by Laura VanArendonk Baugh

The blind man rocked on his rough mat, wailing a call for mercy and reaching palms up in supplication to the souk traffic moving about him. His clothing was dirty and stained but still showed its once-fine quality. The holes where his eyes had been were raw and crusted, and flies buzzed about his face.

Zammurad stared at him, throat choked shut, hot tears burning his eyes. A man passed and tossed a copper coin between the beggar’s legs. The blind man groped for it, calling gratitude and blessing.

“Is that the man?” said someone behind Zammurad.

“It is,” came an answer.

A baker tossed the blackened end of a burned loaf at the blind man, who fumbled for the bread and then raised it to his mouth with a pathetic eagerness. Zammurad caught a little sob in his throat.

“What’s that you’re saying? Who is he?”

“Have you cotton in your ears and wool between them? That’s az-Zaghal, of course, he who was king of Al-Andalus. Our sultan served him well for his dishonor.”

“And he deserves no better,” spat a fourth man. He threw something to the beggar, who grasped anxiously against the mat until his fingers wrapped around the half-dried manure.

They laughed, and someone else threw more manure, this time striking the beggar directly. Another moved closer and spat at him. The blind man cowered and shrank back, anticipating blows, but there was nowhere to retreat.

Zammurad moved before he could think, stepping between the jeering men and their prey. He held up one hand, halting them, and spread his fingers slightly to remind them of the faith’s Five Pillars—including alms to the needy.

He dared not speak, lest az-Zaghal recognize his voice. But the gesture was enough, and the men hesitated. One looked ashamed, another angry; two more turned away unabashed but irritated at the disruption.

The beggar peered upward as if he still might see. Zammurad looked into the destroyed face, and he put a half dozen coins into one dung-stained hand.

The blind man’s sockets gaped upward. “Who are you?” he asked in a voice cracked with screaming.

Zammurad pressed the powerful fingers about the coins. They should have held a sword.

Az-Zaghal’s throat worked. “Zammurad?” he whispered.

Zammurad jerked backward, looking over his shoulder to see if anyone had heard. A man with a dark turban and a long scar along his nose was watching them, but he said nothing.

“Allāhu akbar, Allāhu akbar…”

The muezzin’s call to prayer sang out over the souk. Zammurad turned to the east as the marketplace’s traffic and barter shifted.

“Ash-hadu an-lā ilāha illā allāh.”

Across the market, shopkeepers draped sheets over their displayed wares and shoppers spread mats in rows, making preparations for the iqama. A few hurried to make ablutions. Even the beggar turned and rose, shuffling his rough mat to the east as if it were a fine prayer rug.

“Lā ilāha illā-Allāh.”

Zammurad could not pray here, still afraid that az-Zaghal might hear his voice, afraid that God might not.

As the faithful waited to begin prayers, matching links in a chain forged unbreakable by unity of purpose and faith, Zammurad pushed away from the beggar and rubbed his wrist across his tears. Others would not mind his departure, thinking him going to a small congregation nearby. He did not look back.

It had been foolish to come to the souk, to see for himself. Capture meant torture or a fate worse than his master’s. He clung to the hope that the sultan had more to occupy his mind than a single missing slave, and it might be that no one even knew to seek him. After all, az-Zaghal had sold the territories given him by Fernando and Isabel in Al-Andalus, and who knew which of his slaves had come away with him?

Yet if the sultan’s men knew what Zammurad carried, they would pursue him to the ends of the earth.


It was foolish to flee into the land the Christians were retaking, but more foolish yet to stay, and Zammurad had nowhere else to go. He had seen the man with the dark turban twice more, on the outskirts of the souk and then again on the dock where he bartered passage across the straits toward Jabal Tāriq.

The crossing was strangely smooth, and Zammurad kept to himself. Like many, he remained on deck when night fell, as the moderate temperature and breeze were more comfortable than the cramped, stuffy space below. But in the darkest hours, when all but the watch were sleeping, he descended, feeling his way along the black and narrow passage. When he was well away from passengers and crew he paused and withdrew the firesteel he had borrowed from a distracted sailor lighting the big lanterns above. Almost he hoped the sparks would fail, so he would have to return to the deck to sleep and not know—but after a minute or two of striking he managed to catch the charcloth, and he carefully transferred the fledgling flame to the ship’s lamp he had hidden and carried.

Az-Zaghal had been a private man, sometimes dismissing his slaves from his presence when others might have kept them for errands or status. Trusted Zammurad had remained longer and more frequently, but even he was sent away when his master wished to read or think. He had thought nothing of it—all great men need time to their own thoughts—until one night he had passed his master’s room on a late task and had seen az-Zaghal speaking with a shadowy figure, about the height of a child but with the voice of a man.

Zammurad pulled at his shirt and drew out a copper medallion, warm with the heat of his chest. He slipped the cord over his head and looked down at the medallion, his fingers curling back from the metal. It had been molten copper used to blind his master.

When they had come for him, az-Zaghal had placed this medallion into Zammurad’s hand. “You must keep this safe. If I survive, I will find a way, but if—”

And then the doors had opened, and az-Zaghal had shoved Zammurad out the screened window, and he tumbled to the street below somehow without breaking his limbs. That was the last Zammurad had seen of his master until the souk.

The medallion’s relief showed six lamps arranged in a row, reminiscent of the Jews’ menorah. Tiny flames rose from the mouth of each.

Zammurad seated himself cross-legged in a corner and placed the copper medallion before him. He cleared his throat, a small procrastination, and then spoke. “Come out, then.”

For a moment he thought he’d been wrong, and he felt stupid and relieved.

But then the air above the medallion shimmered and coalesced into the figure of a man, or part of one. The head and bare chest were clearly visible, though only the length of Zammurad’s forearm and hand, while the lower torso faded into mere air. The torso swayed and writhed, its movement somewhere between serpent and smoke, and the eyes fixed on Zammurad. “Good evening.”

The voice was solid, not like a ghost’s might be. He spoke deliberately and with a flavor of other tongues, seeming almost to taste and savor the consonants.

Zammurad licked his lips. “What are you?”

The face was all high forehead and high cheekbones and smooth, sloping cheeks to a jutting chin trimmed with beard, clean and handsome. The lean cheeks drew upward in a smile. “Oh, you were clever enough to know I am here. Surely you are clever enough to know what I am.”

A faint warmth eased over Zammurad’s face and arms, as if from a brazier, but the lamp sat at his side. Zammurad swallowed.

“Come, I shall help you,” prompted the figure. “The angels were made of pure and holy light. Men were made of clay.”

“You were made of the smokeless fire,” said Zammurad. “You are djinn.”

The thin lips drew back again in a smile. “You are correct.”

“And you are bound to this medallion.”

The smile wavered. “Many of my brothers were bound with me in service by Sulayman, the wisest of kings. And now my service has come down to you.” He made a gracious sweeping gesture.

“You served my master?”

“Az-Zaghal, the Valiant. Yes, I served him.”

“Why did he never mention you?”

The djinn’s eyebrows rose. “Is such a great man obligated to share his secrets with slaves?”

“But how did he come to such an end?” Zammurad’s throat tightened and he fought tears. “If he had a djinn—”

The djinn looked solemnly at him. “I am but a slave. I may advise, and I may act when ordered, but I cannot save a man from his own choices.”

Zammurad swallowed against the pressure in his throat. “He should never have left Al-Andalus.”

The djinn nodded once, an acknowledgment of Zammurad’s words without overt agreement to their disloyal criticism.

“But now—” Zammurad looked at the djinn—“now you serve me?”

“I am anxious to obey, master.”

Zammurad thought of his master, once sitting in the near-dark and speaking with the djinn, now seated in eternal dark and begging passers-by for bread. “The Christians say Satan is a fallen angel—but the Muslims say Shaytan is a djinn.”

“And would you have all your race judged by the actions of Cain?” The djinn rolled his shoulders with exaggerated dismissal. “We have free will, as do you. We all choose our own paths.”

Zammurad accepted this rebuke. “I’m sorry if I gave offense. I only think of my unfortunate master.”

The djinn regarded him coolly. “You are a loyal slave.” There was a faint note of disapproval.

“A slave should be attentive and obedient to his master as to a father,” Zammurad said. “My fate was not nearly that of some of my comrades, and az-Zaghal could be kind.”

“You are a slave, and you must long to be free and powerful.” The djinn’s eyes gleamed in the faint light. “You have but to ask.”

For a moment Zammurad wanted to say the words, wanted to believe the djinn could do what he suggested. But hope was a stunted weed long choked by drought, and instead he challenged, “Why not free yourself then?”

The djinn shook his head. “That, alas, is not within my power. I was bound by Sulayman to learn humility and mercy, and so I shall remain until I have earned my freedom.” He raised his palms toward Zammurad, almost as az-Zaghal had done. “Won’t you allow me to help you, and so help myself?”

But the memory of his master as a blind beggar made Zammurad’s stomach twist, and he turned his face away. “Perhaps,” he said. “Later. Soon.” He changed the course of conversation. “What are you called?”

The djinn’s face hardened. “You think I would give you such power?”

Dimly Zammurad remembered tales of magicians using names and essences to bind djinn. This djinn might be his slave, but he was not a willing one. “It was a practical question.”

“But the name az-Zaghal called you is not your own.”

“Of course not; I was given a slave name like everyone else.”

“And so, names are power.” The djinn nodded. “Do you require anything of me now, master?”

The ship creaked and rolled, and a crewman called to someone at the change of the watch. Zammurad shook his head. It was too close here, too crowded, and he dared not risk discovery. “Later. We’ll talk later. It isn’t safe here.”

“But master, that is what I am for.” The djinn tipped his head. “Allow me to help.”

Zammurad shook his head. “Later. For now, conceal yourself.”

The djinn faded, and Zammurad put out the light.


Granada was a jewel, the last remaining Muslim stronghold of the European caliphate. Zammurad knew it well, but he did not make his way there. He was a runaway slave, and capture among the Muslims would mean torture and resale. If he went to Christian territory, however, an escaped slave returning to the land of his youth, he would be aided, or at least not persecuted. And the sultan’s men would be slower to find him there.

The scarred man in the dark turban had been on the docks when Zammurad had disembarked, lounging and watching over pieces of fish fried in oil. He must have taken another ship as soon as he learned Zammurad was sailing north from Morocco. And there might be others not yet seen or noticed.

Did they know about the medallion?

Flight was important, but so were food and refuge. He found a broad Mudajjan overseeing slaves and laborers moving cargo. “Pardon me. Could you use an extra set of shoulders?”

The big man studied him, frowning at Zammurad’s lean build. “What’s your name?”

To answer would be to admit he was a fleeing slave—Zammurad meant emerald, and slaves were usually named for objects—and so he stumbled. “Ah, Taleb. My name is Taleb.”

“Well, Taleb, give me a full day’s work and I’ll give you two meals and a place to sleep, and the same opportunity again in the morning if you want it.”

The work was heavy and hard: barrels of salted fish, jars of oil, fleece and woolen cloth from the plains farther north. Zammurad had tended to household needs and the heavy labor was more than he was accustomed to, but the thought of a hot filling meal kept his legs moving.

It was late afternoon when he noticed the scarred man leaning against a barrel and eating an orange, casually tossing the rind into the sea. The man’s eyes followed Zammurad as he struggled with a load of salt cod.

The Mudajjan beckoned them in at last, and Zammurad took his place in line with the slaves to shuffle toward the steaming bowls of gachas. His arms and legs trembled as he stood, and he wanted only to drop to the ground with his bowl and then curl into sleep.

“Here, you.” The Mudajjan gestured at him. “They’re nearly out of oil. Bring another jar to the rear door for the morning.”

“But I—”

“Your supper will be here when it’s done. Go on, you promised me a full day’s work, and don’t think I didn’t notice you were slower than the others. Short me, and I’ll short you.”

Zammurad’s heart sank, but he nodded once and started toward the warehouse.

The thigh-high jar of olive oil wouldn’t have challenged him that morning, but there was little strength left in him, and his arms shook as he tried to grasp it. It slid from his grip and tumbled across the floor, spinning slowly. He rested his hands against his knees, panting hard, and the copper medallion swung forward out of his shirt.

For a long moment he stared at it. If tales were true—if he had only to ask, and he might have riches and servants of his own and an endless banquet and guards to keep the sultan’s men from his walls…

At first, he hardly realized that the voice was not only in his mind. “You seem to be in some difficulty, master. May I be of aid?”

He blinked and saw the djinn’s head and torso floating before him, eyes full of concern. Zammurad panted and nodded. “I need to move this, and it’s beyond me.”

“But of course! That is simple!” The djinn brought his hands together in a gesture of joy or efficiency. “What shall I move, and to where?”

Zammurad straightened. “Carry this olive oil to the rear door of the kitchen.”

“Consider it already done, master.”

Zammurad had just sat down, cradling his bowl of gachas, when a startled cry pulled all eyes to the rear of the building. There was an exchange of shouting and then the Mudajjan burst upon them, scanning the worried slaves and then seizing upon Zammurad. “You!” He jerked him to his feet by a handful of clothing. “What have you done, you thrice-cursed idiot?”

“What do you mean?”

For answer, the Mudajjan dragged him to the rear door and flung him down in a deep puddle of olive oil. It rippled about him, and three street dogs jerked back from where they’d been eagerly lapping at the unexpected bounty.

“What is this?” demanded the Mudajjan. “What have you done?”

Zammurad pushed himself up, looking at the oil spreading about the door and easing down the narrow street. There was so much of it—an entire jar of oil, at least. And yet there was no jar to be seen.

“Answer me, you dog!” The Mudajjan snatched up Zammurad again and struck him hard in the face. “What else have you ruined and stolen?”

“Nothing, I swear it!” Zammurad ducked to protect his face and vitals.

But the Mudajjan hesitated, his fist raised but not descending. “Curse it, I told the imam I would be a better man.” He pulled Zammurad close. “But do you know—”

Zammurad twisted and the Mudajjan’s grasp slipped on his oily skin. He turned to run, stumbling and reaching for support.

The Mudajjan lunged after him and slipped in the oil, grabbing at the door frame and the light beside it. It fell with him, landing in the puddle. He yelped and kicked at the lamp, pushing it away. Olive oil was slow to burn, but there was no point to taking chances.

Zammurad ran. His oil-slicked feet went out from beneath him at the corner and he fell into the wall, blurring his vision with the impact and tearing his grasping fingers as he slid to the ground. He did not wait to clear his eyes but scrabbled up, fearing the angry voice shouting after him.

Zammurad raced through a dozen turns, pushing past merchants returning home or laborers meeting with friends, and finally slowed to rest against a wall. “What did you do?” he panted. He felt for the medallion against his chest. “What did you do?”

Only the djinn’s voice answered. “I hardly think that most urgent at this moment, master.”

Zammurad looked up and saw the man in the dark turban advancing down the street, his eyes fixed on Zammurad. Panic took him and he pushed away from the wall, running down a narrow alley behind him.

The alley ran into a maze of narrow winding passages. High walls leaned over him, doors and windows closed for the coming night. Blood ran into one eye and his breath wheezed in his chest, and yet he could hear the man behind him, slapping the walls as he sprinted the tight turns. He was losing his lead.

A light caught his eye, burning behind a window not entirely shut. With a desperate last effort of strength Zammurad leapt and pulled himself through it, falling ungracefully to the floor and crashing into a chair.

For a moment he could not move, and he heard only the frantic sobbing of his own breath. Then he became aware of a young woman staring at him, eyes wide, mouth half open in a scream which hadn’t quite escaped.

Zammurad shoved against the floor, trying to push himself backward. “Please,” he tried, but the word was hardly audible to his own ears. “Please…”

And then the window was filled with the figure of the man in the dark turban, and now she screamed.

Voices rose from the rooms around them, and Zammurad jerked his eyes about in search of escape. But there was only the door, where he could already hear footsteps, and the window, full of his pursuer. The scarred man jumped forward into the room, and the woman screamed again as the door burst open. Shouts came from all sides and a table was turned over, and heavy cloth fell over Zammurad.

He heard the scarred man curse and retreat toward the window, and someone called orders to pursue. A male voice demanded if the girl were unharmed, and the room quieted as the others went out the window or door after the scarred man.

“I’m only glad you were unhurt,” said the male voice. “I’ll have someone to strengthen these window locks.”

“Father,” said the girl, and she drew away the cloth that shielded Zammurad.

Zammurad stared up at them, words caught in his throat, and did not move. What could be said?

“He came in first,” she said, “and the other followed. But I think he was trying only to hide.”

“I see,” said the older man. “Another injured pigeon, my girl?” He wore fine clothing which fit well on his plump frame, and his hair was speckled grey and some darker color. A banker or usurer, Zammurad thought, and thus Jewish.

“I’m sorry,” Zammurad managed. The castellano language felt stiff and disused on his tongue. “I didn’t mean—I didn’t know anyone was—I only wanted to get away.”

“I can see that,” the man said. “No thief would break into a house while leaving his own blood trail.” He sat on a chair and curled his fingers at Zammurad. “Stand and let me see you.”

Zammurad obeyed. He hoped his loose hose might conceal his legs’ trembling.

The banker frowned. “Are you fleeing your master?”

“No! That is, I was a slave, but no longer…” He stopped, uncertain of his explanation and struggling with the long disused language.

“What is your name?”


“And that fellow whom my servants are driving off?”

Zammurad exhaled and tried to speak firmly, credibly. “I don’t know him. I think he may believe I stole something of value from my former master, which he can steal in turn. I did not.”

“The way is hard enough for a freed slave without pursuit.” The banker seemed to consider. “I am Ysach Rodrich, and you will find food and shelter here tonight. My daughter Mirien will show you to our kitchen, when the Shabbat has ended, and give orders that you be fed.” He raised an eyebrow at the sweat, blood, and oil. “And cleaned.”

“Thank you, good sir,” breathed Zammurad. “Thank you.” He nodded gratefully to father and daughter, and he backed away so they could lead the way to the door.

“Wait.” Ysach held up a hand. “It is bein hashmashot, the time of twilight. Our holy day is not yet finished.”

Zammurad hesitated and glanced at the window. The Jewish day, like that of his Muslim masters, turned at sunset.

Ysach saw his confusion. “The day begins when the sun sets, but dark begins when three stars can be seen. To honor that which is holy, we begin at the first of twilight and continue until its last.”

Zammurad nodded. “I am sorry, and thank you for explaining. I will wait.”


Zammurad’s growling stomach was placated with leftover d’fina, meat and vegetables and spices and barley and whole eggs cooked overnight to avoid violating the Shabbat prohibitions on work. Mirien ordered the servants to find a place for him to sleep, and they obliged with a thin mat in a root cellar. It was not the most commodious of rooms, but Zammurad would not have minded sleeping in a stable beside a donkey.

Zammurad leaned against the cellar wall and sank to the floor, exhausted. But there remained one thing before he could sleep. He reached to touch the medallion through his shirt. “Come out.”

The djinn materialized before him, swaying like tethered smoke. “Good evening, master.”

“Don’t play at that,” snapped Zammurad. “What did you do with the olive oil?”

“Why, just as you commanded, master. You told me to bring the oil to the door.”

“You dumped it everywhere!”

The djinn’s eyes widened. “Did you wish me to bring the jar as well, master? You said nothing of it, and so I obeyed.”

Zammurad stared at him. “You… you twisted my words.”

A smile. “I did only just as commanded, master. You said to bring the oil, and I did exactly as you wished.”

Cold horror congealed inside Zammurad’s stomach. “And my master, az-Zaghal—did you do exactly as he wished?”

“Of course, master. A slave cannot do otherwise.” It was a cat’s smile now, cool and pleased.

“And… and what did my master wish?”

“He wanted to leave Al-Andalus, the land he had loved and lost.” The djinn spread his hands. “He wished to live out his days among the faithful in North Africa.”

And now az-Zaghal stumbled blind through the streets, depending entirely upon the alms of the faithful.

Zammurad licked his lips as he looked at the djinn. “You are evil.”

“Evil? No.” The djinn’s mouth twisted. “I am a slave, and yet I have free will. You are a slave, and you must understand this.”

Zammurad shook his head sharply. “Then I will not use your aid. I will give you no orders at all.”

One corner of the djinn’s mouth drew upward. “As it pleases you, master.”

“And you’ll be bound to the medallion forever! You’ll never earn your freedom!”

The djinn nodded once. “As it pleases you, master. My life, though so much longer, is yet yours to command.”

Zammurad distrusted this quiet acquiescence. “Why don’t you protest? Don’t you want to be free?”

“All slaves yearn to be free, master. But in the meantime, we serve in quiet humility.”

“Enough lies!”

“That is no lie, master. Did you not think of freedom? And are you not in fact something worse than a slave dreaming of freedom? You fled your master who is yet living, who has great need of you, and have come to the land of his enemies.”

“Quiet!” snarled Zammurad. “Answer me plainly—why are you pleased to be left unordered? Tell me, I command you!”

The djinn’s face changed for an instant, lips curling back from pointed teeth and features twisting into an ugly mask. And then it was gone, smoothing again into the smugly humble expression Zammurad was learning to hate. “As you command me, master, I must obey. The spell with which King Sulayman bound me relies upon a master’s orders. If I am not forced to another’s will, the binding weakens.”


“Leave me unordered long enough, master, and I shall be free.”

“But whatever order I give you will be twisted to do harm.”

“Be assured, dear master, I cannot touch you.”

“Not directly, but—you will do harm. This was only spilled oil, but my master…”

The djinn grinned, and at last it was purely wicked, a sadistic toothy slit of glee. “You may choose to order me and bear the guilt of whatever may consequence, or you may do nothing and loose me upon the world.”

Zammurad stared.

“And when I am loosed, I shall visit my rage upon you and all who have been my masters. Sulayman’s Jewish seed, your Christians, the Muslims who enslaved us both—I will wreak my vengeance upon them all.”

Zammurad swallowed hard and tried to steady his voice. “Then I shall speak most carefully. I shall outwit you.”

The grin split wider, and the djinn’s voice purred like deep velvet. “Oh, do try.”

For a long moment there was silence, and Zammurad could hear only the too-fast beat of his own heart. At last he licked his lips and ventured, “I order you to return to the medallion.”

The djinn laughed in open amusement. Slowly, and with a little flourish to demonstrate he was not in the least coerced, he twisted like writhing smoke and vanished.


Trying not to think of the copper medallion about his neck was impossible, like trying not to think of a whip behind one’s back. Ysach Rodrich had kindly found him work and lodging at a merchant friend’s glassblowing shop, performing menial tasks to free up more skilled hands, and Zammurad passed foggily through the days, his hands performing his chores while his mind spun uselessly.

He knew now why az-Zaghal had given him the medallion. The Sultan of Fez could not be granted such power, for he would command great things with great potential to be turned to wrong. Az-Zaghal himself had sought a quiet peace, away from the politics of crumbling Al-Andalus, and it had destroyed him.

Az-Zaghal was a brilliant general, brother to one sultan of Granada, uncle of the next, and a ruler himself during his nephew’s imprisonment, but in the end, they had suffered the fall of Ronda and Almería, Málaga and Baza. How many of his disasters had been wrought by the djinn?

And yet Zammurad’s subverted command had resulted only in spilled oil and a truncated beating. Not insignificant, certainly not to Zammurad, but it was nothing like the horrific fall of Málaga. Was that the way, then? To order the djinn only for small things, so that he could never wreck something substantial?

“Have you seen the sultan’s men?” The djinn’s voice purred as the figure coalesced.

It had grown larger now, no longer the length of his forearm but the height of a boy. Only the upper body was clear, but Zammurad thought he could see more of the torso. He turned his eyes back to his sweeping, staring at bits of shop debris and dust rather than the djinn.

He had noticed only the scarred man in the dark turban, glimpsed occasionally at the end of Ysach Rodrich’s street, but that was enough to alarm him. “Of course.”

The djinn raised one arm to scratch at the back of his neck. “Would you like me to see to them, master?”

“No!” Zammurad’s heart raced. The djinn might remove the sultan’s spy in a bloody and visible way, igniting fresh battle on the frontera, and thousands would die or be enslaved as a result. Zammurad had lived that horror; better to risk only himself.

“As you wish, master. I am happy to wait upon your pleasure. Take your time in thinking of my next charge.” The djinn smiled.

“I order you to remain in the copper medallion,” said Zammurad firmly.

The djinn chuckled. “That’s a make-work answer, not even a purchase of time. You order nothing beyond what I am already bound to do.” He raised an eyebrow, pleased with Zammurad’s dilemma. “You must assign me a task, you must make an effort of bending my will to yours, or it will count as nothing. The spell will weaken, and you will have set me free.”

Zammurad pressed his hand over his eyes as if he could block out the horrible choice. It was easier to think of the sultan’s men. “What do they want? Do they even know of you?”

“They probably asked az-Zaghal,” said the djinn carelessly. “Before they burned out his eyes, they surely questioned him. Perhaps after the first eye, and before the second?”

Zammurad stared at him, sick with horror.

The djinn’s aspect shifted to become a sweating, round-faced man like any other on an Iberian or North African street. His hair was so dark it shone blue-black. “Or it might be that someone reported a rumor to catch their interest, a whisper that the mighty az-Zaghal had a djinn at his command.”

Anger began to supplant Zammurad’s revulsion. “You betrayed him?”

“I served him, fulfilled his desire. Now he will remain where he wished to the end of his days. And so I came to you, master.”

“Murderer!” Zammurad clenched his fists, unable to form words hateful enough. “Demon!”

“What’s that?” Beltrán, journeyman in the shop, looked into the room.

Zammurad shook his head sharply. He did not look at the djinn, just beyond Beltrán’s sight. Beltrán rolled his eyes and returned to his work.

“You are wrong,” said the djinn. “I am no murderer. I cannot harm my master, even if I wish, and I did no harm to az-Zaghal, whom you saw alive.”

“He is blind and beaten and begging, if he yet lives!”

“That is the sultan’s work, not mine. And what should you care for your master’s fate?”

Zammurad looked away and said nothing. He had been twelve when his town had been taken. Muslim law forbade the enslavement of fellow Muslims, and North Africa was always hungry for more servants.

Once legally enslaved, however, it was desirable that slaves convert, and he learned to answer the muezzin’s call. On either side, new slaves protested or knelt obediently or sobbed in reluctant submission, as he stumbled numbly through the unfamiliar prayers. The Virgin Mary cradled her infant son and beamed down upon her adorers, but she had not helped him in his need.

A few days later az-Zaghal had purchased him and given him a new name. His master had been grey-haired but tall and strong, skilled in the arts of war on his fine grey horses. Lonely and afraid and bewildered by a strange language, Zammurad had found he respected and even liked his master.

“He was an honorable man,” he said at last, not caring if the djinn heard.

Even the Reyes Católicos had recognized az-Zaghal’s worth, for when they at last won his surrender, they had granted him territories in Al-Andalus and called him a king.

Zammurad swept more furiously at the floor, working nearer to where Beltrán was wrapping up his work.

You are a slave still, said a voice, and for a moment he thought Beltrán would hear the djinn too. But he gave no sign of it. You are a slave, just like me. Release me—or only ask me to make you great.

He shook his head, trying to clear the voice. This had happened before, and he was disturbed to find the voice growing stronger.

The Muslims said Shaytan and his followers were whisperers, breathing quiet suggestions into the minds of men, so faint they were scarcely heard and hardly believed as they subtly tempted their subjects. Christian teachings suggested something even more insidious, a beautiful angel of light leading men to believe they could be good, or good enough, discarding the forgiveness of God.

If the djinn’s whispering could tempt Zammurad to believe he could make a better wish…

He squeezed his fingers about the broom and bent over it, sweeping dust and sand and bits of glass into neat, ordered piles.


In the evenings, Zammurad spoke and walked with the other laborers of the shop’s street. They knew him as Taleb, probably assuming he was a Christian Arab out of Granada. There were many musta’rab or mozárabes, living as Christians among the Muslims, just as the mudajjan or mudéjar were Muslims living among the Christians. A man with an Arab name who spoke castellano did not excite much curiosity.

He could not use his Christian name. No one had spoken it for years, and all who had were dead or gone into slavery themselves. Speaking that name would be like breaking open a grave.

They were drinking and eating tonight at a public room full of jovial conversation. Zammurad was particularly pleased because in the whole of the day he had not heard the djinn’s voice even once, and his new acquaintances in the glassblowing street had asked him to come along for drinks that night. He wanted to be one of them, wanted so badly to be a part of something normal and warm and friendly, and so God would understand, surely, and forgive.

But then the wine appeared in front of him, dark and gleaming in the lamplight as a roar went up at a political jest. Zammurad looked at it and did not touch it. On either side, grinning faces turned toward him and gradually fell silent. Waiting.

If he pushed away the cup, rejecting the contamination of alcohol, he declared himself Muslim. If he drank, he claimed Christianity. They watched his hesitation to see if he had lied.

As if drinking would be a greater sin than lying. If he pretended to be what he was not, was that not already a defilement greater than any wine could be?

But, staring at the cup, neither in his own village nor in his master’s city, he did not know what he pretended. This was a decision he could not make in a public tavern, surrounded by grinning rowdies.

But he knew well the danger of difference. He tightened his fist in his lap and threw back the wine as if he had never hesitated.

God would understand, God would forgive, when at last he knew how to pray and ask.

A Muslim slave was unaccustomed to alcohol, and as they went home Zammurad concentrated on staying in the center of the winding passage he traveled with Beltrán. They were nearly at the shop when Beltrán leapt backward, tripping with his own indulgence and reaching to the little knife at his belt. “What? Careful, friend. You startled me.”

A round-faced man rubbed sweat from his face, his head bobbing apologetically. “So sorry. So sorry, my friends. Please enjoy your evening.”

Beltrán responded with a typical salutation, but Zammurad only stared after the departing stranger. He had seen the face just once before, but it was enough.

He did not speak again except to wish Beltrán a good night, and then he went out into the tiny alley behind the shop where the other workers who slept there would not hear. He drew out the medallion.

“What was that?” His voice shook just a little, and he knew the djinn would notice, and it made him angry. “What were you doing?”

“Only taking a little air,” said the djinn, spilling out from empty space. “You had no need of me at the time.”

“You’re supposed to be bound to the medallion.”

“You bind me there by bending me to your will.” The djinn showed teeth. “If you do not exercise your duties as my master, I may exercise myself and go out when I please.”

“That’s not right!” snapped Zammurad, “You must—”

The door swung open, and Beltrán looked out. “Is someone here? I thought I heard voices.”

“No!” Zammurad looked where the djinn had been. “No, I was… saying my prayers.”

“Oh?” Beltrán regarded him dubiously. “I’m sorry I disturbed you.”

“I’m coming now,” Zammurad said. The dark seemed too close and thick.


The djinn was the height of a man these days, naked to the waist and wearing a linen kilt, and he was fully manifested all the way to his bare feet. Zammurad did not like to think of what his increased size and cohesion might mean for the fading strength of the binding spell.

But ignorance was dangerous. “How long?” he demanded.

He squatted near the river below the city wall, pretending to fish. A couple of passers-by had waved a greeting, but no one approached, and he could talk freely with the djinn.

The djinn’s mouth twitched but he pretended not to understand. “How long, master?”

“How long before Sulayman’s spell breaks? How long before I must give you a task?”

“Oh, master, would you force me to give you the terms of my captivity?” The djinn feigned a sulk. “But I shall obey. As it happens, the spell will fail the first day of the coming week.”

That did not leave him long to devise a solution.

“I’ll outwit you yet,” Zammurad promised. “I'll phrase my commands so carefully that you cannot twist them to work your harm.”

The djinn laughed, pointed teeth gleaming. “I have wrestled with the mind of Sulayman, renowned wisest of kings. What makes you think an untutored runaway slave may outwit me?”

Zammurad clenched his jaw.

“The rooster struts most bravely and crows loudest before being cut into a stew,” observed the djinn airily.

Zammurad jabbed his fishing stick into the bank. “Prove to me how clever you are,” he challenged. “Let us play a game: I will describe a hypothetical order, and you will tell me how you would circumvent it.”

“Oh, that would be entertaining,” drawled the djinn. “But why joust with straws instead of lances? Why not test your skill in reality?”

“No,” repeated Zammurad firmly. “We will play as a game only.” With his heart pounding he added, “I order it.”

The djinn’s expression flashed demonic, with narrowed eyes and bared fangs, and for a moment Zammurad thought he had pressed too far. But then the face smoothed into its usual handsome planes, and the djinn smiled indulgently. “As you wish, master. But that is a small order, and conversation is a simple task. It does not require much will.”

Zammurad took a steadying breath and smoothed his sweating palms against his legs. The glimpse of the djinn’s anger had unnerved him even more. “If I ordered you to sleep for one hundred years,” he began, “you would have to obey.”

“Until someone woke me, yes,” the djinn agreed. “Or until the binding spell weakened with disuse.”

“If someone woke you?”

“Oh, yes. For a hundred years’ sleep, I should need to be very comfortable. It might happen that a servant preparing a royal bedchamber should discover me and raise such an outcry that I would be awakened.”

Zammurad considered. “That is disobedient, but not harmful.”

“You have not considered what I might leave,” answered the djinn, “so that when I was discovered in the king’s bedchambers and fled, it would be you the guards would seek.”

“That is petty,” Zammurad challenged with more strength than he felt. “And hardly within the spirit of my order.”

“Does it displease you, master? Then I must obey you.” The djinn made a gesture of apology. “I should go to sleep immediately and remain so for one hundred years.”

Zammurad waited. “And?”

“And so should all else here, fixed in time. Except perhaps you, my master, who plainly wish to remain awake while I sleep. You would wander a world of sleepers, alone for one hundred years, until I awoke—free of my bondage.”

Did the djinn have such power? Or was it a lie? Zammurad tried another approach. “And should I wish to die old and in my bed, with a beautiful woman?”

“Then you might be taken captive and tortured by beautiful women for years and years, learning all the ways of their most exquisite pains, until at last they allowed you to die.”

“And if I wished to live long with a loving wife?”

“She would love you truly with a deep and abiding passion, and an utter madness leading her to sacrifice to you each of your children in turn.” The djinn’s teeth flashed. “You see, master? I simply cannot be trusted. It is too dangerous to command me to a task or set me to a wish.” He smiled with pleased insolence.

Zammurad rubbed at his face and fought the urge to plead with the djinn. “But you cannot be—you are not evil. You have free will, as you said. Why must you do this?”

The djinn actually seemed to consider. “You are a slave, master, and yet when your master had finished with you, your time was your own. You might speak with your fellow slaves, breathe the fragrance of a garden, behold a sunset. But I am bound to this medallion, with none of those simple pleasures available to me except as I work myself free through my own guile. And I am left to choose either madness or hatred.”

Zammurad’s stomach churned and for a moment he softened. He recalled too well the horror of his early slavery, bound with chains, his castellano pleas unheard in the swirl of Arabic about him, the aching loss of his family, his village, his language, his faith.

“But,” he said at last, “you said—at the first—you said you were bound by Sulayman to learn humility and mercy, that you could earn your freedom.”

The djinn sneered. “Have you not yet grasped that I lie, master?”

“The best lies are built around the truth,” countered Zammurad. “Was there truth in what you said? I command you, answer truly!”

The djinn’s face swelled and lengthened, twisting into ugly bulges. He bared pointed teeth as he snarled in fury, and horns budded and curved upward from his forehead. “Madness or hatred!” he roared. “I choose madness or hatred!”

Zammurad scrabbled backward from the djinn’s wrath. “You—”

“I do not need forgiveness!” screamed the djinn. “I am sufficient as I am! I do not bow before mewling milksop mercy!”

Zammurad gaped, the high city wall uncomfortably close at his back as the djinn raged. But the binding held, and the furious djinn did not touch him.

“Return to the medallion,” Zammurad ordered, his voice shaking.

The djinn spat black saliva and then sank into the copper lying on the grass, a growl fading behind him.

Zammurad waited a long moment before daring to touch the medallion. He would gladly cast it from him, but one of the street children would find it in any refuse heap. If he cast it into the river or sea, the binding spell would fade with disuse and release the djinn as surely as if Zammurad did it himself.

At last, he gingerly replaced it about his neck.


Zammurad picked his way over the cliff top, cautious for loose rocks which might shift beneath his foot. Surf crashed below, an eternal susurrus of waves against cliff faces and thin sand. The moon was full, though its light was dimmed by the sun still setting in the west. Zammurad had come out here because of the moonlight; it was bright enough that he might have surprised late travelers or lovers in town or on the road, and he wanted privacy for this night. He didn’t think distance would make a difference if it went wrong, but it was best not to be distracted or interrupted or, God forbid, robbed of the copper medallion.

The djinn did not even wait for his call but coalesced as Zammurad reached the end of the earth, overlooking the waves. He no longer made any attempt to disguise his appearance, as ugly as the djinn of legend and full of leering hatred. His body was fully formed face to foot, and he stood head and shoulders above Zammurad. “Have you come to fling yourself into the sea, master?”

Zammurad swallowed. “I will give you a choice, djinn, such as King Sulayman gave you, a choice a slave does not have. Will you set aside your malicious ways and work out your own salvation? Or will you persist in this mad hatred?”

The djinn’s lip curled in disgust. “Is it mad to hate those who have done me such wrong?”

“You owe me no antipathy—I came upon you by chance, and I have offered you the best I can invent.”

“You are one of them, by blood and bond and belief, and you owe me my freedom and your life.”

Zammurad took a breath to steady his voice before the djinn’s nearly palpable anger. “I cannot loose a malicious djinn upon my people and others.”

“Then you must force me to your will,” said the djinn with dark glee, “and pray your favorite prayers that I am merciful.” He chuckled. “I won’t be.”

“You are so certain you will prevail.”

“I am,” the djinn confirmed, his lips curled in a sneer. “I have had so much more experience at playing with words and wishes. And then I have so much joy to anticipate in your downfall. Think of the worst pain and disaster you can imagine, master, the very worst—and then consider that my mind is so much greater than yours, and that I have had so, so, so much more time to imagine.” For an instant his smug eyes blazed with something else, and then it receded again.

“I know I am only a foolish slave who cannot hope to outwit you. But I intend you to help me craft your orders.” Zammurad looked steadily at the djinn, who went still. “I can order you to speak the truth, and I can order you to identify the gaps you would use against me and others. I will find an invulnerable order.”

The djinn raised an eyebrow. “That may take us some time.”

“We have all the night.” Zammurad crossed his arms. “The spell ends tomorrow.”

“You have lived too long on a Christian street.” The djinn looked over Zammurad’s shoulder and into the west. “Did you never think, master, that King Sulayman would have bound me by the Hebrews’ calendar? That I would be ruled by the moon, not the sun, and that my day would end when the Jews’ does?”

Zammurad’s heart froze in his chest, and he jerked around in horror. The western horizon glowed with remnants of sun, but as he watched the sea swallowed the last of the fiery orange.

The djinn leaned back and took a slow breath, baring pointed teeth in a gratified smile. Then with a shout he leapt into the air, spiraling with his arms outspread in delight, and his laughter cascaded downward. Zammurad spun in place, looking for an escape which could not exist. There was nowhere to run, and the djinn could overtake him even if he tried.

A single star winked over the eastern horizon, and then its faint light was eclipsed as the massive djinn sank back to earth before Zammurad. “And now I am free,” he rumbled like distant thunder. “And you, my most recent master, shall die first. How shall I do it, I wonder? So many choices I have pondered. For I have suffered two and a half millennia of slavery, and so your death shall not be swift.”

Zammurad’s breath caught in his throat, and he could not move.

The djinn reached for him, cold and calculating like a bored cat, and the claws on his fingertips were dark in the twilight. A slave’s pride collapsed easily before terror, and Zammurad sobbed a forlorn, useless protest. “No, stop! Wait!”

The djinn’s hand froze.

For a heartbeat neither of them moved, and then the djinn roared like a lion. “What is this? How can you command me yet?”

Bein hashmashot. Sulayman’s spell collapsed with nightfall, but twilight had not quite ended yet.

“Wait!” repeated Zammurad, blood surging through him. He had this one chance. “Wait. I will give you a task.”

The djinn hissed and spat and snarled.

Zammurad gulped against the tightening in his throat. He saw a second star twinkling faintly in the south. A task—a task which could not be twisted, an end which did not benefit the one who ordered it—

Zammurad caught his breath. “What if you do not complete a task?”

“I am free!” The djinn’s teeth gleamed sharp in the moonlight.

“No—by your slavery, what if you do not complete a task you are given?”

“Die, you foolish boy!”

“Your binding compels you, you cannot lie! What if you do not complete a task you are given?”

The djinn roared in inhuman fury, claws rending the air as if it were Zammurad’s torso.

Zammurad dared not look at the sky, as if not seeing a third star would keep the djinn from seeing it, would keep the spell from failing. He had only heartbeats left.

He forced the terrifying words out. “Kill me.”

The djinn turned wild eyes on him. “No!”

“Kill me!” Zammurad gasped air as if drowning.

The djinn howled and beat the earth, roaring with a sound like an earthquake.

“You cannot harm me directly, and you cannot disobey me, not while your slavery holds. I give you a task you must fail—kill me now, before the third star’s light!”

The djinn convulsed and screeched. His claws drove into his own palms, tearing flesh, and he contorted so violently that Zammurad thought to hear bones crack. But the djinn was not made of clay and bone, but of smokeless fire, and he began to burn, first his eyes like embers and then his skin like charred wood showing hints of the orange heat within, cracking and crackling and splitting open, and then the fire leapt free of its confining form and the djinn was engulfed in a whirlwind of red flame.

Zammurad flung himself to the ground, arms over his head, cowering before power and death.

The djinn screamed, a long wail of pain and fury and defiance that went on and on through the thunder of the flames, and Zammurad squeezed his eyes against it.

And then the scream and the fire ended, and for a moment there was nothing at all, and Zammurad thought he might be dead.

But gradually he realized he could hear the repeating clap and hiss of the waves, and the gallop of his own pulse, and he could feel the brisk caress of the night breeze, and he dared to open his eyes.

There was no sign of the djinn—no ominous figure, no leaping flames, no destruction. The medallion’s copper was tarnished and charred.

Zammurad took a tentative breath. If his order had failed to command the djinn, he would be dead. If his order had been obeyed, he would be dead. Was it possible that he had caught the djinn in its binding, with an order the wise Sulayman had known no self-serving master would give?

A third star appeared in the east, gleaming over the city.

Zammurad’s face split into a smile wide enough to hurt. He turned and looked out at the ocean, breathing air that smelled of salt rather than sulfur. He looked at the moon, full and rising, bathing all in clean, cool light. He turned and started toward the city, free.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh spent four months studying Spanish medieval and Renaissance history and literature in Sevilla, where she sadly/happily found no djinn at all. She writes fantasy in a variety of flavors (epic, urban, and historical) as well as other genres and non-fiction. Her novel The Songweaver's Vow won the Realm Award for Best Fantasy, and the second novel in her epic fantasy trilogy releases this month (but do start with the first, Shard & Shield). Laura enjoys travel, chocolate, tabletop gaming, exploring great themes and questions though the safe lens of speculative fiction, and making her imaginary friends fight each other for her cruel pleasure. Find her at

“Smokeless” by Laura VanArendonk Baugh. Copyright © 2019 by Laura VanArendonk Baugh.

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