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Yustus’ room was warm and comfortable after Josie’s painful journey through the skies, but it had a feeling of menace to it, the feel of a place where terrible things had happened once and might well happen again. How she could tell this from the smell and the sounds of the room and the feel of the upholstery against her hands, Josie could not say, but she knew it to be true as clearly as she could tell wool and eggshell apart.

‘Why have you brought me here?’ Josie asked the evil magician. She coughed.

‘Because, I heard that you had come here from another world. Bring her something to drink,’ Yustus commanded, and an enamelled cup filled with some sort of fruit cordial was almost instantly pressed into her hands. It smelled pleasant, but Josie did not drink it immediately. ‘There is something that only someone from another world can help me with. Something I have been working on for a long time.’

‘What is that?’ asked Josie.

‘We have plenty of time to explain the details,’ said Yustus. ‘All the time in the world. I would not concern yourself with that now. Have you indeed come from another world?’

Josie considered refusing to answer Yustus’ questions, but instantly discarded the idea. He seemed quite capable of being very nasty to her, and had answered her questions so far – after a fashion – so there would be a kind of injustice in not answering his. ‘Yes,’ she said. She coughed again.

‘Drink, drink, you silly child,’ said Yustus. ‘How can you talk when you are coughing all the time?’

Josie had been at school enough to get accustomed to obeying orders from unpleasant people, so took a drink of the cordial. It was made of some citrus fruit she did not quite recognise, and nice enough that she very quickly drank it all without noticing.

‘Have you come here with any brothers? Perhaps a male cousin? A fiance?’

‘No,’ said Josie. ‘I am alone.’

‘Whyever do you keep your eyes shut, child?’ said Yustus impatiently.’ Have a look around you at the glory that was Telmar.’

‘She is blind, Master,’ said Eber’s voice, as Josie was opening her mouth to say the same thing.

‘Blind? Fool among ifrits, why did you not tell me this at once?’ The brittle mask of friendliness fell from Yustus’ voice.

‘I crave your pardon, Master,’ said Eber, in an tone of oily subservience that Josie could tell hid contempt for the human who had somehow gained power over him. ‘It seemed that you wished to speak with the child at once, and I did not wish to interrupt.’

‘Bah!’ said Yustus. ‘Is what this fool among ifrits tells me the truth, child?’

‘Yes,’ said Josie.

‘Well, that is a problem.’ He paced back and forth. ‘It would be better if you were a man, but there is no shame in that; after all, the Queen-that-was-is-and-shall-be is a woman. I expect that will be quite interesting. But the blindness, that is another matter. A serious one.’ Back and forth the man paced, his boots striking the floor emphatically. ‘There will be a way around it. A magic. There always is something. Yes, I remember reading about artefacts for such things. Enchanted jewels. It can be done. I will do it. It will just take some time and preparation. We have all the time in the world.’

Josie had not really felt scared of the Master of the ifrits before; she had been too glad not to be manhandled through the air any more, and more angry than afraid. But what he was saying now frightened her.

‘What do you mean?’ she asked.

‘I was going to keep it a surprise,’ said Yustus petulantly. ‘We have plenty of time. But no matter. There is no harm in telling you. There are things that only a body that has come from outside this world can do: very important things. Things I have been waiting a very long time to do. So we are going to swap. I will have your body, and you will have mine.’

‘That’s not possible,’ said Josie, trying to keep her voice steady.

‘Oh, it is,’ said Yustus, sounding very pleased with himself. ‘No one else has done it, but I have done it. This is not my first body. Nor my second.’ He laughed.

Josie could not think of anything else to say. She concentrated very hard on being brave and thought of the kindly voices of the rock-badgers and the gazelles. She thought of Aslan, who seemed to show up at the end of stories in this world and make things alright. She tried to pray to the God of her own world, who used to show up in stories thousands of years ago, but the words got tumbled and tangled together in her head.

‘You can tell me more of your world later, child,’ said Yustus. ‘I will be interested to hear of it. But now, I have much to do. Take her away.’

‘Yes, Master,’ said a chorus of ifrits.

‘You’re not going to fly for miles and miles again, are you?’ Josie asked, as the gigantic over-warm hands of the ifrits pulled her not ungently up from her chair.

‘Many leagues,’ said one of the ifrits.

‘As many as there are grains of sand in the desert,’ said another, with an evil laugh.

‘Do not listen to them,’ said Eber. ‘It is not far.’

It was a very short trip and seemed to be mostly up. The night air was blessedly free of Yustus’ nasty perfume, but the room she was brought into next was even thicker with the same kind of smells.

‘Zardeenah, here is the man who has come from the other world,’ said Eber.

‘Indeed,’ said a voice that could only belong to a lady ifrit. It was a voice like wild honey and the fancy cream soups they served on board the steamship and was not at all kind, not exactly, but from the very first word Josie felt it to be more trustworthy than the other ifrits. ‘I am called Zardeenah, girl. What are you called?’

‘Miss Furness,’ said Josie. She felt a strong urge to call this lady ifrit, ‘Ma’am’ and struggled against it on principle.

‘It is a well-fashioned name,’ said Zardeenah. ‘You may go,’ she said to the ifrits who had brought Josie, and they departed in a great flurry of wings.

‘You have had an arduous journey,’ Zardeenah went on. ‘You must be tired, and hungry, and you appear very disorderly.’

‘Yes,’ said Josie. ‘I have been dragged about from world to world and place to place like a – I don’t know. Nothing makes sense, and everything here is so horrible.’ She had not meant to say so much.

‘Now, now,’ said Zardeenah. ‘We will do one thing at a time, and the first is to see you properly settled.’

Zardeenah led Josie to a low table and sat her down on a cushion, and there were pleasant things to eat and drink: much more of the fruit cordial she had before, and pomegranate juice, and the sorts of human food she had not had for some days; a great slab of roast pork, bread and olives and pickled turnips, a kind of toasted cheese that was very nice indeed, and to finish off, pastries that were sticky with honey. Josie was hungry, and ate a great deal.

‘Now to deal with your hair,’ said Zardeenah. A hot bath had been run somehow close at hand while Josie had been eating, in a vast stone tub that made sense when Josie thought of how large the ifrits seemed to be. Zardeenah washed Josie’s hair, and then combed some kind of strong-smelling oil through it. She had quite a skill at untangling hair, Josie thought; it was getting done much quicker than she had thought it would be after her days sleeping out of doors, without any matted places having to be cut out or painfully pulled apart.

‘That man – that magician – wants to swap bodies with me,’ said Josie.

‘I know,’ said Zardeenah. ‘He is our master, and we cannot go against his wishes. But we do not have to approve of everything he does.’ Whether Zardeenah was really kindly, or was just artfully pretending kindliness, had ceased to matter to Josie.

‘Has he really done it before?’ asked Josie.

‘Yes, Miss Furness,’ said the ifrit. ‘Once in my time, and twice in the time of my mother before me. The body he is in now is the body of a brigand who killed a man and ran away over the mountains to avoid the revenge of the man’s family. Better for him that he had suffered it!’

‘I have to get away,’ said Josie, fighting back tears.

‘Indeed,’ Zardeenah said. ‘You are lucky that you are blind, or he would have begun the rituals at once. But he will be a long time looking for some magic to restore your eyes, and in that time, who knows what will happen? You may think of something, or an earthquake may level this place, or an ally may turn up for you. Who knows, maybe the Lion will come again?’

‘I guess so,’ said Josie.

‘There, that is done. Now we will get you dressed, and you can sleep.’

‘I don’t think I can possibly sleep,’ said Josie, but in truth she was already feeling relaxed and sleepy from the bath.

Josie’s old clothes from the ship had vanished while she was in the bath, and instead there was a nightdress of some light smooth fabric that smelled strongly of cedar. After wearing the same clothes for day after day and night after night, clothes that were intended for a very different climate, it was very comfortable indeed

‘Probably they are just being nice to me so I won’t try to run away,’ thought Josie to herself. But at the moment there seemed nothing else she could do.

Zardeenah led her to a pile of blankets on the floor – so very soft and comfortable they were, much nicer than meadows, or even her bed on the ship – and she fell asleep nearly at once.

Josie dreamed all night that she was back at school, doing problems in geometry. However long she took to do a problem, it seemed that hardly any time passed, so that she began to despair of the lesson ever ending.  When she finally awoke she ached all over from being carried through the air, but not nearly as badly as she thought she would.  It was more like the almost comfortable ache you sometimes get after exercise than the screaming pain she had dreaded. It was very comfortable to lie in bed in the morning – or the afternoon, it felt more like an afternoonish kind of warmth – knowing she did not have to get up and go to school. If she had not been the prisoner of an evil magician who wanted to steal her body, and if she had not been separated by an unimaginable gulf of space and time from everyone and everything she had ever known, it would have been perfect.

‘I suppose it makes sense that Yustus would be nice to me,’ she said to herself. ‘He would not want to worry me and make me sick, if he is going to take my body over.’ She tried to think of something more pleasant, but everything she thought kept bringing her back to her present troubles. ‘I was just saying how everyone in this new world had been so kind to me.’ She sighed. ‘And now the gazelles will be worried about me as well, and Murbitha will get in trouble.’

After a while Zardeenah fetched Josie out of bed and made her have breakfast. There was strong and rather gritty coffee that she did not much like, and a kind of flat bread sprinkled with salt and herbs that she did.

‘So you are an ifrit?’ she asked Zardeenah over breakfast.

‘Indeed,’ said Zardeenah.

‘If you will pardon me asking, what is an ifrit exactly?’

‘We are the people of the fire,’ said Zardeenah in a good humour. ‘All things that are fiery delight us; and as the fire rises, so we fly, as you have seen. We ruled these lands before men came, together with the djinn, the people of the air.’

‘I have a feeling I may have heard of you somewhere – in my world they have stories about people like you, who are magical and fly and live in places like this, where there are pomegranates and gazelles.’

‘I am pleased to hear that our fame has spread so far,’ said Zardeenah.

‘In the stories they – the djinns, anyway – are always making deals with men to use their magic that turn out badly for the men.’

‘Would that it were so!’ said Zardeenah. ‘The truth is unfortunately very nearly the other way around. We are forever making deals with men that turn out badly for us.’

‘Come to think of it, some of the stories are like that, too,’ Josie admitted.

‘For instance, my parents had dealings with men that ended with me and all my brothers and sisters slaves to this magician.’ Zardeenah sighed.

‘That’s terrible!’ said Josie. ‘Why would they do such a thing?’

‘At that time they were in trouble, and it was made to seem the easiest way out of their troubles. At times we find the words of men very convincing. Sit still a while longer, and I will comb your hair again.’

‘How many brothers and sisters do you have?’ asked Josie.

‘We were seven; four boys and three girls,’ said Zardeenah. ‘I am the eldest.’

Josie decided it was best not to tell Zardeenah how horrid her brothers were. Perhaps Zardeenah would have been horrid to her as well, if she had not been commanded to be nice. ‘Will I meet your sisters?’ she asked.

‘Alas, no,’ said Zardeenah. ‘Our master sold them.’

‘Oh,’ said Josie. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘When the humans first came to this land, they were nearly all men, and it was said that their honeyed words and earthbound beauty enticed many of our young women away, so that today there is much ifrit and djinn blood in the veins of the men of the south. Then we took ourselves away into the wild places so that we would have little to do with men. But there are still those among the Sons of Frank who desire wives from the daughters of the Efreeti, and if they cannot find them they are not above buying them; them, and the magics that keep them slaves. For my sisters were each enslaved to obey the wearer of a particular ring, and so long as their owners bear their ring they can do nothing  that he does not wish them to do.’

‘That’s disgusting,’ said Josie. ‘The men in this land do not seem very chivalrous.’

‘I do not know that word, chivalrous,’ said Zardeenah.

‘I am not surprised,’ said Josie glumly. ‘Why did he not sell you as well?’ she asked.

‘He would if he could, for I would have fetched a better price than my sisters. But he did not dare. I know too many of his secrets, and if I ever had another master I could use them against him. But my sisters did not know many of his secrets. They were young when they were sold. Sharnah was about your age, and Ayeshah a little younger.’

‘That’s terrible,’ said Josie.

‘There – your hair is done,’ said Zardeenah. I will tie it back, and then it will not be too disordered when you are brought to meet the master again.’

The master – that is, the wicked magician Yustus, as we should be in the habit of calling him, not being his ifrit slaves – approved of Josie’s clean hair and Telmarine clothes.

‘Much improved,’ he said to himself, when she was standing in the downstairs chamber like a china doll on display in a cabinet. ‘That is a figure I can see commanding armies. Raise your arms above your head, child.’

Josie saw no reason not to obey this command, and raised her arms.

‘Yes, those will be fine arms for casting incantations. It will take some getting used to, but still, I could do much worse. There will be all the time in the world. You can put them down now. Yes, in your form I will do great things.’

Josie flinched then, for Yustus and the foul perfume that hung about him had suddenly taken a few steps forward, and he had taken her chin in his hands. Now he was prodding at her eyes, quite unpleasantly.

‘There is just the matter of these. Diamonds will be best; yes, diamonds. I will send Eber to the Valley of Fire, there should be suitable stones there.’

Josie twisted her head out of the magician’s hands. ‘I’m not your toy,’ she said. ‘And you’ll never use my body to command armies, or see through diamonds with my face. I’d kill myself first.’

‘No, you won’t,’ said Yustus.  He ran his hand gently across her cheek. It was encrusted with stone rings and made her skin crawl, as if it were some loathsome creature you might find living under a rock.

‘We have that much in common,’ said Yustus, as she drew backwards away from him. ‘You have the same hunger for life that I do. I can sense it. And that will keep you hoping until the very last minute; and then it will be too late.’

Josie knew that what he said was true. ‘It’s not true,’ she said. ‘I’m not afraid to die.’

‘You only say that because you know you have no choice,’ said Yusuf, running his fingers through her hair. ‘What if you were not doomed to die, but could live forever?’

‘That’s stupid,’ she said, stepping backward again.

‘Those who are born here are doomed to die,’ he said. ‘The most powerful magics can give youth and strength and length of life, but at the end they will fail. But if a man comes from another world into this – then, O then, there are magics that can make him truly immortal.’

Again he ran her fingers through her hair, and again she took a step backward.

‘Know, child, that at the very uttermost end of the world there is a garden where magic apples grow,’ said Yustus. ‘Magic apples of immortality. When I was young I made a journey of many years to find them and bring them back here. Three of us set forth, and only I returned. I faced countless trials and torments. I doubt there has been any greater journey in the history of the world. I found the apples; I brought them back; but when I returned to Telmar I found that I was alone. My people had been turned into beasts by the magic of the accursed Lion. But he missed me. It was my destiny to escape his anger, and my destiny to keep all the apples for myself.’

‘It’s a pretty pathetic thing to be proud of,’ she said. ‘More likely you were too unimportant to bother with.’

Josie had backed up into a chest of drawers and could back up no further, and this time when Yustus ran his fingers through her hair he gripped it cruelly and pulled her head back. She could feel his nasty hot breath in her face.

‘It was destiny, I tell you. If the Lion did not want me to have the apples, he would have stopped me. And I was not unhappy to find Telmar empty. No, I exulted in it. Why should I have to share my prize? Or have it stolen from me by old fools? Never, little girl, never!’

‘Ow,’ said Josie.

Yustus let her hair go. ‘I still have some of the apples,’ he said. ‘Preserved by my magic for all these years. I will take your body, and then I will eat again, and this time it will not just be youth and strength. This time I will become immortal. I have waited lifetimes for this moment. These are glorious days.’

Josie was very grateful when Yustus at last summoned the ifrits to return her to Zardeenah’s tower.