Zara huddled under a tree in the forest that lay just outside of the city. Unseen creatures scurried close by in the darkness, making her already speeding heart accelerate. She could feel the blood seeping from the cut that ran the length of the left side of her face, but she had nothing to tend to it with. Hopelessness flooded over her and she put her head on her pulled up knees and wept.
“Why do you cry, human?”
Zara looked up and saw a ginger cat sitting on a rock across from her, licking its paw.
“Y-you c-can t-talk?” Zara stuttered.
The cat rolled its eyes. “You humans are so predictable, always reacting the same. Cannot one of you come up with something more original?” The cat leapt off the rock and pottered over to Zara. “You are injured, is this why you cry?”
“I…I ran away from my mistress. She…she was trying to hurt me.”
The cat cocked its head to the side, its tale flicking.“What are you going to do?”
“I…I am unsure.”
“I can help you.”
Zara leaned forward. “You can?”
The cat nodded. “My master is a powerful Djinn. She is currently trapped in a lamp in a cave not far from here. I am sure she would reward you well if you freed her.”
Zara’s eyes grew wide. Djinn had the power to grant wishes and she could do with some wishes right now. With shaking legs she stood, leaning against the tree for support. “Show me the way.”
The cat trotted off and Zara followed close behind, watching the ground carefully so she wouldn’t trip.
“Do you have a name?” she asked after only a few steps.
“Razzaith, but my mistress calls me Raz, and so may you if you so desire.”
“Thank you for helping me, Raz. I aprreciate it.”
The cat gave a short sniff. “I do not care for your sentimentality, human.”
“You may call me Zara,” she told him.
“I do not wish to.”
Zara didn’t know what to think about that. Raz picked up speed and Zara followed suit, fumbling now they were moving quicker. The trees crowded in the deeper they went and branches swept across Zara’s face as she passed them, stinging her wound.
“Is it much further?” she asked after a while, panting. They had been walking on an incline the whole way and her energy was fading fast.
“We are almost there.” They stepped out of the trees to come face to face with the side of a mountain.
“This way,” the cat instructed, trotting off to the right. They came around a bend and then the cat disappeared behind a stone wall. Zara’s mouth gaped open. How was she supposed to follow the cat? She couldn’t magically walk through walls.
The cat popped its head out from behind the rock. “Are you coming?” he asked impatiently.
“I cannot walk through walls!” she exclaimed.
“There is an opening here, now come!”
Zara stepped forward and peered around the rock. There was a thin opening like the cat had said, not visible when looking at the wall straight on. Zara squeezed through sideways, her back and belly scrapping against the stone.
The cave was dark and a chill crawled along Zara’s skin. Something felt wrong and her instincts told her to turn and flee. The cat butted his head against the back of her legs to push her forward. “Maybe this is not such a good idea,” she said to the cat, her voice a whisper.
“Think of the reward,” the cat urged. “The wishes my master will no doubt grant you.”
Thinking of wishes and ignoring her instincts, she let the cat push her forward. He stopped when she stood in front of a large rock.
“Push it aside,” Raz instructed.
Zara dropped to her knees. The rock was half her height and looked heavy. When she pushed against it it didn’t move.
“Put your back into it,” the cat ordered.
Zara leant right against the rock and pushed with what little might she had left. The rock moved, revealing a small hole underneath with a brass lamp sitting inside it.
Zara lifted the lamp out and moved away from the hole, crawling backwards on her knees.
“You must rub it,” Raz told her.
Zara nodded, gulping at the same time. She placed the lamp on the ground in front of her and rubbed her hand over the side of it. There was a hissing sound as wispy green smoke billowed from the spout.
Two green eyes appeared in the smoke, focusing on Zara. Then the smoke slowly transformed into shape of a woman from the waist up, leaving a wispy tail attached to the lamp. Her skin remained green and she had long green hair that fell down the length of her back, held together by a gold cuff atop her head.
The Djinn looked at Zara. “You are the one who freed me?”
Zara nodded, her eyes and mouth wide.
“Then by right you are entitled to three wishes, but before you make your first, may I tell you a tale?”
She nodded again, her vice lost.
A fire appeared in the middle of the cave and beside it a large silk cushion. “Sit,” the Djinn urged. Zara did as she was bid. Raz walked over to the fire and stretched out in front of it, closing his eyes.
“I fear for my life,” she told Zara. “You see, what you may not know about the Djinn is that we marry also. My husband was very charming and attentive to me at first, and then his true nature showed and he treated me horribly. He was very angry and he hurt me. I fled from him and he has been searching for me ever since.” She paused to dab at her tear filled eyes.
“Then I became trapped in this lamp,” she continued. “Every day I have feared that he would find me, since I could no longer keep fleeing. I sense that you have a good heart. Your three wishes are yours to do what you like with, but if you so choose you could use your third wish to free me, and I beg of you to do so that I might leave this land and find peace.”
Zara’s heart swelled with compassion. She knew what it was like to be at the hand of a cruel master. She had to gulp before she could speak. “I understand your peril and I shall do as you have requested.”
“Oh!” The Djinn clasped her hands together under her chin. “You have made me the happiest Djinn in the world.” She floated over to Zara, lowering herself so they were eye level. She gasped. “My sweet human,” she said, gently touching Zara’s chin. “What happened to your face?”
Zara lowered her eyes. “My mistress cut me. She lost her mind when she thought I was trying to marry her son.”
“She sounds as horrible as my husband. Did she shave your head too?”
“Did you really have affections for her son?”
Zara wet her lips with her tongue. “I did,” she confessed. “But I would never have tried what my mistress accused. I am a slave, I know my place.”
The Djinn looked thoughtful. “I could help you. You could use your wishes to return your beauty and make yourself rich, then you could marry the son. And that would make your mistress truly lose her mind, and thus you would also have your revenge.”
Zara was uncertain. Although her feelings for Aadil were strong, she didn’t want to ever see that women again. She bit her lip.
The Djinn saw her hesitation. “What will your wishes be? You must decide quickly, for if you do not I will be drawn back into the lamp and you will not be able to release me again.”
Zara nodded, her heart pounding in her chest. She wanted her beauty back and she wanted to never be a slave again. She would decide about Aadil later.
“I wish for my beauty to be returned to me,” she said softly.
“As you wish.” The Djinn gave a short, sharp nod.
Zara felt a tingling on her face and on top of her head. Suddenly, long dark strands fell around her shoulders. She ran her fingers through her hair, a cry of joy escaping her lips.
The Djinn waved her hand and a long mirror appeared. Zara stepped up to it. Tears gathered in her eyes as she saw her reflection. She traced her flawless cheek; no blood or scar could be seen, she was whole again. She was also back in the fine silk’s the merchant had allowed her to wear.
“Oh, thank you!” she cried, turning to look at the Djinn.
The Djinn smiled back. “And your second wish?”
“For this cave to be filled with gold and jewels.”
The Djinn nodded once again, and in the blink of an eye gold and jewels filled every inch of the floor, except where Zara sat and a small walk way to the entrance, in large piles that reached all the way to the roof. The sight took Zara’s breath away. There was so much that Zara would never want for anything again. She would never have to be at the command of another vicious woman for the rest of her days.
“Now for your third wish.” The Djinn said eagerly. “I do believe you made me a promise.”
Zara nodded, and with great difficulty she dragged her eyes away from the gold to look at the Djinn. “I wish that you were free.”
The cave started to shake. The lamp began rocking so fast it became a blur. Then it exploded, brass pieces flying in all directions. Zara had to duck and cover her face with her arms to avoid being hit.
When Zara looked up, the Djinn was no longer connected to the lamp, but was standing on human legs, skin no longer green but brown like Zara’s.
The Djinn stretched her arms above her head, dancing on her toes. “It feels so good to be in skin again. I will not forget this,” she told Zara. “I am going to help you get that son.”
Zara went to protest, to tell the Djinn it wasn’t what she wanted, but her aching heart was pounding Aadil’s name in her ears so loud the protest was quickly drowned out.
“You will be betrothed to him by month’s end,” the Djinn promised.