The Way of the Word

10. October 2010

The Gatherers: Chapter 21

There was a lot of noise in the village. Ghenni could hear them from very far away. She hurried up, started running even.

She stopped short before even reaching the village.

A little off-center, where Bolwyn’s hut used to stand, now stood a high but slender structure. Unlike the huts, it was made of stones piled on top of each other. Ghenni, slowly now, approached it carefully. She couldn’t get all the way to it, because there were so many people gathered around it. It was about as wide around as the hut hat been, but it was taller, so much taller. Ghenni guessed it was easily as tall as the highest palmtree she had ever seen. Ignoring the people who were jabbering excitedly about the strange new thing, she walked around it. There was no opening anywhere. She wondered, just for a moment, if the structure was solid. No. Habbassin wouldn’t do that. It wouldn’t be fair.

She pressed her hands against her mouth to stifle the laugh. So that’s what Habbassin had thought of. It sure was funny.

“How are the two going to get at their stuff now?” she heard someone ask.

“They’re wizards,” someone else replied. “They’ll think of something.”

Ghenni moved on.

“I don’t believe this,” she heard Bolwyn shout from the other side of the structure. Ghenni craned her neck to catch a glimpse of him, and finally let that laugh out. Both wizards were dirty and soiled, covered head to foot with sand and dirt and grime. Bolwyn ran as quickly as he could move his girth to the structure. Which wasn’t all that fast, Ghenni noted. How had that man managed to nearly catch up to her? He should have given up chasing her a lot sooner.

“A tower,” Terek said. He put his fists on his hips and looked up to the top, open-mouthed. “That is a tower.”

“I know that’s a tower,” Bolwyn shouted, and vented his anger with a string of expletives.

“Our clothes are in there,” Terek said. “We cannot change.”

“A little dirt won’t hurt you,” Bolwyn snarled. “Shows you how the other half lives.”

“I wonder if it is solid… Wait a minute. What do you mean, it will show me how the other half lives?”

“The half that can’t afford decent clothes, or a bath every other week,” Bolwyn snarled. “You know. The not-nobles. The ordinary people.”

“Is this your doing, Bolwyn? Are you doing this to make some silly kind of point?”

“If I’d done that, don’t you think I’d’ve gotten my own stuff outta there before changing that frigging hut into a godamn tower?” Bolwyn exploded. “Besides, I’ve been with you all the time. I’m good, you know I’m good, but even I’m not that good. You really give me too much credit, old friend.”

“Then whoever did this has the artefact we are looking for,” Terek said, rubbing his chin. He didn’t look at the tower anymore. Instead, his eyes were searching the crowd. Ghenni moved back until the tower was between her and the wizard. Hopefully, he hadn’t seen her.

“Okay, everybody move back,” Bolwyn shouted, shooing the crowd away. They backed off slowly, unwilling, sensing the best was yet to come. “Move back, everybody,” Bolwyn repeated. “We’re gonna change this thing back the way it was…”

“More or less,” Terek said, studying the tower and rubbing his chin.

“… and you can get hurt if you stand too close. All right, everybody, move back.” Bolwyn looked at a few stragglers who refused to relinquish their positions. “Or stay at your own risk, and maybe get changed into turnips by ricocheting magic.”

The stragglers exchanged looks and moved to a safer distance. Bolwyn rolled up his sleeves, wiped a few stray stands of hair from his face and raised his arms. He closed his eyes, and to Ghenni looked as if he weren’t doing anything. Looking at Terek told her that the other sorcerer did exactly the same thing. Finally, after what seemed like a very long time, both men began to shout in what Ghenni thought was their own guttural language. Their hands seemed to glow. The glow spread out from their hands to the tower. The tower began to glow. Its outline turned slightly fuzzy.

Ghenni heard a high-pitched, tinny giggle. She looked around, but couldn’t see anyone who might have giggled.

“That’ll never work,” she head Habbassin’s voice.

“Are you here?” she whispered. “I can’t see you.”

“Nobody can, and only you can hear me,” Habbassin replied. “I’m sitting on your left shoulder.”

Ghenni squinted, and could barely make out a blue beetle.

“What are you doing here?” she whispered. “What if they discover you?”

“They won’t, don’t worry.” The beetle giggled. “Will you just look at them. Priceless.”

The two wizards had given up on their spell. They now stood together whispering, apparently discussing what to try next.

“Why won’t it work?” Ghenni asked.

“Illusion,” Habbassin said. “Their hut’s still there. They could even get at it, if they tried. And if they did, the illusion’d collapse. That is, vanish. But they think I really changed their hut. And as long as they believe that, anything they’ll try will fail.” A chuckle. “Gods, I love the looks on their faces. Actually, that’s why I’m here. What good is a prank when you don’t get to see the reaction of the prankee. Or what do you think?”

“I think you take too many chances.”

“You know, kid, you’re gonna make a terrific mom someday. You sound like one already.”

“I do not!”

Ghenni clapped her hand over her mouth and looked around if anyone had noticed that she had spoken out loud. She did see three heads turned her way, but only for a moment. Those three heads were shaken, then they turned away again.

Sure, pay no attention to that child, she thought acidly. That’s just Crazy Ghenni doing strange things again.

Terek and Bolwyn had finished their debate and were at it again. It was the same routine, or so it looked to Ghenni: raised arms, strange words, glowing hands. Even the tower glowed again, and it had the same lack of effect as before. Also as before, Ghenni heard the tinny giggle. She squinted at her shoulder. The beetle was convulsing with laughter.

“Are you sure this isn’t going too far?” she said. The beetle stopped laughing and shook his head no. He managed to look dignified for a moment. Just before he had another fit of laughter.

“No,” Habbassin said, wiping tears from his eyes. “Look at it this way: what would you rather have them do, chase the lamp or their tails?” The djinni looked thoughtful for a moment, then shook his head again. “No. Too easy.”

Bolwyn approached the tower, shouting in his weird language, waving his arms. Terek went to his side. He put a hand on Bolwny’s shoulder and spoke with him, also in the strange language that made no sense to Ghenni.

“I wish I knew what they’re saying,” she mumbled.

“I can arrange that.”

“No. They can sense magic. It’s a big enough risk that you’re here at all.”

“All right. But I know the language. Bolwyn’s losing his temper…”

“Big surprise there.”

“… and Terek’s trying to calm him down. Uh oh, now this looks interesting.”

Bolwyn had made two fists and ran toward the tower. His face was a twisted mask of rage. He raised his hands high over his head and brought them down against the tower wall.

And fell through.

“Therrrre she goes,” Habbassin said.

The tower made “plop” and vanished, leaving a befuddled Bolwyn lying on his belly in the dust.

“And here I go,” Habbassin said. “This was fun. Now I gotta figure out what to do for an encore.”

Habbassin also made “plop” and vanished.

Terek helped Bolwyn to his feet, and they entered the hut. The gawkers lingered for a moment, but they quickly dispersed once they understood that the show was over.

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