So we need Nuriya’s help. Last time I’d seen the woman, she’d looked so far gone, she could hardly help herself. And even if we managed to convince Nuriya to try to shift the wedding to tonight—which was preposterously short notice by anyone’s measure—and Cyrus agreed, I still wasn’t sure what Horatio was thinking. How would we even overpower his father in order to damage his stinger? But one step at a time. No point counting eggs before they’ve hatched…
It was decided that I would go to Nuriya and attempt the persuasion. First, as a fae, I was capable of being invisible to jinn, and second, I should be at no disadvantage compared to Aisha because Nuriya was fond of me… at least the old Nuriya had been. I was not sure what state of mind she was in now. Hopefully she would still recognize me.
I left Horatio and Aisha in his apartment and hurried back to Cyrus' quarters. A place I had hoped I would not need to return to. Horatio had instructed me to go fast, for if I hurried, I would have about half an hour with Nuriya before Cyrus returned. Apparently the king and queen had made it a habit to go for a leisurely wander in the desert after one of their rendezvous.
As I raced along, I prayed that Cyrus would keep to his schedule.
I entered the apartment, moving from room to room until I found Nuriya, slumped in a ruby-studded rocking chair. A book lay open in her shackled hands, but she was not reading it. She was gazing absentmindedly at the opposite wall, her face devoid of expression.
Still invisible to her, I moved in front of her and crouched down before solidifying myself. As my face appeared before hers, life sparked in her eyes and she jerked backward in shock, the book falling from her palms.
Well at least she’s conscious.
Then to my relief, she gasped my name. “Benjamin?”
She’s not as far gone as I feared.
Before she could protest, I grabbed her hands and led her toward where I remembered the nearest bathroom was located. Pulling her inside, I bolted the door behind us. She was still gaping at me, her mouth opening and closing like a fish’s.
“How… What…” she stammered, making too much noise for comfort. I placed my palm over her mouth and shushed her.
“Nuriya,” I whispered, even as my ears strained to remain aware of any sounds in the apartment. I could only imagine what Cyrus would do if he found me holed up in his bathroom with his betrothed. “Is there anyone else in this apartment right now?” I demanded.
“I’m not sure,” she breathed. “There were some servants who came in earlier, but they may have exited now…. What are you doing here?” She frowned so hard a deep line formed down the center of her forehead.
“I’ve come to free you and your family,” I said.
At this, she broke down. “Benjamin. Oh, Benjamin!” She flung her arms around me and held me tight, filling me with a sense of déjà vu. She clung to me like I was her lost son, as she’d done to me several times back in The Oasis. When I managed to detach myself from her, tears were streaming down her cheeks. “You came for me. You came for us!”
“Yes, but hush!”
“How will you help us escape?” she stammered, fighting to lower her hysterical voice.
“Before I can do anything, I need your help,” I said.
She clutched my hands. “What?”
I felt a stab of guilt for what I was about to request of her. “Whatever it takes,” I began, “you need to make your wedding to Cyrus happen tonight.”
Her lips parted in shock. “What? Why?”
“I don’t have time to answer questions now,” I said. “You must just do what I say.”
Another twinge of guilt.
The jinni’s eyes filled with fear, and that was without her knowing what fate lay in wait for her after the wedding. But I couldn’t tell her. Not if I wanted to stand any chance of getting the Nasiris out of here and meeting the fae on the mountainside on time.
She drew in a breath. “Okay… How do I do that?”
“I’m not sure. You have to figure it out. Do anything. But don’t fail. Fixing the wedding is all you have to do; I will take care of the rest.”
“All right,” she said. “I will try. I swear, I will try.”
“No,” I said, more forcefully than I had intended, even as I found myself speaking the same words the oracle had spoken to me in my time of despair. “Not try. Trying is for cowards.”
Nuriya pursed her lips, stiffening. Determination flickered in her golden eyes. “You’re right. Not try. I will.”
I left Nuriya in the bathroom, where she said she would immediately take a shower and get ready, while I drifted to the entrance hall of the apartment. Here I sat down in a corner in my subtle form and waited until Cyrus returned home. He appeared to be in a good mood as he drifted through to the bedroom, calling Nuriya’s name.
Nuriya emerged through a doorway, looking like a new person. The hope I’d given her seemed to have sparked life in her, and even Cyrus appeared stunned. Her eyes had regained their sparkle, and she looked as striking as ever, long black hair flowing down her shoulders, wearing a silky low-cut dress that hugged her curvaceous body. She brought a heady scent of jasmine with her into the bedroom.
“Yes,” she said, her lips curving in a smile, revealing her white teeth.
Regaining composure, Cyrus closed the distance between them, cupping her face in his hands. He took her in with admiration before stooping down to close his lips around hers.