully, he sent out questing notes through the deep water, waiting patiently for the slight echo that would tell him how far away they were from land. Unexpectedly, he received echoes from two directions. He knew there was land in the direction they had come from, but further north and into the direction they had been fleeing was more land. Land he couldn’t remember, land he had never heard of from other Clans. Of course, they had reached further north than most families ever swam, but even so he would have expected some rumors about land there.

He pondered for half a day, asking his heart, questioning his memory and casting spells that would help to see the future. In the end, it was one fact that decided him. They had only come here because of Luahine’s death, and he wanted it to mean more than just a tragic loss to the Big Shell and the Grim Hunters. He turned towards the new land, hoping to find a birthing bay there.

It took them another two days to reach the shallow waters of the new land they had discovered. Swarms of fish flitted over the low reefs in the shallows, while larger fish populated the deeper reaches. The waters were warmer than any they had visited so far, and he could tell that the cows were getting uneasy.

So warm, he heard Olopa sing to Pi’uke, it could be dangerous. The poor calves.

He swam over to them and began to reassure them, bathing them in strong notes of confidence.

Good for the calves, he insisted, putting more force into his voice. Calves grow fast in warmth.

Their songs changed, became stronger again. Kaikamahine brushed his side with her flipper as she glided past him, and he felt a pang of love for her lost mother. Even so, he was relieved to see Luahine’s daughters feel secure once more.

He led them around the southern shore of the new land, always on the search for a new bay. And just as often as he scouted closer to the land he listened for the calls of Grim Hunters, sometimes shuddering with fear. He only saw the small shells that the Net-Throwers commonly used, those that were no danger. Not a single call of Grim Hunters reached his ears, and gradually his apprehension receded.

Three days later he found the entrance to a shallow bay. While his heart filled with excitement, he bade the cows to wait while he went scouting once more. Carefully he made his way into the shallow water, stopping often to listen and to lift his head into the air to see where he was headed.

He detected more of those strange plants with the algae heads, and their sight gave him a twinge. Here, they seemed to be even more common and dense. As they swayed gently in the breeze, he deliberately put his fears aside and swam on, towards the gap among the plants that beckoned him in. Swarms of little fish parted before his nose as he moved on.

The water remained deep enough for him to swim without problems. Warm, salty water streamed into his face, and his excitement grew. Was it possible? Could this be …?

A moment later, he drifted into a bay, the ground dropped away before him and his heart filled with joy. He forced himself to be thorough, and circled the bay once, slowly. It was perfect.

The cows agreed after he had led them into the bay. Kaikamahine joyfully suggested to call it Luahine Bay, for their old matriarch. Pu’ukani was overwhelmed by the idea, and he needed some time by himself before he could tell them that he agreed.

Only a few days later, Olopa went into labor. Pu’ukani stayed at her side, as she strained and heaved, rising to the surface often to breath. Kaikamehine and Pi’uke stayed with them, while the rest kept a respectful distance and stopped the two small bulls from inquiring too often.

Calm, Pu’ukani sang. He wasn’t worried much, Olopa had born a calf before and knew what was happening. His desperate wish for a female calf occupied his mind most of the time, and so he wove intricate circles of magic around her, blowing bubbles and singing the ancient birthing song in a choir with Kaikamahine.

Olopa’s moans filled the water of the bay and mingled with his song. Pu’ukani put more love into his song, welcoming the new calf. Only its tail showed so far, and he still couldn’t tell if it was male or female.

Blood clouded the water, and Kaikamahine ordered two of the cows to guard the entrance to the bay. Pu’ukani was glad they were taking no chances. The Elaku Clan couldn’t afford any more losses.

Olopa strained harder, and the calf slipped out a bit more.

Good, Pu’ukani reassured her with loving notes. Just a little more. Just one more breath.

They surfaced together, and Pu’ukani could see the pain wrinkling her lips. That was ever the price for new life.

BREATHE.

Side by side they sank back under water, and Pu’ukani continued his song. Pi’uke positioned herself at Olopa’s tail, ready to help the newborn calf the moment it was born.

Welcome, Pu’ukani sang, welcome to Elaku Clan, little darling, little loved one.

Olopa gave a mighty heave, and the calf burst from her body, slipping into the water in a cloud of blood.

Welcome, little one. Swim! Welcome! All cows were crooning to the calf, and Pi’uke gently pushed the newborn up to the surface so it could take its first breath.

Pu’ukani watched the little one very closely and his heart pounded with hope and desperation. It had to be … it just …

The calf was female.

Notes burst from his throat, filling Luahine Bay with the joy that spilled from his heart. Only a tiny dark patch of sorrow remained as he wished that Luahine were at his side to share the day.

His and Luahine’s hopes were fulfilled when after several weeks the other two calves turned out to be female as well. The Elaku Clan would live, just as it had found a new home.

The calves grew quickly, much as he had hoped. The warm waters suited them well, and they could use all the milk they were given for growth. Pu’ukani’s heart swelled with pride in Luahine’s Clan.

Many, many days later, as the calves had grown strong and the adults had lost most of their fat reserves, Pu’ukani became thoughtful. The days were lengthening again, and it was about time to return to the feeding grounds in the South.

Pu’ukani had waited for Kaikamahine to make the decision, as she was the oldest of Luahine’s daughters. In the end, he could no longer remain silent. He carefully approached her and her new calf, hanging in the warm water and breathing a few times before actually singing to her.

We should go South. He tried to make it sound like a suggestion, she was the leader now.

You decide, Kaikamahine answered calmly. We wait.

Pu’ukani was stunned. They had been waiting for him to decide? But … he was a male. Bulls didn’t lead.

She reassured him that he had led them to the bay, and that from now on he would lead the Elaku Clan. Soft notes of agreement from the other cows echoed through Luahine Bay.

Pu’ukani felt responsibility settle on him like disturbed sand sinking back onto the sea floor. Strangely enough it was not only a burden to him, but also a chance to help Luahine’s clan even more. Quickly, he made his decision.

We go South, he sang, not quite ordering Luahine’s daughters and their calves to follow him.

He swam out of Luahine Bay ahead of them, listening for any dangers. His decisiveness amazed him, but he thought to himself that there would be plenty of time to think and reason with the cows during the journey.

They didn’t change their mind.

Pu’ukani felt some apprehension as the Elaku Clan reached the feeding grounds later than any other clan. Soon, there would be a meeting of Matriarchs, and he would have to represent his clan to them. No bull had ever done this before.

Kaikamahine must have seen him tense up, because she sent a soft note of reassurance. He hummed back, still unused to her firm support. He thought of Luahine and how she had entrusted her daughters to him. Finding new courage, he drifted up the the surface and took a deep breath.

BREATHE.

The meeting took place over a round plateau that rose up from the sea bed. The soft mud covering it muted the sounds so that the rest of the whales would not hear what was sung among the leaders. In addition, a few bulls were always weaving magic around the top, keeping any whale out who wasn’t a leader.

Pu’ukani swam up the the meeting place, fighting the trepidation in his heart. He sang the name of his clan, and the magic allowed him in. He winced when Alaka’i, the oldest cow, rumbled menacingly at his arrival, but continued, his heart beating fast. Luahine, he thought, and found strength in his memories.

The Matriarchs were upset, he could see that. They moved to block him from entering the meeting ground further, and he halted.

I am leader of the Elaku Clan, he sang, putting as much confidence into his notes as possible.

Stunned silence greeted his announcement, then wild trumpeting erupted. Pu’ukani stayed where he was, silent and waiting, while their notes pelted him. Finally, a call by Alaka’i restored silence to the group.

Where is Luahine? Alaka’i asked. Pu’ukani hung his head. It was painful to sing of the jaws of the Grim Hunters and her death. He sang of his love and how she had ordered him to save her daughters, and how he had obeyed her. He ended imitating her last call, sinking back slowing after he fell silent.

The cows respected his silence for a long time.

Alaka’i's soft query barely managed to pull Pu’ukani out of his memories. Sing the whole story, she bade him. All that has happened to the Elaku Clan during this calving season.

Her demand startled Pu’ukani, but the request filled him with pride for his clan. He quickly collected his thoughts and rose to the surface.

BREATHE.

Pu’ukani sang. It was a long song, and it was a new song. He felt his heart swell with the notes he created, with the tale he wove just as he would weave bubbles for a spell. He included many details, and it took him two days and two nights to finish the story.

When he eventually reached the end describing their safe return to the Southern feeding grounds, he let the notes die away and fell silent.

The Matriarchs sighed and sang softly between themselves. Pu’ukani tried to listen, but they were so quiet that he couldn’t understand a note. After a while, Alaka’i turned towards him.

You sing of great danger and bravery, she began and Pu’ukani’s heart filled with pride.

But a bull cannot lead a clan, she continued. Bulls are not responsible enough.

At her decision, sudden fury raced through Pu’ukanis veins. He tried to keep it under control, but he could hear the anger in his voice when his answer burst forth.

Have I not led Elaku Clan to safety after the loss of Luahine? Have I not found a new birthing ground?

Alaka’i gave him a kind look. Yes, but you are a bull.

Pu’ukani roared, then forced himself to a calmer tone. Luahine’s daughters want me as leader. Are you saying they are wrong?

The other Matriarchs sang thoughtful notes.

Kaikamahine has chosen you? Doubt crept into Alaka’i's voice.

Yes, Pu’ukani answered simply. And I will not disappoint the Elaku Clan.

Alaka’i swam in lazy circles, humming to herself a few times.

Bring her, she finally announced. Let Kaikamahine sing.

One of the other leaders passed Alaka’i's order to one of the patrolling bulls. It didn’t take long for Luahine’s daughter to arrive. Neither did she hesitate with her answer.

Pu’ukani is the leader of the Elaku Clan, she declared calmly. We chose him.

Alaka’i was visibly taken aback by Kaikamahine’s notes. She sent the cow away and returned to swimming in circles and breathing soft sounds.

Pu’ukani already had a plan, and he perfected it while he waited. If the Matriarchs couldn’t accept him as leader, well, he had found a new birthing cove for the Elaku clan. Finding new feeding grounds would be easy, compared to that.

Finally, Alaka’i came back to Pu’ukani and faced him again. The daughters of the Elaku Clan chose a leader. Yet no clan has chosen a bull before.

Pu’ukani wanted to interrupt her, but thought better of it. It would be honorable to let her sing first. Then he would just swim away and take his clan with him.

The world changes. Maybe we should change with it. You will be the first bull to lead a clan. After all, you saved it.

Pu’ukani needed a moment to understand that Alaka’i had accepted him as leader. Then he surfaced to take a deep, deep breath. Luahine’s daughters, his daughters were safe.

Pu’ukani held the last note of his song, brimming with the joy he still felt. The Elaku Clan would prosper, having found a new home and a new leader. He himself would protect his daughters and teach the young bulls the ways of life. His magic and his songs would continue along with the Clan.

Ending his song, he propelled himself to the surface, jumped into the air and crashed back into the water with a mighty splash. A moment later he was surrounded by his daughters and their loving and admiring notes.

Yes, it was spring for the Elaku Clan.

3 Responses to “Pu’ukani’s Song”

  1. Gustavo says:

    I enjoyed this one a lot. Poignant, hopeful and yet with a serious question mark left for the future. Very nice!

  2. Beautifully written Hannah! Great sadness for loves ultimate expression. Determination and sacrifice rewarded in the end to give it all meaning.

  3. Elizabeth Robert says:

    So incredible….you sent my heart on a roller coaster ride, that I loved!

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