The Way of the Word

22. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 33

“Food’s on.”

Bolwyn’s cheerful voice penetrated even the cloud of gloom that hung around Ghenni’s head. She looked up at the wizard, who held a huge tray with a variety of foodstuffs on it in his hands.

“I thought nobody’s allowed in here,” she said. Bolwyn put the tray down and winked.

“Exept for Terek and me, of course. We’re both immune. Nothing can happen to us.”

“It is sensible then that you should attend us,” Elomei said. She picked up a morsel and eyed it carefully. “What is this?”

“Terek prepared it. It’s fish. He used a recipe he learned, oh, on the other side of the world or thereabouts. Try it. You might like it.”

Elomei put the morsel in her mouth and started chewing. She nodded enthusiastically and helped herself to more. Bolwyn smiled. He took a wooden plate which he filled with a selection from the tray. He gave Ghenni the plate.

“You know,” he said softly, sitting down beside her, “I wasn’t entirely honest with you yesterday.”

“Oh?” Ghenni liked the food Bolwyn had given her. “How so?”

“I played stupid. You know how it is, sometimes you don’t want people to know what you know either, right?”

Ghenni nodded, too busy with eating to speak. She looked at Elomei, who had sat down to eat at the other end of the hut. The old woman was concentrating on her food so hard she completely ignored them both. Ghenni wondered idly if the food was under a spell. Perhaps she should’ve passed. Oh well, if it was tainted, it was too late now anyway.

“I didn’t want Terek to know that I had recognized the measles too,” he continued. “I don’t trust Terek. Do you?”

Ghenni shook her head no.

“After all, he conjured the sea serpent that attacked your people, simply to give himself a good entrance. Remember our little boatride that day? We agreed we didn’t trust Terek. Do we still? Agree on that, I mean?”

“Yes,” Ghenni said. “His cooking’s great, though.”

“No dispute there,” Bolwyn grinned. “It’s better than my own, anyway.”

Ghenni craned her neck to look at Elomei. The witch-woman sat on the mat on the other side of the hut. Apparently, she had gotten herself a second helping. She was so busy eating she completely ignored the exchange between Bolwyn and Ghenni.

“How come Elomei acts so funny?” Ghenni asked. “I’ve never seen her like this before.”

“A little something added to her food,” Bolwyn said with a shrug. “It’s harmless. All it does is keep her attention away from us. Now, where was I? Oh. Yes. Terek. The point is, never mind how much we both like it here, we’re still here for a purpose. We’re still here to find that magickal artifact. And never mind how well we get along socially, each of us wants to find that artifact before the other does.”

“Makes sense to me.”

“I knew it would. You’re a smart girl, Ghenni.” Bolwyn patted Ghenni’s knee. When he stopped, she wiped it off.

“What are you getting to?”

“Straight to the point,” Bolwyn beamed. “I like that. All right. The point. My best guess is that Terek might know how to cure measles.”

“What?”

“Might, I said.” Bolwyn held up a hand. “I’m not saying he does. No, what I was thinking is, if he knows a cure, he’ll probably trade it for the artifact. I wouldn’t be surprised if he shows up here with an offer as soon as I’ve left.”

“So?”

“I wouldn’t even be surprised to learn that Terek infected everybody here on purpose. It wouldn’t be the first time, you see. Make everybody sick, then cure them. For a price, of course.” Bolwyn smiled. It looked cold, slimy and sly. “Not this time, though.”

“Why not?”

“As it happens, I also know a cure for measles. It’s really a simple little spell.”

“Why didn’t you say so yesterday?”

“Because I didn’t want Terek to know. What did I tell you about keeping secrets? Things might get ugly if he finds out too soon that I can counter his scheme. His plan, I mean.”

“So you’ll cure my mother and sister?”

“Why not? Of course, my help isn’t for free. I’ll trade it. Nothing too expensive, don’t worry.”

“What do you want?” Ghenni asked. As if I didn’t know.

She looked once more at Elomei, who was still too busy eating to pay attention to what happened around her. Ghenni felt sorry for the old woman. She would feel pretty bad once this was over.

“You remember why both of us came here, I suppose. Because we sensed that a magickal artifact is hidden somewhere here on this island.”

“And you’re both after it. This is getting boring, you know.”

“Oh.” Bolwyn chuckled. “I guess it is. All right. But, bear with me. You see, we’re both sure that you, kiddo, are somehow involved with this artifact. Maybe you found it and started to use it. Now, if I had family that was as sick as yours, and if I had such a powerful artifact, I’d use it first chance I’d get. I see your folk aren’t better yet. Guess the artifact didn’t help, did it.”

“What…” artifact, Ghenni was about to reply. It had become almost reflexive by now. She stopped herself. Bolwyn was right. Habbassin hadn’t only been unable to help, he had refused. What did she owe him anymore? “… makes you think so?” she concluded.

“Now, as I said, I can cure your family. If anyone else here caught the measles too, I can cure them as well.” He snapped his fingers. “Almost as easy as that. Just in case someone else comes down with it, I’ll teach your shaman over there how to work the cure. Nothing to it, really, if you know how. Nobody’d ever have to get sick with measles again. If I do all that, will you give me the artifact?” Ghenni looked at him, trying to keep her expression blank. Bolwyn smiled at her. “I’m not really asking all that much. Think about it. Has that thing ever been anything else but trouble?”

Ghenni thought of all the problems she had had recently. One thing she had to agree with. She had had more than her share of trouble since Habbassin had arrived. But the djinn had helped wherever he could. Unless he had been busy playing pranks on unsuspecting people. And except for the one time when it had counted. On the other hand, all her troubles had really only begun when the two wizards had arrived. No, it hadn’t been Habbassin who had caused her all that trouble. It had been the wizards. The wizards, and their single-minded, greedy quest for Habbassin’s lamp.

Now, Bolwyn claimed that Terek was responsible for the measles that plagued her family. It was possible. Terek had hurt people before. She didn’t doubt Terek would hurt anyone to get what he wants. On the other hand, she wasn’t entirely sure how trustworthy he was. He claimed Terek had caused this. He might have, as well. He claimed he kew how to cure it. He could be lying.

What was she to do?

“I need to think about it,” she said. Bolwyn patted her shoulder.

“Of course,” he said softly. “Take your time. Of course, if you take too much time…” he pointed a thumb at Opona.

“I know,” Ghenni sighed.

What was a girl to do?

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