The Hurricane King, Ayabingi, could not keep still. High above the blue Atlantic waters, he whirled and paced, dark clouds of impatience forming a giant pinwheel in his wake. He was being watched: in the void above his realm orbited weather satellites, their sleepless eyes trained on storm patterns below as they beamed a constant stream of information back to meteorologists on Earth. What they saw caused the weather watchers to run worried fingers through their hair as they tried to determine if the large, dark, moving mass of the storm on their screens posed any immediate threat to the islands below. The hurricane season was still some months away, and this unexpected agitation puzzled them.
But they had nothing to worry about; the Hurricane King was simply awaiting the birth of his first child. If all went as he anticipated, this new hurricane would grow in strength and fury to wreak havoc in the years to come, cementing his or her place as next in line to rule the powerful winds. Until the infant storm was safely delivered, the Hurricane King could not be bothered by the world below his kingdom.
He had wanted to be in the birthing chamber, but the two midwife storms attending to the Queen had forbidden him. It would be difficult enough to keep the Queen calm and stable during the birth without having to deal with powerful gusts from the excited King.
So, he paced as he waited outside and listened and listened – and then slowed his pacing to listen harder for there was very little sound coming from within the chamber. How strange: a new storm always arrived into the world with lots of noise. He stopped his pacing suddenly, tendrils of anxiety curling at the edges of his excitement.
One of the attendants came gusting through the door. She did not stop to speak to the King, only nodded briefly before disappearing through the tall pillars of black thunderclouds that held up the Palace of Storms. The second attendant appeared hesitantly at the entrance, beckoning him inside. The King swept in eagerly as the second attendant slipped past him to disappear down the corridor too. The Queen lay propped serenely in her large bed, and at first he almost didn’t see the small sleeping wisp of a breeze beside her. He had been looking for little flashes of lightning and small thunderclaps coming from the new squall.
‘Behold, your son’, said the Queen, with a sweet smile. ‘Him caused me no trouble at all.’
‘That’s the squall?’ asked King Ayabingi, taken aback. ‘But where’s his thunder? Not even the beginning of a storm pattern here.’
‘Man, relax; he’s just a little gust right now’, said the Queen comfortingly.
‘More like a little far… squirt.’ Ayabingi did not look happy. The Queen shot him a look, and he pulled himself together. ‘Well, him will build up as he grows’, he said hopefully. ‘He’s latent right now.’
‘Him going be what him going be’, replied the Queen. ‘Rest yourself, man, and give him a chance to become.’
The sleeping baby wind drew in a deep breath and blew it out. His father, leaning over at that moment, felt it curl like a small, cool, soothing finger against his cheek, and he smiled without realising it. They optimistically christened him Hurricane Iscar, Crown Prince of Tropical Storms.
But Iscar did not grow into his grand title as hoped. A year went by, and he’d not even managed to produce a decent thunderclap. The King and Queen’s firstborn had vigour and spirit in abundance, but he remained little more than a sprightly, refreshing gust of wind.
His father was disappointed. He’d dreamed of offspring of whom he could say with pride, ‘They’re the worst ever!’ But it didn’t take long for King Ayabingi and his Queen to concede that ‘Crown Prince of Tropical Storms’ had been overly optimistic on their part. Though they did not consider Iscar’s shortcomings to be either his fault or theirs, nevertheless it was up to them to rectify the problem of a suitable heir, and they set to work without further ado. A year and a half following Iscar’s unremarkable entrance, the Queen gave birth to twin storms who both possessed everything the King could have wished for in his progeny. They came with lightning and thunder, signalling the birth of ferocious little gales and wearing their mother ragged before they were safely delivered. While Ayabingi celebrated by creating a powerful lightning storm high up in the stratosphere, the exhausted Queen slept through it all.
Iscar knew he didn’t stand a chance. It was clear from the moment they appeared that the little storms surpassed their older brother’s best efforts at whipping up a gale.
When they were old enough to be allowed to descend to the world below the palace, young Prince Cove lost no time in showing his might by provoking the sea into angry waves and blowing small fishing boats around. His twin sister, Princess Cora, amused herself by stripping leaves off tall coconut palms and occasionally plucking zinc sheets from the roofs of island houses.
Iscar floundered. He could send clouds scudding across the sky and skip lightly and swiftly across the waves, chasing whitecaps. But skipping on the water and chasing clouds were definitely not the kind of sports a hurricane prince pursued, and he wondered what cruel whim of fate had caused him to be born into this most powerful dynasty of storms. Had he been allowed to play with the zephyrs, it might not have been so bad. But winds are mindful of social standing, and to mingle like that would have brought dishonour to both families. It didn’t help that Cora and Cove took a mean delight in showing their older brother up every chance they got: challenging him to stormy games they knew would leave him in a helpless whirl and hurling slender bolts of lightning with ease while he struggled to light a spark.
On a mild late afternoon, Iscar carefully piled a heavy bank of clouds in front of the sun. He smiled with satisfaction at his efforts for he had spent a long time arranging them in such a way that the beams of the setting sun would glance off, sending long, dramatic rays into the sky. As he stood back, a sudden, strong gust of wind erupted, demolishing his work and sending the clouds tumbling like enormous bales of cotton across the sky. Iscar almost wept with anger as a rumble of laughter behind him announced Cove, who, adding insult to injury, teased that a drizzle was about to fall.
Iscar kicked the remaining wisps of clouds into Cove’s mocking face, and, turning his back on the realm of the storms, he descended to a narrow, rocky island far out in the ocean. The island was an anomaly. Unlike the welcoming, green islands surrounded by soft golden beaches, this tall, dark formation towered menacingly out of the water. Flat-topped, with almost vertical sides thrusting steeply upwards, it was more fortress than island. A sturdy lighthouse and remote weather station had been built there, both fully automated, so visits to the site were few and far between. The island was also home to seabirds that gathered in large numbers, their nests filling every nook of its rocky sides and top. This had been Iscar’s retreat since he first discovered it, and Cove and Cora had scornfully dubbed the monolithic formation with its feathered inhabitants ‘Iscar’s Little Kingdom’.
He settled upon the edge of a high cliff near the lighthouse, commanding a view of the entire island. The evening sky was a series of changing colours above him before the sun disappeared with a flash and sizzling plunge into the ocean, taking the last wisps of colour with it. As Iscar listened to the rhythmic crash of waves far below, his anger evaporated into the twilight. Sea birds swooped and called around him for they were used to seeing him there, and the lamp in the tower came on. Iscar lay back on the rocks, his eyes following the hypnotic beam of light as it swept in a steady circle above him. Soft chuckles of nesting seabirds blended with the sound of crashing waves, and Iscar only knew he had fallen asleep when the sun reached down a long finger of light to tickle him awake the next morning.
Before going home, he took a detour over the nearest inhabited island. Clear and almost invisible, he gusted along soft, green valleys and over high, rocky peaks, looking down on towns, villages and farms below. Palm trees rustled in his wake, and eddies scurried along the surfaces of rivers and lakes as he passed.
Then something caught his eye. In an open space behind a neat, little white house were two small children with a large, colourful kite. Holding the kite’s string, they ran breathlessly up and down, trying to catch a breeze. Apparently, all the little breezes had taken the morning off, for not one came to the children’s aid. Iscar felt a burst of playful joy, and, dipping low, he blew a gust beneath the wings of the struggling kite. The children screamed with delight as the kite rocketed into the air. The child holding the string began to reel it out, and the kite soared steadily higher until it was a small, black speck in the blue morning sky.
For a while, Iscar played with the kite and the children. Then, as he heard their mother calling them in for breakfast, he brought it back to earth, dropping it gently at their feet before leaping away into the sky to make his way home to the Palace of Storms.
‘Mark that date!’ roared King Ayabingi, slapping a mighty hand on the calendar that hung on a wall in the Throne Room and shredding it to pieces. The calendar had been replaced every day for the past month. ‘The International Convention of Storms will not be missed!’
There was no possibility of it being missed. This momentous event, held every five years, brought together all of the influential winds of the world. On this occasion, it was going to be hosted by the North Wind at his Ice Palace in the frozen North.
‘Prepare them young ones to travel with me!’ thundered the King. ‘It is time for their category ranking.’
‘With us, you mean’, said the Queen. ‘What makes you think I will miss this? Besides, my fearsome husband, you’ve never gone that far north before, and with your sense of direction—’
‘That’s what I said’, interrupted the King. ‘We will take the younglings.’
What neither said aloud was that, anticipating a disappointing ranking, they were both feeling rather protective of the eldest young prince.
Leaving a trusted steward to govern in their absence – an old hurricane who had long retired from active duty and now spent his time reminiscing to anyone who cared to listen – they soon departed for the Ice Palace, with the two young princes and princess in tow.
Set among the shimmering Northern Lights was the glittering Ice Palace, home of Boreas, the North Wind, ruler of cold and deadly winter storms. The rainbow of colours reflecting off frozen panes and icicled turrets delighted the young tropical guests who knew about lightning in its many forms but had never seen this type of fiery magic before.
‘The cold fires of the northern skies’, whispered the Queen to them as they passed through a high, arched doorway into a great hall. ‘Lit by Aura, Queen of the North.’
As they emerged into the vast hall, King Ayabingi seized the great ivory conch that swung from his belt and put it to his lips. He blew a mighty blast that echoed and re-echoed in that enormous space. In the harsh bellow of the conch were the voices of a thousand tropical storms, all roaring at once. Storms do not announce their arrival quietly.
Boreas greeted them with as much warmth as was possible for an icy wind to produce. ‘Welcome, my friends!’ he roared. ‘I trust the hurricane season will be a terrible one this year!’ Beside him sat his pale, beautiful queen, her eyes changing colour from green to violet and pink, with occasional flashes of silver.
Iscar peered up at him and was impressed by what he saw. The North Wind was enormous, tall and broad, though not as tall as his own father, Iscar noted. His snow-white hair hung like shards of ice upon his shoulders, and his beard was a frosty tangle down to his waist. As he caught Iscar looking at him, he suddenly smiled, and his glacial blue eyes sparkled with a friendly light.
‘What do you think of my home, child of the tropics?’ he boomed, his breath adding another layer of ice to the walls and ceiling. Iscar said he liked it very much: though rather chilly, he thought the ice and the lights were beautiful. The North Wind looked pleased with his answer.
The Great Hall quickly filled. From North America, came Spinning Wind: Chief of Storms, a graceful and deadly tornado. He funnelled his way through the door amidst a glittering shower of sharp icicles that came raining down from the ceiling, pulling nearby objects and smaller attendant winds into his vortex. He disentangled the objects and struggling winds as he halted, setting them upright with one smooth move. But he didn’t apologise; a storm never apologises for being a storm. A dozen enthusiastic young tornados followed in his wake. It was going to be a rough year for those states in the tornado belt. Iscar was spared the indignity of being upended by the entrance of these fierce winds only because his mother had the foresight to grab a handful of him, discreetly, anchoring him in place.
From the continent of Australia, the ominous rumbling of a didgeridoo announced the arrival of the Great Elder, a powerful cyclone who had left a swath of destruction on his way to the convention. With him were many grandchildren who had come of age to be ranked. Australian meteorologists gathering data were already anticipating an excess of deadly storms that year.
Close on the heels of the Australian contingent, the Monsoon Empress of the Indian subcontinent swept in with a flash flood that almost swamped the hall. Lightning flashed from her eyes, and the roiling rain clouds of her long, black hair whipped around her. A great emerald set in gold on her forehead enhanced the darkness of her hair and eyes. In preparation for an epic monsoon season, she had brought her three daughters, one son and four nephews for ranking. Close behind came a handsome pair, the Typhoon Emperor and Empress of East Asia, stately and dangerous in their controlled entrance, something their three enthusiastic offspring had not yet mastered.
Standing out among the gathering of storms was the dusky figure of the Saharan Sand Storm, Queen of African tempests. She was the last of the great storms to arrive, though she had not kept them waiting. She descended without warning upon the gathering, enveloped in a dense cloud of golden desert sand that quickly turned the hall pitch black before condensing into rippling robes around her proud figure. She wore a circlet of red gold to which a burning sun disc was fastened. Below the disc, her amber eyes burned with a matching fire. In one hand she held an iron-bladed assegai that she struck upon the floor on arriving, sending a deep rumbling roar through the hall and shaking the remaining icicles down upon the company.
The conference lasted for exactly one week, and no time was wasted. There were reports from every corner of the planet to present and plans and proposals for the next five years of seasonal upheaval. There was also an all-important seminar on the negative impact of human activity on the Earth’s climate and whether global storms should consider this cause for concern or if the impending climatic catastrophe could be an asset to their fury.
On the last day of the conference, the young storms were ranked according to their strength and potential. During the physical assessments, they all did their best to impress. And they did impress, ending their trials with flourishes, knowing their category rankings would be high and in keeping with expectations for their future as full-blown storms. All triumphed but Iscar, who, fully aware that his failings as a hurricane were now painfully obvious, hated every moment of the assessments. Yet the judges noted that his endurance level was exceptional, surpassing even the stronger storms for he could keep blowing at a steady pace, long after the others had blown themselves out.
He had been expecting this, but as the first-born son of the Hurricane King and Queen, Iscar could not quite hide his feelings on hearing that he was most definitely not a hurricane. He did not even rank as a squall: he was given the official rank of a strong but variable breeze. Still, he held his head up proudly as the ranks were conferred and accepted his without rancour. The North Wind must have noticed his disappointment, for as he bade farewell to his tempestuous guests, he leaned forward and said quietly, ‘It is possible, son of great ones, to make an impact without raising a storm.’
Iscar had now officially lost his title to the new Crown Prince and Princess of Tropical Storms. Cora did not have much to say, but Cove, feeling the power of his new title, delighted in humiliating Iscar even more by conferring the title ‘Prince of Pocket Hurricanes’ to his older brother. He pronounced this within earshot of several other young storms, and the resulting laughter burned Iscar’s heart, though his expression remained impassive.
On their way home, the royal young hurricanes and breeze, now familiar with the route, detoured to explore new paths. Changing direction on a whim is normal windy behaviour, so it was not until sometime after they had arrived that everyone realised the new Crown Prince was missing. King Ayabingi was not pleased. In fact, he was extremely displeased. Cove was expected to begin training for the hurricane season, and being absent did not reflect the sort of responsible behaviour expected from a future Hurricane King.
A search was launched for the missing prince. But as time passed and, one after another, the searchers came back empty-handed, the Hurricane King’s rage climbed higher and higher. Finally, he dismissed the searchers and prepared to go out himself. His ominous darkening and furious flashes of lightning were sure signs that things would go badly for the young truant when his father laid his hands on him. On the ground, warnings of an imminent hurricane, a possible category five, were being issued by meteorological offices.
‘Hold the tempest, Pa’, Iscar said coming forward. ‘Let me try first. All of the upper levels have been searched, and there’s no sign of him. I know the lay of the terrain below us and might have better luck.’
Now Iscar had an unusually calming way about him that even the most violent of storms was not immune to. Ayabingi cooled down a little and agreed to let him go.
But where to? Iscar had no real plan. He just followed a feeling and signs on the water. He had two things in his favour: being the son of hurricanes, he was fast, and being himself, he didn’t get tired. Hurricanes generally avoid going too low over the open ocean. Though the warm ocean air that they feed on is crucial to their survival, going too low saps them out, and they need to remain at a certain height to maintain their strength. It is dangerous too; seas hate it when storms tear them up, pulling and stretching them and destroying their reefs. They respond by trying to drag the winds down into their watery depths. Many reckless hurricanes have been destroyed by angry seas this way. But Iscar was not a hurricane; he blew lightly when he passed over the water and raised playful waves to the surface without invoking the ire of the sea. Now, following a trail of suspicion on the blue waters, he headed far out.
The first sure sign he saw was debris scattered on the surface. From the looks of it, there had been a small fleet of boats; fishing boats, he thought. Bits and pieces of broken wood, ropes and plastic containers, all marked the passage of a violent storm many hours before. There were bodies too, humans wearing bright orange life jackets that hadn’t saved them from drowning as massive waves crashed over them, pummelling the breath out of them and filling their lungs with salt water. Iscar looked down at them; bobbing like discarded dolls on the restless surface.
Then he spotted Cove. It was no wonder that the searchers who had flown high above had not seen him for all his colour had been drained until he was pale grey, blending in with the very waters he had tormented hours before. A slow-moving mass, struggling for breath, he was barely managing to keep out of the reach of angry waves that rose beneath, trying to pull him down even now. Already, he had lost pieces of his spent mass to the plucking liquid fingers.
Iscar dropped lower as he came near, and, reaching down, he grabbed his weakened brother by the scruff of his neck, hauling him out of reach of the waves.
‘Never been so glad to see you, brother!’ Cove gasped. ‘But easy there, man; I’m not at my best right now.’
‘And whose fault is that?’ Iscar said, ignoring his brother’s pain. ‘You’d no right to be here. Pa will kill you anyway when he finds out. He’s madder than I’ve ever seen him.’
‘Don’t tell Pa!’ The alarm was real in Cove’s eyes. Raising a powerful storm out of season without the ruling monarch’s knowledge and permission was a serious offence, one that could result in punishment or, depending on the whims of the monarch, permanent banishment to the lower realms, to be eventually consumed by the waves or become a weak feral terrestrial wind lurking close to the ground. Being an heir to the throne did not guarantee that Cove would be spared punishment, even if banishment was highly unlikely, for King Ayabingi would not want the proud and dangerous storms he ruled to accuse him of favouritism towards his son.
Iscar halted suddenly, looking Cove full in the eye. ‘Then let’s sort this out here and now, brother of mine. I know you think you’re all that, but I’m sick to death of your attitude. You got the birthright, fine. I really don’t mind. I’m a cool breeze, see? But I’ve had it with the disrespect and being shoved around by you. You’ve made it your pastime to make my life miserable. So, either it ends now, or – you get my drift here, Bro?’
‘You threatening me?’ Cove asked.
‘Nah. Choices, man. You got choices; it’s all up to you. Anyway, blown out or not, you’re heavy, and I am getting kinda tired—’
‘Okay! Okay! I’ll lay off. But you won’t breathe a word of this, not to anyone, ever.’
‘What happens at sea stays at sea.’
They were over the area where the debris and bodies lay strewn on the water. Cove looked down. ‘I did that’, he said proudly.
‘Why’d you do it?’ Iscar asked. ‘Go rogue, I mean.’
‘I just wanted to’, Cove said. ‘Was fun and felt awesome!’
Iscar dipped suddenly. The waves rushing along below them reared up and grabbing a thin trailing wisp of the young hurricane, yanked it off.
‘Aiyeeeee!’ screamed Cove. ‘Have you lost your mind?!’
‘Felt awesome’, Iscar said.
Iscar had brought them to the black table island. He hauled his exhausted brother up and draped him like a large, pale, ragged tablecloth over one side of the rocky cliffs. Cove was too tired to protest this indignity, only mumbling, ‘Maybe being dropped into the sea isn’t as bad as I thought.’
‘There’s still time to do that, bruds’, Iscar said cheerfully. ‘Stay here until you dry out and get your breath back. But I am warning you, Cove. If you blow so much as one of these little chicks off the island and into the water for fun, I will personally kick you over the edge.’
Cove took one look down at the huge waves dashing themselves in foaming fury at the base of the island and decided it was in his best interests to keep both his peace and his pieces.
As the spent hurricane rested, a swift breeze was blowing its way back to the place where the flotsam of the wrecked vessels rose and dipped in the ocean. With help from the now gentle waves, Iscar gathered together the bodies of the drowned men and blew them steadily towards the nearest island beach. After rolling the bodies onto the sands, waves and wind withdrew. They had done what they could to return the dead men to their homes. When Iscar returned to the island, he found Cove sound asleep.
King Ayabingi never did learn how the Crown Prince’s reckless behaviour had almost cost him an heir. Nor was he ever told about the illegal storm. The Hurricane King accepted that Cove had only meant to take a detour but had gotten too low over unfamiliar waters and ended up much farther out to sea than he intended. Realising his mistake, he had slowed down to conserve energy when Iscar caught up with him. They had then rested on Iscar’s Little Kingdom before returning home. His escapade did not go entirely unpunished though, and he missed the first part of the hurricane season, only being allowed to join in very late. He did extremely well though, coming in as a double storm with his twin, and the entire hurricane court was very pleased with the level of destruction the two newest hurricanes wrought on their inaugural run. The future of the Caribbean storms was in very good hands. Cove’s parents also noted that he now treated Iscar with polite deference and decided he was finally showing his maturity.
Iscar did not take part in any of the storms, big or small. Wreaking havoc, he realised, brought him no satisfaction. Instead, he waited out the storms among the birds on his island. When he visited the destroyed places, he came as a gentle breeze, blowing in, cool and refreshing, after the storms had passed. He brought hopeful smiles to people’s faces and soothed their bruised spirits as they rebuilt their shattered lives in the wake of the hurricanes. He lifted kites and birds high into the air and herded rainclouds over parched fields. He sailed boats across the water and made music with the leaves of trees. The seas never rose in anger at his approach. Winds were not all meant to tear the world apart, he decided; some blew it back together.
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