I rest my head on his shoulder, feeling his heart beating against me. I wish I could gather time around us, slowing the minutes, making them last a lifetime.“I was born on the island kingdom of Ghedda,” I whisper. This is a story I never told even to you, Habiba. I tell it now only because I cannot bear to leave him without the truth, knowing only half of me. I raise my head and meet his eyes. “That was more than four thousand years ago. I was the eldest daughter of a wise and generous king.”Aladdin stares at me, his eyes soft and curious, encouraging me to go on.“When I was seventeen, I became queen of Ghedda. In those days, the jinn were greater in number, and the Shaitan held greater sway over the realms of men. He demanded we offer him twenty maidens and twenty warriors in sacrifice, in return for fair seas and lucrative trade. I was young and proud and desired, above all else, to be a fair ruler. I would not bow to his wishes, so he shook our island until it began to fall into the sea.”I shudder, and Aladdin draws me closer.“I climbed to the alomb at the top of the Mountain of Tongues, and there offered myself to the Shaitan, if he would only save my city from the sea.” My voice falls to a whisper, little more than a ripple on the water. “So he took me and made me jinn and put me in the lamp. And then he caused the Mountain of Tongues to erupt, and Ghedda was lost to fire. For he had sworn only to save my people from the sea, not from flame.

~ Jessica Khoury