The Way of the Word

23. September 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 4

Someday, Ghenni knew, she would climb the palmtrees as easily as Ikiri did. Ikiri was the best treeclimber in the village, and he brought back the best coconuts. He wasn’t nearly as good at fishing as Ghenni’s father, Pahone. But then, Pahone was very clumsy at climbing trees. If Pahone were to slide down the tree upon almost reaching the top, it would have been comical, but hardly anyone would have been surprised.

That this happened to Ikiri was unusual enough to gather everyone around the tree. Including Ghenni.

“I’m fine, really,” Ikiri said to someone when she arrived. He craned his neck to look up the tree. “I don’t know what happened, really. One moment, everything was fine. The next…”

He reached out to touch the tree trunk. He rubbed it with his fingers. When he drew his hand back, a thin trail of slime stretched between the tree and his fingers.

“This stuff is all around the trunk farther up,” Ikiri announced, holding his hand up for everyone to see. “I’m not sure what it is or where it comes from, but it makes holding on to the tree impossible. I’m lucky I didn’t get killed.”

“Is it just this tree,” Jamao said, “or are the others also afflicted?”

A general murmur among the crowd agreed that this was, indeed, a vital question. Fruits harvested from the trees and bushes that grew on Kanaohe were a vital part of the villagers’s diet. Even Ghenni knew enough to shiver when she thought about not having them to eat anymore.

“I don’t know,” Ikiri said. He looked up the tree once more. “We may have to cut this tree down to keep it from infecting the others, if they aren’t already.” He went on to the next tree. “I shall climb its neighbor. We may yet be lucky.”

Ikiri wrapped his arms around the palmtree and pushed himself up with his feet. Quickly, he scuttled up the rough bark. Up to a point.

“I can’t go on,” he called down. “Do you see the slime infect this tree also?” Jamao called up.

“There is no slippery slime on this tree,” Ikiri called. “There is something else on this tree. Something sticky.” He paused. “I’m stuck.”

“Nonsense,” Jamao said. “Just climb back down.”

“I tell you, I can’t!”

“It’s not that high,” someone else called. Ghenni wasn’t sure, but it sounded like Zoltan. “Let yourself drop. We’ll catch you.”

“I’m stuck, damn you,” Ikiri screamed. “I can’t climb down, or let myself drop, or anything. I can’t even move.”

“What do you think?” Miki said softly behind Ghenni. Ghenni didn’t bother to turn. Turning would have told Miki she’d surprised Ghenni. Letting her know that would never do.

“I think they’ll have to cut the tree and scrape him off,” Ghenni whispered back. “But how they’ll do that without making the tree crush Ikiri is beyond me.”

“Habbassin left, didn’t he?” Ankhoro said. Ghenni looked at him and raised an eyebrow.

“Why do you say that?”

“It looks like magic to me,” Ankhoro shrugged. “The only true magic-user I’ve ever seen here was Habbassin.”

“Elomei…” Miki began.

“Doesn’t count,” Ankhoro stated. “This isn’t the kind of magic she works, anyway.”

“Habbassin left,” Ghenni said. “You were there, both of you. This can’t be his doing.”

“Try to push against the trunk with your legs,” Jamao called. The chief turned to the children.

“Go fetch Elomei. I fear we need her spells here.”

Miki turned and ran off, Ankhoro close on her heels. Ghenni ignored them. The two of them would be enough to call one ancient woman, and she might miss out on something interesting here.

Like the fact that Ikiri visibly strained against the tree. There was a snapping sound, like of a breaking line, and Ikiri sailed down in a flat arc. His fall seemed impossibly slow, until near the end of the arc when he was only a foot or so above the ground. The last foot was an abrupt drop. Ikiri landed on his buttocks.

When Elomei arrived, she assured everyone that, while Ikiri would have to be careful sitting down for a couple of days, the only serious wound was to his pride. Jamao ordered the two trees cut down.

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