The Way of the Word

11. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 22

Lejani rubbed her forehead.

“What’s wrong, dear?” Opona asked.

“Nothing,” Lejani said. “I’m just a little tired. Perhaps I should lay down and sleep a little.”

“Do that, dear.” Opona watched Lejani as the younger daughter lay down on her sleep-mat, and frowned.

“The crab going to sleep of her own free will?” Ghenni whispered. “I don’t get it. Usually, we have to tie her up to make her stay down.”

“I know,” Opona said, frowning at Lejani’s sleeping place. “The last time she did that…”

Marawa-fever,” Ghenni said in a whisper. She hugged herself, remembering. “I thought everybody only gets it once.”

“Which does not mean that she can’t catch anything else,” Opona whispered.

“Makes sense.”

“Perhaps she’ll sleep it off. If not, I’ll speak with Elomei tomorrow.”

“What about?” the witch-woman’s cackling voice said. Ghenni almost dropped the bowl she held. Elomei stood in the doorway, Bolwyn behind her. Opona went to the doorway and gently pushed them outside. Ghenni followed.

“I’m a bit concerned about Lejani,” Opona said.

“Perhaps she’ll sleep it off,” Elomei said. “It’s entirely possible she has only caught too much sun. It happens. Wait until the morning.”

“My thought exactly. Now, what can I do for you?”

“Actually, we wanted to talk with Ghenni,” Bolwyn said. “Under, well, six eyes.”

“Talk about what?” Ghenni said, stepping in front of her mother.

“Under six eyes,” Bolwyn repeated. He took Ghenni’s arm and led her away. Elomei followed. They went to the beach and sat down. “We’ve got pretty good privacy here,” he said. “Now we can talk.”

“I wouldn’t know about what.”

“Ghenni, they know it was you who spied on them with magickal means,” Elomei said. “Bolwyn explained to me that you have no innate magickal abilities. He said he thinks your magic comes from the artefact he seeks.”

“I don’t have any magic.”

“We know that, kiddo,” Bolwyn said. “All the magic you used came from the artefact. The humiliation of your enemies, the problems you made for us when we followed you through the jungle…”

“Followed? Did you say followed? You hunted me!”

“It may have seemed that way to you… Anyway, about the artefact… I suppose you found it just before that incident with Zoltan and his friends? And when you did, it compelled you to seek revenge for all the slights you thought they had done to you.”

“And they did!”

“Be that as it may,” Elomei said. “Bolwyn has explained to me, and it seems true to me, how that artefact has compelled you to humiliate those three children. And when you were done, the artefact used its magic to make you play those pranks on the village. The slippery palm tree, the tsunami, the transformation of Bolwyn’s house…”

“Elomei told me that such pranks aren’t usually in your nature, Ghenni. So, when you did them, you were under the influence of the artefact. Don’t you see, kid? It makes you do evil things. If you’ll tell me where it is, I’ll take it away and its hold over you’ll be broken. You’ll be yourself again.”

“Sure.” Ghenni folded her arms across her chest and pouted. “Blame Crazy Ghenni. How about Wakano’s upset? Perhaps I caused that too. Or when the kraken scared off the fish last year, how about that? Did I do that too? Or the sea serpent? Great Throne, I’m really busy, aren’t I? Elomei, when did all these things start to happen?” The old woman opened her mouth, but Ghenni didn’t give her the time to answer. “Just before Bolwyn showed up. But who says he arrived when he showed himself? Perhaps he arrived before, and did all these things so we would believe his story. Or the sea serpent? It was such a coincidence that Terek arrived just in time to kill it before it caused too much damage.”

“Actually, I have wondered about that myself,” Elomei admitted.

“We’ve already discussed Terek,” Bolwyn said. “I’ve told Elomei of our suspicions, and what we found in the ocean. Which doesn’t explain the other events surrounding you, young lady. Or do you think I’ve already forgotten about the hut?”

“I suppose not,” Ghenni admitted. “It was too … funny.”

“Yeah, very funny,” he said grimly. “I’m still laughing. So’s Terek.”

“But haven’t you noticed,” Ghenni said, “that you were made to look stupid, not Terek?”

Bolwyn scratched himself behind his right ear.

“What would he gain by that?” he said. Ghenni gave silent thanks that she had managed to deflect that. She really had to talk to Habbassin about his pranks.

And to herself about sounding more like her mother every day. Habbassin really brought out the worst in her.

“If you’re both after the same thing, at least he’ll keep you distracted. That’s an advantage in a game, isn’t it?”

“It doesn’t make sense,” Bolwyn grumbled. “Ghenni, you must give me the artefact before its evil overwhelms you. You don’t want to be an evil sorceress. Trust me on that. First, there is a bit of a temptation. Then, you decide that it doesn’t hurt to use the artefact, just this once. And hey, once wasn’t all that bad, so why not use it again? Before you know it, you use it all the time. And you don’t really realize …” He hesitated. “‘Really realize…?` Forget it. What was I about to say? Oh, yes. You don’t realize that all the time the artefact is using you, turning you into a dark and twisted version of yourself, unable to think for yourself. Slowly, gradually, cruelly, its influence over you will increase. Finally, you are the slave, the artefact is your master.”

Ghenni couldn’t imagine Habbassin master anybody. Or anything, for that matter.

“But, haven’t you always said that you don’t know exactly what it is you’re looking for?” she said. “If you don’t know what it is, why do you think it’s evil? Couldn’t it be good as well? And if it is as evil as you say, why do you think you could handle it better than, say, Elomei? Wouldn’t it be worse if it enslaved you, a powerful magic-user, instead of a little nobody like me? You could do a lot more harm than I. Wouldn’t it, instead of remaining unfindable, instead make an effort to be found by someone like you?” Bolwyn frowned and blinked. Ghenni cheered inside. She had him on the run, he had no idea what she was talking about. Sometimes it was a good thing that grown-ups had problem following childrens’s logic. Now, to go for the jugular. “Don’t you think that perhaps you haven’t found it yet means it isn’t here? You said you’d sensed it from the other side of the world. That sounds very far away to me. Don’t you think that, just maybe, you may be wrong about which island in the chain it’s on? I mean, perhaps you’ve spent all your time looking in the wrong place.”

“No,” Bolwyn said. “No, I’m sure it’s on this island. I…” He stared at Ghenni, open-mouthed. He chuckled softly. “You’re still not going to tell me anything, are you.”

“Do you know what your problem is?” Ghenni replied. “You’re too closed minded. You don’t even consider the possibility that you’re wrong.”

“That’s because I’m right too often.” Bolwyn stood up and brushed the sand from his backside. “I’m right this time, too. But, go right ahead and be quiet. I’m patient. I’m patient, and I like it here. I can wait. You’re going to tell me, Ghenni. Sooner or later, you’re going to tell me.” He winked. “I’ve yet to meet a girl who can keep mum.”

“What’s my mother got to do with it?”

“Figure of speech. Forget it.” Grinning broadly, Bolwyn turned and waddled back toward the huts. “I’ve got time.”

“Not if Terek finds the whatever-you-seek first,” Ghenni couldn’t resist calling after him. The rhythm of his steps faltered a bit, but other than that he showed no reaction.

“Tell me the truth, Ghenni.” Elomei put a gnarled hand on Ghenni’s arm. “Do you have the thing he seeks? Is it dangerous?”

Ghenni made an effort to meet the witch-woman’s gaze. She shouldn’t lie to Elomei. One didn’t lie to old women, or shamans. The former was disrespectful, the latter stupid.

“No,” Ghenni said. “I do not have the thing he seeks. And as far as I can tell, the only dangerous thing about it is that those two foreigners seek it.”

There. Technically, that was the truth. Ghenni gave silent thanks that Elomei hadn’t phrased her questions differently.

“I believe you,” Elomei said after a moment. “I don’t know why, but I believe you. Still… There is more to this than you are telling me.”

“There is lots more than I know.” Ghenni smiled. It took a moment, but finally Elomei returned the smile.

“Go, then,” the old woman said, dismissing Ghenni with a wave. Ghenni shot up from her sitting position and ran off.


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