Excerpt for Aliah by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Aliah


By Roxanne Fox

Published by Roxanne Fox at Smashwords

Copyright 2017 Roxanne Fox


Smashwords Edition, License Notes


Thank you for downloading this free ebook. Although this is a free book, it remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be reproduced, copied and distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy at Smashwords.com, where they can also discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.



Cover photo by pareeerica retrieved from flickr.com.

Some rights reserved


Thank you to my beta reader Nikki Amaya. Thanks to her, this story sounds much better than it was before. Thank you so much Nikki for your time and support in reading this first! 

Table of Contents


Chapter 01 ~ Babilli

Chapter 02 ~ The Lamp

Chapter 03 ~ The Temple

Chapter 04 ~ Nico

Chapter 05 ~ Last Wish

Chapter 06 ~ All of Eternity

Prologue

Chapter 01

Babilli


Looking down at my drink, I hunched my shoulders as a large man was shoved into me before being lifted and thrown to the other side of the room. It was no different than any other day or night in the tavern, the main hangout for the thieves and ne’er-do-wells of Babilli. The room erupted as more men joined the fray so I took my chance to grab a few extra plates of food and drinks before slinking out the door. Once outside the dry desert air filled my nostrils and cleared out all the funk and sweat which permeated the dim-lit hangout.

Slouching down with my ill-gotten dinner, I began consuming the lot before someone noticed me. Though I was good at hiding my feminine features, if anyone paid to close attention they may realize I was a female and not male like the rest. Using cloth to band my breasts, and wearing street urchin rags helped, but as a woman in a man’s world being too careful was always the best option.

The last big of the thieved wine left my lips and filled my belly just as the fight found its way out of the tavern and to the streets. As the tavern owner yelled profanities to the men who began the fight, and were now wrestling in the alley, I made my way back in and set the dishware I cleaned off on the bar before taking my seat with my own cup once more.

Just as I said before, it was no different than any other day or night.

Being a woman who didn’t want to be owned by any man, either as a wife or a prostitute—the only real options for women in the Persian Empire—I would be considered better off dead by those men. It was hard to know if the Arabians, who were slowly advancing on our lands, treated their women better, but stories from afar didn’t bring me enough hope to travel away from the city.

My mother, a prostitute herself, gave birth to me then tried to use my body for more money at a young age. She was the first life I had taken to find my own place, my own freedom. The look in her eyes as I plunged the blade into her gut still haunted me, nearly fifteen years later.

The night of her death I donned the clothing of the males and began my life as one of the scum of Babilli, a once great city falling deeper and deeper into ruin each day. Riots were common and the lord of the area only wanted more from the people, all so that he could live the life of royalty and still afford the hefty taxes asked by the king. The great king himself could care less of a long conquered city, and one time capital of the kingdom, as long as the taxes kept coming.

Many days I believed the king would prefer Babilli be gone, be wiped from the planet and forgotten. There had been no word of help if the Arabians were to invade, so that thought seemed all too true. Of course, the Persian Empire was not what it once was. The weak and cruel ruler had made mistakes which would come back to haunt him and Babilli. In its fallen state, the city would be an acceptable loss. At least, that is what I heard on the streets as I would slink about eavesdropping to be sure no one saw me take what I needed to survive. And, survive is all I could do.

Sighing, I drank the rest of my own wine, the one I paid for with the meager coin someone was kind enough to toss me as I slept under an eve in the afternoon. It seemed even the life I chose was its own kind of hell.

“Who is the owner of this establishment?”

My eyes were drawn to the entrance, which was blocked by a large man filling the doorway as he entered the tavern. He and the two men following him were dressed as royal guards.

The owner stepped forward, wringing a dirty rag between his hands. His body held a slight tremor, and I couldn’t blame him. All eyes darted away and a few men even left out the back. No one liked to see anyone be beaten by royal guards, which happened often when more taxes were being asked for.

“The prince has a decree he would like posted in this establishment. You are to do so and for your service to Babilli a portion of your taxes will be forgiven, if the found party is located in your establishment.”

It was hard to follow what the guard meant—especially since he called Lord Tryphon a prince—but as the owner read the poster, which many of his patrons couldn’t read, he seemed to understand what the guard was asking, and seemed to come to the same conclusion I had.

“But, good sir … many of my customers, they might not be able to do as the decree asks.” The owner looked even more nervous.

This decree had peaked my interest, and unlike most of the men who would be unable to decipher what the words said, I would be able to read it once it was up. One of the many things I had found to occupy my time was watching others learn to read. Something I was very talented at was getting information.

“Are you trying to say you refuse?”

The owner looked near panicked as a bead of sweat ran down his forehead. “No, not at all. I would be happy. Please put it right where all can see.” He began to guide them to the most visible spot in the place.

Smart man.

Glancing around, I saw that even more patrons were leaving as the guards followed the owner to where they were hanging the poster on the wall and as they exited, they had abandoned more food and drink.

Lucky me.

Watching the gazes of the few remaining bar-goers, I gathered up the abandoned food. All eyes left in the place were glued to the owner and guards, and paid no mind to the “dirty boy” grabbing up a couple of plates and cups. Settling down in a new corner, I too watched as the finished with the poster before being on their way. From my vantage point, I could see the words clearly and nearly choked on my second free meal of the night when I read what they said.

Chapter 02

The Lamp


My heart was pounding as I made my way up the steps of the once glorious palace to see Lord Tryphon, or Prince Tryphon as he called himself in the decree, to ask if I was good enough for the task laid out in the poster. Thinking on it while I climbed the steps it still seemed unreal. If it was true it was the ticket to freedom I desired. Tryphon was willing to pay any single wish, within limit, to whoever could retrieve an item from the Forbidden Temple in the desert. That’s right, one item for one free wish, all you had to do was enter a place the king himself declared off limits.

The idea of traveling somewhere the actual king deemed forbidden was enough to turn some of the people who could read the poster away and I was hoping the lack of reading skills and fear of real persecution would be enough to turn almost all curious parties away. For me, it was not enough. There was no risk too great for gaining my freedom as a woman. Even traveling to the mysterious temple built in a canyon wall. One said to contain demons and spirits who killed all stupid enough to venture in. The fables surrounding it were why the king deemed it forbidden … or, they arose due to it, I never found out.

Whatever the reason, I pushed thoughts of them aside and wrapped my shawl around my face, less for the beating sun and more to hide my feminine jaw line from the guards I was approaching.

“That’s far enough boy.” At least I knew my disguise was working. “What business do you have with the prince?”

Casting my eyes away from his impressive sun-tanned muscles I tried not to wonder why Tryphon’s own guards were not men enough for the task I was about to inquire on. “I am here to speak to the prince about a decree I saw in a tavern.”

Most times I didn’t speak, knowing my voice was just as feminine as my jaw line, so I held in a breath waiting to see if I was able to disguise it as well.

The guard laughed. “What would a dirty street kid like you be able to do?”

“Remember Azir, we are not to turn away anyone who comes. And, this boy is the first.”

My heart almost stopped. I was the only one, no one else had even tried to speak to Tryphon. My chances were looking better and better.

“Boy?” The second, kinder guard addressed me.

“Yes sir?”

“Where did you see the decree? Which Tavern?”

Remembering what the guard had told the plump owner, I was glad I knew his name since his establishment had none. “The small place behind the market owned by Abdul Rashad.”

The guard made an agreeable noise before asking me to follow him, leaving the other—who had tried to give me a hard time—to stand watch. My eyes shot from side to side as I kept my head down. I had never been close to the palace, let alone inside it, and it was hard to believe how posh everything was compared to the ruin of the city outside. There were more gold and jewels than I knew what to do with and they were just for decoration. Covering walls, tables, even the bellies of the women Tryphon had near him as he lounged by a low table covered with something even better than the riches.

Food.

He had more food, and types of food, than I had ever seen. My stomach made a noise in spite of itself and I hoped its rudeness would be overlooked as I tried not to breath in the delicious smells coming off the table or look at the glistening berries and succulent meats.

Bringing my eyes up, I looked instead at Tryphon and my appetite went away. He was not the Tryphon depicted in battle all those years ago. No, it had seemed palace life had made him soft and quite large. He sat with his swollen belly hanging out as he ate some sort of meat in a way which made me almost decide to never consume a slice again myself. Juices dripped off his chin and as they did one of his courtesans would wipe away then sit back smiling behind her veil. Seeing the women in such a way showed me that being a poor beggar was preferable to some luxuries.

“Prince Tryphon, there is a young boy here about the decree you sent out.”

Tryphon stopped eating at once and sat up, swapping away the girl who tried to wipe the spit at his mouth. She let out a small noise and I could tell that she could be no more than twelve years of age. Only a handful of years older than I was when my mother tried to sell my body. My heart wrenched for the young girl but I tried not to think on it. It was her life and she was the one who had to live it.

“So you think you can get what I need from the temple do you, boy?” The way he spoke was how he ate, loud and with a strained breath.

“Yes, your highness.” Breathing in, I kept reminding myself not to call him a lord and was glad I hadn’t.

“But you are just a boy.”

“The poster said that any may try, and I wish to try, Prince Tryphon.” Using his name in such a way was a decisive play, I was hoping acknowledging his false title would gain me some favor.

“Well, I have to say I do like that you are willing, even if the trip to the temple alone may kill you.” He let out a round of laughter, which seemed to wind him more than anything else.

“Yes, your highness. It may.”

“Okay, boy,” he said, after regaining his breath. “If you are to retrieve what it is I desire, what is it you desire in return?”

It seemed odd he was not telling me what the item was, but I knew not to question someone who claimed to be a prince. “I wish for a meager amount of gold and my freedom.”

From my downcast eyes, I could see his brow rise. “Are you an escaped slave?”

The guard next to me seemed to tense, so I was quick to respond. “No, your highness, I am not a slave.”

“If you are not a slave, then how are you not free?”

Pulling in a lungful of air, I hoped my next move was a smart one. “Your highness, being that I am not a slave and all I wish is for this purse filled with gold coin and the ability to live my life free, is it not a small reward for what you are asking?”

Tryphon was quiet a moment and I prayed to the heavens I had not overstepped my position.

At last he spoke. “Very well, I accept. If you are to retrieve what I wish for, then I will fill your small purse with gold and write a letter of freedom for you, so if any should question your right to live free you have proof. If you wish, I could even get the great King to approve it.”

My pulse sped up. No one would question that kind of letter. I could leave Babilli with that sort of freedom.

“But first.” My eyes shot to his. “I wish to see your face.”

The ruse was over. I was ruined. Somehow, he had found me out and this was the end. It wouldn’t just be the end of my deception, but the end of me as well. Swallowing hard, I grasped the edge of my shawl and pulled it aside. My dark curls fell free around my face and instead of anger when my eyes found Tryphon’s, I found shock.

His surprise turned into a smile. “With the request you made, I had guessed you must be a woman hiding in disguise, and what a good one it was. However, I had not thought you would be so beautiful.”

His smile was lecherous and I did my best to ignore it. “Your words are too kind for a street scum such as myself.”

Bowing, I glanced to the side and caught the guard’s surprised stare before he looked up. Men were so predictable. As soon as anyone found out I was a woman they either wanted to own me, kill me, or have nothing to do with me.

“What is your name, girl?”

Straightening myself, I said, “Aliah, your highness.”

“Such a beautiful name, for such a beautiful woman.” There was a fear building in me Tryphon was the kind of male in the first camp: the owners.

“Your highness, may I ask?”

“Yes, my dear?” The way he said “dear” turned my stomach.

“What is the item you wish for me to retrieve? I would like to begin my journey soon.”

Tryphon laughed, and I was sure my chance flew away as soon as he saw my face. “You are persistent, aren’t you? It will be interesting to see if a woman can do that which no man has been able to do. If you found the lamp, it would make you remarkable beyond your beauty, Aliah.”

Ignoring how the way he said my name sent a chill down my spine, I focused instead on how he was still giving me the opportunity to find his lamp. Wait, his what?


Chapter 03

The Temple


Clutching the map in my hands, I took each step as careful as I could, thinking my pounding heart was going to seize and I would die before ever leaving the palace. The task seemed so simple, the hardest part was really in the poster: going to the forbidden temple. The journey itself was not an issue, I have traveled the desert before to rob caravans as they slept, it was more the fact that if you were caught in the temple you were put to death on the spot.

Looking at the maps in my hand, I thought death would be better than not finding the lamp. And, that is all he wanted. A small lamp said to be deep within the temple. He wouldn’t say more, other than I would know I had the right one because the lamp I was searching for was the only one known to be made of glass. He said it sparkled like an emerald and was the only thing I was to touch. Tryphon was very clear on that.

“If you touch anything other than that lamp, you will die.”

There was no more explanation than that and I didn’t care. Go to temple, get lamp, touch nothing else, come back, be free for the rest of my life. It seemed like a good and simple plan.

Looking up at the open door, I put the folded map securely in my shirt, against my breast where I could feel it and know it was safe. The guard next to me, the kind guard from before, made a noise and I glanced up at him to see his eyes on me. He stopped walking so I did as well, sure he was going to say something even more lecherous than the false prince had said.

“You should redo your wrap before we exit.”

It was my turn to be shocked. Hiding my blush with the wrap and hood, I cast my eyes down out of embarrassment. The way he had been looking at me, his eyes still holding shock and something I couldn’t read, I had thought he was in the same camp as Tryphon.

“Thank you,” I said in a low voice.

He let out a short laugh as we began walking again. “I’ll just say, I know a little something about hiding who you are. I admire your courage; I wish I had the same.”

From under my hood, I pursed my brow at him but he didn’t say more. He was not like any other man I had met who knew me to be a woman. He was kind, but held no sexual interest in me. Not knowing why he was the way he was, but figuring it had to do with his odd comment, I smiled to myself and hoped there were more men like him in the world.

We had exited the palace from a different way than I had entered so that the guard could take me to the stables to gather a camel for the trip. Once Tryphon had learned I was a woman, he too became a little nicer about my endeavor—though for him, the leer in his eyes made it obvious as to why he was so nice—he offered to give me a camel to make the trip easier and more expedient. Considering I did not like the prospect of, eh-hem, “borrowing” one, I took his offer with thanks.

“Karim, what brings you to the stable?” A man about the height of the guard, but not as muscled, approached him. Their hands grasped each other’s forearms in a handshake as they greeted one another.

“It’s good to see you here, Piruz. Tryphon has instructed me to gather a camel for this boy. I would like our most rested for his journey.”

Piruz’s light brown eyes took me in. “This boy, eh?” He laughed and entered the stable making my heart about jump out of my chest.

The way he looked at me, I thought I had been discovered. Karim laughed with the stableman and the two gathered a camel and began readying it for me. Tucking in against a wall, out of the bright desert day and out of sight of any passerby, I watched the two banter as they prepared the animal. It was clear they were good friends. Once the camel was done, Karim thanked Piruz, promising to get a drink that night, and brought the equipped beast to me.

“Good luck, boy.” The way Piruz said boy and laughed made me sure he knew I was not a boy. How he knew, was beyond me but he let me be so it was fine if he did know. Nodding to him—Karim had filled him in on why I needed the camel—I said my thanks and mounted the animal.

Once near the gate, Karim stepped back and bowed. “Good luck, Aliah. Humata, Hukhta, Huvarshta.”

With that, I was off. As I left the back gate of the palace and entered the empty street, which dumped me in the desolate desert, I pondered why he would give me such a farewell. To remind me of good thoughts, gestures, and deeds seemed a little redundant considering the journey I was undergoing required me to steal from a temple forbidden by the king.


~


The sun set not long after venturing from the safe confines of Babilli … well, safe compared to the open desert. The map had shown the star I should locate and follow to find the canyon. Many times I found myself bringing the lantern close to glance at the map and look to the stars to see if the alignment was correct. Each time I was happy with my trajectory, I would snuff the lantern so as not to draw attention.

There were always knives hidden on my person. Even in the palace, I had not left them behind. It was a tricky venture, but no one attempted the life of Tryphon and I was so unassuming it never dawned on anyone to check. Those knives saved me more than a few times so I was hard pressed to be apart from them. As I made my way through the dark, windswept desert, I was glad I had them on me.

The sky shifted as my journey continued and hours passed one by one. As my lids began to feel heavy, I saw the horizon ahead change from star scattered black to purple, and blue, then pinks, red and orange. The sun peaked over the edge of the cliff ahead in the distance and the sight of it renewed my vigor. Leaning down, I patted the camel, giving him words of praise, and hoped he had enough in him to make it the short distance. He was a strong beast and hadn’t faltered once which made me feel the two men gave me a much better camel than Tryphon had intended.

The sun was just starting to warm the land when we made it to the shade of the canyon. Dismounting, I was happy to see not a soul around and a small spring near the entrance of the temple. The camel lapped at the cool water and I tied him to a downed tree where he could rest in the shade. After filling my water bladder, I unwrapped my shawl and splashed some of the cool water on my face, scrubbing away the dirt and sweat. The spring felt so nice, I decided to wash up, never having the ability to do so in the city.

Stripping down I walked into the cool water and sat. The pool was shallow but there was enough room for me to clean up and feel refreshed before continuing my journey. There had been a few short stints where I had dozed on the long ride to the canyon so after cleaning off and redressing, leaving off the items which hid my femininity since no one would be about to see me, I felt ready to enter the ominous façade in the canyon wall.

Looking up at the sheer face, I put my filled bladder around me and wound my thick hair into a loose braid. Snatching a piece of desert grass, I tied it around the end and let it fall to my back. Posing as a boy with long hair seemed like a folly idea, but my hair was one thing I loved about me and I would die before cutting it … even if it had led to my discovery more than once. Pushing aside the thought, as well as a stray strand, I approached the temple.

Bringing only the map, which showed the path to the lamp in addition to the water, my hidden away knives, and the lantern, I entered the temple with care. There was nothing impressive about the long hall I crept down, other than the symbols written in a language I had never seen trailing all through it.

Giving in to curiosity, and since nothing had happened in the few hundred feet I had ventured in, I walked up to one of the writings and touched them. Nothing happened, and the stone didn’t feel odd or anything, they were just ancient words from a culture I had never experienced in Babilli. Shaking my head, I continued on, checking the map to be sure I was heading in the right direction as I came upon turns and corners, and tried not to be disappointed.

Maybe I had gotten myself worked up into thinking there was something more than a special glass lamp to warrant the place forbidden, maybe even something magical. In a world where I had to steal half-eaten scraps, I’m not sure what kind of magic I was thinking of finding in an abandoned temple carved in the side of a canyon, but I was still a little let down. Pushing aside my disappointment, I at last made it to a large door as indicated on the map.

Looking up at the huge thing, I glanced at the words Tryphon had written on the map. Words I was required to read at the door. My brow pursed, as it did each time I had looked at them, and I was yet again unsure how the unknown words would open a door. Figuring there was nothing else I could do, I mean I had gone that far, I took a deep breath and started to read the phonetically written out words.

“Aperi, inquam. Da mihi djinni.” Expecting nothing to happen, nothing had been impressive thus far, I was shocked to see the symbols carved in the door light up green before the door rattled open with dust and pebbles raining down. Stepping back, slack-jawed, I watched the doors opened inches at a time until they stopped and the last bits of dust cleared. Beyond them fires blazed in braziers lighting up more treasure than I could ever imagine.

Crossing through the doors, they remained open as I took in the spectacle around me. It was no wonder Tryphon had said to not touch anything, though it was hard to not want to take one small item, like a crown, or gem, or sack of gold, or … something! There was just so much. Swallowing down the dry lump in my throat, I turned the map over and looked at the path to where the lamp should be. Tryphon had told me there would be riches I wasn’t to take, but there was no way I could have known there would be the piles, dune sized piles, of gold and gems I saw around me.

Averting my eyes, I stayed focused on what I had come for. Once I had my freedom I could find my way back and get what I wanted. It wouldn’t take any time at all to copy the map in the tavern before I returned with the lamp. Tryphon would be sure to take the map back, but I knew where to get parchment and charcoal. Scribing a crude map would be easy and I could use it to get all the treasure I wanted before leaving Babilli behind for good.

Smiling over the various items I might take when I ventured back, I navigated the paths of shiny things until I found a single pedestal with a plush black pillow on it. On the pillow, sat the glass lamp and neither item had a spot of dust. Trying to not be worried, after all the place did hold magic, I gathered the lamp up curious as to why it was so important in a cave full of such riches.

Brining it close to my almond eyes, I squinted my dark depths at the glass and was surprised to see some kind of fog on it. It wasn’t as clean as I had first thought. Grabbing the edge of my shawl, I rubbed at the glass to see what was contained inside and started at the bottle moving in my hand. Letting out a yelp, I almost dropped the damned thing as it began to vibrate in my hands. Instead of dropping it, I clutched the thing to my chest and fell back into a pile of gold coins from the motion.

As soon as my hand hit the stamped metal, I heard a loud groaning noise and recognized it for what it was. Jumping to my feet, I held the still pulsing bottle to me as I wound my way back through the piles of treasure to the door.

“No, no, no, no. Oh, please, no.” My words were useless. As I rounded the last corner I saw the last glimpse of darkness beyond before it shut solid, with me on the inside holding a now warming glass lamp.

Chapter 04

Nico


Setting the stupid bottle down, I ignored the humming noise it made against the ground as I sat in some plush chair in gold with red fabric so soft it was like nothing I had felt before. Laughing to myself, I figured it would be a nice place to die since that was assuredly what was going to happen. If I didn’t die from starvation, I would die when the king came to enjoy his hidden wealth.

Sighing, I looked up at the door then had an idea. Pulling out the map, I walked up to it and repeated the words. Nothing happened. Feeling a build of frustration, I said the words again and again, until I was finally yelling them.

“That’s not going to work, you already have me.”

The scream that left me was eaten up by the cavernous treasure room as I turned to see who had spoken behind me. As my eyes fell on the man, his dark, bronzed chest bare of any shirt or hair, eyes smiling, perfect white teeth smiling as well, my heart sank. His ebony hair fell in a sexy way, almost over one eye, but was cut short on the sides, and for the first time in my life, I wanted to run my hands through a man’s locks as I nibbled at the dimples in his cheeks. Oh, those dimples…

Trying to snap myself to reality and away from the loose-pant, and nothing else, wearing stranger, I took a step back. “Where did you come from?”

He let out a laugh that had my heart doing a flip in my chest. Stupid heart, what do you know?

“I came from the lamp. You called me.”

Looking to the lamp at his feet, I couldn’t believe he was serious. “That’s not possible.”

His brow pursed and he crossed his muscled arms over his chest, which I was still wanting to rub on … wow, I never knew being attracted to a man was so distracting.

“I take it you do not know what I am. So, who sent you?” His lips pulled across his beautiful smile, bringing out his dimples once more. “Have I awoken in a new era when women are more respected? Being sent on a task such as this for a woman must mean times have changed?”

There was no stopping the laugh that came out of me. “No. Women are not respected. I pretended to be a boy so I can be free and was sent here to get that lamp in exchange for my freedom as a woman.”

“Who rules the lands where I am held captive?”

His words stuck a cord with me, I hadn’t known he was held against his will, though it was still hard for me to believe he came from a bottle, which I could carry in the bag on the camel I would never see again. Pushing away my confusing and depressing thoughts, I looked to his breathtaking features.

“Yazdegerd III of the Persian Empire rules these lands, though the Arabians are taking over his territories if word on the street is true.”

He nodded and appeared sad. “I had hoped more time had passed. The fact you are a female and on such a dangerous task made me think it was a better time, one with more understanding people.”

Laughing a little again, I shook my head. “The man who sent me, Tryphon, is not understanding. In fact, I was worried he may try something when I had returned with the lamp, but there is always a backup plan.” Not thinking on how Tryphon’s obvious interest worried me, I glanced around the massive space. “Not like it matters here, I’m—or should I say, we’re—stuck. So…”

One dark brow rose over a thick-lashed eye and I swallowed down my pulse.

“You still haven’t told me where you came from, and who are you by the way?”

“I’m Nicodromos Maichiou, but my siblings called me Nico and I already told you, I came from the lamp. How is it you were sent here but know nothing of who and what I am? You haven’t told me who you are either, by the way.”

My cheeks warmed in spite of myself. “My name is Aliah, I was not given a surname so that is my only name.”

“With a name that lovely, you would need only one.”

The mild blush felt a million times hotter as it crawled up my neck to join my cheeks but I focused on the truth and not my first time attraction. “I was sent here to gather that lamp and told nothing else, except to not touch anything but the lamp.”

His face became somber and he nodded. “The person who sent you feared you would not bring the lamp back if you knew of me.”

“And why is that?” He still hadn’t shown me any proof he came from the lamp, other than having appeared from nowhere.

“I am what people call a djinni.” The word he spoke was one I had said when I opened the door but I didn’t know what it meant. By his laugh, he must have guessed I was clueless. “A djinni is like a mage, but different and stronger.”

“What is a mage?”

He sighed. “It’s so hard to deal with humans who don’t know anything.”

That got my back up. “Hey, all I know is I was supposed to get that lamp and nothing else. It is not my fault I wasn’t informed of more. When I tried to clean the smudges off the lamp the thing started acting crazy and I when I tripped on my own feet I touched some stuff which shut the door. So, if you did come from that lamp then it is your fault I am going to die in here.”

“You don’t have to die here. There is a reason this Tryphon person did not tell you about me.”

“What do you mean?” All I wanted to do was be mad at this man who, if he had come from the lamp, was the reason I was trapped, but my traitorous body felt drawn to him and made it hard to keep my resolve.

He motioned me to sit, and grabbed a chair matching mine before setting it near me. He moved it without an issue and I had to wonder if it was lighter than it appeared, being gilded the way it was, or if he was stronger than he should have been.

After he sat, he turned to me with a light smile playing on his lips. “The reason Tryphon wanted you to get my lamp and only my lamp is because it is the only thing you can take from this chamber. Everything here is made of stone, it is only glamoured to make it look like treasure. My lamp, with me inside is the only real thing worth value here.”

My brow came together but he kept talking.

“I told you I am a djinni. What I am is a magic user with great power. I can manifest things other mages cannot and my glamour is so good it almost appears as shape shifting.”

Letting out a short laugh, I said, “If you are so powerful then why haven’t you escaped that bottle?”

His eyes cast down and I had to wonder if I said something unkind. “My power was trapped by the one who put me in the lamp. He did the same with the other djinn, my siblings, and placed them around the world. I was found and brought here and a mage put a spell on the chamber for your king, my last master. He was determined to find a way to gain more wishes.”

“Why would he need more wishes?” The way he spoke of wishes made it seem different than how Tryphon said he would grant a single wish.

His smile had my heart twisting in my chest once more, and I had to laugh internally at myself over the fact the first man I was attracted to was some kind of magical being trapped in a bottle.

“Whoever’s my master is granted three wishes, he or she cannot wish for more wishes though, and there are some other limitations, such as I will not bring back the dead.” He didn’t say could not but I didn’t ask on it as he continued to talk. “The only time I am able to access and use my own magic is when my master asks for a wish.”

His words soaked in and I felt bad for him. To have a part of you stolen and locked away only so that you could be a tool for another’s use. “Nico, that is horrible.”

He started laughing, doubled over, tears and all. It took him almost a minute to compose himself and I couldn’t figure out what was so funny. “Not only are you the most beautiful master I have had but the kindest as well. Never once has one said my plight was horrible.”

What he said stunned me, the beautiful part on its own would have, but the master part was a shocker. “How am I your master?” My heart started pounding in an uncomfortable way. “I … I don’t want to be anyone’s master.”

He reached out and grasped my shaking hands. With his warm hands on mine, my heart became erratic for a different reason, but I didn’t pull away. Instead, I looked from my enclosed hands to his kind eyes.

“Aliah, no one has ever said that either, but it is as the magic has forced me. You awoke me from my sleep so you are my master until the three wishes are filled. The first is obvious; you could wish to be free of here.”

Nodding, I said, “I could do that, and I could have my freedom Tryphon might not grant me, then all the riches I need and I would be set. But, where would that leave you? Would you go back in the bottle then to Tryphon so he doesn’t kill me? Or, do I wish to go someplace far from here, but again what happens to you?”

Nico was laughing once more. “Your concern for me is heartwarming. Who is this Tryphon who sent you? He is not the king.”

It was my turn to laugh. “No, but I’m sure if he had you he would be. He knows what you are and he is not a good person.” Pausing, I looked away from his perfect face. “I don’t think I could give you to him now.”

His hands squeezed mine. “Why is that? Why not get your wishes, almost anything you could want, and then turn my bottle over. You could even sell it and have more money. One master I had done exactly that.”

To hear him talk about himself as though he was an object broke my heart. “I live life as a boy on the street so that I do not have to be someone’s property, I cannot make another person, djinni or otherwise, be property. That is not right. Maybe somehow we could be free of here and then I could free you. There would have to be a way.”

Without warning, Nico pulled me to him and met me at the edge of my seat. His lips pressed mine and I sat shocked, unsure what to do. With a small laughed he pulled away and pressed his forehead to mine. “I apologize, I have never been so moved, and have never desired someone as I do you. You radiate kindness and I feel I need to be near you. Forgive my rash behavior, years of entrapment have made me hasty.”

His words had me moved the way he said I moved him. Pulling away from him, my midnight gaze swam as I met his burnt honey eyes. “You have shocked me but…” Biting my lip, I glanced away. “I have never been attracted to a man before seeing you.”

My words had my cheeks flaming and I had no idea what had come over me. Finding the lamp was my freedom but I could never sacrifice another’s freedom for my own. However, I had never guessed this magical creature would be attracted to me the way I was to him. It seemed even though we were worlds different he and I were actually quite the same.

He put his hand to my chin and brought my eyes to his once more. “If my power was my own I would give you the world to be with you. For now, you have me until your final wish.”

Giving a small laugh, I shook my head. “How do I know you do not say this to each woman who becomes your master?”

He sat back, giving me space I hadn’t known I didn’t want. “Why just women? Why not men too?” He let out another laugh and I had never considered men who love other men. The thought warmed my cheeks but he kept talking. “I have had masters who wished me to be physical with them but unless they would waste a wish on one sexual desire with me, I would not lay with them. My magic may be enslaved but my body is not.

“So, you have never been with a woman, then?” The question was quiet and I had no clue why I asked it, why I was even having the conversation in the middle of a cursed temple with a djinni.

He chuckled. “No, before being trapped along with my brother’s and sister’s, I had bedded women. However, it has been nearly a thousand years since I have been my own master and thus free to do as I wish.”

Trying not to be shocked, I mean the man was trapped in a small glass bottle, I just nodded.

“Do you still think my words are a ruse?”

Bringing my eyes to his I tried to find a lie within them. “I want to say yes, because it has been so hard for me to trust, but I don’t believe they are. I feel I can trust you when I have never trusted anyone. Maybe it’s the desire to be free, to know what it’s like to be at the mercy of others. Maybe because we share this desire, I feel I can trust you.”

“Has anyone ever hurt you?” His words were harsh and in that moment I would hate to be anyone who may have done me harm with Nico near.

Smiling, I said, “No,” and pulled the knives from there hidden sheathes out to show him. “Some men have tried and though I don’t like spilling blood, I have had to stop them.”

His smile was just as soft as the first time he shared it with me. You wouldn’t think he was looking at a disheveled woman in a spelled room holding two blades worn with use. “You are remarkable, Aliah. If I had met you as a free djinni, I would share my immortality with you. To see you in a time when women are praised for their strength would be a sight.”

He spoke as though he knew there was a future such as that and the idea of me sharing it with him was a dream. Putting my blades back, I set my hands in my lap and didn’t shy away as he gathered them in his again.

“What should I do, Nico?”

“You could wish us to be free.”

“But, if I wish for that then Tryphon will come for me and I will only have two wishes and … and I want more time with you.”

One of his hands released mine and brushed the side of my face before snaking back behind my head, knotting in my thick braid. He pulled me too him and pressed his lips to mine again. “If only I could have eternity with you.”

My cheeks warmed as he sat back and placed his hand with his other holding mine once more.

“You could wish us to be somewhere specific, away from Tryphon.”

Thinking of Abdul and his tavern, which could suffer if I disappeared with the lamp, I shook my head. He was someone I thought may know of my secret but was always kind and I wished to repay that with some coin before leaving Babilli. Having his life taken by a tyrannical psychopath would be far from the repayment I wished to give.

“There is someone who may be harmed if I was to disappear with you. He was the one kind person, almost like a secret father with how he kept me fed, so I wouldn’t want him harmed.”

His smile was even more approving, more … dare I say, loving. It was hard to tell since I had never known love. “Your thoughtlessness knows no bounds. Aliah, you are wondrous. No matter the time we have together, I am happy we will have it.”

His surety of our limited time broke my heart but I knew wherever we were, I didn’t want it to be in that cave any longer. Only one wish to be free wouldn’t be so bad. The question was, how to ask it.

“Nico, if I was to wish for one wish, how much can be in that single wish?”

One brow rose along with the corners of his mouth. “You simply state, ‘I wish…’ and whatever follows is one single wish. You are very clever to think on how to ask for a wish.”

The approval in his voice warmed me and I tried in vain not to blush once more. “One wish…” the words were said in a hushed whisper as I thought on how the wish should sound, what it could entail for not only me but Nico as well. Whatever the wish was, it had to include us out of here and safe from Tryphon.

“Okay, I think I know what to wish for.”

Nico’s smile was small and I wasn’t sure if it was from apprehension or something else. Even though I was drawn to him, I still knew nothing of him more than what he had told me in the short time we were together. He nodded once and gave my hands a light squeeze. Picking up the glass bottle, which Nico was tied to, I brought my eyes to him.

“I wish for us to be free of this temple, in Babilli and that Tryphon would not harm us in any way … oh and the camel I rode on should be back with us too.” The poor animal tied near the oasis sprang to my mind at the last moment and I hoped I hadn’t messed up my wish. It might have been foolish to worry about the beast but he did a fine job of getting me where I needed to be, he didn’t need to die for it.

Nico’s smile grew, and for some unknown reason he pressed his lips to mine once more. After a light kiss, he pulled away and said, “As you wish, master.”

Nico’s arms wrapped around my body as he brought me to him. As soon as I was within his firm hold, the room around us appeared to melt away in a swirl of wind but with no sound. Looking up at him, I saw his eyes on me. That rich gaze never left mine and his embrace remained firm as the world around us disappeared in a silent tornado of Nico’s magic.

Chapter 05

Last Wish


As Nico’s arms released me, I looked around to see we were just at the edge of the city with the camel tied to a palm nearby. My smile widened and I laughed out as I hugged him.

“You are amazing, that was amazing!”

He chuckled and held me to him, pushing aside a piece of hair that loosened from my braid. Remembering I was not hidden, my pulse began to rise. Glancing about us, I looked to see if anyone had spotted me but didn’t see a person about.

“What has you so frightened, Aliah?”

“I am an unwed woman with no man to claim me. I can be stoned to death on site if I am discovered.”

Nico’s grasp tightened around me in a protective way, brining my eyes to his. “No one would dare harm you while I am with you. My power may be limited but my increased strength is not.” To prove his point he stepped away and to a boulder nearby. He gave it a good hard crack with his closed fist and the thing split down the center. As he put those same hands around me, I found it odd something that could break a stone could also be so gentle.

Nodding to him, I felt safe entering the city and the palace with my face uncovered and my breasts unbound. After untying the camel, I placed the bottle in the satchel on its side, and we entered the city making our way through the evening streets. As we approached the palace, I had to wonder if enough time had passed for my story to sound plausible. When I had thought of a wish, I also knew what I must do to keep Nico safe. Knowing Tryphon couldn’t harm us because of my wish, there was only one thing left to do.

Staying close to Nico, I was glad to see Piruz was in the stable as we entered the palace walls. Upon seeing me, a knowing smile spread his lips and he waved me over before ducking around the side of the building. By the time Nico and I entered the stable, Piruz was back with Karim.

“Aliah, this is quite a surprise.” He looked from my exposed face and unbound body beneath my simple clothes to Nico with only his pants and nothing more, lingering a moment, then falling back to me.

Glancing to Nico, I smiled at Karim and said, “I found some help.” Fishing in the side-bag, I pulled out the bottle. “I came for my reward then we’ll be on our way.”

“We?” There was a hint of amusement in Karim’s voice and Piruz let out a small laugh as he tied the camel up. “I will take you to get what you came for.”

“Mind if I join? A woman gaining freedom is something I would love to see.”

My mouth fell open but Karim just laughed. Piruz was just as nice as he was so closing my stunned mouth, I didn’t say a thing.

“Prince Tryphon will be rather impressed you were so successful in your search, and much faster than one could have predicted.”

“Prince Tryphon? He is one of the king’s sons?”

Karim glanced at Nico as I answered him. “No, Nico, he just calls himself a prince. Just don’t say anything about it.”

“The king would like to know about that. He’s not one to share. I should know.”

“Nico.” The one word held a warning but it was too late.

“You know the king?”

Nico looked to the man and smiled. “I had at one time, long ago.”

Trying not to be too concerned the djinni next to me was going to blow my plan out of the water, I wondered if I should have told him first but as Karim just laughed and shook his head, I breathed a sigh of relief. Looking up at Nico, I hoped not sharing was not going to backfire on me. Having someone to trust was going to be difficult to get accustom to.

Karim announced me as we entered same room I had been in before when I inquired on the poster. Tryphon looked from me to Nico, his eyes not happy about the man by my side, before coming back to the bottle in my hands and me.

“I can’t believe you did it. And you did not try to take a single other item from the cavern?”

Nico’s hand found the small of my back and I smiled. “No, your highness. I claimed the bottle and left.”

“Remarkable, girl. Bring it to me.”

“I would like my letter and my gold first, please.”

Tryphon laughed but reached behind him and handed Karim a bag heavy with coin and a roll of paper. “Show her the letter then trade her across.”

Karim unrolled the letter and showed it to me. There was a stamp from the king and I had to wonder how authentic it was. The letter wasn’t important anymore, not with Nico by my side, but I still needed to keep up the image.

“You will have to split the gold with your friend there, though I’m not surprised a woman couldn’t handle the job alone.”

Nico tensed next to me, and I put a hand to his arm. His smile was light and I met his with one of my own before turning my street hardened face to Tryphon. Handing the bottle to Karim, I took the gold and letter then turned to leave.

“Girl, don’t you want to see why you risked your life?”

With my back to Tryphon and Nico by my side, I said, “No thank you, your highness, I would like to take my leave now if you wish.”

He let out a laugh and said, “Oh, I will get my wish girl.”

Attempting to leave once more, I heard his grunts and curses behind me. Wanting to leave before he learned he wouldn’t be getting his djinni, only a bottle, I didn’t turn back to see if he was doing what I figured he was, rubbing the hell out of that green glass.

Just as we were to the door and our freedom in sight, I heard Tryphon let out one last curse before saying the bottle was not right.

“Guards, seize those two.”

The two guards on the other side of the door entered and grabbed Nico and me. “What is this? I gave you your bottle.”

I could see Karim and Piruz to the side, their eyes wide. Karim looked torn, he had been kind to me even said he admired me, but he was under Tryphon’s employ. Same with Piruz. Hoping I hadn’t put the two of them in a bad predicament, I knew at least Nico and I were safe.

“You gave me a bottle girl, but not the right one.” He threw Nico’s bottle to the ground and instead of breaking as you would expect glass to do when hitting stone, it just clattered and rolled.

Nico jumped next to me when the green glass hit and Tryphon’s eyes narrowed. He got to his feet in a labored way then ambled over to Nico and me. “You little whelp!” He lifted his hand to hit me but stopped and took a step back.

His eyes puzzled before falling on Nico. Tryphon began laughing before turning around and walking with a hobble back to his sitting area. “Let’s see how smart you think you are. Guard, smack that whore.”


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