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"Leave us," the Sultan commanded. He waited until they were alone in the room before he held out a hand. "For heaven's sake, Briska, take it, and get up."
Unwillingly, she grasped his hand – colder and harder than Amani's ever were – and rose to her feet. "What do you want?" she asked coldly. He'd make it clear since Maram's birth that he wanted nothing else from her.
"The truth." He surveyed the room, as though looking for a suitable throne from which to deliver justice, but Briska's apartments were a place of leisure. If he wanted to sit, he could sit on one of the floor cushions. That would seat him lower than her. He sighed. "The guards tell me they saw a man who looked like me enter the harem several hours ago. But the midwife didn't see him, as she was busy with the mother of my son, so she sent a messenger to my quarters, telling me about the boy's birth. So when a second Sultan appeared…the guards knew there was something amiss. Tell me the truth. Did he come to you as me? Did you think…?" There was a yearning in his eyes, the like of which Briska had not seen for years.
Perhaps the fool still felt something for her, after all. A fool who had just ordered the death of the man she loved.
"The moment the doors closed, he revealed himself as the only man I could ever love," Briska snapped, feeling a spark of satisfaction as the hope in his eyes died. "Even without magic, he's ten times the lover you ever were. I begged him, many times, to do away with you and take your place as Sultan, so that I could be his wife in truth, but he was too honourable to break his oath to you. And now he will die at your hands, not because he was a traitor, but because he was too loyal."
His shoulders slumped. "If you say he tricked you, I could still save you, Briska. Nothing will save him, but you…"
She shook her head. "I would rather die with him, than live forever as your wife, knowing I will never see him again. Summon your executioner and take off my head, like I know you want to." She tried to make the words sound brave and forceful, pushing them out as a shield to hide the yawning pit of despair where her heart had once beat for joy. Never again. "You want the truth? I tricked him. Cast a spell on him, so he would fall in love with me. If anyone's a traitor, it's me, not him. Take me. Arrest me, and let him go." Hope blossomed within her. If she could save Amani…
The Sultan laughed. "Even if it were true, I cannot do it. If I let a traitor go unpunished, it will only embolden others. No, he will die a traitor's death, but you…I don't want to see you die, Briska. He must…but you can still live."
"I will not betray the man I love," Briska returned.
The Sultan sighed. "Very well." He raised his voice. "Send in the courtesan!"
Then he began to mutter under his breath. The words sounded like the ones she'd prayed to hear more times than she could count, but…why now?
The door cracked open and a woman sidled inside, then flung herself face-first on the floor. "Your Majesty."
His regal mask had returned. "Rise."
The courtesan – for that was what she was – sprang to her feet with more grace than Briska expected. Her face was veiled as though she'd come from outside the palace, but the gossamer thin silk hid nothing, allowing anyone to glimpse her golden skin and perfect curves through her translucent clothing. Why, Briska could see her peaked nipples clearly through the cloth.
The Sultan did not seem to care. "This is the enchantress, who confessed her treachery. She used magic to commit treason against me." He pointed at Briska, not even deigning to look at her any more. "I respectfully submit her to the justice of your people."
Your people. Panic flooded through Briska and she bit her lip, desperately trying to cast a portal that would take her to safety. Away from the fate worse than death that awaited her if she stayed.
The courtesan merely smiled and waved her hand, freezing Briska so she could no longer move. "Her magic is weak, this enchantress. One wonders how she thought she could succeed in her betrayal."
Now Briska wanted to tell the truth – that she hadn't bespelled Amani at all, until she knew his love for her was as strong as hers for him. It was no crime to increase a desire they already shared. But her mouth was closed, and she could not open it. Could not even sink her teeth into her lip for another drop of blood to cast a spell, any spell, that might help her.
A servant came in, carrying a mirror, which she set on the table, before she bowed and retreated.
The courtesan placed a ringed hand on the mirror's surface. "Now we may start. Your Majesty, a drop of blood?"
She drew a dagger from her belt and held it out, point-first, to the Sultan. He touched his finger to the tip, leaving a bead of royal blood.
She swiped her ring across her hand, leaving a shallow cut behind. The ring's jewel seemed to glow red through the layer of blood coating it.
"Kneel," the courtesan commanded, and Briska was forced to obey. "Now lift your chin."
Briska held her breath as the dagger came closer and closer, ready to slash her bared throat. The courtesan's gleeful smile was the last thing she'd see. Better than a lifetime of slavery as a queen or a…
The dagger pricked her, just above her collarbone, then retreated.
NO! Briska screamed in her head, but she didn't make a sound. She couldn't.
The courtesan touched her blood-dipped dagger to the ring, then leaned on the table. "By the blood of the ruler you betrayed, I bind you in servitude, djinn. By your own blood, the blood of a traitor, I bind you in servitude, djinn. And by my own blood, the blood of the judge who names you guilty of crimes against your ruler, I bind you in servitude, djinn."
Tears sprang to Briska's eyes and fell, unchecked, for she could not even blink them away. The courtesan had turned her into a djinn, a slave, forced to obey her master for eternity.
"Do you want her?" the courtesan asked the Sultan.
He shook his head. "As my Sultana, by my side, I would have given her anything. Now, she is nothing to me." And he said the words Briska had wanted to hear for so long, but now it was too late. "I divorce you, Briska." Three times he said it, until the marriage was void. He looked at the courtesan. "I beg you, take her away from here, and do whatever you want with her. I never want to see her again. See to it, Mistress Kun."
Briska couldn't even exclaim her horror. Slave to a courtesan? She couldn't imagine a worse fate. Having to share a bed with the clumsy Sultan had been bad enough, but a courtesan took dozens of lovers. If she commanded Briska to give herself to a man, any man, as a djinn she could not refuse. She would have to endure…
The courtesan lifted the mirror, so Briska could see the misty surface. Blood marred the frame where the courtesan had touched it, but the surface gleamed in the lamplight. "Look closely, for you will need this in my service," the courtesan said. "You may move now."
The force holding Briska upright vanished as quickly as it had come, flopping her forward in a deep bow. "How may I serve you, Mistress?" The words were out of her mouth before Briska could stop them.
The courtesan smiled. "Oh, you will be of great use to me."
"I am not very skilled at entertaining men, Mistress," Briska said. "Or at magic. The only man I ever seduced against his will just divorced me." Oh, how she wished she could have done things differently on her wedding night. He'd sworn not to consummate their marriage until she was willing, but she'd cast spell after spell at him until she forced him to take her maidenhead. A clumsy, painful encounter that she'd endured every night until she knew she carried Maram.
Maram. What would happen to her now?
"My daughter. Maram," Briska choked out. "What will he do with her?"
The courtesan stared at her. "You mean the Sultan? Is she his?"
"Of course. Amani did not come to court until after she was born."
The courtesan said, "Then the girl belongs to the Sultan. She will stay, but we must go."
Mistress Kun smiled. "Wherever I command you to."
"I am not very skilled – " Briska began again.
"Then you will learn to become so. Oh, not at entertaining men. No, you're going to do some matchmaking for me. Up in the Southern Isles, a daft name for such a northerly place, if ever I heard one."
"I have never…"
Mistress Kun snapped her fingers. "Silence! Bring the mirror, and come with me." She opened a portal and stepped through.
Briska had no choice but to follow.
Would you like to read more?
An enslaved enchantress. A magic mirror. Whose match will be made next?
Once upon a time…
When Queen Briska is accused of treason, she flees to the mountains, building an icy wall around her broken heart. But she cannot flee her punishment – she is forced to help other couples find love. A tough task, when the man she loves is dead.
Amani knew his life was over the moment he was enslaved to a magic lamp. But when a strange twist of fate frees him from the lamp just as he discovers the woman he loves still lives, Amani sets out to find her, and free her, too.
Will the power of love be enough to melt two frozen hearts?
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