the first magician, part 5

Written in response to: Start your story with two people planting a tree together.... view prompt


Fiction Speculative LGBTQ+

300 BC

History and the Bible will teach you that most of humanity’s past (certainly in the olden days) was largely a male-centric world where beards and penises worked all day in the sun and the frail, skinny wives provided for their families with a permanent frown sagging their mouths. They will also teach you that the greatest people of the time, the kings and philosophers and geniuses, were male. 

This is incorrect.

There were many great philosophers and kings back then, some of whom were male, but they were not the greatest of their time. Easily the greatest for the next twelve hundred years (eclipsing those men with a smug grin) was a woman named Bahini. 

On a night when shooting stars ran across the sky like a promise, Bahini was on camelback, leading a small group of men to the oasis waiting for them another half-mile away.

Some of them muttered to each other, some were silent; and all watched Bahini, dreadfully clever, sobering Bahini, as her eyes scanned the shifting desert dunes through the rippling cloth over her head. She was nearly twenty-five years old, not beautiful but fierce-looking, with a glint in her eye that warned at wariness and a pace to the way she moved that reminded the men of a hunting lion. Bahini commanded respect-- despite the oddness of her plan, none of them, including her husband, three brothers, and cousins, would even think of turning around.

So the camels rode closer, giant hooves shifting in the piles of sand, when Bahini stopped hers at the front. She raised a hand to indicate silence.

Nobody moved. The air seemed very still, the breeze gone. The moon was huge and full, making their shadows eerily long and black. Bahini could have been a statue at the front, staring into the dark cluster of trees making up the oasis a few hundred feet away.

The faintest ripple made its way through the air, shifting the edge of Bahini’s cloak. She took a deep breath, pulled out a blunt sword, and waited. The breeze came again, harder.

A low snarl came, a horrible rumble of a sound that carried all the way through Bahini’s entourage. The men paled, and the wind blew hard enough to make their camels stumble and grunt in alarm.

“Wait,” Bahini murmured.

Two yellow eyes shone from the dark entrance of the oasis. Its teeth appeared next, glinting and long, then the large, white-tipped paws with the claws curling like knives at the end.

 Tigers weren’t often seen in the desert.

As though offended by the statement, the tiger growled and charged towards the group of people, soft paws pounding over the sand as easily as though it were moving over solid terrain. Bahini spurred her camel towards the dark opening between the trees. “Come on,” she whispered, “come on!”

The tiger leapt for her cousin, snarling bloodlust, and he screamed as he was dragged off his mount. He pulled out a sword of his own and jabbed at the tiger’s white underbelly, but the beast dodged and ran to plant itself in front of Bahini so she was forced to skid to a halt.

The tiger bunched its shoulders, and the loose skin on its back formed large rolls. But the rolls grew bigger and bigger, as its skin seemed to be slipping off its body… it shook its head and more rolls of skin peeled off, reached down and tugged at the fur on its leg with its teeth. Bahini couldn’t look away, horrified.

The skin fell onto the ground, split open in the sand, and then grew. Where there had been one tiger there were now ten standing there, snarling in fury, while the original looked into her eyes with cold satisfaction.

Bahini’s heart pounded, but she had a quest and a purpose. She would not be undeterred. 

The battle went on as the moon slipped from the sky and the stars spun their course over the sand. Bahini’s breathing was ragged, her hands clutching a gaping wound in her side as she staggered through the trees. She could hear one of the tigers behind her, laughing at her.

“You’re awfully brave,” he murmured. “Or awfully stupid.”

Bahini tried to draw breath, though it made her lungs feel like they were full of water. “What about desperate?”

The tiger laughed again, almost affectionately, but made no reply. Bahini collapsed to the ground. She’d failed. She wasn’t going to make it. Reaching down to her neck, she fingered a leather necklace with a scraped wood charm on the end. Sorry Neith, sweetie.

One of the tiger’s large white paws rested next to her head, nearly the size of her face.

“Go ahead and touch it,” he said. “You earned it.”

She stared at him, her eyes huge. Then she looked in front of her, where a small gold lamp rested on the dirt. It glowed with a polished hue despite the darkness of the forest and when she stretched her hand forwards, her fingers brushed against small symbols carved into the metal. She dragged herself into a sitting position, wincing, and pressed the palm of her hand against the side of it. It felt warm and hopeful under her fingers. 

“I wish…” she whispered, then took a ragged breath. “...for my daughter Neith to be healed.”

“Sure,” purred the tiger, who had become a man. He had very dark skin, a shaved head, and finely boned features in a kind face. He had on baggy, dark purple pants and wore gold jewelry draped on his ears and hands. He snapped his fingers and the charm rippled through the air.

“I wish for my bloodline to be imbued with magic,” she said, her voice growing stronger, “magic like that of a genie. Magic that will follow every generation to come.”

The genie shrugged. “Okay.”

She looked at him. “You don’t fear the consequences of that wish? What I might do?”

“All I do is grant wishes,” the genie said. “I don’t care about politics.”

Bahini nodded, but it felt faint. She could feel her arms growing heavier, the blood leaking out of her side and pooling on the ground in dark shapes. She wasn’t going to make it home tonight, she knew that now. She pictured Neith staring out the window, waiting for her to come home. Her heart ached at the lonely future she’d have with her father looking after her. 

Maybe her daughter wouldn’t have to be alone.

Bahini looked at the genie. “I wish for you…” She coughed and started again. “I wish for you, genie of the lamp, to serve my family and allow them to be your master for the generations to come.”

“Wait,” said the genie.

“I wish for you to protect my children and my children’s children after I’m gone,” Bahini said, “and to assist them with learning the capabilities of their magic. I sentence you to my family until you are released, and I curse you so that no one may take your lamp but someone of my blood.”

The genie stared down at her. Bahini stared back. She wondered if he could refuse… but when she saw the fear in his eyes, she knew that her wish would be granted. She slumped to the ground with a groan. She waited, spent, for the peace of death.

“Very well,” said the genie, in a voice that was disturbingly chilly. “I will honor all three wishes. But you’ve forgotten that I don’t need wishes to exert my power.”

Bahini looked up. “Wait--”

“Your daughter Neith will be cured and will go on to live ten years. But after she dies, her soul will not move on. She will wander the earth forever as a ghost, wondering ‘Mommy, why?’ If you had let nature take its course, she would have been reborn in a matter of months as your son.”

Bahini’s eyes filled with tears. “Genie--”

“And,” said the genie, his voice thundering, his body glowing with magic and his eyes terrible, “your death will bring you nothing but torment. You will stay trapped in the walls of my lamp, the last thing you touched, and relive your mistake until I am free. You will be cursed and stuck, with no happiness to brighten your days.”

“Furthermore, I will give magic to seven other people around the world so that your precious family won’t be the only ones with power. Perhaps you’ll wipe each other out. Perhaps you’ll all be gone in twenty years. Perhaps your foolishness will cause the end of humanity.”

Bahini could not look away, paralyzed with horror. She could feel her mistake pounding in her heart, and sent a prayer into the heavens for her soul and the souls of her family.

“You should have wished for your own life instead of my enslavement,” said the genie in disgust. He looked down at his hands, and a pair of heavy gold rings appeared around his wrists. “I don’t take revenge lightly, Bahini.” The lamp disappeared and reappeared next to the sleeping Neith. Bahini slumped to the ground, a tear pooling onto the dirt.

The greatest woman for twelve hundred years: the one who brought magic to the world.

It would take some time, but the great-great-granddaughter of Bahini would make her way to the island of Japan. Eventually she would marry a raven-haired man, and all of them would stick around for a while as the magic grew and blossomed in their bloodlines. However, it would only take twelve years for the genie, grumbling to himself, to release Neith into Heaven. There wasn’t anything he could do about Bahini, though. He really ought to learn to control his temper.

They tried a few soul-binding rituals on him, for fear of losing their favorite toy, but all that did was give him the ability to die and be reborn as a human-- a great inconvenience which lessened his power over them. 

The genie spent the years staring out windows and trying to persuade himself not to fall in love. He would come to distance himself from everyone, and attempt to free himself from his new lives over the years, before he grew a sense of humor about it all and christened himself the most ironic name in the history of genies. 

I think I used to be a god,

But it’s all fuzzy now.

I’ve grown so far from what I was,

I think I’m bleeding out.

I’ve papered walls with golden leaf, 

And tamed a snake that stings.

If I were a bird I’d be a dragon,

But they’ve clipped my wings.

I think I could build a castle,

Carve it out of diamonds and light.

But I don’t know how to leave it,

I’m trapped by reflections inside.

I don’t think they see me,

Nor the humanity in my plea.

They consider my freedom a luxury,

Since I'm drunk and smoking greed.

I think that I once had a pelt,

And a world that called my name.

If God wanted to burn the humans down,

My fingers would fan the flames.

They know how long I’ve been here,

An eternity of a while.

But if they don’t know what I can do…

I’ll just kill them with a smile.

-entry in Eugene Katayama’s notebook, 1985

December 07, 2022 01:43

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