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Roberta Gellis

Roberta Gellis has a varied educational background—a master's degree in biochemistry and another in medieval literature—and an equally varied working history: ten years as a research chemist, many years as a freelance editor of scientific manuscripts, and nearly forty years as a writer. 

Gellis has been the recipient of many awards, including the Silver and Gold Medal Porgy for historical novels from West Coast Review of Books; the Golden Certificate and Golden Pen from Affaire de Coeur; The Romantic Times Award for Best Novel in the Medieval Period (several times); as well as the Lifetime Achievement Award for Historical Fantasy and the Romance Writers of America's Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Gellis's most recent publication is This Scepter'd Isle from Baen books, a historical fantasy coauthored with Mercedes Lackey. A prequel to this story is "Moses' Miracles" in Renaissance Fair, edited by Jean Rabe and Andre Norton.  


The yellow telephone rang. Lily Baywater turned her head to look at it and sighed. If it had been any one of the other six phones, she would have ignored it, since she had already flipped the switches that engaged the voice mail.

The yellow phone, however, was for personal calls, the number, unlisted, of course, only given to people her boss always wanted to hear from. Even the President, the DOD, the FBI, and the CIA didn't have that number. They had a separate, exclusive number—connected, in accord with Dov's sense of humor, to the black phone.

Lily lifted the phone. "Dov Goldberg," she said. "Lily Baywater speaking."

"Please." The voice was high and thin, frightened. "Mr. Dov needs to come with Ms. Rivka to the booth at the Faire. It is about the bottle of djinn."

"Who is this?" Lily asked, much surprised because she had believed she was familiar with every voice that called that number.

"Shining Water. Please. It is important. He must come to the Faire as soon as possible. He needs to find the bottle of djinn."

"The Faire is closed," Lily said. "It's the end of October. The Faire closed at the end of September. No one will be there. And they don't sell liquor anyway—at least not by the bottle. Gin? A bottle of gin?"

"Yes. Yes. The bottle of djinn. Yes, the Faire is closed, but Qaletaqua's booth is still there. He will be in the booth."

"Qaletaqua!" Lily exclaimed. "Oh! But—"

At that point a recording interrupted to say that time was up and more money should be deposited. The thin frightened voice said. "Oh, hurry, or the bottle will be broken."

"Wait," Lily said, and then, "Shit!" but it was too late to learn any more. The line was dead. Lily hung up.

She stood staring for a moment. The reason Lily handled Dov's philanthropies was because she knew when people were honest. She had no idea how she knew, but her instinct never failed. Researchers and accountants could examine the economic aspects of the proposals made to Dov—he could do so himself—but Dov could not judge integrity; Dov didn't believe in integrity, but Lily had proved him wrong again and again.

Lily's instinct about people was not as strong when judging by voice alone, but under the rather formless fear that the voice had held, she sensed sincerity. She crossed the hall and went into an office very much like her own, except that she had windows on two walls and this one had two doors on the wall beyond the desk instead.

Rivka Zahara, the curator-librarian of Dov's billion-dollar collection of ancient manuscripts and artifacts, was as dark as Lily was fair. As Lily came through her door, her head jerked up from a printed list she was cross-checking against a handwritten manuscript. Lily knew that like herself, Rivka was special. Not that Rivka was any better at judging people than Dov—and she was just as cynical—but Rivka was physically affected by fakes. Artifacts and manuscripts that were not genuine caused her skin to prickle and her stomach to roil.

For a moment Lily hesitated in the doorway. This was a bad time. There were lines of tension around Rivka's mouth that hardened the rather sensual lips and her dark brows were drawn together. Under them, her black eyes were all but shooting sparks. Nothing innocent about Rivka, but she was a beautiful woman. Lily smiled.

"Rivka, is Dov still here?"

"In his office," Rivka said. "But if you've got a live one you want him to support, I'd advise you to put it on ice if you can. He just got off the phone with the secretary of defense and he's foaming at the mouth. They still won't let him check on the stuff that was returned to the Baghdad museum after the looting. He says he thinks they're afraid to let him compare the really important artifacts with his inventory, that they're lying, and that very little was actually recovered."

"Well, this won't wait," Lily said cheerfully. "Someone called Shining Water phoned and said—" Lily closed her eyes and repeated verbatim "—Mr. Dov needs to come with Ms. Rivka to the booth at the Faire. It is about the bottle of gin."

"Bottle of gin?" Rivka repeated. "Dov doesn't drink gin. What booth? What fair?"

"That I know," Lily said, and repeated the rest of the message. "It's Qaletaqua's booth and the girl said she knew the Faire was closed but that the booth was still there and Qaletaqua would be waiting in it."

"Qaletaqua! That damned elf. You remember he pretended to sell ancient manuscripts at the Misty Mountain Renaissance Faire because he needed that scroll Dov had been given—the thing I call Moses' Miracles."

"Of course I remember," Lily said. "I got you into that mess because he promised me hen's teeth."

"And when I used the damn thing, we all nearly got killed."

But even as she said it, Rivka stood up and smiled broadly. Her eyes were still shining, but the red flicker of rage was gone, and suddenly she looked younger. Lily knew what she was thinking. If anything could take Dov's mind off the stupidity and ignorance that allowed the treasures of the civilizations of Ur and ancient Babylonia to be looted, it was a summons from the Sidhe.

Rivka opened the door on the left and Dov said, "Go away. I don't want to be pacified. Someone's going to catch it for this." His voice, soft and silky as velvet, made Rivka shiver and his big eyes, normally soft and luminous when he looked at her, were like flat brown stones.

"I'm not trying to pacify you," Rivka said. "I'm just as mad as you are, but this is important. Someone named Shining Water phoned to say that Qaletaqua needs you to find a bottle of gin."

Still as an image while his mind worked, Dov just stared at her. Then he blinked. "But alcohol has almost no effect on the Sidhe," he said at last in his normal, slightly raspy, baritone. Then he shrugged. "Maybe it's the juniper." He blinked again, his broad, black brows contracting into a thick straight line. "Why does he need me to find him a bottle of gin? If this Shining Water could make a phone call, he, she, whatever, can buy Qaletaqua a bottle of gin. Sidhe are never short of money."

Rivka grinned. "It's not a whatever. Shining Water is almost certainly one of the mortal servants the Sidhe keep Underhill to do what they can't because of all the iron and steel we use."

"Mmmm." Dov nodded. "And Qaletaqua's particularly sensitive to iron."

"Yes," Rivka agreed. "The message was that Mr. Dov needs to come with Ms. Rivka to the booth at the Faire."

"I have to drive all the way to Breamfield to bring him a bottle of gin?" But Dov was standing up as he spoke, eyes bright; he grinned at Lily, who had come into his office in Rivka's wake, "Hey Lily, tell someone to bring up a bottle of the best gin, and have Brian pull the gull-wing out of the garage. Tell him Rivka and I are going to Breamfield."

* * *

The grounds of the Misty Mountain Renaissance Festival were completely deserted. Dov drove through the parking area and right onto the Faire grounds, one black armored car with his bodyguards preceding, another following faithfully. The men spilled out of the cars, carrying enough firepower to win a war. Twice they had actually fought one, but not today.

When Security was satisfied, Dov and Rivka, carrying the bottle of gin, headed for the booth. Inside, there were two persons waiting, just in front of the empty shelves that had displayed magnificent, near-priceless—but not genuine—manuscripts. Additionally, the shelves provided a small private area at the back.

One of the two waiting was immediately recognizable. Qaletaqua was a head taller and slimmer than Dov, who was a bulky bit over six feet tall himself. The Sidhe had enormous green eyes, slit-pupilled like the eyes of a cat; his hair, shoulder length, had the lustre and glitter of spun gold; his complexion was very white, but not in the least pallid, and his features were of chiseled beauty—except for the ears, which were long and pointed.

Beside him was another Sidhe, Rivka was sure, although he was as dark as Qaletaqua was fair. His eyes were so black it was impossible to judge the pupils, but his ears were even longer than Qaletaqua's, the lobes coming down almost to the line of his jaw. His hair was black, straight, and shining, bound into a thick tail with gold wire.

"Here's your damn gin," Dov said, taking the bottle from Rivka and holding it out to Qaletaqua. "Now will you please explain to me why I had to drive all the way from my place at Tellico when you could have had Shining Water buy you a bottle in the store in town?"

Qaletaqua stared at the proffered bottle. "What is this?" he asked.

"It's a bottle of gin," Dov replied, his voice rising a little. "Your Shining Water said you wanted me to find you a bottle of gin."

"Not this kind of gin," Qaletaqua said. "I need you to find the bottle of djinn."

"You mean I picked the wrong brand?" Dov bellowed. "Well, I'm not going back—"

"Djinn!" Rivka said, shaking Dov's arm. "Not the drink. He means a djinn."

"I've got every kind of gin distilled in my wine cellar," Dov roared.

"Magic," Qaletaqua said.

"Sinbad," Rivka said. "The genie in the bottle. Only they spell it d-j-i-n-n-i and pronounce it 'gin' or sometimes 'jinni.'"

The other Sidhe had lifted a hand when Dov raised his voice, and Qaletaqua had held it down. When Dov began to laugh, the other Sidhe spoke to Qaletaqua in the liquid syllables of Elven and turned as if to leave.

"No, no," Qaletaqua said to him, and then to Dov and Rivka, "This is Ibin Asharad. He is from Elfhame Shanidar."

"Shanidar," Dov said. "That's the cave in Iraq in which the Neandertal skeletons were found. Mousterian or Middle Palaeolithic period that would be. Possible evidence of ritual burial." He shook his head. "Too early for me."

Asharad smiled. "Not a complete barbarian after all. Yes, Shanidar is the name of a cave, but it is also the name of the Elfhame from which I come." He spoke slowly and carefully, as if the words were not completely familiar to him.

Dov sighed heavily. "Okay, now I get it. You've got a djinn in a bottle that you're afraid will get broken and you want me to find the bottle and keep the djinn inside." He shrugged. "Sounds interesting, but frankly it seems to me like work for your people. Magic isn't much of a mortal thing."

"Ms. Rivka said the spells for Moses' Miracle," Qaletaqua pointed out. "There must be spells on the bottle to keep it closed."

"Sure," Dov agreed, "but those aren't likely to be in Egyptian hieroglyphics, so your people will be better at reading them than we will."

Asharad said impatiently, "We cannot read any spell of forbidding scribed by Solomon. His magic is beyond us."

"But not beyond mortals?" Rivka asked doubtfully.

"There is something in the scribed words that hurts our eyes and blurs the images," Qaletaqua told her.

Asharad snorted disapproval, as if he thought Qaletaqua was betraying too much to mortals.

"All right, maybe you need Rivka," Dov said after a single glance at Asharad dismissed him, "but why can't you find the bottle and bring it here?"

"It was stolen from the Baghdad Museum after the war and put with many other things in a place surrounded by iron," Asharad said, rage barely suppressed.

"I said so!" Dov exclaimed, glancing at Rivka. "Oh, those mealy-mouthed liars. Said they got it all back. No wonder they wouldn't let me check."

Rivka frowned. "But what Asharad described sounds like a bank vault. Maybe they know where the stuff is and think they can bring it back to the museum when peace is restored."

"Less how many items?" Dov asked cynically.

Asharad hissed impatience. "We cannot wait or take a chance on the bottle being lost. And if it is broken . . . The creature inside is incredibly powerful and of a malevolence equal to its power."

"And djinn don't need Gates," Qaletaqua put in. "Don't think America is safe because the djinn is released in Babylonia or Persia. We really must get that bottle, Dov, and seal it or reseal it before the djinn gets out."

Rivka could see that Dov was trying to look resigned, but an unholy light made his brown eyes glow reddish. "All right," he said. "I need all the information you have and how you got it."

Asharad explained that one of their FarSeers had had Visions of the war on Iraq and then of the looting of the museum and the escape of the djinn. They had captured and questioned employees of the museum. The bottle had been identified and Asharad himself had looked at it.

He shrugged, more worried and less disdainful now. "It looked safe to me. I could not touch it nor even see it very clearly so I knew the spells were holding. And when the war came, we warned those at the museum and they hid what they thought were the most precious items . . . gold, jewels . . ." Contempt had returned to Asharad's voice and expression. "They did not believe in the djinn."

"Mortals cannot make jewels and gold as we can," Qaletaqua said, trying to explain what mortals thought precious and why.

Asharad ignored the remark, except for a disdainful lift of his lips. "We warned those at the museum again when the FarSeer told us the raid was imminent, and they did cry for help to the conquerors and some warriors came in their terrible iron machines, but they were ordered away."

"By whom?" Dov's voice cracked like a whip.

Asharad shook his head. "How should I know? But after, when we again seized those who cared for the treasures, they told us that not-soldiers, men from some 'company,' were gathering the treasures, rewarding those who brought them back."

"Company . . ." Dov muttered. "Not the army, a company . . ."

"We have paid no mind to the squabbles of mortals for two . . . three hundred years," Asharad said. "Mortals are not as they once were. There is no honor among them, no high heroism about which to sing. It was only the fear that the djinn would be loosed that fixed our attention on this latest foolishness. A djinn could wreak terrible havoc Underhill as well as in the mortal world."

Dov's eyes were so bright their color had lightened almost to gold. "All right," he said. "I'll need a day, maybe two, but I'm pretty sure I know who to squeeze now. Have Shining Water phone me tomorrow about ten o'clock at night and I'll tell you when to meet me here."

"And how will I know what is ten o'clock at night?" Qaletaqua asked.

Sighing, Dov unstrapped the platinum watch from his wrist and handed it over. "When the short hand points to the number ten and the long hand points to the twelve for the third time—that will be ten o'clock at night tomorrow."

* * *

Dov Goldberg had not got to where he was with an intact halo. As soon as they returned to Tellico, he made some calls and very hard men made other calls and a few personal visits. One of their first contacts nearly had another heart attack, but they got the name of the man in the business their contact "was no longer associated with" who was in charge of Iraqi affairs. By dinner time the next day, Dov knew the name of the bank in Baghdad and who had the means of opening the vault.

When Shining Water phoned at ten o'clock, Lily told her that Dov and Rivka were on their way to Breamfield and should be at the booth by the time the long hand of the watch touched the six. They actually arrived about ten minutes earlier and made sure of the weapons they carried while Security checked out the empty booth and the surrounding area. Nonetheless Qaletaqua and Ibin Asharad were waiting in the booth when Dov and Rivka entered. Without words, Qaletaqua took Rivka's hand; Asharad placed a hand on Dov's shoulder.

All four stepped behind the empty shelving, the mortals having no time to utter the gasps drawn by the feeling of utter blackness and falling before they were standing firmly on an exquisite sand painting. In the distance, past a dry-looking plain, was a primeval forest. Rivka turned toward it, but Qaletaqua shook his head and they were falling through darkness again.

This time when they came to rest, both Rivka and Dov gasped, but it had nothing at all to do with the sensation of falling. They were standing on a miracle of mosaic work, tiny pieces of glass or ceramic fitted together to produce a complex and exquisite Persian carpet. At each corner narrow fluted pillars of gold upheld what looked like gold lace gathered into graceful folds and coming to a central peak.

Ahead, silver stones were laid into a smooth, broad path, and the path led to what must be a palace although all that could be seen through the intricate metal gates of a high wall was a fantastic Arabian Nights entrance, and above the walls dozens of gold-domed minarettes. Alongside the path was a river of smooth, dark water that ran in under the gate in the palace wall and all around the buildings behind the wall. A lifted drawbridge hovered over the water.

"Oh, my," Dov said.

And Rivka breathed, "'In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree: where Alph, the sacred river, ran, through caverns measureless to man, down to a sunless sea.'"

"Step down," Asharad said, gesturing to the road.

Both obeyed with alacrity, but Asharad did not move toward the palace. He ran a hand first down Dov from head to foot and then Rivka. Following the gesture both were clothed suitably as respectable denizens of Iraq. However, to her disappointment—and Dov's too, she suspected—they did not go into Elfhame Shanidar. Asharad told them to get on the Gate platform where Qaletaqua was waiting, and Rivka realized he had told them to step off only because it would be most unwise to do magic inside a Gate. Then they were falling in the dark and they came out in an alley almost as black as their passage through the Gate.

Although Rivka could see nothing, she could smell that they were back on Earth. In addition to the stench, there was a feel of stone or brick at her back, and as her eyes adjusted, she made out the irregular outline of rubble.

"Baghdad?" she breathed to Dov.

He nodded, but did not speak, his black brows knitted as he stared around. Rivka quickly removed the Uzi from her backpack; she could see Dov's Glock in his hand, but held nearly hidden along his thigh. He had fitted the gun with a magazine that held triple the usual number of rounds.

The two Sidhe moved ahead, Qaletaqua gesturing for the mortals to follow. Rivka could see Dov and the two Sidhe, but nothing beyond them; however, her arm brushed what she thought was a mud-brick wall and she assumed they were in a narrow alley. When they made a left turn into what she felt was a broad avenue, she was troubled because she still could see nothing beyond the cracked concrete at her feet.

A moment later, Asharad held up a hand and they all stopped. Rivka shrank back against what seemed to be a modern stone building, but there was nowhere to hide. It did not matter. The patrol passed them without a glance. Now Rivka could guess why she could see so little; the Sidhe must have cast a glamour of darkness around them.

Soon after, Asharad gestured for Rivka and Dov to stand still by the wall and be silent. Then she could see a pair of guards standing by the entrance to a building. Fortunately she remembered the warning to silence, because she just swallowed hard instead of gasping or crying out when Asharad and Qaletaqua seemed to disappear.

A moment later, each of the guards stiffened slightly; the Sidhe reappeared and beckoned for Dov and Rivka to come. She glanced at the guards as they passed, but the young men did not glance back, staring sightlessly out into the street.

It was apparent that the building had once been a hotel. A few dim lights made a visible gloom in the lobby. Rivka assumed there was a generator somewhere but not enough current for normal lighting or—since there was a guard on the door to the stairs and none on the elevators—enough current to run the lifts.

The soldier at the desk and the guard at the stairwell door had time only to open their mouths, preparatory to asking the weird party to identify themselves, before Asharad pointed at the desk clerk and Qaletaqua at the guard. Both went still. Dov searched briefly through the desk and came up with the hotel's master key.

Unfortunately the Sidhe were already giving evidence of discomfort. "There is too much iron," Qaletaqua said, his lips white and his complexion sheened with some exudate. "We cannot stay. We cannot."

Asharad was less affected, but his dark skin was greying. He held out an amulet to Dov. "Touch your man with this, somewhere where it will not be seen—"

Dov shook his head. "Give it to Rivka," he said. "That kind of thing works for her, not for me." He uttered a mirthless chuckle. "Maybe there's too much steel in my blood."

"You do not need to be Talented to—" But when Dov stepped back, Asharad merely handed Rivka the pretty oval trinket and continued, "The amulet will cling where you place it, like on the neck under the ear. Then say, Epikaloumai eupeitheia. Who wears the amulet will become a mindless slave. When you are through, say, Thialuo eupeitheia, remove the amulet, and the person will remember nothing."

Rivka hastily slid the amulet into a small pocket. Noticing that Asharad's hand was shaking, she repeated the words as she accompanied him to the door. He nodded acceptance of her pronunciation and stepped out. Rivka hurried back to Dov, who was holding the stairway door open.

"Third floor," he said.

"Thank God it's not the tenth," she muttered. "What if there's a guard on the floor? I'm afraid to try to use the amulet twice. A lot of spells are one-time things."

"You know the room? The name?" When Rivka nodded, he handed her the hotel pass key and said, "Go in there, confirm the name of the bank, make sure there's only one vault, or which one we need if there's more than one, and get the combination of the lock or the key. Don't forget in some of the older ones you need both the key and the combination. I'll take care of the guard if there is one."

When they reached the third floor, Dov slipped out. Rivka waited tensely. When there was no noise she peered out cautiously. Dov was out of sight, searching for or dealing with any guard. Rivka went along the corridor until she found the door of the person in charge of Iraqi Cultural Artifacts. She was pleased to see a line of light where the door met the floor and that the spyhole gleamed. Probably that meant her target was still awake.

While she listened to make sure the target was alone, she lifted and chaecked the Uzi. A few minutes later, the Uzi under one arm, she carefully inserted the master key and bore down on the door handle slowly so there was no click.

Luck was with her. Not only was her target awake and dressed, but he was working on a notebook computer and facing away from the door. The luck of the Sidhe, she thought, taking the Uzi in one hand and removing the amulet from her pocket. The target didn't stir, and Rivka grinned as she walked softly over the rug-covered floor right up to him.

She applied the amulet right under and a bit behind his ear. He jumped when she touched him, but by then she had already said, Epikaloumai eupeitheia, and he stopped moving. A soft sound behind her made her whirl, raising the Uzi, but it was only Dov, who shook his head—no guard.

A little while later they had the keys both to the bank and the vault, knew how to shut off and restore the alarms, and were safely back in the stairwell. As they emerged from the front door, Asharad gestured them urgently away from the guards. "This way," he murmured. "They will come back to themselves in a few minutes."

Rivka expected the darkness to envelop them again, but Asharad and Qaletaqua merely gestured them ahead. Rivka's teeth were set so hard, she was afraid they would crack. She wondered if using magic in the mortal world was draining the Sidhe, if their magic would fail when they really needed it. Too easy. Too easy. Her heart thumped in rhythm with the words, but she only clutched the Uzi under her robe and followed.

Halfway down the next block, Asharad gestured to two broad, shallow steps leading to an inset doorway. "This is the place where my watchers said the loot was carried. Our kind and our creatures cannot go in there. I do not know where the things are hidden."

"I know," Dov said, smiling without mirth, "and I have the keys to the doors."

There was no need for a concealing spell. The street was deserted. The door opened quickly and closed behind them. As soon as they entered, Rivka handed Dov the powerful torch from her backpack and he flicked it on. Following the instructions the bespelled man would never remember giving, they found the stairway down and then, past a narrow, almost hidden hallway, another stair. At the foot of that were the uncompromising steel doors of a vault.

Dov drew a deep breath as he approached, but those doors too opened without difficulty and the torch illuminated the whole of a small room lined from floor to ceiling with shelves. From those, gleams of gold and silver and the multicolored flashes from precious gems brought several obscene words from Dov's lips.

"What they thought would bring the highest prices," Rivka agreed, but she was already scanning the shelves for her particular prize.

What she found was not one lone bottle of djinn, however. There were at least a dozen elegant bottles on the shelf just above eye level. Some, round bottomed, lay on their sides; others were supported in stands; still others stood on elaborate bases. All of the bottles were heavily adorned and glittered with jewels. In addition, some wore braided meshes of gold and silver wire. Two had semiprecious stones set into the protecting mesh rather than the body of the bottle; two more had wire coiled in intricate designs around the body of the bottle buried in the glass.

"Shit," Rivka muttered, but her heart leapt and stopped pounding, Too easy. Too easy. "We should have brought Lily. She would have been able to tell if something alive was in one of those bottles. I can't."

"I thought of it," Dov said, jamming a piece of cardboard into the locking mechanism of the door before he pulled it closed. "Can't count on Lily. I could put an Uzi in her hand but she'd never pull the trigger. You would."

"I have," Rivka said bleakly, and then, in an entirely different voice as she rose on tiptoe to see more clearly, "Oh for God's sake!"

"Find something?" Dov was right behind her.

"Yes." She pointed. "There's our bottle of djinn."

"That was quick."

Rivka nodded and shivered slightly. "Only three of the bottles have stoppers, and only one of them is the right type."

Dov's black brows rose, but he pulled gloves from a pocket and reached for the bottle, which was one of the two with wire sunken into the dark glass. Rivka watched without comment. Dov would know how to handle the bottle if it were fragile. He held the bottle carefully, not shining the light of the torch on it directly but holding it close enough to examine the find.

"Dov," Rivka said, suddenly needing to voice her fears, "we've been too lucky. I'm starting to get nervous. Why is there only one 'right' bottle?"

Dov made no immediate response other than a tightening of the lips, but Rivka felt better. He was warned. As she spoke she drew a thick silk scarf from her backpack. This she wrapped tenderly around the bottle when Dov handed it to her and slid it into the backpack.

"You're right," Dov said grimly, as the bottle disappeared. "I can feel beetles walking up my back. One bottle, not only sealed but of the right type. Too good to be true."

"So, just to be on the safe side," Rivka said, "we'll take all the sealed bottles. You can return them later. That square gold bottle at the back, and that specially jeweled one—" She stopped speaking abruptly, made a sound of disgust, and backed away as Dov proffered the bejeweled bottle to her. "No. Put it back. It's a fake."

Dov accepted that without question. Few believed in Rivka's psychic reaction to fakes, but Dov had good reason to do so. He put the fake back and examined the square golden bottle.

"I never heard of a djinn in a square bottle."

Rivka widened her eyes to innocence. "But it was square bottles of gin that the Dutch traded to the Indians . . ."

Dov groaned as he handed her the gold bottle and watched as she slipped it into an inner pocket of the backpack. Then he gestured her out, removed the cardboard blocking the lock, reset the alarm, and closed the door behind them. Finally, Dov relocked the vault and, grinning, pocketed the keys.

"I've got to think how to return these keys in the way that will make the biggest stink," he muttered as they made their way to the main lobby.

Rivka didn't respond to Dov's mischievous sense of humor although usually she enjoyed it. She was more frightened than ever because there seemed to be nothing to fear. The bottles, which physically were very light when she packed them, now made the backpack drag at her shoulders. Nothing went this smoothly. Nothing. She even expected the lobby door to resist, to be stuck, but it opened smoothly to a crack she could peer out of.

"Come out," Qaletaqua murmured. "We must get to the Gate. Something is watching, but not Mortalkind. Asharad went to see if he could lead them away. The Unseleighe, the Dark Sidhe, they would want the djinn to get free. They feed on mortal pain and misery. I will take you to the Gate. Asharad will meet us there if he can."

The bad news actually made Rivka feel better. The entire enterprise had gone so well she had grown increasingly certain that dealing with the djinn would be worse than using Moses' spells to clean up the curse on Machu Picchu. Qaletaqua did not retrace their steps, however. He went on down the street and turned left at the corner onto another broad avenue. But he did not follow it far. He urged Rivka and Dov into a narrow alley, then gestured them to continue along while he stood just clear of the entry and sniffed and listened.

The Sidhe gave no alarm, and soon Rivka found herself more concerned with dodging the garbage that littered the way than with an attack. That was a mistake. Although they traveled several streets peacefully, when Qaletaqua paused at a corner, a shadow flickered in a doorway and the next moment a fierce pull on Rivka's backpack nearly toppled her.

She uttered a muffled squeak and instinctively rounded her shoulders to hold the straps of the pack more firmly. Suppressing another cry, she brought the silenced Uzi up and back, firing a short burst over her shoulder. She didn't expect to hit anything, but there was an unearthly squeal and the pressure on the backpack was gone.

Dov had whirled around in response to her cry, the Glock coming up, but he could find no target. He came past her, trying to sweep her behind him with his free hand, grunting with surprise when he saw the squat grey-skinned creature rolling on the ground.

It was nothing human, utterly hairless and without genital organs. A ricochet from one of the rounds Rivka had fired must have bounced off the wall and struck its shoulder. There was only a crease in the grey flesh, but that was now peeling back away from the wound. Dov made an indeterminate sound, but before he could do anything, a bolt of light struck the writhing thing . . . and it was gone.

"Go!" Qaletaqua gasped, sagging against the building wall. "Turn right at the corner and right again. The Gate is behind the rubble . . ."

The Sidhe had a hand on the wall to support himself, but he was sliding down, and farther down the alley there were shadows. Dov passed Rivka again, and got his arm around Qaletaqua's waist. He grunted at the unexpected weight of the slender-seeming Sidhe. The shadows were closer.

Rivka went sideways, right against the building. One foot skidded sickeningly in something wet and soft, but she only mouthed a litany of curses, too frightened to feel sick. Dov had pulled Qaletaqua against the other wall and a few steps down the alley. Rivka fired past them. Dimly in the blackness she saw a bright spark begin to grow larger. She turned the muzzle in that direction and held down the trigger. A distant howl cut short . . . and the darker shadows were suddenly no darker than the rest of the alley.

Rivka started to follow Dov and Qaletaqua but was almost knocked forward into the building by a heavy blow on her backpack. She yelled, swung the Uzi back and fired. This time there was no lucky ricochet, but whoever had hit her backed off and she swung around to face him.

A Sidhe stood before her, hand raised, the fingers just barely outlined with light. She gasped in shock, thinking for a moment that Asharad had attacked her, but then she saw this Sidhe's eyes were glowing yellow rather than black and his hair was in loose tangled curls.

Had her attacker been mortal, her hesitation might have been fatal. He reached forward to pull the gun away from her. But because he was Sidhe, the instinctive act was an even greater mistake on his part than her hesitation. He shrieked and flinched as his hand closed on the steel muzzle. Rivka jerked it away from him.

She should have fired at once, but the memory of the way the flesh of the grey thing peeled away froze her finger on the trigger. The brightness grew again in the Sidhe's hand, and Dov leapt at him, launching a violent blow.

The Sidhe's head rocked back as Dov struck him, but Dov was flung away like a child. Now the Sidhe aimed a glowing something at Dov. Rivka jumped forward and swung the Uzi, striking the Sidhe on the side of the head. The ball of light flew up past Rivka, blasting a nasty hole in the side of the brick building.

Behind her, Rivka heard the sound of running feet. Gasping with fear and reluctance, she brought the Uzi to firing position. Fortunately Qaletaqua's spun-gold hair blocked her aim, and she had time to identify Asharad, who skidded to a halt.

Light flickered on his fingertips and he shouted, "Down," at Rivka, who flung herself atop Dov as he was about to get to his feet. A shriek behind Rivka made her twist toward the sound, but all she saw was a shower of sparks. Dov wriggled from beneath her and stood, pulling her up.

"Come. Come." Qaletaqua urged. "We must escape through the Gate."

"No," Asharad warned. "They are too many for me. I am near drained. And they are blocking the Gate."

"Not for long," Dov snarled, lifting the Glock.

But either the creatures Asharad had seen at the Gate were illusion cast by the fallen Sidhe or they had taken warning from the echoes of his agony. The Gate now held no enemies; then they were through it, and the gilded minarets of Elfhame Shanidar glowed in the sunless, moonless light of Underhill.

Rivka sighed and sank down on the gorgeous mosaic floor. She was shaking so hard that she had to clamp her teeth together to keep them from chattering. Dov stood over her, Glock still in hand, one thigh pressed comfortingly to her shoulder.

"We need a place where Rivka can try to read the seals on the bottle," Dov said. "I won't take that thing into my world, though. There's no magic to fight it with if we can't keep the djinn imprisoned."

"My king would freeze me solid if I brought the bottle of djinn to Shanidar."

"Not to Nahele Helaku," Qaletaqua sighed. "We came to the New World to be free of the curses of the old."

Rivka slid her backpack off her shoulders and both Sidhe cried out, "Not here!"

"Then where?" she asked, her voice a challenge.

They consulted each other without spoken words, and Asharad said, at last, "An Unformed Land."

Qaletaqua said, "The mists do not seem to be able to pass the boundaries of those places. Perhaps the forces, whatever they are, would be strong enough to hold the djinn."

Dov helped Rivka to her feet, clutching the backpack to her. Both stepped onto the Gate platform with Qaletaqua. Asharad, about to join them, suddenly stared at nothing for a moment, a black frown bringing his high-arched brows together. He sniffed too, turning his head from side to side like a hunting dog on a scent, but then he shook his head, stepped onto the mosaic . . . and they were . . . elsewhere. No, they were nowhere, Rivka thought, staring around.

There was nothing in particular to mark the Gate except that the place where they stood was a circular hollow in a mass of roiling mist. A fog to end all fogs. Complete whiteout.

Then the mist bulged away from them, leaving a short, clear passage at the end of which was another clear circle . . . but Asharad slipped bonelessly to the ground, head on his knees, breathing in panting gasps. Qaletaqua gestured Dov and Rivka forward. Rivka thought his hair was a dimmer gold and that his perfect face showed age lines.

"One of us will follow when we can, but I do not think we can do much more," Qaletaqua said. "In any case, one must remain here to mark the Gate. If our hold on the mist fails, it will surround you. Then you must try to come to our voices, for the Gate will be invisible."

"It's not very visible now," Dov complained. "Why should we go farther away?"

"Because I do not know what effect the djinn's magic can have on the Gate."

"You aren't considering leaving us here with the damned bottle of djinn, are you?" Dov's eyes narrowed.

"No, indeed!" Qaletaqua laughed shakily. "You are too useful, and there is always the chance that the djinn would be grateful to those who released it. It has happened that the djinn bound itself in service to the releaser and that releaser wreaked awful vengeance on his enemies. I do not desire that you set the djinn on the Sidhe."

Dov let it go because Rivka had walked down the open passage and sat down on the whatever—it didn't seem to be earth or stone. She took her monocular and the bottle out of her backpack. Removing and folding the silk scarf as a protection, she set the bottle down, and began to study it. After a moment she made a small, satisfied sound, and pulled her handheld out of the backpack.

After a long silence, broken only by the tap of her wand on the handheld, she said, "How very interesting. If it was really King Solomon who sealed this bottle, I must say I am very proud to be of the same people. This is so clever, Dov."

"But does it tell you how to stop the bottle from coming apart and spilling djinn all over the place?"

"Unfortunately, no. What the sealer did was to . . . I don't know quite how to describe it, the word doesn't have a translation . . . set a shunt from the djinn's magical power to the bottle's seal. The seal is supposed to drain the djinn for . . . ah . . ." she fixed her monocular on a spot near the cork, "ten thousand thousand seasons. If the djinn was emptied before the time limit, the bottle would just remain sealed. The djinn has to have enough power to open it."

Dov squatted down beside her and stared at the bottle. "I wonder if that's why so many bottles with what we believed to be Solomon's seal have been opened with no bad effect." Then he scowled. "That doesn't make me feel any better. The fact that there are open bottles must mean that the ten thousand thousand seasons were up for some. So, Rivka, when is the time limit up for this one?"

She shrugged uneasily. "If Solomon sealed this, the time has to be soon . . ." She handed him the bottle. "Can you tell anything from archeological hints?"

Dov started to study the bottle, but frowned suddenly and jumped up as a faint cry came down the clear path through the mists. The path seemed to be narrower, but before Dov could turn fully toward the gate, the Dark Sidhe they thought they had left behind darted down the path and ripped the bottle from Dov's hand.

Dov grabbed for the Glock in his belt, but the extralong magazine caught and he had to struggle to free it. Rivka rose, shoved the PDA into a pocket, and fumbled for the Uzi she had replaced in her backpack, cursing because she expected the Sidhe to disappear into the mist. However, he only held the bottle in both hands and laughed insanely as he stared at it.

Rivka could see him wilt, his eyes losing their glow and going dull, his hair becoming limp, a slackness changing his stance and his grip on the bottle. She realized that the Dark Sidhe was somehow feeding the djinn power. Rivka lifted and aimed the Uzi—but it was too late. The cap of the bottle trembled and rose, stressing the wires that held it. The wires seemed to fold away. And before she could pull the trigger, the bottle cap flew up into the air.

Dov seized Rivka's shoulder and pushed her away, shouting, "Run, Rivka. Go!" as he raised the Glock.

She spun back toward him, uttering a single guttural word, and jumped up to catch the bottle top in her left hand. The molten wax that clung to it burned her, but Rivka only hissed, holding the top tight, pressing it against her chest to make sure it was secure.

A narrow but dense column of smoke rose from the neck of the bottle in a straight line, pushing its way through the mist, which seemed to shrink away. Sobbing with weakness, the Sidhe set the bottle on the ground. As the smoke rose, it spread out without thinning, and the djinn began to form.

Only what was forming was not a gigantic, human figure, like fairy-tale illustrations. Actually the djinn was little larger than Dov and only vaguely humanoid. It did have a head, two arms and two legs.

The proportions, however, were all wrong; the arms were too long, tipped with large hands that had far too many long-clawed fingers. The legs? Were they legs? They were bent as arms would be and also ended in clawed hands. The body was nearly rectangular, and the head . . . the head wasn't even vaguely humanoid.

It had what might have been two eyes—lidless, lashless, small black holes in what would have been a human forehead. The nose spread across the entire center of the face, extra flesh folded and ruffled around a single large, hair-filled nostril. The ears were caricatures of those of the Sidhe, pointed at the top but with lobes that hung flabbily below the shoulders. And the mouth . . . a wide gash reaching from one dangling earlobe to the other; at the top long, sharply pointed teeth hung over the center of the lower lip, from the bottom jaw grew huge curved tusks that bracketed the pointed uppers.

The Sidhe pulled himself more upright and faced the djinn. Rivka did not understand the words he said, but from his stance and expression, she was sure he was saying something like, "I have freed you. You are my slave." Rivka held her breath, but the djinn only stared.

Then one long arm reached out toward the Dark Sidhe. The many-clawed hand grew larger until it was able to seize him around the waist. The Sidhe, who had cast Dov aside like a child, screamed and struggled. The djinn seemed totally unaware. Its mouth opened . . . opened . . . opened.

Dov and Rivka leaned toward each other staring, paralyzed by shock, as the djinn popped the Sidhe into the cavernous maw that seemed larger than its whole body. It swallowed, gagged, swallowed again.

The Sidhe was gone. The djinn, possibly a little taller and with a pot belly, turned its head and reached an arm out toward Dov and Rivka. Dov's silenced Glock spat twice. A terrible cry tore through Rivka's mind. The arm pulled back but the creature did not shrink or grow faint. In fact, it seemed to grow larger and more dense. And then there was a voice in Rivka's head . . . a voice speaking Hebrew!

"Mortals. How dare you hurt me! I am free now. I am drinking power. Soon I will be greater than ever. I will eat you. I will eat whole worlds."

"If you eat me," Dov snarled back in Hebrew, proving that he too had heard the djinn, "I will give you a worse belly ache than eating ten thousand worlds. I have a special mouth with a thousand teeth. You felt one of them. From within I will gnaw you with all thousand."

"I will chew up your mouth so that all your teeth are broken," the djinn roared.

Inside her head the sound was terrible and for a few moments Rivka was too afraid to think, but then she noticed that the djinn had not reached for Dov again. While it was obvious that the steel bullets did not have the same effect on the djinn that they had on the Sidhe, it had been hurt. By emptying the Glock and the Uzi, she and Dov could get away. But could they? Could they allow this thing with its avowed evil intentions to remain loose?

Panic at bay, Rivka began to think. The continuing conversation between Dov and the djinn was also significant. It was trading threats and insults with Dov, but only by varying what Dov said, not thinking of anything new. Clearly it was not too clever. Probably it could not use a Gate. Probably it could not burst through the force that held the mists within the Unformed Land. Was probably enough?

Rivka looked at it and realized it was significantly larger and that the mists around it were thinner. Could it go on sucking in the mist, growing larger and more powerful until even the forces that contained the Unformed Lands could no longer hold it?

Suddenly Rivka was aware of Qaletaqua and Asharad staring in horror at the growing djinn, at the upright figure of Dov, Glock in hand but now dwarfed by the creature that loomed over him. Both Sidhe were nursing ugly red bolts in raised hands, and for a moment Rivka wondered if all of them attacking at once could hurt the djinn—but even if they could, and could escape, she was sure they could not kill it.

From the expressions on the faces of the Sidhe, any hope of escape or slaying the djinn was vain. And the creature was looming ever higher, bent a little forward as it peered down at Dov. Surely it had gathered so much power that the bullets and the Sidhe's levin-bolts could do it little harm. Rivka felt tiny and helpless and then, suddenly, she had a clear memory of a children's movie with a tiny helpless figure being loomed over by . . . a djinn from a bottle. Sinbad.

"We've got to get it back into the bottle," she said in English, coming up close behind Dov. "We've got to make it think the bottle is or holds something precious."

The djinn uttered a wordless roar of rage, and as if she had taken that as a warning Rivka switched to Hebrew. "Do you think you can grab the bottle, Dov? We mustn't let the djinn get the bottle."

Dov fired half a dozen rounds from the Glock into the djinn's foot-hands. Surprised as much as hurt, it jumped back. Dov crouched and scuttled forward while Rivka fired bursts from the Uzi into the djinn's hands. It hissed and rubbed one arm with the other, as a man might rub a sting, while Dov ran between its legs and grabbed the bottle.

"I am full. I am all powerful," the djinn bellowed. "There is nothing I cannot do. You cannot stop me with your silly little pricks."

Rivka forced a shrill laugh. "Do what you like, giant ass. You can do nothing of importance. We have your bottle. Stupid pig. Did you not know that you left all your magic, all the wisdom you gathered through the ages here in your bottle—and we have the bottle."

There was an odd moment of silence, as if the djinn was trying to remember, and then it asked, "There is wisdom and knowledge in the bottle?"

Rivka did not answer. She came forward to Dov's side and laid a finger on the bottle; it was solid and strong, restored—if it had ever been weakened—when the Dark Sidhe fed the djinn power.

"Answer me!" the djinn roared. "I can crush you!"

"Great Mother save us," Asharad breathed. "If he breaks the bottle . . ."

Rivka forced another shrill laugh. "Oh, yes, great and mighty djinn, you can crush me and break the bottle so that all the wisdom and knowledge run out and are lost. Then you will be forever as you are, gross and stupid, strong but powerless."

"Give me the bottle or I will kill you all!"

Rivka looked at the huge many-fingered hands, each finger now as thick as her upper arm and tipped with a gigantic, horny, curved claw. The bottle in Dov's hand was so tiny in comparison; she could not believe that the djinn could manipulate the fingers delicately enough to pick it up.

"Put it down," she whispered to Dov in English.

He glanced at her questioningly and she nodded. And when he had placed the bottle firmly on what served as the ground in this place of mist and unreality, she pulled at him and he backed away. The djinn raised a ponderous foot-hand. Rivka gasped with fear. If it broke the bottle, they were doomed.

Behind her she sensed that Asharad and Qaletaqua were raising the hands cupping the ugly red fireballs and she cried, "Not yet." Instead she aimed the Uzi at the foot-hand and saw that Dov's Glock was pointed the same way.

However, the djinn did not step on the bottle. It only came that one step closer, huge foot-hands straddling its prize. "I know what I need to know now," it bellowed, its mouth beginning to stretch as it had when it swallowed the Dark Sidhe, and it reached out to snatch up Dov or Rivka or both. "I will swallow the bottle and have my wisdom inside me."

Glock and Uzi sang out together and the concentrated sting of the steel bullets made the djinn pull back. Before rage could make it indifferent to discomfort, Dov cried, "Brainless pig, knowledge needs to be in your head, not in your belly. Give back the bottle. It is useless to you. You have allowed yourself to grow too large to reach what is inside."

"You lie!" the djinn snarled. "As I went out, so will I go in and take my wisdom and fly out again. But first I will eat you, maggot mortals."

The maw stretched. The Glock and Uzi sang, but this time the huge hand only hesitated a moment and came forward again. The maw stretched farther . . . and two balls of fire flew into the black opening. A shriek even more terrible than the first cry of pain and surprise rendered Rivka nearly unconscious.

In a moment she had rallied. She heard Asharad, speaking in Persian, cry, "You do not know how to deal with us. We are the Sidhe. We have weapons far more terrible than those of mortals. Once your kind knew us but you have lost that knowledge and have left behind your magic. We are free to torment you as we will."

Suddenly the djinn began to make a strange cackling sound. Dov's arm tightened around Rivka's waist and then relaxed as they realized the creature was laughing.

"The top and seal are gone," it cried. "As I went out so go I in to take my magic and my wisdom . . . and there is no way for you to bind me and keep me."

Rivka shuddered convulsively and her left hand tightened even more on what she still held against her breast. The djinn's head bent. Dov and Rivka, backed against Asharad and Qaletaqua, were sure all four of them were about to follow the Dark Sidhe into the djinn's huge maw, but two more levin-bolts, weaker and paler than the first pair but enough to hurt, struck.

With a bellow of rage, the djinn backed up astride the bottle once more. It bent impossibly double, and a black pigtail none of them had seen before began to change into a dense line of smoke that flowed down into the bottle. The djinn's head followed and then its body.

There was a distant roar of sound, and a tiny wisp of black trembled on the mouth of the bottle. Rivka dove for it like an infielder going for a double-play ball and drove the cork and the cap of the bottle home. The cap fought against her, rising.

She shrieked one word and forced it down. Gasping and shaking, she began to drone the word over and over while she smoothed down wax that melted and molded itself to the bottle when her fingers touched it. Into the softened wax, she twisted the wires that had unwound themselves.

In her hand the bottle quivered and jerked, but she held it firmly, and began to read the spell incised into the bottle from her handheld. The bottle stilled and . . . perhaps . . . from some infinite distance there came a wail of despair.

Dov helped her to her feet and they both stared down at the bottle, still now. Asharad and Qaletaqua approached warily.

"Is it truly sealed?" Asharad asked, squinting and sort of wincing away from the bottle in Rivka's hands.

"For another ten thousand thousand seasons," Rivka said.

"What will you do with it?" Qaletaqua wanted to know, head somewhat averted. "I will not make my people the keepers of such a burden."

Dov frowned at the selfishness, then sighed. That was the Sidhe. But there was no reason they should get away with abandoning responsibility. He could not force them to keep the bottle Underhill, but he had the perfect reason for them to watch it.

"I can see it gets back to the museum," he said, "and I think—" now smiling beatifically "—that I will have it and the keys to the vault handed back, as publicly as possible, to the one responsible for leaving the museum unguarded. But we mortals are of very short life. In one hundred years, no one in the mortal world will remember—and they do not believe in djinn anyway. The Sidhe must come and look at the bottle from time to time."

"What good will that do?" Asharad asked. "We cannot touch it. We can hardly see it."

"As long as you can hardly see it, you will know that the spells are holding," Rivka pointed out sharply. "And if they begin to weaken, you must go to the land now called Israel. The people there speak a modern version of the language of King Solomon. Seek out a scholar who knows the old tongue, and he can do again what I did."

Both Sidhe grimaced and grumbled but agreed, realizing there was no way mortals could keep watch on the bottle of djinn for thousands of years. Rivka rewrapped the bottle in the silk scarf, repacked her Uzi, and followed Dov to the Gate, which in two heartbeats brought them to Qaletaqua's booth in the Faire grounds. Dov looked up at Qaletaqua and Asharad.

"That's twice I've pulled your chestnuts out of the fire, Sidhe," he said, grinning. "You owe me!"

Qaletaqua looked resigned. Asharad snarled. But both nodded acknowledgment.

After a brief but significant silence Dov went on, "But don't hesitate to let us know if you need mortal help again."

As they passed the empty shelves, Rivka picked up the bottle of gin they had forgotten on their first trip. They stepped outside of the tent. The head of Security spun toward them, looking relieved. "Well, that didn't take long," he said. "Twelve minutes."

Dov and Rivka exchanged glances. It seemed that the Sidhe could manipulate time as well as distance with their Gates.

"No," Rivka said. "It was simple enough. They didn't want the bottle of djinn after all."


Eric Flint's writing career began with the novel Mother of Demons (Baen Books), which was selected by Science Fiction Chronicle as one of the best novels of 1997. With David Drake, he has collaborated on An Oblique Approach, In the Heart of Darkness, Destiny's Shield, Fortune's Stroke, and The Tide of Victory, the first five novels in the Belisarius series, as well as a novel entitled The Tyrant. His alternate history novel 1632 was published in 2000, along with Rats, Bats & Vats, written with Dave Freer. A second novel written with Dave Freer, Pyramid Scheme, was published in October 2001. His comic fantasy novels The Philosophical Strangler and Forward the Mage came out in May of 2001 and March of 2002. He recently began a major fantasy series with Mercedes Lackey and Dave Freer, the first two volumes of which are The Shadow of the Lion and This Rough Magic.  

Flint graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1968, majoring in history (with honors), and later received a masters degree in African history from the same university. Despite his academic credentials, Flint has spent most of his adult life as an activist in the American trade union movement, working as a longshoreman, truck driver, auto worker, steel worker, oil worker, meatpacker, glassblower, and machinist. He has lived at various times in California, Michigan, West Virginia, Alabama, Ohio, and Illinois. He currently resides in northwest Indiana with his wife, Lucille.  



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