I know who you are,” he says.Something about his tone causes my heart of smoke to flicker in response, and I throw my guard up. “Oh? And who, O boy of Parthenia, am I?”He nods to himself, his eyes alight. “You’re her. You’re that jinni. Oh, gods. Oh, great bleeding gods! You’re the one who started the war!”“Excuse me?”“You’re the jinni who betrayed that famous queen—what was her name? Roshana? She was trying to bring peace between the jinn and the humans, but you turned on her and started the Five Hundred Wars.”I turn cold. I want him to stop, but he doesn’t.“I’ve heard the stories,” he says. “I’ve heard the songs. They call you the Fair Betrayer, who enchanted humans with your . . .” He pauses to swallow. “Your beauty. You promised them everything, and then you ruined them.
I always knew it would end like this. It always does. There’s no point in fighting it, Aladdin. It is simply the way of things.”“I can’t accept that.”“You must.”“How can you just give up? How can you say that?” His eyes light up, and he takes the lamp from his sash and grips it so tightly his knuckles whiten. “Earlier, before you kissed me, I was about to wish for your freedom.”I leap to my feet. “Aladdin, you must not do that. You must never even think it!”“Why is that so bad? You’d be free.”“It’s called the Forbidden Wish for a reason!”“By whom? Nardukha? Let him come. I have a few things I’d like to say to him.”“I forbid it. Aladdin. If anything we have done together means anything to you, please, please trust me now. Don’t make that wish. It is the worst wish you can make. It is—it will break my heart.”“What is it?” he asks softly. “What is it you’re not telling me? What happens if I wish for your freedom?”I stand trembling, the words clawing at my throat, until I can hold them back no more.“Like all wishes, the Forbidden Wish comes at a price. My freedom must be bought with a death, a life paid in sacrifice. And I will not let you make that sacrifice, not for me.
This is Roshana, the last queen of the Amulen Empire, back when my people ruled all the lands from the east to the west. She is something of a legend among us. Every queen aspires to learn from her mistakes.”“Her mistakes? Surely you mean her victories.”“What?”I frown at her. “Roshana was one of the greatest queens in the world. She ended the Mountain Wars, she routed Sanhezriyah the Mad, she—”“For a foreign serving girl, you are strangely well versed in Amulen history.”“I spent a lot of time in libraries as a girl.”“Were you there to dust the scrolls or read them?”“Surely Roshana’s victories outweigh her errors.”“The higher you rise, the farther you fall. For all her wisdom, Roshana was fooled by the jinni, believing it was her friend, and then it destroyed her. Ever since that day, my people have hunted the jinn. There is no creature more vicious and untrustworthy.”“This is not the story I heard,” I say softly. “My people tell it differently. That the jinni truly was a friend to Roshana but was forced to turn against her. That she had no choice.”“Surely I know how my own ancestress died,” returns the princess, a bit hotly. “Anyway, it was a long time ago, but we Amulens do not forget.
And what if you weren’t a jinni? What if you were free from their rules?”I stare at him. His jaw tightens, his eyes steely with determination that frightens me to my core. A cloud drifts across the face of the crescent moon, and the courtyard darkens. Here and there, the grass is still bent where Aladdin and I danced just hours earlier. I drop my gaze and glare at it, shaking from head to toe.“Don’t say it, Aladdin. Don’t you even think it.” Dread rises in me like a storm cloud, dark and menacing.Aladdin moves closer. He takes my hands. His skin is warm and crackling with energy, setting me on fire.“I have one wish left,” he murmurs. “And this one is for you.”“No, Aladdin! Don’t speak it. Don’t make the Forbidden Wish. The cost—”“Damn the cost. Zahra, I wish—”I stop him with a kiss.Because it is the first thing I think of to stop the terrible words. Because he fills me with light and hope and deep, deep fear. Because I have been longing to for days.
Your father is waiting, so fly up that mountain and through the alomb. Find Nardukha and tell him I have upheld my end of the bargain. Now it is his turn.”He stares at me, a dangerous light in his eye, and then his gaze travels beyond me, in the direction of the funeral. My hand moves to his muscled forearm, and I squeeze it
He makes a face and tosses the flower at me. It lands on my cheek, and I pick it up and twirl it between my fingers. I could lie out here all day, not moving an inch, feeling the sun above and the grass below. With a contented sigh, I stretch my arms wide, raking the grass with my fingers—and find myself brushing Aladdin’s hand with my own. I pull it away quickly, my cheeks warming. He laughs a little.“Sometimes,” he says, “I forget you’re supposed to be four thousand years old. You act as shy as a girl of sixteen.”“I do not!” I sit up and glare at him.He grins and shrugs, sliding his hands under his head. There are bits of grass stuck in his hair, and after a moment’s hesitation, I reach over and flick them away.Aladdin watches me silently, his throat bobbing as he swallows. I drop my gaze.
Don’t you understand? It’s forbidden, Aladdin! We jinn must abide by many rules, but first among them, most important of all, we must never fall in love with a human!”He catches his breath, swallowing hard. “And do you always follow the rules?”“I—” Casting my gaze skyward, I draw a deep breath, searching for words among the stars. “It’s not about that. Do you know what kind of destruction we would cause? Have you not heard the story of your own people, how their city was destroyed, how thousands died? It was not hate that sparked the war between your people and mine, Aladdin. It was love. I held hands with Roshana the Wise and called her sister, and those words set our world on fire!”There it is. My greatest shame, laid bare. The truth lies between us like broken glass. Surely now he sees what I truly am: a betrayer, a monster, an enemy. Aladdin stares at me, his face softening.“That wasn’t your fault,” he says. “Loving someone is never wrong. And like you said, it’s not a choice. It just happens, and we’re all helpless in its power.”“That doesn’t change the fact that the consequences are disastrous. As the poets say, shake hands with a jinni, and you shake hands with death.