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The Mirage

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The splashing of water, crystalline chimes to the ear of a thirsting man tantalized Horatio's senses. His mouth was so dry he could barely swallow. His tongue was swollen and his parched lips cracked like the baked earth under his feet. The sound of water falling into water, the gurgle of a brook, the drip of rain outside his window, the sounds hypnotized him and drew him deeper into the mysterious Eden that he'd found.

He'd climbed over a high wall to reach the verdant acres. He'd smelled the sweetness of flowers and fruit. He heard the water. Passing limes and orange trees, he stumbled on. If he stole only the water, no one would blame him, no one would disapprove of such a little thing. He would gladly defend his action. He'd only taken the water because he was dying of thirst. Surely, no civilized host would deny him life.

Horatio felt faint. He'd walked more than ten miles in the oven of the desert coast. He had begun along the beach and then moved inland toward the lonely habitation that he'd discovered hidden in a ravine between high sandstone cliffs. The massive gates were locked and no one answered his knock. No one came to his shouts. No one at all seemed to dwell behind the ornately carved gates, inside the rosy marble palace of airy colonnades, choice gardens and slender minarets.

The gardens were soft beds of grass and flowers. The deep shade of slender palms and luscious citrus revived him a little. Even an hour of sleep in that cool shade was worth the risk of trespass. So he climbed over the wall and wandered within the gardens, led by the unseen djinn who were the fabled inhabitants of the region, toward the irresistible splashing sounds.

At last he saw the central fountains. He wanted to run, but his legs felt like lead. He staggered and then he fell, a mere dozen steps from his goal. He clawed at the moist earth, made damp and fragrant from the fountain's spray. Undaunted, Horatio dragged himself along, his uniform muddied, his resources gone, his pride in rags.

Inches from his goal, he fainted, the cool spray in his face, tiny droplets running down his cheek, pooling at the corner of his generous mouth. He swallowed unconsciously, licking his lips. He settled into the mud, dying of thirst, his final thoughts those of regret at his decision to strike out alone. How cruel to die alone! Never to know if his beloved lived...

Yet, Horatio's spirit did not sink into painful darkness. Instead, it rose up out of his breast and looked about the garden. He viewed his own body, prone upon the damp earth. The fountain's spray like tears ran coursing down his face. His mouth was slack, his eyes glazed. All the sleek muscles of the fine body relaxed into the last restful pose.

A bright ray of light glowed all around, like a beacon ready to guide the newly freed spirit to its home in the heavens. Yet for some reason, Horatio's spirit did not notice the light. A deep sadness filled the spirit and it ignored the celestial path. So profound was Horatio's regret at the failure of his mission, his spirit could not bear to leave the cooling shell of flesh that had once been a handsome young man. All seemed hushed at that heartbreaking moment, even the sighing of the trees and the splash of water. Then there came the sound of low, musical voices. Horatio's bright spirit turned. He blinked his non-corporeal eyes, fluttering lashes that were the envy of the angels. Bright shapes flew about him like fearless doves. Doves that laughed with human sounds.

The bright motes coalesced into human shapes, well, nearly human, the English spirit thought. A few had the proper curve of the female figure. Others were lean and slim like young men. Still others were short, as squat as dwarves. Others had long limbs and the spidery bodies of monkeys. None of them seemed to notice him. They played instead with the bright curls of raven hair on the body that sprawled inches from lifesaving water.

Their morbid interests disgusted Horatio's spirit. He moved closer to chase them off. He shouted and ran at them when he saw that the dwarvish creature's mouth was full of long sharp fangs, dripping saliva. The creature growled at his approach and snapped. The other beings laughed and surrounded the newly freed spirit. They pressed against him and blocked his view of his earthly form. They tried to lead him away.

All at once another sight captured the attention of the flock of spirits. It was a man of flesh and blood, or so he seemed, who raised an arched brow and furrowed a clear and innocent forehead. Richly dressed, he was a princely figure of a man. Unafraid, he waved his arms and scattered the bright motes. He approached the body lying at the fountain's brink and lifted it into his arms.

The man listened for the rush of breath, his ear poised above Horatio's mouth. His manicured hands felt the wide chest for a beating heart. He touched the throat, and squeezed the hands, hoping no doubt for some sign of life's spark. The handsome nobleman scooped water from the fountain and splashed it into Horatio's face. He dribbled water into the corner of the slack mouth. He massaged the throat and waited for the muscles to complete the action of swallowing.

Suddenly, Horatio's spirit was seized by a violent tugging. His flesh called urgently. The singing blood at the temples. The whispering breath in the lungs. The thrill of sexual pleasure tingling along the spine. Inhaling sharply, Horatio's nostrils filled with the spicy scent of the man. Fierce convulsions, shuddering and trembling limbs. His spirit had returned to the torture in which his body bathed.

The man murmured in his ear words that possessed a soothing sound. Soft lips pressed against his damp cheek and strong arms lifted him, held him until the crisis passed. More water... then, exhaustion. Horatio tried to help his savior get him into the shade of the trees. He sank again onto a soft bed of grass. He drank and he slept.

The Mirage (Third Part) By AZARAD

When next Horatio opened his dark eyes, he found himself washed clean and lying naked in a soft featherbed within a richly appointed room scented with the sweetness of the lush moonlit garden. At the wide arching window, the slender young man seemed to be keeping his vigil, wearing the soft, flowing robes of a desert sheik.

The princely figure was looking out toward the fountains whose music played harmoniously with the sighing breezes among the palm fronds. The playful motes of light circled his turbaned head. He gazed out at the gardens and then upward to the heavens, absently brushing at the shimmering lights as one might whisk at fireflies.

Horatio watched a moment. Then he cleared his throat and said quietly, "My deepest thanks, kind sir, for your most timely rescue."

Horatio hoped that the low pitch and softness of his voice had been enough to gain the man's attention. He hoped too that the mildness of his speech conveyed not only his heartfelt gratitude but also his amicable intentions.

The young man turned. He was beautiful in the dim moonlight--brilliant black eyes, an aristocratic face, a sculpted beard. His seemed a raptor's face--keen eyes, wide cheekbones, curved nose and sharp chin, yet without a hint of cruelty. Joy bloomed on his features. He grinned white teeth and walked quickly toward his guest. Standing next to the bed, the man made a series of gestures with his hands. Then his exclamations and many questions bubbled up like the waters of the fountains.

He said, "I give thanks to Allah that He has sent you straight to me within my grand prison. Blest be His Holy name. From whence came you, friend? By what horrific adventure do you find yourself adrift in this place of terror? Please, if you are able, tell me your tale!"

"Allow me to introduce myself, sir," Horatio said, amazed that the man spoke a kind of English. "My name is Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower of His Majesty's Frigate Indefatigable. My tale is somewhat long and I am exceedingly thirsty. May I please have more to drink before I begin?"

"Anything of mine is yours, my noble guest," he said, sweeping off his rich outer robe and draping it about Horatio's wide shoulders, helping him to sit up and then to stand and move toward an alcove in the room where cushions on the floor and a low table awaited them.

The princely host continued, "Eat and drink your fill here in my quarters. Rest safely in my bed. I will watch over you. I ask only that you partake first, of a small sip of coffee and a bit of bread flavored with salt."

"Of course, sir," Horatio said, blinking his wide eyes. "Whatever pleases you! In your house, I am your humble servant."

"Nay, I am yours..."

Suddenly and magically, a silver coffee service appeared on the low table. Unseen hands laid out their repast. First, a basket of small loaves of soft white bread lightly flavored with salt. Next, small cups of hot sweet coffee. They partook of each. Then a bowl of grapes appeared. With it, a basket of oranges and a plate of dates. Next, a savory dish of curried rice and lamb, and finally, all manner of confections sweetened with honey and tasting of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Horatio ate with the appetite of a starving man.

When he was sated, he told his story, how he, Captain Pellew and his shipmate Archie Kennedy had landed on the desolate shore, the only survivors of the wreck of their tiny boat. Their warship had no doubt searched for them but by now, they must have given up hope since it was nearly a month ago that a sharp squall parted them from their comrades.

Yet, the three men had landed, saved from the ocean's depths by clinging together to a piece of wreckage, encouraging each other to keep hold. Unfortunately, their landfall was barren desert. Only a trio of date palms offered shade and a stand of rank grasses provided the weary shipwrecked sailors a final bed. The Captain who suffered from a complaint in his lungs, needed rest. They made him comfortable and then they talked.

Driven by hunger and thirst, they agreed that Horatio, the strongest of the three, should set off to search their landfall. The Captain and Kennedy remained and rested, determined to find driftwood to light as a signal fire in the event they saw a passing ship. After dividing their meager supply of dates, Horatio said, he had walked away from them with a heavy heart, not knowing if he would find them alive or dead upon his return.

The anguish in Horatio's voice was plain and his host laid a jeweled hand upon his arm, halting the story.

"Do you wish to see them?" his mysterious host asked.

"Oh yes! But how?"

"Come, if you are not afraid. We are safe within the palace until dawn."

Horatio rose, found his legs steady and followed his host down eerily quiet halls. They passed room after richly decorated room. The palace was beautiful beyond compare, appointed in rich furnishings, exotic woods, polished marble, chalcedony, alabaster and jade.

Finally, stepping out onto a high terrace overlooking the dark green of the garden, the silvery jetting fountain beyond, Horatio and his host approached a basin of still, black water much like a bird bath in an English garden. Upon drawing closer, the water seemed of infinite depth with the stars of heaven reflecting upon its surface.

"Gaze upon the surface of the pool and think of your heart's desire," the young man said.

Horatio did as he was instructed, the hair on the back of his neck standing and shivers running the length of his spine. Instantly, he saw the sleeping forms of his shipmates. They were resting fondly in each other's arms, their breathing slow and peaceful. Horatio sighed and smiled at his host. Tears sprung into his eyes and his host gazed softly upon his show of emotion.

"Is one of them your lover?" the young man whispered curiously.

Horatio replied, "They are both dear to me. I care only that they live."

Then, mastering his overflowing heart, Horatio took a step back from the hypnotic force within the pool. He said firmly, "Now, you see why I must return with food and water for them. Can you help me?"

"Yes, I can. But, you have not asked my price."

"Save them, sir, and I will give you anything I have."

"Anything? Your freedom? Even your life?"

Horatio blinked and frowned. He tilted his head and looked at his host closely. The man waited patiently for his answer, giving no hint of his future intentions. Horatio cleared his throat and took a deep breath.

"If you require my life to save them, take it. I give it freely."

The young man smiled disarmingly. He shook his head. He said, "Your life is not required. And moreover, I will save your life by sending you back to your friends this very night, before my master returns at dawn. Come! Let us return to my quarters and rest. I will tell you my story."

They traversed again the silent halls of the great palace. The little lights flickered and caressed both men. The princely guide laughed and the lights twittered brightly. Horatio felt lewd touches upon his person and blushed deeply. His host seemed amused.

When they returned, the little table was clean. The bed was turned down and a small lamp glowed overhead. Horatio was invited to recline. Then he was politely asked if he wished company in his bed. He raised the coverlet and his host climbed in and lay beside him among the soft pillows. The lights twinkled and the lamp dimmed.

Horatio blushed again at the nearness of his strange and very handsome host. He murmured, "It would seem to me, sir, that you are the master here. Yet you say your master will arrive at dawn?"

"Alas, I am only master of my little unseen servants. In truth, I am a prisoner here. My name is Marid Faisal, the firstborn and much loved son of the most valorous Caliph Saiid Ibn Aqmed al Jaffar. I was torn from my bodyguards by magic and secreted here a long time ago.

I learned that my father never gave up his search for me. He was forced by my cruel master to pay a huge ransom for my life, but my honorable father would not agree to give the magician my sister for his pleasure. So, I was never granted my freedom. I have been behind these walls since the day I was taken.

Even so, I have my djinn to serve me and I live in comfort within this stately palace. My life cannot be forfeit. But, to punish me for my unwilling nature, my master allows me no human companions. Therefore, I long for the sound of another living creature. I was overjoyed to find you. I am pleased to offer you comfort. And, even knowing the risks, I am sorely tempted to imprison you, my handsome guest. Are you not the least afraid?"

"If my friends are saved, I would gladly remain your servant. Even better, tell me how I can dispose of your evil master. I am willing to do all in my power to free you."

"In the blink of an eye, my master would turn you to ash. I will not have you suffer for my sake. He kills anyone he finds with me. For that reason, our time together must be brief. And I promise to keep you safe from him. You see, over the years, I have learned much of my master's magic. I should be content. Yet, a tender embrace before I send you homeward would soothe my heart."

"How long have you been alone?"

"What is the year?"

"By our reckoning, 1793."

The young man thought a few moments. He said, "My father was made Caliph by your reckoning in 1387. I was born a year later. I was stolen and hidden here on my twentieth birthday."

Horatio's eyes widened. He blinked at the young man who looked no older than twenty.

The young man made no move to disrobe. And Horatio, rather stunned by recent revelations, was helpless.

Marid Faisal smiled shyly and cast his eyes downward. Then he said, "I have never been with a man."

Despite his bedpartner's confession, Horatio felt warm hands upon his body--caresses and touches of a most intimate kind. His clothing was no protection against the invading little lights. He felt his skin flush with pleasure and he sensed himself grow hard. He swallowed and shifted in the bed, wondering whether or not to surrender to the unseen forces.

Marid Faisal gave him a tender look, waiting patiently, his mouth open slightly, his breathing quick with anticipation. The young man's skin at his throat was smooth and moist where his robes fell open a little and revealed a dusting of fine black hair on his chest.

Horatio cleared his throat. "Merely a tender embrace? Is that all you require?" Horatio asked, reaching for his companion.

"I throw my miserable self at your mercy. Do as you will. Make love to me as if I were your lover. I will take on his features if you wish it."

Catching his host gently in his arms, Horatio exclaimed, "Oh, that will not be necessary. You are quite a handsome man and since I am repaying you for all your kindness to me, it seems only fair to keep you as you are."

Cheerfully grinning and wide-eyed in his guest's embrace, Marid Faisal asked, "Are all men of your nation so sensible and honorable?"

"I am an officer in his Britannic Majesty's Navy. I'd like to think we are uncommon men," Horatio replied with a sense of pride.

"My father would have liked your ruler, I think."

The unseen hands and the playful lights were succeeding at driving Horatio mad with desire. His voice was thick with passion when he replied, "I hope you find me pleasing, my lord."

"My name is Marid. Now, please, show me what touches your lover enjoys. And tell me how he pleases you."

"Well, first..." Horatio said, pausing and licking his lips. "He likes me to undress him very slowly."

Horatio began sliding his trembling hands over the smooth flesh, pushing his bedmate's clothing from his shoulders. "Then," Horatio whispered, "I kiss each newly exposed portion of his skin. Like this."

Leaning close, Horatio began by kissing the man's wide forehead. Then his lips touched the man's eyelids, his cheekbones, his strong nose, his chin and finally his mouth, teeth chewing a little on the tender lower lip. Horatio grasped the robe's heavy fabric again and pushed it farther off Marid's shoulders. Horatio's mouth devoured his thick, strong neck, his trembling throat, the sweet hollows where neck and shoulder meet, hillocks and valleys of muscle and bone.

Parting the robes, Horatio kissed the small dark buds. He ran his fingers across the wide planes of the man's chest. He ran his fingers through and marveled at the soft, luxurious hair. He trailed kisses down his chest and licked the prince's flat abdomen. Flinging back the robes completely, he tasted the succulent meat of the man's inner thighs. Only when he heard the man groan, when he felt him hot and ready, only then did Horatio kissed the ruby tip of Marid's shaft, warm and hard as ivory.

Horatio heard a deep sigh and he felt his host shudder. The man's flesh was suddenly wet with sweat. Clear drops of nectar wept from Marid's organ and Horatio slaked his thirst. He swallowed as if he still suffered from the rigors of his desert trek. So faint from lack of water, that he drank deeply at the wellspring of Marid's body, at the fountain about to gush life's essence.

The lights grew brighter and their touches piquant, heating Horatio's blood to a fever pitch. He imagined that they wished him well. He was pleasing their master. They repaid him in kind. Yet, Marid too lavished him with soft words, with petting and fond strokes, smoothing his long, dark hair and then grasping his curls as passion's tides ebbed and flowed.

Both men were drenched in sweat and breathing hard when they reached fulfillment. Marid hung on the brink a long time, it seemed. Then he gasped and fell back among the pillows, his little lights fluttering about him. He waved his arm and snaked it about Horatio, pulling him into a fond embrace. Then they slept.

The first pink rays of dawn warmed the sky when Marid awoke Horatio. The young man's face was glowing with satisfaction. His eyes were filled with tears. He wept unashamedly against Horatio's chest, hugging him and caressing him with painful longing, yearning desperately for a few last touches of a fellow living creature. Horatio melted. He took him in his arms and kissed him again. He offered to stay a little while longer. He offered to fight the evil magician.

Marid shook his head. He wrapped his loose robes tighter. He threw off the coverlets. He pulled Horatio out of the bed and quickly dressed him in his naval uniform, which was cleaned and mended. Then, Marid called to his little lights. He gave them orders in his native language. Magically, three gourds of water and three sacks of provisions appeared. There would be a ship too, he promised, in three days time.

A long last kiss and a wave of jeweled fingers... Horatio found himself on the high dunes above a camp on the beach. Archie and the Captain sat next to a large pile of driftwood. They stared out to sea. With a great shout, Horatio caught their attention and Archie turned to look. Amazed, he stood and gazed at what must have seemed an apparition. Horatio waved again and watched as the Captain gained his feet and Archie raced in his direction.

"Help me carry these things down to camp," Horatio said among fond embraces. "I long to see our Captain. Is he better?"

"He's as well as can be expected under the circumstances, shipwrecked and starved. Gads, Horatio! Captain Pellew's been mourning your loss."

"After one night?"

"Horatio, you've been gone nine days."

Shocked, Horatio hurried down the slope behind Archie. Both men were burdened with baggage. They did not stop to wonder how Horatio had carried everything before when clearly two men were necessary now. They arrived in the meager shade of the triad of palms. Captain Pellew tried to stand. Horatio lifted him and the older man leaned heavily into Horatio's embrace.

After a sniff or two and an unexpected wiping of his eyes, the Captain whispered, "It's good to have you back, Mr. Hornblower."

"It's good to be back, sir," Horatio responded, searching his Captain's body with knowing hands, finding him thin and frail. "Let us see what we can make of these provisions, sir. We will eat and I will tell you of my adventure."

So they found honey, oranges and dates, nuts and cheese, unleavened bread and strips of dried meat. They feasted and listened to Horatio tell of finding the captive prince. Archie sat listening, wide-eyed in amazement. Captain Pellew raised his brow more than once and frowned, more of a skeptic than Mr. Kennedy, he admitted. Even so, the evidence was overwhelming. Horatio's good health, and the food and water they consumed gave testimony to the truth of Horatio's marvelous tale.

That evening, Horatio was nearly ready to throw himself down in the sand next to his shipmates when he chanced to look in his pockets. In the pocket of his uniform coat, closest to his heart, he found a jeweled ring and three coins. The coins were ancient and covered in geometric designs and ringed by Arab script. Only the numerals were readable to the Westerners. Horatio quickly calculated the date adjusting for the difference between the European calendar and the Arabic calendar. The coins had been minted in 1388.

The ring proved too small for Horatio's large fingers. He remembered that Marid Faisal had delicate, fine-boned hands. So, he added the ring to the chain and locket he wore around his neck. He slept soundly that night, safe in the arms of his brother officers.

In the morning, Archie showed Horatio the well he'd dug near the roots of the palms. Enough water seeped up each day to fend off cruel death. Archie and the Captain had subsisted on their meager supply of dates supplemented by fishing and hunting. Archie was proud of his snares and his fishing spear. He'd managed quite well, Horatio told him.

Captain Pellew regained his strength of body rapidly once they'd coaxed a few meals into him. The Captain's spirits rose with Horatio's return. He even regained his customary gruffness. Horatio and Archie were pleased every time the Captain had the energy to bark at them. Confident now of survival, they awaited a passing ship.

Then, in answer to Captain's Pellew's prayers and just as the mysterious Marid had promised, a ship arrived three days later. It was a corsair out of Tripoli called the Falcon's Talon. Her Captain, Omar Ben Ali was gracious when offered a reward for his services. He went so far as to offer Captain Pellew free passage all the way to Gibraltar in trade for a few nights with the two younger men. When he saw the English Captain's shocked expression, he offered to cut their passage fees by half if he was granted a single night with Archie. All offers were politely declined.

So they disembarked in Tripoli on a brilliant, hot day. They decided to walk through the market on their way to the consul's home, which they learned was near the central plaza. On the street of jewelers, Horatio stopped to have his ring appraised. He had no intention of selling it, but he was curious concerning its value. He'd found tiny script on the inside of the band too. He wondered if Marid Faisal had written him a final message.

Oddly, the first jeweler wished to buy the ring the moment he laid eyes on the script. Yet, he would not tell Horatio what the words said. Half a dozen other jewelers reacted in a similar manner, leaving the young British naval officer perplexed and weary. Finally, an old man in one of the shops whispered to him to seek out a sage at one of the mosques. He might be able to answer a few of his questions.

Archie agreed to go with Horatio the next morning to the great mosque on the central plaza. They waited until after the Faithful had finished their prayers and then they stood in the doorway asking anyone who would speak with them where they could find a wise man. Most of the local inhabitants shook their heads. Others ignored the infidels. A few men cast longing glances at the white-skinned youths and one man was bold enough to speak in veiled words of a pleasure garden where he would gladly share a few hours with the golden-haired beauty.

Such flocking admirers caught the attention of the Grand Imam of the mosque. He himself led the handsome foreigners into a small, walled flower garden perfumed by jasmine and roses that adjoined his living quarters. They sat beside the fountain and shared coffee and a bit of salted bread. Afterwards, Horatio asked the roots of such a custom.

"Sharing salt has always been the custom among our people to seal the bond between host and guest. Afterward, a guest cannot harm his host, nor a host injure his guest in any way. To break the sacred custom of hospitality, is to condemn oneself to the everlasting flames."

"So, are you also a scholar of your region's history?" Horatio asked.

"I know how to search the records in the great library. I do not claim to remember all the names and deeds of our people," the older man said humbly.

"What can you tell me of a caliph by the name of Saiid who came to power in our year of 1387?"

"His reign was somewhat uneventful. He ruled wisely for a few short years. His second son Mamoud succeeded him. It is said his first born was kidnapped and even after a huge ransom was paid, the young man was never seen again."

"Was the name of the first born son, by any chance, Marid?"

"Yes! How did you know it? Have your met a member of the illustrious family?"

"There is a family?"

"Before the prince was kidnapped, he fathered two sons. One of the sons joined a religious order and became a dervish of amazing wisdom. The other man fathered many children and founded a noble house. Descendants of the first Marid Faisal dwell here within the city. In every generation, one young man takes on his illustrious ancestor's name and enters into the service of Allah. Would you like to meet the young man of that name?"

"Yes! I would be honored. I may have something of value for him that I discovered on my travels in the desert."

When the young man was summoned, Horatio caught his breath. There before him was the living, breathing image of Marid Faisal, the captive prince. The same piercing, black eyes, the same strong arching nose, the brilliant white teeth, the fine bones and handsome form he remembered holding in his arms. Horatio stood and gazed. He resisted the sudden longing to reach out his arms.

The young man was curiously shy of the Westerners. He glanced at the Grand Imam. The older man introduced the strangers and explained that they had questions about his famous ancestor, the prince who sacrificed himself for his family's honor.

The young man told the same story of kidnapping, a ransom and refusals to make bargains. When the tale was at an end, Horatio fished out the gold chain he wore around his neck. He slipped the ring off the chain and handed it to the younger Marid. The man's eyes widened and brightened when he read the inscription.

The man, whose eyes were shining, smiled at Horatio and asked, "Do you understand the meaning of these words?"

"No, sir," Horatio said. "And, no one will translate them for me."

The young man reached for Horatio's hand and returned the ring. Then he embraced Horatio and kissed him on both cheeks.

The young man pointed to the writing inside the band. He said, "The first name written on the ring is the name of a djinn lord. I may not say his name aloud for it will summon him. I will spell it for you in your language, if you wish. The next name is my ancestor's name. The last word means several things, peace, contentment, freedom from cares."

"Are you saying this is a magic ring?"

"It is only magical if Westerners believe in such things. Wear it and I believe, you will have a charmed life."

"But, the ring belongs to you! It belonged to your ancestor."

"I did not find it. It is yours."

"But what am I to do with it?"

"I will write the name of the djinn. Say the name, call upon my ancestor and say to him the last word written. After that, you are in the arms of fate."

Horatio looked perplexed. Archie looked worried. The two natives of the region seemed tranquil as if they saw magic rings every day. Finishing their tea, the naval officers returned to their quarters at the consul's home. Arrangements were being made to take them on board a supply ship heading for Gibraltar. In less than a week, they'd be back aboard the Indy, their bodies restored from the rigors of their shipwreck.

That evening, the stars carpeted the heavens like diamonds sewn into a tapestry of blackest satin. Horatio stood on the terrace above a lovely garden. Archie stood at his side. At once, Horatio noticed a basin of water reflecting the stars. It stood on a pedestal in the center of the terrace. A shiver of recognition ran up his spine.

Taking Arch by the hand, he bade him look upon the surface of the water and think of his heart's desire. Archie smiled, for by a trick of light, the basin reflected Horatio's face. The two men embraced and spoke words of tender devotion toward one another. They kissed and walked arm in arm to their bedchamber.

After an hour of passion, Archie toyed with the charms at his lover's throat. He begged him to take the ring and say the name of the djinn that would begin the magic formula. Then they could both sleep. Finally, Horatio agreed.

Upon saying the first name, a sudden spot of light appeared like a firefly in the room. When Horatio said the name of Marid Faisal, a ghostly form appeared. The handsome magician ran to Horatio, stopping at the bedside, pausing to stare at Archie. Horatio repeated the last word inscribed on the ring.

The image of Marid Faisal, the captive prince smiled. Warm touches, no more than the beating of a moth's wings, touched Horatio's mouth. A rush of breath, like a man satisfied, filled the hollow of Horatio's ear.

"I am free," the voice exclaimed. "Thank you, my friend. May Allah grant you contentment all the days of your life for your kindness to me."

"I am happy for you, sir," Horatio said. "I have met your descendant and you would be proud. I tried to give him this ring..."

"The ring is my gift to you. Call upon me in times of need. I will not fail to come to you."

"Horatio?" Archie whispered. "Who are you talking to?"

"A creature of air, Arch," Horatio said as the motes of light joined with the stars. "One of the beautiful lights I told you about. Now, let's sleep. I think all will be well."

The End