"A Djinni Named Conscience" - the 3rd novelette of the fantasy novel-cycle "The Songs of Peter Sliadek"

By Henry Lion Oldie

Fantasy, Action & adventure, Historical fiction

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16 mins

CHAPTER THREE: A Djinni Named Conscience

…And I should tell you, my son, that when the Disrupter of Meetings and Destroyer of Pleasures comes to us—praise Allah the gracious and the merciful if this guest comes in due time and its name is Death. Different guests wander beneath the humped sky, both invited and uninvited, seeking a suitable house to come into for a minute and stay forever, and at best, causing the host’s surprise…
From the advices of Ahmad Jammal to his son

It’s useless to blame
Misfortune or fate;
Nor the one on your left shoulder is to be blamed.
Neru Bobovay

“Sit down!”
Peter Sliadek obediently sat on a stone, holding the lute to his chest. The instrument resembled a sick child whom a negligent father had dragged out into the cold. The lute was wrapped in a piece of stinky oiled leather, over the usual rag, and also covered with his sheepskin coat. Thanks to the junaks for that bit of generosity. Otherwise, it would have been dampened and destroyed. Where would he find a new lute here, in the ravines of Jastrebac?
Small fever was making him dizzy. He felt shivers down his spine, as if creaking insects were running up and down. His eyes were watering, and the rocks surrounding the vagrant resembled giant pieces of cheese with mold. Peter was incessantly sneezing, hiding his nose inside his shaggy collar. God forbid, strict Vuk Mrnjavcevic would hear him, or even worse, Radonja the fiend, Vuk’s right hand: they would cut off that part of him that sneezed!
He wanted to lie down, close his eyes, and die without confessing. None other than Satan, the lame mocker, had prompted him to travel with the rafters down the river Drava, into the very heart of Black Wallachia. In the evenings, the old rafter, Grgur, taught Peter to strum the five-stringed lakhuta and sing native ballads. Some of them were amusing, some were proud, and there were also some comical ones; but as a rule, all would end the same way:

So sick Doichin struck him with his saber,
Cutting off the head of his blood brother;
Lifted he his head upon his saber,
Taking out his eyes from his eye-sockets,
And throwing his head upon the pavement…

“What did he need the eyes for?” Peter would ask the old rafter.
“What for?” Grgur knit his shaggy brows in surprise. “What do you mean—what for? You can always give them to your beloved girl, and she will kiss and hug you tight!”
Peter thought then that the old man was joking. Perhaps that was why, taking a keen interest in playing the lakhuta and learning Wallachian melodies, he moved further on—across Brda towards the southeast. At first, everything was going well: native peasants listened to the foreigner with interest, fed him to his heart’s content, and willingly let him in for a night. They introduced him to long-bearded storytellers, and Peter listened eagerly, while automatically turning a deaf ear to the familiar: “And throwing his head upon the pavement…”
This went on until he got deep into the mountains.
The people here were less hospitable. And on Shar Planina, when he got lost in the spurs, Peter stumbled across the junaks of Vuk Mrnjavcevic. A gang, in a word, though the junaks beat anyone for calling them a “gang”; defiantly they preferred being called a “troop.” Peter did not understand what the defiance was about and how their troop differed from a usual gang, but he was not scared—at first. The robbers had nothing to rob a vagrant of, and murdering a helpless wayfarer without a reason would bring neither honor for them nor fame for their leader. The singer’s guess was right and wrong at the same time. Indeed, nobody murdered him. They even fed him and gave him a warm place by the fire. They made him sing till dawn. However, then the junaks decided that they wanted fame.
Peter Sliadek became part of the troop.
“You’ll be a junak,” they promised. “You’ll swim in gold,” they promised. “Here’s a sheepskin coat, here’re the boots. They’re ragged, but it doesn’t matter. We are ragged, too, but nobody gives us anything. Here’s a piece of rancid smoked fat—eat it. You try to run away,” they said, “we’ll lift your head upon the saber and take your eyes out from your eye-sockets.”
“And throw my head upon the pavement,” Peter nodded gloomily.
“Yeah,” they said. “ ’Tis exactly what we’ll do. And if there’s no pavement, we’ll just throw it on the grass.”
Peter had no reason to distrust such promises.
While roaming along Shar Planina with the junaks, he quickly realized that strict Vuk Mrnjavcevic, the head of the troop, dreamt of the same glory as that of some “Old Novac,” while his assistant, malicious and ever-hungry Radonja, envied the glory of “Radivoj the Kid.” Peter heard about these heroes from Grgur the rafter and was at a loss: What was there to envy? However, Radonja the fiend had his own ideas about fame.
In the evenings, after a scanty supper, Peter sat in the middle of the circle. Junaks demanded songs; they taught him how to distinguish between the native clans that were in constant enmity with each other. He was to praise the Bjelopavlici and the Bosonozici, and also the Piperi, whereas to curse the vile Moracani, the Vasoevici, and the dirty Rovcany. Peter was confused with all of the names, and he did not know how to sing praises about senseless roaming in the mountains, so he desperately sought for any events.
The day before yesterday, they went into Krusevac village. They took a goat from a limping old woman. The local cooper scowled at the junaks—they gave the cooper a thrashing and took his barrel. Then they changed their minds, broke the barrel, and took a sack of millet instead. Now, they cooked millet porridge. The goat meat was tough; the millet had bugs in it.
Wild onions were gathered to spice up the porridge.

Strict Vuk Mrnjavcevic is feasting here,
On the hillsides of green Jastrebac.
Next to him’s Radonja, his blood brother,
And by him are thirty warriors—junaks—
Drinking wine they love to hearts’ content…

He did not try to escape. Fear overwhelmed him. It was very easy to get lost in these God-forsaken places. You could fall into a precipice, get caught by wolves or a bear. Or worse yet, the junaks could catch and torture you. They were like children: arrogant, vain, cruel. They had no way out, no way back—that was why they loitered around these parts. They deserved pity, but Vuk and Radonja required fame instead.
It was a no-win situation.

One morning, Peter felt sick. His stuffed nose made him breathe through his mouth, he had a devilish headache, and coughing and sneezing were tearing him from inside. When swallowing, he barely refrained from tears—it was that painful. His inflamed throat was masquerading as the entrance into hell.
Suddenly, Radonja came running: “A caravan! A caravan’s coming! Troop, come on!”
Vuk grabbed Peter by the collar. “Keep up! You’ll sing about it after…”
The rocks whirled in a crazy dance, and narrow paths curved and bent like tangled vipers; thrice Peter fell and was jerked up to his feet by Vuk’s strong hand. The junak’s boots stomped behind him; Radonja was puffing, scree rustled on the slope; and when the order, “Sit down!” hit into his unfortunate, tormented head, the vagrant considered it to be the most supreme blessing in the world.
However, he did not get to sit for long.
On the road that was below the ambush, the sound of many hooves and cries of riders were heard. A horse neighed, then another one.
“Hey!” Vuk stood up to his full height, pulling his saber out of its sheath. “Halt!”
They are going to rob it, Peter thought indifferently, while trying hard not to fall into the dust unconscious. This was not a goat or some millet; this was a caravan. I have to look at it, at least from the corner of my eye… In the evening, they’ll demand praises…
To get up just a bit proved to be harder than moving a mountain. Restraining a cough, the vagrant leaned forward, risking a fall from the rock on the heads of the caravaneers. He blinked the tears away. Below, on the road stood around twenty packhorses and mules, stretched in a long line. The guards (or simply riders?) were looking despondently at the junaks, who were armed with bows and slings; the junaks scattered over the slope, shouting enthusiastically in order to scare them. Judging from the dull expressions on the guards’ faces, a battle was not to be expected. The guards had little desire for “the head upon the pavement.”
Vuk was wheezing proudly next to Peter and waving his saber.
“Is it you, Mrnjavcevic?” The voice was as thick as tar. Peter strained his eyes, though he did not understand whom he was looking for below.
“Yes, it’s me…” Vuk’s answer sounded uncertain, as if the junaks’ leader was about to answer something else but suddenly changed his mind.
“Wait there, I’ll come up to you in a moment!”
Soon, a head in a shaggy hat appeared close to Peter. The face was wrinkled, swarthy, and the beard was an off-white color. The man climbed fast, not like an old man. Vuk stepped aside, giving him place on the path, and he kept quiet for a while, letting the man recover his breath. Climbing mountains at his age…
The brawny, short man shook the dust off his caftan, took off his hat, and wiped his face. Under the hat was a worn turban that had once been green. Before he talked, the man cast a sidelong glance over his left shoulder, as if searching for an invisible companion. He found him somewhere and nodded—either to the phantom’s advice or to his own thoughts.
Then he frowned severely. “Are you not ashamed, Vuk?”
Peter expected anything. The most probable response was the strike of Vuk’s saber. But apparently, his fever got worse, because the delirium began: strict Vuk shriveled up and sulked. He put his blade into its sheath and stepped closer.
The wind that came from Jastrebac disheveled Vuk’s curls and fluffed up the beard of the elderly caravan leader.
“I didn’t know it’s you who lead them, Kerim Aga. I thought ’tis some other caravan-bashi. Radonja came running, shouting…”
“Are you hungry?”
“A bit. The junaks have sworn enemies in Brda, ’tis dangerous for them to go down.”
“So you say you didn’t know that I lead the caravan? And if it were someone else? Would you rob them?”
“I would, Kerim Aga. That’s life, you know…”
“Do you remember the last time I asked you, ‘Do you have a conscience’?”
“I do. You asked, and as I answered then, I shall answer now: yes, I have a conscience! It’s just different, the conscience—everyone has his own…”
Angry Radonja ran up to them. “Vuk! What are you… with this…! With this…!” He did not finish. Vuk stepped towards his blood brother and punched Radonja in his teeth with his huge fist. Blood spurted, Radonja staggered and fell. He crawled aside on all fours, cursing under his breath, and began wiping himself with a handful of withered grass.
“Forgive him, Kerim Aga. He doesn’t know who you are.”
“Allah forgives. All right, Vuk. You must not rob us, by any means. There are fledglings in my caravan, merchants’ sons. They’re just boys. Their fathers have sent them for the first time. If you scare them to death—they’ll never have luck in the trade. Besides, we do not make profit yet, we are just going from Vlore to Dragas… Let’s make an honest deal: you let us go now, and I’ll leave you your due in Dragas after we sell everything. Just tell me whom to leave it with…”
“Vuk! He’s lying! He’ll take all the money for himself, Vuk!” Beaten Radonja stopped yelling when he caught the promising glance of the junaks’ leader and spat rusty saliva.
The junaks on the slope waited, shifting from one foot to another; the caravaneers loitered on the road. Peter saw that, indeed, most of them were young, not much older than Peter himself, and some maybe younger.
“Deal. Leave it with Nasty Halil. I’ll pick it up later,” Vuk said.
“And who’s this?” the moist, very dark, eyes of the caravan-bashi rested on Peter.
“A vagrant. He’s good at singing. We keep him so he will glorify our deeds in songs.”
Before he continued, Kerim Aga glanced once again over his left shoulder. He waited, pondered a bit, and looked at Vuk with disapproval. “You have always been a boaster, Mrnjavcevic, and remain a boaster. Who pulls a song out of a soul by force? He’ll die in your mountains, in the rain and the cold, and that’s all the glory you will get. Look at him, he’s ill, barely sitting. Let him go with us—I’ll take him to Vrsic, and maybe to Dragas. Maybe he’ll recover…”
The last thing that Peter remembered was that he was tied to the saddle of a horse.
The faces of the young caravaneers expressed no joy over the excess burden, but the lucky rescue from the Mrnjavcevic’s junaks surpassed everything. Kerim Aga stood silently next to him. Peter Sliadek wanted to thank the caravan-bashi for his mercy, but at that moment, a black fellow peeped from behind Kerim Aga’s shoulder—the fellow looked like a Moor, dressed only in a loincloth and pressing his hand against his neck, out of which streamed a thick smoke; and the vagrant understood that he was sinking into delirium.
Naked Moors emitting fire and smoke were not supposed to be found in Jastrebac.

“We won’t have enough money…”
“I don’t care! After we sell our goods, we’ll be fine… Have you seen those slave girls? Virgins, so juicy! And they’re not some wenches from Montenegro who would be glad to cut your throat at night—these are Wallachian maidens; plump, modest, hard-working!”
“Still, we won’t have enough money. Even if we sell all of the goods…”
“You’re repeating yourself! We’ll get a loan. There are many usurers here—Lombards, Avraamites… Anyone will loan to Hussein Borjalia!”
“You have already visited usurers, secretly from Kerim Aga.”
“So what? Once they refused, the next time they’ll agree. They’re just showing off, to increase the interest. I’ve sent Ali to talk to them once again.”
“Have they agreed?”
“They will; what choice do they have? They ordered him to tell me that they would come to the inn: they want to discuss it in person. You know me, I can persuade even the dead!”
“The dead don’t lend money. You should not have kept this secret from Kerim Aga…”
“Like hell! He’s never satisfied: shame, no shame! Do I, the son of Mustafa Borjalia, stoop to seek advice from some worthless caravan-bashi?”

Peter lay, his eyes closed, and barely listened to the argument of the young merchants. They were speaking in Arnavitika, interspersing their speech amply with both Wallachian and Turkish words. He understood only parts of it; but then again, what was there to understand? One wanted to buy slave girls, the other complained over the lack of money… His head did not ache at all, his throat ached just a bit; on the whole, life was getting better. He was warm and dry. He stirred and found that he was dressed in someone else’s clothes. He was also covered up to his chin with an itchy blanket made from camel’s hair.
“All the same, you shouldn’t… My father said to me, ‘Hassan, listen to Kerim Aga! Listen to him as you would listen to me! He won’t give bad advice…’ ”
“Ha! So you might as well listen to him, kid! But I have my own brains! Have you seen that your Kerim is on the best terms with Vuk’s bashibazouks? I barely pulled my sword out, and there he was—shish-hashish, yak-teryak! Best friends! I am telling you—they probably share their loots with him…”
“Hush! Here he comes…”
Peter stirred. Little by little, memories came to mind: the road, Kerim Aga’s strong hand preventing him from falling down, a hot drink smelling of herbs and honey, his sweaty and limp body wanting to fall asleep…
“Where am I?” asked the vagrant.
“On the outskirts of Vrsic, at an inn. Lie down, lie down…”
He managed to turn his head without effort, which was strange. Peter risked sitting up, and he succeeded on the first attempt. He fixed the caftan on his bare chest. “My lute!” Belated shivers ran down his spine. “Where’s my lute?”
“Your lute is here, lying in the corner, safe and sound,” Kerim Aga said.
“I have nothing to pay you with. I have nothing but songs…”
Kerim Aga, who stood next to him, glanced habitually over his left shoulder. He waited for an invisible smile and smiled back—as if he was delivering someone else’s gift to Peter.
The young merchants disappeared. They were alone now.
“All right. You’ll pay with songs—but later. You need to sleep now. If I had been late a day or two, those mountain rams would have tormented you to death!”
“I don’t want to sleep…”
“And? Sometimes you have to do things that you don’t want to do… If you wish, I’ll tell you a story, so that you may sleep better.”
“About whom?”
“Let me think. Maybe I will tell you about Gjeto Basho Mujo or Halil the Falcon— actually, maybe not. It’s hard to sleep with the clanging of blades. About Talimeh the Maiden? No, you are not in the mood for women right now. You might see an evil shtojzovalle in your dream, and she’ll drink all your masculinity away …”
Peter nearly burst into laughter. A funny picture, indeed: a sick vagrant and a gray-haired caravan-bashi next to him, who was choosing the most sleep-inducing story from all of the stories that he knew.
Yet Kerim Aga did not share his gaiety.
On the contrary, the caravan-bashi’s face suddenly looked not as old, but much more sad.
“So, once upon a time—some thirty or maybe forty years ago—there lived in Vlore a merchant…”

****

Some thirty, or maybe forty years ago, in the town of Vlore, there lived a merchant. Actually, he became a merchant only later; at first, he was just a caravaneer. Later, he became a caravan-bashi and began receiving his own share from the sales. Little by little, he began to transport his own goods—to Durres, Shkoder, Drivast, Lezhe, Vrsic, and later, beyond the borders of Arberia. He went from the Ottoman Porte to Opole, and later to the Maintz Mark; he even made it all the way to Henning a couple of times... He was one of the Ottomans but had settled in Vlore a long time ago, married a native, an Arnavite girl, and within a year, he brought in a second wife to his household and decided not to return to his homeland.
He had only one son. The rest were daughters. The father took his son with him from a very young age. What for, you may ask? So that the boy could get used to the caravan trails and nomadic life, learn different languages, get to know how to talk to people, learn about the goods: what, where, and how much everything cost. He would learn how to pass old rags for new silk; from whom he could get contraband, whom to sell it to, and with whom it was better not to get involved with. He would learn when one needed to grease someone’s palm, and when one must rudely refuse: Like hell you will get anything out of me!
His son, Jammal Junior, was growing up a “chip off the old block.” He delved willingly into trade intricacies and took note of everything even as a boy; and one time, he came up to his father and asked, “Oh, my respectable father, why do you lead caravans? Look, the merchants who trust their goods to you, they sit in their homes, drink sherbet, enjoy themselves with their wives, and yet they earn more money than you do. You should become a merchant, too!”
Jammal Senior laughed, stroking his son’s curly hair. “It is good that you have noticed this, my son. But your father is far from being a simpleton. To become a merchant, you need money. Now, tomorrow I will go to Dragas. I’ve received an offer to deliver slaves. I haven’t delivered people before, and this is a very profitable business. A couple of times there and back—and with Allah’s help, I’ll settle in Vlore forever. Then I shall open my own shop and start trading. And slaves... What about them? They are just goods.”
The old caravan-bashi did not waste his words. Twice he delivered the slaves—from Dragas to Vlore and from Shkoder to Drivast—then he returned home with all of the profit and started his own business. His son, of course, was in the shop growing up and helping his father. A crafty lad he was, quick-tongued. He always knew where the profit was. He never missed an opportunity to make something his, and sometimes he would even snatch opportunities from others. So when the time came for his father to die, he left the business to his son with a light heart. He knew that he was leaving it in reliable hands.
The son received the inheritance, grieved the due time, mourned his father, and in a short time after, he married his sisters off and got married himself. Then he took a second wife and a third one—because his income allowed it. His business prospered, and Jammal the merchant grew rich little by little, skillfully concealing part of his profits so as not to indulge the treasury with excess taxes. He was quite happy—until the age of thirty-nine. “Why does that matter to a man?” one could ask, and one would be right.
Because age was not to be blamed.
And neither was misfortune, nor fate…

“Do you really expect me to pay more for this chain in gold than its weight?”
“Oh, my dear, open your eyes! On this wonderful, excellent chain, which is the best chain in the world, there is also a plate of pure gold with ancient writings, which increases its value tenfold! These writings are so ancient that Solomon himself would not be able to read them, were he to arise from the dead! Pay attention: look at the interlacing and the embossing! They don’t make them now like they used to. And mind you that neither the chain nor the plate has dimmed in all this time. You would not find better gold in the sultan’s treasury!”
“It was probably polished in the morning,” the merchant muttered under his breath, so that the jeweler, the feeble Venetian, could not hear him. The jeweler valued his reputation more than profit; however, he knew how to bargain almost as well as Jammal himself.
“So, you think that this wee thin plate of gold costs a dinar? And eight kurus on top of that? Is that right, my dear?”
“Yes, my dear! This thick plate on a triple chain costs much more! My honorable client does not altogether know how to look at the merchandise! You are looking at the plate and forget about the chain, or you’re looking at the chain and forget about the plate. Besides, it’s not eight kurus but nine, in case you have forgotten the price. I took off one kurus for you at the very beginning, or have you forgotten this, too? Maybe you should bind your turban tighter so that the words that enter one ear don’t fly out from the other?”
For a minute or two, the merchant was pondering on whether it was worth getting offended with the jeweler; and whether it would be possible to get a reduction of another kurus or two for this offence. No, not likely. It was his own fault: he had played being forgetful too diligently. It was too late to get offended. And he needed a gift for his second wife anyway. Women love jewelry, and he had not given any gifts to Rubike for a long time. Plus, to tell the truth, the price was quite reasonable.
“You have convinced me, my dear. Let’s agree on a dinar and eight kurus and a half…”
“Why, just listen to him! This is pure squandering! All right, all right, only for you, my dear, I’ll take this miserable half-kurus off. Maybe you would like to look at the new beads, too?”

When he came home, however, Jammal found only troubles and distress. While he was still in the doorway, his junior wife, Fatima, hurried to tell him that Rubike, who was pretty but argumentative, had quarreled with his senior wife, Balah. The quarrel quickly developed into a fight, and as a result, the Chinese vase with dragons, which the master of the house liked to feast his eyes upon while smoking a hookah, got harmed. Of course she, Fatima, had tried to reason with the senior wives, but how could one angel manage with two devils, may the wrath of Allah fall on both of their heads…
The merchant did not listen any further. His beloved vase, as it became clear, was not just “harmed”—it was broken into tiny pieces. “Rubike did it!” his junior wife did not fail to remind from behind his shoulder, skillfully using the chance to aim her husband’s rage at her main rival.
And this time, she really succeeded.
“Ungrateful woman!” Jammal shouted furiously at Rubike, who stood stiff from fear before him. “I spent twenty dinars to please you, and you repay me for my love and care with foul ungratefulness! This is what you get, instead of your gift!” In a fit of temper, he threw the chain with the plate into a brightly burning hearth.
Rubike cried out in grief.
“Get out, in the name of Allah!” Jammal pointed his wife to the door, and she hurried to leave, sobbing. The merchant, to calm his soul, placed the silver hookah that was filled with the best Kashgarian teryak next to him, lit it, and reclined tiredly on the pillows, sucking at the ivory mouthpiece.
What a day!
However, the day continued to “please” him with surprises. Jammal barely made a couple of blissful inhalations, when a strange, bluish-green smoke began to flow from the hearth. The teryak took effect somewhat early this time! the merchant casually observed to himself. Usually, there are houris and cups of wine…
Meanwhile, the smoke kept flowing, gradually condensing in the corner and gaining the features of a human being: a well-built male, of about forty, judging by his appearance. He stood there, looking around, dressed only in a loincloth with a fringe. His legs were lost in a foggy mist, so it was impossible to see whether the weird guest had them at all or his upper part hung in the air and rested only on something unknown. No, this is certainly not a houri. Well, so be it… Jammal thought philosophically.
“Thank you, oh my savior; may your days be prolonged, may they be filled with the light of righteousness, and may the One in whose name you have set me free bless you!”
“That would be Allah, praise him,” the merchant specified, looking severely at the vision. “There shall be no blaspheming in this house.”
“Of course, of course!” the phantom hurried to agree.
Quite satisfied with this answer, Jammal started to examine his uninvited guest.
He had an aquiline nose and thick brows. His curly hair glistened with streaks of gray. He was of the same height as the merchant himself. Except for his legs, he was quite ordinary. The merchant lost interest in the vision almost at once and reached again for his hookah, and waited for houris and wine glasses to appear. As for this one—hopefully, he would disappear quickly.
Nevertheless, the phantom did not hurry to disappear. He lingered in the corner, looking around and casting expecting glances at the master of the house.
“Go, leave, dear,” Jammal waved his hand lazily.
“Alas,” the vision objected. “You have liberated me, and now I must repay you for your kindness.”
“Liberated you? From where?”
“I have been imprisoned in the enchanted amulet by Suleiman-bin-Daoud, rest in peace. You have let the blessed flame touch the walls of my prison, and you have uttered the Words of Liberation! Now I am free! Believe me, Abd-al Rashid will repay you, oh my benign savior.”
“The Words of Liberation?” the merchant, who had not expected the phantom to be so persistent, was taken aback.
“ ‘Get out, in the name of Allah!’ ” the vision explained willingly. “I assume that Heaven itself has enlightened you, oh wisest of the wise!”
“But what are you, may the devil take you?” the merchant flew into a rage.
“Don’t swear, oh most estimable one. I am the djinni Stagnash Abd-al-Rashid, which means, ‘the Slave of Justice.’ I am the seventeenth son of the Red King of Djinn, Kulkash the Originally Three-Headed. And I have taken an oath to repay the one who would save me. The djinn’s oaths are unbreakable.”
“All right. Go ahead, repay me,” Jammal permitted indulgently. This was the first time that he saw a djinni in his teryak dreams, and it was interesting. The merchant prepared himself to see miracles. “So what shall we do? Shall we ruin a city? No, I’m in a good mood now. Build me a palace, and that will do.”
“But I cannot build palaces,” the djinni grew saddened, just like a human being.
“Eh, old friend… Shame on you. Really, shame on you. All right, never mind. It would be hard to try and explain afterwards how I’ve gotten the palace, where I’ve gotten the money to buy it… And surely they’ll also make me pay levy taxes to the treasury. Better yet, bring me a caravan with gold. Two or three caravans at once, so that you won’t have to run unnecessarily: with young beauties, with silk and wool, with Indian spices…”
“But I have no caravans,” the depressed djinni interrupted Jammal.
“What do you mean? Are you a djinni or not? Haven’t you vowed to fulfill my wishes? Then do so!”
“I have vowed to repay you, not to fulfill your wishes, oh my savior. Were I the slave of this plate, then it would have been different. However, I am but a Slave of Justice. But I shall fulfill my oath, you can be sure of that!”
“So how are you going to repay me?” Jammal already understood that he could not easily get rid of the djinni. He even began to doubt that Stagnash Abd-al-Rashid was only a fruit of his imagination and the teryak smoke. What if… no, nonsense! The merchant never believed in fairy tales, even in his childhood.
“I shall be your conscience, oh respectable one!” the djinni uttered after a long silence. He even seemed to become a bit bigger, or maybe he just swelled with pride.
“Conscience? And you call this payment? I have more than enough conscience!”
“It is good that you are a man of conscience. This means that I will have less work to do,” the djinni rejoiced and took on a business attitude. “Don’t you want to become a righteous man, to fall asleep with a soul pure like that of a baby, to gain everyone’s respect and love, and eventually to get to paradise? Of course you do! Your eyes are the eyes of a good and kind man. I shall help you!”
“Maybe a palace would be better?” the merchant inquired in faint hope, as he clung to the hookah with the intent to suck out a vision more attractive than the tedious, unskillful djinni. “A small one, at least?”
Stagnash Abd-al-Rashid grew astonished. “What do you need a palace for? I offer you the best thing that a mortal man can ever dream of: a straight way to paradise! And yet, you resist.”
“All right, all right, let it be paradise. Now leave me alone.”
“As you wish, my savior,” the djinni agreed obediently and disappeared.
Jammal sighed with relief. The vague contours of houris with round thighs already began appearing, sweet music started to play, and the merchant could at last indulge himself in his habitual visions, where there was no place for a djinni named Conscience.


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