At sunset on the third day since the second water purifier had stopped, the city of Agrabah limped along in a state of controlled chaos.
The royal fountains and pools were empty; the use of water for bathing and watering of plants was strictly limited, which put the nobles out of temper, greatly gratified the smallest children at bedtime, and added a whole new level of pungency to the bazaar. The bakers in the streets sold a drastically reduced selection at astronomical prices; at the back gates of the palace, a line of hungry beggars stretched and snaked out into the city, and the Queen's cooks fed them on baked vegetable balls and salads, anything but bread; and kebab stalls had sprung into being like goosebumps after a cold wind, hawking roasted lamb so fast that the shepherds were fast becoming the happiest demographic in the city, and the sheep the most worried.
The sheep, and the Queen.
Three days earlier
“Is there no one you can send for?” Jasmine asked the water plant supervisor.
“Like who, your Majesty?”
“Like – some expert in magical artifacts, perhaps,” said Jasmine.
“I understood that your Majesties had possession of a great and powerful Jinn. Surely he -”
“The Genie is not a servant!” Jasmine said too sharply, and then consciously controlled her voice. “When he uses his powers to aid us, it is of his own free will, and he comes and goes as he pleases. He is not in the palace now.”
The man was still cringing a little from her reprimand. “If – perhaps if your Majesty were to summon him?”
“I'll try, but I'm afraid it is not in my power to summon him. Can't you send for anyone else?”
“In that case,” said the honored supervisor in growing discomfort, “the greatest expert in the use of magical artifacts, your Majesty, is... you.”
Ten years of amassing ancient magical artifacts, mainly by letting it be known that a reward was offered for them at the palace, had given Jasmine a large collection, with the contents of Jafar's tower workroom forming the backbone. She knew enough about them to (usually) put them together the right way, and many times to guess how to make them work, and even to clean them without breaking them, but as for fixing them?
”Me?” said Jasmine. “Look – there has to be someone else! Who fixed the water purifier the last time that it broke?”
The supervisor's three underlings, who had been watching the conversation with increasingly evident anxiety and decreasing stealth from around the edge of the doorway, stopped wringing their hands to exchange dubious looks which said: “I always thought the Queen was both wise and beautiful, but if she doesn't even know such a simple thing as the maintenance record of the secondary water purifier...!”
“Your majesty,” breathed the supervisor, “the last time the water purifier broke was two hundred and twenty-two years ago, during the reign of Sultan Ismail! It was fixed, of course, by the great sorcerer Ben Zoma!”
“I see,” Jasmine said, mentally waving goodbye to the evening of reading she had planned for. “And there's never been any sort of service, any... upkeep of the purifier since then?”
“Yes, yes, your Majesty, upkeep! We wash it daily, keep clear of dust, and clean the Fil Tars on a regular schedule!”
“Allah preserve us,” Jasmine said to herself. “Let me take a look at it.”
And for three days Jasmine tried to make the water purifier work. The best engineers in the city were summoned to the water plant and sent away again. The pools and fountains were emptied into recyclers. The sorcerers of the city were sent for one by one. The austerity rules for preservation of water were put in place. The dealers in rare and not-so-rare magical artifacts were consulted. Nobody knew why the water purifier had stopped. Even the Khan Pu-tar, the ancient guardian spirit of the one water purifier which still worked, could give no answer.
Aladdin was away. If he was successful in making peace with the Sultan of Inmar his trip would have been well worth it, and his knowledge of magical artifacts was not great, but at least she could have relied on his company.
On the second day the moon swelled in the sky just enough so that Jasmine began to bleed, and rather than staying in bed, drinking medicines and eating sweetmeats, she bound herself with rags and went to the water purification plant to study the working of the purifier. Surrounded by a treasure room's worth of treasure, half a battalion of armed guards to guard the treasure, and a number of important sorcerers and seers, she couldn't loosen her hair and claw at her scalp the way she wanted to. She couldn't even bathe in cool water after she went home for the night; all she could do was massage her belly and temples with hot scented oils, and at bedtime coax Rajah to sleep inside so she could curl up with her belly against the living heat of his beloved furry back.
At sunset on the third day the plant supervisor, Kasim, called for torches to light the room. Soon it would be as hot as a steam bath.
A spear of pain lanced into Jasmine's belly and up along her spine and she gritted her teeth against it and put her forehead wearily in her hands until it passed. When it did, she almost gasped in relief.
“This just isn't working,” she informed the room.
“Your Majesty?” said the sorceress Khadiya.
“We're never going to fix the purifier this way. All the wisdom and all the power in this room isn't enough to fix it! Without the Genie's magic, our only hope is the Khan of Purifier One. He's the only one who knows anything about purifiers!”
“But, your Majesty,” said Kasim, “we have consulted extensively already with the Khan...”
“All our questions to the Khan have borne no fruit,” said Khadiya. “He speaks in riddles and leaves us in confusion.”
“I know, Kasim. You've done very well. But just because the Khan doesn't make sense to us doesn't mean that what he says has no meaning. Our diviners can't see it, because a Khan Pu-tar is already a magical artifact. What if he's interfering in some way with their spells?”
“What if we don't need to divine him?” said Khadiya. “A spirit like the Khan is meant to tell us the use of the artifact he inhabits. If you ask a man a question and his reply seems to be nonsense, do you throw up your hands in despair that you shall never know? Or do you talk to the man to learn how you might speak with him?”
“We are well versed in the scrolls of water purification, but if you wish to examine them again, your majesty?” said Kasim.
“No, no, I just think... there must be something we've missed.” When she stood up, leaving the polished silver shutter on the purifier open, another cramp knotted up her belly. “I don't think the scrolls have the answer we want. Send for food and wine for everyone here. And Khadiya, get me a scholar.”
“A scholar, your Majesty?”
“A scholar of languages. Perhaps more than one of them. The rest of the sorcerers may go. I'll return shortly.”
The inner garden at the palace was designed to make all the best use of the beauty of sunset. Red light pooled in the empty fountain and the dying remnants of sunbeams stretched like fingers between the shadows of the colonnade. Rajah was stretched watchfully along the rim of his favorite blue-tiled pool, bearded chin resting on his paws and his great golden eyes slitted. When Jasmine came into the garden, shedding the last of her heavy robes, he yawned and stretched and sat up, just in time for her to flop to the ground at his side and hang her arms around his neck.
He rumbled a hello and rubbed her face with his head, then gave a pointed, accusing look at the empty pool when she looked up. “Oh, Rajah, I'm trying. I've been trying all day. The water will be back as soon as the purifier is fixed. It can't possibly wait until the Genie comes back...”
Rajah purred calmingly and leaned gently into her embrace. It won't.
“I'm a good queen, aren't I?”
“Mrr!” Rajah said indignantly.
“You would say that,” Jasmine sighed, damply, and buried her face in his neck. “I can't even cry. I probably haven't been drinking enough.” Rajah licked her face with a scolding rumble.
“I wish they were here.”
“Mostly him, because right now I want his help more than anything, even a back rub. But what kind of a Queen am I if I can't solve my own problems without Genie's 'phenomenal, cosmic powers'?”
Rajah was a good friend, and would listen to her complain for hours at a time. But he was also a cat, so he didn't always do it completely sympathetically. He rolled his eyes dramatically at that. You can! he chirruped, and nudged her so hard with his nose that she swayed back off of his shoulder.
“All right, all right,” she laughed. “I've got some thinking to do.”
Jasmine and Aladdin's chambers contained all you would expect: a bed chamber, a private room for Jasmine with a couch and door to the gardens for Rajah, a private room for Al with a little carved ebony bed for Abu, a solarium, a private bath... a room for the Genie.
The Genie didn't need a room. He didn't need to sleep. He didn't need to have legs. But they had a room for him because they'd told him they always would, and you didn't need to ask to know that the Genie liked it.
It didn't have a bed. When the Genie was at the palace, it usually had a suitcase, and could have absolutely anything else in it. When he was gone, it had a table. And a lamp.
“Why don't you destroy it?” Al had asked him.
“I can't do that, Al,” the Genie had said. Then he'd made himself a jacket, pulled a handkerchief from the breast pocket, and polished the side of it vigorously before setting it carefully on the table.
“Whoever made the lamp,” Jasmine had asked the Genie another time. “Is that... who put you in it?”
“It's a prison, Princess,” he'd said. “Made for one purpose.”
“How was it made?”
“If I knew that, I'd've busted out of there a long, long time ago,” said the Genie.
In a way, the lamp was like a war trophy. But it was also the most mysterious and formerly the most powerful ancient artifact ever known. Now it had no power, according to Al. But it did still have something: secrets.
Before he destroyed it, Jasmine knew, the Genie was going to know how it worked, how it was made – how to break its spell.
At the water plant, Khadiya and Kasim shared a flagon of wine and four scholars fought over a single scroll on the table like children.
“Your Majesty, some wine?”
“Thank you; what have they decided?”
“Well, they're very excited over some of the lingo.”
“Old words,” explained Khadiya, “whose meanings have changed.”
“It clearly refers to a symbol of great power!” shouted the old, fat scholar.
“Oh yes, clearly! It's as clear as mud!” shouted the old woman.
“And that's Nergis.”
“It's plans,” said the one in the middle. “That is, blueprints. That is, if the earlier sense of the suffix is assumed - one gets the sense of a drawing or representation.”
“That one is Umar.”
“Yes, a symbol is a representation – that's the essence of a symbol -” said the young fat one.
“And that's Hakim.”
“Sophistry!” shouted the old man.
“It's the opposite of sophistry, actually,” Hakim replied, a bit snootily.
“The question is whether the term denotes an authority, such as the Khan -”
“I'm telling you, it's a reference to the Man-Yu-El!”
“Stop harping on your pet project, Nergis! Not everything is evidence of some vast global network of all-knowing oracles!”
“How do you explain the complexity of the purifier and the other Great Artifacts, Askari? I suppose the Ancients were born knowing how to use magical artifacts!”
“ - or a representation such as a plan or map,” Umar continued, as if his elders weren't involved in a screaming match right above his head.
“My brother-in-law is a scholar,” said Kasim, and Khadiya wordlessly passed him the wine.
“What is a Man-Yu-El?” said Jasmine.
It took a moment for her voice to penetrate the scholars' table, but to the credit of Jasmine's vocal training, it eventually did. She didn't have to repeat herself to get their attention.
There was an embarrassed shuffling of scrolls and some throat-clearing, and then Askari said, “Essentially an oracle, your Majesty.”
“It's an answerer of questions about a specific artifact,” Nergis added. “Everything you could ever desire to know about the artifact would be known by the Man-Yu-El. Its purpose was to instruct the Ancients in the ways of magic.”
“Oh, because we all know the Ancients didn't have sorcerers,” said Askari.
“There's actually substantial evidence that all Ancients were sorcerers,” put in Hakim.
“Isn't this like another word for a Khan Pu-tar?” asked Jasmine.
“Not exactly, your Majesty.”
“A Man-Yu-El is only a repository of knowledge,” Nergis said. “Unlike the Khan Pu-tar, which is more a caretaker of its artifact, and has the function of working its magic in our absence.”
“Can we consult this Man-Yu-El, then?”
“Man-Yu-Els are the stuff of myth, your Majesty!” said Askari.
“None have been found intact.”
“Well,” said Khadiya, “Why don't we ask the Khan Pu-tar?”
And so they found the Man-Yu-El: it was not an oracle or a spirit, but a text, and the Khan Pu-tar had stored a complete record of it inside a magical jewel which was hidden within the water purifier. Once removed, the jewel could be brought to life with magic. A simple scrying instrument revealed the text of the Man-Yu-El, and the Man-Yu-El contained nothing less than a map of the heart of the water purifier, with lines and symbols written all over it, and the hidden names of its workings and all its arcane parts.
With this, surely, the second water purifier could be fixed. All they had to do was take it apart.
Kasim advised against it, but not without bowing all the way to the floor. The scholars were all fascinated by the idea and disappointed when they found they weren't required to stay.
“Is there anything else you need, your Majesty?” asked Kasim, biting his lip with nerves.
Khadiya had stayed behind when the scholars left, and none of the staff of the water plant had tried to chase her away. Jasmine waved her over to the other side of the great worked golden panel on the bottom of the purifier. They each consulted the Man-Yu-El's map briefly, and then Jasmine felt along the filigree patterns for a hidden edge. “Got it?” she asked Khadiya.
“I think so.”
“All right; on three – one, two... three!”
The filigree moved when they pressed; there was a metallic catch, something resisting the pressure, and then it fell open all at once, revealing an enormous number of interlocking parts covered with a tangle of etched-in multicolored lines.
“Kasim!” Jasmine said.
“Yes, your Majesty?”
“I think we need some tinkers.”
“...and that was yesterday,” Jasmine concluded.
Aladdin paused with one leg still in his pants. “And they're still there?”
“Don't worry, it's going well. I watched them work all day. I only left the water plant when I got word that you were at the gates, and I left Rajah to watch them. He'll put a stop to it if anyone is about to break something. But they think they've found the piece that's broken already; it shouldn't be too long before -”
There was a faint rumbling sound. Aladdin's head lifted with a jerk and he almost tripped on the discarded pants before Jasmine caught him with an arm around his waist.
“What's that? It sounds like a herd of really tiny elephants.”
“A herd of really tiny elephants?” said Jasmine dubiously.
The rumbling vanished into a rushing, louder and louder, and then – softer, and through the archway in the inner garden, there was suddenly the loud hiss and musical chatter of water rushing from the wall fountain and falling into the bowl.
“I think that was the water coming back on,” Jasmine corrected him, wrapping the other arm around his waist.
Al tilted his head consideringly. “Tell you what. Let's go into the garden and check, and if it is a herd of tiny elephants, I win, and you give me a back rub.”
“Uh-huh. And what if it's the water?”
“Then you win, and you get to give me a back rub.”
Jasmine shook her head no, and absent-mindedly gave a slap to the closest part of Aladdin to the flat of her hand. “No.”
“My back really hurts. I've been in the air all day.”
“Okay. If it's the water, then you win and I give you a back rub every day for a week and you take the potion from the physician and you actually stay in bed tomorrow eating sweets. And maybe I'll stay with you.”
“I'll think about it,” said Jasmine.
“And then you can give me a back rub. If you feel like it.”
“How did it go in Inmar?”
“It's in the bag,” Al said smugly.
“Come here, you,” said Jasmine, and pulled him down into the bed.
In the inner garden, the Genie laid back on his raft in the fountain, took a sip from his piña colada, adjusted his Wayfarers on his nose, and settled in for a few relaxing hours of miniature elephant water ballet.