The Djinn, Shabaz, sat in front of the cave entrance, playing a song on his flute made of whalebone. The song was sad – oh so very sad. But then, Shabaz was sad, so what other song would one expect him to play.
A social creature by nature, Shabaz had been self-exiled in the Dismal Mountains for a long time – cut off from other creatures, especially the humans, who were so droll and funny. He had doomed himself to live the life of a hermit for all eternity. And, eternity is a long time for a creature like Shabaz who can never die unless someone wishes it for him; and with no one around to make three wishes that was extremely unlikely to happen.
Now, you’re probably asking why a creature so fond of companionship would chose to transport himself away from contact with others. The tale of that fateful decision is brief, simple, and yet – tragic. Shabaz, a supernatural creature; superior in every way to all other creatures – or so he told himself and anyone else who would listen – had made a mistake. Not just a simple mistake either. He had made the worst mistake a djinn could make. He’d fallen in love with a mortal.
That mortal was Kali. Kali was not a princess. Nor was she the daughter of a rich merchant. Kali was an orphan. A serving girl in the palace of Sultan Origami. Not the most beautiful of the sultan’s serving wenches, she had never come to his notice. Shabaz had been in the sultan’s employ for a fortnight, while that portly worthy mentally wrestled with his third and final wish for Shabaz to grant, when Shabaz’s eyes fell upon the shy wraith of a girl lurking in the shadowy corner of the palace. A being who had lived more years than he could remember, he’d never noticed the human women before. Now, though, he could not tear his eyes away from this small figure. He drank in every detail. Her slender, oval face, the color of rich tea filled with milk and honey; long, lustrous black hair that hung down to the small of her back; the gentle curve of her waist; her dark eyes, like two inky pools into which he felt he would fall and drown. He could not take his eyes off her.
At first, Sultan Origami did not notice. But, Shabaz could not hide his distraction forever.
“What ails thee, djinn?” the sultan demanded.
“It is naught, sire,” Shabaz replied. “I fear I have a touch of indigestion.”
Shabaz felt a twinge at the base of his skull. It was forbidden for a djinn to lie, but if the sultan knew what was truly on his mind, it would not go well for the young serving maid who was the object of Shabaz’s attention.
“How can that be, djinn? I thought creatures such as thee had no need of sustenance.”
“Ah, your majesty,” Shabaz said. “Perhaps it is a headache, for I did not sleep well last night.”
“But, djinn,” the sultan said. “It is said that those of your kind do not sleep, nor are you prey to the ails that befall we mere mortals. What truly troubles thee, djinn?”
Now, Shabaz was in a pickle. His existence revolved around the number three in more ways than one. Not only was he required to grant three wishes to whomever rubbed the lantern to set him free, but if he transgressed the djinn code three times, he would be exiled into the Place of Darkness to loiter forever in a realm lacking sight, smell, or sound – the djinn version of hell. The only thing in that place, other than the djinn condemned to linger there, was the Hound of Darkness – a creature that made no sound, but who lurked near the condemned, and breathed its fiery breath upon their skin constantly. Shabaz shivered at the thought.
But, the sultan had asked him a question. He must answer, but he could not answer. What was he to do? Shabaz had never fallen in love before, but the moment he layed his eyes upon Kali, he was smitten; his heart beat faster, his palms became sweaty, and his mouth was as dry as the great desert. Now, he knew the meaning of the word ‘lovesick,’ for he felt as if he would shrivel up and be blown away by the next breeze. The sultan, though, was jealous of his possessions, and Kali, like the other serving wenches, was such. If he knew that Shabaz has set his eyes upon her, he would destroy her rather than allow such a thing. That, Shabaz could not allow. At the same time, he could not tell the fat monarch a lie – that third lie would cause Shabaz to vanish in a puff of smoke, to be immediately transported to – he couldn’t even think of the name without shivers running up and down his spine.
What to do, oh what to do? For all his powers, Shabaz had never been a great thinker. But then, he’d never really had to think before. He was a grantor of wishes, and the mortals he had encountered in his long existence hadn’t been the brightest bulbs in the onion patch – so, he’d never been tested overmuch. A bag of gold here, a harem of beautiful girls there – nothing he couldn’t handle with a simple snap of his fingers. The biggest challenge had been pushing the often dimwitted types who would rub a rusty lantern out of curiosity in the first place to get on with making the three wishes so that Shabaz could go about enjoying his respite from the confines of his lantern. Each time he was freed, and granted the three wishes, he was given a year of freedom in the mortal world – a year he took full advantage of. Rather than answer the sultan, he snapped his fingers, transporting himself to the mountain.
Now, he wondered what would come next.