The Way of the Word

2. October 2010

The Gatherers, Chapter 13

“Momma, please, I can’t breathe,” Ghenni gasped. She felt her mother’s tears against her face as Opona hugged her too fiercely and showered her face with kisses.

“I’m so happy you’re all right,” she said. “I didn’t know where you were. I was so worried.”

“We’re all right,” Ghenni said, enduring her mother’s affections. “I’m glad you are, too.” But can’t you please go hug Lejani now. “I’m a big girl, I can take care of myself.” She managed to wiggle free, enough so she could breathe again. “Besides, it isn’t as if this hasn’t happened before, right?”

“Still,” her mother said, giving her one last hug.

“You mean this happens more often?” Bolwyn said. Opona let out a startled gasp and let go of Ghenni.

“I’m sorry,” Bolwyn said. “I didn’t mean to startle you. Are you all right?”

“Yes, thank you,” Opona said.

“And yes, this happens occasionally,” Ghenni said. “Wakano gets angry, or upset, or perhaps just indigestion, and this happens.”

“We’ll have to make a sacrifice to calm him down,” Opona said.

“And that works?”

“Sometimes,” Ghenni said. “Sometimes it doesn’t. Wakano’s pretty unpredictable.”

“As it is a god’s prerogative,” Opona said.

“But it’s been calm for a couple of days now,” Ghenni said. “I’d thought it was over for this time.”

“Apparently not,” Bolwyn said. He looked around. “You islanders are lucky. If you had much in the way of furniture, it’d probably be a wreck.” He looked up at the roof, and through it at the sky. “Allow me to fix that for you.” He said some words in a guttural language and gestured with his hands. He reached into a pouch, took out some glowing dust, and sprinkled it over the palm fronds that used to be part of the roof and now were part of the floor. The fronds glowed and seemed to vanish. Ghenni looked up, to see the large hole in the roof glow and vanish, as it was replaced with palm fronds.

“Definitely not like at home,” Bolwyn said. “But I can understand that. If we had weather like this, and quakes like this, we’d probably live in similar conditions.”

“You don’t?” Ghenni said, genuinely curious despite herself.

“Where I come from,” Bolwyn said, “it’s cold, wet and unpleasant most of the year. The ground’s much more stable too. So we build our houses of stone and wood, to better keep out the weather. We also use furniture, so we don’t have to sit or sleep on the ground. Which is very unpleasant where I come from, believe me. It makes you feel all stiff and cold and sick. The cold seeps into your bones and sometimes freezes them so you can’t move your hands or fingers any longer. No, I much prefer a warm and cushy bed, if possible near a fireplace. Although here it would be too warm. Here, I like sleeping on the sand. But why am I talking about me, when I came to talk with Ghenni.”

“With me?” Ghenni did her best not to shudder, but it was difficult not to, with that imaginary drop of cold water running down her spine. “What could I tell you?”

“I suppose you know — may I?” Bolwyn gestured at a pineapple.

“Certainly,” Opona said. Bolwyn smiled graciously, thanked her and took the pineapple. He drew the knife from the sheath at his belt and cut into it.

“I suppose you know I’m looking for something,” Bolwyn continued, cutting a thick slice from the pineapple. He bit into it, wiping the juice from his chin. “Say, this is good. A little on the sour side, though.”

“Everybody knows you’re looking for something,” Ghenni said. Bolwyn laughed.

“I suppose,” he said. “It isn’t as if I’d made a secret out of it, have I. Anyway, I’m investigating unusual events on the island. I hope that there may be a clue to the thing I seek. I guess you understand my reasoning?”

“If I were looking for something unusual,” Ghenni said, “yes. I think I understand.”

“Good. I’m glad you do. Because, you know, there’s one thing that everybody mentioned when I talked with them about unusual things. They all mentioned Ghenni, Ankhoro and Miki.”

“Why should they? We’re as usual as we can be.”

“Oh, I’m sure of that. But perhaps, well, you happen to know something that will help me with my search.”

“I don’t think I do.” Ghenni didn’t like the way Bolwyn squinted at her.

“Perhaps you don’t,” he said. Ghenni didn’t like the way he said it. It sounded as if he knew she hadn’t told him the truth. “Anyway,” he continued, “whether you know it or not, you might know something that you might not recognize as important.” He frowned. “Do you follow me?”

I’d rather not, Ghenni thought.

“I think I know what you mean,” she said. “You mean, perhaps I have seen what you need to know without knowing that it is what you need to know.”

“Exactly,” Bolwyn beamed. “And I really, really think you did. I’ve talked with some people, and they told me of some very strange things that happened around you lately.”

“If you mean the thing we did to Zoltan and his friends?” Ghenni said. She felt it was better to take the offense. Everything else she could explain away, and she was sure Zoltan had told Bolwyn about this. Sure enough, Bolwyn nodded eagerly.

“That’s exactly the one,” he said. “I’ve heard all about how you and your friends made Zoltan and his friends fly, and dropped them into the latrine. How did you do that?”

“Well… It was a trick, really.” Ghenni saw Bolwyn’s frown. Perhaps it hand’t been such a good idea after all. “Zoltan told you that?” she changed tracks.

“Yes, he did.”

“You know his kind. His pride is everything to him. And it was very shameful for him. I’m sure he exaggerated what happened to him, to make himself look better than he did.” She laughed, which sounded fake even to herself. “After all, we’re a lot smaller than they are.”

Bolwyn chuckled.

Yes, that’s for sure. Still, even allowing for exaggeration, that was quite a feat. And there were other people who saw it, and they confirm Zoltan’s story. To a degree, anyway.”

“Well, there had to be a lot of people to see it, or it wouldn’t have humiliated him enough.”

“Certainly. So, how did you do it?”

“Well, uhm, we carefully picked the place where it would happen, and we prepared everything in advance. You know, it’s really rather complicated.”

“I should think so. I mean, if it were simple, I could probably find the explanation myself, wouldn’t you say?”

“And what would your explanation be?”

“‘We did it with mirrors,'” Bolwyn quipped. Ghenni smiled, uncertain. What was a mirror?

“And how would you have done it with mirrors?” she asked.

“Oh, that’s just a standard excuse when someone who did magic doesn’t want people to know they did magic. Actually, I think it would have been easy if you’d had a magickal artifact that could make people fly.”

“More like slide,” Ghenni tried. “I really don’t know how to make people fly.”

Bolwyn looked at her through narrowed eyes.

“You know, I don’t think you’re telling me everything,” he said. “I know people. I don’t even need magic to tell when they try to keep things from me. And you aren’t very good at it, you know.”

“Thank you… I think.”

“So, how about the truth?”

“You want me to tell you that I found a magickal artsfact…”

“Artifact.”

“…Artifact, and that we used it to humiliate Zoltan and his cronies so they’ll stay away from us.”

“And to play some other pranks,” Bolwyn said, nodding.

“The tsunami, the thing with the coconut tree and Jamao’s clumsiness.” Ghenni threw up her arms. “I am so tired of this. Everybody blames me for that. Even Elomei, our witch-woman. Who should definitely know better. I didn’t do those pranks. Even if I’d wanted to, I wouldn’t know how! But no, all I hear these days is, ‘There is this strange thing happening, it must be Ghenni’s fault.’ Why not Zoltan? Everybody knows Zoltan’s mean and likes to play tricks on people. I mean, this is really more his kind of prank. But no, let’s blame it on Ghenni. Who never does anything to hurt anyone. I’d really like to know why.”

“Perhaps because Zoltan isn’t smart enough to do anything like this,” Bolwyn smiled.

“And hasn’t it occurred to you that Zoltan did all this to get even for our humiliating him? That he did all these things just so he could blame me? That perhaps it’s Zoltan who has that magickal artifact you’re looking for, and doesn’t want to give it up?”

“Good point,” Bolwyn said, still smiling. “I still don’t think he’s intelligent enough, but it’s something worth investigating. Still, it doesn’t explain just how you managed to humiliate him in the first place.”

“Uhm, I did it with mirrors?” Ghenni tried. Bolwyn chortled.

“You’re a quick study, child,” he said. “I take it you don’t want to tell me.”

“I did it with mirrors.”

Bolwyn looked at the ground and sighed.

“Very well,” he said, looking up and straight into Ghenni’s eyes. “That could mean one of two things. Either that the people are right about you and you can do magic. In that case, you’d better go quickly to your witch-woman and ask her to teach you the trade. Believe me, little one, untrained magic can do terrible things.

“On the other hand, and forgive me if I think this is more likely, I think you have the artifact I’m looking for, and for some reason you don’t want to give it up. Perhaps you like the power it gives you, I don’t know and I don’t really care. I can even understand you. I wouldn’t give it up either, if I had it. Still, I want that artifact, and I’ll have it. I’ll just have to keep my eye on you. Sooner or later, you’ll lead me to it.”

“Not if I don’t have it,” Ghenni said.

“Let’s not play games any longer,” Bolwyn said with a smile. “What you’ve got has more power than you can control. Sooner or later, kid, that power will call you again.  When it does  I’ll be there, waiting.”

Bolwyn stood up and stretched.

“I’ll never understand how you can get along without decent chairs,” he said, rubbing the small of his back. “I always get all stiff from sitting on the ground like this.” He winked at Ghenni. “Think about what I said. If you change your mind, just whistle. I’ll be there.”

That’s what I’m afraid of, Ghenni thought as she watched Bolwyn leave the hut.

“I don’t think he’s as nice a fellow as he pretends.” Not recognizing her father’s voice at once, Ghenni almost leaped to the ceiling. “What did he want?”

“He’s still looking for that thing he came here to find. I think he’s starting to get desperate.”

“Is he?” Pahone said, sitting down beside his daughter. “He’s looking for something that is magic, and you can’t deny that there have been some very strange things going on around you recently.”

Ghenni let out an exaggerated sigh.

“I just told him the same. Those things weren’t my fault. It was just an accident that I was around for so many of them. This island isn’t very big, you know. You were there for all of them too.”

“But I didn’t make Zoltan and his friends fly,” Pahone said softly. “That was no accident. How did you do that, Ghenni, if not with magic?”

“I did it with mirrors, all right? It was a trick, and Zoltan was stupid enough to fall for it, and it took a long time to prepare, and I don’t think it’d work again. I don’t have the magickal thing Bolwyn seeks. And that’s it. All right?”

“No need to bite my head off,” Pahone said, raising his hands in a defensive gesture. He didn’t smile when he said it. A bad sign, that. “Ghenni, I don’t really know what to think anymore. But, promise me you’ll think about something. If there is such a thing as Bolwyn seeks, mightn’t it be better if you just gave it to him so that he’ll go away and leave us alone again? Just,” he added gently when Ghenni opened her mouth to protest, “think about it. All right?”

“Why won’t anybody believe…” Ghenni started. “Oh, forget it.”

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