The princess slowly approaches the bottle. Her heart is beating so fast she can barely gather enough strength to touch her treasure. She looks at the mysterious carving on the ancient bronze, the sealing wax with its signet imprint, and the notch where the snake’s curves touch the leaves of the olive branch. As if in a dream she reaches out to the bottle, feeling the familiar cold metal under her fingers. Her hand runs up the smooth surface of the bronze to stop right at the sealed opening of the bottleneck.
The princess throws a glance at the marble table, noticing a golden dagger prudently set here, the dagger of the kind used to cut paper and open letters. She tries to interrupt the smooth movement of her fingers up the bottle, to break contact with the ancient mysterious object, to take up the golden dagger so conveniently prepared for her. But some strange force keeps her hand sliding up the metal, in spite of her certainty that her thin fingers will slip off the bottle without disturbing her grandmother’s seal.
The cork pops out with the ease of a silk shawl sliding through a smooth golden ring. The empty bottle neck draws her eyes, a black opening into unknown depths. And from inside this black abyss, slowly and lazily twisting and curling into rings, rise wisps of white smoke. The smoke pours out of the bottle, filling the center of the hall, flooding it with a heady juniper smell. White clouds circle around, enfolding the princess, creating a curtain that for a while separates the marble table and the space surrounding it from the crowd of courtiers, frozen in terrified stillness.
Suddenly the clouds disappear without a trace, as if blown away by an immaterial wind.
The crowd gasps.
A man kneels before the princess!
His dark handsome face, strong muscular figure, the feline grace of his courteous bow, and his white shirt and dark pants of silk, could easily belong to a nobleman or a traveling prince. But no jewels, embroideries, or other signs of distinction mark his simple garments. His thick dark hair is cut much shorter than is customary for the sons of noble families. His feet are bare, which sharply contradicts the refinement of his clothes. A whisper comes across the hall, and the courtiers stretch their necks trying to have a better look at the mysterious stranger. And then the stranger raises his arms, and everyone immediately sees the sign of distinction they searched for. A fatal sign. The wrists of the newcomer are clad in iron. The foreign prince is a slave.
The stranger speaks, dismissing all doubts, easily covering the murmur rising in the hall with his rich deep voice.
“I am your slave, mistress.”
“Who are you?” the princess whispers in bewilderment.
“My name is Hasan, mistress. I am a djinn.”