The Way of the Word

29. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 40

Looking down at the bubbling lava in Wakano’s Throne, Ghenni still hadn’t entirely gotten over recent events. First, Habbassin had stopped the volcano. Oh, sure, the other two had helped, but Ghenni had been there. She knew exactly what had happened. After they had stopped the eruption, the magic-users had evacuated every living thing from the island. Returning, they had reerupted the volcano, letting it run its course.

“What we did was only a stopgap measure,” Habbassin had told her. “If we left it at that, it could blow up again any time. If we erupt it now, while we’re still around to control it, you’ll be safe. For a while, anyway.”

“What do you mean, we, blue-face?” Bolwyn had said. The portly wizard had been in earshot throughout, not contributing anything. Habbassin had countered his complaint with that special smile he reserved for the gatherers of artifacts. The smile Ghenni was glad he didn’t smile at her.

“Guess who’ll never leave here if they don’t help me,” the djinn had said.

The wizards had decided to cooperate.

The difficult part had come after the second eruption. Ghenni knew how hard it was because Habbassin had recruited not only the two wizards but all the villagers as well. For some reason, the djinn had considered restoring the island essential. While the villagers would have been perfectly happy to settle on the island they had been evacuated to, Habbassin had insisted. He had proven very persuasive.

It had taken several weeks, but finally the island looked more or less as it had before the catastrophe. The cooled lava had been removed. The huts had been rebuilt, better even than before because the villagers had taken some of the advice of the three visitors on how to improve their homes. The volcano had been repaired. Although there were now vents below the waterline, where cold water entered the volcano, cooling it down, while lava would flow out of the vents first, reducing the pressure if there were a new eruption. That at least had been Habbassin’s explanation. The children had been the first to discover the spot of warm water as a playground. Some of the adults had followed the children to play with them, and word had gotten around that a visit to the hot water could be beneficial. Now the adults also enjoyed the hot baths. Together, the people had replanted trees and bushes and flowers, provided by the wizards. It would take some time for everything to grow back as tall as it had been, but grow back it would, now. Habbassin had even brought animals from other islands, to replenish the animal population as he had put it.

It had taken weeks, but now they were done. The island was good as new, better even. Ghenni, her two friends, Elomei, Jamao, Habbassin and the two wizards had gathered on top of Wakano’s Throne.

“We did our part,” Terek said. “You cannot claim otherwise.”

“That’s true,” Habbassin said. “You’re free to go. I release my spell.”

“I still don’t get it,” Bolwyn said. “I mean, you’ve won. We’re beaten, and we’re leaving. You can tell us how come you didn’t obey when I had your lamp. I mean, you’re supposed to grant three wishes to whoever holds that lamp, aren’t you?”

“I am obliged to grant three wishes to whoever is the proprietor of my prison,” Habbassin confirmed. “It doesn’t have to be a lamp. Although, in this case, it was, yes.”

“So?”

“What makes you think I’m dumb enough to give you my lamp?” Habbassin said. He help out his hand, palm up. The lamp materialized on his palm. “Here, take it,” Habbassin said. “As a souvenir.”

Bolwyn took the lamp from the djinn’s outstretched hand and tucked it into his tunic.

“Don’t look so glum, Terek,” Habbassin said. “You can have one too.” Another lamp, identical to the first, materialized. Terek took it.

“A duplicate,” he said, studying the item in his hand. “Clever. You also never told us your name.”

“Names are powerful,” Elomei said.

“Anything to make sure you’ve no power over me,” Habbassin agreed. “The real lamp is hidden somewhere on this island. You’ll never find it.”

“If it hasn’t been destroyed,” Ghenni said. Habbassin shrugged.

“It’s still there,” he said. “I’d know if it were gone, believe me.” He flashed the smile at the wizards. “If I were you, I’d get outta here. I might change my mind about letting you go, you know.”

Terek and Bolwyn exchanged a look.

“Until next time,” Terek said, reaching into his pouch.

“Until next time,” Bolwyn repeated, doing likewise.

The wizards each cast their spell ingredients into the air. The fine powders hung in the air for a moment, then they began to twist, expanding as they did until they completely enveloped the wizards. Suddenly, the twisters were gone. The wizards were gone with them.

“That’s that,” Habbassin muttered.

“What was that about three wishes?” Ghenni said.

“Will they be back?” Jamao said, ignoring Ghenni. Habbassin shrugged.

“These two?” the djinn said. “I don’t think so. They’ve learned their lesson.” He contemplated the question for a moment. “That doesn’t mean there won’t be others, though,” he admitted. “So long as I am here, there is always the chance that there will be others. They might even be worse than those two clowns. Or worse yet, they might be better. If you know what I mean.”

“Then leave,” Jamao said, gesturing imperiously. Habbassin laughed.

“I would if I could,” the djinn said. “Believe me, I’d like nothing better than to get off this godsforsaken rock. If I could. Ghenni, do you want to tell him, or should I?”

“What was that Bolwyn said about three wishes?” Ghenni said. Habbassin ignored her.

“That lamp the wizards mentioned,” he told Jamao, “I’m bound to it. There’s nothing I can do about it. So long as the lamp’s on this island, I’m stuck here.”

“What if we take the lamp away from here?” Jamao said.

“I’d go too. I go anywhere the lamp goes. That’s my curse.”

“Where is the lamp?” Elomei said. Habbassin laughed.

“Oh no, you don’t. I wouldn’t give them two the lamp, what makes you think you can have it?” He shrugged. “On the other hand, you can’t get it anyway. We — Ghenni, her buddies and I — hid it in a cave. It caved in when the volcano shook everything up. I don’t think anyone can get that lamp now.” He winked at the witch-woman. “Except me, and I’m not buying.”

“Then what can we do?”

“I could do something,” Ghenni said. “I’m still the, what did you call it, proprietor of the lamp.”

“Nice try, kid, but you’d have to make a wish to make me get it, and there aren’t enough left to make me do anything afterwards.” Habbassin frowned. “Provided you’ve any wishes left. Haven’t I trick– Haven’t you used them all up already?”

“I don’t think so,” Miki said. “I think there’s still the third wish left.”

“Yeah,” Ankhoro agreed. “You still gotta grant her one more wish.”

“Whatever it will be, we should discuss it someplace more hospitable,” Jamao said. Spreading his arms wide, he herded the others off the mountain. Ghenni kept her smile to herself. She could understand why the chief was uncomfortable so near Wakano. She would have been uncomfortable as well, a couple of days before. A part of her still marveled at how blasé she had become about all this. Seeing, experiencing rather, so very many strange things first hand probably did that to you, another part of her figured. She did as Jamao said anyway. There was no reason not to; besides, it was unpleasantly warm.

As if by mutual agreement, nobody spoke on the way back to the village. Even Habbassin kept quiet. Ghenni wondered what was the matter with him. Perhaps it was that his secret was out now, that everybody knew that thing about the wishes. Especially about the wish that apparently was left over. Being honest with herself, Ghenni admitted that she was wondering about that too. There were grownups involved now. Knowing them, Ghenni was sure they would want to take over the situation, the lamp, and the last wish.

It wasn’t fair.

On the other hand, Habbassin had obviously always considered her the proprietor of the lamp. Whatever else happened, that final wish was hers.

Not that she had any idea what to do with it.

Back in the village, Jamao shooed everybody into his hut, which was much more luxurious now than it had any right to be. He had been quite creative about adapting the visitors’s cultural differences to his own uses. Among the new inventions they had introduced which he had put into his home were chairs and tables. Jamao sat down on a very pretentious-looking chair. The others settled into utilitarian variants.

“The question is what to do with that last wish,” Jamao began without preamble. “I’m sure we have all contemplated that on the way back.”

“I’d rather say the question is what to do with Habbassin,” Opona replied. “So long as he is here, we won’t be safe from people like Terek and Bolwyn. Those two were enough for me, thank you, I don’t need to meet more of their kind.”

Jamao nodded.

“I know it was bad for you and your daughter,” he said with a fake-looking smile. “However, it was your other daughter’s fault that all this happened. If she had brought the lamp to us right away …”

“Perhaps we would have been rid of you,” Elomei said. Jamao looked at her, blinking.

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me. You can’t blame a child for acting like a child. Nor can you play ‘what if’ games in this case. None of us would have known what to do with that lamp. None of us would have even known it was a lamp, or even an enchanted one.”

“Cursed,” Habbassin said.

“A curse is only an enchantment with bad effects. The point is, if Ghenni had given you the lamp, our visitors would have concentrated on you. Wakano knows what they would have done to get through to your thick skull.”

“I see what you mean,” Jamao said, making a face. Ghenni doubted he did.

“Whatever we decide,” Opona said, “we can do nothing until we have the lamp. Habbassin, would you please fetch it here?”

“Is that a wish?” Habbassin said with a sly smile.

“It is a good idea,” Elomei said. “Be a good boy. Fetch.”

“I’m not a dog,” the djinn grumbled. He faded from view. Jamao stared, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, at where he had stood only a heartbeat before.

“He does that a lot,” Ghenni said. “Usually, he’s much more spectacular about it. He loves to put on a spectacle.”

“Yeah, but not right now,” Habbassin said, popping back in. He put the lamp on the table. “Here you are.”

“So that’s the lamp,” Jamao said, reaching for the artifact.

“That’s the lamp,” Ghenni confirmed, taking it. She frowned. “It really is, is it? I thought you couldn’t touch it.”

“The one and only,” Habbassin said. “And yes, I can move it if the owner commands me to.”

“So what do we do?” Opona said.

“I’ve been thinking,” Habbassin said, sitting down. “About how kind Ghenni and her friends were.” He smiled at the children. “About the trouble my presence among you has caused you.” He nodded at Elomei and Opona. “Some of you almost died because of me.”

“We noticed,” Jamao huffed.

“And yet Ghenni refused to give me up to the gatherers,” Habbassin continued. “Her loyalty was unbelieveable. I owe her … very much.”

“So what’re you going to do about it?” the chief said.

“As long as the lamp is here, there is a good chance that other fortune hunters will come to seek me. But I can’t leave. I’m bound to the lamp. There’s nothing I can do about it, and you can believe me when I say I tried. Still, I owe you. All that trouble you had because of me… The only chance is to remove the lamp from the island.”

“How?” Elomei said.

“Some of you people could get into your boats, row far out and take the lamp to another island. Or perhaps just throw it into the water. If I’m lucky, it’ll get eaten by a shark and a fisherman’ll catch that shark later on and I’ll be back out again. Or perhaps the shark’ll die and I’ll spend the rest of eternity on the bottom of the sea.”

“What if something happens to the lamp?” Miki said softly. Putting the lamp back on the table, Ghenni turned to look at her friend. As did everybody else. Ghenni realized that as usual, everybody had apparently forgotten the child was present.

“What do you mean?” Elomei said.

“Habbassin keeps telling us how he’s bound to the lamp,” Miki said, making herself even smaller. Ghenni reached out and took her hand. Miki smiled and straightened. A bit. “Now we talk about taking the lamp away from the island. But if he’s bound to the lamp, won’t he be freed if we break the lamp?”

“You know, I never thought of it …” Habbassin said, rubbing his chin. He shook his head. “No. Won’t work. It could only work if the lamp were completely destroyed. I don’t see how…”

“Wakano,” Miki said. “If anyone can destroy the lamp it’s he, isn’t it? After how you helped us, I’m sure he will.”

Habbassin leaned back in his chair. He looked at his hand, looked out of the window at the now quiet volcano.

“Throw the lamp into the volcano,” he said softly. “You know, that just might work …”

“About that last wish,” Jamao said quickly, “I’ve been thinking about that …”

“We could wish Habbassin free of the lamp,” Ghenni said quickly. “That’s it! We wish Habbassin free of the lamp, and when he is we throw it into Wakano’s Throne, where it’ll be completely destroyed.”

“Exactly,” Miki nodded enthusiastically. “That should do it. The lamp will be destroyed, and Habbassin can go wherever he wants to.”

“You would do that for me?” the djinn said.

“Sure,” Miki said. She stood up. “Let’s get on with it.”

“Let’s,” Ghenni cried. Taking the lamp, she rose and headed for the door.

“There’s a faster way,” Habbassin said, twirling his finger.

Ghenni blinked, and they were back on the volcano.

“All right,” Habbassin said, looking into the lava. “Here’s how we do it. You rub the lamp, and while you rub it you make your wish. Speak it out loud.”

Ghenni rubbed the lamp.

“I wish that Habbassin no longer be bound to this lamp,” she intoned. “Or any other lamp, for that matter.”

Habbassin screamed as he turned into blue smoke and was drawn into the lamp, obviously against his will. When he had been completely sucked inside, the lamp shook violently. It was all Ghenni could do not to drop it. The lid sprang off and a dense blue cloud escaped from it. Off to the right, the cloud solidified into Habbassin. The djinn screamed.

“Are you all right?” Miki called out.

“Throw it!” Habbassin yelled. “Just throw that damn thing into the damn volcano!”

Reaching back as far as she could, Ghenni swung her arm and hurled the lamp into the volcano. It flashed and vanished even before it hit the lava. Habbassin screamed again and collapsed.

The children rushed to his side. Each girl took hold of one of his arms. Together, they helped him back to his feet.

“Are you all right?” Miki asked.

“I … will be,” Habbassin said, straightening. He squared his shoulders. Shook himself. Smiled. “I am,” he said, sounding surprised. “I suppose I really am.” He hugged the children to his expansive gut. “It worked!” he yelled. He threw back his head and laughed, laughed so hard he cried. “It really, actually worked! I’m free!” He kissed first Miki, then Ghenni on the top of their heads. “Thank you. Thank you, my friends. I’m free. I’m really truly free.”

Releasing the children, Habbassin stepped back a couple of paces.

“I can go now,” he said. “I bless you all, my friends. You don’t know … You can’t know … You have no idea what …” He held out both of his hands. They began to glow, a glow that spread to both girls, enveloped them. “A little parting gift,” he said. “You’ll find out in time what it does.”

“You’re leaving?” Miki said.

“Right away,” Habbassin said, nodding so hard Ghenni feared his head would fall off. “For the first time in I don’t know how long I’m free again.”

“Where will you go?” Ghenni said.

“Home. Not right away, I’m afraid. I’ve no idea where I am, or how long I’ve been stuck in that lamp. Or even where home is and how to get there. It’ll probably a long and difficult journey. But eventually, I’ll get home. Of that, I’m certain.”

“Won’t you stay?” Miki said. Habbassin knelt before the child and put his hands on her shoulders.

“I can’t. You know why I can’t. I’d be a danger to you all if I did. That was why we destroyed the lamp, remember.”

Miki nodded.

“Yes,” she said. “I just thought…”

“I know,” Habbassin said, ruffling her hair. “Thank you for caring, Miki.”

Rising to his feet, Habbassin stepped back.

“Well, I gotta get going,” he said. He spread his arms. Looking at Ghenni, he said, “One thing’s sure. I’ll never forget you, or what you did for me. I’ll be eternally grateful.”

The djinn took a deep breath and released it with a hiss.

“We won’t forget you either,” Ghenni said.

“You can count on that,” Opona said. She wasn’t smiling. Habbassin winked at her.

“I’d be surprised if you did,” he said. He raised his head to look up at the sky. “This has been too long a good-bye for my tastes already,” he said, rising up. “Have a good life.”

Waving at the people on the volcano, he picked up speed as he rose higher and higher. Within seconds, he was gone.

“He could’ve taken us back home,” Jamao grumbled.

“The exercise will do you good,” Elomei said. “Now come.”

Opona put her hand on Ghenni’s shoulder.

“That sounds like a good idea,” she told her daughter. “He’s gone. Let’s get on with our lives.”

Looking up at where she had last seen Habbassin, Ghenni nodded.

“Yes,” she said, wiping a tear from her eye. “Let’s.”

THE END

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