The Way of the Word

7. October 2010

The Gatherers: Chapter 18

Bolwyn stepped through the doorway, stopping to let his eyes adjust to the dimmer light.

“Bolwyn, my friend,” Jamao said, beaming. “Do come in. We had a terrible time…”

“The sea serpent, yes,” Bolwyn said, his voice reminiscent of cold metal. “I’ve heard of it.” He turned toward Terek. “Quite an entrance you made, Terek.”

“Bolwyn. I should have known you would be here.”

“You know each other?” Jamao beamed. “How splendid.”

“Yes, we are old … friends,” Terek said.

“Competitors, really,” Bolwyn said. “We’re in the same line of work. You plan on staying a while?”

“The battle has quite exhausted me, and the king has graciously offered his hospitality.”

“That’s what’s so lovely about these people,” Bolwyn said. “Not a civilized bone in their bodies.”

“You do not happen to mean malicious?” Terek said

“What’s the difference? So, you plan on staying until you’ve recovered your magic?” Terek nodded. “Where’re you gonna stay?”

“The king has offered his hospitality,” Terek replied expansively. “I have considered taking him up on it.”

“That’s nonsense,” Bolwyn said. “They gave me a hut to myself. Much too big for a single man, you know.”

“Although you certainly need the extra space, I wager.”

“Clever, Terek. Real clever. Jamao, I insist that Terek move in with me. We wouldn’t want to impose on your hospitality, and since you already gave me one hut, that should be plenty.”

“And since he is a magician also,” Jamao said, “perhaps he can help you with your search?”

Terek raised an eyebrow.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Bolwyn said, smiling. “And consider this: our habits are different from your people’s…”

“I noticed,” Jamao said.

“…and Terek would only get in your way. Which is no way to treat a leader of his people, now is it? He wouldn’t get in my way, though. We’ve got the same habits, sort of. Besides, Terek could bring me up to speed on what’s happened at home. Those news would just bore you.”

“Well, I wouldn’t have wanted to impose on you,” Jamao said, “but if it’s all right with you, Bolwyn, then I’d be the last to protest this arrangement.”

“Fine. Need help moving your stuff to my hut?”

“I can manage, thank you.”

“Then let’s move along. I’ll show you where we bunk.”

Bolwyn stepped out of the hut. He stopped just after crossing the threshold to look back at Terek.

“Come on, now,” he said. “I mean, if you think I’m gonna carry your luggage, you’d better think again.”

Wordlessly, Terek picked up his pack and followed Bolwyn to his hut.

“You can take that side of the room,” Bolwyn said, pointing, upon entering. Terek dropped his pack. He went over to the indicated corner and threw Bolwyn’s garbage out.

“I should have known you would be here,” he said, scratching the back of his head. “You picked the signature up as well?” He began to unpack.

“Who do you think I am?” Bolwyn replied. “A rank amateur? Of course I did. Only I got here before you did, so get outta here.”

“Is that any way to treat a guest?”

“Don’t bother. And you don’t need to tell me that story about having to restore your powers. I know better than that. I know you better than that. Just how much power does it take to fake a battle?”

“You surprise me, Bolwyn. I confess I did not expect you to have the intelligence to actually investigate the incident.”

“You always underestimated me, Terek. That’s why you keep losing to me. Did your fake snake really eat some of the villagers, or was that just show?”

“How can a, as you put it, fake snake eat anyone?”

“So how did you do it?”

“A teleportation spell, if you must know,” Terek said, shrugging. “I teleported them to the next island. They ought to find their way back in a couple of weeks.”

“By which time you expect to be long gone.”

“Naturally.”

“Without the artifact, of course.”

“Do not delude yourself, Bolwyn. That artifact is powerful. Too powerful for you to handle, I should think.” Terek smiled balefully. “Why the moral outrage? I distinctly remember the last time we competed for an artifact. Your way of … persuading the natives to cooperate with you was, shall we say, much, much less conductive to their health than my harmless little illusion.”

“Never mind all that crap. I got here first. You just try to catch up with me.”

“Do you know what it is you are looking for?”

“Do you really think I’d tell you?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time.” Terek smiled. “You would have bragged with your knowledge already, if you knew. So your early arrival has not secured you any kind of advantage.”

“Don’t be so sure,” Bolwyn said. He shuddered.

“So you feel it too,” Terek said.

“Ever since I left the hut to get you.”

“Who are the magic-users of this tribe?”

“There’s Elomei. You met her. The old witch-woman. She’s the only definite one. Not much, though. Then there’s a kid, she’s a possible.”

“I do not think the old woman would spy on us. She is not nearly so clever as she would believe.”

“Unless you underestimate her. You do that a lot. You’ve always underestimated me.”

“You overestimate yourself, that should balance it out. Shall we look?”

“Let’s.”

Both foreigners left the hut and started to look around. They walked in circles around the hut, circles that grew ever wider.

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