The Way of the Word

12. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 23

“I simply don’t know what to do about them anymore,” Ghenni said, slumping back in her chair. A folding chair, Habbassin had said when he had conjured it up. Ankhoro and Miki had had a ton of fun putting them up. Ghenni had summoned them to a war-council in Habbassin’s cave, and told them of her encounter with Bolwyn and Elomei.

“You’re doing fine, kid. All of you.” Habbassin glowered at the lamp. “If I weren’t bound to that thrice-accursed thing, I’d say let them have it, and good riddance. It’s cramped in there anyway. But if they have the lamp, I’d have to… Forget it. Perhaps I should involve myself a bit more directly. I mean, those pranks are fun and everything, but I used to be a warrior-mage.”

“Not that story again, please,” Ankhoro said, also slumping.

“I wasn’t about to tell a story,” Habbassin said huffily. “I was just trying to point out that I think I could take either of them in a magic duel. An unfair magic duel, even.”

“How about both?” Miki said.

“Now, that’s a different story,” the djinni admitted. “I’m not sure about that. I’d try, though, if I didn’t have to worry about such a fight laying waste to this beautiful island.”

“How bad would it be?” Ankhoro asked.

“There’s a big desert, where I come from. Thousands upon thousands of square miles of dead ground. Just hot sand and a merciless sun. Nothing lives there. Well, nearly nothing. The sun beats down mercilessly, all day. It never rains. There are never any clouds. The few clouds that dare stray there are burnt away by the sun before they can even think of providing shade. Even that forbidding place was once a beautiful, fertile land. It was a lot like this island, actually. One day, two mages met and battled. Why they battled, that’s lost to history. Nobody remembers the reason. They battled for many nights and days. Days stretched into weeks. Weeks into months, and still the two mages wouldn’t give up. Neither could get the upper hand, they were too evenly matched. One attacked with a death-bolt, which the other easily deflected. As they fought, the deflected deathspells and doomspells destroyed the land around them…”

“Until one day they looked around and saw what they’d done, right?” Ankhoro said. Habbassin flustered.

“Well, yes. Although…”

“You would’ve put it differently, I know. Longer.”

Habbassin folded his arms across his chest and pouted.

“If you want to tell the story, go ahead,” the djinni said.

“Oh, I wouldn’t presume,” Ankohoro said with more sarcasm than Ghenni thought a boy his age should use. “But let me see if I got the point. The point is, you don’t want to fight the wizards, either of them.”

“It’s too dangerous.”

“For us, or for you?”

“Ankhoro, that’s enough,” Ghenni said. “Habbassin is our friend. He’s helped us, and we’ve already decided to help him.”

“Only it’s getting more difficult every day,” Ankhoro protested. “Ghenni, there’s nothing we can do about the wizards. They won’t leave us alone until they’ve got what they came for. We can’t outwit them because when we tell them we don’t know anything they know we lie. And we can’t chase them off because the only one of us who can work magic can’t do anything because of that stupid lamp. I don’t know what to do anymore, Ghenni.”

“All I know is that we can’t let the wizards get their hands on the lamp,” Habbassin said. “There’s no telling what they’ll do if they control the lamp.”

“Wait a moment,” Ghenni said. “You keep saying that if they get their hands on the lamp, they’ll control it. What do you mean?”

“Just that.” Habbassin squirmed. “If someone who knows how holds the lamp, they can give me orders.”

“Why couldn’t we?” Ankhoro said.

“You forfeited,” Habbassin said. “You don’t know how, so you couldn’t.”

“You mean we could order you to fight those wizards?” Ankhoro insisted. Habbassin squirmed a bit more.

“… Yes.”

“But we won’t,” Ghenni said. “We might have, before, when we didn’t know you. But you’re our friend now, Habbassin. You don’t order friends around.”

“Thank you,” Habbassin said, looking relieved. “You have no idea how much that means to me.”

“Besides, you might lose,” Ghenni added. “There’s no telling what Bolwyn or Terek would do if they controlled the lamp. And I wouldn’t like our island destroyed either.”

“There’s that,” Habbassin admitted. He grinned. “You know, I think there’s something we’re all forgetting. Some easy way out that’s so obvious we don’t see it.”

“Which is?”

“How should I know? Don’t you think I’d tell you if I knew?”

“Let’s go home and sleep on it,” Ankhoro suggested. “Perhaps we’ll think of something in the morning.”

“Now that sounds like a plan to me,” Habbassin said. “I keep forgetting how much sleep you humans need.”

Ghenni didn’t like the way Habbassin looked. He definitely looked like he was up to something.

“Don’t do anything stupid, all right?” she said when she left the cave.

“Do I ever?” Habbassin asked, the soul of innocence.

Ghenni didn’t feel reassured.

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