The Way of the Word

16. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 27

Ghenni sat outside the hut, her knees pulled close to her chest. She had wrapped her arms around her legs and rested her head against her knees. Her parents were inside, with Elomei. She imagined her parents sitting on her bedroll, while Elomei hunched next to her sister. She could hear the witch-woman recite her spells in that peculiar singsong voice. She heard the rattle of the instrument Elomei used to attract the attention of the gods. She smelled the smoke of the burning spell ingredients. And there was nothing she could do.

Elomei had worked her magic for hours already. There was no sign that she would stop anytime soon. Lejani had to be really sick to require all that effort. Recalling what her sister had looked like, the last time she had seen her, Ghenni amended that she had to be as sick as she had looked.

If only there were anything she could do.

Ghenni raised her head and strained to listen when the singsong stopped. Nothing. Weren’t they talking, or what? No, wait. She could make out Elomei’s voice, but only vaguely. She could hear Elomei talk, but she couldn’t make out what she was saying, she was talking so low.

“No,” she heard her mother cry out. Then she heard someone sobbing.

This wasn’t good; this wasn’t good at all.

Ghenni half rose to a crouch, to get up and enter the hut, but she changed her mind and sat down again. Her parents had told her not to come in, and if she disobeyed while they were in a bad state it would only backfire.

Her tension was eased a bit when her parents came out of the hut a moment later. Her father had his arms around her mother. It looked as if he were holding her up. Which, Ghenni decided when she saw her mother, wasn’t entirely implausible.

Ghenni stood up and ran to her parents.

“How is she?” she asked.

Her father glared at her.

“Not good,” he said. The glare and the tone of his voice made Ghenni take a step backwards.

This isn’t my fault, she almost said. But that was exactly how her father looked at her: with that look that said, You did a bad thing and this is all your fault.

“What’s wrong?” she said instead.

“Your sister is under a spell,” Elomei said from inside the doorway. “A very powerful, very evil spell.”

“What kind… What can you…”

“Whoever cast that spell is stronger than I,” Elomei said. She approached Ghenni and put a bony hand on her shoulder. “I had to tell your parents that my magic is not strong enough to counter this spell. Your sister will most probably die.” Ghenni stared at the old woman, hearing the words but not really understanding them. Elomei had never been helpless about any sickness. Well, or if she had, at least she hadn’t admitted it. That she was admitting defeat now… the situation really had to be desperate.

Ghenni felt sorry for all the times in the past when she had wished to be around when an adult, any adult, would admit to being wrong, or helpless. This wasn’t what she’d imagined it to be like.

“No,” Ghenni cried, shaking Elomei’s hand off. “The crab can’t die!”

“I will do everything in my power to help her, but I fear there is not much I can do.”

“And it’s all your fault,” Ghenni’s father hissed. Ghenni stared at him wide-eyed.

“What?”

“It’s all your fault. All the things that happened, all the bad omens, all the bad luck; it all started when you made Zoltan and his friends fly. The tsunami, the palmtree, the sea serpent, Lejani’s sickness: all that happened after that.”

“But it isn’t my fault,” Ghenni cried. She felt an itch at the corner of her eyes and blinked furiously. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Don’t lie to me! It all started with you, and look where it’s gotten us. And you claim this isn’t your fault?” Pahone let Opona go and took a few steps toward Ghenni. Ghenni kept her attention on her father, but from the corner of her eye she saw that her mother was sitting down.

“I didn’t do anything,” she insisted. “Why is it always me? It’s always been me. A bowl breaks, blame Ghenni. Food spoils, it has to be Ghenni’s fault. A sea serpent eats villagers, who else can be responsible but Ghenni? Lejani dies, so why don’t we blame Ghenni? It’s the usual thing to do! But it isn’t my fault! I didn’t do anything wrong!” She looked at Elomei for help. “If I did it, how come the magic’s too strong for you? Shouldn’t you be able to do anything about it?”

“Yes, I should,” Elomei agreed. “If everything were normal. However, nothing has been as it should for quite a few days now.”

“And that is my fault?!?”

“Who else?” Pahone cried. Ghenni could see tears leaking from his eyes. “It all started with you. You have to make an end to it. Ghenni, this isn’t funny anymore. People are dying because of you.”

“Why me? If you need to blame someone, blame Terek and Bolwyn. At least they know magic. Perhaps they did it.” Ghenni saw Elomei frown.

“Terek and Bolwyn,” the witch-woman muttered. “Of course. Perhaps they can help.”

“Go to them and ask them if they’ll come,” Pahone said. “Even if they cannot help, at least we’ll have tried.”

Ghenni gaped at her father. She couldn’t believe this! Here they were, blaming Ghenni for everything that had gone wrong in the last couple of days, and sending for those who probably were responsible for help.

And she was getting the blame. They had hurt Lejani, and now they would pretend to help. Everyone would be grateful to them. Everyone would continue to blame her. Everyone would hate her and think she had tried to kill Lejani.

“No,” she whispered. She walked backwards a few paces. Then she turned and ran. She blinked furiously, but tears still blurred her vision. This wouldn’t do. She wouldn’t take the blame for this. She would find a way to help Lejani and show everyone that Terek and Bolwyn were responsible for all those catastrophes.

She reached the bush before anyone even thought of stopping her, and continued to run until she simply couldn’t any longer. Panting, she leaned against a tree.

What do I do, what do I do?

Habbassin. Of course. That would be the best solution. Go to Habbassin, tell him the full story and ask him for help. He would certainly help. Elomei had said that Lejani was under a spell. Well, Habbassin was the most powerful magic-user on Wakano. If anyone could break the spell and save Lejani, it would be he.

Yes, that was a plan. All she needed to do now was go to Habbassin and ask for his help. He wouldn’t turn her down. He wouldn’t blame her. He would know who the real bad-guys were.

On the way, she could figure out how to smuggle him into and back out of the village.

Ghenni pushed herself up and started to walk toward the cliff. She reminded herself to be extra careful; she hadn’t been there since Habbassin’s earthquake and didn’t know the new coastline yet. And it would be really stupid to trip and break a leg or something.

The feeling started after only a few seconds. The feeling that she was being followed.

Oh no, please, not now.

She ducked into a bush, where she hid and waited. It took only a few moments before Terek passed by. He paused right before where Ghenni hid. He rubbed his chin and looked to the ground. Ghenni held her breath. If he saw footprints leading to her…

Apparently, he didn’t. After a moment, he walked on. Ghenni released the breath. Whatever he had been looking at, it hadn’t betrayed her. Still, she didn’t dare to come out of hiding until she was fairly sure Terek was a good distance away.

“That settles that,” she muttered. She couldn’t dare go to Habbassin now. Yes, he was still her only hope. But with Terek following her, who knew if he could help. Terek would most probably prevent it, simply by being greedy about possessing Habbassin.

Now that she thought of it, it all made sense. Terek had to have put the spell on Lejani. He knew that Ghenni would try anything to save her sister. So he had arranged it that the only anything that could possibly help her was the thing he was looking for. After all, he still didn’t know that Habbassin was not a thing.

It would have worked too. If her father hadn’t blamed her, she wouldn’t have run off like that. She would have gone straight to Habbassin, without having to stop to catch her breath.

No, she couldn’t go to Habbassin just yet. She couldn’t take the chance of leading Terek there. Not only because Habbassin was a friend, but also because Habbassin was Lejani’s only hope. She couldn’t afford the chance that Terek might destroy that hope.

She took a deep breath and scratched her neck. She couldn’t go home either. Not without a cure for Lejani.

That meant finding a safe place to sleep. A place where nobody, especially not Terek, could find her.

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