When princess Jasmine was sixteen years old, she saw Jafar for the first time.
They did not really meet, for she was hiding behind one of the pillars in the palace, listening in on one of her father’s audiences. That day, she had heard many pleas of merchants and farmers for money or land or sometimes both, and guards had given their reports on criminal activities in the city. Her father wasn’t very talkative at all, and Jasmine doubted he really ever paid attention at all. Instead, her father’s vizier, an old, wise man named Hiran, had spoken to the people – but he had rather annoyed princess Jasmine. It was clear that the man only wanted to politely shut people up, and there was no true intent to give the people what they asked for – or perhaps Agrabah simply did not have the means to do so. Jasmine did not know which it was, for she was always kept out of state’s business, and it frustrated her to no end.
But then, the next man came and walked up towards her father, his long, black robes betraying that he wasn’t a merchant, or a farmer, or a guard, but something else entirely – something that Agrabah hadn’t seen in ages.
He drew the silence of all the people in the room, and that was quite a rare thing. The golden snake-shaped staff he wore in his hands wasn’t used for support, for he appeared to be a healthy man, and not a cripple who needed a walking stick.
“What can we do for you?” the old vizier asked, and at this the other man merely smiled.
“The question is not what you can do for me,” he replied playfully after a few moments of silence. “The question is what I can do for you – and for the good people of Agrabah.”
The vizier narrowed his eyes at the man with the golden tongue.
This newcomer didn’t seem to be the least bit impressed by the royal company he was in, and he smiled smoothly.
“Have we summoned you?” Hiran wondered, not getting up from his luxurious pillow.
Even Jasmine’s father had an intrigued look on his face and was paying attention now.
“Do you do tricks?” the Sultan asked suddenly. “You look like an entertainer - a magician of sorts.”
The question was innocent, and the stranger seemed amused.
“You are not too far off, your majesty. I am a wizard.”
The people in the large room immediately started whispering to one another, and Jasmine made sure she remained hidden behind the pillar too – unspotted by both the guards and the wizard.
“Agrabah has outlawed wizards centuries ago!” the vizier reminded him sternly, casting a glance at the guards who immediately raised their weapons and took in protective stances on either side of the vizier and the Sultan.
“Yes, and I am here to convince you to change that law,” the man said confidently, not fazed by the weapons that had been drawn. “You do not seem to grasp how handy it is to have a powerful ally by your side. I can be that ally.”
The vizier narrowed his eyes. “And what’s in it for you?”
The wizard raised his hands and shrugged. “Perhaps… your job?”
More whispering ensued, and even Jasmine felt her heart race now. Someone who dared defy the vizier like that was either very brave or very foolish – or very evil.
She did not trust the wizard, but at the same time she most certainly didn’t trust the vizier either. She had heard the complaints of her people, and the only reason they listened to the vizier was because he threatened to kill anyone who questioned his judgement.
The vizier was fuming now, and he got up from the pillow on which he’d been seated and stepped down the few stairs to where the wizard stood, sizing him up.
Though they had the same height, the stranger still seemed to tower above the vizier, if only because of his confidence.
“Well… Here I am,” the old vizier dared him. “Kill me, if you want this job.”
The wizard raised an eyebrow, then started laughing.
“What kind of a vizier would I be if I could only get this job by murdering you? No, I have something else in mind.”
He turned his head away from the vizier, ignoring him while the old man gasped and spluttered, and instead the stranger headed up the stairs, towards the Sultan. When guards stepped in front of their Majesty and aimed their spears at the wizard he merely smiled and knelt down respectfully, gazing directly into the Sultan’s eyes.
“Sultan… I will give you three weeks to make up your mind. Three weeks to consider my offer. I can be your new consultant – your most powerful ally in a dangerous world. The choice is up to you.”
The Sultan nodded, understanding the sincerity with which the wizard spoke, and as the man in the black robes saw the Sultan agree, he disappeared in a cloud of red smoke.
The guards frantically looked for him, but it appeared like he was really gone – and no one had even learned his name, or knew how he was going to convince the Sultan that he was the better choice of the two.
Rumor of the wizard spread through all of Agrabah, and soon people were doubting if the law that was in place was a good one. The past century, stories had spread of wizards and witches in the Enchanted Forest, and how a certain witch named Regina had taken control of one of the kingdoms. If other countries in their world were allowing witches and wizards to rule and protect them, why shouldn’t they?
When next day’s audience came to be, the old vizier was still a little bit on edge, and that feeling did not get any better throughout the day. Every single person that came in front of the Sultan did not have a favor to ask that day, but instead told them they had been sent by Jafar, for various reasons.
The first time they heard the name Jafar, they weren’t sure who was meant, but as more and more citizens mentioned his name, it was clear that it was the wizard.
Jafar had apparently done a variety of things since the Sultan’s last audience. He had repaired several fishing boats by the coast – he had healed a sick mother of seven children – he had helped douse a large fire around the market place – and he had even returned a boy’s lost jackal to him. In all these things, he had let magic aid him.
In general, most things he had done were rather positive, but then there were some acts that were slightly more terrifying – like how he had murdered a band of thieves that had been plaguing the eastern outskirts of their land – or how he had removed the hand of another thief by magic.
The thief himself had even been at the audience to show the Sultan, lifting the clean stump he was now left with instead of the hand he had used before, making sure that everybody could see.
The vizier narrowed his eyes and seemed to be in a foul mood. It wasn’t like he wouldn’t have taken the thief’s hand – he too would have ordered the same – for in Agrabah, it was normal to cut off a thief’s hand as punishment. This actually looked far less painful than his punishment, and the man was without risk of further infection. The man seemed to be fine, besides the fact that he was now handless.
Though the old vizier found it a sign of weakness that Jafar had not actually hurt the man, Jasmine still found it cruel.
For two weeks, the audiences were filled with people telling tales of magic, and Jasmine didn’t miss out on a single one. She was both anxious and entertained by the tales she had heard, but she still wasn’t sure what to make of this Jafar. Her first instinct had told her he had been a dark man, and shouldn’t she always trust her first impressions?
She had trouble sleeping that night, and as she sat on the wide marble railing of her balcony, she sighed. It was hot and humid this time of year, and no magic would be able to help with that. She could imagine that it was cooler by the coast – but she had never been there. She had never even left the palace, and her heart ached terribly as she considered it, looking out over a city that was nothing but a mystery to her, even if it was so close.
Looking up at the full moon and countless stars, she suddenly realized that something strange was moving through the air. It certainly wasn’t a bird, for it travelled in a straight line – towards the palace. As it drew nearer, Jasmine realized that she saw the silhouette of a man, and it didn’t take her long to realize that he was standing on a flying carpet – and that it was moving directly towards her.
Alarmed and realizing that he would be able to spot her, she ran off into her room as fast as she could, hiding behind one of the large drapes that hung against the wall – even if that was in hindsight a ridiculous and useless thing to do.
She tried not to make a sound and listened intently as she heard and felt a breeze of cool wind around her, and then the sound of soft footsteps on her balcony. It was like the breeze whispered his arrival, and she knew he was there for her.
“Princess Jasmine?” came the man’s silky voice from outside, and she felt her heart beat wildly in her throat.
What did he even want with her?
Feeling terrified, she still realized that he was not someone she could hide from, and she moved away from behind the curtain again, towards the balcony, where she saw him waiting, his snake-staff in hand as he looked at her.
Now that she was so close to him, she could see him a little better. His dark eyes weren’t cold, but rather warm, and if he had worn clothes that were a little more normal than the long robes he dressed in, she might have considered him handsome. But that thought did not cross her mind right now.
Though he had a small smile on his face, she still didn’t trust him – in fact: she had seldom felt so afraid. Luckily she was able to hide it rather well, and she held her head raised high as she walked onto the balcony.
“Wizard Jafar,” she greeted him. “What brings you here at this time of night?”
A million answers were already spooking through her mind, each more terrifying than the previous one, and she really hoped he hadn’t come here to put some sort of spell on her or to kill her.
“You do,” he replied mysteriously, and as he spotted a twinkle of fear in her eyes, he tried to smile reassuringly, but it had quite the opposite effect on her, for she only felt more frightened and took a step back.
“Please, rest easy,” he assured her, and with a wave of his hand the staff suddenly disappeared, making him appear slightly less intimidating, though not by much. With a large smile, he folded his hands together in front of his lap, hoping to set her mind at ease.
“There’s a stranger performing magic on my balcony,” Jasmine replied with narrowed eyes, her shoulders still tense. “Magic is officially still forbidden here in Agrabah. There is little to rest easy about. What do you want from me?”
He seemed amused by her honesty, and his smile did not leave his face.
“I am here to offer you something which you have longed for all your life,” he said softly, keeping his distance. “Freedom. For an hour – for a night – for the rest of your life. Whatever you wish for.”
She raised an eyebrow. She wasn’t sure how he even knew what she wanted, for they certainly had never met.
“I’m quite fine, thank you very much,” she said quickly, trying to cut the conversation as short as possible.
“You will not accept this gift?” he wondered, his tone surprised and his gaze betraying that he had not expected her to respond in this way.
“I do not believe it is a gift, because you seem to want something in return. The others have spoken on your behalf at the audiences. What is it that you would ask of me? Do I also need to speak on your behalf now?”
He genuinely smiled again at her words, and his gentle demeanor confused her.
“You aren’t as naïve as I had thought you to be,” he admitted, sounding impressed. “Would you really let the chance slide to see a bit of the world?” As he gestured to his carpet, Jasmine felt her heart pound wildly – like she kind of loved the idea of flying and seeing the world that way, but she reminded herself of the distrust she felt for Jafar, and so she crushed the hope within that she would truly get out of the palace anytime soon.
“I’ll pass,” she said, and at this, Jafar’s expression fell for the first time since they had met. He seemed a little heartbroken.
“But you are only denying yourself of pleasure this way,” he reminded her carefully.
She crossed her arms in front of her chest.
“I think I’m also denying you of the favor you want to ask me,” she added, and at this he suddenly smiled again.
“To be honest, I doubt the favor is very impressive,” he admitted. “All I would want to ask you, is if your father is inclined to accept my offer after all I have done. Will he let me replace Grand Vizier Hiran?”
“How should I know?”
She was just dodging the question, but was honestly surprised by his reply.
“Because you know your father, and the vizier, and I bet you haven’t missed a single audience.”
Jasmine could not hide the surprise on her face as he appeared to know that, and Jafar smiled.
“I saw you hiding behind that pillar,” he admitted. “I’m rather surprised the guards didn’t. I have an inkling that those who spot you pretend they don’t. You seem to have a likeable nature.”
She raised an eyebrow. “A likeable nature?” she repeated, never having heard a compliment like that and not sure what to make of it.
Aware of how silly that sounded, he chuckled. “Apologies if that offends you.”
She shook her head. She wasn’t offended by those words – even if part of her wanted to be offended by everything he had said so far.
“So for information on my father’s thoughts, you would offer me freedom?” she asked him with narrowed eyes, and as he nodded, she seemed even more confused.
She kept quiet for a few moments, thinking, but eventually said: “I honestly have no information to give you in that regard. Though I’m the princess, I have no power over what my father thinks or does.”
“I think you underestimate yourself,” Jafar said warmly. “I’m convinced your father would listen to you. He cares for you.”
“Not enough to tell me of your existence, though. He doesn’t even know I’ve been to the audiences. For all he knows, I’m as oblivious as he wants me to be. I could not speak on your behalf to him – he would not value my opinion, or the fact that I’ve disobeyed his orders by attending the audiences.”
Jafar looked at her while she said those words, and at the end he merely nodded in an understanding way.
“Shame… That your opinion isn’t valued.”
Jasmine narrowed her eyes again as she realized he was already coming up with another plan.
“You know, if I was the vizier, you’d be allowed to sit in on the audiences,” he said lightly. “After all, as the kingdom’s future ruler, it would be silly not to train you for the task. Have you had an education?”
Jasmine hated that question, if only because her answer was negative.
“I taught myself how to read,” she informed him, and at this he seemed surprised.
“That isn’t an easy thing to do. I admire your perseverance, princess. You do not seem to be valued for anything but your beauty in this kingdom.”
It seemed to be more of a statement than a compliment, and she remained wary as she looked at him. He had hardly moved at all and seemed to be very interested in talking with her. It wasn’t something she was used to. She secretly enjoyed it more than she was willing to admit.
“You don’t seem to trust me?” he remarked as he noticed how the frown on her face hadn’t disappeared during anything he had said.
“I sense darkness in you,” she said immediately, not seeing a need to lie about that, and she was surprised to see him chuckle.
“You are very perceptive,” he agreed with a smile. “Yet in all the tales you have heard of me by now, have I gone too far in what I have done?”
Considering it, she shook her head. “You have acted by the laws and standards of Agrabah. But you do not seem to regret your punishment of thieves.”
“It is written in the law that they may be executed or maimed, dependent on the gravity of their crime.”
“Yet you say that with such ease,” she replied sharply.
As he looked at her, she had the feeling that he was dissecting her very soul.
“Do you blame soldiers for killing in a war? Or an executioner for doing what the law expects him to do for his country?”
“You are neither,” she reminded him. “You’re a free man. What you do is your own choice – and even before you had done any of those things you struck me as a dark man. What is it you’re really after? Do you want my father’s crown?”
He was impressed by how honest she dared to be with him, and in return he replied honestly as well.
“I have no desire for the crown, truthfully. But I do wish to help Agrabah, and I can’t do that while magic is outlawed and Grand Vizier Hiran is in charge. I have no desire to become an outlaw, but there is a war brewing, and Agrabah will need magic if it is to survive it.”
Jasmine was a little alarmed. “A war?” She had heard nothing to confirm that, not from the audiences at least.
“I spoke to the Dark One.” As he saw the princess’s confused expression, he elaborated: “A powerful wizard from the Enchanted Forest. He suggested I’d pick a side. I don’t assume he meant for me to pick Agrabah’s side – but it does feel more like home than the rest of this world.”
Jasmine still didn’t know what to make of it and remained very quiet.
“I don’t assume you’ll speak to your father on my behalf?” he tried again, smiling.
She shook her head. “As far as he is concerned, I don’t even know who you are.”
“I understand,” he said as he headed back to his carpet and summoned the staff in his hand again. “But you know, with me as the royal vizier, your chances of getting a proper education and being included in state’s affairs would significantly increase. You do not have anything to fear from me – whether you sense darkness in me or not. Have a good night, princess.”
She felt her heart race at the promise of a better life than the life she was living right now. She didn’t say anything at all in reply to his words though, and when his carpet lifted off and he flew back over the city of Agrabah, she looked at him as long as she could – until he eventually disappeared from her sight - in-between the stars.
She had a lot to think about.
As the final of the three weeks came to pass, Jasmine grew more anxious to follow the audiences, but at the same time it became harder for her to hide. More and more people came to the great throne room every day, and she hardly had a hiding place anymore by the last few days. In order to get in, she put on simple brown robes with which she covered her expensive outfit, and she managed to get quite close to hear what her people had to say.
Jasmine had an inkling that Jafar wasn’t only trying to win her father’s favor, but also hers. This week especially she had heard tales of how he had helped rebuild a school that had fallen into decay, and how he had stopped an unhappy marriage from happening and found another consensus that kept both families happy. He had read to children and taught them about magic, and shown them all that it could be used for good, and not just for evil.
She hated to admit it, but he was doing good things – things that Grand Vizier Hiran had never done. Even if she was uncertain about Jafar’s intentions, at least she knew that Hiran cared for no one but himself, and wasn’t it better to go for someone whose intentions she did not know then?
On the final day of the three weeks, Hiran was in a foul mood, and he had instructed the guards to never let more than ten people enter the throne room at once, to keep curious crowds outside, for he hated how the audiences had turned into a circus.
But at the same time that he had appeared last time, the door opened and Jafar walked in, followed by all those people that had been waiting outside, and Hiran got up and immediately protested.
“No more than ten people are allowed inside at a time!” he cried out, and though he looked to the guards for help, none of them moved, and they appeared to be on Jafar’s side.
Jasmine had been hiding behind her usual pillar again, and as she looked at Jafar’s entry, she caught his gaze for a small second, in which he offered her a smile.
She immediately retreated again, feeling a little nauseous, but by the time Jafar had walked up to her father, she was looking at the spectacle again, trying to see as much as she could.
“Your majesty,” he greeted the Sultan, bowing elegantly before him. “Have you had time to consider my offer?”
The Sultan was usually a man of only a few words, but today he had more to say.
“I have. And in all I’ve heard you do for my people, I do wonder… What is it that you would do for me?”
Grand Vizier Hiran had a suspicious gaze on Jafar, though he was hopeful that the Sultan would remain loyal to him alone.
Even Jafar seemed a little thrown back by that question, and he frowned for a moment.
“I would keep your people happy. I would make sure they’d be safe, and that they’d have it well. If the people are happy, are you not happy, Your Majesty?”
The crowd was completely silent as they waited for the Sultan to speak, and though he took his time, he did smile widely.
“I suppose I would be!” he admitted cheerfully. “But how do I know you will keep up your good work once you are Vizier? Who is to say you won’t turn your back on us the moment I give you the Grand Vizier’s ring?”
“Because I swear my loyalty to you and to Agrabah – and it would be my honor to call this place my home as well.”
Jasmine was listening curiously, and she thought he sounded very intense – and sincere. It was strange, that he did not consider Agrabah his home yet. Where had he grown up then? Did he come from the Enchanted Forest?
As the people in the room suddenly started calling Jafar’s name, Grand Vizier Hiran’s mood became even fouler than before, and as he cried for them to remain quiet, they only became louder, chanting Jafar’s name for a long while, not shutting up no matter how hard Grand Vizier Hiran tried to over-shout them. Jasmine felt shivers down her spine as she heard her people cry out as one for Jafar’s cause, and though she was cautious, she wanted to see what Jafar would do – how he would be – and if he would be the ruin of Agrabah, or the Grand Vizier they had needed all along.
When her father raised his hands, the crowd grew quiet again, and the Sultan smiled at Jafar.
“You may just have found yourself a new home, Jafar. I would be honored to have you as my new Royal Vizier.”
As the crowd started clapping and cheering, even Jasmine felt like she wanted to join in. While Jafar walked up the steps, Grand Vizier Hiran took off his ring, the one symbol of his power, but instead of handing it to Jafar, he tossed it away as far as he could – in the direction of the pillar behind which Jasmine had hidden.
As she ducked away behind the pillar, she noticed how the ring continued rolling, and ended up only a few feet away from her.
Gulping, she realized that she might as well. If Jafar was a man of his word, then she would have nothing to fear by revealing herself to the public now. And if he had lied all along, then she would find out straight away. Why wait?
She walked from her hiding place towards the ring, and as she picked it up and people saw it was her, they grew quiet again.
Old vizier Hiran was already leaving the room as Jasmine walked up towards her father and Jafar. Though the Sultan seemed surprised and slightly shocked to see her there, Jafar wasn’t, and he had a smile on his face as Jasmine stopped in front of him and raised the ring for him to take.
“A word of warning though,” she spoke quietly – so quiet that hardly even her father could hear. “If you hurt Agrabah in any way, I will hurt you back ten times as hard. I don’t know how, but I will. Do you understand?”
His wide smile fell a little bit, but he did nod. “I have no intention of hurting Agrabah. I will prove my loyalty to you. You’ll see.”
As he opened his hand in front of her, she put the ring in the palm of his hand, and as she stepped away again, more cheers erupted from the people there while he slid it onto his finger.
Before Jasmine could walk into the shadows again, she suddenly noticed how a comfortable blue pillow appeared in a cloud of purple smoke, besides her father’s, and as she turned her head and looked at Jafar, he nodded in the direction of the pillow, as a signal for her that this spot was now hers.
She had expected the need to make a silent retreat, but now, she realized that he had truly meant it when he had said he wanted her present in all the audiences, and as she walked up the stairs with trembling hands, even her father seemed surprised.
“Hiran always forbade women to…” the Sultan started, but Jafar interrupted him.
“Hiran was scared of her,” Jafar said loud enough for them both to hear. “Because she has a good heart and good instincts. That’s precisely what Agrabah needs. She can stay.”
Though she hated to admit it, she was moved by those words. At the same time, she was confused by the fact that he complimented her instincts. Wasn’t that like admitting that he was a bad person? For her instincts had told her that precisely, and she had even voiced that to him. It made little sense for him to agree with her on that.
As she looked up over the crowd before her, they cheered again, and she could not help but smile at the sight of her happy citizens. Perhaps now she would finally be able to make a difference.