Here’s a taster:
“Cold as a sealer’s tit,” grumbled Anaru. “Why couldn’t they put these mountains somewhere warm, eh?”
Piripi shot him an arch look. “I guess you’d rather they were on the beach?”
“Well, in the sun, at least.”
They crunched on through snow and scree, the contraptions on their backs hissing and puffing steam. “Makes a change from the sea,” Piripi exhaled a white cloud. “The air’s different up here.”
“Give me the open ocean any day,” Anaru huffed, adjusting the straps on his heating pack yet again. “Why anyone would want to walk across the mountains instead of going around them like sensible folk is beyond me.”
Piripi glanced back, past their pack-pony, at the Pākehā traipsing up the alpine ridge with only slightly more difficulty than his Māori guides. “Someone told him it would be faster this way.”
“Aue! Only if he makes it alive.”
“He will, even if you have to carry him.”
“Hey, I’m not here to look after the Pākehā. I’m here to find our—”
Piripi hissed, his easy grin vanishing behind a glare stony as the mountain face. Anaru fell silent, and the two men took a breather while their charge caught up.
“Blimey,” the older white man said, rubbing his woollen-mitted hands together, “it’s colder than a Scotsman’s arsehole out here. How much farther to the top?”
“We’re almost at the lake, Mister Clark. The pass is on the other side,” Piripi said. “Should we rest a while?”
“Laddy, I crossed the Swiss Alps, back in the days when we didn’t have these blasted contraptions to keep us going.” Clark tugged at the boiler’s straps. Despite the grey at his temples, Clark was coping well with the arduous trek. Days upon days of river crossings and heavy weather would’ve taken their toll on many, but Clark seemed sturdier than most of the well-dressed Pākehā Piripi saw on the coast.
“This new world’s making us soft, eh?” Piripi grinned, his tradesman’s grin. He would rather not have had the man along for the trek, slowing them down, but it had proved fortuitous that a wealthy Pākehā needing a guide across the Southern Alps had arrived right at a time when Piripi had needed to make the journey. His whanau would struggle to keep the station profitable while he and Anaru were gone, so the Englishman’s money was welcome. Besides, for all that he puffed and sweated and swore, Clark was a robust and cheerful enough fellow, by no means averse to exertion.
“It’s not the world that makes us weak,” Clark said, leaning on his rough-cut manuka walking staff. “It’s people that let themselves become weak.” Anaru popped the cover on the Pākehā’s furnace cover and dropped in a scoop of charcoal.
“That’s you topped up for a couple more hours, Mister Clark.”
“Jolly good,” Clark said, resuming the climb. “This way, is it?”
Anaru and Piripi watched him go, snow and shale skittering under his boots.
“Piripi,” Anaru nudged him, “if we find it, how will we get it home?”
“When we find it, we’ll bring it home the same way they stole it.”
“Bro, we don’t have an airship.”
“Then we’ll steal that too. Come on, Tane will be waiting for us.”
Hoisting their boiler packs, they continued up the mountainside, as the sun flared off southern snow, and the wind worried at the peaks.