The Way of the Word

26. September 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 7

“Surprise,” Habbassin said, grinning widely. So wide that it stretched far beyond the boundaries of his face. He sat next to the children, his legs folded impossibly underneath him, his arms folded across his chest.

Ghenni, Miki and Ankhoro just stared, open-mouthed.

Ghenni was the first of the three to recover.

“I knew it,” she said, slapping her thigh. “I knew you weren’t gone.”

“So much faith in me?” Habbassin chuckled. “I’m flattered.”

“No, not that,” Ghenni said with a dismissive wave. “It’s just, your being still around was the only explanation for all that’s happened that made sense.”

“Why are you still here, anyway?” Miki said, ignoring Habbassin’s pout.

“That’s right,” Ankhoro said. “You said you were gonna leave.”

Habbassin spread his arms wide, put on a lopsided grin, cocked his head to one side and wiggled his eyebrows.

“I couldn’t.”

“Don’t tell me you appreciated our company so much you couldn’t bear leaving us,” Ghenni said.

“Aren’t you a little young to be so cynical, child?”

“Well?” Ghenni prompted. She would find out later what cynical meant.

Habbassin sighed.

“All right. Yeah, it wasn’t that. I was really gonna leave, and good riddance. I mean, this place is beautiful to visit, but I wouldn’t want to be buried here. Uhm, well, there was a problem I didn’t expect. Come along, I’ll show you.”

Without bothering to unfold his legs, Habbassin rose into the air, waving at the children to follow him.

The children hurried to keep up, but found it difficult to follow Habbassin’s lead precisely. Travelling through dense shrubbery was so much easier for someone who could simply turn himself into a ghost and pass through the thick branches, or treetrunks.

“Does he have to look so relaxed doing that?” Ankhoro grumbled.

“Habbassin, wait,” Ghenni called out. “We can’t keep up.”

Habbassin appeared in a little blue cloud before her.

“Say again?” he said. “Did I hear that right? Children who’ve reached the limits of their endurance?” He clapped his hands. “I never thought I’d live to see that. And I’m quite old, mind you.”

“How much farther?” Miki said.

“Right over there.” Habbassin pointed.

“There’s Wakano’s shrine,” Ankhoro said.

“Not exactly the shrine,” Habbassin said.

“You mean the lamp’s still where we hid it?” Ghenni said.

“So that’s why you’re the leader,” Habbassin said. “You’re quickest on the uptake.”

“Why didn’t you move it?” Miki said.

“Therein lies the problem,” Habbassin said, raising a finger in a scholarly fashion. Where did those round, reflective yet transparent things come from that he suddenly wore on his nose? He drifted closer to the lamp and parted the twigs to lay it bare. “I can’t.” Habbassin reached for the lamp. His hand went right through it.

“I can’t touch it,” he said. “This happens whenever I try. My magic doesn’t work on it either. It seems that only an ordinary, mortal human can move the lamp.” He winked an Miki. “Such as you three.”

“Is that why you brought us here?” Ankhoro said. “To move the lamp for you?”

“Yes.”

“Why don’t you leave without it?”

“Remember what I told you about the curse? I can’t. That’s the point of the curse. I can move a couple of leagues away from the lamp. I suppose I can go even farther if the master of the lamp orders me to. But I’m bound to it. I can’t move it, and I can’t leave it. That means I’m stuck with it.”

“And with us,” Ghenni grinned. Habbassin nodded, the corners of his mouth pointing groundward. Ghenni forced her grin away. “What do you want of us?”

“Well, I don’t expect any of you can teleport me somewhere else. Anywhere else. So long as it isn’t as dull as this place.” Habbassin paused, looking expectantly at the children. They looked back at him. “Thought so,” he finally said. “Why I brought you here. Uhm. This is your deity’s most frequented shrine. I’m afraid my lamp’s a little too, well, exposed. I was wondering if you knew of a safer place to put it. Someplace where nobody ever goes.” He made the expectant face again.

“There’s the wildwater cave,” Ankhoro said. Ghenni nodded slowly.

“Sounds good,” she muttered.

“Wildwater cave?” Habbassin asked. Ghenni nodded at Ankhoro, who beamed.

“It’s east of here,” Ankhoro said. “You know that Kanaohe is all beaches at the water?”

“Yes.”

“Well, not all over. To the east, just behind Wakano’s Throne, there’s a cliff that goes straight down to the water. It’s real steep. It’s rocky too, and the sea batters against it. There’s lots of wild waves that smash against the rocks. Our parents forbade us to go there.”

“Which made it irresistible,” Habbassin grinned. “Right?”

“Right,” Ankhoro grinned back. “Anyway, there are a lot of caves there. Nobody but us ever goes there. I don’t think anyone else even knows of the caves.”

“Which would make it the perfect hideaway,” Habbassin mused. “Okay, I’m sold. Have you ever considered going into real estate, kid?” Habbassin studied Ankhoro’s blank expression. “Forget it.”

“What can we do to help you?” Ghenni said.

“Well, it’ll do if one of you’d pick up the lamp and hold it,” Habbassin said. Ghenni picked it up.

“That’s it?” Miki asked. Habbassin laughed.

“Not quite. Now, please think very hard of that cave you were talking about. It’s important to think of where exactly it is. Got it?”

Ghenni closed her eyes and concentrated. She called up the image of the cave and the cliff, turning it around before her mind’s eye.

“Got it.”

“Great. Now make a wish that I should take us to that cave.”

“Why don’t you just do it?” Ankhoro said.

“Has something to do with the curse,” Habbassin said.

“I wish you would take us all to the cave,” Ghenni said. “The one I’m just thinking of.”

“Gotcha,” Habbassin said. Ghenni wasn’t sure what he did, but something tugged at her, so hard that she had to fight to keep her breakfast down.

“This place sure needs a little work,” she heard Habbassin say. “Strike that. It needs lots of work.”

Ghenni opened her eyes.

“Wow,” she said, gaping open-mouthed at her surroundings. They were all in the cave, just as she had visualized it.

“Did you do that, Ghenni?” Miki asked.

“I did,” Habbassin said. “I took the image from Ghenni’s mind and teleported us all here, just as she wished it.” He smiled at Ghenni. “Why don’t you put the lamp down now, dear.”

Ghenni looked around and discovered a large rock that had a moderately level surface. She put the lamp down upon it.

“Is that all?” Ankhoro said.

“You were just magically transported from one place to another,” Habbassin said. “And you want more? Boy, are you difficult to impress. What else do you want?”

“Something to eat, most likely,” Miki said. Ankhoro swiped at her, she ducked.

“I’ll have to do some spells to clean this place up and make it liveable,” Habbassin mused, “but it definitely has potential.” He made a couple of gestures with his hands. A miniature tornado swept through the cave, along the walls, beween the stalagmites (or were they stalacites? Ghenni kept mixing them up) and all over the floor. The tornado caught centuries of dirt, cobwebs and hundreds of small insects, and carried them outside. Ghenni never even felt a breeze from it.

“There, that’s a start,” Habbassin said. He gestured again, and several cushions appeared, gathered in clusters in a circle on the ground. “More comfy than having to sit on the stone floor,” Habbassin commented. He scratched the back of his head. “It still isn’t quite right. But what… Ah!” He conjured again, and a campfire appeared in the midst of a circle of cushions. Habbassin sat down by the fire and held a stick with a white glob over it. Ghenni had no idea what that white substance might be, where it came from, or why she and her friends also each held a stick in their hands without warning.

“Come on, kids, sit down. If you hold the candy into the fire, it’ll taste even better.”

Ghenni probed the candy with her finger. It yielded. She frowned at Habbassin’s glop, which was starting to look charred.

Miki plopped herself down on one set of cushions and held her stick over the fire. Ankhoro followed suit.

“Oh, why not,” Ghenni said under her breath and sat down also. She pulled some of the soft substance from the candy and tasted it before holding the glop into the flames. It felt gooey, and tasted terrifically sweet.

“There’s a tradition with campfires,” Habbassin said. “It’s called storytelling. Our ancestors always did it, and I expect they’ll still do it thousands of years into the future. Anyone know a good ghost story?”

“You do, I’ll bet,” Ankhoro said without enthusiasm.

“That’s right,” Ghenni chimed in. “You keep telling us you’ve been cursed. That you used to be a powerful wizard who lost a fight and was locked into that lamp.”

“It’s true,” Habbassin protested.

“Why don’t you tell us that story?” Ghenni suggested.

“Yeah, great idea,” Miki said. Even Ankhoro grunted assent.

“That’ll only bore you,” Habbassin said.

“We’ll tell you when that happens,” Ghenni promised. “Now, come on.”

“All right,” Habbassin said, raising the glop to his lips and taking a bite out of it. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you. It’s a sad tale, full of heroics, of valor and magic, of love and of tragedy.”

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