The Way of the Word

8. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 19

“They’ve found us out,” Ghenni said, breaking concentration. She shook Ankhoro. His crystal dimmed as he looked at her. “They’ve found us out.”

“I heard you the first time. But they shouldn’t be able to find us if we don’t use the crystals.”

“Forget the crystals, let’s just get away from here.” She looked to where Terek and Bolwyn had stopped conferring. They were looking in her direction. “I don’t like the looks of this.”

As Ghenni and Ankhoro tried to sneak away, the bush they hid in moved. The rustling of the leaves and their motion caught Bolwyn’s eye.

“There,” he cried, pointing. Then he started running, Terek close behind him.

The children split up, a tried-and-true tactic against pursuit. For Ankhoro, anyway. Ghenni’s experience was that whoever chased them would continue to chase her.

A backwards look assured her that the record remained perfect.

Ghenni dashed through the jungle, glad that the dense foliage above her made it impossible for the two magicians to fly, and that the equally dense underbrush gave her, who was far smaller than her pursuers, a minor advantage.

On the other hand, this was an island. She couldn’t run or hide from them forever.

Dashing through the jungle and crawling through dense underbrush didn’t work as well as she had hoped. She could hear the two men crashing through the foliage behind her. It sounded as if they were getting closer. The jungle wasn’t helping her as much as she’d hoped, and she was getting winded.

For a moment, she considered giving up. What could they do to her? If any harm came to her…

… they’d easily find a way to shift the blame, the suspicion even, away from themselves. The only ones who’d know better would be other children. And who ever believed children over grown-ups?

Something sploshed behind her. She had heard the sound before, sliding through a mud-pit. But there hadn’t been a mud-pit on her path. A voice — Terek’s she supposed, it didn’t sound like Bolwyn’s — started yelling in a language she didn’t recognize. From the sound of it, she figured she was better off not understanding it anyway.

Still, it had bought her a little time and a few extra yards headstart.

Of which she lost a precious second ducking a blue-plumed parrot which nose-dived out of the trees, just over her head, and straight at where she heard her pursuers approaching. She turned and looked, panting, as the bird vanished in the foliage. Seconds later, she heard that language again. Something flashed and crackled, and she caught a whiff of smoke. This was followed by an indignant Squaaawwk!, and the chase continued. Ghenni sent the parrot a silent thanks for the short breather.

Where to, where to, she thought desperately. If only Habbassin were here. But he wasn’t, and it was better that way anyway because that was after all the purpose of this exercise, to keep these two men from finding him.

Behind he, she heard a cry for help. She stopped, turned, then hesitated. What if it was a trap? Cry for help, appeal to her better nature, wait until she comes to help then catch her. It made sense.

Ghenni smiled when this gave her an idea.

She doubled back, just like the crier probably wanted, but not all the way. Walking backwards in her own footsteps should disguise her new direction. For a while.

Getting on a patch of hard ground provided the perfect opportunity to change direction again, away from the voices. Both men were talking now, yelling actually. One of them sounded increasingly desperate, while the other seemed rather angry.

Ghenni didn’t bother to check what the two foreigners were doing. All that interested her was to get away. And get away she did.

She stopped and listened for signs of pursuit. There were none. No crashing through the woods, no swearing. She changed direction. After a few minutes, she stopped again to listen. Again, nothing.

After repeating the procedure three more times, she felt safe enough to head for the cave.

“Habbassin,” she called upon entering, “that new magician who helped us against the snake…”

“Is a fraud who’s just after the lamp,” Habbassin said coolly. A blue cloud hung over her head and started to rain. The drops fell to the ground beside her and coalesced into the djinn. “I know.” He handed her a towel and turned his left hand into a fan. “Here, dry yourself off and catch your breath.” A strange-looking chair appeared behind her. Habbassin gave her a little push and she fell into it. It was much more comfortable than it looked.

“Thank you,” Ghenni said when Habbassin gave her a coconut filled to the brim with cool water. She drank it gratefully.

“The guys know each other and don’t like each other,” Habbassin continued. “They caught you and Ankhoro spying on them and chased you.”

“How do you know all that?” Ghenni said. At once she felt foolish. Habbassin knew magic. He had an uncountable number of ways to find out.

“Ankhoro told me,” he said, plopping down in a chair he materialized underneath himself. “When you split up, he came straight here to ask for my help.” He chuckled. “Don’t tell me you didn’t recognize me as the parrot from hell?”

“Of course,” Ghenni said, slapping her forehead. “You came and helped me.”

“What are friends for? For starters, I made a mud-pit. Miki told me of them, how you like to slide on them.” He wiggled an impossibly long, and lengthening, forefinger. “Childish. Really childish.” He chuckled. “I like it. Call me next time you do it. Anyway, Terek wasn’t nearly as clean when he slipped on it and slid into a boulder. Gee, I wonder where that one came from? Then, there was the parrot from hell. And I actually made a point of flying by you. I’d’ve thought you’d be sharp enough to figure it out. And then there was that quicksand trap… A stroke of genius, if I do say so myself.”

“What’s quicksand?” Ghenni asked.

“Nothing you’d find on this island. It’s sort of a mud-pit, only impossibly deep and real difficult to recognize. Terek ran right into it. That man must have a real affection for dirt. Shouldn’t think so, looking at him. Before, anyway. Bolwyn doesn’t look any better now. Not that he usually does, that slob, but he dirtied himself up pretty well trying to get Terek out of the hole. He tried magic, of course,” Habbassin winked. “Only for some reason,” he snapped his fingers, “it simply didn’t work. There must’ve been something interfering with his magic, wouldn’t you know, and he had to actually work to get Terek out.” The djinn rubbed his chin. “Wonder why he did. If those two are as hostile as they act… On the other hand, sometimes enmity unites people more closely than anything else.”

“Have I said thank you already?” Ghenni said. Habbassin made a negligent wave.

“Don’t thank me, thank Ankhoro. He called me. I only played some pranks on some insufferable idiots.” Habbassin stopped, pursing his lips. “Hmmm… Now there’s an idea.”

“Idea?” Ghenni sat up straight. “Habbassin, after all the trouble we went to to keep you safe…”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Habbassin said, waving her concern aside. “That was valid when we were just dealing with one magic-user.” He grinned, a grin that stretched impossibly wide, then snapped back. “There’s two of them now. Better yet, they don’t like each other. Don’t you realize what that means?”

“That we have to be twice as careful?”

“No! It means I can really let go now. If I do anything to bother Bolwyn, he’ll blame his friend. Do anything to annoy the other one, he’ll think Bolwyn’s sabotaging him.

“This is perfect. And even if they sense there’s magic at work, who cares? They’d both use magic to get the better of the other.”

Habbassin laughed. He laughed so hard, the walls of the cave started to shake.

“Oh, this is perfect,” he said, wiping the tears from his eyes. “Just imagine… the possibilities…”

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