The Way of the Word

25. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 36

“What I want you to do,” Habbassin said, “is go over to the hut where Bolwyn and Terek stay. Give the lamp to Bolwyn. He’s the one who offered you the cure, right?”

“Right.”

“Right. Okay. When you give the lamp to Bolwyn, make sure Terek is there to see it.”

“Why?”

“You’ll see. But, kid, this is important. Don’t let Bolwyn have the lamp if Terek isn’t there to see it. I know. Let’s check first. If one of them isn’t in, we wait until both are. Take your crystal.”

Ghenni took the crystal, stared at it and concentrated on Terek and Bolwyn. Soon, an image formed inside the stone. She saw both men clearly. They seemed to argue. Whatever they were doing, they were in their assigned hut.

“So they’re both there. Good. Exactly what we need. Uhm, one last piece of advice, kid.”

“Go ahead.”

“This is important. Whatever you do, don’t tell them my name. I can’t explain why, it’s too complicated. Let’s just say it’d be pretty bad for all of us if they knew my name. Understood?”

“No.” Ghenni enjoyed Habbassin’s exasperated look. “But I’ll do what you say. I won’t tell them your name, even if they ask.”

“All right,” Habbassin said, rubbing his hands. “It’s showtime.” Beginning with his feet, the djinn dissolved into blue smoke, smoke that seemed to be drawn into the lamp Ghenni held in her hands. She watched, fascinated by the spectacle. When the smoke had vanished, Ghenni left the hut.

She stood for a moment just outside the door. It was still night. Nobody was up and about. Good. It meant she wouldn’t have to answer any embarrassing questions about why she was outside when she was supposed to be inside.

Ghenni went halfway through the village when the ground shook so hard she went to her knees. She looked up and behind, at Wakano’s Throne. Was it her imagination, or was the mountaintop really glowing? At any rate, Ghenni was sure it wasn’t clouds rising up from the mountain. The girl wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but she had a feeling, deep down inside, that something bad was about to happen.

When the ground stopped shaking, Ghenni got back on her feet and ran the remaining yards to the wizards’s hut. Hiding the lamp behind her back, Ghenni waited until she had caught her breath again before she entered.

“Now lookit who’s there,” Bolwyn said when he saw Ghenni.

“Ghenni?” Terek said, turning. He frowned. “Has something happened? Why did you break quarantine?”

“I’ve come to make a trade,” Ghenni said. Bolwyn sat up straighter, turning his attention toward her. Terek folded his arms across his chest, frowning even harder.

“What trade?” he asked.

“Bolwyn knows,” Ghenni said, pointing. “He came to me. He said he could cure my family if I gave him the atchoofat.”

“Artefact,” Bolwyn corrected automatically.

“Artefact,” Ghenni repeated. “They’re getting worse. I’m scared. So, I trade. You get the art-a-fat and cure my mother and my sister in return.”

“Whatever he promised you, he’s lying,” Terek said. “There’s no way to cure measles.”

“It’s a deal,” Bolwyn said. He held out his hands. “Do you have it with you?”

Ghenni brought her hands forth and presented the lamp. Terek frowned.

“So what? I’ve seen dozens of them.”

“You gotta rub it,” Ghenni said. “The djinn comes out only when you rub it.”

“The djinn? You mean you really have a djinn in that lamp?” Terek said. He reached for the lamp. Ghenni held it away from him. “I have seen such a thing before. I even have one or two. None have ever been so powerful as to attract my attention halfway across the world.” He closed his eyes, extending his arms toward the lamp. “Yes, definitely a djinn. I can feel its power.”

“Same here,” Bolwyn said. He too held out his hands. “All right, kid. You said you’d deal. Gimme.” He smiled. It was far from pretty. There was too much avarice in the smile.

“No. First you must cure my family. As you promised. You cure them. Elomei watches as you do it, so she can do it herself if it happens again. You teach her how. When you’re done, then you can have the lamp. Not before.”

Bolwyn opened his mouth as if to say something. He looked at the lamp, saw the way Ghenni held it, with one palm on the metal, ready to rub. Bolwyn closed his mouth, looking at Ghenni.

“All right,” he said. “We do it your way. I can wait a coupl’a hours longer.” He stood up, pulling his trousers up as he did. “Let’s go get it over with.”

Bolwyn grabbed his bag and rushed out of the door. Terek and Ghenni exchanged a look. Terek shrugged.

“Why did you offer him the lamp?” he asked.

“You said you can’t cure my family.”

Terek nodded. He rubbed his chin.

That’s sure getting around, Ghenni thought. She managed not to giggle at the thought.

“I wonder how,” the wizard said. “There’s no cure for measles that I know. I simply fail to imagine how Bolwyn could know more than I do.”

“Things happen,” Ghenni said with a shrug. “Can we go now.”

“Certainly.” They stepped outside. Terek frowned at Wakano’s Throne.

“I am not certain I like the look of that volcano,” he said.

“I suppose Wakano’s mad at everything that’s going on here,” Ghenni said, pushing past Terek.

“So long as he does not decide to punish us all…” Terek said, trailing off. Ghenni wasn’t sure she liked the way he said that. He sounded afraid.

Ghenni ignored Terek and his misgivings as she rushed back to her hut instead. Entering, she saw Bolwyn help Elomei to her feet.

“I haven’t slept so well in ages,” the old woman said. “I feel wonderfully refreshed. You simply must give me that recipe, my boy.” Bolwyn had the decency to blush. Ghenni giggled. Elomei winked at her.

“I’ve come to cure these people,” Bolwyn said, making a sweeping gesture with his arm that encompassed the entire hut. “Ghenni insisted I should teach you.”

“Why the change of mind?” Elomei said.

“Ask the child,” Bolwyn replied. He sat down beside Opona. Frowning at the bucket, he tossed most of the ice water into a far corner. Lighting a fire with a snap of his fingers, he put the bucket above the flames.

“When the water boils, I’ll add the spell ingredients,” he explained. “It’s important that the water boils before you add them.” Elomei went to the portly wizard’s side, all attention. Ghenni went to her mother’s side and took her hand.

“Don’t worry, mom,” she said. “You’ll soon feel better. I promise.”

From the corner of her eyes, she watched Terek watch Bolwyn with a look that was so intense she was glad it wasn’t directed at her.

Bolwyn opened his bag and, together with Elomei, produced a foul-smelling brew. When he was done, he looked up at Ghenni. He smiled.

“Your patients’ll have to drink this,” he said. “Don’t worry. It tastes as bad as it smells.” He sniffed, wrinkling his nose as the vapors entered his nostrils. “Although I admit it seems impossible. Medicine has to taste bad to be effective, or so my mother always told me. Anyway, once they’ve had their fill, it should only be a matter of hours until they’re back on their feet.”

“Wholly restored?” Elomei said. Bolwyn shook his head no.

“Not right away. You gotta expect some side effects when people’ve been so sick so long. They’ll need some rest, exercise and decent food, but that’s about it.”

“I have never heard of this cure before,” Terek said. “Where did you learn it?”

“The same place where our friend in the lamp comes from,” Bolwyn said. “If you can believe that. I wouldn’t; the coincidence would look too far-fetched to me. Anyway, there was that little herbalist …” Bolwyn stopped, smiled and cleared his throat. “But that’s a different story, for a different time. I’ve honored my end of the bargain. Ghenni, if you’d please keep up your end and hand over that lamp …? Thanks.”

Ghenni held on to the lamp for a moment longer than necessary. It didn’t feel right. They had worked so hard so long. Now it was all supposed to have been for nothing?

She released her hold on the lamp and stepped back. Habbassin had said she should trust him. She did. She had to. She had no other choice.

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