by Roxanne Fox at Smashwords
2017 Roxanne Fox
Edition, License Notes
you for downloading this free ebook. Although this is a free book, it
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photo by pareeerica retrieved from flickr.com.
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
01 ~ Babilli
02 ~ The Lamp
03 ~ The Temple
04 ~ Nico
05 ~ Last Wish
06 ~ All of Eternity
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
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
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
“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
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
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
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
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
“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.
“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
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
“What is your name,
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
“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?
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
“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
“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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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.
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
“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
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
“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
“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?”
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
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
“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.
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
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
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
“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
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,
“You could wish us to
“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
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.
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
“What has you so
“I am an unwed woman
with no man to claim me. I can be stoned to death on site if I am
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
“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
Nico’s hand found the
small of my back and I smiled. “No, your highness. I claimed the
bottle and left.”
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
“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
“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
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
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.”