The Way of the Word

24. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 35

“What?” Ghenni turned to face the djinn. “Why didn’t you think of what before?”

“I think I know what’s up, kid.” The chair turned into a blue mist that the djinn absorbed as he stood. He looked smug. Habbassin went over to Opona. He laid his palm on her forehead. His hand glowed, a glow that spread out to cover all of the woman’s body.

“Gotcha,” the djinn muttered. The glow faded. Habbassin looked at Ghenni. His grin frightened her. “I was right,” he said.

“Right about what?”

“Doesn’t matter,” me muttered. He looked at Ghenni, a glint in his eye that matched his smile. “I think I know a way to help your family. Do you still trust me?”

“… Yes …”

Habbassin nodded.

“In that case, I know exactly what to do. All you must do is trust me, and do what I say. Even if you’d rather not.” That grin again. “Especially if you’d rather not.”

“I don’t think I understand…”

“Doesn’t matter. You will. I’ll be back in no time. Just wait here.”

Habbassin vanished. He didn’t disappear in a puff of smoke, or fade away. Nothing like that this time; he was there one moment and gone the next. Ghenni continued to stare at where he had been until her mind registered his departure. When it did she blinked rapidly several times.

Now that was unexpected, she thought. Where were the theatralics? Where the drama?

Whatever he was up to, he had to be quite serious about it.

Ghenni shook her head and turned her attention to the bucket Habbassin had left. The coating had restored itself. Ghenni poked another hole into the ice and renewed the wrappings around her mother’s and sister’s ankles.

“That should break the fever,” Habbassin said. Ghenni let out a startled cry. She turned and glared at the djinn.

“You’re getting better at it, I think,” the djinn said, rubbing his chin. “There’s almost so much menace in that look it makes me want to run away.”

“Don’t do that,” Ghenni snarled. “What happened to your fade-in fade-out entrances?”

“I only do those for an appreciative audience,” Habbassin said. He looked at Elomei. The djinn frowned and went over to the old woman. He examined her briefly. “She’ll be all right,” he finally declared. “I’d almost say someone meant really well with her. After that nap, she’ll probably feel better than she has in years.”

Ghenni felt better. She had been worried about the spell Bolwyn had put on the old woman. Sure, he had said it was only a sleep spell that would cause no lasting harm, but he wasn’t exactly trustworthy.

“What do you want?” she said.

“Help you.”

“How? You said you didn’t know how to cure my family.”

“No, but whoever caused this does. If they didn’t, they’d have nothing with which to bargain.” He rubbed his chin. “Unless he’s bluffing, but I don’t think so. Not with his fiercest competitor around. That could backfire too mightily.”

“How. Do. You. Plan. To. Help. Me?”

“Oh. That. Well, I sort of caused all this when I showed up here, didn’t I?” Habbassin sat down on the ground, folding his legs underneath himself. “Quite involuntarily, honestly, but still. Anyway, I’ve decided that, because I caused all this, which I certainly didn’t intend when I showed up here, I swear, it’s up to me to put an end to it.” The djinn rubbed his nose and pulled on his earlobe. “Well, that and the fact that you were willing to stick up for me even though I let you down. I figure I owe you. I’ve thought about it, you better believe it, and I’ve come up with the perfect solution.”

“Get to the point.”

“Getting low on patience?”

“I haven’t really slept since all this started,” Ghenni said, “and I do feel a bit cranky. A bit? No. I feel very cranky. So yes, I am getting low on patience. The sooner you get to the point, the sooner this will all be over.”

“Good point. I think I can do something about your lack of sleep.” A tall glass with a steaming black fluid inside materialized on Habbassin’s outstretched palm. “Drink this. It’ll refresh you.”

Ghenni accepted the glass. She held it gingerly as she inspected the contents. She moved it from hand to hand, hoping to lessen the effect of the heat on the fingers that held the glass. She looked at it. It was a deep, sinister black. She sniffed it, curling her nose when the acrid smell impacted on her nostrils.

“Drink it while it’s hot,” Habbassin said, “or it won’t work as well.”

Ghenni raised the glass to her lips. She took a deep breath and sipped. It tasted bitter. Ghenni shuddered.

“You have to drink it all up if you want it to help,” the djinn said. Ghenni drank, slowly. The bitter fluid burned a hot path into her stomach. She could feel it work, though.

“All right,” Habbassin said, smiling. “Now, my solution to our problem. I can’t cure your family. One of the wizards most likely can. The catch is, he’ll only do it in trade for this.” He held out his lamp. Ghenni spewed a mouthful of black fluid all over the djinn. He grimaced, waved, and it vanished.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?” Ghenni said.

“Be a little more careful, would you?” Habbassin said. “That stuff’s extra hot.”

“That’s your lamp.”

“Sure looks that way, doesn’t it. That’s why I brought it. You see, kid, there’s a very simple solution to our problems. Simple yet elegant. It’s like this: everybody gets what they want. You take the lamp and give it to the wizard who can cure them. In return, he’ll cure your family. Everybody’s happy.”

“But … but we can’t do that. If he gets your lamp, he gets you too. You’ll be his slave. Wouldn’t you?”

“At the very least I’d finally get off this dull little rock you call a home,” Habbassin shrugged. “Which solves my problem of infinite boredom. It’ll also solve the magic problem of everybody else. When I’m gone, I won’t have to use them as entertainment any longer.”

“But what about you? We’ve worked so long and so hard to keep you out of their hands, we can’t just give up now.”

“Ghenni, do you remember what I asked you a couple of minutes ago?”

“What?”

“Do you remember?”

“… You asked me to trust you.”

“Exactly. Well, do you? Trust me?”

“Yes. Yes, I do.”

“Okay. Now, do you believe me when I say I know exactly what I’m doing?”

“I’m not sure…”

“I do, though. Now, I want you to take this lamp and trade it for the lives of your family. Trust me. I know exactly what I’m doing.” He chuckled. “We should’ve thought of this when all this started. Okay, Ghenni, don’t worry, kid. It’ll all come out right if you just do what I tell you.”

Ghenni took first a deep breath and then the lamp from Habbassin’s hands. The djinn favored her with a very broad grin. And a wink.

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