Exclusive Excerpt from Morning Star
by Sydney Blackburn
Tariq ducked his head and murmured, “Yes, master.” He understood exactly what his master wanted him to do, even if he did not understand why. Magic had its reasons. Malik was a saahir of great renown and Tariq was fortunate to be his apprentice. One day, he too would know the mysteries of sihr and the healing blessings of barakah.
His unquestioning obedience was rewarded with a careless caress as Malik’s elegantly long fingers brushed through his dark hair, lingering a little too long. Or so Tariq imagined.
His feelings for his master and mentor were wrong. He knew that. Malik, great sorcerer that he was, would be horrified to know the wayward thoughts and unnatural desires of his apprentice.
Tariq was embarrassed when those fingers then moved lightly over his ear, sending a tremor of desire through his slight frame. He resisted the urge to push his head into the touch. His cheeks were burnished with shame when Malik lifted his chin so that they were eye to eye.
“It’s not just about stealing a perfume jar, my boy. It’s about the future. Our future.”
Tariq swallowed as his heart beat a little faster. “Y-yes, master.”
Malik smiled warmly at him and released his chin to take his hand. He slipped a brass ring, still warm, onto Tariq’s finger and then closed both hands over Tariq’s. “This ring holds a spell of finding and returning. It will take you to the treasure room and bring you back safe to me.” He released Tariq’s hands and reached into the folds of his robe again, this time pulling out a small sandglass. “Set this upon your arrival. When the sands run out, the ring shall transport you back here, so waste no time staring at the marvels you may see. You are there for one thing only.”
Tariq reached for it, accidentally brushing Malik’s fingers with his own. Power seemed to spark through him until the ring, loose on his finger, rattled against the sandglass and whatever spell that might have woven vanished.
“The perfume jar that weighs empty. It shall be as you desire, master.”
Tariq collapsed in a heap, coughing and choking and clutching at the thick carpet beneath him as if he might fall off the very floor. The magic of the ring that had transported him had torn him apart and put him together in a rough fashion that left him nauseated and dizzy.
Awareness of the soft wool beneath his cheek helped steady him. Thank goodness it wasn’t dusty. Why had Malik not warned him of the effects of the ring? Perhaps a saahir such as Malik was able to use it without ill effect. Belatedly, he recalled the sandglass and carefully set it on the floor.
The room was cavernous and dimly lit by rays of sun piercing small decorative openings at the top of the thick walls. Tapestries were hung at odd angles. Ornately carved tables and chests filled the room, their surfaces covered with enamelled vases and precious statues. Smaller boxes spilled out jewels that glinted and cast a rainbow of coloured sparks over the smooth sandstone walls. The carpet he’d landed on was but one of several stacked on the floor, golden threads capturing stray beams and winking at him from delicate arabesques.
The sand was falling rapidly. He had no time to admire the many fine riches surrounding him. Where might one store perfume jars in such a room as this…? He turned slowly around, seeking shelves or cabinets. There, to his right, in the corner closest to the great doors most people would use to enter the treasure room, stood a large cabinet with girih-patterned doors.
There were clear, if narrow, paths around the piles of forgotten treasures, and Tariq took care in his haste to find what his master needed. He threw open the doors of the cabinet and saw half a dozen shelves laden with perfume jars of every description: coloured glass, smoothly gleaming metal, glass and silver, glass and gold, bejewelled, or merely intricately filigreed.
Cautiously he picked up one of the vessels. It was a blue globe with a simple silver stopper, and he raised it into the light. It was opaque, and he realized he had no idea what the difference was between a full jar and an empty one. He touched the stopper, hesitating. Malik had told him not to open the one that weighed empty. What if this was the very jar he’d been sent to find? And if it is not, he thought, Malik will be terribly disappointed in me. Continue reading →