The Way of the Word

5. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 16

The flying stranger was almost as pale as Bolwyn, though he was taller and much slimmer. And much, much better groomed. As Ghenni arrived, he had his head tilted up so that his face was turned to the sky. His eyes were closed, and he muttered some words Ghenni didn’t understand. His hands, which he had placed upon the heads of two people from the village, glowed for a moment.

The glow stopped, and the stranger opened his eyes to look at the crowd. He smiled. Ghenni liked the way the smile crinkled his moustache and goatee. His eyes were friendly.

“I think we can talk now,” the stranger said. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Terek.”

“How did you learn to speak our language so quickly?” Jamao said. Elomei elbowed him.

“Used a spell, obviously,” she said.

“That is quite correct,” Terek said. He bowed at the waist. “May I assume that you two are figures of authority in this charming little hamlet?”

Jamao looked at him emptily.

“He means, are you the chief,” someone heckled.

“Oh. Uhm, yes. Yes, I am. I am Jamao, the chief.” He fingered his amulets. “Oh, uhm, and this is Elomei, our shaman.”

“A fellow magic-user,” Terek said, approaching Elomei nonchalantly. He took her hand, bent and pressed his lips upon it. “How delightful,” he said, straightening up but not releasing his grip on the hand. “Perhaps we can exchange some trade secrets while I am here. That is,” he turned to Jamao, “if you do not mind that I stay a bit. This little altercation,” he waved dismissively at the sea, “has cost me quite a bit of power I fear, and I do not feel up to traveling just yet.”

“Of course,” Jamao beamed. He gestured expansively toward the village. “You have done so much for us today, the least we can do is offer you our hospitality.” He stepped up to Terek and took his arm. “As a matter of fact, I insist that you stay at my house for as long as you like.”

“That is… delightful.” Terek looked around. “Is it that one?” he asked, pointing.

“How did you know?” Jamao said.

“It looks so majestic, it must surely belong to the village chief. I would suggest that you show me where I can rest my weary head. This has been a rather tiring day.”

“Oh, I certainly understand that,” Jamao said. “Come along.”

As Jamao led Terek away, the crowd in tow, Ankhoro moved up to Ghenni’s side. She only noticed him when he put his hand on her shoulder.

“Oh, it’s you.” Now she remembered that Ankhoro worked with the fishermen. “I’m glad the monster didn’t get you.”

“No thanks to Habbassin,” Ankhoro said.

“That’s not fair,” Ghenni protested. “I ran to get him, and he came right away. It’s just that Terek was already there, helping, and there was no need for Habbassin to do anything.” Ghenni frowned. “Who did the monster eat?”

“Kamahaloa, Panubu, Hobole. That I saw, anyway.” He shuddered, hugging himself. “I wish I hadn’t.”

“You do look pale.”

“Is that a surprise? You would too, if there’d been some monster that mistook you for breakfast.”

“Where did it come from, anyway? I’ve never seen anything like that in my whole life.”

“You know, that’s a very good question. Something that big, we should have seen it coming. Someone should have, anyway. It should’ve stirred up the water some, if you know what I mean.”

“I think I know,” Ghenni said. “Something that big shouldn’t have been able to sneak up on an entire fleet of fishing boats.”

“Exactly,” Ankhoro said. “So, what does that tell us?”

“You tell me,” Ghenni said. A motion at the edge of her vision caught her attention, and she turned to look at it. It was Bolwyn, doing what he probably considered running. Yanag was a few yards ahead of him.

“Looks like you weren’t the only one who thought of getting help,” Ankhoro said. Ghenni just nodded. Bolwyn stopped running when Yanag did. The older girl gestured frantically at the water. The two were talking, but Ghenni couldn’t hear what they were saying. She decided to approach them. Bolwyn, noticing them, made the same decision.

“Yanag said there’s some kind of monster here,” Bolwyn said without preamble. “Some giant snake that eats people.”

“There was,” Ghenni said. “It’s dead.”

“Did you kill it?”

“Me? No. How could I? I’m just a child. No, there was some other wizard who happened to be around, and he killed it.”

Bolwyn cocked his head to the left and raised his right eyebrow.

“There was? Now, isn’t that interesting. I suppose he’s left already?”

“No,” Ankhoro said. He pointed at Jamao’s hut. “He’s moved in with Jamao, until he’s recovered his magic so he can leave again.”

Bolwyn looked at Jamao’s hut and stroked his chin. The crowd was still gathered around it.

“Has he, now. Isn’t that interesting.” He turned and looked at the water. “He killed the snake, you say?”

“Flew into its mouth and blew it up,” Ankhoro said enthusiastically.

“Shouldn’t the remains have washed ashore yet?”

Ghenni turned and looked at the water. Now that Bolwyn mentioned it…

“I think so,” she said.

“I think I’d better have a closer look at this. Do any of you three know how to use one of those boats?”

“We all do,” Yanag said. Ghenni nodded. Ankhoro gnawed at his lower lip.

“Well, yes,” he said slowly. “I…”

“You’re afraid to go back out,” Bolwyn said. He smiled almost fatherly. “I understand that. Suddenly, you’ve been shown that the sea isn’t your friend. That there are … things … in the water that barely consider you a snack.” He put a hand on Ankhoro’s shoulder. “But if you don’t go out again, think of what you’ll lose. You shouldn’t let your fears run your life. Face them off, confront them, and tell them to go to hell. Then you’ll see that you were really only afraid of your fear. Which is nothing to be afraid of. Let your fear make you careful, but don’t let it control your life. All right?”

“I think so,” Ankhoro said.

“And the first step,” Bolwyn said genially, “is that you join us when we go out there now, to check on what happened with the snake’s body.” He ruffled Ankhoro’s hair. “If anything goes wrong, well, I’m no slouch in the magic department either.” He turned away and went to one of the boats that had been washed up on the beach. Halfway there, he turned. “Shall we?”

Ghenni and Ankhoro exchanged a look and followed.

“We need to get the boats out of the water first,” Ankhoro said. Bolwyn shrugged.

“No problem,” he said. He took a pinch of powder from his bag, threw it in the air and said some strange words. The wooden boats lifted from the water and drifted through the air. Bolwyn directed their flight with his raised hands. When they were far enough from the water line, he lowered his hands, slowly, and the boats settled gently on the sand. “Let’s go, now,” he said.

“We need to get one of the boats into the water,” Yanag reminded him. Bolwyn scratched his head and grinned sheepishly.

“Of course,” he said. He looked at the boats. Yanag, losing her patience, moved past him and started to push one of the boats back into the water. Ghenni and Ankhoro exchanged another glance, then joined her. Bolwyn waited until the boat was watered. He levitated himself into the boat, never even coming close to touching water. He sat down, and made a face. Ghenni laughed.

“Of course, the boat’s still wet from the dunking the sea monster gave it,” Yanag said with the air of an expert. Bolwyn glared at her.

“All the more reason to get this over with,” he said. “I want to know what we’re dealing with here.” Noticing the looks his boatmates gave him, he glared back at them in return. “Or don’t you want to know what happened, here, in case it happens again? So we can deal with it, if it does?”

“That’s what we’re here for,” Yanag said, standing up to Bolwyn’s glare and giving as good as she got. Ghenni was impressed. She would have expected the older girl to fold under pressure, as bullies usually do. Yanag picked up one of the oars and thrust it at Bolwyn.

“We all have to help,” she told the wizard. “You and Ghenni row on the left. Ankhoro and me’ll take the right.”

It took them a moment to get the rhythm, but once they had figured out how not to tangle up the oars, they made good progress.

“Let me know when we reach the spot where the serpent first showed up,” Bolwyn said.

“It was over there somewhere,” Ankhoro said, pointing. It took some doing, but they finally reached the serpent’s original surface point. “Yes, this is the place,” Ankhoro announced. He looked down at the water.

“It’s astonishing how clear it is,” Ghenni said. “I can see straight to the bottom.”

“Quite,” Bolwyn said. “But that isn’t all that much of a feat now, is it? I mean, this looks rather shallow to me.”

“A grown man couldn’t touch bottom here,” Ankhoro said.

“Yeah, maybe, but I don’t get it how that snake — how big did you say it was? — could sneak up on your people without being seen. Clear, shallow water… Odds would be against it, I’d say.” Bolwyn rubbed his belly. “Let’s have another look at the place where it ate the people.” They started rowing. “Who did you say it was?” he asked Ankhoro.

“Kamahaloa, Panubu, Hobole. Some others too, but I didn’t see who.”

“And this is the place?” Ankhoro nodded. “I’m impressed,” Bolwyn announced. “That snake was a real neat eater. I mean, look at the water.”

“I don’t see anything,” Yanag said.

“Me, either,” Ghenni agreed.

“My point exactly. No, forgive me, remains. No flesh, no blood. Nothing.”

Ghenni felt a drop of ice rain run down her spine. She began to understood what Bolwyn was getting at.

“Shouldn’t you tell Jamao, or one of the adults? I mean, we’re just children.”

“That’d make sense, yeah,” Bolwyn said, “but look at the village. They’re all so busy admiring your mystery saviour, they wouldn’t have the time to listen to me. Actually, I’m surprised you three do.”

“I guess we aren’t that preoccupied with the stranger,” Yanag said. “I went to get you, remember? Ankhoro was with the boats. And Ghenni… Where were you when this happened, anyway?”

“Inland.”

Yanag raised an eyebrow, but let it stand.

“Where did your mystery man kill the serpent?” Bolwyn said. They rowed to the approximate spot, where Bolwyn made a show of looking at the water again.

“Clean water, and a clear view to the bottom,” Bolwyn said. “Again.”

“Shouldn’t there be something left over from the fight?” Ankhoro said. “I mean, it was pretty spectacular. The monster exploded all over the place.”

“I should think there would be,” Bolwyn said. “Monster blood, some remains from the head… If you see anything, let me know. But don’t strain your eyes, I don’t think you’ll find anything.”

“Are you going to sense for magic?” Yanag said.

“What for? I know there’s been a lot of magic at work here.” He chuckled. “If I could tell what type of spell had been used… But I bet he covered up his tracks perfectly. Wish I’d thought of that, it’s brilliant.”

“What are you talking about?” Ankhoro said.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Ghenni said.

“Even to me,” Yanag agreed.

“Would anybody please let me in on the secret?” Ankhoro cried.

“Go ahead,” Bolwyn said, still chuckling.

“There never was a real sea serpent,” Yanag said. “If there had been, there would be some traces of the fight in the water.”

“Like the snake’s dead body, for example,” Ghenni said.

“Exactly.” Yanag smiled at Ghenni, something the younger girl had never expected to see. “Whatever happened here, it wasn’t what we saw. It probably wasn’t even real.” She cast a questing look at Bolwyn, who nodded.

“There are some spells that provide so powerful illusions everyone takes them for real,” he said. “Even experienced magic users like myself can be fooled, sometimes. I think your mystery saviour faked that sea serpent attack to make himself look good and be instantly trustworthy.” Bolwyn grinned. “I wonder what he wants.” He turned to Yanag. “What did you say his name was, again?”

“I didn’t,” Yanag said. She shrugged. “I’ve no idea, actually.”

“Terek,” Ankhoro said. “He said his name’s Terek.”

“Terek,” Bolwyn repeated slowly. “Of course. That explains everything.”

Advertisements

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: