“Why must we always experiment with jann?” The haughty voice of my least-favorite student grated on my ears. “Can you not bind something more powerful? A shaitan, at least.”
“Either you have forgotten your first-year lectures on genie anatomy, Miyaz, or you possess unwarranted faith in the strength of these floorboards. Regardless, I am unimpressed. Jadwa, you were about to demonstrate your theory of thematic gift-offering, I believe. You desire the janni to set aflame a beacon atop a nearby mid-sized peak. The danger is minimal.”
Jadwa rose nervously from her seat and approached the janni. Because I held the genie bound, he was protected from any request my students might make, allowing him to judge the effectiveness of their magic where I could evaluate only technique. I had created the bond of warding myself, largely for this very purpose. Why Kadin, a janni of no meager power, had agreed to assist me in my tutorials at one of Katheer’s colleges of magic, however, was beyond my reasoning.
After a quick conjuration, Jadwa began to speak. The formal language of her request was laced with magic, mixing persuasion with compulsion; however, Jadwa had infused the basic formula of task binding with added energy, for she had attempted to weave a gift into her arcane net. An undertaking made easier, I had to admit, by the fact that her gift was a fire opal. When she finished, Kadin critiqued her demonstration. Before I could begin my analysis, Miyaz rose lazily from his seat.
“This is a waste of time! Why should I make an offering to a race meant to be subjugated?” With that, he began framing his own request, stalking toward Kadin as he spoke. Miyaz replaced Jadwa’s formalities with abuse, allowing his magic to feed off of his hate. Steam began to rise from Kadin’s tensed form—fire always dominated his elemental nature when he was angry. I did not wait to hear Miyaz’s request. I could not risk him breaking through my warding bond, so with a silent apology to Kadin, I asserted my control. His subservience fueled my barrier, which forcefully repelled Miyaz’s attempt to penetrate it. Disoriented from the jarring shock, he lost the momentum of his spell. He stepped back, and I lowered the barrier.
“That was out of turn,” I said. “Do not do it again.” Turning to my three other pupils, I said, “That will be all for today. Next week, I expect essays discussing the theory of extending the duration of task bonds.” My students hurried out of the room, clearly frightened. Still shaken, Miyaz somehow managed a sneer as he left the room, unpleasantly reminding me of one of my brothers.
“My sincere apologies, old friend,” I said as I dismissed the warding bond. Kadin shrugged.
“That is the purpose of the bond,” he said.
I smiled insincerely, and sat at my desk. “I think I will have him transferred to a different tutor. I cannot in good conscience recommend him to have any relations with genies, ever, yet my academic conscience will not allow me to fail him. He is exceptionally talented.”
Kadin put his hand on my shoulder. “You were right to increase the bond, Zafi.” Before I could respond, there came a knock at the door. Kadin stepped protectively behind me as I called for the visitor to enter. A stooped, white-haired man entered, bowing as he approached my desk. He wore the simple, functional garb of the nomads from the Plains of Paresh; despite his age, his sinuous frame still showed traces of a youth spent breaking horses. He was out of place in Katheer, and the tension in his gnarled hands indicated that he knew this well. I decided he was likely an advisor to one of the nomad princes. I motioned for him to sit.
“My lady Zafirah al-Mazi, your humble servant—”
“Please,” I said, interrupting him, “I make only my students grovel. Sit.” He smiled faintly as he obeyed. “How may I be of assistance? Would you like tea?” He shook his head, then cleared his throat. I had calmed his nerves somewhat, but there was little I could do about the weight of my family name. I am the youngest daughter of one of the wealthiest families in Katheer. My father has managed my mother’s fortune well, cultivating several of the most fertile and efficient farms of the Pashman’s southern banks as well as the attention of the Qadiran court. While his business savvy is certainly of interest, of far more importance is my father’s large-scale exploitation of his family’s ancestral talent: for generations, the al-Mazi family has produced prodigiously talented genie-binders. Thus far, my father’s successful enslavement of genies has offended as many as it impresses, and I know he worries about his detractors, for seated firmly in the camp of his opposition is his troublesome youngest daughter.
“Mistress, as you no doubt can imagine, polite conversation is no talent of mine, so I will be brief and blunt. I am Shafid, a servant of Prince Tahman, who requests your assistance immediately. He believes his new snow-white stallion is genie-booned, but he naturally wishes to be certain; he has heard of your scholarship, and he will compensate you generously to tell him the truth.”
I shook my head. “I truly wish I could be of more assistance to you,” I said, “but I am no diviner. I cannot determine—”
“But you are a daivrat,” he said, disappointed.
“A friend of genies, yes. But there is no method of discerning genie boons. I will only be able to guess. Better for his lordship to pretend he knows. I cannot take his gold for a guess,” I said. The man’s frown tightened, and he sighed. I regretted disappointing him, but I did not see how I could help.
“I appreciate your honesty, Mistress,” he said. I gestured apologetically, expecting him to take his leave. Instead, he fixed me with a penetrating glare. “Perhaps it will interest you to know that as word of the stallion’s appearance spread, one of the first to arrive was your brother.” The silence in my office was such that I thought I could hear his words thud against my chest. I stared at him slack-jawed for a moment. That was a dirty trick to play, and I could hardly blame him for it.
“Which brother?” I asked, seething.
“Munahid.” The younger of my two older brothers, irresponsible and ruthless. I was puzzled, for I could not imagine his interest in the stallion was business-related.
“I can be ready to leave in two days,” I said. The nomad ambassador thanked me profusely and bowed as he made a hasty exit, doubtless unwilling to test my temper. After a few moments of silence, I took a deep breath. “Well? What are your opinions?” I asked Kadin.
“Zafi,” he said, pretending to busy himself with my summoning brazier, “I don’t think it is wise for me to accompany you.” Not wise? I had apologized for the bond, continuing to tell myself it was necessary. I did not deserve this passive punishment.
“Fine,” I said, not wishing to explore this sudden wrinkle in our friendship. “Then I’ll see you when I return.” I gathered my belongings and cursed all the way to the street.
Beyond angry, beyond irritated, what I truly felt was overwhelmed. To thwart my brother’s unknown designs on a horse lord’s potentially genie-booned stallion without the aid of my genie ally? Impossible. Fortunately, somewhere between the street vendor selling barely edible meat to tardy students and the weekly existential debate on the steps of the Beyyandar School of Philosophy, I recovered my head. This was a matter of horses, not genies. Help I would need, true, but not that of my janni friend. Luckily for me, the al-Mazi family had long patronized the sport of horse racing. I knew just who to ask.