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Now to business.
For the Scatterlings and Orphanages Africander Fiction Challenge by ludditerobot.
All previous parts can be found here.
Continued from Part 44.
“Ordered, pleaded, begged, bribed, you name it and he tried it. He all but danced a jig and sang show tunes to get them to talk,” Dave said. “No dice. Lips were zipped and the three eyeballs that existed between Willow and Harris just got hairier the more Mr. Giles tried to get around the subject about getting treatment for Liwaza. It was one hell of a tug-of-war.”
“That Mr. Harris and Miss Rosenberg won?” Yes, I know dear reader. I was being rather thick about the strange interpersonal dynamics that exist even to this day between Mr. Harris, Mr. Giles, and Miss Rosenberg. I simply couldn’t quite wrap my mind around the notion that two Watchers acted like petulant children and publicly treated the First Watcher as if he were a foolish relative that they held in low regard.
“They got what they wanted,” Dave answered softly. “I wouldn’t say they actually won.”
I filled in the blanks for Dave. “He told them about the Highlands Facility and they took the news poorly.”
Dave nodded. “Once Mr. Giles figured Harris and Willow weren’t going to budge, he agreed to give them what they wanted, but he was adamant that it had to be a private conversation. They were at least willing to agree to that, even though it meant they’d be leaving me, Ally, and Kavitha alone with Liwaza, who was still out cold.”
I admit that I was rather surprised that Liwaza was still unconscious.
Dave read my expression and eloquently shrugged. “I’m sort of with you and sort of not. This was less than 6 hours or so after Kavitha whacked her one. On top of that, Liwaza was already in pretty bad shape. So, on the one hand, not surprising she was still out cold. On the other, kind of surprising because she was a Slayer. Maybe the healing power was overworked, maybe she just needed the sleep, or maybe on some level she knew she was safe. I don’t know. Either way, she wasn’t showing any signs of waking up.”
I swallowed. The poor girl must’ve been skirting death when Mr. Harris and his people found her.
“My girl was feeling so guilty that she didn’t want to leave Liwaza’s bedside,” Dave continued. “Ally, bless her heart, is a hell of a lot more cynical by nature. She was more worried that Liwaza would wake up and start slaughtering everyone that made the mistake of being born with a penis. Since Kavitha was guilt-ridden, Ally figured she couldn’t trust my girl to put the hurt on Liwaza to stop her if worse came to worst, which caused a little bit of tension between the two of them. I figured it was just as well that I wasn’t invited to the convo since I thought my time was better spent staying put to make sure the tension between the two of them stayed on simmer. Besides, I figured if I needed to know about the substance of his talk with Mr. Giles, Harris would tell me.”
I snorted derisively.
Dave grinned. “Okay, Harris has never been the most open person on the planet. I knew that even back then. But the crap he’s been hiding,” Dave whistled to illustrate his point, “is something else again. But when it comes to the day-to-day stuff that we need to know, Harris is pretty good about sharing information and explaining things. It’s when it gets personal that he starts making jokes or fluffing things off. Although he does it in such a way that you don’t realize that he’s doing it until much, much later.”
I wondered if poor Dave realized just how personally Mr. Harris may have taken Liwaza’s situation, and just how far he was willing to do to keep her under his protective care.
“They were gone for awhile. I really didn’t time it,” Dave continued in a soft voice. “Mr. Giles finally came back maybe an hour later — it had to be at least that because it was dark outside — looking like he’d aged 20 years while he was out there. He told us that we’d talk after sunrise and went off to make ‘arrangements’ with the hospital administrators. I think he was working out payments for Liwaza’s and Willow’s care and finding out who he needed to bribe so Harris could become Liwaza’s guardian.
“We waited a little longer, but Harris and Willow were both a no-show. While the minutes ticked into more than an hour, Ally started getting more and more twitchy because they weren’t back yet. She announced that she was going to head off to find them, and I told her that like hell she was heading off alone.” Dave paused to shrug. “She and I got into a little squabble over that before she finally admitted that she was picking up that Harris was shoving her away pretty hard and fast, so she was deliberately going against his wishes. She was afraid that if she stumbled on them and there was trouble, I’d take his side if it came out that he didn’t want her to be there.”
“That odd connection all you lot share with your Slayers,” I remarked without heat.
Dave waggled his hand. “Yes and no. Again, Harris had to be feeling something pretty extreme for Ally to pick up on it. The fact that she was willing to actually admit to me that Harris was trying to keep her away was a pretty bit flipping clue that not only was Harris in a really bad place, bad enough that Ally could feel it, but also that something was really, really wrong because he was hell-bent on keeping her out of it.”
I let the business slide, since I suspected I would never entirely understand how such communications worked, let alone were possible. I could comprehend that it was painfully intimate. Yet it was mystifying how Mr. Harris had managed to keep his Slayer ignorant of his past in Sunnydale and anything tangentially connected to it.
“Ally honed in on them pretty fast. They were tucked away in the shadows somewhere on the hospital grounds and—” Dave paused to close his eyes. “I didn’t hear Harris at all, just Willow and she sounded like she just got news her parents died because — God it was hard to hear. I only saw this lumpy outline of something in the dirt, which was probably the two of them hunkering down. Ally with that Slayer eyesight of hers had a better view and what she saw really shook her up. It was bad…really bad. We backed off pretty quick because it was clear to both of us that whatever went down with Mr. Giles hit them so hard and deep that they didn’t know we were there, and we actually got pretty close. We hung around in the distance to make sure they weren’t attacked, because they were just not paying attention to their surroundings. We stayed out there until Ally spotted them crawling their way back to the hospital and then we ran like hell back inside so they wouldn’t know we had been keeping an eye on them.
“Next time we saw them, they both had scrubbed their faces clean. Guess they didn’t want us to know just how bad their reaction was. Even so, both of them were looking pretty pale. Willow had red rims around her eyes, Harris just looked haunted. We all just pretended we didn’t notice. Harris neutrally told me that there was a place in Scotland called the Highlands Facility, but that it was out because there were some problems so he’d have to take her back here until he could find alternatives for Liwaza. That sure as hell didn’t make Ally happy, but she figured that right about then Harris wasn’t about to listen to her so she didn’t put up a fuss.”
Dave then fell into silence.
I did my best to keep my expression neutral. Mr. Harris’s reticence to discuss his past had effectively trapped him. He couldn’t turn to his closest allies, not even his own Slayer, to explain why he might be compelled to risk himself, his village, and the surrounding villages to shelter Liwaza. It was a burden that he had to bear all on his own.
At long last I could feel sympathy for Mr. Harris’s decision and position. Were it not for the First Evil’s unfortunate revelation that it was still active in the world, Mr. Harris might’ve been able to cross that line and share his predicament and reasoning with some trusted individuals. I was unfortunately very much in the same boat. Until I knew for certain whether Mr. Harris was trying to protect the people around him from the First Evil by keeping them in the dark, I didn’t dare share my own thoughts on the matter.
I waited patiently for Dave to speak, but he seemed a little bit at a loss as to what he should say next. Or, perhaps, he thought his story was at an end. As for me, I still had some questions. “I’m rather surprised that you were able to get Liwaza back here. With her Slayer healing, she must’ve woken at some point, and there must’ve been problems.”
Dave shrugged. “Harris found a way around that, but then again, he did have a couple of options. Mr. Giles handed Harris a little black bag with medication in it. Harris opened it in front of me and Willow, and I saw needles and a collection of vials. At a guess, it was some kind of intramuscular drug.”
I drew in a sharp breath. It was clear to me that Mr. Giles had given Mr. Harris Cruciamentum drugs to keep Liwaza weak. Given Mr. Harris’s clear anathema for the ritual, I was rather surprised that Mr. Giles offered.
My reaction caused Dave to frown. “Wow. You pretty much have the same reaction as Harris and Willow to that, and you didn’t even see the little black bag.”
“It’s a rather…it’s a touchy subject,” I stumbled. I recalled that Mr. Harris had made reference to the Cruciamentum in the conversation I had overheard between him and Dave, and I recalled Dave’s rather negative reaction to it. My reaction was sure to draw questions. I had painted myself in a corner, and I wasn’t entirely sure how to get out of it.
Then, against all reason, Dave let it drop. Perhaps he sensed my reluctance to discuss it and had filed it away for his list of questions for Mr. Harris when they finally got around to having that promised detailed discussion about Mr. Harris’s past.
“Harris and Willow reacted like Mr. Giles handed him a snake. Hell, Mr. Giles acted like he handed Harris a snake, so I got the idea that the contents of the bag were a ‘use as a last resort’ deal,” Dave said. “Harris cooked up an alternative with Willow to cast a spell that would negate Liwaza’s Slayer power until we got back here and Moms could whip up some kind of herbal Prozac. The problem was that Willow needed to stick close until Moms hit on the right combination.”
“She agreed to it?” I asked with surprise. “Miss Rosenberg isn’t without her own commitments.”
“Agreed to it? Hell, she said yes before Harris was done asking her if it was possible,” Dave answered.
“Even without her Slayer strength as a threat, I can’t imagine traveling back here was easy,” I said.
Dave shook his head. “When she woke up she was terrified, even more so because Willow had hexed her when she started coming around, but before she was fully conscious. No surprise that she was scared. Liwaza couldn’t really fight and she still wasn’t completely healed the way she would have been if she were operating at full Slayer power. To top it off, three strange guys were in her presence pretty much 24/7, and she wasn’t all that trusting when it came to us. We decided that the best thing was to have Harris concentrate on getting her to trust him while Mr. Giles and I swapped off on driving duties. Half the trip was spent with our mystery girl cowering behind Ally, Kavitha, and irony of ironies, Willow, while Harris tried to reassure her that no one was going to hurt her.”
“How did you find out her name?” I asked.
“We never did because Liwaza doesn’t talk. She never has. At this point, it’s a long shot she ever will. We still don’t know anything about her at all. Not the language she speaks, not her family, nothing. The only reason why we know she’s from central Tanzania is because the weed told us that was where he found her, but God knows if he was telling the truth,” Dave answered.
“But whenever she delivers water to Mr. Harris, he says something to her.”
“He’s thanking her in Swahili, but he’s not too sure she actually understands what he’s saying,” Dave admitted. “The name Liwaza is Swahili, too. Harris heard it somewhere on his travels, and thought was a pretty name. The way he described it, Liwaza sounded like a sigh of relief. You know the kind. It’s the one where you breathe in deep and just let all the tension out when you exhale.”
I shook my head. “I cannot fathom why he thought such a name was a fitting one for such a tragic girl.”
“As Ally says, ‘He can be very strange,’” Dave agreed. “To be fair, though, he didn’t stick her with the name until after he asked her a billion times what her real name was and didn’t get so much as a hint that she even understood what he was asking, let alone an answer. So, Liwaza he said, Liwaza stuck, now Liwaza answers to Liwaza”
“He does have a penchant for renaming people and places,” I grumbled.
“The other option was, ‘Hey, you!’” Dave pointed out.
Dave had me there.
“Anyway, Mr. Giles stuck with us until we reached Djenné,” Dave continued. “Harris wanted to accompany him to Bamako, but by that point Liwaza was sort of coming around and Mr. Giles thought that it would be a bad idea for Harris to take a powder just as she was getting a little bit comfortable with him. Willow couldn’t go, because she had to stick close to Liwaza to make sure that ol’ Slayer power didn’t come back in full force. So Kavitha and I ended up bringing Mr. Giles to Bamako and putting him on a plane back to London. Somewhere along the way, the discussion about my maybe applying for Council membership turned into me definitely joining the Council. I guess he was impressed with how me and Kavitha handled ourselves through the whole mess.”
“That’s something at least,” I acknowledged.
“Hell of a way to earn it though,” Dave said. “All things considered? I’d rather Mr. Giles was still debating about whether I should apply for official Council recognition than prove myself under the circumstances that I did.”
“If you choose to join the Council as a field Watcher, I suspect that you’re going to have to get used to wishing for better circumstances,” I dryly remarked.
Dave grinned. “You sure you and Harris aren’t related? He pretty much told me the same thing.”
I believe I may have glared at him.
Dave chuckled and shook his head in response. “Once my mission was accomplished, I came back here to see what was up with our mystery girl. I also wanted to make sure Harris had everything he needed since his hands were pretty full trying to get Liwaza acclimated to her new life.”
“That was good of you to come back here, considering you have your own responsibilities,” I acknowledged without irony.
Dave seemed embarrassed. “Hey, Harris may be a secretive son of a bitch at times, but he’s also my friend. Both he and Willow were pretty wrecked by what had happened and I was worried. That’s all. Besides, I was curious how Liwaza was settling in.”
“And you wanted to make sure she wouldn’t cause problems,” I guessed.
Dave winced. “Yeah, that, too. When you work with Harris, you learn pretty quickly that he kind of relies on the people around him for gut-checks. If we think he’s about to do something stupid, we’re expected to speak up and tell him why. I could see where he was coming from, but at the same time, I could also see that Liwaza could be a capital ‘P’ for problem. I figured I could get a feel for how it was going and then let Harris know what I thought.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Do you honestly think he’d listen?”
“Not sure.” Dave glanced out the window again, perhaps to check if someone was listening to our conversation. He leaned forward and confessed, “Usually Harris listens to advice. Not always. But when he doesn’t, it turns out that there’s always a good reason for it.”
I decided to hazard a guess. “Am I to assume that my situation just happens to be one of those issues where there was a disagreement and Mr. Harris chose not to listen to you?”
Dave looked startled.
I shook my head. “I have heard stray comments since my arrival. I rather got the impression from Sister Ig that there were concerns about the village’s future and then I overheard a conversation between you and—” I checked myself, suddenly realizing that I almost gave too much away.
Dave grinned at me. “You overheard a conversation, hunh? There’s a lot of conversations that happen in this ol’ village. Which conversation?”
I bit my lip and mentally scrambled to choose a conversation that wouldn’t reveal too much of what I knew. I almost confessed to overhearing the conversation between himself and Mr. Harris, but thought that it might lead Dave to ask me questions about Sunnydale. That, more than anything, decided the issue.
“I overheard the conversation between yourself and Alexandrienne,” I confessed as I mentally crossed my fingers behind my back. “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop.”
Dave snorted. “Weren’t you sent here to investigate Harris’s doings here in scenic Mali?”
“Ah. That’s right. You do know all about that,” I mumbled.
I sighed. “Fine. Yes, I did mean to eavesdrop.”
Dave leaned back and studied me through half-lidded eyes. “Since you’re in a confessional mood, now might be the time to mention that you also were listening to me and Harris talk the other night.”
My mouth dropped open.
Dave shrugged. “Harris spotted you during one of the times he went to the window. He had a feeling that you might be skulking around, and since we were stumbling into some pretty dicey territory early on, he kept getting up and looking out the window. Not that I knew what he was doing at the time. I thought he was just trying to keep awake by moving around a lot and gulping down some fresh air.”
I slumped. On second thought, it appeared that I could arse-up being a Slayer more than being a Watcher. I couldn’t even properly make use of the shadows to listen at a window.
Dave frowned in thought. “If I had to guess where you came in, it was probably about the time I confronted him about that town of his. He stopped going to the window after that.”
“A little bit before,” I mumbled. “I heard the end of an argument about a plan Mr. Harris had and that you disagreed—” I paused and looked up at Dave as realization dawned.
Dave’s eyes were wide. “Holy cow, one minute sooner and you would’ve heard at least part of Harris’s plan to catch you being a Slayer on tape.”
I rubbed my face with my hands. This was yet another foolish mistake on my part that led to my ruin. My failure to take care of my health did have consequences beyond my embarrassing run to the village latrine. Had I been more careful of the food I ate and had I taken my anti-diarrheal medication, I might’ve suffered only a minor gastronomical complaint and would have been able to extricate myself from my embarrassing situation soon enough to hear at least a portion of Mr. Harris’s dastardly plan.
“You might have heard at some point that he was about to walk out of the hut and I stopped him?” Dave asked.
“Turns out he was hoping to scare you away,” Dave said. “He figured all he needed to do was walk out, stomp around a little bit, and that you’d take off rather than risk being discovered. Once he managed that, he figured he could come back and try to deal with me without you listening in.”
“That— well, it was a reasonably good idea,” I grumbled. “I’m certain it would’ve worked. So why didn’t he?”
Dave winced. “Because I had no idea you were outside listening to us. And I had no idea he what he was trying to do because he couldn’t tell me. To make it worse, I’m hammering him seven ways to Sunday about everything, not to mention that I think I shook him up a little bit to boot. If he walked out right then without saying anything, he knew I’d take it the wrong way. He was stuck. He had to stay and put up with an uncomfortable conversation that he really wasn’t ready to have, especially when he knew he had an invisible studio audience of one taking notes. He couldn’t tell me to shut up because he couldn’t tip you off that he not only saw you, but that he knew you were sneaking around.”
“Because it would put me on alert that I had to watch myself. Better he deal with your questions and try to direct the conversation rather than to tip his hand to me. Check and mate.” My eyes suddenly narrowed with anger. “Why are you telling me this?”
Dave leaned back with a grin. “To let you know I’ve got your number.”
“Are you telling me to be honest, or else?” I asked tightly.
“No ‘or else.’ At least not from me,” Dave shrugged. “There’s just no point in either one of us lying to each other any more, is there?” He leaned forward and added, “Eva, listen. I meant it when I said I like you. You’re a good listener, which probably comes with the Watcher territory, and it’s not all that often I get to tell stories to people. Everyone I know already knows them, or I can’t tell them because they’re not supposed to know what I really am.” He leaned back with yet another shrug. “It sucks that all this went down, but the way I see it, we’re both caught in the middle. I say let’s take advantage of the calm before you and Harris have that talk.”
I shook my head, with exasperation or relief, I couldn’t say. “Sounds reasonably fair, I suppose. I hope you don’t mind if I don’t share my innermost thoughts with you? At the moment, Mr. Harris has me at quite the disadvantage and I’m not inclined to put myself in greater peril by saying something out of turn.”
Dave nodded. “Pleading the fifth? That’s fair, too. Look, if it makes you feel any better, Harris didn’t tell me until the next morning that you were lurking outside. I guess he wanted to be sure that you were safely somewhere else before clueing me in that you were already on the case.” He frowned and added, “I don’t suppose Harris said anything that you didn’t already know in that conversation.”
I chose my words very carefully since I was loathe to say more about Sunnydale until I knew more about the First Evil’s re-emergence. “In general terms, very little. Although some of the matters you discussed—” I paused to search for the right phrase — “were revelatory. I confess I was primarily surprised by your insights, rather than anything Mr. Harris said. You might say both Mr. Harris and I reacted to very much the same things and in much the same manner.”
“Hunh. Not sure how I feel about that, given some of what I heard.” Dave focused on his fingers as they picked at the knees of his jeans. “Eva? How much of what Harris said is true? He’s not zooming me, is he?”
“Zooming?” I asked.
“Conning me. Was he being straight with everything he said?”
For a brief second, old Eva cackled with glee. It would be so easy to stick a knife in Mr. Harris’s back. I quickly quashed the evil urge by reminding myself that the First Evil may well be on the rise again. Instead, I stuck close to the simple truth. “Yes. Insofar as I know, he was being honest. I should caution you, however, that you are only getting Mr. Harris’s side of the story.”
“Yeah, I know.” Dave looked up at me with a relieved grin. “I collect as much of my information from people as I do books, remember? I know all about taking bias into account.”
I leaned forward. “Now it’s my turn.”
“I have a question.”
“Unh-oh,” Dave groaned. “Eva, if you’re looking for dirt, I’m not going to help you.”
So much for my plan to find information that I could use as a negotiation chip, I thought. It appeared that Dave was expecting it and was not willing to help. He may not be happy about my predicament, but his loyalties were firm, perhaps because Mr. Harris had not steered him wrong when it truly mattered.
Lord knows why, but rather than admit that I was looking for “dirt,” as Dave put it, my mind clasped on something else to ask.
“Why water?” I asked.
“Liwaza,” I waved out the window. “Every time I’ve seen Mr. Harris enter the village, Liwaza brings him a cup of water and it always seems to be in the same cracked cup. To my eye, the whole business between the two of them seems rather ritualistic. Everything comes to a standstill until it’s complete. So the question is, why?”
Dave shook his head. “Dunno.”
“You don’t know,” I said slowly.
He shrugged. “I don’t. What do you want me to say?
“Any theories, at least?”
“Not a clue. All I can tell you for sure is that it’s just something that’s evolved over time,” Dave admitted. “I only stuck around for a week, so I can’t really give you any details about how Liwaza settled in and where her little rituals come from. I wasn’t even here as long as Willow was. Like I said, she was here for two weeks, give or take, because that’s how long it took for Moms to hit on the right combination of herbs that would keep Liwaza mellow.”
“Suppressing Liwaza’s Slayer abilities are beyond her reach, then,” I said.
“Honestly? I’m not sure,” Dave said. “Moms claims it, but I get the feeling that it’s more like she doesn’t want to. It’s nothing she says, not that I can understand too much of what she says anyway. It’s more just a gut feeling. Between you and me, Eva, I’d bet dollars to donuts that if Moms ever was put in a position where she had to do it, she could.”
“If that’s the case, it seems rather odd that she’d refuse given Liwaza’s condition,” I said thoughtfully.
“Eh, not really. Moms is big on the whole ‘natural order’ of things, at least according to Willow. Guess she got an earful from Moms about her hex,” Dave said with another shrug.
“And what she did want her to do?” I asked. “I can’t see where Miss Rosenberg had much choice.”
“The way Willow told it to me and Harris over dinner, Moms thought Willow took the easy way out. I guess she thought Willow should’ve thought a little bit more about her options before bringing out the big guns. Whatever she said had to be pretty persuasive because Willow said she had a point,” Dave replied.
“Miss Rosenberg could understand her?” I asked with surprise.
“Harris and Willow said it was a witch thing. They way they described it sounded to me like telepathy, with Willow doing the mind-reading part,” Dave said. “Harris and Willow said it was sort of like that, but not quite the same thing.” He added with a shrug. “It’s one of those things that went over my head when they tried to explain it, although that’s probably because it sounded so science fiction to me that I was having a hard time wrapping my brain around it.”
“I suspect that’s something else you’ll have to get used to,” I said.
“Hey, slow down lady,” Dave answered with a laugh. “I’m just getting around the whole idea that just because something sounds like a horror movie doesn’t mean it isn’t real. I gotta take a few more baby steps before I start buying science fiction.”
“It seems to me that Grandmother Touré has more influence here than I was led to believe,” I said.
“All of it earned, although if there’s one person stranger in this village than Harris, Moms is that one person,” Dave said. “She does what she does for her own reasons and you just go with it because, honestly? She knows her shit. Besides, Harris trusts her, although God knows they’ve been known to go round and round on a few things. But, if he trusts her, that’s pretty much good enough for everyone else.”
I raised my eyebrows at this. Grandmother Touré was turning into quite the puzzle. She had started as a scolding old woman who bullied her way into being the village’s cook, to a witch with expertise in herbs and fetishes, to…what? A witch confident enough to not only take one of the most powerful witches in the world to task, but to convince that very same witch that she had overstepped her bounds.
“Besides, look at it from Moms point of view,” Dave added. “Liwaza was already catching on that no one was going to abuse her before she got here, and then she was slowly releasing the defenses even before Moms hit on the right tea.”
“So Liwza easily fit in?” I asked with disbelief.
“I didn’t say that,” Dave answered with a chuckle. He quickly sobered. “I won’t lie and say it was easy for anyone, but there was progress. It was just, well, sad if you get my meaning.”
“I imagine so,” I quietly murmured.
“I’d see Harris and Willow in the early morning just walking out beyond the edge of the village, not out of sight of it though because Willow couldn’t go that far out of range,” Dave continued as if he didn’t hear me. “You’d see them sticking close together, like they were talking. Or maybe they weren’t talking and just leaning on each other for support. I dunno. If you want a weird symbiotic relationship, that one takes the cake. Then the village would start stirring and they’d come back. Willow’d peel off and hang with Moms — she really dug Moms with all her herbal knowledge — and Harris would start walking Liwaza through her schedule. First the check-in with Doc, then a few little light chores, then a visit with Moms to try the teas, then back to Doc to make sure there wasn’t a bad reaction. The whole time he’d be chatting away about some fool thing or another, and there’d be Ally following right behind him looking like she was ready to snap Liwaza’s neck if that girl so much as thought about breathing wrong in Harris’s general direction. Thank God, Liwaza didn’t pick up on it, because Lord knows what would’ve happened.
“Anyway, I guess the first bit of trouble happened after I left, which took me by surprise,” Dave admitted with a rueful chuckle. “It was a change, you see? And Liwaza didn’t deal with it well. Anyway, they managed to calm her down from that. About a week after that, Moms hit on the right combo, which meant it was time for Willow to go. Right about the same time, Harris had to head out for another Slayer house call.”
“She didn’t take that well either, I suppose,” I said.
Dave shook his head. “Harris got back as fast as he could the first time, ’cause he figured it would happen. Did it the next few times, too because she’d kick up a fuss after he’d leave, but what the hell could he do? He couldn’t stay here 24/7 for one Slayer, especially when there were other Slayers out there that need finding. I guess eventually Liwaza figured out that if Harris headed out, he’d always come back. The fits she’d throw slowly shrunk in size and violence until they disappeared altogether. Right after she stopped throwing fits, she started showing with that cup of water whenever Harris would pull into the village. Doesn’t seem to matter if he’s gone for a few hours or a few weeks. He leaves, Liwaza barely notices. He comes back, she’s there with the water. God knows why.”
“What do you think would happen if he never came back?” I wondered.
Dave shrugged. “I don’t know if time actually means anything to her. For all anyone knows, she’d keep on the lookout with that cup of water of hers until he does come back.”
I thought that there was something rather sad about that.
Dave uncomfortably rubbed his hands on his thighs. “Look, I’ve hung out a little too long and I’ve gotta get going. Are you done with the food?”
I looked at the tray next to me on the bed where I had set it during the course of our conversation and saw, to my utter surprise, that I had eaten most of my lunch. “There isn’t much left.”
Dave nodded. “Good. Means I’ve got a good excuse. I was keeping you company while you ate.” He stood up, grabbed the tray, and said, “I’ll tell doc to swing by and check you out. He’d have come sooner, but Harris thought it would be better if you calmed down a little bit more.”
“I would have been a perfect lady had he deigned to show his face before breakfast,” I sniffed.
Dave paused halfway to the door and gave me a rather amused look. “Maybe, but you weren’t the one watching you last night or this morning.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Dave grimaced. “You were just a little bit…ummmm…well, you weren’t thinking clearly, that’s all.”
“That’s not true,” I protested. “And even if I was momentarily thrown into confusion over my predicament, I think I’m very much entitled to being angry and upset.”
“No one’s saying you aren’t.” Dave then took breath and added, “Eva, trust me. Harris is a reasonable guy. He’s not looking to screw you over. If anything, he’s looking for a way to not screw you over, but he can’t do anything if you’re not willing to help him find a way out of it. You’ve got to understand. This village? Comes first. Okay, maybe it comes second after Ally, but you know what I mean. If he thinks for one second that you’re going to hurt instead of help, he will screw you over so hard that you’ll be walking funny for the rest of your life and he won’t lose a moment’s sleep over it.”
I narrowed my eyes and studied Dave as he fidgeted under my gaze. I replayed what he said in my head and slowly nodded. “I think I understand.”
Dave let out a relieved breath. “Good.”
And so it appeared that Dave had given me a bargaining chip, although it took some rather hard thinking on my part to determine how far I was willing to play my hand.
Please allow me a momentary chuckle, dear reader. This situation is much like a high-rolling poker player who is comfortably betting on four Aces, but is completely insensible to the fact that her opponent is not only playing a completely different game, but also for much higher stakes.
I won’t mention that the high-rolling poker player in question had completely forgotten that her opponent not only cheats, but is also a dirty fighter.
Honestly, why I ever thought I had the upper hand at any point is beyond my comprehension.
Still, the afternoon did not pass in an altogether disagreeable manner. I had various schemes to play out in my head that just might, as Dave had hinted, turn the tide in my favor.
My musings were briefly interrupted by the arrival of Dr. Mboto accompanied by a Slayer. Word had clearly gotten out that I had become more “reasonable,” since the Slayer, whose name I did not know, didn’t seem to be on high alert. My conversation with Dr. Mboto was polite and professional as he surveyed my now-disappeared injuries, but not overly warm. This was not much of a surprise.
At some point after Dr. Mboto’s departure, I even deigned to go to my window and watch the regular bustle of the village. My Slayer guard, while still ever-present and watchful around my hut, seemed more relaxed. Some of the girls even turned to smile and wave at me, a gesture that I returned to show that I bore them no ill will for following orders.
I finally flopped onto my bed, perhaps thinking that a nap might do me in good stead before Mr. Harris sent for me. However, the noise of life beyond my walls tempted me into shift position so that my head was at the foot of the bed and I could watch the world through the doorway of my hut.
As I settled my chin comfortably on my folded arms and continued pondering what I could offer Mr. Harris in exchange for my freedom, Bunmi’s training session broke up and Nagesa and Akella took to the field, Nagesa with a quarterstaff and Akella with his knives. They had barely squared off when they suddenly rushed each other and clashed.
As Akella’s knives flashed through the air, Nagesa danced and flipped around him, jabbing her quarterstaff at her Watcher in an effort to get him to back off, halt his deadly slashes, and trip him.
I sat up in my bed and watched with fascinated eyes as they engaged each other with a fluid, silent, deadly grace. No quarter was asked for, nor given and both plied their deadly arts with equal fervor.
This was not a sparing session, I thought. This was a bloodless war. I honestly wasn’t entirely sure that Nagesa would escape being cut by Akella’s furious assault.
I was so transfixed by the display that I was unsure how long it lasted before Nagesa finally broke through Akella’s expert knife work and tripped him with the quarterstaff. He flipped backwards and landed in the dirt on his back.
Then, suddenly, the spell was broken. Nagesa broke her warrior’s stance and raced to his side while Akella caught his breath. She tenderly helped him to his feet. It was such a sharp contrast to sheer fury I had witnessed that it nearly took my breath way. The pair of them stood close and seemed to be consulting. Akella stepped back, and demonstrated something with his knives. Nagesa nodded in response.
Then, the pair broke apart. They once more took their fighting stances and once more clashed with an even greater violence than they had before.
This scenario was repeated several times. Yet it was silent, always silent. Not a word, not a grunt, not sound crossed their lips. I suppose they spoke during their consultations, but I was too far away and they were speaking to one another too softly for me to be certain of that.
Eventually, they finished and departed the field arm and arm. Out of curiosity, I went to the door of my hut to see what they’d do next.
Akella moved ahead to a hut and emerged with a water skin and a pitcher. He handed the water skin to his Lady with an elegant bow, and she accepted it with what appeared to be a happy grin. They both drank from their respective containers, although Nagesa had a more awkward time of it since she did have the larger and heavier water skin.
I was so entranced by this display that I startled when I heard a shout.
While watching Akella and Nagesa, I had completely missed that Mr. Harris and Alexandrienne were now in the midst of their training session. In sharp contrast to their opening act, however, Mr. Harris and Alexandrienne were anything but quiet.
The pair of them danced around each other — Mr. Harris with an axe and Alexandrienne with nothing more than a stake. Their words flowed easily between French and English as they teased, joked, and tossed half-hearted threats at each other. Neither one of them were above not only making use of not only the whole center of the village for their training session, but also turning anything they could lay their hand on as a weapon. If one of them found themselves cornered, you could be almost certain that the person doing the cornering was going to get a face full of dirt, or a rock tossed somewhere at their midsection, or a stool picked up and swung at their head.
And unlike Akella, who would stay down once he was flipped onto his back, Mr. Harris would indecently scramble away with Alexandrienne chasing after him with an half-enraged shout, grab whatever came to hand, and throw it at her to buy time for him to get back on his feet.
This invariably led to him teasing her while she shouted at him in a mixture in French and English that he cheated too much and that it wasn’t fair.
“Fair!” he finally shouted at her. “Fair’s no fun! You’d be bored and you know it! And look who’s cheating! Who threw the chicken at who? Wasn’t me that threw the chicken at me, I can tell you that. Those flapping wings hurt. And can I just add—”
Here Alexandrienne paused and watched him suspiciously.
Mr. Harris made a face. “Owwwwwww.”
“Good,” she sniffed.
That’s when Mr. Harris reached behind him, tossed something at Alexandrienne, and shouted, “Catch!”
Alexandrienne ducked the object, which turned out to be a stake, and turned to chase after Mr. Harris as he raced for Akella and Nagesa. He reached them moments before Alexandrienne could catch him, laid hold of the water skin in Nagesa’s hands, shouted his thanks, yanked out of her hands, turned around, and threw it at Alexandrienne with all the force he could muster.
I believe, dear reader, that you get the picture.
Eventually, Alexandrienne had quite enough of this and a wicked look crossed her face. Mr. Harris, upon seeing it, gave up all pretence of fighting back and just made a run for his hut.
Why he bothered I have no idea.
Alexandrienne attacked him from behind, flipped him on his back, and then hopped on top of him so that she was straddling his chest. “Yay! Je gagne!”
This was a tactical mistake.
Mr. Harris’s hands shot up and — as unbelievable as this sounds dear reader, but I swear on all that’s holy that this is true — he tickled her.
Alexandrienne exploded in laughter and began to repay him in kind. Soon the two of them were wrestling and giggling like a pair of children engaged in horseplay, rather than a Slayer and her Watcher carrying out the deadly serious business of training.
I was utterly horrified, but not so much that I didn’t look around to see how others were reacting.
Some of the watching Slayers were giggling, some were rolling their eyes, and some seemed to have this look of — and I have no other word to describe it — longing on their faces as if this was something they wanted for themselves.
I wasn’t entirely sure what horrified me more: the foolishness of Mr. Harris and Alexandrienne’s display, or the fact that the people around them considered this normal behavior from them.
Eventually, Sister Ig marched out of a hut and stomped over to where Alexandrienne had Mr. Harris in a headlock and was furiously rubbing the top of his head with her knuckles while he shouted indignantly in French. When Sister Ig’s shadow fell over the pair of them, they looked up and paused their shenanigans.
The good sister reached out, grabbed the two of them by the scruff of their necks, and hauled them upright — although only partially in Mr. Harris’s case since he was taller than her — and began scolding them.
“Honestly! I’m writing out my lesson plans and the two of you are making a racket! A woman can’t even think with you two around. Are you done? I hope you’re done because you’ve been at this a half-hour!”
My eyes widened in shock as both Mr. Harris and Alexandrienne made a show of looking contrite and mumbled their apologies.
Sister Ig crossed her arms and tapped her foot. “It’s a wonder that anything’s left standing after one of your training sessions,” she announced.
This elicited yet another mumbled apology from Mr. Harris and Alexandrienne as they made a show of staring at their toes.
Sister Ig threw up her hands. “Why do I bother?” She then huffed off back to her hut.
The show now over, the spectators broke up and went back to whatever tasks they had been doing before. Mr. Harris and Alexandrinne eventually looked up from their feet, glanced around, and then grinned at each other as if they had gotten away with some sort of mischief.
Once the crowd thinned, Mr. Harris began gesturing as Alexandrienne nodded. Bits of words here and there reached my ears.
“Chicken…good,” Mr. Harris said.
“…skin…holy water?” Alexandrienne asked
“Try…canteen…think.” Mr. Harris agreed. “Still…work on…remember?”
Alexandrienne straightened up and said, “Go for…kill…when down.”
“…hesitate…when I’m…that’s…problem…work on that,” Mr. Harris said.
Alexandrienne nodded her agreement, and Mr. Harris put an arm around her shoulder. As the two of them walked to his hut, Mr. Harris paused and glanced over his shoulder back at me.
If I had thought that he had missed my standing in my doorway to watch the training session, Mr. Harris in that one moment proved me wrong.
Alexandrienne turned around to face me as Mr. Harris grinned and gave me a friendly wave.
I blinked in surprise at the gesture, as Mr. Harris and Alexandrienne turned back around. As his arm settled once more around her shoulders, it occurred to me that perhaps I did have something to offer after all. Mr. Harris may be able enough in his own way, but it was equally clear that he had a lot to learn about being a Watcher that would pass muster with the Council.
The only question I needed to settle to my satisfaction was whether such an offer would be tempting enough for Mr. Harris to accept.
Then I had to decide if I had the stomach to put that offer on the table.TBC...