The Way of the Word

23. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 34

Lejani moaned. Ghenni turned. She looked at her sister who shifted in her sleep. Ghenni looked at Elomei, who now leaned against the wall with her eyes closed. The old woman snored softly. Bolwyn shrugged.

“Basically, I mingled a sleep spell into the ingredients. She’ll feel really refreshed in a couple of hours.” The fat man smiled. “Hey, I’ve never been out to kill anyone. All I want is that artefact.”

“Do you care at all what you’re doing to us?”

“Should I? Look at it from my point of view, kid. I drop in on some people. I stay long enough to find and get what I’m looking for. Then, before you know it, I’m gone. Sure, sometimes I gotta play some tricks on people, but nobody ever gets seriously hurt.”

“You don’t call that serious?” Ghenni pointed at her sister.

“I said Terek did that, didn’t I? It’s not my style. I am, however, not above taking advantage of somebody else’s schemes.” Bolwyn shrugged. “Imagine the stories you people can tell your children and grandchildren. Admit it, kid, Terek and me, we’re probably the most exciting thing to happen on this godsforsaken island in eons, if not ever.”

Bolwyn sat up straighter when a low grumble filled the air. The ground shook softly.

“This island is my home, and it is not godforsaken,” Ghenni said quietly. “Do you hear it? Do you feel it? Wakano has heard you. He has decided to remind you of his power.”

“Aww, that’s just a volcano. I’ve seen them before. They’re nowhere near as special as you seem to think. Still, I hope to be long gone before this one blows. So, how about it? Will you give me the artefact?”

“I can’t leave the hut. Not for another six days.”

“Find another way to get it, then. Frankly, my dear, I don’t think your folks’re gonna last that long.”

Ghenni turned once again to look at Lejani and Opona. She closed her eyes and sighed.

“Would you please fetch some cold water?” she said. “I need to do something to help them.”

“Sure thing,” Bolwyn said, rising. “Remember, kid, don’t take too long to think about it.”

Ghenni nodded. Bolwyn studied her for a few seconds. He nodded and left the hut. A few minutes later he returned. Wordless, he put a bucket full with water on the ground. Then he left. Ghenni hefted the bucket and carried it to her sister’s bedroll. She dunked a cloth into the water, just like Terek had shown her, and wrapped it around Lejani’s ankles. She soaked another cloth which she wrapped around Opona’s ankles. She looked at Elomei, who still snored peacefully.

“I guess you heard everything, huh?” she said. She put her hand on her mother’s forehead. It was still unpleasantly hot. “So, now you know the mess I’ve gotten myself into. Not just myself, mind you, but also Ankhoro and Miki. On the other hand, the ones who’s really deep in this mess are you and Lejani, and it’s all my fault for finding that stupid lamp.

“There. It’s out now. Yes, mom, I know what those two bad men are looking for. It’s a lamp. At least, the djinn who lives in the lamp said it’s a lamp, and he had no reason to lie about it so I guess he said the truth.” Ghenni unwrapped the cloth from Lejani’s ankles and soaked it again. When it was cold enough, she rewrapped Lejani’s ankles. While she worked, she told her unconscious audience the entire story.

“So there you have it,” she concluded. That’s all there is to it. That’s why you were made so sick.

“I don’t know what to do anymore. If I give Bolwyn Habbassin’s lamp, he’ll cure you. He said. But what if he lied? What if he can’t cure you. What if I give him the lamp and he just takes it and goes away with it? I mean, I’d be betraying a friend. Of course, he’s not a very good friend. He’s always there when there’s a chance to make trouble. The one time I really needed his help, he refused. Last night, remember? When I asked him to heal you? He simply refused to do it. When you hear him talk, he’s always such a wonderful magic-user. But when you really need his magic, he says ‘forget it’ and goes away. What kind of friend is that? Wouldn’t you agree that I should turn him over to Bolwyn if that means Bolwyn will cure you? Isn’t family more important than friends?

“But I can’t just hand him over. If I did, I’d be just as bad. Isn’t that really the worst kind of friend, one who betrays your trust? If I did that, would anyone ever trust me again? Could they? I mean, they’d be right not to.”

Ghenni stopped her monologue. She laughed softly.

“Listen to me,” she said. “I’m babbling. And you can’t even hear it. Actually, I’m rather glad you can’t. If you did, I couldn’t tell you all this. On the other hand, if you could, I wouldn’t need to tell you all this. But, really, I’ve carried this inside me for so long now… Well, not really all that long, just a couple of days, but it seems much longer.” She sighed. “I just don’t know what to do, mom. Do I turn Habbassin over to Bolwyn? Should I betray a friend to save my family? Or should I keep Habbassin hidden, and watch you die?

“I really wish you could tell me, mom.”

“You still want to protect me?”

Ghenni gasped. She pressed her palm against her chest to keep her heart from leaping out of her. She turned.

“How did you get in here without my noticing?” she hissed at Habbassin.

“I thought you knew by now,” the djinn said. “I’m pretty resourceful.” He stirred the water in the bucket with his hand. “This is getting too warm. Allow me.” The usual blue mist surrounded the bucket. Ghenni watched as the water hardened. “We call that ice,” Habbassin said. “There’s a thin coating of it on top. Break it. The water underneath is probably colder than anything you’ve ever felt before.”

Ghenni poked her finger at the ice coating the water. She shuddered and drew back. In her entire life, she had never felt anything that cold.

She poked again, harder. The ice broke, to reveal water underneath. Ghenni dipped her finger into it. She shuddered again. This water seemed even colder than the ice that had topped it. She took the strip of cloth and dunked it into the water. It changed in her hands. As she watched, the cloth grew a bit. It changed texture, became softer to the touch, fluffier. Ghenni glared accusingly at Habbassin. The djinn shrugged.

“Nothing against your cloth, but this type soaks better.”

“Go away,” Ghenni said.

“Not before you answer my question. I asked, ‘You still want to protect me?'”

“What if I do?”

“You believe I refused to help your family, and you still want to protect me from the gatherers?”

“You did refuse.”

Habbassin shook his head no.

“That’s what I wanted you to think. The truth is…” He swallowed. Ghenni looked at his face. She couldn’t remember ever seeing him so serious. “The truth is,” he continued, “I couldn’t.”

Ghenni blinked. Blinked again.

“Say again?”

A chair materialized behind the djinn. Habbassin sat down on it without looking. His shoulders slumped, his head hung down. Unusually far down. Ghenni realized he had elongated his neck. She almost smiled. Even now, he couldn’t stop fooling around.

“I couldn’t help them,” he said. I wanted to, I really did. You and your friends, you’ve been so terribly nice, you know, helpful. I would’ve been happy if there’d been anything I could’ve done to help. I really did want to cure your family. Measles, that’s a very simple healing spell. Usually, anyway.”

“If it’s so simple, why do you say you can’t help them?”

“Because I can’t. I used the spell I was taught for this. Measles is pretty common where I come from, you know, and every healer knows this spell. Only it didn’t work. It should have, but it didn’t.”

“Why didn’t you…”

“You believed in me. I wanted … well, I … call it vanity, dammit.”

“Excuse me? I don’t think I understand a word you’re saying.”

“You thought I knew what I was doing. Well, I did. At least I thought I did. No, I really do. Anyway, you thought I could do anything. I, well, I wanted you to go on thinking that. You wouldn’t think it if you were around to see me fail, would you. So when I found out I couldn’t help, I decided to pretend to refuse to help.”

“You know, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Yeah. I know. Now. I mean, I heard what you said to your mother. You’re willing to stand by me even though you thought I’d let you down.”

Habbassin made a face as though he expected her to pick up the thread. Ghenni kept quiet; she continued to look at him without saying a word.

“Okay, it was dumb,” he finally admitted. “Live and learn. Look at the bright side, at least I didn’t make things worse.”

“Yeah. Right.” Ghenni folded her arms across her chest and turned away. She gnawed on her lower lip as she thought.

“Bolwyn claims to know a cure for measles.”

“If it’s the same one I tried, I don’t think so. There’s something wrong with these measles. They’re too virulent. Too hard on the people. The spell should’ve cured them, but didn’t. It’s as if … That’s it!” He slapped his forehead with his palm. “Why didn’t I think of it before.”

Advertisements

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: