Faruq started to shake, fighting to remember what he'd just read not a minute ago. He wondered if his forgetfulness was the work of the Djinni thrashing above him.
"Get on with it," said the wish scribe, impatience deepening his sandy voice. Faruq closed his eyes, but that only heightened the poke of the machete digging into the middle of his back. Then, like a jumping ember, he had an idea. What was to stop him from wishing to be King? Once the wish was granted the guardsmen, even the wish scribes, would be under his command. Just five simple words would be all it took. I wish to be King. Faruq thought a moment. With my own palace and menagerie. He snapped his eyes open.
"I wish..." he whispered, and as he spoke the words came flooding from him.
"I wish for my family and those of my bloodline to never again have any form of suffering, and live only in happiness the rest of their days."
Instantly Si'lat ceased her writhing. She placed her golden palms flat against the glass and fixed Faruq with her lit-coal eyes so that he became transfixed with fear, and in a voice like air and moonlight she spoke one word.
A second passed with the Djinni's stare penetrating the boy to his insides, another second gone, and then she took up her flailing again, bumping and squeaking inside her glass prison. Faruq let out his breath. That wasn't what he'd meant to say!
Slowly, he turned to face the wish scribe, who took one look at Faruq's astonished face and let his lips curl up into a knowing smile under his mask. He turned his gaze to the Djinni.
"See how the madness leaves her when granting a wish? It's in the very nature of the Djinn to serve man, truly."
"Is...is it done?" asked Faruq, his voice shaky.
"Just as she has spoken. Come, my boy, it is time for you to leave. Go home and, perhaps, live a life free of suffering. I will give you an escort." He gestured to one of the guardsman, the same one who'd led him inside, and the man stepped forward, scowling. Panic seized Faruq. There would surely be questions if he turned up at home with a royal guardsman on his tail.
"That's all right, I can get back on my own," he said. "I know the way very well."
"Oh no, my young friend. I insist. And from now on we'll be monitoring you and your family very closely. We must know if the wish was a success after all."
He smiled and Faruq suspected it should have been sympathetic, but he'd seen starving stray dogs fighting over scraps of meat who managed to look more sympathetic than that.
"The man who commissioned it is sick and dying, you see," the wish scribe continued. "So we don't have much time." He clapped Faruq on the back, so hard the boy winced at the sting of it. "Let us go!"
* * *
All the way back Faruq relived the bite of the wish scribe's slap, and as he labored under the hot sun, sweat running into his eyes and down his back Faruq fought tears. This was suffering! It was clear the wish had not worked in the way intended, and he had no idea what trickery the Djinni had employed. He found himself dwelling on the story of the widow and her three dead children, cursing himself for his lack of consideration for how the wishtesting could affect his family if something went wrong. The finery of the palace and the success of old Ayman could no longer eclipse his fear, and he wrung his hands and worried at his lower lip the whole way through the market, hurriedly leading the guardsman.
Even at his quick pace it took almost an hour to reach the southern end of the market. His home was a mere ten minutes away when a high, female shriek cut through the air, followed by male shouting. A man and a woman ran up to them, jingling with wealth. The man's eyes flashed and his face was almost as red as his fine outer cloak, and kohl ran in wet black trails down the woman's cheeks. Faruq's eyebrows rose, he was surprised at seeing such a fancy couple in his part of town.
"You must help us," ordered the man. "That scoundrel has stolen my wife's purse! Let us go after him and get it back!" He emphasized the last three words by jabbing his finger in the direction of a shabby figure darting away into the emptying market.
"I'm sorry, I can't help you—" the guardsman began, but the woman cut him off.
"You must!" she cried. "He's getting away! Help us or the King will hear of this!"
The young guardsman hesitated a moment, and then rounded on Faruq. "You stay here," he said before running off after the couple. And for one full minute, Faruq did stay. Pure indecision held him as surely as if his legs grew straight from the dusty earth. But at last, with a jerking motion like he was tearing his feet from the ground, he bolted off in the direction of home.
YOU ARE READING
Wishtesters are the lowest of the low, the most pitiful beggars and crooks living on the fringes of society. And Faruq is itching to become one. Asking a wish of the Djinn, powerful beings who can grant almost anything the heart desires, is a privil...