The Princess and the Jann

Legend said that Rashid, a mage of great power, created Mir Vais’s palace and the citadel around it in a single day. Evidence of Rashid’s magic could be seen in the gigantic buttresses supporting the outer walls, in the great dining hall, where hundreds feasted beneath the largest unsupported ceiling in the known world, and on an inner wall, where tapestry, in threads of gold, silver, and the finest silk, depicted gods, people, and places otherwise unknown to mortal men. The buttresses and the ceiling might have been constructed by men of great knowledge and ability, but no one could deny the enchantment in the tapestry.

The Mir’s palace formed the shape of a quarter moon, with its western wall hugging a meander in the Sa Nadime and the eastern wall bulging into the gardens and courtyards enclosed by the ramparts of the outer citadel. Just inside that bulge, extending the length of the palace from north to south, the mage built a gallery for his magical art.

By day, Rashid’s Gallery glowed beneath crystal windows set high in the outer wall. By night, the ceiling fluoresced to illuminate the tapestry with an unquenchable cold fire. Day or night, as if rewoven at a tempo too slow for the eye to follow, figures in the tapestry moved from place to place, clouds changed position, couples kissed, and warriors fought and died beneath the gaze of laughing gods leaning down from above.

In the weeks immediately after the palace’s construction, crowds gathered in the long corridor in front of more interesting scenes, commenting on the outcome of duels between heroes or the gradually changing positions of copulating lovers. Then one of the king’s Companions vanished from the midst of a double hand of witnesses and reappeared as an image in the weave, his terror filled face staring from the back of a cart rolling towards a headsman’s block. When his severed head lay before the block, Vais’s great-great-grandfather, Mir Saqr, on whose order the palace had been built, had the tapestry removed and burned. The next day, they again hung from the walls. The residents of the palace soon learned that to stare at a scene invited being included in the tapestry’s magical realm and hurried through the corridor with their eyes to the front.

Mir Saqr had been a suspicious man, and other evidence of his wishes and of the mage’s magic could be heard in secret alcoves and rooms accessible only to the royal family and their most trusted retainers. In these places, small, whispering voices echoed conversations from throughout the palace, revealing plots, and, more often, entertained with whispered gossip and the moans of sexual pleasure.