The Way of the Word

28. September 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 9

“Sure, I could send you straight back to your homes,” Habbassin said, stroking his chin. “But are you sure that’s such a bright idea? I mean, you’re in hot enough water already, I don’t think you want to add to your troubles by having to explain where you come from all of a sudden.”

“What do you suggest, then?” Ankhoro said. “I mean, you don’t really expect us to walk home, do you?”

“Not that we’d mind, mind you,” Miki added. “But it’s awfully late already, and we wouldn’t get home before dark…”

“Hey, I didn’t say I wouldn’t teleport you back home,” Habbassin said, spreading his arms wide. Very wide. Impossibly wide. “Just not all the way back home. I think I’ll send you to a place just outside of your village, and you’ll walk a couple of paces. That’ll save you lots of explanations. Trust me. I mean, have I ever steered you wrong yet?”

“No,” Ghenni said. “He’s right. Please send us back to our village the way you just said you would, Habbassin.”

“Is that a wish?”

“You could call it that, I guess.” Ghenni wasn’t sure she liked the gleam in Habbassin’s eyes. There was something calculating, reptilian about it.

“Your second wish, granted,” the djinn said grandly, gesturing wildly. The world seemed to spin around them. The cave faded out

and they were back in the bushes near the village.

“It was different this time,” Ankhoro said. “Not at all like when he took us from the Throne to the cave.”

“Perhaps he just likes variety,” Miki said. Ghenni laughed.

“We’ll ask him tomorrow,” she said, dashing off to the village. Laughing, Miki and Ankhoro followed.

They stopped almost as soon as they stood among the huts.

“Why’s everybody at the beach?” Miki said.

“Something must’ve happened,” Ankhoro said, continuing his dash toward the crowd that had gathered on the beach. Ghenni and Miki followed.

Everybody stared in the same direction, toward the rocks that formed the beach’s natural border to the west. Ghenni stopped to look. There was something. She shaded her eyes from the setting sun’s glare with her hand to help her see. It looked like a man.

“A stranger,” Miki gasped. Ghenni nodded slowly. It wasn’t entirely unheard of, but strangers were rare on Kanaohe. Sometimes people from neighboring islands came to visit and trade, but they had done that for longer than Ghenni could remember, and for that they weren’t really strangers anymore.

This one was, if not a stranger, definitely strange.

As the stranger came closer, Ghenni was able to make out details. It was nobody she had ever seen before, so she figured he qualified as a stranger. It was a man. At least she thought it was a man. It was hard to tell, with all the peculiar cloth he wore. It covered his entire body, leaving only the hands and the face free. He even wore cloth on his head!

“How does he stand it?” Ankhoro whispered. “All that cloth, on such a hot day as this.”

“Ask him,” Ghenni suggested.

“It looks heavy,” Miki said. “And look at the color. I’ve never seen that shade of red before.”

“I’ve seen berries with that color,” Ankhoro said. “Whatever that is he’s wearing, it reminds me of Habbassin’s vest.”

“Especially the gold patterns,” Ghenni whispered.

Ghenni tore her gaze from the almost hypnotic patterns on the man’s vest and tried to look at the man himself. The man wasn’t even very tall; Ghenni guessed he wasn’t much taller than Ankhoro. His face was red and sweaty, but that probably came from wearing so much cloth on such a hot day. Even if it had already cooled a bit. Or perhaps the face was red from exertion. Unless he wore several layers of cloth he was even larger around his middle than Jamao. Large enough to have trouble when he moved too much, or too fast. Which he probably rarely, if ever, did. His gait reminded Ghenni of a bird waddling on the ground, instead of flying through the air.

He had a large bag slung over his shoulder. It looked full and quite heavy.

The man paused. He waved and yelled something Ghenni didn’t understand. Couldn’t he speak the tribe’s language?

“This is really weird,” Miki said.

“Yeah, he even looks almost weirder than Habbassin,” Ankhoro said.

“Just yesterday, I’d’ve thought that’s impossible,” Ghenni whispered back. “But I think I agree with you.”

None dared leave the group to approach the stranger. Ghenni and her friends moved closer. She felt better. Standing outside the group made her feel too exposed. You never knew…

Jamao and Elomei stepped forth from the crowd and took a couple of steps toward the stranger. From the way Jamao’s neck twitched, he probably had to force himself not to look back at the tribe.

They didn’t go too far, though.

The man quickened his pace and spread his free arm, the one that didn’t hold the bag, wide. He shouted something at the tribe. Ghenni still didn’t understand a word he said, but the voice sounded friendly.

Jamao conferred with Elomei for a moment, then he stood up straight and raised his right arm to shoulder height, outstretched, with the palm to the stranger.

“State your name and your business with the tribe,” Jamao said.

Miki snickered.

“Is it just me, or does he really not look imposing at all?” she whispered. Ghenni suppressed a giggle of her own.

“It’s not you,” Ankhoro said.

The stranger kept approaching until he was just an arm’s length from Jamao. He stopped, dropped his bag into the sand and spread his arms wide. He said something in his gibberish. It sounded as friendly as his face looked.

He had obviously come from very far. The clothes he wore had apparently been very fine once, but they showed the wear and tear of his travels.

The thought excited Ghenni. The stories this man would have to tell…

“If you come in peace, we welcome you,” Jamao said. “I am Jamao. I am the chief of this village.”

“I … am … Bolwyn,” the stranger said. He had a funny accent that made almost everyone chuckle, and he spoke as slowly as someone does who isn’t sure what exactly he is saying. He opened his bag and took something out of it. He removed the cloth from his head. Seeing how little hair he had, Ghenni understood why he wanted to protect his head from the sun. He put the contraption on his head. He shook it a little. Satisfied that it wouldn’t fall down, he gestured at Jamao as if encouraging him to talk.

That proved he was a stranger, Ghenni thought. A native would have known better than to encourage Jamao to talk.

“My name is Jamao,” Jamao repeated. He pointed at Elomei. “This is our shaman. Our island is Kanaohe. We call ourselves the Kanaohe. Your name is Bolwyn, and you obviously come from very far away.”

“You can say that again,” the stranger said.

“You speak our language?” Jamao gasped.

“I’m learning. Keep talking. I’ll learn as you speak.”

“It is that funny hat that teaches you our language?” Elomei asked. Bolwyn hesitated a moment, then he nodded.

“It’s a magic helmet,” he explained. “A teaching device. It accelerates learning. You pay for it with a monster of a headache, but sometimes it’s the best possible choice. I don’t use it very often, though. The beauty of it is, you remember everything you learn as if you’d learned it the regular way.”

“The funny hat — the helmet — is a magic device, then?” Jamao said. Ghenni thought Bolwyn’s smile looked a little strained.

“I thought I’d just said that,” he said. “This thing must be off.” He began moving it on his head.

“No, no,” Jamao said hastily. “I only wanted to know if I’d understood you properly.”

“Oh.”

“What brings you to Kanaohe?” Jamao said.

“Uhm, would you mind if I stowed my gear first? And then, if I might have something to drink? I’ve come a long way, you know, and it has been a while since I last had something to drink. I’ll willingly answer every single one of your questions once my throat feels less parched, I promise.” He laughed. The different ballshapes of his body moved in very funny ways when he laughed. Ghenni laughed too; it was catching.

“Well, there is an empty hut,” Jamao said. “Nobody’s using it right now. You’re welcome to stay there. You are also welcome to share our food and water.”

“Food?” Bolwyn smacked his lips and rubbed his belly. “Great idea. I’m famished. What do you have?”

“Fish and fruit,” Jamao said.

“And what’ll you have?” Bolwyn laughed. “Just kidding. No, really, I’m grateful for your hospitality. I hope I’ll get the chance to repay you.”

“That will not be necessary,” Jamao said. “Come, I will show you where you can, as you put it, ‘stow your gear.'”

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