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arabian nights

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Mira
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A FOOL OFF HIS GUARD...

 

Another sweltering day, another daring getaway, and it turned out the rope charmer had moved his operations across the streetSo when Aladdin skidded around the corner on well-heeled bare feet with the Royal Guard gnashing his dust, he was abruptly greeted with the reality of no obvious getaway. 

He whipped around in alarm, and saw the sour smile slowly worm its way across the charmer’s face. The man's nasty expression widened as he allowed his levitating rope to slither back to earth beside him in a coiled, lifeless pile. A gibbered screech made Aladdin wince. “Abu!” He was so used to having his simian companion close at hand that he had almost forgotten the monkey was perched on his shoulder. But there was no time to tell his partner to lower his voicenot when the Sultan’s guards were bearing down on them and all anticipated routes of escape were closed. 

But Aladdin was as good at improvising as he was at understanding monkey. He snatched up the rope as Abu leapt from his shoulder and shoved the turban down the charmer’s head. The man’s sputtered curses and wildly-flung flute followed them as they sprinted for the alley. 

That’s a dead end! the captain roared behind them. “Foolish street rat! We’ve got him cornered now! 

“How many times do we hear that in a week?” Aladdin remarked. Abu was already back on his shoulder, and the monkey chittered in professional agreement. The pockets of his vest bulged with gemstones: the blood rubies paid to the charmer to buy their freedom. “Nice one, Abu!” 

High-fives were in short supply as Aladdin worked quickly to form a loop on one end of the ropeHe yanked it tight once, and prayed to whatever Wali watched over street rats like him that his knot was true. He whipped the lasso back and flung it far from him, catching it on an overhanging bit of wood. He took a running leap and let the momentum propel them up... up... 

“No!” Razoul bellowed his defeat beneath them and rattled his saber at the sky as Aladdin and Abu swung to freedom. Aladdin stopped to throw a grin back over the roof to rival the captain’s gleaming blade. 

“Maybe next time!” he called to guards. “No need to get discouraged!” He hefted the rope in one hand, then cast it back down to the quietly smoldering charmer below. No need to take the man’s livelihood with them... not all of it, anyway. 

He was a thief, after all. And a thief he was certain to remain until his dying day. Maybejust maybehe could keep outrunning that appointment for a while longer.

 

 

Rare and beautiful things passed through the markets of Agrabah all the time, often bristling with sabers to dissuade thieves like him, or disguised as dusted-up detritus left out in the open. But there was no disguising the breath-faltering beauty of the girl gazing up at him from the street below. 

Up until this point Aladdin had been lounging undisturbed in a shop canopy, turning the rope charmer’s clay flute over in his curious hands. It wasn’t crudely made like the ones he had fashioned in his youth, back when a kind-hearted ceramist had taken pity on a toyless orphan and given him the raw material he had to spare; this flute was expertly crafted, symmetrical, every hole notched equidistant from the last. It had taken only a few blows into the reed to reacquaint himself with how it was done; then he had begun to compose a tuneful melody that seemed to flow beneath the market activity like an unacknowledged current. 

But she had heard him. She shaded her eyes with a slender palm. Aladdin had to wonder if she could see him at all beneath the deep shadows cut across him. The tune faltered on his lips. A sentimental smile hitched up hers, then she turned away, distracted by a young ragamuffin loitering at the stall across from her. Aladdin craned to look, slipping the flute back into his pocket. 

Events unfolded quickly after that. An apple was gifted, words exchanged, a sword raised. He inserted himself before he knew what he was doing. He stopped the fruit seller's thick wrist in its downswing, liberated the sword, and assured a hand's continuing attachment to the woman who wielded it so charitably. Then, Aladdin opened his mouth. He made them all passengers to the lies that spilled forth effortlessly. The girl played the part he cast her in, and was so convincing as he maneuvered her, doll-eyed, out of harm’s way, that he momentarily wondered if she really was as naïve as she made out... maybe she wasn’t certifiable, but how could someone so openly steal an apple without a thought or seeming foreknowledge of the consequences? 

Abu’s covetousness ultimately blew their cover, and Aladdin was forced to grab the girl’s hand and run for it, their two pairs of feet pelting together along Agrabah’s byways. When they finally stopped to catch their breath between gales of laughter, he realized he was still holding her hand. He released it quickly. He removed his fez and ran a hand sheepishly through his tangled black locks. “Sorry about that. Farouk can be... a bit blood-thirsty.” Of all the market vendors to mess with, the fruit seller was probably the worst. There were notches permanently crosshatched into Farouk’s cart marking the number of times he had successfully apprehended thieves. Aladdin was just glad this girl hadn't wound up another statistic. 

“You’re not from around here, are you?” He replaced his hat and sized her up critically. These were the streets that had raised him, and they seemed as unfamiliar with her as she was with them. Travelers came and went, but where was her luggage if she was only visiting? It was a perilous journey across the desert sands, even to the nearest settlement... or so he had always heard, anyway. 

“I know you’ve managed to keep both your hands so far, but if you want, I could lend you another.” 

It wasn’t his best lineAbu rolled his eyes with a throaty, disapproving sigh. Aladdin ignored him. In fact, he ignored him so effectively he held his smile as he tipped an empty hand basket over the monkey and banished him from the conversation completely. Let Abu count his pocketful of crumbs and mutter alone to himself.  

The humans were talking.

 

... COULD FALL AND FALL HARD


   
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Ali
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More than a Peacock Princess

Finally permitted a moment to breathe, Jasmine looked up at the ragged stranger in front of her, “Do I stick out so badly?”

His otherworldly, entrancing appearance seemed greatly diminished now that he was no longer straddling a canopy with the sun casting a halo upon his tousled curls.  In fact he was positively shabby, his face hardly discernible beneath layers of caked on market dirt and desert sand.  Even so, there was something about his eyes that spoke of a purity no amount grime could subdue.

Still, she wasn’t about to let herself be made a fool of by some vagabond, no matter how charming.  “What would you say if I told you I’ve lived here my entire life?”  It was true enough.  Though she’d never before set foot outside the palace grounds, she’d spent countless days and nights looking out over the city from one balcony or other.  She knew every district on sight, the map of Agrabah etched permanently into her mind, no matter how much it grew or changed.

 


   
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"Stick out?" Aladdin wasn't sure how to answer the question. A part of him suspected he had already offended her somehow. This girl hadn't been timid in her encounter with Farouk, and she certainly wasn't behaving like some shrinking desert flower now despite the delicacy of her looks. On the one hand, he could tell her she blended in perfectly with all the other riffraff clogging up the arteries of Agrabah, but that would be a lie. To him, she had stuck out like a sore thumb, and that was even before the fiasco at the fruit cart. The hood on her drab robes wasn't drawn tight enough to conceal its exotic passenger.

What did she most want to hear? There seemed a right answer to the riddle, but it eluded Aladdin the moment.

"You're, uh. You know." Politely exasperated eyes bore into him, and the boy suddenly felt more cornered than he had back in the alleyway. "You certainly know a trick or two to make yourself noticed. You might try your luck lifting apples next time when Farouk's back is turned. Or better yet, leave it to the experts."

He thumbed his vest straight and looked self-important. Without Abu there to mirror him, the full power of the boast was lost... then again, the impressiveness of a man and his monkey might already be questioned in certain circles.

"Aladdin. At your service. And if you tell me what street you grew up on, I could walk you home." Someone as sheltered as she was probably had literal shelter, and a home and a family expecting her back beneath their roof before nightfall.

"Don't do it child," advised an old woman as she passed them by. "A boy like that only wants one thing: a reward. Then he'll be back again and again asking for handouts until you change your address. Your mother won't thank you for bringing the trash in."

That took the wind out of his sails. Aladdin couldn't summon the words to respond in his own defense as the old crone fixed him with one beady eye. He had charmed most of the matronly women in Agrabah over the years, but there were still plenty of holdouts more than willing to drop a nasty remark here and there. And while it was true he hadn't been raised with anyone around to instill a sense of nobility, his natural valor dictated he say nothing in the face of this self-appointed portrait artist.

He scratched the nape of his neck, averting his eyes so he wouldn't have to look into hers.


   
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Ali
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"Thank you." Jasmine replied to the woman, somewhat dismissively.  She considered herself to be a perfectly capable judge of character, and her natural vexation at being told how to live her life was flaring up. 

Turning away from the on-looker she continued walking.  "So, Aladdin.  You seem quite an authority on the side-stepping of fruit merchants.  Do you make a practice of dodging all the salesmen in town?  Or is Farouk a special case?"  She kept moving, steering them away from the market district, deliberately angling toward one of the more humble residential neighborhoods.  She moved authoritatively, trying to ignore the fact that she didn't really know for sure where she was leading them.  Her view from the palace wasn't the most reliable when it came to the finer details of the city.

As charmed as she was by her self appointed guide, the Princess was more entranced by the city itself.  Every alley and by-way revealing itself in sharp relief for the first time impressed upon her how little she really knew it.  The impressionistic image she'd always held in her mind was far simpler, far tidier than the reality on display now.  For all the lavishness laid out before them, there was in equal measure an unsettling image of discontent.  Aladdin had seemed shabby to her, but now she saw there were far too many children more shabby than he was, and worse, no one seemed to bat an eye in their direction.  How could a city so rich in history, art, craft, and tradition allow for this?  Did her father know?

She stopped, unable to fully process the information she was taking in.  "Where do you live?" she asked Aladdin, speaking the question before fully understanding what it was she was asking.


   
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"Me?" Aladdin stopped walking; his eyebrows lifted until they vanished beneath his sweep of dark hair. He had never given a home address before, and never expected to be asked for one.

His first impulse was to lie. The sudden bolt of inspiration took him by surprise. What startled him most was that he recognized it for what it was: dishonest. Deceitful. Untrustworthy. He spent most of his waking hours evading justice, but this… this was a different sort of evasion altogether. There was nothing at stake here except that faint spark in her eyes, the potential for admiration. She didn’t look at him the way the others did, as if he was camel dung stuck to the bottom of her slipper. To her he was unmolded, the shape of him still uncertain. She was open to knowing more.

And what if she discovered that this was all he was?

Abu, who had overturned the basket and scampered after them, wound his way up to Aladdin's shoulder and jabbered his lack of consent. Aladdin shot him what he thought was a covert look in an attempt to silence him; then, he was struck with an idea. He turned back to his more recently acquired companion and folded his arms.

"Abu's right. We have to know if we can trust you first."

That wasn't what Abu had said. Not at all. The monkey didn't appreciate being mistranslated, but maybe Aladdin was finally coming to his senses about this beautiful stranger, so he was willing to go along with it. He crossed his furry forearms and pooched his lips smugly. Aladdin turned back to the girl, eyes twinkling. “So what do you say? Are you ready for the initiation?”


   
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"Initiation?"  Jasmine arched an eyebrow suspiciously; years of having her life lived for her, of being lead around by an invisible leash woven of kindly words, had sharpened her eye for empty prattle and exhausted her patience for it.  She wasn't about to let some stranger yank her chain now that she had finally been freed from a palace full of attendants who'd spent a lifetime doing precisely that.  Her independence had been hard won and she intended to protect it. 

"I'm afraid I'll have to pass.  I thank you for your assistance earlier, but it's time I get moving.  I have places I need to be."  It was a poor excuse and she knew it, for all her skill at detecting lies she was no expert in weaving them.  She didn't much care, she only needed an exit.  She turned and began walking down the alley, intent on leaving this miscreant and his bluster behind. 

Something nagged at her though, and it only intensified the more she walked.  In a corner sat a family, a mother with two children, ragged and clearly underfed.  They sad huddled beneath a few wooden boards with a threadbare cloth stretched between them for shelter from the sun.  In this one afternoon she'd seen so many identical dust covered faces, matching forlorn looks.  Even Aladdin, for all his bravado was clearly hardly better off than they were.  Gears were beginning to align, and wheels to turn.  Something was very wrong here.  The princess' pace slowed.


   
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