The Slave Girl and the Merchant’s Son part 5/5.

Zara’s heart thudded as she stood outside of the merchant’s house. She twisted the gold ring around and around, the large ruby bumping her other fingers as she did.
“You can only trap the Djinn in the ring when she is in mist form,” Raz explained. “You will have to get her to transform, challenging her to do so will most likely work, and then you must place the ring under her tail end so she will be drawn into it.”
Zara nodded, letting out a long, shaky breath. “I would like to get Aadil alone first, to explain to him how he is being tricked,” she whispered to the cat.
“I will draw your man out into the garden, wait for him in the shadows,” Raz told her, and disappeared.
Zara pressed against the wall, shuffling along until she found the gate. She slipped inside, creeping over to the cluster of trees. Her heart hammered in her ears as she waited, her eyes darting around as she thought about what happened the last time she was in this garden.
“What is it, cat?”
Zara’s heart sped up at the sound of Aadil’s voice. Raz was pushing at his legs to get him into the garden. Zara stepped out of the trees and into the moonlight.
Aadil’s eyes grew wide. “Zara?” He stepped forward and reached out, taking her hair between his fingers. He stared at her for a long time before he spoke. “It has grown back,” he said quietly, emotion chocking him.
“I must speak with you urgently,” she told him.
He dropped his hand and stepped back. “You should not have come, if my mother sees you she will have you arrested.” He sighed loudly and pain filled his eyes. “Why did you run away? She said you attacked her, but I told her it had to be some kind of misunderstanding.”
“She was the one who attacked me, I was defending myself, but we do not have time for that now, I must speak to you about your betrothed.”
“Lyrah?” He gulped. “You heard about us?” He looked down at his feet. “She is a good match, my father and mother are very pleased.”
“She is not who she seems. She lies to you and your family.”
Aadil’s brow furrowed. “Zara, I feel that there was something between us, it was brief and there was much standing in our way.” He stepped closer. “But I am betrothed and I cannot break it.” He touched her face. “You are so beautiful, and I would have had you for my wife if you were not a slave. I want you still, I can tell my mother to call off the arrest. You can become my concubine.”
Zara recoiled as if Aadil had slapped her. She pulled her gold pouch out of her robes and threw it at him. He caught it, and when he looked inside his eyes grew wide.
“I am a slave no more, and I will never be again! I have more riches than your father.”
“How did you get this?” he asked in amazement.
She didn’t answer him.
He drew her close and she found her body sinking into his without her consent. “Oh, Zara, it is too late.”
“I will not be a concubine,” she told him, trying to sound firm, but her body was objecting to her words, enjoying the feeling of being pressed against him.
He leaned in slowly, closing his eyes, and just as his lips pressed against hers, a cry rung throughout the garden.
Aadil spun around, letting Zara go. His mother and his betrothed stood before him.
“You!” Alrisha cried. “Guards!”
Aadil stepped protectively in front of Zara. “Wait!”
The Djinn stepped forward, her eyes narrowing. “What are you doing here?”
“You know her?” Aadil asked, confusion sweeping across his features.
“Step aside, beloved,” the Djinn snarled.
“Tell me what is going on?” Aadil demanded.
“You are betraying me!” she screeched, grabbing him and pushing him aside. Zara stumbled back, her legs trembling. “I gave you everything! Gold so you could live happily for the rest of your life, and I returned your beauty to you after she shaved your head and cut up your face.”
“What!” Aadil yelped.
The Djinn ignored him. “I reunited you with your family and you repay me by coming here and trying to steal my betrothed!”
“I th-thought y-ou already h-had a h-husband?” Zara asked, fear making her stutter.
The Djinn laughed. “I only told you that story to get you to free me, you humans are so gullible.”
The Djinn grabbed Zara’s hair and tugged her head back roughly. Zara let out a whimper. “Y-you knew I-I l-loved him f-first,” she told the Djinn.
“Yes, but he does not want you, he wants me!”
“H-he l-loved me, y-you l-lied.”
She smiled wickedly. “Do you think he would love you if you were still poor and ugly? Let us see, shall we? What I give I can take away.”
Zara screamed as the Djinn yanked hard on her hair and it all fell from her head. The ugly wound reopened on her face and blood trickled down her cheek. She pushed Zara down in front of Aadil. “See what your precious mother did to her because she was jealous!”
The merchant came storming out into the garden. “What is going on?”
“Your son has been caught betraying me with your long lost servant,” the Djinn snarled.
The merchant looked at his son and then the girl in front of him. His eyes narrowed. “Zara?”
“Your wife made some changes to her appearance while you were away,” the Djinn informed him. She turned her anger back on Aadil. “Now tell me, do you still love your precious slave?”
“Oh, Zara,” he said, holding out a hand toward her.
The Djinn roared and shoved him back with magic. “You foolish human! You can have me, the most beautiful and powerful female Djinn in this world, or you can have an ugly, penniless slave.” She turned on Zara. “I have emptied your precious cave, you will have to become a slave once more, and no man will buy you now, voice or no, they only wanted you for one thing!”
“Y-you are the fool!” she threw back, anger making her brave. “C-change, change into what you really are and see if he wants you.”
The Djinn snarled. “Unlike you, I do not need him to love me back, I can bend him to my will.”
“Do you not want to know if he could love you, the real you?” Zara pressed, tears stinging her eyes. “I think you are scared that he will not.”
“I am scared of nothing!” the Djinn roared. She transformed into her mist form, tripling in size, and turned on Aadil. “This is me, the true me, who you will love!”
Zara lunged to the ground, throwing out her hand and stretching her fingers out so the ring was under the Djinn’s smoky tail.
The Djinn turned around, her eyes widening. “No!” she screamed as the mist started to spin. She became an indistinguishable whirl as the spinning increased speed, billowing down into the ring until it disappeared. The Djinn’s eye filled the ruby for a beat, and then the gem shimmered and was red once again.
Zara dropped her head, resting it on the ground and closing her eyes. She felt a hand on her back and looked up to see both the merchant and Aadil crouched before her. Aadil helped her to a seated position.
The merchant put a hand under her chin so she was forced to look at him. “Did my wife really do this to you?” Zara nodded, tears welling in her eyes. The merchant rounded on his wife. “How could you do something so horrific?”
Alrisha was trembling and tears rolled down her face. “I was so afraid that you would take her as a second wife, and then I learnt her heart was lost to Aadil and I panicked.”
“Have I ever given you reason to think you were not enough for me? Have I not loved you enough?” the merchant demanded.
Alrisha covered her face with her hands. “You have loved me more than I could ever hope.”
“And you have no right to stand in the way of their love. If my son chooses a slave, so be it. Do you forget that you were but a servant when I chose you?”
“I am sorry,” Alrisha sobbed.
The merchant turned back to his son. “Is it true, do you love Zara?”
“I do,” he confessed.
Zara gasped. “Please, I will not hold you to any words you have spoken before. I know how I look. My hair will grow back, but my scar will never fade.”
Aadil reached out and gently touched her cheek. “Scar or no, you are still beautiful to me.”
“I hereby call your betrothal to Lyrah off,” The merchant announced. “I give you my blessing to be with this girl.”
Zara’s head spun and she fell forward, overwhelmed by it all. Aadil caught her in his arms.
“Do you want this?” he asked her gently, concern etched into his features.
“More than anything.” She turned from Aadil, looking up at the merchant. “But I do not understand why you would allow it?”
“A heart knows not of wealth or poverty, it knows only that of which it wants.” The merchant turned and grabbed his wife’s arm firmly. “Come, we have much to discuss.” He marched her into the house.
Aadil looked down at Zara’s hand, which was pressed against his chest. “Shall I bury the ring?”
Zara shook her head. “No, I do not want some poor soul finding it and releasing her. I shall wear it all of my days and keep it safe.”
Raz rubbed against Zara’s leg, and she looked down at him. “What will you do now?” she asked the cat.
“I think I will roam the land, see where the wind takes me,” he told her.
“You may stay with us, if you wish.”
The cat shook his head. “No, human. I relished my freedom when the Djinn was first enslaved, not realising how much until I was under a master once more. Besides, you know how much I loathe humans, I cannot stay with them for a long period of time, even the ones I do find tolerable, like you. ”
Fresh tears welled in Zara’s eyes and her lip trembled. “Thank you, for all that you have done for me.”
The cat yawned. “I did it for myself, really. Like I said, I wanted to be free.”
Zara smiled, wiping her eyes. “Of course. Good luck, Raz, I hope you find what you are looking for.”
The cat nodded and slinked away, disappearing into the shadows.
“A talking cat?” Aadil asked with amazement. “So much strangeness has occurred this night that I fear I must be sleeping and will wake any moment to find that all that occurred has not actually happened, and that you returning to me was just a dream.”
“You are not dreaming,” Zara promised, and she pressed a kiss against his lips to prove it.

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