The Way of the Word

21. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 32

“It kills them because your people don’t know this disease,” Bolwyn said. “Terek and I, we were lucky. We might just as easily have caught something your bodies have learned to handle. Something that’s as harmless to you as measles are to us. Something that could have killed us regardless.”

“How do we cure it then?” Elomei said.

“There is no cure,” Terek said with a shrug. “I’m afraid that’s the plain, ugly truth. If we could help, we would.”

“Sure we would,” Bolwyn agreed. “After everything you people’ve done for us…” He shrugged. Ghenni was beginning to hate the gesture. “This is beyond me,” he concluded.

“The same is true for me, I fear,” Terek said. “If you treat them the way we described to you however, that should be a considerable help.”

“We shall do that,” Elomei said. “I will begin at once. Ghenni, I shall need your help. I need you to gather everyone Lejani and Opona have been in contact with for… how long did you say?”

“Seven days.”

“Seven days. Take them to an empty hut and tell them to stay there.”

“But that’d be just about everybody,” Ghenni protested.

“She has a point there,” Bolwyn said. “You’d need to gather in everyone who’s been in touch with everyone who’s been in touch with anyone who’s been in touch…” He trailed off to count something on his fingers. He grimaced and stopped. “But that’s next to impossible. I guess you should simply gather everyone they’ve been in close contact with. Such as Ghenni here, or the lady’s husband. Most people should be safe anyway; or they’d already have shown symptoms.”

Terek made a face as if he were about to object, but Bolwyn silenced him with a sharp look. Terek closed his eyes. He nodded.

“Confining you two and the man of the house should do,” he agreed. “But not here. If you show no symptoms, you could go back outside.”

“These two are in my care,” Elomei said. “I will not abandon them when they need me the most.”

“What she said,” Ghenni added. She bit her lip. Me and my big mouth. With the two wizards unable to help, perhaps Habbassin might. But how could she go to ask him for help if she was stuck in this hut? “That is …”

“You’re afraid,” Elomei said, nodding. “I understand. Go, then. Find your father. Take him to my hut. You will both stay there for seven days. You will not come out before then. If you remain well, you may come out again. If not, you will at least not endanger anyone else.”

“I understand,” Ghenni said, looking down. She had to find her father before she had to stay in Elomei’s hut. That bought her some time. Perhaps she could use that time to rush to the cave to talk with Habbassin. No. They would get suspicious if she took too long. Being stuck in a hut with her father wouldn’t help either. She’d be under constant supervision. No, she would have to find another way to get in touch with the djinn. Perhaps staying in this hut would be the best solution after all.

“I’d rather stay here, after all,” she said. “To look after them. Somebody has to, so why shouldn’t I do it? Terek said it’s not difficult. Why should someone else risk getting measles when I might already have them?” Besides, with both patients asleep most of the time, there would be a better chance to sneak off to get help.

“She makes sense,” Terek said. “Let her stay. You can spell her… Sorry. You can look her up every now and then to make sure she is all right.”

“To make sure the other two are all right too,” Bolwyn added. “Actually, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea if you moved in here too. You’ve had pretty close contact with them over the last couple of days, remember? It’d be better if you stayed too. Just in case you got it too. You know.”

“I know,” Elomei said with a nod. “You speak sense. Very well. I shall stay here as well.” She smiled a toothless smile. “It is just as well. Ghenni, you mean well, but it is easier for two people to tend these patients. But who will see to the needs of my people?”

“We shall take care of that,” Terek said. “You may have noticed that we are quite competent magic-users ourselves. We should be able to replace you for a week.”

“Thank you,” Elomei said. Ghenni made an effort not to roll her eyes in frustration. There went her beautiful plan.

On the other hand, there was nothing to keep Miki or Ankhoro from going to Habbassin. All she had to do was a way to get in touch with them. That was a much simpler proposition than leaving the village to go to the cliffs.

She nodded to herself. From the corner of her eye, she saw Bolwyn raise an eyebrow.

“I think that’s a good idea too,” she said quickly. “It’s definitely better than having to stay awake all the time. Besides, if either of us has the measles, the other can care for all three of us … them … whoever.”

“We are agreed then,” Terek said. “I shall go find Pahone and send him to your hut. I will explain everything to him.” He smiled. “Do not worry about that.”

“Could you tell Miki or Ankhoro to come by, please?” Ghenni said.

“I do not know if that is wise,” Terek frowned.

“Please. I need to tell them what’s going on. There’s some stuff I need too. Stuff they have. You know.”

“Kid stuff,” Bolwyn smiled. “All right. No problem. But remember to keep your distance, hear? The two stay out of this hut. Or they stay in here for seven days. Wouldn’t that get pretty crowded?”

“It sure would.”

“All right, then. We’re agreed. You can talk, but you keep your distance.”

“I will continue to invoke the spirits on behalf of the poor two children,” Elomei said. Terek reacted to that, blinking at the old woman with an empty stare. Two heartbeats later, he nodded.

“Of course,” he said. “At the very least, it could do no harm. You need to be frugal with the incense, however. If at all possible, do without.”

“I understand.”

The wizard and the witch-woman shared a look. Both nodded. Terek patted Ghenni’s head.

“I am sorry there is not more I can do for your family,” he said. As he left the hut, Bolwyn looked after him. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but seemed to change his mind. He shook his head and followed Terek instead.

Now what was that all about? Ghenni thought, looking after him. She still pondered the question when Ankhoro showed up a few moments later.

“You called?” he said cheerfully. There was something about his eyes that didn’t look cheerful at all, however.

Ghenni moved closer to make sure she could talk without being overheard.

“I guess you’ve heard,” she whispered. “Elomei can’t help mom and Lejani, and the wizards are helpless too.”

“Yes. What can I do?”

“It’s sweet of you to ask,” Ghenni said. She smiled when Ankhoro made a face at being called sweet. “Actually, there is something. You could go to the cave and tell Habbassin. He said he might be able to help.”

“If the wizards couldn’t…”

“It can’t hurt to try, can it? The worst that can happen is, he can’t help. In that case, we’re no worse off than we are already. But what if he can help? I think we just have to try. Don’t you?”

“Can’t hurt.”

“Right. Tell him to be careful, though. Elomei’s in here with me. We wouldn’t want her to notice him, now would we?”

“I’m surprised you still care about that, after what happened.”

“Don’t remind me.”

“Okay, I won’t. Don’t worry. I’ll go get him. Need anything else, while I’m at it?”

“No,” Ghenni smiled. “Now move off, willya.”

“See you in seven,” Ankhoro said. He ran off, waving. Ghenni returned the wave. She watched him vanish into the jungle. Somehow, that made her feel better. Only a few hours now, and Habbassin would take care of those measles. Everybody would be better. Ghenni blinked and rubbed her eyes. She sure needed a rest now…

Ghenni stared at her knuckles, wide-eyed. She held her breath, blinked, sniffled experimentally.

“My eyes are hurting,” she said. Elomei was instantly by her side.

“Let me see, child.” She took Ghenni through all the steps Terek had explained to her. When she finished the examination, she smiled. The relief in that smile was evident. “You are simply tired, child. How long has it been since you last had a good night’s sleep?”

“Is that it?”

“I would say so, yes. Lay down on your bedroll, close your eyes and sleep. In a few hours, you will be good as new.”

Ghenni nodded and lay down as instructed. Sleep came within minutes.

When the voice whispered in her ear, she thought she were dreaming.

“Psst. Kid.”

“Hmmm? Habbassin?”

“The one and only. Ankhoro said you wanted to see me?”

Ghenni opened her eyes. It was dark.

“It’s the middle of the night.”

“I know. The best possible time to make a house call, doncha think? So, what’s up?”

“Elomei…”

“Is going to be sound asleep as long as necessary. I made sure of that. So, you want to shoot some breeze, or is there anything the matter?”

Ghenni looked at the djinn, who sat full-sized and in living color in the middle of the hut.

All things considered, perhaps it’s really for the best that it’s the middle of the night, she thought. Quickly, she told him what had happened, and what Terek and Bolwyn had discovered.

“Measles, huh? Just as I’d thought. They say they can’t cure them?” The djinn sneered. “To think I was afraid of their magic, can you imagine? All right, then, gimme a minute.”

A blue mist whirled around Habbassin. When it settled, he once again wore the white robe. He rolled up his sleeves and held his arms high over his head. He turned his head, wiggled his eyebrows and winked at Ghenni. Ghenni decided not to tell him how much better she would feel if he quit fooling around and got on with curing her family.

Habbassin’s hands began to glow with a blue light. He put one hand each on one of the afflicted women. The glow spread from his hands until each of the two patents was engulfed. It flared up, then dimmed quickly. To Ghenni it looked as if the glow were absorbed into the sick womens’s bodies.

Habbassin frowned. He rolled up his sleeves again. Ghenni hadn’t noticed how they had unrolled themselves. He raised his hands again. The hands began to glow again. He repeated the entire procedure.

Afterwards, he waited for a few moments.

“Well, uhm, after checking them out I can, uhm, definitely say that they have a bad case of the measles,” the djinn said. He scratched his head.

“That’s fine,” Ghenni said. “Now if you would please heal them?”

“Nope. Sorry, kid.”

“What did you say?”

“I said, nope. Sorry, kid.”

Ghenni grabbed Habbassin’s shoulder and turned him around. The djinn folded his arms across his chest while he studied the ceiling.

“What do you mean, nope?” Ghenni hissed.

“Just that. I mean, get real, kid. Your folks got the measles. The measly measles. They’ll get over it in a couple of days. Now me, I’m a world-class magic-using djinn. Doing a spell to cure someone of the measles… They’d throw me out of the union. This is simply beneath my notice.”

“Wait a moment,” Ghenni said. “Are you telling me you aren’t going to help them? You refuse to help them?”

“Yup. That’s about the size of it.” Habbassin lowered his gaze, fixing it on a spot a few millimeters above Ghenni’s left shoulder. “Come back again if you have a problem that’s worthy of my attention.”

“You can’t do this. After everything we’ve done for you? I mean, if it hadn’t been for us, your lamp would’ve been the property of one of those wizards already. We did so much to keep your lamp out of their hands. And you just stand there and tell me that saving two lives is beneath your notice?”

“That’s a pretty good summary,” Habbassin nodded.

“I should take your lamp and simply give it to one of the wizards.”

“But you won’t.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“Because they won’t let you out of this hut? Plus, the cave is impossible to find if you haven’t been there. I remember your making sure of that.”

“I … I’ll do it as soon as I can get out of here.”

“If you feel you must.” Habbassin shrugged. “By that time, you’ll have calmed yourself down.” The djinn gestured at Elomei. “Gotta go now. Your watchdog’ll wake up in a couple of minutes now.” He wagged his fingers at Ghenni. “See you in seven.” He vanished in a cloud of blue smoke.

Ghenni spent the time until Elomei woke up staring at the spot where she had last seen the djinn. She clenched her fists so hard they hurt.

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