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.
You understand why you must go through with this marriage.”“You say you couldn’t live with yourself if anything happened to Caspida. Yet you ask me to live with myself, knowing I sentenced you to this!” He holds up the lamp. “What’s the difference?”I look away angrily. “The difference is that this is my choice, Aladdin.”“Well, it’s a stupid choice!”I stand up. “Promise me you’ll go through with it.”He shuts his eyes.“Promise me! Please!”He opens his eyes then, and they are filled with pain. But he nods.“I have to hear you say it.”“I promise.
For the last few centuries, these jeweled fruits have been my constant and sole companions. The greatest treasure in all the world, as comfortless as light to the blind.
I do, 'Merama,' Deven piped up. 'I know exactly what she means. We need to send them love and see them coming home in our mind. If we wish and believe we can be together again.''Yas!' said Zahra strongly. 'Young one has knowing. You must that do!
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.
I’m not for you,” I say desperately. “We are so different. Our lives are a thousand and one worlds apart. It wouldn’t work. And it’s dangerous.”But his face only brightens. “Then you do feel the same.”“We are not the same—and that is the whole point! I am not human, Aladdin. Everything that was once human in me was destroyed, and I was forged into something entirely different. I’m not here to help you—I was never here to help you, or any of my masters.”He shakes his head. “I don’t believe that.”“It doesn’t matter what you believe,” I say bitterly. “It is what it is, and it has nothing to do with what you want.”He walks around me, forcing me to face him. “You helped me get away from Darian in the desert. You got me into the palace when you could have let them find out who I really was. You taught me to dance, for sky’s sake! You’ve had a hundred opportunities to trick me and betray me, but you don’t. You’ve helped me when I didn’t wish for it.”“A chicken doesn’t fly like other birds, but it is still a bird.”“Zahra!” He spreads his hands, the wind ruffling his hair. “You do care. I see it when you think I’m not looking.
You’re beautiful and wild and kind, and I can’t stop thinking about you.” A sunny, foolish smile breaks across his face. “It’s wrong and stupid and wonderful, Zahra. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but here I am. I love you.
I do, and the now-familiar warmth of his lips steadies me. He tastes of salt and the wine we shared with the others at our small farewell party.Aladdin pulls away first and lifts one of my hands to his lips, kissing the delicate henna patterns on my skin, then turning my arm over to kiss the inside of my wrist. The ship’s crew makes themselves busy on the other side of the ship, giving us privacy.“You’re the most beautiful girl in the world,” Aladdin murmurs. “Have I ever told you that?”“Enough to make me wonder if your father was a parrot.
When I saw you in the hall with Darian,” he says at last, “I felt more angry than I’ve felt in a long time. I was angry and . . . and afraid, that you wanted to be there, that you wanted him touching you. In that one look, I felt more than I’ve ever felt with Caspida. Zahra, I think you’re right—love isn’t a choice. If I could choose to love Caspida, maybe this would all be going differently, but I don’t think that’s possible. Not anymore.”All the smoke inside me sinks as I stare at him. “What are you saying?”He turns and meets my gaze squarely. As much I want to, I find it impossible to look away. The intensity of his copper gaze holds me entranced.“I think you know,” he says softly. “Or am I the only one who feels it?
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.
Tell me about your master.”I nod. “He is eighth in line to the throne, the son of—”“No, no,” Caspida interrupts irritably. “Tell me what he is like.”“He is a gambler,” I say. There is no point in lying about these things. “He is bold, but reckless. Brave, but impetuous. A man who . . . holds grudges.” Pausing, I finish in a whisper, “He would risk his life to save someone else, without even thinking twice.”Caspida turns her head a bit, interest growing in her eyes. “And he sets out on a mad voyage and sails straight into a nest of jinn.”“My master is noble,” I say with a smile, “but I made no suggestions as to his intelligence.
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
But Aladdin says nothing.Instead, he lowers his face and softly kisses the side of my neck, his mouth trailing up to the skin behind my ear. Goose bumps break across my skin, and I turn my face to meet his lips with mine. This kiss is gentler than our last, long and slow and restrained. It is a kiss of longing. A kiss of farewell. His hands tighten around my waist, pulling me against him. We drift in a slow circle, sending out ripples that make the floating flowers bob and dip.“You keep so many secrets,” he murmurs. “I could spend the rest of my life discovering you.” He tucks my hair behind my ear, his eyes devouring my face.
Zahra, what happens to you when I make my last wish?”“When your third wish is granted, you will cease to be my master. You may possess the lamp, but you cannot call me. I will return to it and await the next Lampholder.”Abruptly he stands and walks across the room. When he reaches the wall, he turns and stares down at me. “So to win my revenge, I must lose you.
Whore!” he snarls, slamming me into the wall so hard stars burst in my eyes. I hiss at him, the tiger in me threatening to emerge and rip out his throat, but a shout brings me back to myself.“Zahra!”I turn my head and see Aladdin running toward us. When he sees that it’s Darian holding me roughly against the wall, his face twists into such rage that he seems unrecognizable.He crashes into Darian before the prince has a chance to say anything. The two slam into the ground, Aladdin throwing a punch that cracks against Darian’s jaw.“Stop it!” I cry. “Prince Rahzad!”The boys ignore me, rolling and thrashing like
For a moment we are weightless, eyes open and locked underwater, flowers drawn down with us, swirling around us in a current of white bubbles. My hair floats around us both like black silk. His hands are still around my waist, mine pressed against his bare chest. My lamp drifts between us.Aladdin plants his feet against the bottom of the pool and kicks off, pushing us upward to burst through the surface. He gasps in air and shakes the wet hair from his eyes. Without pulling away, we float in silence, and I cannot take my gaze from him. Water runs down his cheeks and lips, dripping from his jaw. A lock of his hair is stuck to his forehead, and I gently lift it away, curling it around my finger before letting it go.“What are we doing?” he whispers, pulling me closer.I cannot reply. I don’t trust my own voice. He brings his forehead down to rest against mine, and everything outside this pool and this moment ceases to exist. All that matters is the gentle sound of our breathing, our reflections on the water, the feel of his hands around me.
Have I told you I love you? he whispers.I smile. Not since this morning.Unforgivable. I will tell you every hour of every day.
Why do you care what happens to her? I thought we humans were vapors to you, here today and gone tomorrow.”“Caspida is . . . different. She reminds me of someone, someone I’d give my life for if I could.”“The queen?” he asks. “The one who died?”“Roshana. My dear Ro.” My voice is soft as a ripple on the water. “She once ruled the Amulens, and Caspida is her descendant. She has Roshana’s strength of spirit, and I cannot look at her without thinking of my old friend. If she were to come to harm on my account . . . I could not bear that through the centuries.” I already carry a mountain of shame, a constant reminder of that day on Mount Tissia.Aladdin lifts a hand and brushes the hair back from my face. “You truly are remarkable, Zahra of the Lamp.
For five hundred years my sisterhood has passed down a sacred vow,” says Caspida coldly, “to destroy the one who destroyed our queen. You know this, and you speak these words only to deceive me as you deceived her. You would have me believe that you are capable of love.”“Believe me when I say I wish that I were not!” Angrily I round on her. “I do not tell you this for myself! Aladdin will die any moment, and the only way to save him is if you make a wish! Please, Caspida—they will kill him at dawn!” I point at the horizon, where the sun is minutes away from rising. “Let me save him, I beg you!”I drop to my knees before her, doing what I never thought I could: grovel before a human. My pride unravels into smoke, carried away on the wind. Always I have thought myself above these mortals—I, immortal, powerful, able to shift from this form to that. But I let all of that go now, and I beg as I have never begged before. “Do what you like with me after that, but just let me save him!” I dig my fingers into the earth, my eyes damp with tears. My voice falls to a cracked whisper. “Please.”“Why?”I raise my face, finding her gaze unyielding. “Because it was my idea. Him wishing to be made a prince. Courting you. Lying all these weeks. I manipulated him and used him, and now they will kill him for it.”“Why would you lead him into the palace knowing that eventually the truth would come out and he would have to pay the price?”“Because . . .” I grind my teeth together, wishing the earth would swallow me up. “Because I was trying to win my freedom. Your people had captured the prince of the jinn—Nardukha’s own son. The Shaitan sent me to free him, and in turn, he would free me from my lamp. If I failed, he planned to sink your city into the sea. I had to get into the palace. Aladdin was my only way in.”“So you don’t deny that you’re a monster. You used him for your own ends.”I drop my head. “I know what I am. I know nothing can excuse what I did to Roshana, or to Aladdin, or to you. I’ve wronged so many, and there is so much I wish I could take back. I can’t save Roshana. But please—I beg of you—let me save him.”Caspida lowers to her knees and studies me. I meet her gaze, humbled utterly.“You want me to believe that you love him,” she whispers.“Yes.” The word is but a breath, a stir of air in my treacherous lungs. “We’re running out of time. I cannot reverse death or the hours. Time is the strongest magic, and no jinni—not even the Shaitan—can rewrite the past. Once Aladdin is gone, he is gone. Let me save him, and I can help you win your city.
I feel shock splinter through him, his body going rigid. Then he relaxes, melting into me, stepping forward until I am caught between him and the wall, the torch crackling beside me. His hands slide down my back, over my hips and thighs, leaving a trail of fire. His heart beats fast enough for the both of us, its thunderous pulse echoing through me.I bury my hands in his dark hair, fingers knotting around those thick locks. Desire pulls at my stomach, and I lean into him, lifting one leg and wrapping it around his waist. He lifts me, and my other leg coils around him, my skirts sliding up my thighs, my back pressed against the column.His lips are soft and warm and gentle, underlined with barely restrained urgency. I cannot get enough of him. I pull his kurta over his head and let it fall on the floor. I press my hands against his bared chest, feel his heart against my palm, his lungs rising and falling. His shoulder is knotted with the scar from the arrow he took for me. He kisses me again, this time more strongly, and I run my hands down his jaw and neck, over his shoulders, the taut muscles of his back.He turns, without letting me go or breaking our kiss, and we tumble onto the soft divan. Aladdin holds himself over me, his abdomen clenched and his hair hanging across his forehead. His lips wander downward, to my chin, to the curve of my jaw, to my neck.My hands are ravenous, exploring the planes and angles of his body. His fingers find mine, and our hands knit together. He raises them over my head, pressing them into the pillow beneath my hair, as his kisses trace my collarbone, and then he sinks lower, parting the buttons of my dress and pressing his lips to my bare stomach.I gasp and open my eyes wide, my borrowed body coursing with sensations I have never felt, never dared to feel, never thought I could feel.“Aladdin,” I murmur. “We shouldn’t . . .”“Sh.” He silences me with a kiss, and I lift my chin to meet him. A warm wind rushes through my body, stirring embers and setting them aflame. I don’t want to stop. I don’t want to think about consequences. I only want Aladdin, everywhere.
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.
Use your wish,” I whisper to Aladdin, opening my eyes. “Please.”“If I do,” he replies softly, “I’ll lose you.
It’s not too late,” he says. “Zahra, I—”“Sh.” I lay a finger across his lips. “Don’t say it. You will marry Caspida, and you will learn to love each other. You will live a happy life, long after my lamp has passed to new hands.”“I won’t make my third wish,” he says. “That’s the answer! If I don’t make the wish, you can stay here in the palace for as long as you want. You’ll never have to go back to your lamp. We can fight off anyone who tries to take you from me.