Zara stood on the rooftop, looking down on the busy market place, her eyes scanning the crowd.
“There!” Zara told the Djinn, pointing to Aadil.
The Djinn nodded. “Oh, yes, he is handsome, isn’t he?”
Zara bit her lip. “What do we do now?”
“I will charm him into revealing the truth of his feelings for you,” the Djinn said, and disappeared.
The cat brushed against Zara’s legs to get her attention. “What will you do if he does not return your affection?”
Zara gulped, pressing her hands to her stomach. “I shall return to my mother, to my home land.”
“You want to return to your kin after they sold you as a slave?” the cat asked, surprised.
“They did not sell me,” Zara told him defensively. “My first master heard me singing and offered my father gold to acquire me; my father refused, I accepted. An infection was running through the heard and we were struggling at the time. My parents needed the gold. He treated me well. My only duty was to sing for him at night. It was his wives that despised me and ended up selling me off to a travelling merchant. I had seven masters in four years before I ended up at the last master’s house, and every time it was the women that had a hand in my departure.”
“If I were the type to care about humans, I would say that was a sorry tale. Luckily, I do not care about humans.”
She smiled and bent down to pat him behind the ears. “Yes, luckily.” She sat beside him and ran her hand along the length of his back. “You must be happy your master is free, it couldn’t have been easy for you while she was in the lamp?”
He shrugged his tiny shoulders. “The only inconvenience was that I had to get my own food. Luckily I am very charming and can persuade humans to feed me easily. I must say I am impressed with the fare you have provided me with thus far.”
“You did help save my life, feeding you good food is the least I can do.”
“I should think so.”
Zara smiled. “I will miss you when you and the Djinn leave.”
“Of course you will.”
“After meeting you, a regular cat would never do as a pet. They would seem very boring.”
“Indeed they would,” Raz agreed. “Anyone would feel the same, of
course, I am quite remarkable.”
“That you are.”
“You know, you are not so bad yourself, well, as far as humans go.”
The Djinn appeared and Zara quickly got to her feet, her heart beating in her ears.
“Come, we shall speak at your dwelling.” The Djinn nodded and transported the three of them back to the house that Zara had purchased with her new gold.
“What did he say?” Zara asked, her voice whisper soft.
The Djinn frowned. “I am sorry. He does not return your feelings. In fact, he said if he ever saw you he would turn you over to the authorities. His mother has lied and said she was trying to help you when you went mad and attacked her.”
Zara felt her legs go out from under her. The Djinn nodded and a cushion broke her fall. “I.” She closed her eyes and gulped. “I knew it was foolish, that there was never a chance.”
The Djinn Knelt beside her. “There will be others. You are very rich now, you can choose any male you like.”
“I do not want another.”
“Not yet, but you will,” the Djinn assured her. “I know you used all your wishes, but you could earn another, and then I could change your appearance, and with your amount of gold he would have to marry you.”
“No,” Zara protested. “I could never live such a lie. If he does not want to be with me I do not want to be with him.”
“I think it best you return home to your mother now, human, and try to forget that boy every existed,” Raz suggested.
“Is that what you want?” The Djinn asked. Zara nodded.
Zara carried nothing with her but one pouch of gold. The Djinn had infused it with magic so that when Zara pulled out a piece it would be replaced by another from the cave.
A servant saw Zara and stopped what she was doing, running inside the main tent. Her mother emerged a moment later, looking at her with wide eyes.
“My daughter?” she said, looking her up and down, her eyes lingering on the fine robes she wore. “Is it really you?”
“It is I, Mother.”
Her mother moved toward her with open arms, and then she fell on her daughter’s neck and wept with joy.
Zara used her fortune to increase her family’s tents, their heard, their servants and her sisters dowries so they could marry well, and still she had enough gold left to last her life time and that of her children, if she ever had any.
She stopped singing all together, and no one pressed her to do so after much refusal. Time crawled by slowly, days and nights melting into an endless blur of sameness as she worked hard to keep her hands busy, trying to distract herself from the ache in her heart. During the day she could forget him, but at night he haunted her dreams and her sleep was restless.
“Who is he?” her mother eventually asked.
“Who is who?” Zara replied, not taking her eyes off the robe she was mending.
“The man who has your heart?”
Zara’s hand froze for a moment, and then she continued. “My heart is my own.”
Her mother sighed. “Only a man can cause a woman the amount of sadness that I see in you. I am your mother, you can speak freely with me, I will keep your confidence.”
Zara shook her head, trying to deny it, but her hand began to shake so she could no longer sow, and tears blurred her vision.
“Was it your master? Did he give you this gold and send you away instead of taking you as a wife?”
Zara shook her head. She had not told anyone how she got the gold, or how much she really had, for they would not believe her. “No.”
She hoped that her mother would ask no more questions. Her hopes were dashed quickly. “I know you are hurting. I know you hardly sleep. Please, Daughter, it makes my heart ache to know that you are hurting in this way.”
Zara sighed. “It is not my master my heart aches for, but his youngest son,” she finally admitted.
Her mother nodded . “And the merchant did not want you with his son, even though your beauty far surpasses that of many women?”
“It was his mother who did not want us together, but even if she did his heart did not belong to me.” She wiped her tears with the back of her hand.
Her mother put her arm around her, drew her close and kissed the top of her head. “I am truly sorry, my daughter.”
The camp was busy preparing to move on to greener pastures, and Zara was helping pack away the women’s tent when she heard it. She stopped what she was doing and stood immediately, going out and around to the back of the tent. A smile spread across Zara’s face and she bent down and scooped the cat up.
“Raz! What are you doing here?”
“Draw me away so I can speak,” the cat whispered.
Zara nodded and walked away from the tent. When Raz was satisfied no one would hear,he spoke. “Sit, human.”
Zara sat and Raz crawled off her lap, sitting in front of her. “What is it, has something happened to the Djinn? Her husband has not found her as he?”
“I have come with sorrowful news, my master knows not that I am here.” He paused, his tail flicking about. “I do not like humans, as you know, they are nothing to me except an occasional tool for getting food, but if I came close to liking one, it would be you.” He seemed unhappy to admit it.
“I am honoured,” she replied respectfully.
“My master, she was nice to you for you freed her and she was grateful, but she has an evil side. She did not want to hurt you, so she sent you away. At least she didn’t kill you, she does that a lot, when your kind become useless to her.” Zara was stunned, but the cat didn’t seem to notice. “And although she intended to help you in the beginning, she changed her mind when she saw how handsome your man was and decided she wanted him for herself.”
The colour drained from Zara’s face and she gulped. “What are you saying?” she asked, her voice no louder than a whisper.
“The Djinn lied, your man did return your feelings. But now she has turned his heart toward herself, using her magic to enhance her beauty and charm. She has captivated his mother and father, who has now returned from his travels. But Aadil still holds a piece of you in his heart, I heard him speak of it with his brother before his betrothal was announced.”
“They are to be wed?” She closed her eyes to hold back the tears, but they escaped and slid down her cheeks.
“Ready yourself, we must leave immediately.”
Zara looked at the cat wide eyed. “You mean you want me to go back?”
“Of course, your man loves you.”
It was absurd. “How can I go up against such a powerful Djinn?”
“Your only hope is to imprison her again.”
Zara scoffed. “How could I imprison her?”
“You will need a ring,there are plenty in that cave of yours. They are much better than a lamp; you can keep it close and ensure she is not released.”
Zara covered her face with her hands. It was too much.
“Do you want to live miserable for the rest of your short life?” the cat questioned her. “If so then stay, or you can go and get your man and be happy.”
Zara shook her head. “Only if I can defeat a very powerful Djinn first.”
The cat shrugged. “Yes.”
“You have risked a lot coming here. Your master could take your life for this betrayal,” she pointed out.
The cat looked at her aloofly. “Perhaps.”
“Then who am I to risk nothing when you have risked everything. I shall come with you.”