One Thousand and One Maidens
by Christine E. Schulze
Alcyb is a cynical Djinn tired of the vanity of life. He is sworn to a Veela, a childlike beauty who soon holds a powerful sway over his heart. Yet she harbors a deep secret and is not what she appears to be...
He has slain his one thousand maidens, where he might have saved them. The cloak of passage now flows from his shoulders. A river of pure rubies faceted from their crimson blood. Woven by the mournful hands of banshees who will never know the soft caress of tender love; how they loathe those innocent virgins, stabbing the rubies mercilessly with needles and thread, as harshly as the wasted dreams of youth stab their hearts each moment of their sleepless existence.
He has slain his one thousand maidens, and now their cloak flows from his shoulders. But the weight of guilt does not press upon him. His conscience is as light as the rubies’ effortless, airy aura. After all, it is not him on whose shoulders the guilt should lie. All blame rests instead upon her, upon the One.
* * *
The call stirred him, just as it always did now and again. Feeling had not yet returned to his limbs, but it would soon enough, unless he could push it away...
Whether his mind was too numb from countless decades of sleep or whether because he so desperately desired this possibility, he began conjuring the fighting thoughts: No, stay asleep, you don’t want to, stay asleep, you can do it...
But already, his numb body began to tingle. First the fingertips and toes, just barely and yet uncomfortably. Then the limbs came, the torso followed, and at last he gasped that first, huge breath as the internal organs again began their mechanical cycle. Even still, he curled his body tight, as if he could will himself back to the realm of blissful, dreamless slumber.
At last, he sighed, opened his eyes wide, and sat up, surveying the Cave of Djinn.
Hundreds surrounded him — djinns of every race and color — all seemingly human, but their flawless bodies contained the same, potentially lethal, wish-granting power as did his own. He suddenly scathed them for their blessing to linger in mindless, empty bliss for only God-knew-now many more years before their new masters summoned them too.
But of course, he must be stirred from precious sleep. He supposed he loathed them because he only ever saw them this way, lost in the careless folds of dreamless ecstasy. He knew they too were summoned at times — or at least, he assumed. It was entirely rare for two djinns to cross paths, and he sometimes wondered if the cave tortured only him with its calling. Did the other djinns ever experience summons?
The call intensified, echoing in its irritating, gong-like way. It was the kind of alarm clock which would not be silenced until its call was entirely heeded. He glanced to the side, groaning as the smoke curled up from the cave’s floor. A vivid fuchsia. Such a rich color. Always a bad sign. Was he to be given to some lazy, fat, pig of a merchant or governor yet again? Sworn to countless years of mindless boredom, granting their every petty fancy?
He stood still, knowing the chain would find him wherever he ran, not wishing to feel the pain if he resisted. The smoke coiled about his ankle and secured itself fast. Light as air, and yet should he ever stray too far from his master, heavy as a thousand stones, painful as a million swords...
The call nearly deafened him, yet even then, he focused his mental strengths, trying to hang onto freedom — if this torturous condition could be called that — just a little longer. But he could already feel his body flickering, prepared to leave this world for another. Resistance was futile, like chanting “I’m not dying” over and over when you are, indeed, dying. It was arrogant, stupid, useless, and he knew all this. But he didn’t care. Like a pouting child, he didn’t want to go...
But then, he was there.
There stunned him at the first. He appeared to stand in the midst of a too-green, towering forest over-flooded with fresh life. A sea of green: a cliché description, but his mind could not conjure a more original title for a scene so very original and fresh to him. Perhaps because it was too original.
He was used to being surrounded by high society, in the deepest depths of great cities, kingdoms, surrounded by the fat cats who called themselves intelligent but really only owned their positions by centuries of too much inbreeding.
But this — this was fresh. The encompassing green shocked, nearly stifled, yet almost freed him of his sour mood at once. Almost. The presence of the smoky chain tugging too strongly at his ankle egged him on towards the reminder of why he was here. He plodded on, cursing beneath his breath. The serenity and beauty of the place would only echo as a cruel reminder of the terrible fate he was sworn to.
Or else echo its beauty. Emerging from the thick of the trees, he paused abruptly. She stood upon a mossy log arching over a garden of huge blossoms, a rainbow array of petals shut fast, buzzing as if in sleep. She turned the lamp over and over in her hands, rubbing, observing with wide, grey-blue eyes, like once-clear skies overcast with approaching clouds.
Sunlight filtered through the canopy of trees, glistening upon her porcelain skin and white-silver hair as if she was made of pearl and silver and diamond, a precious little china doll.
At last, the sharp eyes darted to the smoky chain which had curled about her ankle. Her gaze trailed down the chain, resting at last upon his feet, then his body, finally his face.
“What are you?” she whispered, eyes round and voice soft, not with fear but with stark wonder and admiration.
“I am a djinn,” he said, far less harshly and with far less regret than usual. He drew himself up proudly. “You are my master; I am here to grant any wish you desire.”
She too lifted her head proudly, and an impish smile of delight played upon her lips as she realized what he was, what he meant. She carefully set the lamp down beside her.
“Come here, boy...”
She was a Veela, a siren of the wood whose celestial beauty would lure mere men to their deaths. But the magic flowing effortlessly through his purebred veins easily withstood her sway. He was magnetically pulled towards her, but by his own will and imagination; her power held no intoxicating sway. Gliding steadily closer, he began to fancy them attached in a different way than they already were. What a handsome — and handsomely powerful — couple they could make...
The sharp pain jolted through his ankle, and he cursed. So lost in his reverie, he hadn’t even realized the command for what it was, nor that he had stopped. Now, however, he stepped closer.
The djinns’ cousins, the genies, always complained how hard their lives were, sulking about like great, melancholy martyrs bewailing their fate. But at least, though they too must fulfill their masters’ wishes until their masters’ deaths, at least they could do so only by their masters’ first uttering the words “I wish.” A djinn, however, must obey all his or her master’s orders, no “magic” words needed.
Alcyb scoffed. How easy they had things. How it infuriated him — especially when he considered how easily they might be freed. To gain freedom, all that needed to be done is for the genie’s master to wish him or her free. But for a djinn, the price ran much steeper...
Copyright © 2011 by Christine E. Schulze