The young man known as Gabal put his horse between the mob and the girl they’d torn the outer garment from. Her hair and face were exposed to the world and there was already a mark on her cheek from something. He gave a contemptuous glance at the mob and cast a force barrier between him and them. A second, concerned look told him that his wife on her horse beyond the girl was also behind the barrier.
“Why are they doing this?” he asked the girl on the ground.
“They say my mother’s mother was ravished by a djinn. Now my father is dead in the fighting and I have no brothers to protect me,” her face held no hope for herself, “They say I’m a part demon who will destroy the village if they don’t destroy me.”
“I have a baser opinion of human nature than that, I’m afraid.” He surveyed the mob again, “How many of them did you turn down?” He ignored her shocked expression, “Give me your hand,” extending his own towards her. When she took it, he pulled her up onto the horse behind him, getting her to use his foot as a step up.
“Where are you taking the demon?” It was a large middle-aged man in the front of the mob, stone in hand, who challenged him.
“She doesn’t look, smell or sound like a demon to me,” Gabal gave him a grim look, “So I’m taking her far enough away that you can’t taint your soul with her murder.” He spurred the horse away, prudently keeping up the barrier until the three of them were out of arrow range.
“We will speak of this at the camp, my husband,” said his wife firmly as they rode away.
“Yes, my dove,” he agreed.
Later that night in one of their tents Gabal’s wife, Ulema, was helping their guest with her hair. “You are,” Ulema said, not unkindly, “In a difficult position, Zenobia. You have no family and you cannot go back to that village.” She made the village sound like something bad she had tasted.
She paused and Zenobia was sure she knew what was coming next. Everything about Ulema said ‘noblewoman’ although her husband was a foreigner. There were worse fates than to be a servant in a noble household. Zenobia had already decided that she would say yes.
“Have you considered marrying?” That was not the question Zenobia had expected. “My husband is a good man, despite his foreign peculiarities. He washes as regularly as the faithful, he doesn’t drink alcohol and he doesn’t demand pig meat for his meals. His duties for the caliph keep him busy though and I am often alone – I could do with the company of another wife. He is not rich but he has the caliph’s favour,” Ulema assured the other girl seriously.
“But you’re noble and I’m-,’ floundered Zenobia.
“He married me,” dimpled Ulema, “To save me from being executed for my father’s crimes against the reign of the caliph. He rescued you from being stoned by a mob.”
Fourteen years later the two eldest sons of Gabal had decided that their eleven and ten year old brothers could be trusted with the family’s biggest male secrets. The littlest ones were having their afternoon nap and they had picked a shaded corner that they could occupy against both sisters and younger brothers. “Father’s given name,” whispered Jibril, “Isn’t Gabal at all, it’s Gaius!”
“But that’s a name from Frangistan,” whispered Musa, the youngest of the group, “How did Father get here?”
“Well,” Jibril looked around carefully before tucking back into the group, “He had to leave his home one night on the fastest horse he could find to outrun the enemies who were coming to kill him. He-“
“Father, Father,” their eldest sister Farrah, twelve, ran past screaming at the top of her lungs, “Daddy! Jamila’s in trouble. Daddy, help!” The boys could hear a growing babble and roar in the direction she’d come from and they realised they were missing something. They abandoned the story and went to see what was happening.
Their other twelve year old sister was standing in the top of a whirlwind that raised her well over the head of any adult they knew. She had her arms held out from her side as if she were balancing and a look of concentration on her face. The whirlwind was steady underneath her but there were signs of earlier destruction. The space was surrounded by their younger brothers and sisters who weren’t napping.
“She’s got it under control,” commented Umm Razin, their father’s sword–wielding, youngest, fiercest and fourth wife, “Good girl.”
Then their father was there, staff in hand and launching himself into the air by his own magic. Jibril cast a little spell so he could hear what was going on.
“What happened?” asked Father.
“I tried to use wind to clear the dust from where we wanted to play,” Jamila was trying her hardest to be brave, Jibril could tell, “I only get a spark of fire or a cup of water so I thought that much wind wouldn’t be a problem.”
“I think this is more than a spark or a cup of wind, don’t you?” Their father was still thinking, Jibril could tell. “You’ve got it under control, that’s very good. Now, can you come down or disperse it?”
“I don’t know how,” Jamila confessed.
“All right,” Father sounded reassuring, “You need to let little bits of wind leak, like something being strained through a cloth, very slowly. Try now.”
Jamila nodded, the whirlwind wobbled a bit, and then she concentrated. Slowly the whirlwind shrank. By the time Farrah came back with rest of their father’s wives, Jamila was no more than her own height off the ground. A few moments later the last of the whirlwind dissipated and her feet were back on the ground. Her father gave her a fierce hug and, “Well done!” Followed by, “Now I think I understand where your magic lessons, and your brothers’, are going wrong – not enough consideration of the elemental. We’ll work on that tomorrow. Now,” he looked around, “Was anybody hurt?”
After a general negative response he led Jamila over to her mother and handed her over for general tidying. “Zenobia, my jewel,” he said to that lady, “I may have to reconsider my opinion of why people thought your grandfather was a djinn.”