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.
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?”
“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.]
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.”
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.]