The Way of the Word

29. September 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 10

“As you might have guessed, I’m a wizard,” Bolwyn said. He sat, legs folded beneath him, on a blanket he had brought from what now was his hut. The fire the villagers had gathered around blazed merrily, easily outshining the moon. The smell of food dominated everything in the fire’s immediate vicinity. Bolwyn picked up a coconut and drank from it. He smacked his lips thoughtfully.

“What is this?” he asked.

“Coconut milk,” someone said. Bolwyn tasted it again.

“Not bad,” he said. “But there’s something lacking. It needs a certain, uhm, kick.”

The entire village had gathered around the fire, which they usually only did for major festivals. But then, Ghenni supposed, if the arrival of a stranger who didn’t belong to any of the other island tribes wasn’t something major special, what was? Exactly this was the argument Ghenni had used on her parents that had made them agree that she could stay up and listen to Bolwyn’s tales.

“Can someone fetch water?” Bolwyn said. “Lots of it, in a bucket or something. And bring it to me. I’ll show you what I mean.”

Zoltan and Xulia rose from their places at the fire and left. Trust those two to try and ingratiate themselves with the visitor, Ghenni thought.

“I come from very far away,” Bolwyn continued. “I think it’s on the other side of the world or something. I’m not sure myself. Magic travel’s different. You tend to lose track of distance. You can only tell that it was far by the drain on your magic powers. And I felt very drained, I tell you.

“Anyway, you’ll want to know why I’m here. I felt something in the ether, a powerful magic disturbance. I managed to track it to somewhere in this island chain, but I’m not sure exactly where it is. I’d appreciate any help you can give me.”

Zoltan and Xulia returned, each carrying a bucket. The put it in the sand next to Bolwyn.

“Thank you, my friends,” Bolwyn said, favoring them with a smile. The two returned to their places. “Now, as I said, you need something with a kick,” Bolwyn said, raising his voice so everybody could hear him. “Unfortunately, everything with a kick needs time to ferment, and since I’m thirsty right now, I don’t think I want to take the time just now to show you how to make it, and wait for fermentation to commence. So I’ll take a shortcut. That’s what I need the water for,” he nodded to Zoltan and Xulia. He reached into one of his pockets and pulled out a pouch. “Now, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “This isn’t quite as simple as it looks. It’s not just a matter of adding something to something else.”

He removed a pinch of something from the pouch and sprinkled it over one of the buckets. It seemed to glow in the firelight. Mumbling something unintelligible, he made sweeping passes with his hands over the bucket. The water inside glowed a brilliant red for a moment. When the glow faded, Bolwyn repeated the process with the other bucket.

From another pocket, he took a cup. He dipped it into the bucket. Whatever it was that filled the glas, Ghenni was sure it wasn’t water; it was too dark a shade of red for that. He drank it slowly and carefully.

“It’s not the best vintage I’ve ever tasted,” he declared, “but it’s definitely eminently drinkable.” He made a sweeping wave. “Come on, everybody, have a drink of wine, on me.” He giggled. “But be careful. I’m not sure if you’re used to this.”

Almost everybody tasted of the altered water. Ghenni preferred to abstain.

“Tastes weird,” Ankhoro pronounced. “But it makes a nice feeling in the head. Almost as if a bee’s caught between your ears.”

When the food was brought on, Bolwyn was one of the first to hold up his plate. Ghenni wasn’t sure, but it seemed to her as if most of the men already seemed to have a problem with sitting up straight. Still, that wine couldn’t have been all bad. They seemed to be very happy, and laughed a lot.

“Has anything unusual happened here lately?” Bolwyn bit into his fish. The grease ran down his chin. Some of it dribbled on his vest. He ignored it.”Say, this is good. Think I can have the recipe?

“When I say anything unusual, that’s just what I mean. What I’m looking for could quite literally be anything. So, don’t be shy. Give me all the weirdness you can find.”

The villagers told him of the tsunami, of the trees and Jamao’s mishaps, and of other strange things that had happened recently. Not all of which had been Habbassin’s fault. Ghenni was surprised how significant everyday mishaps could be made to look if you were looking for something supernatural. She was not surprised, however, that Jamao tried to play down those stories where he had appeared less than brilliant.

Bolwyn listened to all the stories, nodding and grunting encouragement and sometimes digging in with further questions.

He encouraged every teller, but somehow he only asked questions about those things that really were Habbassin’s fault.

“Have you found anything recently?” Bolwyn asked finally.

“What do you mean?” Yanag said.

“You’d know what I mean if you’d found it,” Bolwyn said. “Some… thing, the likes of which you’ve never seen before. Perhaps a ring with a shiny stone, or a necklace with intricate goldwork… It could be anything, really. It could be too big to move, or small enough to wear for decoration.”

“Could it be small enough to miss entirely?” Ghenni said.

“Could be,” Bolwyn conceded. He threw the remains of the first fish into the fire and took a second helping. “It’d surprise me. I mean, it would have to be very powerful if I can sense it halfway around the world, don’t you think? And usually, the more powerful artef– things are bigger. It has something to do with conservation of energy, I think.”

“What would you do with the thing if you found it?” Elomei said. Ghenni tried to ignore the old woman’s stare.

“I’d take it and go home, of course. I mean, let’s be honest with each other, shall we? You’ve no use for it. And if you don’t know how to use it, any magickal artifact can be very dangerous. Just remember what it already did to your village here, and none of you have even found it yet. Or have you?” Bolwyn waited a moment, but nobody answered his question. “On the other hand, I’ve had a lot of experience with magickal artifacts. I’ve made it my life’s work to gather and study them.”

“But wouldn’t it be dangerous to you too?” Jamao said. “I don’t think the people of your village would appreciate phantom tsunamis, or any of the other things that happened here.”

“I quite agree,” Bolwyn laughed. “They wouldn’t appreciate it at all. But back home, in my laboratory, I can easily contain the artifact’s magic. Contain… and control it. Nothing could happen there.”

“How big would it have to be?” Zoltan asked, waving his arms for emphasis. “Would it have to be as big as a hut?”

“It could be,” Bolwyn said, “but I don’t think so. I’ve yet to see an artifact of that size. Unless you count Castle Doom, but that’s another story.”

“What’s Castle Doom?” Ghenni said. Anything to distract the people.

“What’s a castle, anyway?” Miki expanded.

Bolwyn laughed.

“Questions, questions, questions,” he said. He threw the remains of his fish into the fire and helped himself to some of the fruit. “Actually, that story is perfect for a dark night around a campfire. All right, gather ’round me, lads and lassies. I’ll spin you a tale to chill you to the marrow. Gods know you can use it in this heat.”

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