The Way of the Word

19. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 30

“Of course,” Habbassin said. “I’ll do what I can.” His shape turned into the blue mist Ghenni had already grown accustomed to. When the mist solidified, Habbassin wore a white robe that was open at the front. He had funny round things before his eyes that reflected the light when he held his head at just the right angle. In his hands he held a huge thing with tiny black squiggles. “What did you say the symptoms were?”

“What?”

“What are they like? You know, fever, runny noses, headaches, bleeding palms, swollen ankles. Stuff like that.”

“Oh.” Ghenni described everything unusual she had noticed about Lejani. Habbassin nodded, grunting.

“All right,” he said when Ghenni had finished. “Let’s see what the book has to say about it.” He leafed through the book in his hands. “Theoretically, everything I know is written down in here.”

“Then why is it so thick?” Miki asked. Habbassin glared at her.

“That’s Ankhoro’s kind of snide remark,” he said. Miki looked downcast.

“I’m sorry. I’m scared.”

“I can understand that,” Habbassin said. He harrumphed and slammed the book shut. “Basically, I think your relatives have caught a germ. That’s a sort of teensy tiny little animal that sort of lives inside peoples’s bodies.”

“Yuck,” Miki said, shuddering. She hugged herself, stopped, looked at her hands and wiped them off on her skirt. Ghenni pretended not to notice. She knew exactly how Miki felt. Besides, she had other problems to occupy her mind now. Time enough to be grossed out later.

“Sort of?” she said.

“It’s not really an animal, and it isn’t really alive, but that’s the closest I can come, okay? Everybody has germs inside, only the body’s immune to most of them, because everybody’s got them. The catch is, not all germs are everywhere. Terek and Bolwyn come from somewhere else entirely. That means they carry germs inside them which your people never encountered before. On the other hand, their bodies had to handle germs from you which they never had to handle before. Now, if you grow up with a germ, your body knows how to handle it. You never know it’s there. Those germs Terek and Bolwyn brought with them…” Habbassin shrugged. He closed the book, which vanished into thin air along with the white robe.

“So the wizards are responsible,” Ghenni said. The smugness she heard in her own voice bothered her. A little.

“Sort of, yes,” Habbassin said. “Although they might not even know it. People aren’t aware they carry germs inside them, you see. Not unless they make them sick.”

“What can you do about it?” Ghenni said.

“Excuse me?”

“I asked what you can do about it. You know what the problem is. Then you must also know what to do about it.”

“I’m a djinni, not a doctor. I’d need to know what kind of germ it is, and exactly which disease it caused.” He smiled. “But there’s really no reason to worry. Most of the time, those germs run their course and vanish. The body’s own defenses take care of it.”

“Didn’t you say this is a germ the body can’t defend itself against?” Miki said. Habbassin blinked at her.

“Uhm, yes, I think I did. Tell you what, children. You go talk to your witch doctor. Tell her what I just told you. It’s that old woman, isn’t it? I bet she’s dealt with something like this before. Just tell her. Once she knows what’s wrong, she can take care of it.”

“What if she can’t,” Miki insisted. Ghenni nodded.

“She hasn’t had much success yet,” she added.

“Because she didn’t know what she was dealing with,” Habbassin insisted. “Tell her about the germs, and she can handle it.”

“What if she can’t,” Miki insisted.

“Then come back here and tell me. If your witch-woman can’t handle it, I’ll see what I can do.” Habbassin smiled reassuringly. At least, Ghenni thought it was supposed to be reassuring. If so, it wasn’t working. She didn’t feel reassured at all. She exchanged a look with Miki, who simply shrugged. Ghenni sighed. This was one of the moments when she wished Ankhoro were around. Sure, what he had to say wasn’t always intelligent or even constructive, but at least he would have had some comment to make, something to base a decision upon. Even if it were just to spite him. Miki’s ‘how should I know, I don’t know anything, I don’t care what you decide so you decide’ attitude could be so terribly annoying. Especially at times like this, when she desperately needed some kind, any kind of advice.

“Let’s go then,” she decided. “Perhaps Elomei can use this information … somehow.” Judging from Miki’s and Habbassin’s expressions, that last had come out as acidly as she had intended. Good. Why should she be the only one to be uncomfortable.

Ghenni turned and walked out of the cave. She had an awkward moment just before she stepped through the illusory rocks that appeared to block the mouth of the cave. Just like on the way inside. It would have been all right if she’d closed her eyes, but she didn’t dare. One wrong step and, well, there was still quite a way to go to reach the bottom.

Ghenni made a point of ignoring Miki on the way home. She knew she shouldn’t. Miki was a good and loyal friend, as she had proved once again today. But why oh why did she always have to let Ghenni make all the decisions alone, without offering even the tiniest bit of advice or opinion. It’d serve her right to feel guilty and abandoned on the way home.

“I wasn’t much help back there, was I?” Miki began after a few minutes. Ghenni made a point of not reacting. “I should’ve brought Ankhoro, I know,” Miki continued, “but he was busy helping his father. He’s a lot better at it than I am.” She looked up at Ghenni. “You know I’m not good at making decisions. Ankhoro, now, he’s always got something to say, right or wrong.”

Ghenni stopped. She looked Miki straight in the eyes.

“You’re right. You should have said something. Anything. Any help at all is better than none at all. Even advice that doesn’t make sense is better than just getting that ‘gee, I’m too stupid to know anything’ look you put on whenever I ask you something. I mean, sometimes I wonder how you decide to get up in the morning.” She held up her hand to stop Miki from replying. “No, don’t bother. I suppose your momma tells you to get up.”

“That’s not fair.”

“So what? Has anybody been fair to me since this mess started? Why shouldn’t I dish out some of that unfairness instead of always taking it. I mean, did I make Lejani and mom sick? No! Then how come everybody acts like I did? I didn’t make that sea serpent eat anyone either, but everyone acts like I did.” Ghenni wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I get the blame for everything, but do I get any help at all? No. I’ve got to handle it all by myself. I’ve got to try to convince everybody everything isn’t my fault. I’ve got to find a way to cure my sister and my mother from those little animals Habbassin says they’ve got. And I don’t know how! Do you think anyone will believe me when I tell them Terek and Bolwyn brought along tiny little animals nobody can see? Do you really think so? No. Of course not. After all, why believe what that mean Ghenni has to say, that girl we’ve all known all her life, when we can believe two strangers instead whom we don’t know at all. I wish Habbassin had never come here. Nothing has gone right since he came here.” Ghenni sat down on the ground, burying her face in the palms of her hands. “Oh Miki, why don’t I just grab that stupid lamp and give it to Terek and Bolwyn? They could heal Lejani and mom, and then they’ll all go away and everything’ll be all right again.”

“Do you really think so?”

“No.” Ghenni looked up. She took a deep breath. “No, you’re right. I don’t really believe it. Even if they take the lamp and go away, I could never convince anyone I had nothing to do with what happened here.

“Oh Miki, I’m so tired of it all. Tell me, what’s happened? It was so much fun when we found that lamp. Later too, when we played hide and seek with Terek and Bolwyn. Don’t tell me that wasn’t fun.”

“Sure was,” Miki agreed, sitting down cross-legged beside her friend.

“What happened, Miki? When did it stop being a game and become so complicated?”

“When your sister got sick, I suppose.”

Ghenni nodded, slowly.

“I suppose.” She sighed. Sighed again, because it felt so good. It didn’t do anything, though, so she turned her mind back to other things. More practical things. Like helping mom and Lejani get better. She got back to her feet. “It’s time to move on” she said. “Elomei needs to know about what Habbassin told us.” Ghenni smiled. “I’m sorry,” she said, putting a hand on Miki’s shoulder. “I’ve been unfair too. You are helpful, you know. It’s just, I was so frustrated. I needed to let it all out, and you were the most convenient target.”

“On the other hand,” Miki said with a slight smile, “I could have been more helpful. You were right about my avoiding decisions, you know. I guess I could try harder.”

Ghenni nodded.

“Why don’t we start with trying to figure out what we’re gonna tell Elomei about how we learned about those germ things?”

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