The Way of the Word

8. October 2011

I (Heart) Christopher Lee – Postscript

It’s not a secret that I’m a huge fan of Christopher Lee.

I even made some cartoons about it:

I (Heart) Christopher Lee
Meeting the Legend

If you wish, you could refer to the strips’s backstory, which I explained in a different post here on this blog. Essentially, the strips are a spoof of what might happen if I ever got the chance to meet Christopher Lee.

He was in Hamburg last Sunday. Presenting his new movie.


Translation: considering that he’s 89 years old, this was probably the only chance ever to meet him, AND NOBODY TOLD ME!!!!

(slinks into a corner to cry)


23. April 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

Progress on Die Young is slow but steady. And as the saying goes, that wins the race, right?

On the chapters so far, I’ve borrowed a page from Robert B. Parker. If you look at how he did things, you’ll see that each chapter is one conversation. His protagonist has a conversation, end chapter, new chapter with new conversation, end chapter, new chapter with new conversation. Even if the two conversations happen in the same location. Start chapter, have conversation, end chapter. Start chapter, have conversation with the other person sitting at the table, end chapter.

So far, I pretty much did the same thing in Die Young. Shaw has a conversation, end chapter, next chapter is a different conversation in a different location. I’ll admit, though, that I did it that way mostly because I like to shift chapters between locations, not between conversations. I didn’t realize I was emulating Parker until after chapter 3.

So far, it makes sense to do it this way. I’ve got Shaw driving around, meeting people and asking questions to solve the murder of porn actress Diana Young. Three or so chapters from now, I’ll break style. Once Shaw has identified the person who actually administered the poison, I’m going to return to the pulpier, action-ier style of the Mickey Spillane school that I already used in The Coldest Blood. (Obviously, Spillane and Parker are two of the greatest influences in my own mystery writing.) Hopefully, the stylistic shift won’t be too upsetting, because it will be accompanied by a narrative shift.

21. April 2011

Novel in Progress: Die Young

Yes, I admit it. I haven’t talked about the progress of Die Young for a while, because there hadn’t been any. I had written one page in February, and then nothing.

On Sunday evening, I booted the notebook again and continued work. I’m not going very fast — I’m a slow writer anyway — but I’ve completed the first three chapters now.

As the plan goes, the first couple of chapters will chronicle the first day in the investigation, which will end with Shaw confronting the person who pulled the (metaphorical) trigger. That is going to open a completely different can of worms, and will keep Shaw busy (and in danger) for the rest of the novel.

The funny thing is that I got back to it because I was bored. I had one free hour. In such cases, I usually either watch a TV series episode on DVD or read. I didn’t feel like watching anything, and because I planned to get a certain book from the library the next day I didn’t want to start on any books. (I’m a one book at a time person.)

So instead, I did a bit of work on Die Young.

I’ve recently noticed that there is one piece of advice that’s frequently given: don’t stop the flow. When you’re writing, don’t go back to edit, just hack it out and leave all the edits/corrections for revision. I have¬† a friend who works that way, and he’s fast. Even I admit that the advice makes sense. Unfortunately, I can’t make myself work that way.

When I have a scene that contradicts an earlier scene, I feel compelled to go back and fix that. If I think of a better phrase for something I wrote earlier, it’s the same. I edit and revise constantly. Which, yes, is why I’m a slow writer.

I have also considered that I could post the chapters of Die Young here on the blog as I finish them.¬† That idea came, in part, from wrapping up a chapter evey night (so far). The main obstacle is that it’s not a pace I’m sure I can maintain. And unless I can maintain a regular update schedule, I wouldn’t want to start. On the plus side, it would be the whip I’d need to keep me going if I get another block. I put Die Young aside after one page because I’m not required to continue working on it. I have no deadline, and there isn’t anyone in the world who is actually waiting for this novel. There is no pressure to finish this. Turning it into a blog novel would provide that pressure. And yes, that would be a good thing.

What ultimately decided me against it, other than my worries about meeting a schedule, is the above-mentioned fact that I revise constantly. If I post chapter 1 today, next week’s version might be completely different after the story has progressed in a way that might have required many changes to chapter 1. Or simply after revising individual sentences as I thought of better ways of saying them. A good example is a running gag that I decided to add to the story, so I added it to chapter 1.

The running joke is that when Shaw tells his friends about knowing Diana Young, aka the porn starlet Teh SexKitteh, they all reply, “I didn’t figure you for the type.” When he clarifies that he knew her because she actually lived in his neighborhood, they make an unbelieving comment.

By the way: if you want to encourage me to finish Die Young and/or present the chapters on my blog, you can do so by leaving comments to my Novel in Progress posts and by buying The Coldest Blood, which is the first Shaw novel. For the latter, just follow the link on (your) right-hand side of the screen. It’s only 99 cents per download, and it’s DRM free.

25. November 2010

DRM – What it it Good For? (Absolutely Nothing)

As some of you have already noticed, I released my hardboiled mystery novel The Coldest Blood as an e-book for the Kindle (US-Version) (UK-Version). When you set it up, Amazon’s DTO program offers you the choice of putting DRM on the file.

DRM translates as Digital Rights Management, and it’s a copy protection scheme. Depending on the program, it restricts user rights in regards to how many copies they can make/use/keep, how long they can keep them, and it makes sure they can’t make any copies by themselves.

There is also another side to DRM, one that Amazon has been known to exploit. Does anyone else remember the event that became known as Amazon Fail 2? Basically, Amazon pulled supposedly pirated copies of George Orwell’s works Animal Farm and 1984 from the Kindles of people who had bought those copies. Without so much as an explanation (at least not until the brown mass hit the air circulation device).

I was not the only one to appreciate the irony that they did this with the works of George Orwell. If you don’t know why, I suggest you read 1984.

Anyway. DRM is one of the two buzzkill reasons why I don’t own an e-book reader. I’m used to owning what I buy (or at least not pay very much for borrowing – yes, I do have a library card). When I buy a book (as in, not explicitly borrowing), I do so with the expectation of getting to keep it, and not being at the mercy of whoever sold it to me. However, DRM turns the supposed purchase into a lending fee. Don’t believe me? Try transferring your Kindle book to another device after having used up your allocation.

If I want to borrow a book, I’ll use the aforementioned library card.

The major reason for DRM is the fear of piracy. If your work isn’t copy-protected, someone will make an illegal copy and make it available for illegal download, robbing the creator of their income.

Now, mind you this: I’ll come down on anyone who pirates my work. Yes. Because I’d rather get those royalties to pay my bills. Times are hard for me too.


DRM isn’t the way. Seriously, any would-be pirate who knows what they’re doing will crack your DRM in one minute flat. Or possibly less. DRM is just a minor irritant for copy pirates. It doesn’t stop them at all.

I suppose you see what I mean now. Why I believe that DRM is not only worth absolutely nothing, it has only one practical use: to annoy the consumer.

Now, as someone who considers DRM a deal-breaker in buying an e-book reader, I was faced with the choice of putting DRM on The Coldest Blood. It was no choice at all: of course I didn’t. And as long as I get any say about how my work is uploaded, it will not have any DRM ever. I believe that if you buy something you should own it.

Plus, a pledge: If, despite everything, Amazon ever deletes my work from your Kindle, drop me a line. Prove that you actually did buy a copy (receipt or whatever). And I’ll provide you a new one, DRM free, at no extra charge, in a file format of your choice, that Amazon can never take away from you.

26. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 37

“Wonderful,” Bolwyn said. He beamed. His hands followed the lamp’s outline without actually touching it. He looked up at Ghenni. “I can actually feel his power. What’s his name?”

Ghenni swallowed.


“I said, what’s his name? He’s got to have a name, doesn’t he.”

“Well, yes. Yes, I suppose he does. I never thought about it. He told me he’s a djinni.”

“That’s all? He never told you his name?”

“He told me he’s a djinni,” Ghenni repeated, sticking to the literal truth. Lying was wrong. Her mother had told her often enough. But she wasn’t lying now, was she? There was no need to lie if a half-truth would do.

Although Opona would probably not care about the distinction.

“Clever little fellow,” Bolwyn muttered. “I can almost admire him. Did he give you your three wishes?”

“What three wishes?” Ghenni blurted out before she could stop herself. Bolwyn laughed out loud.

“Never mind that. This little bugger’s smarter than I’d thought.” He held the lamp up at eye-level and looked at it. “I almost wonder if I can dare rub it, and release the spirit within.”

“You should not,” Terek said. “I get the distinct impression that this djinn might be craftier than you are. It would not surprise me if, in the end, you should end up serving it.”

“Sore loser,” Bolwyn said.

“Tell me, old friend,” Terek continued, “did you tell the child that I am responsible for the malady that befell her family?”

Bolwyn looked at Terek, making an innocent face. He blinked once and returned his attention to the lamp.

“Excuse me?” Ghenni said. Terek turned his attention to her.

“Did he?” he said.


“Was that the reason why you gave the lamp to him, instead of me? Did you consider me responsible?”

“And because Bolwyn said he knew a cure,” Ghenni admitted. Terek nodded.

“Up to your usual games, are you,” he said, turning to Bolwyn. “It is not sufficient that you succeed, everybody else must be slandered in the process? Even if it means blaming them for your crimes?”

“When did you figure it out?” Bolwyn asked absently.

“Actually, only when you really had a cure for measles. Are these real measles you used to infect these people?”

“Magically augmented. I couldn’t take the chance the djinn might know a cure …” Bolwny looked up from the lamp, his mouth open and eyes wide. “Oh, damn.”

“You did it,” Ghenni said, taking a step toward Bolwyn, clenching her fists at her sides. “You made everybody sick, just so you could get the lamp.”

“What’d you expect me to do, sit still and wait until you give in or I die of old age? I don’t have the time. There’s plenty more artifacts to be gathered, and I gotta do it all in a single lifetime. Forcing you to decide was the most efficient way.” Bolwyn made a face. “Geez, I’ve spent too much time around you, Terek. I’m starting to sound like you, even.”

“That was a very mean thing to do,” Ghenni said. Bolwyn shrugged.

“Life sucks. Get used to it. Me, I got what I came for. I’m outta this dump.”

Bolwyn started for the door. He had not gotten far before glowing red concentric rings that came out of nowhere tied him up. Ghenni looked from Bolwyn to Terek, who stood with his right arm outstretched. Terek pointed his forefinger at Bolwyn.

“I fear I can not allow that,” Terek said calmly.

“What’s it to you?” Bolwyn said. He turned. A slight move of his left hand dissolved the rings. “It’s not like I never conned natives before to get what I wanted. Anyway, you’re no saint either. Remember the sea serpent you used to introduce yourself?”

“Nobody was truly harmed,” Terek said. “True, I am not above using trickery to expedite matters. But I never knowingly endanger anyone’s lives.”

“So whattaya gonna do about it?” Bolwyn said, thrusting his chins out.

“At the very least, I will take that lamp from you,” Terek said.

“Wouldn’t it be better to discuss that away from the village?” Ghenni said, stepping between the two wizards. “You know, someplace where there isn’t anyone else who can get hurt?”

“Step aside, child,” Terek said. He reached out and pushed Ghenni out of the way.

“You never had a chance against me under normal circumstances,” Bolwyn said. “Today, you’re simply outmatched.”


“Get real.” Bolwyn grinned and rubbed the lamp. Blue smoke poured from the nozzle. It billowed forth and solidified into the familiar shape of Habbassin.

As the djinn bowed to Bolwyn, Elomei grabbed Ghenni and pulled her away.

“This is what you were hiding from me?” the witch-woman whispered. Ghenni nodded, unable to take her eyes off the scene playing out before her.

“Your wish?” Habbassin rumbled, bowing deeply.

“Destroy the infidel,” Bolwyn screamed, pointing at Terek. Ghenni looked at Terek. His adams apple moved, and while his stance didn’t change his complexion looked a bit paler than before.

Habbassin straightened. He turned around. He looked at Terek. He rubbed his chin. He turned to Bolwyn.

“I don’t think so,” he said casually. “You want to fight, you slug it out yourselves.” A chair popped up out of nowhere behind him. Habbassin sat down inside it. “But I’m willing to referee between you.”

Bolwyn stared at the lamp, reddening. He opened and shut his mouth like a fish on the beach.

“But … But … But … I hold the lamp. You’re supposed to obey me.”

“Actually, technically, all I gotta do is grant three wishes for the proprietor of my lamp.” A tall glass with liquid inside and a straw materialized in Habbassin’s hand. “You’re just a thief. Now shape up or ship out.” He looked at Ghenni, winked. “How you doing, kid?”

“Better,” Ghenni said. She gave Habbassin her most radiant smile. “So that was …”


“I suppose we are more evenly matched than you had anticipated,” Terek said, his usual confident smile back in place. He raised both hands high. “Let’s have it out then.”

Bolwyn glared at Terek with so much anger and hatred it made Ghenni shudder. It seemed as if Bolwyn tried to kill Terek with his eyes. She realized what the glare meant. She had seen Zoltan use that look on her far too often. Bolwyn had been thwarted, now Terek was a welcome target to vent his anger on.

“Let’s,” Bolwyn agreed, his voice far too gentle for the look on his face. He made an almost casual sweep with his right hand. A fireball materialized out of nowhere at the end of the sweep. It followed the sweep’s direction toward Terek …

… and vanished into thin air.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” Habbassin admonished them. “You’d fight a magickal duel right here? When there are dozens of innocent bystanders around who could get hurt by your fallout?

“I don’t think so.”

Habbassin rotated his forefinger in the air. A miniature tornado formed above it. The tornado grew larger, ever larger, until it swept up Ghenni and the wizards.

When Ghenni could see again, she was somewhere else entirely. Looking around, she realized they had materialized at the cliff near Habbassin’s cave. The wizards were much more disoriented. Why shouldn’t they, Ghenni thought. They might know magic, but they didn’t know the island very well.

“This is a much better place to settle your disagreements,” Habbassin said, sipping from his glass. “No innocent bystanders to get hurt. No native property to be damaged. Not even much of a landscape to ruin.

“Have at thee, then.”

“Djinn, I command you to destroy that man,” Bolwyn said, shaking the lamp at Habbassin. The djinn smiled.

“I don’t do commands,” he said. “Sorry, old boy. Perhaps you’ll want to rephrase it?”

“Very well. Djinn, my first wish is that you destroy that man.”

Habbassin looked Terek over. Ghenni wondered by Terek hadn’t used this chance to attack Bolwyn. The rotund wizard was distracted by Habbassin’s persistent refusal to obey him. Now would be the best time to decide this duel without any risk.

Ghenni was distracted by an eye that formed at the back of Habbassin’s head. It winked at her, then vanished.

“Very well,” Habbassin said dismissively. He waved his hand at Bolwyn. “I empower you, as far as I am able, to fight Terek to the finish. But don’t make a mess of it.”

This time, Bolwyn released a bolt of lightning. Terek was ready for it, blocked it with a glowing disk that appeared in front of him. The disk glowed brighter as the lighning hit it. The disk spun, moderately at first but gaining speed with every rotation. Energy discharges flared at the rim. Instead of shooting off all over the place, they collected into tiny little balls of cracking energy that sped toward Bolwyn, who was hard pressed to fend them off.

“You said you’d empower me,” Bolwyn hissed through clenched teeth.

“As far as I am able,” Habbassin said, conjuring a second chair for Ghenni. He gestured at her to sit. She sat. “However, I have no legal authority at all in this hemisphere. Technically, I’m not empowered to empower anyone at all. In other words, I couldn’t grant you the legal authority to fight Terek if I wanted you.” He snapped his fingers in mock anger. “Darn it. That means what you’re doing is probably illegal.”

“Damn you,” Bolwyn cried, releasing a bolt of energy at Habbassin, who deflected it easily. This time, Terek used his chance. He knelt and pressed both hands against the ground. Ghenni felt the earth tremble, almost as if Wakano were angrily rumbling. Habbassin gestured, and both chairs rose into the air. The groundquake nearly cost Bolwyn his balance. Before he could fall, he rose into the air. Spreading his arms wide, he began to glow, until he was brighter than the sun. The heat he gave off was tremendous. Ghenni was sure Habbassin shielded her; otherwise, she didn’t think she could survive the heat. As it was, it was merely uncomfortable. Terek too managed to protect himself from both the light and the heat, by creating a globe of shadow around himself.

The surrounding plant life wasn’t as lucky. Around the duelists, the plants burst into flame. Dried from Bolwyn’s heat, the fire spread quickly. Terek created a second shadow-globe, which he sent out to engulf Bolwyn. That took care of Bolwyn’s imitation sun. Terek followed up with a miniature thunderstorm, which he sent into the globe. Ghenni heard the thunder, now and then she saw a bolt of lighning flash out of the shadows. Following the lighning was a bright spot of light that expanded and dissolved the shadow-globe.

“Thanks for sending a lightning to show me the way out,” Bolwyn hissed. He held out his hands, his fingers spread and pointing at Terek. His fingertips glowed red. The glow turned into semi-solid looking red bands that expanded as they came for Terek. One wrapped itself around his right wrist, another tied his left arm against his waist. He only found a way to stop them when one aimed at his head. Middle-sized sticks materialized around him, flew into the rings and fooled them into constricting. Terek glowed. The rings that already bound him fell apart.

Another sweeping gesture made the ground rumble again. Ghenni looked around, trying to locate the source of the rumble.

It wasn’t difficult to find. Several large trees tore themselves loose from the soil they had rooted in. Using their roots in a fashion similar to feet, they ambled toward Bolwyn. Bolwyn glanced at Ghenni, noticed she was looking at something behind him, turned and discovered the results of Terek’s latest spell. He reached into his pouch, withdrew a herb, put it into his mouth, chewed his and blew a monumental cloud of yellow dust at the trees. The dust spread out as it traveled. Everything that touched it died and decayed within moments. The trees lasted a moment longer than the other plants around them, those that had survived Bolwyn’s sunlight attack, but they too succumbed in less time than it takes to tell about it. Bolwyn whirled and blew another yellow cloud at Terek. Whirling his right arm in circles, Terek called up a wind that blew the cloud back at Bolwyn. Bolwyn inhaled the yellow dust and laughed.

“They’re very good, you know,” Habbassin remarked. “Almost as good as I am.”

“That reminds me, where are Elomei, mother and Lejani?”

“Back at home, where they belong. Did you think I couldn’t choose who I teleport?” He grinned at her. “What did you think of my teleportation spell, anyway? Neat, huh?”

“Too showy. Are you sure we’ll be all right here?”

“I’ve set up a sphere of universal protection,” Habbassin nodded. “Nothing from the outside can touch us. Of course, that means we can’t influence anything that goes on out there either, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay, don’t you think?”

“I just wish they wouldn’t cause so much damage.”

“It could be worse. Imagine that fight taking place in your village.”

Ghenni did for just a moment. The result made her shudder.

“I’d rather not, thanks.”

Ghenni returned her attention to the fight. Both men were flying now, dancing a complicated aerial ballet, shooting and dodging bolts of fire and energy. Ghenni noticed that their entire corner of the forest now burned, set aflame by deflected bolts of eldritch energy.

She tried hard not to cry for all the life that was destroyed for two men’s vanities.

“Can’t you do something about that?” she whispered.

“I told you, as long as we’re in here, there’s nothing I can do about what goes on out there,” Habbassin said softly. He took her hand and squeezed it gently. Ghenni squeezed back.

Bolwyn, meanwhile, had landed a lucky shot, throwing Terek off-balance. Terek fell to the ground like a bird with broken wings. Bolwyn followed up on his advantage by raining a continuous barrage of eldritch energies down upon his opponent. Terek barely managed to erect a dome of golden light to protect himself. The dome reflected, as far as Ghenni could see, all of Bolwyn’s energies. They were reflected into the air, where some glanced off Habbassin’s sphere of protection. They were reflected parallel to the ground, where they razed what little was left of life. They were reflected into the ground, causing the cliff to crumble, throwing huge chunks into the abyss.

Habbassin swore softly.

The vibrations threw Terek off-balance. He fell, barely able to maintain his dome with one outstretched hand. Bolwyn landed. Folding his arms across his chest, he looked at Terek and laughed.

“Say goodbye to this life,” the stout wizard said. “I’ll make sure it’ll be painful.”

Terek knelt on the ground, panting. He looked beaten, but not yet defeated. Ghenni wondered if he still had a trick up his sleeve.

“Let’s just get this over with,” Terek gasped.

Bolwyn reached into his bag and removed something from it. He knelt, took some earth into his hands and rubbed it, thoroughly mingling the earth with whatever he had taken from his bag.

“Remember your opening gambit?” Bolwyn said, pressing both palms flat on the ground. “That was a nice little earthquake you manufactured. Well, I’m gonna do you one better. I’m gonna shake the ground up until it throws you into the sea.”

The earth already began to tremble. A slight shiver at first, then a tremor, quaking worse and worse until the ground heaved up in waves almost like the sea. Terek, apparently too weak to take to the sky, was tossed around like a broken doll.

“Will that hurt the village?” Ghenni asked. Habbassin looked around. He chewed on his lip. He looked at Bolwyn, at Terek, at something behind him. Ghenni turned, trying to see what Habbassin saw. But she couldn’t. There wasn’t anything special. There was only Wakano’s Throne, burning an angry red.

Habbassin dissolved the sphere. Ghenni found herself hanging in the air. Habbassin dropped down until he floated inches above the ground.

“STOP!” he thundered, clapping his hands. The force of the blast that came from the clap threw Bolwyn off his feet. Dazed, the wizard sat on the ground. The tremors continued.

“Don’t you realize what you’re doing?” Habbassin yelled at Bolwyn. “We’re all sitting on top of a live volcano!” The djinn pointed at Wakano’s Throne. Ghenni turned to look at the mountain.

The smoke issuing from the mountain grew darker. The red glow grew deeper, more intense. Ghenni thought she saw things, glowing bright red against the dark smoke, fly from the mountain, arc high into the sky before they fell down again. The mountain rumbled angrily.

Now they’ve gone and done it, Ghenni thought dispiritedly. Now they’ve woken up Wakano and made him mad.

The red glow spilled over the mountaintop and began to run down the sides of the mountain, burning everything it came near.

Habbassin also looked at the Throne.

“Congratulations,” he said to nobody in particular. “You idiots have just erupted an active volcano.”

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


“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.

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?”


“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.

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.”

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.”


“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.”


“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?

21. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 32

“It kills them because your people don’t know this disease,” Bolwyn said. “Terek and I, we were lucky. We might just as easily have caught something your bodies have learned to handle. Something that’s as harmless to you as measles are to us. Something that could have killed us regardless.”

“How do we cure it then?” Elomei said.

“There is no cure,” Terek said with a shrug. “I’m afraid that’s the plain, ugly truth. If we could help, we would.”

“Sure we would,” Bolwyn agreed. “After everything you people’ve done for us…” He shrugged. Ghenni was beginning to hate the gesture. “This is beyond me,” he concluded.

“The same is true for me, I fear,” Terek said. “If you treat them the way we described to you however, that should be a considerable help.”

“We shall do that,” Elomei said. “I will begin at once. Ghenni, I shall need your help. I need you to gather everyone Lejani and Opona have been in contact with for… how long did you say?”

“Seven days.”

“Seven days. Take them to an empty hut and tell them to stay there.”

“But that’d be just about everybody,” Ghenni protested.

“She has a point there,” Bolwyn said. “You’d need to gather in everyone who’s been in touch with everyone who’s been in touch with anyone who’s been in touch…” He trailed off to count something on his fingers. He grimaced and stopped. “But that’s next to impossible. I guess you should simply gather everyone they’ve been in close contact with. Such as Ghenni here, or the lady’s husband. Most people should be safe anyway; or they’d already have shown symptoms.”

Terek made a face as if he were about to object, but Bolwyn silenced him with a sharp look. Terek closed his eyes. He nodded.

“Confining you two and the man of the house should do,” he agreed. “But not here. If you show no symptoms, you could go back outside.”

“These two are in my care,” Elomei said. “I will not abandon them when they need me the most.”

“What she said,” Ghenni added. She bit her lip. Me and my big mouth. With the two wizards unable to help, perhaps Habbassin might. But how could she go to ask him for help if she was stuck in this hut? “That is …”

“You’re afraid,” Elomei said, nodding. “I understand. Go, then. Find your father. Take him to my hut. You will both stay there for seven days. You will not come out before then. If you remain well, you may come out again. If not, you will at least not endanger anyone else.”

“I understand,” Ghenni said, looking down. She had to find her father before she had to stay in Elomei’s hut. That bought her some time. Perhaps she could use that time to rush to the cave to talk with Habbassin. No. They would get suspicious if she took too long. Being stuck in a hut with her father wouldn’t help either. She’d be under constant supervision. No, she would have to find another way to get in touch with the djinn. Perhaps staying in this hut would be the best solution after all.

“I’d rather stay here, after all,” she said. “To look after them. Somebody has to, so why shouldn’t I do it? Terek said it’s not difficult. Why should someone else risk getting measles when I might already have them?” Besides, with both patients asleep most of the time, there would be a better chance to sneak off to get help.

“She makes sense,” Terek said. “Let her stay. You can spell her… Sorry. You can look her up every now and then to make sure she is all right.”

“To make sure the other two are all right too,” Bolwyn added. “Actually, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea if you moved in here too. You’ve had pretty close contact with them over the last couple of days, remember? It’d be better if you stayed too. Just in case you got it too. You know.”

“I know,” Elomei said with a nod. “You speak sense. Very well. I shall stay here as well.” She smiled a toothless smile. “It is just as well. Ghenni, you mean well, but it is easier for two people to tend these patients. But who will see to the needs of my people?”

“We shall take care of that,” Terek said. “You may have noticed that we are quite competent magic-users ourselves. We should be able to replace you for a week.”

“Thank you,” Elomei said. Ghenni made an effort not to roll her eyes in frustration. There went her beautiful plan.

On the other hand, there was nothing to keep Miki or Ankhoro from going to Habbassin. All she had to do was a way to get in touch with them. That was a much simpler proposition than leaving the village to go to the cliffs.

She nodded to herself. From the corner of her eye, she saw Bolwyn raise an eyebrow.

“I think that’s a good idea too,” she said quickly. “It’s definitely better than having to stay awake all the time. Besides, if either of us has the measles, the other can care for all three of us … them … whoever.”

“We are agreed then,” Terek said. “I shall go find Pahone and send him to your hut. I will explain everything to him.” He smiled. “Do not worry about that.”

“Could you tell Miki or Ankhoro to come by, please?” Ghenni said.

“I do not know if that is wise,” Terek frowned.

“Please. I need to tell them what’s going on. There’s some stuff I need too. Stuff they have. You know.”

“Kid stuff,” Bolwyn smiled. “All right. No problem. But remember to keep your distance, hear? The two stay out of this hut. Or they stay in here for seven days. Wouldn’t that get pretty crowded?”

“It sure would.”

“All right, then. We’re agreed. You can talk, but you keep your distance.”

“I will continue to invoke the spirits on behalf of the poor two children,” Elomei said. Terek reacted to that, blinking at the old woman with an empty stare. Two heartbeats later, he nodded.

“Of course,” he said. “At the very least, it could do no harm. You need to be frugal with the incense, however. If at all possible, do without.”

“I understand.”

The wizard and the witch-woman shared a look. Both nodded. Terek patted Ghenni’s head.

“I am sorry there is not more I can do for your family,” he said. As he left the hut, Bolwyn looked after him. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but seemed to change his mind. He shook his head and followed Terek instead.

Now what was that all about? Ghenni thought, looking after him. She still pondered the question when Ankhoro showed up a few moments later.

“You called?” he said cheerfully. There was something about his eyes that didn’t look cheerful at all, however.

Ghenni moved closer to make sure she could talk without being overheard.

“I guess you’ve heard,” she whispered. “Elomei can’t help mom and Lejani, and the wizards are helpless too.”

“Yes. What can I do?”

“It’s sweet of you to ask,” Ghenni said. She smiled when Ankhoro made a face at being called sweet. “Actually, there is something. You could go to the cave and tell Habbassin. He said he might be able to help.”

“If the wizards couldn’t…”

“It can’t hurt to try, can it? The worst that can happen is, he can’t help. In that case, we’re no worse off than we are already. But what if he can help? I think we just have to try. Don’t you?”

“Can’t hurt.”

“Right. Tell him to be careful, though. Elomei’s in here with me. We wouldn’t want her to notice him, now would we?”

“I’m surprised you still care about that, after what happened.”

“Don’t remind me.”

“Okay, I won’t. Don’t worry. I’ll go get him. Need anything else, while I’m at it?”

“No,” Ghenni smiled. “Now move off, willya.”

“See you in seven,” Ankhoro said. He ran off, waving. Ghenni returned the wave. She watched him vanish into the jungle. Somehow, that made her feel better. Only a few hours now, and Habbassin would take care of those measles. Everybody would be better. Ghenni blinked and rubbed her eyes. She sure needed a rest now…

Ghenni stared at her knuckles, wide-eyed. She held her breath, blinked, sniffled experimentally.

“My eyes are hurting,” she said. Elomei was instantly by her side.

“Let me see, child.” She took Ghenni through all the steps Terek had explained to her. When she finished the examination, she smiled. The relief in that smile was evident. “You are simply tired, child. How long has it been since you last had a good night’s sleep?”

“Is that it?”

“I would say so, yes. Lay down on your bedroll, close your eyes and sleep. In a few hours, you will be good as new.”

Ghenni nodded and lay down as instructed. Sleep came within minutes.

When the voice whispered in her ear, she thought she were dreaming.

“Psst. Kid.”

“Hmmm? Habbassin?”

“The one and only. Ankhoro said you wanted to see me?”

Ghenni opened her eyes. It was dark.

“It’s the middle of the night.”

“I know. The best possible time to make a house call, doncha think? So, what’s up?”


“Is going to be sound asleep as long as necessary. I made sure of that. So, you want to shoot some breeze, or is there anything the matter?”

Ghenni looked at the djinn, who sat full-sized and in living color in the middle of the hut.

All things considered, perhaps it’s really for the best that it’s the middle of the night, she thought. Quickly, she told him what had happened, and what Terek and Bolwyn had discovered.

“Measles, huh? Just as I’d thought. They say they can’t cure them?” The djinn sneered. “To think I was afraid of their magic, can you imagine? All right, then, gimme a minute.”

A blue mist whirled around Habbassin. When it settled, he once again wore the white robe. He rolled up his sleeves and held his arms high over his head. He turned his head, wiggled his eyebrows and winked at Ghenni. Ghenni decided not to tell him how much better she would feel if he quit fooling around and got on with curing her family.

Habbassin’s hands began to glow with a blue light. He put one hand each on one of the afflicted women. The glow spread from his hands until each of the two patents was engulfed. It flared up, then dimmed quickly. To Ghenni it looked as if the glow were absorbed into the sick womens’s bodies.

Habbassin frowned. He rolled up his sleeves again. Ghenni hadn’t noticed how they had unrolled themselves. He raised his hands again. The hands began to glow again. He repeated the entire procedure.

Afterwards, he waited for a few moments.

“Well, uhm, after checking them out I can, uhm, definitely say that they have a bad case of the measles,” the djinn said. He scratched his head.

“That’s fine,” Ghenni said. “Now if you would please heal them?”

“Nope. Sorry, kid.”

“What did you say?”

“I said, nope. Sorry, kid.”

Ghenni grabbed Habbassin’s shoulder and turned him around. The djinn folded his arms across his chest while he studied the ceiling.

“What do you mean, nope?” Ghenni hissed.

“Just that. I mean, get real, kid. Your folks got the measles. The measly measles. They’ll get over it in a couple of days. Now me, I’m a world-class magic-using djinn. Doing a spell to cure someone of the measles… They’d throw me out of the union. This is simply beneath my notice.”

“Wait a moment,” Ghenni said. “Are you telling me you aren’t going to help them? You refuse to help them?”

“Yup. That’s about the size of it.” Habbassin lowered his gaze, fixing it on a spot a few millimeters above Ghenni’s left shoulder. “Come back again if you have a problem that’s worthy of my attention.”

“You can’t do this. After everything we’ve done for you? I mean, if it hadn’t been for us, your lamp would’ve been the property of one of those wizards already. We did so much to keep your lamp out of their hands. And you just stand there and tell me that saving two lives is beneath your notice?”

“That’s a pretty good summary,” Habbassin nodded.

“I should take your lamp and simply give it to one of the wizards.”

“But you won’t.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“Because they won’t let you out of this hut? Plus, the cave is impossible to find if you haven’t been there. I remember your making sure of that.”

“I … I’ll do it as soon as I can get out of here.”

“If you feel you must.” Habbassin shrugged. “By that time, you’ll have calmed yourself down.” The djinn gestured at Elomei. “Gotta go now. Your watchdog’ll wake up in a couple of minutes now.” He wagged his fingers at Ghenni. “See you in seven.” He vanished in a cloud of blue smoke.

Ghenni spent the time until Elomei woke up staring at the spot where she had last seen the djinn. She clenched her fists so hard they hurt.

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