The Way of the Word

24. September 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 5

The next day, Ghenni ran over to watch two strong men cut down the afflicted trees, under Elomei’s supervision. The witch-woman sat on a nearby log, managing to look imperious and important despite her bent back. She smiled when she saw Ghenni approach and waved at her to join her. Ghenni hesitated.

“Come, child, I won’t bite,” the old woman said, patting the log beside her.

Ghenni went over and sat down at the log’s far end. Elomei favored her with a toothless smile.

“What happened to the trees?” the witch-woman asked. Ghenni stared at her.

“Why do you ask me?”

“Slime on one tree, glue on the other, appearing out of nowhere. That smacks of magic, child. Now, I know some magic. Not too much, true, but enough to serve our village. I know enough to recognize it when I see it, though, and yesterday’s spectacle certainly was magical. That makes me wonder just who worked that magic.”

“That’s as good an explanation as any,” Ghenni said, shifting her seat on the log.

“The only magic other than mine own I ever saw on this island was when you and your friends faced off Zoltan and his gang a couple of days ago. That makes me wonder if it might have been you who worked that magic.”

“Me?” Ghenni wished she did know some magic, just enough to be able to magic herself somewhere else. “That’s stupid. I don’t know any magic. Anyway, who should’ve taught me?”

“That is precisely what I cannot fathom. But what happened yesterday was something a child might have done. It was embarrassing, it was funny to look at, and the only thing hurt was Ikiri’s pride. I would call it a practical joke. Wouldn’t you?”

“If you put it that way,” Ghenni said, “I guess I would too. But grown-ups play pranks too.”

Elomei smiled again and nodded. For a moment, she had a very far-away look in her eyes.

“True, true,” she said. She chuckled and shook her head. Ghenni would have given a lot to know just what had just gone through the old shaman’s head. “That doesn’t answer my question, though,” Elomei said. “The manner in which you handled Zoltan was magical. If you don’t know any magic, how did you manage to do that? Did you have help?”

“Yes,” Ghenni said before she caught herself. She couldn’t tell Elomei of Habbassin. While the spirit of the lamp might have left, he was still a secret she didn’t want to share except with her closest friends. “Zoltan and his friends always gave us trouble. So we, uhm, prayed to Wakano to help us. I suppose he did, or we couldn’t have done what we did. Uhm, or could we?”

There, that was close enough to the truth not to be a lie. Ghenni sat up straighter and grinned at Elomei. The old woman didn’t smile back. Ghenni shrank again under the shaman’s gaze. She looked at the men cutting down the trees. The first tree fell at just that moment, hitting the sand with a crashing noise Ghenni would have considered unlikely. Elomei also turned to look.

Ghenni used the chance to dash off to the beach. The boats were all out on the water. Some had gone really far out to sea. Others had moved to fishing grounds on the island’s other side. Several were still within easy sight of the beach. Ankhoro was on one of them, Ghenni knew. He was old enough now to start working with the men. He had proudly told her that today his father would take him along to learn to fish. Which was nonsense. Ankhoro had been fishing often enough with his friends, so Ghenni knew he knew how to do it. But Ankhoro had been so excited. Then again, perhaps grown-ups really did do it differently.

Ghenni looked at the boats, wishing she knew which one Ankhoro was on. Surely, it was one of those near the beach. His father wouldn’t let him on a boat that would range far, or she didn’t know Ankhoro’s family at all.

Funny, she didn’t remember the horizon being so high in the sky. And coming closer too.

“Wait a second…”

That wasn’t the usual waterline at the horizon. Actually, it reminded her of a giant wave.

She remembered a story her mother had told her some time ago. In that story, mankind had displeased the gods, so they had sent a giant wave to cleanse the world of evil, allowing only a chosen handful to survive. That wave had even had a name. If only she could remember what that name was…

When she did, Ghenni turned from the beach and ran toward the village, screaming.

“TSUNAMI!!”

“Impossible,” a woman said, looking up from the torn net she was mending.

“TSUNAMI!” Ghenni cried again. The woman turned around to look at the horizon… … and at the looming wave.

“Tsunami!” she joined in with Ghenni’s cry, dropping her work and running toward the huts.

With every moment, the giant wave loomed larger. The fishermen turned their boats toward the beach. Ghenni thought of Ankhoro. She spared a glance at the boats. They came closer, but they were much too slow. It was painfully obvious, even to her, that they would never reach land in time. Even if they did, there was no place on the island where they could take shelter from a wave of such proportions.

If the gods were mad at them, why hadn’t they said anything? They would have mended their ways if the gods had told them what they did that offended them.

There was no place to take shelter from the wave. Ghenni stopped. Perhaps there was. If the gods had sent the tsunami to cleanse the world, it would still spare Wakano’s Throne. If they could reach the mountaintop, they might be safe. Unless, of course, Wakano didn’t want them there. If he had sent the wave, he certainly didn’t.

Ghenni stopped and turned. She saw Elomei, standing at the shore, waving her arms at the wave. At least the old witch-woman was trying, even if she appeared pitifully small and frail against the wave that by now filled the entire horizon. Ghenni didn’t think Elomei had enough magic to stop the tsunami. The old shaman had said herself that she wasn’t very powerful.

The wave broke, the crest coming down straight at the huts. Ghenni stood and waited for the water to crush her, idly wondering why none of the drops flying from the crest hit her, and why that monster of a wave was so silent.

Ghenni ducked. The wave washed over Ghenni, washed over the village.

And vanished.

One moment, the wave was there, soundlessly looming over the village, threatening to destroy it to serve a god’s whim.

The next moment it was gone, vanished without even leaving a few patches of damp ground.

Ghenni looked around. People who had dropped to the ground picked themselves up again, wearing funny expressions on their faces. Was her own expression any different? Ghenni didn’t really think so.

She looked at the sea, where the boats dimpled peacefully in the surf. The fishermen looked as confused as everyone else.

Wakano had changed his mind. They had gotten away. Ghenni threw her head back and laughed. She spread her arms wide and turned and turned and turned around. They had gotten away. When she had calmed down she chanced to look at Elomei. The witch-woman watched her with a funny expression on her face.

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