I refocused my attention on my surroundings. I had not passed down these corridors at such a busy time before. And although I knew that jinn could not see fae in their subtle forms, it was still disconcerting to be so close to them. I went slowly, much slower than I would’ve liked. There was a long line outside the great court; it looked like the whole palace was piling in. I followed, managing to find a gap to slip through and enter the chamber.
It was so packed, the huge chamber seemed small suddenly, and all the wedding attendees were dressed to the nines. In spite of only having five hours to prepare, the court was gorgeously decorated with garlands of vibrant flowers hugging the columns and silken orange streamers trailing from the ceiling. It was like a scene from heaven… except for Nuriya, who I had just spotted in one corner surrounded by a group of maids. I was sure that this place could not look more hellish to her. My eyes swept past a screen fixed in the center of the other side of the court, where I spotted Cyrus with a group of male jinn.
Then I glimpsed Horatio passing through the entrance. He scanned the room and then moved farther back in the crowd, clearly trying to attract as little attention to himself as possible. But he didn’t get far. What appeared to be one of his older sisters approached him and pulled him to the front row.
The wedding ceremony started promptly on the hour. By now, the room was packed to the brim.
The screen was removed by a jinni in the garb of a priest—an austere brown robe and shaven head—allowing the beaming groom and slightly trembling bride to see each other. Closing the distance between them, they met in the center.
The priest began reciting chants from an ancient book he had manifested out of thin air—chants consisting of words I could not understand. This went on for an uncomfortably long time. I looked around, wondering if anybody else was getting bored or antsy, but it appeared that I was the only one—I and most likely Horatio. Everyone else was leaning forward with rapt attention, eyes glued to the bride and groom.
Finally the priest finished his recitation, and now I was expecting the couple to exchange vows of some sort, but they didn’t. Apparently that wasn’t done in jinn weddings. Instead they immediately exchanged rings—fat golden rings studded with an obnoxious array of gems—and then Cyrus pulled Nuriya against him and kissed her full on the mouth.
Then, to my surprise, Cyrus removed Nuriya’s chains. There were murmurings in the crowd. He cast his eyes over everyone, a broad smile on his face. “As husband and wife, we are now bound more tightly than ever before.” He cast her golden manacles aside, sending them clanging to the floor. Nuriya rubbed her wrists, looking only half-relieved.
And then with a clap of his hands, the priest announced the marriage complete. I suspected that since this was so last-minute, they had kept the formalities to the minimum. I guessed this wedding would have been a lot more elaborate and long-winded if it had taken place in a month, or whenever Cyrus had been planning to hold it.
Cheers erupted, echoing deafeningly around the court. And then began the festivities. Platter upon platter of food fit for an emperor, troupes of musicians, dancing girls, and enough liquor to fill a lake. Either jinn were terrible at holding down alcohol, or this stuff was strong, because after barely an hour had passed, I could not spot a single jinni who was not blind drunk… except for Horatio, Nuriya and, to my dismay, Cyrus.
Finally, as I was beginning to grow desperate, Cyrus took his new wife by the waist and bade goodbye to the drunk partygoers. He drifted with her toward the exit. I caught Horatio’s eyes following them, too. Hurrying after Cyrus and Nuriya, I couldn’t afford to lose sight of them.
As I moved along the hallways, keeping a distance of several feet between me and the newlyweds, I thought of Horatio and what he was supposed to do now—alert Aisha and the dragons that the wedding had finished. But he had to do it fast, because I needed him back here.
Cyrus headed straight back to his apartment as Horatio had predicted. Guiding Nuriya inside, he led her to the bedroom and seated her on the bed. He kissed her neck, his lips trailing down her throat to her bosom. Then he unraveled her silken gown until she was stripped to her undergarments. It looked like every muscle in her body was tensed, though from this angle, I could not see her face. I could only imagine how difficult it was for her to keep up this act while having no idea if I would even come through on my promise. I can’t let her down.
Cyrus, his bottom half still covered in mist, ran his palms down Nuriya’s torso, stopping just above her navel. Then he whispered in a husky voice, “We are wed now. Reveal yourself, my love.”
Her breath hitched, but slowly, obediently, Nuriya’s lower half emerged. Cyrus ran his wide palms down her slender legs and explored them for a while before returning to look upon her face. He removed the silk cloth draped around his chest, and then the heavy pendant from his neck, tossing them aside on the mattress. He raised a brow, a small smile quirking his lips. “Now,” he said. “Would you like to see me?”
God, no. Not again.
And yet our entire plan was depending on his scorpion butt making another appearance.
“Yes,” Nuriya murmured.
I held my breath, waiting for him to transform and for my eyeballs to be once again assaulted, but instead he scooped her up in his arms and shifted her off the bed, remaining in his smokey form. Then he moved around the bed and, with one powerful thrust of his arms, sent it sliding across the floor to the other side of the room. Where the bed had been, cut into the floor, was… a trapdoor. A secret trapdoor.