Abu Nuwas sits in the bazaar telling stories to the passersby he can tempt to pay. When Najda, a poor girl, offers him a packet of spice for a story, Abu Nuwas launches into a tale about a girl named Setara and her genie. As did Scheherazade, he leaves the girl hanging in the middle of each yarn to keep her coming back for more. While relating the fantastical accounts, Abu Nuwas learns more of the spice girl's life, then finds a way to save her from a forced marriage and find a better life.
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Setara slumped to the cave floor. What, she wondered, could these superstitious tribesmen think was a mountain demon? Cloistered she may be, but she was well educated and did not believe in demons. These were old men’s tales to frighten children. It made no difference, really. Dead was dead, whether by a demon’s talons or a mountain cat’s fangs.
She smacked her head against the rock wall and realized she had dozed off. How stupid of me. I’m waiting here for something to eat me and I take a nap! She edged toward the entrance, kicking herself mentally. Why hadn’t she simply tried to push the bushes aside and get out?
She found the answer in the inch-long thorns on the shrubs, tied down so she couldn’t move them. When she had pushed on them with her tied hands, she got a gash for her effort. Now, the mountain cats would smell blood, and it would be all over.
Backing away from the thorns, she pushed her body into the wall. At least she could face the lions when they came.
A loud crash, followed by a slither of loose gravel sounded no more than twenty feet from where she crouched. Setara pressed herself harder into the cave wall, closed her eyes tight and clenched her teeth.
Her eyes and mouth popped open simultaneously at what she heard next.
“Why can’t they clean up these blasted caves?” a deep voice rumbled.
Suddenly, a torch flared, and Setara could see the source of the voice. An eight-foot tall figure loomed in the light. A turbaned head nearly touched the now visible cave roof. Setara gaped at the man. Or was it a man? While his features were man-like, the three-inch fangs, sharp talons, and beastly snout belied his humanity. Dressed in the old style, with ballooning trousers tied at the ankles, a brocaded vest opened to reveal a broad, hairless chest.
The creature held up the torch, which Setara could now see was a flame jetting from his upraised index finger. The monster glanced around until his gaze rested on Setara.
“Ah, a bargain made, goods delivered.” A deep voice chuckled sounding like the beat of a drum. Huh huh huh. “Good evening, my dear. Please, come out into the light. Nothing to be afraid of, I assure you.”
Despite his words, she did not feel reassured. She could only whimper as she continued to try to melt into the stone wall. This was the demon! How could such a thing be? Demons and ogres were only legends and fairy tales, yet here one stood before her. In the flesh, so to speak.
The demon grinned, a most disconcerting grin, exposing his fangs to their full length. “Come, come, my little lady, don’t be afraid. I’m not an ogre, you know.” The beast’s fangs and nose shrank back to a more normal size.
“You . . . you’re a demon,” Setara barely whispered.
“A what? Oh, good heavens, what kind of nonsense have they been filling your head with? I most certainly am not a demon. Why, the very idea! Any fool can see that I’m a genie. You know, a djinn.”
“If you’re a djinn, where is your lamp?” Setara managed to ask.
“Lamp? Oh, that was just Aladdin’s genie, Shairan. Most of us don’t hang around in lamps. Old Shairan was tricked into that one. Evil as the devil, but not too bright, I’m afraid.”
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