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Aladdin relighted, p.1
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       Aladdin Relighted, p.1

           Piers Anthony
 
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Aladdin Relighted


  ALADDIN

  RELIGHTED

  by

  J.R. RAIN

  &

  PIERS ANTHONY

  The Aladdin Trilogy #1

  Acclaim for J.R. Rain and Piers Anthony:

  “Anthony’s most ambitious project to date. Well conceived and written from the heart.”

  —Library Journal on Piers Anthony’s Isle of Woman

  “Be prepared to lose sleep!”

  —James Rollins, international bestselling author of The Doomsday Key

  “Piers Anthony is a writer of passion. Volk is a masterpiece.”

  —Brad Linaweaver, author of Moon of Ice

  “Dark Horse is the best book I’ve read in a long time!”

  —Gemma Halliday, award-winning author of Spying in High Heels

  “Piers Anthony is one of the more colorful personalities in the SF world.”

  —Science Fiction Chronicle on Piers Anthony’s Bio of an Ogre

  “Moon Dance is a must read. If you like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter, be prepared to love J.R. Rain’s Samantha Moon, vampire private investigator.”

  —Eve Paludan, author of Letters from David

  OTHER BOOKS BY

  PIERS ANTHONY AND J.R. RAIN

  STANDALONE NOVELS

  Dragon Assassin

  Dolfin Tayle

  Jack and the Giants

  THE ALADDIN TRILOGY

  Aladdin Relighted

  Aladdin Sins Bad

  Aladdin and the Flying Dutchman

  Aladdin Relighted

  Copyright © 2011 by J.R. Rain and Piers Anthony

  All rights reserved.

  Ebook Edition, License Notes

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  Acknowledgment

  A special thank you to Sandy.

  Aladdin Relighted

  Authors’ Preface

  The Arabian Nights tales, supposedly told over the course of one thousand and one nights, constitute a huge and wonderful fantasy collection. Their framework is that a king, enraged by the infidelity of his wife, set up a policy of marrying a woman, spending a single night with her, then executing her in the morning so she would have no chance to be unfaithful. Thus a woman a night, indefinitely. But after a while there was coming to be a shortage of eligible maidens in the kingdom. Something had to be done. But who dared caution the king about his policy?

  Finally the vizier’s daughter Shahrazad or Scheherazade, a lovely and savvy girl, volunteered to marry the king. She had a plan. She had her younger sister accompany her to the bridal suite, and after the king had fulfilled his conjugal duty, the sister begged Shahrazad to tell her a story. The king happened to be restless, so was amenable; stories are great entertainments the world over.

  Shahrazad began her story, full of magic and wonder, but before she finished it the night was over and it was time to commence the day. In the story a demon was raising his sword to kill a merchant. The king was overcome by curiosity to know how that came out. So he spared Shahrazad for another night, so that she could tell the rest before she died. But she did not finish the story the second night, so the king granted another continuance. So it continued for almost three years, and Shahrazad had birthed more than one baby. The king finally realized that she was a fully worthy and faithful wife, and elected not to execute her. Thus the decimation of maidens was halted, and the kingdom prospered.

  This was of course a convenient framework for the vast collection of Arabian folklore. Piers Anthony adapted one of those stories, Hasan, as a novel over 40 years ago, but there are many more. Thus “The Story of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp.” In that one a boy manages to acquire both a magic ring and a magic lamp, and the powers this gave him enabled him to win the king’s daughter and in due course inherit the throne itself.

  One problem. It’s a fake. “Aladdin” was not one of the original tales. Shahrazad never told it to the king. It was written in Paris in the eighteenth century, translated to Arabic, and, taken for a legitimate tale, translated to English.

  Thus the present story, Aladdin Relighted, is a kind of sequel to a fake. Purists may wonder why the characters are not shown bowing toward Mecca five times a day or honoring other Muslim conventions other than token references. Well, the original story was set in China, where Muslim conventions do not prevail and djinni do not circulate; that is perhaps another signal of its fakery. So we felt free to do it our own way. It is fantasy adventure with an Arabian Night’s flavor. We use the terms djinn, jinn, genie and ifrit interchangeably, though in Arabic lore there are sophisticated distinctions. We thought it would be fun to do the tale, relating to Aladdin’s later life, and it was. We trust that most readers will enjoy it as the light-hearted effort it is, and that Shahrazad herself would have found it worthy. We don’t want anyone executing us the morning after.

  Chapter One

  The Middle-East,

  A Forgotten Desert

  She was a fine beauty with almond-shaped eyes, high cheekbones and lips so full they could hardly close. She stepped into my tent and shook out her hair and slapped the trail dust from her overcoat.

  I had been dozing lightly, one foot propped up on a heavy travel chest, when I heard a woman’s voice asking for me. With my foot still hanging over the ornately-engraved chest, I had turned my head with some interest and watched as a dark-haired woman had poked her head in my open tent. My tent was always open. After all, I was always open for business. Once confirming she had the right tent, she had strode in confidently.

  And that’s when I sat up, blinking hard. It was not often that such a beauty entered my humble tent. Granted, there had been a time when I was surrounded by such beauties, but that seemed like a long, long time ago.

  “Do you always sleep during the day?” she asked. As she spoke, she scanned my simple tent, wrinkling her nose. She stepped over to a low table and looked down at a carving of mine. She nodded to herself, as if she approved of my handiwork. She looked around my tent some more, and when she was done, she looked at me directly, perhaps challengingly.

  “Only until the sun goes down.”

  She had been looking at a pile of my dirty robes sitting in one corner of my tent. She snapped her head around. “I hope you’re joking.”

  “And why would you hope that?”

  “Because I will not hire a sluggard.”

  She was a woman of considerable wealth, that much was for sure. She also did not act like any woman I had even seen, outside of the many courtyards and palaces I had once been accustomed to. She reminded me of all that was wrong with wealth and royalty and I immediately took a disliking to her, despite her great beauty.

  Through my tent opening came the sounds of money being exchanged for any number of items. At the opening, swirling dust still hovered in the air from when she had entered. The dust caught some of the harsh sunlight, forming phantasmagorical shapes that looked vaguely familiar.

  “And why would my lady need to hire a lazy wretch like me?” I asked. As I spoke I lifted my sandled foot off the chest and sat back with my elbows on my knees.

  “Emir Farid said some satisfactory things about you. In particular, that you have proven to be somewhat reliable.”

  “Emir Farid has always greatly admired me.”

  She studied me closely. Her almond-shaped eyes didn’t miss much. Her long fingers, I saw, were heavy with jewels.

  “Aren’t you going to offer me a seat?” she asked.

  I motioned to the area in front of the chest. The area was covered in sand and didn’t look much different than the desert outside my tent.

  I really ought to clean this pl
ace, I thought.

  “Never mind,” she said. “I’ll stand.”

  I shrugged and grinned. She fanned her face and looked around my tent some more. She didn’t seem pleased, but she also looked desperate. Desperate usually won out.

  She said, “Despite your many flaws, according to Emir Farid, he says that you are particularly adept at...finding things.”

  “I’m also adept at losing things, my lady, but funny how no one seems to want to hire me for that.”

  Outside, a few tents down, an animal shrieked, followed by sounds of splashing, and I knew a goat had been slaughtered. A dry, hot wind found its way into my tent, swirling the dirt at her feet, and lifting her robe around her ankles.

  Nice ankles.

  She caught me looking at them and leveled a withering stare at me. I grinned some more.

  “You make a lot of jokes,” she said. “This could be a problem.”

  I moved to sit back in the position she had found me in. “Then I wish you luck in your quest to find whatever it is that’s missing. May I suggest you take a look around our grand market place. Perhaps this thing of which you seek is under your very nose.” I closed my eyes and folded my hands over my chest.

  “Are you always like this?” she demanded.

  “Lying down? Often.”

  She made a small, frustrated noise. “Is there anyone else in this godforsaken outpost who can help me?”

  “There’s a shepherd who’s been known to be fairly adept at finding lost goats—although, come to think of it, he did lose one last week—”

  “Enough,” she snapped. “I don’t have much time and you will have to do, although you are older than I had hoped.”

  “My lady is full of compliments. I am not sure if I should blush or sleep.”

  “Neither, old man. Come, there’s much to do.”

  I heard her step towards the open flap of my tent. I still hadn’t opened my eyes. I lifted my hand and rested it on the corner of the chest. I hunkered deeper on the padding that doubled as my bed. She stopped at the entrance.

  “Well?” she asked impatiently.

  “Well what?”

  “Aren’t you coming?”

  I turned my head and looked at her. She was standing with her hands on her hips, silhouetted in the streaming sunlight. God, she was beautiful. And irritating.

  I said, “Not until I know what you want me for and we have discussed my price.”

  She turned and faced the bustling marketplace just outside my tent. She wanted to leave. She wanted to run. But she needed my help, that much was obvious. I waited, smiling contentedly to myself.

  She said, “If I tell you on the trail, I will double your asking price.”

  Double was good. I jumped to my feet and grabbed a satchel and my chest. The rest could stay.

  At the tent entrance, I nodded at her. “You have yourself a deal.”

  Chapter Two

  I followed her out, blinking in the bright sunlight. Even my brief pause put her ahead of me, as she was already moving purposefully down the street. I refused to be seen scrambling after her like a hungry mongrel, so I lengthened my stride and slowly caught up.

  “Some details remain,” I said as I drew within range.

  “They can wait.”

  “Such as my fee. I want half in advance.”

  She didn’t hesitate. She simply flipped something at me. I caught it. It was a gold piece. That would do.

  “Such as your name.”

  “I am Enees-el-Jenees, of a prominent family, but I prefer to be incognito for now.”

  “I will abbreviate it to Jewel,” I agreed. “And I of course am Niddala, as you surely know.” It was my name spelled backwards. No one seemed to have caught on, which probably indicated disinterest rather than stupidity. I had fallen far since my heyday.

  “Niddala the Thief,” she agreed.

  “Niddala the specialist in locating hidden objects.”

  “Have it your way.”

  “Now tell me the nature of the mission. What, precisely, am I expected to find?”

  “My young son.”

  This set me back. “Normally mothers know the whereabouts of their offspring.”

  “He was stolen from me. It’s a devious story.”

  “Have it your way,” I agreed.

  She shot me a wrathful glance. “I will tell it when we are more private.” She approached a small parked carriage. It was closed, with a buckboard for the driver, and two fine horses were hitched to it. “Get in.”

  “This is an intercity transport,” I protested. “Where are we going?”

  “I hired it for the occasion. Get in.”

  “Where are we going?” I repeated, putting my two feet down with audible impacts, signaling my refusal to go further on faith.

  “Samarkand.” She stepped impatiently to the coach herself, evidently tired of my dawdling.

  Oh, camel dung! I hated that city, and not just because of its reputation for killing innocent travelers. But it would not be expedient to go into that with her at the moment. “You didn’t say we were going so far away.”

  “You didn’t ask. Now help me in, making a pretense of masculinity, and join me inside. Time is brief.”

  I made an interior sigh and put a firm hand to her elbow to steady her as she took the steep step up. Her ascent showed one ankle right up to the calf, putting me in mind of certain luscious slave girls I had known in my better days. But did I really want to do this?

  I paused outside. I rubbed my brass ring in a certain way. Immediately there was an invisible presence beside me. “I am here, master.” This was El Fadl, the ifrit of the ring, not one of the top tier of the djinn, but a serviceable aide and companion. He was especially useful when a target object was highly guarded. In fact I owed much of my reputation as a location specialist—okay, thief—to his dexterous supernatural touch.

  “Faddy,” I murmured. “She wants me to go to Samarkand.”

  “Samarkand! Don’t you know better, master? Give her back her gold piece.”

  “I need the money. But you had better do due diligence on her, and let me know soon, just in case I do need to give it back.”

  “I hear and obey, Nid,” he agreed, and faded.

  “Well?” Jewel called imperiously from within.

  “On my way,” I called back, and climbed reluctantly into the coach.

  It was tight within, with barely room for two facing each other if our knees interspliced. Actually that aspect was interesting; her knees felt firm and smooth. Who knew what divine flesh they attached to? I had barely gotten seated when the coach jerked into motion. We were on our way.

  “This is the situation,” Jewel said briskly. “I was wrongly accused of conspiracy by my wicked ex-husband, and imprisoned for two years until I was released.”

  “Released?” I asked dubiously.

  “I finally seduced my captors and killed them when they were distracted. I recovered some of my assets my husband hadn’t known about, rendering them into these rings, as only what is on my person is safe. Now I am anonymous, but mean to recover my innocent son. I will do what it takes to accomplish my purpose.”

  Hence her interest in hiring a nonentity. Had she gone about her mission openly, her husband’s spies would have been alerted, and killed her, or at least imprisoned her again.

  “You seduced and killed them,” I repeated.

  “A man isn’t expecting a knife in the gut when he is in the throes of fulfillment. That is when he is most vulnerable.”

  “Is that a warning to me not to get ideas?”

  “No. Your reputation is for thieving, not raping. If you have a problem about going to Samarkand, would a seduction alleviate it?”

  “It might,” I agreed.

  “You were supposed to angrily deny it!”

  “I am a thief and a liar,” I said seriously. “But I do not steal from or lie to those who hire me. You have bought my loyalty for the mission. But I do have reason t
o avoid Samarkand, and your favors might indeed mitigate my aversion. I am not demanding them, merely answering your question.”

  She gazed intently at me a moment. “You may be more of a man than I took you for.”

  “And you may be more of a woman.”

  She was silent, perhaps digesting that.

  “Master,” Fadl’s voice came in my ear.

  I cocked my head slightly, indicating that I was listening.

  “The woman is being shadowed by armed men. She is not as anonymous as she may choose to believe. My guess is that if she goes to Samarkand, she will be killed. There are horsemen lurking nearby, maybe awaiting their chance to catch the coach out of sight of the authorities. You have only a few minutes to avoid them.”

  I nodded. “Slow the carriage,” I murmured.

  “I hear and obey.” Fadl faded.

  “What did you say?” Jewel asked.

  “I was muttering,” I said. “Jewel, you are in danger. We must get out of this coach in a hurry.”

  “I paid a valuable jewel for this ride!” she protested. “I am not going to walk to Samarkand!”

  “Trust me.”

  She stared at me, obviously not trusting me.

  The coach swerved and slowed as Fadl made his distraction, perhaps spooking the horses with a ghostly smell.

  “What is happening?” Jewel asked, alarmed.

  I leaned forward and grabbed the driver’s shoulder. He looked back, startled. He was an older Arab, with sharp eyes.

  “There’s danger ahead, friend. We must abandon this carriage.”

  His eyes narrowed, but before he could answer, Jewel screeched behind me, “What the devil are you talking about?”

  I ignored her. “Come,” I said to him, “we don’t have much time!”

  He shook his head. “I see no danger—”

 
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