Chapter 1 Summary
It is a day to remember. A twelve-year-old girl and her six-year-old brother are gathering roots, which grow every spring. They are at the head of a canyon that leads to a small harbor called Coral Cove. When she first sees the ship approaching, it is small, like a shell floating on the sea. As it sails closer, it looks like a gull with its wings folded. Finally it becomes a red ship with two red sails, and it is approaching their island.
The boy is small but quick, and when he gets excited he does foolish things. Because she wants him to help her gather roots, his sister does not point out the ship to him as she digs for roots with a sharp stick. But the boy’s black eyes miss little, and he tells his sister he sees the sea as a flat, blue stone with a small cloud on it (for he has never seen a ship). She is determined to have him help her work and denies seeing anything out of the ordinary.
The boy, Ramo, pretends to work and not watch the approaching cloud, but soon he asks his sister if she has ever seen a red whale. She lies and tells him yes, that a young boy has not seen everything an older girl has seen. Soon, though, he knows it is a giant canoe and he is so amazed at the sight that he throws the root he is holding into the air and is gone, crashing through the brush and shouting as he runs.
His sister is even more excited than her brother, but she continues gathering roots with a trembling hand. She knows that the ship’s arrival can mean many things and she would like to leave her task and run to the village, but she keeps digging because the roots are needed by her people. When her basket is full, she sees the ship has made its way into the harbor between the two great rocks which guard Coral Cove. Word of the ship had already reached her village, Ghalas-at, and her people are moving. The men are hurrying down the trail to the shore, weapons in hand, and the women are gathering at the edge of the mesa overlooking the cove.
The girl has made her way to the sea cliffs and crouches there to watch. Half the men of her village are standing at the water’s edge; the other half is concealed by the rocks, ready to fight if necessary. The girl leans over the cliff as far as she can to see and hear everything below her. A smaller boat has left the ship. Six men with long oars are rowing the boat; they have dark hair and bone ornaments stuck through their noses. A tall man with a yellow beard is standing in the boat; she wonders if this is a Russian about whom her father had told her. The man’s stance is one of power and ownership. As he jumps out of the boat, he begins shouting in a foreign language.
Soon he begins to talk slowly in the natives’ language, telling them he is here in peace and wants to parley. None of the men answers, but the girl’s father steps forward and thrusts his spear into the sand. He says his name is Chief Chowig and he is the chief of the Ghalas-at. His daughter is surprised that he told the stranger his real name. Everyone in their tribe has two names. Secret names are rarely used, for if they are used too much they wear out and lose their “magic.” The girl’s common name is Won-a-pa-lei; it means The Girl with the Long Black Hair. Her secret name is Karana, and she does not understand why her father used his secret name with this man, Captain Orlov.
The Russian explains that he has come with...
(The entire section is 999 words.)