He answered her with civility, familiar to a demon though she might be.

Talikan, spring, 1323

JOHANNA SPENT AS long as she could in caring for North Wind after her ride – feeding him, watering him, grooming his coat, polishing his hooves – partly because his company was so much more acceptable than that of anyone behind the harem doors, and partly in hopes that the sheik’s son would be called away before she finished. In this she was successful, emerging at last to find Farhad gone and the two guards waiting with varying degrees of patience to escort her back to the harem.

“Oh,” she said, looking at Firas as if she was seeing him for the first time. “Where is Mahmoud?” she said to Tarik.

He addressed the area above and behind her left shoulder. In the entire city of Talikan it was by now well known that she did not share the sheik’s bed, but one never knew what might happen in the future. She resided in the sheik’s harem and she was subject to his will. At any moment the fancy could take him to sample this exotic, self-willed creature. She could end as his favorite—a wife, even. Thus no sensible man of the city of Talikan would dare trespass by addressing her with less than the utmost respect, but that didn’t mean that Tarik, a deeply religious man, had to look at her face as she flaunted it with no veil before men not of her family.

Besides, she was the only person who could handle that very afreet of a horse, and Tarik had won a month’s salary on North Wind’s last race. He answered her with civility, familiar to a demon though she might be. “Alas, Mahmoud is dead, lady. Inshallah.”

“Dead?” Johanna was all polite incredulity. “What happened to him?”

Dana here — What indeed, quoth the writer.

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Author and founder of Storyknife.org.

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