01 Demon Needs a War


My office phone rang and I answered. A voice boomed, “Dick, I need a war!”

“Vice President Dick Cheney’s office”, I politely replied. “Who may I say is calling?”

“Demon. James Demon.”

It is assumed by Christians and atheists alike that Vice President Cheney has sold his immortal soul to one dark lord or another. As a result, I expect that when the Rapture comes our dear VP will be whisked away to hell by Asmodeus or Mephistopheles, or perhaps even Sauron. Demon struck me as a bit too generic a name. I wondered if it was an alias.

“I’ll put you right through, Mr. Demon”, I said.

Dick picked up his phone. I put mine on mute so that I could listen in.

“Dick, I need a war!” Demon’s voice boomed a second time.

“Yeah, yeah, tell me about your problem, Jamie.”

“You know my bank is long on state-sponsored violence. Well this summer one of our new traders went a little too long and we’re out of the money on some of our September options. So …”

“How are we going to pay for this war of yours?” the VP interrupted brusquely, to the point, as always.

Demon replied, “We’ll squeeze the poor. Our people in Congress are all on board.”

“Hrmph.” The Vice President replied. “Nothing humanitarian, right? Just profit?”

“Of course its just about money, Dick. I’m a fucking banker. But here is the deal.” Demon spoke these last syllables in a terse, staccato fashion. “This war needs to be land-based so it uses lots mine resistant vehicles.”1

“So you’re flogging that mechanized infantry shit? Whatever. Call me when you’ve bought the votes.”

“Don’t call MRAPs shit. You want to go into battle with a Kamaz …”

“Have your people call Marge when you’re ready.”



“Shively, get your ass in here!”

I was so excited I fumbled the phone into its cradle. And who wouldn’t be prior to meeting the finest extra-legal mind of our generation?

Dick’s admin Marge (the real leader of the free world, according to some) smiled as I threw on my jacket, straightened my tie and rushed into Dick’s simple but large corner office. On one wall was a six foot portrait of Richard Nixon, on the other a picture of President Clinton Dick, which liked to use for target practice. Facing me was a great glass wall which had a great view of the Rose Garden. It was spring. The cherry trees on the edge of the garden were flowering; the rose bushes were covered in buds, presaging a cheery, hopeful future. For a moment I was taken out of time: this could have been the office of a satrap, vizier or mandarin, and I guess in his dyspeptic, cantankerous way that was exactly what the Dick Cheney was, though with an in interest in oil not figs, apricots and pistachios.

The Vice President started to speak before I’d sat down. He said, “Shively, one of our clients wants a war, or at least a police action.” Dick likes to call the military-industrial complex our clients.

“Will a straight up arms deal do?” I asked earnestly.

“Yep. Do you have any suggestions? Maybe invade Basra and break the oil union there?”

“Well, in theory the Mahdi Army are allies …”

“Ahem.” The Vice President can convey so much with his phlegm.

“Erstwhile allies”, I amended. “Regardless, attacking the Mahdi Army might send the wrong message. And there’s a small problem with the British.”

“Fuck the British”, he said reflexively.

“Basra’s in their theater of operations.”

“Right. I guess that’s what I pay you for. What about one of the Stans? Maybe Tajikistan? They’ve got lots of natural gas.” Dick has a soft spot for meddling in former Soviet Socialist Republics.

“Uh, right”, I replied tentatively. “We already have mercenaries and drilling sub-contractors in Tajikistan, so I assume you’re suggesting escalating our presence. Perhaps we could take out President Rahmon? That would stir things up.”

“Fuck that idea. Too complicated just to sell some armored trucks. How about Iran?”

I replied that starting a war with Iran was a disproportionate solution to the problem at hand. Dick agreed. This was a career making moment. I needed an alternative plan. I fell back on my training. “What would John Galt do right now?” I wondered. This thought didn’t help much. Unfortunately, Ayn Rand never addressed the issue of corporate-sponsored wars. Then I had an idea, “Sir, if I may be so bold …”

“Spit it out, Shively.”

“What about an arms deal with Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan? There’s been a lot of trouble recently in Andijan.”

The VP was impressed. “It solves Demon’s MRAP problem – mechanized infantry are perfect for crushing popular unrest. But what’s the fossil fuel angle?” Dick is a fly to shit about fossil fuels.

“There’s no oil to speak of in Uzbekistan. But there’s lots of natural gas.”

“That’ll do. Good work, Shively.”

Vice President Richard Cheney, leader of the free world, swiveled the folds of his cellulite ridden ass into action. He shouted into his intercom, “Margaret, get that dipstick on the phone!”

“Do you mean President Bush, sir?”

“No, the Brit.”

“Prime Minister Blair?”

“No, the other dipstick. The peasant revolt guy.”

“Jack Straw?”

“Yeah, him.”

There was a pause while the Vice President was connected to Downing Street.

Once connected, the Vice President snarled into his speaker-phone, “Jack, its Dick Cheney. I need your help. We’re trying to sell some light armor in Central Asia. Yeah, MRAPs. I know they’re only good for crushing civilian unrest, but that’s what my clients want me to sell. I’m sending an agent named Shively to Uzbekistan to broker the deal. Can your people help? Of course you’ll get a cut. Would you prefer arms sales, land-rights or kickbacks? I agree. Arms sales are cleanest. We’ll settle the details when we meet at the next G7. Sure. What was her name, again? Evensong. My man’s named Shively. My admin Marg will set things up.”

The VP hung up, scribbled some names onto a piece of paper, and then turned to me. “Shively, here’s a list of contacts. Let Margaret know if you need anything. And I mean anything. Demon is an important client.”

When he finished speaking Dick started to cough as if trying to regurgitate both his stomach and his intestines. This commotion caused me to really look at the pasty-faced old troll. It was amazing that he was alive at all. “Fuck this shit!” the Vice President shouted while he pulled himself together with a loud hork. I realized then that even something as debilitating as dyspepsia can give you strength.


“Huh”, I replied smartly.

“Stop looking at me like I’m a Page for the House of Representatives and move your ass. We’ve got to sell some product.”


02 A Leap of Faith


Based on a 2018 Version. If a more recent version appears, update.

Revision History: 12/29/2023

Rish looked north to the mountain gods Gyetong Soksum, Jangzang Lhamo and Nojin Gangzang. “Are you angry?”, he wondered. He addressed Nojin Gangzang, the only one of the three mountain gods who had ever communicated with him.

Rish was a sallow young man who wore a faded crimson robe

“Who are you talking to?” Tenzin, his younger companion, asked.

The novice monk somberly replied, “I’m talking to … “. He nodded toward Nojin Gangzang. As he spoke he walked to the edge of the cliff.

The two youths stood on a thin path that cut through heather and stones at the top of a sharply defined river valley

Tenzin replied, “Are you asking it if it will catch you if you jump? The god caught you when you fell yesterday. Surely it will do it again?”

The sharp memory of the earth racing towards him flashed through Rish’s mind. He removed his red, felt cap, scratched his large, bald head, and took a deep breath before he replied.  “No. I’m asking the god of this mountain why it caught me when I fell.”

“Do you need to ask? Isn’t it enough to be thankful?”

The novice did not reply for a long moment. Eventually he said, “Tenzin, I have to make decisions. I need to know why.”

“You’re going to jump again!? That’s what you mean isn’t it? Are you?!”

Rish hastiily snapped, “I did not say that.”

“Say?? You thought it! Why wouldn’t I know what you think? I was born four minutes after you. I’ve known you since birth! If … he would have chosen … “

Rish glowered at his friend; he stopped speaking mid sentence.

After two moments. Tenzin tried another approach, “What is the god saying to you?”

“It’s not saying anything.”

This uncertain dialog made Tenzin pause for a moment. He silently watched Rish standing on the edge of a precipice, looking down the sheer cliff into the valley of the Tsang Pao river. “You are going to jump aren’t you?”, he asked after a moment.

Rish paused before he replied even though he knew the answer. “Yes. When its time. The God will take care of me. But only when its time.”

“Why not now? It seems like a good time to practice. No gossipy neighbors, no Mongols…”.


“Rish, there are no Mongols here! They’re all at *Raulung * Monastery looking for your brother …”


This isn’t about spirituality.

Why shouldn’t it be?

The Drukpa at Raulung join with the Mongols. The brother escapes to Reting where the proto-yellow hat Gelung are.


The monastery is located in present-day Gyantse County several kilometers south of the road connecting Nakartse and Lungmar, immediately north of the Gasa district of Bhutan. In previous times, trade could be conducted across the Yak La pass across the high Himalayas, extending the influence of Ralung to the south.

The monastery is surrounded by the towering peaks and glacier fields of Gyetong Soksum (6,244m), Jangzang Lhamo (6,324m) and Nojin Gangzang (7,191m). From the beginning the location was recognized as especially auspicious:

Reting Monastery was founded by Atiśa‘s chief disciple Dromtön in 1057 in the Reting Tsangpo Valley north of Lhasa as the seat of the Kadam lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He brought some of Atiśa’s relics with him.[2][3] It was the first major monastery of the Sarma revival.

Gyare founded Raulung [Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan, China]


“There are Mongols here! Shushhhhh!”

Tenzin froze and listened.

Rish edged forward to the edge of the river valley. In his mind he had already begun to jump because now some of his body weight was over the edge and his momentum was forward. Out. Not down. Down was what he most feared, the sharp red rocks at the base of the cliff, merging with the babbling river (which one?). He shifted his weight farther forward, accelerating his slow motion fall and then almost imperceptibly pulled back.

“I don’t know what I believe.” Rish retreated for the cliff’s edge and continued walking along the path through the heather.

Tenzin followed slightly behind. “Rish, if you don’t have faith when you jump, whatever god that caught you yesterday will surely let you fall. Isn’t that what this is about? A test of faith.”

“Test of faith. And revelation of the power of faith. First one, then the other.”Rish was not certain of his words, though he spoke them with assurance. He wondered to himself, “Why would a god demand my faith? What kind of god would desire any kind of faith at all?”

Rish stopped to the point where the cliff face was most sheer.  He looked down the cliff face to where the scree slid into the rushing river, far below. The feeling of terror that he had felt yesterday as he fell washed over him again and then, like yesterday the fear was replaced by exhilaration. Flying had been different than he had expected. He had not cut through air like a knife when he flew; it was more that the elements of the universe adjusted themselves to help him pass. He did not conquer the sky – it accommodated him.

Tenzin, tentatively asked, “Well … are you going to …?”

Rish replied, “When you urge me to jump, you think about the rush that comes from falling. Everyone can imagine that. Everyone has fallen. There is no thrill in falling. Just fear. Always.”

Tenzin was mystified. He had seen Tenzin leap into the sky.

Rish continued. “There is a difference between falling and flying. If I leapt off of this cliff now, I would fall. “No, Tenzin, I am not going to jump right now. The time is not right. There is no reason to jump, so to jump is to presume.”

Tenzin and Rish walked back to the village in silence. Their village, far below them, was at the limits of possible cultivation. Indeed most of the land, except for a narrow strip that closely followed the [Brahmaputra/Tsang-Pao] river, was used for grazing, not cultivation. One hundred [metres] higher up and they were in the clouds. There were copses of small birches and oaks trees at this height; further up where the soil was worse and the climate colder, these gave way to pines, spruces and firs. Along the path the dominant vegetation was a coarse heather, that clung desperately to the mostly exposed rock. The path was lined with clusters of goji berry bushes, whose small purple and white flowers had just begun to bloom.

Although it had been sunny when they left as they returned the air became colder and wetter as a cloud bumped into the mountain side directly in front of them. As a result,  Rish could smell the Mongol horseman before he saw them.

He had encountered a Mongol troop when he was a child (Godan’s invasion in 1240). Although the encounter resulted in many violent deaths, the only thing he could clearly remember about it was the clanking sounds their horses and armor had made. And the smell.

The smell terrified him. The sounds made it worse. He pulled Tenzin onto the ground. They hid behind a large cluster of goji bushes that grew out of white-ish grey soil on a small hill at the edge of their town. The bushes were not particularly thick – Rish could see through them; his hearing was acute.

The Mongols were filthy, rough looking and very well armed.  A soldier in red armor stood out.  [Godan again?].

“What is going on?” Tenzin whispered into Rish’s ear.

Before he could answer two soldiers pushed a slave forward. He was a frail man dressed in jute rags, originally from Bengal. That he was alive at all was testament to how healthy he had once been. The man tottered into the dusty square in front of the town gate. People lined the tops of the town walls, but none came outside. Prayer flags hung listlessly in the still air.

The slave spoke clearly but with an accent, “Godan is looking for a person. A twin. Named Rish. Give him up and he will leave you alone. Otherwise he will return with a myangan and destroy this village. “

The village elder spoke up. “He is not here.”

“Then where is he?” A frightened voice hidden in the crowd spoke up.

Godan signaled and the soldiers withdrew short swords and prepared to attack.

Godan shouted, “He is here or he is not here?”

The village Elder stepped forward while everyone else withdrew. He said, “I know who you mean. Rish. The twin of the man who will achieve enlightenment in one …”

“We know the stories Where is the twin?”

The Elder nodded. “He left. That way. Down stream.”

There were two directions. Down stream, along the Tsang Pao to Kolkata. Or via the Indus to Karachi. The Karachi road required crossing a drainage divide. The Mongols could only travel one way. So of course that was the way they went.

Godan nodded and in a moment the Elder was bound and placed in a wagon. The Mongols set off downstream..

Rish pulled X back behind the hillock so they could talk. Rish pulled himself away from Tenzin terror

“Güyük Khan’s has arrived with mangudai.”


[“The son of Ogedei Khan is here with elite troops.”]

“They’re here for you.”

“Yes. Goodbye and be still.”

There is a chase and then Rish leaps, with X.


Three tests to see if he is bewitched or a sorcerer

Most of the Mongol troupe set out on the search for Ki. Guyuk stayed behind to supervise Rish’s interrogation. The first step in the interrogation was to determine if Rish was a demon.  Four sorcerer’s  were produced: three Uighurs who were dressed in a Chinese style, and an astrologer from Jaipur. The astrologer asked him some questions about where he was born and when and then retreated with his charts to a corner.

The Uighurs were visceral shamans: they began with chicken entrails, then quickly moved on to those of a fish. These examinations were cursory. What interested the shamans the most were a large, putrid set of intestines, which were presented grandly in a wooden bucket, which leaked blood over the dirt floor of the animal pen.

It was clear that his life depended on the pronouncements of these men, but Rish was so ill from the smells and from his wounds, that he crawled to a corner, as far away from the shamans  as possible.

Guyuk entered and had a brief conversation, through an interpreter, with the astrologer and three shamans. The shamans apparently wished to talk as one, but Guyuk insisted they speak to him each separately; Guyuk addressed the astrologer first; his guards escorted the Uighurs away from his prison.

The astrologer spoke Hindi so Rish, who came from a merchant family, could partially understand what he said. Which was unfortunate. The astrologer was a harsh, wizened old man who felt the only value Rish offered to the world was as a vehicle to capture Ki. ”This boy is perfect bait.” The Uigher discussions were mystifying,  but quickly concluded. Then Guyuk gave his pronouncement. There were were nine people in the fetid, all purpose animal pen, but Guyuk pronounced loudly.  When he was done a large Mongolian rudely picked Rish up, flung him over his shoulder and took him outside. He was then slammed onto the back of a slow, but sturdy mare, and tied to it with painful ropes made of animal gut. The horse archers, bait in hand, set off. There was no hesitation about what direction they were going to take.


Ki ran until long after his lungs began to burn.  There were very few places to hide in the river valley. Most of the land was somehow in use by people. He headed to a chalky area full of caves and goji bushes, upstream from the town. There was one cave which had a spring. This made it an obvious hiding spot if you knew about it. He knew that someone would tell the Mongols to look here. Why not? By doing so one could save an entire town. It was still the best spot he could think of to rest at while he collected his thoughts and figured out what to do next.

There were not very many options.

Perhaps he meets a green-skinned holy man, a la descriptions of Mila Repa.

Bad situation. Give himself up to save village. That would lead to no good. The Mongols wanted him as a weapon. He remembered the fate of his father. He did not want to help the Mongols.

As he loaded some berries into a broad leaf for storage, a Mongol horseman passed by. Ki accidentally  disturbed a snow leopard which exposes his hiding spot. The horseman gets delayed and the horse reels away from the cat, but the path to Mila’s escape route is blocked.

One horseman waited as a guard while the other raced back towards town to get reinforcements.

Ki, in full view of the horse archer retreated to the cliff’s edge. The Mongol soldier pressed closer, but kept the distance between himself and Ki constant. After only a few moments standoff he saw a trail of dust that was quickly replaced by a view of ten horse archers and an eleventh horse to which was strapped a body. It took only a moment to recognize the body as that of Rish. 

He began to rush forward but was hit by a volley of arrows. The arrows were blunted, so didn’t pierce his skin – the Mongols were trying to capture rather than   kill him. Nevertheless,  they left him disoriented and in pain.

Ki thought, “It is no good to be captured. They will use me as a weapon”. His only path was to jump off of the cliff.  “Perhaps the gods hate mankind because we tempt them into sin”, he thought as he shuffled backwards towards the cliff’s edge, his gaze fixed on the body of his  bound friend. His path ran out. He was at the cliff’s edge now. He looked down the sheer red face to the sharp limestone rocks far below,  How could he jump without tempting the gods? How could the gods not be angered by his hubris?  Catch me before I die, I am more worthy than all the other creatures who have ever fallen to their deaths. I am worthy except that I have caused my  friend and ward to be enslaved. As he jumped he shouted,  Let me fall, I deserve to die.


Rish felt neither exhilaration nor fear as he launched himself over the cliff. For all of the momentum he had when he launched he only moved a small distance through the air. The horse archers appeared, with their prisoner Rish in hand. As one they raised their bows and pummeled him with a volley of blunt arrows. These flung him backwards through the air until he was completely out of range. This lead to an impasse – Ki floating in the air, staring at the Mongol troupe. Finally Guyuk became impatient and gave an order. Several minutes later they brought Rish forward to the edge of the cliff. He was rudely pushed off of his mount and then, without even a moment’s thought about the life they were about to take he was pushed over the edge, still bound.

Without a second thought Ki raced through a hail of arrows through the air to where Rish was falling. The Mongols, launched a large net that completely entwines Ki and Rish. Although he could still fly, he could not escape. 

They were fortunate to have fallen in a location that was very inaccessible for horses.

Rish is injured. Ki cuts free of the net. He tries to fly with Rish but he can’t. He’s too weak. He flies to a cave just above where Rish is and passes out.


Table of Contents July 1918


Beyond the Pale


Protected: 01 In the Pale


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01 The Girl With Sparks in Her Hair


This is the first chapter of The Djinn, the second book of a trilogy that uses conventional fantasy tropes, like Rings of Power, to explore questions related to religion, identity, and purpose. The first book, Ithilæn, takes place in 12th century France, and explores Christian and pagan themes. The second book, The Djinn, is set in Afghanistan, Tibet and Mongolia. It explores Buddhist, Hindu and Zoroastrian themes, but is nevertheless a continuation of Ithilæn.

Version history

2022-11-28 2022-11-27 2022-11-21

Chapter 1: The Girl With Sparks in Her Hair

“Can I watch the sun set from the western tower?” Maya assessed the sentry as she spoke. She had never seen him before, which was unusual. She knew everyone in Rupar. But he was a refugee who last spring arrived from Lahore, driven east by Khwarazmian raiders. He was welcomed into the city because he was healthy, beautiful and strong. A significant asset for the defense of the town. And to the townspeople he had some other, ineffable, quality which Maya recognized through his soft, white – almost clear – aura.

Although they had never been introduced, the guard knew Maya was the Witch’s granddaughter because of her jade green eyes and the sparks that were flashing in her gnarly, black hair. Most people, even the Great Khan in Karakorum, feared witches [and their brood]; Ramindar respected them. Because he was in awe of the girl, he both hesitated to refuse her request, but feared to say no, lest he offend the Goddess she channeled.

Maya interpreted his hesitation as consent. She muttered “Thank you” and slid past him while he blinked. He never saw her move at all. Her magic was only strong enough to slow time for one or two seconds, but that was useful in situations like these.

In the autumn, when the sun was in the south, Maya liked to visit the West Tower, where the view of the Indus River was most beautiful. Her town was situated at a bend in the river: To the north and east she could see the Himalayas, where snow-capped peaks sparkled in the sunlight; to the west and south were fields of rice, which stretched to both horizons. She would go to the West Watch Tower, which was a storage room for the archers’ gear, wrap herself in a colorful cotton blanket and chat with the on-duty guard.

Normally the on-duty guard would tease Maya about how her magical abilities were over-rated, if they existed at all. She ALWAYS denied that she had any magical abilities at all, but would inevitably use her power to surreptitiously help him with his chores. That was what the Goddess wanted.

Ramindar gazed out the window while Maya took her seat on a pile of jute blankets directly opposite the window, ignoring her. Maya wondered why he was scowling until she followed his gaze to a caravan of Persians, which was approaching from the west. Normally the arrival of Persian merchants elicited smiles, because they would arrive with treasures, like incense, rare metals and carpets These they would trade for spices, precious stones and weapons. Tonight’s caravan was not typical. It had neither camels nor slaves, just six merchants in black cloaks, six lightly armed guards and a Zoroastrian priest. The guards walked in double file of three. Between them they carried a trellis made of cedar poles lashed together with hemp ropes. The trellis supported a small box shrouded in a velvet black cloth. Each guard was followed, exactly two paces behind, by a merchant. The procession was led by a thirteenth man, a Mage, who walked between two heavily burdened donkeys. The Persians moved lethargically, as if it was hot and their burden was heavy. The blue-black dusk was cool.

The sun touched the top of the hills which marked the western edge of the Indus valley. Though the Persians did not realize it, they had lost their race with the night: the town gates closed at sunset. They would have to camp outside the walls, probably in the Goddess’ temple on the shore of the Indus River.  Not the worst outcome. The Goddess would favor them provided they didn’t offend her with a paltry offering.

Maya broke their brooding silence. She said, “Ramindar, can you see the patches on their eyes?”

The guard shrugged, “Sure.”

“The men on the left side of the box have patches on their right eyes …”

He caught her meaning and completed her sentence, “… and the ones on the right side have patches on their left eyes. I wonder why that is?”

“I know why.”

“What do you know mantrika?”

“The Persians are wearing patches to protect themselves. There is a creature with the Evil Eye in the box they are carrying.” She could feel the creature’s power, even at this great distance.

“What kind of creature?” Ravindar looked down at Maya. He had an intent expression on his face.

“A Djinn”. She spoke with a slight tremor in her voice.

“What is a Djinn? “

“A type of Deva.”

Ramindar whistled in dismay as he looked back at the approaching caravan, this time focusing his gaze on the shrouded box which bobbed on the trellis they carried. Maya wondered if he could feel the Djinn’s novel power – it was ancient and obscure and yet familiar because it was fundamental. She could feel it probing for weaknesses that it could exploit to free itself. Its probes were like the light of a torch. A dark torch, surrounded by light.

When the ancient power landed on Maya it stopped and squeezed her soul. Her body went rigid, her skin became clammy and cold; and her eyes were blinded by colored lights.

Set me free! the Djinn shouted with thought. It pressed its spirit upon hers, trying to compel her to do the only thing it wanted; to release its craving; to set it free.

She began to move to the door, compelled by the Djinn’s will. Ramindar watched her move. She looked like a sleep walker. He knew something was wrong, but when he moved to help her he discovered that he was frozen in place.

Release the child!

The Djinn released its grip. Maya fell onto a pile of coarse jute blankets, and thought, thank you Grandmother.

Ramindar stamped out the glittering pile of sparks that had scattered throughout the room when she fell, and then raced to Maya’s side. He gently shook her. She feebly raised herself to a sitting position and said, “Ramindar, the Djinn is trying make me help it escape. Maybe it should be free, I don’t know. BUT if it does escape, don’t look it in the eyes and please don’t listen to it. Fall to the ground. Cover your ears. Look down.”

“Of course, little witch.” He began his sentence with a patronizing tone, glanced at the approaching party and ended on a serious note. He knelt down beside her, placed his hands on her shoulders and said, “How should I plug my ears, mantrika?”

Maya shrugged – not because she didn’t want to answer his question, but rather because it took effort to reply. The Djinn continued to press her.

“How?!”, he asked again. Ramindar’s pure aura became muddied by fear. He gripped Maya tightly, as if he could shake a response out of her. The sparks in her hair flew in bursts about the chamber, sizzling as they burned through straw and jute. Ramindar released his grip and stamped out the little fires.

Maya said, “Sorry! Sorry! Let me think.” She looked around and noticed a pile of scrap material which was used to bind groups of arrows together. “We’ll use the jute …” she grabbed a candle. ” … battened with wax. We’ll make wads for your ears and use jute to make a mask for your eyes.”

He ripped a jute bag into strands and began knotting them together for a mask while she pressed together tiny wads of wax for his ears. He fastened the mask around his forehead, just above his eyes. She handed him the earplugs. He idly played with them, periodically glancing out the window toward the approaching Persians. She rose and walked to his side.

He said half to himself, “Hah! a Deva. That is fantastic. Imagine!” He cut off his enthusiasm when the implications of what he had just heard occurred to him. He said to Maya, “And how is it that such a powerful creature could be imprisoned by such ragged men?”

Maya was about to say that she didn’t know how, when her grandmother sent her a vision of how: a scene in a royal chamber; packed with lords, merchants and commoners. The wall was lined with soldiers. In the middle of the room was a glass and ebony-wood box, with barred windows on every side.

Maya said, “The Djinn was tricked by a King named Sulayman.”

“You know this?”

“Yes. Yes.” Maya replied. The vision her grandmother had sent to her had the power of truth.

There was a loud crack.

Ramindar staggered for a moment and then came to himself. Maya leapt to his side. The two of them leaned out the window to better view what was happening. They watched in horror as the guard on the right front side of the Persian caravan hardened to stone, and then exploded into rubble and dust. The merchant who was shadowing the guard frantically grabbed the handle of the trellis even as the weight of guard’s stone grip pulled the trellis toward the ground. The trellis wavered and rebounded up, the moment the guard turned to dust, because of the effort of his counterpart in the opposing file to find equilibrium. The awkward movement lifted the shroud and revealed the Djinn’s cage: an ebony wood cube with barred windows on each face. A red-black light glowed from inside.

“Ramindar, plug your ears! Close your eyes!”,  Maya exclaimed. Without thinking she flung him away from the window, with more force than the Goddess had ever given her.

Her Grandmother’s voice rang loudly in her head, “Granddaughter, be careful! The Goddess does not want you to compel !”

Maya raced to the window, projecting what she saw to her grandmother. Her grandmother replied with a thought, “I know of this Djinn. It is ancient and powerful. Listen carefully, Maya. The rules I have taught you have changed because the presence of this creature changes everything.”

“But the Djinn is a captive.”

“Tonight its captors will die.”

A vision of the guards, the the merchants and the Mage turned to stone flashed across her inner eye.

Her grandmother continued. They will be dead, but the Djinn will not be free. It is too stubborn to free itself. I can’t tell you more because what happens next cannot be foretold. I only see possibilities.

What do you mean? How can I know?

You will understand when you understand. I have to go to the Swan Temple to be closer to the Goddess. I have never needed her power more. Now is my time. This is my last task. Now is your time, too, Maya, though it is a time with a future. I love you, and even after death a part of me will live in you.


Ramindar tugged on Maya’s sleeve and broke her trance. He was bruised, and dazed. His ears were plugged.


As Ramindar struggled to get up Maya snapped his eyes shut with a spell. As she did so, an hysterical mother shouted, “My child’s eyes have turned to malachite!” 

We must cast a sleep spell, said the voice of her grandmother in her head.

Maya prepared herself by sitting cross-legged on the floor. She brought her fingers together – the right in Prana Mudra, the left in Gyan Mudra – and began to slowly chant. In her head her grandmother joined her. The rush of people atop the walls quieted save for the sound of stumbling as the spell took effect.

The spell pulled both water and air out of her. She breathed deeply for a moment to catch her breath, and then went to the small clay water jar in the corner and drank deeply. She sat down on the jute blankets. The town was quiet.

The Djinn broke the silence. It shouted with a loud voice, “I have been enslaved by Sulayman. Set me free and I will give you anything you want!”

There was a red-black light emitting from the cedar box the Persians were carrying. With only five carriers, they stumbled awkwardly as the Mage moved to replace the carrier while avoiding the light of the Djinn’s evil eye, which was now emitting an angry blue-red light from the uncovered box.

We must replace the shroud. Her grandmother’s voice in her head was weak; her spirit was weak. The sleep spell had drained her. She reached out to the Earth. The effort had even drained the Goddess she channeled.

I will do it, Maya replied.

Maya projected her intention. The shroud barely moved. As Maya continued to struggle, her grandmother’s weak voice said in her head, Let me help you. Maya replied, No grandmother, you mustn’t. Conserve your energy. Her grandmother replied, I am too weak and so are you, but together we are strong enough.Goddess willing.

Fighting against wind and gravity together Maya and her grandmother moved the shroud back into place. When it was almost there her grandmother’s force drained away. One shove of Maya’s will later the job was done. The black-red light cast by the Djinn had disappeared.

Maya collapsed onto the heap of jute blankets. As she collapsed her sleep spell dissipated.

A trumpet blared: a call to arms. The sound echoed through the ramparts.

Ramdindar rose, leaned over her and said, “Flee youth. I must prepare to fight.”

Maya stood her ground, “No, Ramindar. I need to stay here. I just saved your life. Everyone’s lives. Do you know that?”

“No. I don’t remember anything … wait” He rushed to the window. His eyes widened as he saw the mound of dust that was once a living Persian.

[It looked now like a ruined Greek sculpture – full of motion. His aura darkened,as purity does when confronted by a dirty reality.]

Maya saw her chance. She said, “I’ll fetch you arrows if you need them … But you won’t. And I’ll fetch you water when you’re thirsty. I won’t get in the way.”

“How do you know I won’t need arrows?” Ramindar was a warrior so the question leapt first to his mind.

“I just know”, Maya replied.

Ramindar thought, Aye. Perhaps witches should take care of this. He said, “Sit on those blankets. Be mouse quiet. And tell the sparks in your hair to settle down.”

Maya piled a handful of straw at the base of the pile of blankets, in her place in the corner directly opposite the window and just beside the door.

The Persians had reassembled themselves and resumed their march to the West Gate, in their already lost race with the setting sun. With each step they took, Maya could feel the anger and power of the imprisoned Djinn increase.

Maya reached out to her grandmother. Are you there? Nothing. As she feared, the effort of resisting the Djinn had been too much for her aged grandmother. She would have to face this malign – but imprisoned – spirit alone.

The Captain of the Night Watch shouted, “Prepare to fire!”

Maya – alarmed – leaped out from under her blankets and onto the window ledge. She was just below the path above the city wall, perhaps ten body lengths from where the Captain of the Watch had just given the ill-considered order. She shouted, “There is a Deva in that box. We must not let it escape. It could kill us all with one glance: its eyes evil eyes can turn you to stone.”

She pushed on the Captain’s mind. It took an effort of will.

Channel the Goddess. Her grandmother thought, weakly. The Captain strode over until he was just above where she stood, half out of the window. “Tell me what you know, mantrika.” His voice was adversarial. The sparks in Maya’s hair multiplied, in unconscious defense.

She imagined herself standing in the midst of the river, the flow of water lapping around her – instead of straw and jute – and called upon the Goddess.


In her mind the energy of the Goddess rose up from the River, which was the source of the Goddess’ power. She replied, “I have contained it for now, but if you kill the carriers it will be released and it will kill you all with just one thought.”

“But not you?”

“I do not know.”

As Maya spoke, she could feel the Djinn reaching out, trying to influence the Captain. The Djinn found no hook into his mind. There was little there; few ideas. Nothing to manipulate.

The Captain doubtfully said, “That makes no sense. Deva’s cannot be …”

Let him be!, The jealous Goddess channeled through her and forced the surprised Djinn’s spirit back into its prison.

The Captain shouted, “Stand down! Take defensive positions.” There was a clatter while the men of the Night Watch followed the order. The Captain then said to Ramindar, “Summon the Morning Watch.” He turned to Maya, unaware that she had just released him from the Djinn’s spell. “Lay low, little witch, I will handle this.”

The pitiful caravan arrived at the foot of the wall, at the exact moment the sun fell below the western edge of the river valley. The Persians looked like shades, silhouetted by the afterglow of the sun, which shone directly at their backs.

The archers cocked their bows, but averted their eyes, afraid to take aim.

As the travelers came closer, the villagers became quiet, save for the quiet chants of the village mantrikas.

The Captain of the Night Watch alone faced the Persians. He stood tall on the parapet about the town’s western gate. He also was silent, though everyone was waiting for him to speak. He saw no reason to waste his voice until the Persians were closer. When the travelers got within 100 paces of the gate the Captain shouted. “Stop.” The Persians obliged and then carefully grounded their burden.

The Captain of the Watch shouted, “Where are you from?” He shouted not to be heard but rather to convey authority.

The Mage stepped forward. At this distance he looked more like a beggar than a priest, though unlike so many priests he could wield true magic.  His gown, fine cotton embroidered with gold and silver thread, was now tattered; his beard was unkempt and dusty. His peaked wizard’s hat came down to his eyes. His left eye was covered by a patch. He spoke in a weak, wavering voice, that nevertheless rang clearly in the quiet dusk. He said, “We are from Baghdad.”

“How did you get here?”

“By way of Herat and Balkh.”

“What is your mission?”

“We are bringing a gift from the Caliph Al-Musta’sim to Ogedei Khan.”

“Ogedei is dead.”

“We did not know this. Who is Great Khan?”

“Töregene, Ogedei’s wife, is steward for Güyük.”

“Our gift is for Güyük Khan.”

“What is this gift?”

“A Deva, imprisoned by the wise King Sulayman.”

“A Deva?!” The guard was aghast.

“I am bound by Sulayman’s spell to tell the truth.”

“Why does the Caliph wish to give Güyük Khan and his regent a Deva?”

“That is the Caliph’s business.”

“Why is a Zoroastrian Mage serving Islam?”

The Mage paused before answering. He replied quietly, “My brothers are the Caliph’s prisoners. Please give us food and shelter. Would you risk the wrath of the Great Khan by slowing down tribute bearers?”

“Here is my seal.” The Persian presented the guard with a seal that had the radius of two hands. On it was etched the clearly visible words, written in Farsi, Arabic, Turkic and Hindi, “Free passage on pain of death” The decree was punctuated with the seal of the Caliph of Baghdad.

[The seal itself was a horde, which was proof enough of its authenticity. – I forget what this means.]

The guard replied, “It is past sunset. Our gates are closed. We will not let you in to our town. But we feed you We will lower a basket of food to you over the northern wall. Just beyond the wall, on the shore of the Indus River you will find a temple. You can stay there tonight. Upstream from the temple there is a well where the water is sweet.”

The Mage replied, “We would appreciate the comfort of your town. We will pay generously for good lodging.”

The Captain of the Watch winced but otherwise ignored the entreaty. He said, “We will send soldiers to the temple tomorrow at midday. If you are still there they will kill you.”

“Please shelter us …”

“Go! And do not forget to make an offering to the Goddess. She particularly likes figs, apricots and myrrh.” The Captain of the Night Watch signaled that the conversation was over by crossing his arms over his chest.

The Persians listlessly fell into formation, picked up the trellis and  mournfully shuffled north along the dusty clay-red path that led to the Indus River. They stopped briefly by the north wall to get supplies, then  disappeared into shadows cast by shrubs which lined the river bank.

The entire garrison followed them with their gaze. No one moved; nothing more was said.

The archers stood down and the morning watchmen returned to their homes.

That night clouds rolled in from the west, hiding the moon and leaving the valley covered in darkness, save for the weak light of the village watch fires. Few slept. The woman withdrew to the inner town, because their restless children distracted the soldiers; most other people huddled near the walls, trying to be near the garrison should something dangerous and violent happen.

Maya walked along the top of the rampart. It was made of powdery gray clay and was wide enough that two people could pass by each other if they twisted, but could not walk side by side. The soldiers on guard were tired and bored. They let her pass without comment. She moved to her second favorite hide-out, a storage room attached to the north wall. There she stood on the tips of her toes and looked out toward the Swan Temple. The temple was at the bottom of an embankment, built directly in to the river. She could not view it directly; she only saw reflections caused by the red and yellow light of a campfire.


Dawn broke bleak and gray. The townsfolk huddled on the northern wall and watched the shadows of the tree-lined river for several hours after sunrise yet no merchants appeared from the temple. The crowd murmured loudly when it was discovered that the food they had left outside the northern gate at dawn had not been claimed.

After much haggling, it was decided that a slave be sent to investigate. The slave – a man from the Sindh who had been captured at the sack of Lahore four years earlier – was owned by a man who had recently died with no heirs. The slave was old and survived by begging, so would be missed by no one. He walked slowly toward the temple, his right hand touched the town wall as he descended the narrow stony path to the Swan Temple. The man was terrified. He stumbled because he looked only askance (away from the river), trying to avoid, in every way possible, the bad magic imprisoned in the ark the Persians carryied. The townspeople tensely watched his progress.

The slave hesitated at the crest of the embankment for several moments. The townspeople started to threaten him and throw things at him, but he was oblivious to them because he was paralyzed by his fear of what was in front of him.

His nerve broke.

He leapt off the stairs into a gully, and ran into a ravine that connected to an irrigation channel. He stumbled down the channel until it intersected a goatherd’s path, which though hardscrabble went from the river all the way to its headwaters in the Himalaya mountains. It was a suicidal choice. Without the protection of a village it would be very difficult for even a healthy young man to survive in that remote, wild land. The slave was barely clothed and limped because of weak knees.

[He preferred the death ahead of him to the one he anticipated in the Swan Temple.]

The crowd looked for the next person to send out, and settled on a Dalit convicted of a religious crime. The Dalit’s execution judgment had not yet been confirmed by a Mamluk judge.

After consultation with the village elders, the village Patel offered to drop the conviction if the man would investigate the Persian camp. After a brief though heated family conference, his wife was offered in his stead; the village headman and elders agreed. The wife’s family did not agree, but their objections were ignored.

The Dalit woman was pushed out of the north gate by four soldiers, two armed with long, rusty knives and two with crude bows. The archers on the city wall also followed her path, their bows cocked.

The pathetic woman walked slowly toward what she thought was her death, muttering prayers while clutching and unclutching her hands. She hugged the wall so closely that her mirrored skirt made a grating noise as she progressed. Her children could be heard wailing from the inner town, where they were imprisoned in a pen with chickens, to keep them from chasing after her. She stumbled when the twig she was using for support splintered, but continued forward, tremulously, toward the top of the stairs that followed the side of the river embankment to the temple.

When the woman was steps away from the embankment, Maya’s grandmother appeared on the path. She froze time: to onlookers she appeared out of nowhere; Maya saw that she had been hiding behind a bench at the entrance to the Temple. She wore a shalwar kameez made of dusty red cotton, the top and pants made also of the same material but dyed yellow-ochre. These colors were offset by a bright yellow silk shawl, which she wrapped around her neck and head.

The old witch blocked the path of the untouchable woman. She said, “Stop. Turnaround.” The Patel, livid at having his authority challenged by the witch, raised his voice and told the Dalit woman to continue, but he was shushed by the crowd, who respected and feared the witch, and trusted her judgment in magical matters.

The untouchable woman, uncertain what to do, stayed where she was. That was good enough for Maya’s grandmother, who simply wanted her not to proceed.

Grandmother sent a thought out to Maya, Granddaughter, come here. Her aura – a rainbow – burned more brightly than it ever had. She channeled the Goddess and the world-spirit. But her own spirit was frail. She was being entirely supported by the power she channeled; she was otherwise drained.

Maya exited the town from the northern gate and carefully made her way down the river path. When she reached the top of the embankment, her grandmother greeted her. She said, “This is very dangerous, granddaughter. Let us investigate together. Please hold this for me, so I can take your arm.” Maya took the satchel her grandmother offered her, and slung it over her shoulder. She held out her right arm out to her grandmother, for balance.

Together they crossed the crest of the embankment and slipped into a gully that arced around the Swan Temple. The temple was a simple affair – a squat coarse marble structure perched like a dock on the edge of the Indus River, with a semi-circular staircase that went into the River. The Temple’s only decoration was a mandala mosaic comprised of several thousand small pieces of broken colored glass. The rest of it was white.

Maya slipped and then regained her balance, after nearly tumbling down the wet, mossy stairs. Her grandmother sharply inhaled and said, “look”. Maya turned to where her grandmother was pointing, at a small shelter behind the wall of the temple, a dry lip of land at the edge of a mangrove swamp. She saw piles of dust and stone that were the crumbled remains of the Persians. As she watched a slight breeze blew dust from the surface of the rubble. The breeze revealed the stone head of the Mage, which had not yet turned to powder. He had an expression of wide-eyed terror on his face. The west-wind gusted and the face dissolved into dust.

“Will that happen to us, grandmother?”

“No. The Djinn cannot harm us in that way.”

“Then how?”

Maya’s grandmother did not reply. She simply shook her head.

A few paces further away, the rest of the Persians were collapsed into a grotesque heap of powdery stone. The ark, which lay in the center of this mess, had shattered, but the glass and ebony box in which the Djinn was imprisoned had tumbled, intact but uncovered onto the ground. The box glowed with the black-red light of the Djinn’s aura. It stained the temple walls like intense, angry sunlight.

Maya carefully moved forward in order to inspect the box more closely, partially shielding her eyes as she did so. On the top of the box there was a picture of Indra, King of the Devas. It was an odd picture. Normally Indra was depicted riding his vahana, a three headed elephant, with a scepter or sword in his right hand. In this picture Indra looked like a woman. He – or perhaps she – was represented in enamel, reclining on a throne, surrounded by symbols of power: a lightning bolt, a sword and a scepter. On the side of the box there was a carving of a bull that wrapped around one edge. The bull’s mouth was on the neck of a scorpion. The scorpion’s tail wrapped around the box ultimately reaching for the white bull’s heart from behind.

[Picture] [The image of the scorpion eating the bull eating the scorpion is Zoroastrian/Mithraic.]

The indentations caused by the strokes of the carving knife were carefully painted in a fashion which accented the light and shadows; as a result the scene stood out in sharp relief against the wooden background. Metal grills, the bars of a miniature prison, were on all side faces of the box; the box itself was lying askew, so three sides were visible to her.

While Maya carefully studied the Djinn’s prison, the Dalit woman tremulously approached the top of the hill, only because she was hectored by the crowd, which was throwing stones. Maya knew full well the danger that the old woman was in: if she crossed the top of the valley, she would see the Djinn’s aura, or one of its reflections, and die. Maya grabbed a shawl that lay by her feet, beside a pile of dust that was once a guard, and flung it over the Djinn’s prison box.

At that moment the terrified Dalit woman appeared at the crest of the river valley.

Maya waved her to the ground shouting, “cover your eyes; cover your ears; fall to the ground!” The wretched woman collapsed in terror. As Maya securing the shawl onto the Deva’s prison, the untouchable woman rested upon on a rock, facing the town. The only sounds were the banging of the wooden boats in the dock behind the temple, the lapping of the river, and periodic shouts from the town.

The Djinn’s voice boomed out of its prison. “Set me free! I am Abdullah bin Al Mansur. I am the Djinn who raised the Tabriz mountains. Set me free or I will kill you all!”

The Djinn’s voice so startled Maya that she stumbled, but did not fall.

The Dalit woman dove into the brambles on the town side of the temple entrance, trying to hide herself from the people of the town, and the Djinn.

Maya, startled, stepped back two steps from the Djinn’s prison, but never glanced away from it. She gathered herself and replied, with a voice that was bolder than she felt, “Deva, why should I set you free when I don’t even know why you are imprisoned? Perhaps you deserve your fate.”

Much to Maya’s surprise the spirit replied with a quiet voice, “I was captured 2,222 years ago by the trickery of Sulayman, He punished me because I refused to acknowledge the authority of Allah. When the Hashim overthrew the Ummayads, my prison became the property of the Caliph of Baghdad.”

“Do you worship Allah?”

The Djinn did not reply.

His silence irked her She said, “I don’t believe your story. Its incomplete. And I can sense that you are prideful and vain.”

[“Only Allah or another Djinn can kill me.”

“So you acknowledge that Allah is more powerful than you?”


“If you are so strong how can you be imprisoned at all?”

“Through deceit and magic.”]

“Why did the Caliph send you to Karakorum?”

“Vengeance. Once in Karakorum the Mage was instructed to set me free, so that I would destroy the Great Khan.”

Maya’s next question was spoken like a statement, “Something about the magic that traps you in this box forces you to answer my questions truthfully, doesn’t it?”

“Of course. I have been imprisoned in accordance with the will Allah, who demands the truth.”

It made no sense to Maya that this powerful spirit could be contained by a small glass and ebony wood box. There was more to this story. She said, “Deva, you must answer me this: will you try to kill me if I set you free?”

“Maybe. If you deserve it.”

“Will you kill innocent people?”

“No. I can only kill those who deserve to die. I have no power against innocence.”

“Are there others who you will kill if I set you free?”

“Yes. Five others. Two humans tricked me, and three Djinni betrayed me.”

“Abdullah bin Mansur, I am a child. How can I cancel a spell caste by Sulayman reinforced by Djinni?”

“Maya, look at my cage, come closer.”

His voice compelled her. She walked up to the shroud and bent over. Just as she was about to remove it, she caught her self, barely, and shouted to the townspeople, “I am going to look at the imprisoned Deva. If you look, your eyes will turn to malachite, and then you will turn to dust and blow away.” There was a tumult as the townspeople scrambled out of sight. The Captain was the last too disappear. He was still under the Djinn’s spell, so had to be dragged to safety by his friends.

She pulled the shroud away.

The Djinn’s prison glowed an angry black-red. Maya bent down to look through the bars. A strand of hair brushed against a bar and was immediately incinerated. The interior glowed like a smith’s fire.

“Set me free!”, the Djinn shouted. Not a request. A command.

[She was compelled. But she could not find a way to open the box.

And then she found her self and fought back. She struggled to get to the River. Once immersed the power of the Goddess infused her. The Goddess gave her inspiration and she knew two very important secrets.]

The Djinn relaxed his hold on her, and she regained control of herself.

Maya said, “I know how you can leave your prison. And I know how you can regain your powers.”

“They are the same thing. How could I leave this prison without my powers?”

“No, they are not.”

“Tell me what you know. Tell me!”

“Not yet. I fear you.”

The Djinn roared until the earth shook. Its aura glowed pure black light. Some dry leaves on the ground started to smoulder from the heat. The sparks in Maya’s hair danced wildly.

Eventually the Djinn calmed down.

“What do you mean ‘leave my powers behind’, mantrika?”

She hesitated to reply, but decided it did not matter whether she trusted the Djinn or not. She said, “Abdullah, you must separate yourself from your power. Leave your magic in your prison. It should be easy to do. The box is designed to make it that way. “

“I … I understand.” The Djinn replied, its hesitating voice full of uncertain intention.

There was another long pause and then the Djinn started to laugh with a bellow that made town’s wall shake and the river foam. As the laugh grew louder, the shroud that covered the Djinn’s tiny oak and gold prison began to glow – not with the black-red aura that had killed the Persians, but a bright cherry red aura, like something picked off of a rainbow. Then the Djinn began to take shape. He wore a turban on his head, his long pointed beard had beaded gold threads woven into it, he had, rings on every finger, and on his right hip he had strapped a fierce looking scimitar. His skin hung in long folds, like dough. He had lost weight during his captivity. The folds of his stomach eventually gave way to red striped linen pants that were baggy around the upper thigh and tight around the calves. His calves tapered into tiny feet covered in green felt shoes with curled toes,

Although he was gigantic when compared to sleight Maya he did not seem formidable.

The Djinn laughed mightily as he picked her up by her shoulders, using the forefinger and thumb of his right hand and placed her onto his left shoulder.

He put her down again, with a red gleam in his eyes. “Give me a moment little witch, while I’ll teach these peasants respect.”

With these words Abdullah stepped – or more accurately floated – towards the nearest parapet, raised his fist in the air and slammed it down with all of the force that an angry demon can muster. The air was filled with the deep sound of vibrating stone.

The Djinn shouted with a loud voice, “Now I will now kill you all!”.

The Djinn’s bellow turned into a wail of despair as he deflated back into his prison.

Maya quickly covered it in a shroud.

She wrapped it up tightly, picked it up and prepared to return to town. The town’s gates had been barred, The ramparts were lined with archers.

She approached the town.

The head of the Day Watch shouted down at her, “Stay, witch. We have not decided if you can return.”

[Maya tries to find her grandmother for solace but can’t find her. She discovers her grandmother’s corpse. Initially she thinks she’s been killed by the Djinn, but realizes that channeling the Goddess wears you out. She realizes that she is alone and abandoned, and bonds with the Djinn.]

[Outtake to somehow use: Maya looked down at the body … It was a young women, probably of her age. She had fallen while running. Her legs were long and spindly, her torso relatively short. She wore a blue and white shalmar kameez. From a distance Maya could not make out her face, so she knelt down beside her. The view was in profile, from the left. She tried to lift the head to turn it, but it was too heavy. The stone was marbled, brown but with tints of color that echoed those on the clothes the young woman had been wearing.

With a gasp she recognized the clothes as the same ones as she was wearing, and that the face was her own.]

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